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Daniel Love Glazer

  • 2013-03-29 9:23 AM | Daniel

    From The New Language of Politics, by William Safire, Random House, 1968


    A high-sounding, glittering generality.

    The Word comes from reporters’ shorthand covering Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s speeches in his 1964 campaign against Barry Goldwater in the New Hampshire primary, which resulted in an upset victory in New Hampshire for Henry Cabot Lodge.

    Nancy Shea, of Governor Rockefeller’s staff, informs the author:

    Bomfog was originated by Hy Sheffer who as at one time the Governor’s stenotypist. Hy told me he started using it in the late 1959-60 national effort. Since the Governor used the phrase “the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God,” so often, Hy began to simplify it on the stenotype machine. Bomfog took only two strokes on the machine compared to several more strokes for the whole phrase. The reporters traveling with the Governor’s party picked it up and made it famous.

    “Brotherhood of man, fatherhood of God.” is part of the Rockefeller family credo, a speech by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., etched in marble near the statue of Prometheus in New York’s Rockefeller Center: “These are the principles upon which alone a new world recognizing the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God can be established.”

    The initials had an appeal as a political word because it seemed to combine “bombast” with “fog,” or amorphous oratory. So fat, its use has been limited to critics of Nelson Rockefeller.

  • 2013-02-13 9:17 AM | Daniel

    In attempting to better understand the nature of focus and attention, a group of researchers showed test subjects a video of a half dozen students, differentiated by shirt color (half wearing white shirts, the other half black shirts) passing basketballs back and forth while weaving in and out of a circle, and asked the test subjects to count the times a white-shirted player passed the ball.

    In the midst of all the ball-passing, a man in a gorilla suit saunters into the middle of the circle, mugs for the camera, beats his chest, and ambles off. Fully half of the test subjects are so focused on counting the number of passes that they do not even notice the gorilla.

    Earlier this week, NPR reported on a related study, where attention researchers at Harvard Medical School asked a cohort of well-trained radiologists &ndashndash; people capable of detecting the most minute signs of cancer -- to review various slides of lungs for cancer nodules. Superimposed upon the slides in the upper right hand corner was an image of a large man in a gorilla suit angrily shaking his fist.

    Fully 83% of the radiologists entirely missed the gorilla.

    How is this possible? The researchers concluded that by focusing on the search for one thing – in this case, cancer nodules – the brain had effectively framed one’s vision, and filtered out the appearance of the extraordinary: “they look right at it, but because they’re not looking for a gorilla, they don’t see that it’s a gorilla."

    NPR’s Alix Speigel concluded: “In other words, what we’re thinking about – what we’re focused on – filters the world around us so aggressively that it literally shapes what we see.”

    It is an extraordinary insight, with application not only for radiologists, but for all of us who wish to see clearly: what we focus on shapes what, how, and whether we see. Our attention shapes our understanding of our lives, relationships, and reality.

    Which brings us to Lent. Part of the discipline of Lent is to turn our focus away from our appetites and ambitions to the contemplation of our limits and mortality, our need for God, and His sacrifice for us.

    In a cultural climate where it is all too easy to be distracted by entertaining trivialities, or fixated on self-advancement, Lent offers a reality check.

    In the commemoration of this Ash Wednesday, we’re forced to acknowledge our own inevitable death. In recognizing the limits of our capacity, we can more fully see the wonder of God’s power and work all around us. In silence, we may hear His voice more clearly. In solitude, we may better discern His presence. In changing our focus, Lent offers the opportunity to see anew the extraordinary and divine Love that has been right in front of us all along.


    Cherie Harder

    Recommended Readings:

    * Alix Spiegel, “Why Even Radiologists Can Miss a Gorilla Hiding in Plain Sight,” National Public Radio, Morning Edition, February 11, 2013: why-even-radiologists-can-miss-a-gorilla-hiding-in-plain-sight

    * Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us, Crown Publishing Group, 2011. (You can take the “selective attention test” here:

    * Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul, SaltRiver Publishers, 2010.

    * Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, IVP Books, 2004.

    * Simone Weil, “Wrestling with God,” The Trinity Forum Reading, 2008.

  • 2013-02-08 9:13 AM | Daniel

    Melchizedek is an intriguing, infrequent, yet important figure in a number of different, but related, bodies of literature: the Old Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Pseudepigrapha, the New Testament, and in the Nag Hammadi library.

    I must give some brief definitions of terms here, so that the reader is not in the dark about the subject matter here. For a deeper understanding of this subject, the reader will need to invest the time and effort to delve into biblical scholarship, which is a vast and challenging area of study. Hopefully this article will stimulate interest in researching our spiritual heritage.

    Much of this literature is eschatological. This term refers to “end-times things.” Some common eschatological themes include a final battle between good and evil, divine intervention on earth, a judgment (either earthly or pertaining to the afterlife), and the destruction of the wicked. One must be cautious in reading these documents, not assuming that all these themes are present or that all these documents teach the same things, since they do not.

    The Bodies of Literature

    Old Testament (hereafter, OT) is a Christian term, since it implies the existence of a New Testament (abbreviated NT). Hebrew Bible (HB) is the Jewish term for this same body of literature. Actually the Roman Catholic OT includes some books not in the Jewish HB and the Protestant OT—books preserved in Greek but not in Hebrew and Aramaic. This detail, while interesting, does not concern us here.

    The Dead Sea Scrolls (abbreviated DSS) are a 20th century discovery of Jewish scrolls dating from the second and first centuries B.C. (or B.C.E., “before the Common Era”) and the first century A.D. (or C.E.). This was probably the library of the Essene sect of Judaism, and contains many books of the bible (in fact, the oldest biblical manuscripts in existence), some translations of the Bible into Aramaic, commentaries on Biblical books, rules and instructions for life in this particular community, and some eschatological works, one of which is called 11Q Melchizedek (having been found in Cave number 11Q). Many of these works were new discoveries for modern scholarship, having been lost to the world when the Essenes buried them during the Jewish War against Rome.

    I will also take a look at some Jewish Pseudepigrapha: nonbiblical writings attributed to a biblical character, such as the Books of Enoch. Actually I will only look at Second Enoch, far less significant in most ways than the earlier book, First Enoch, parts of which date back to the third century B.C. First Enoch is the one Jesus read. (UB 126:3.6-8).

    The Nag Hammadi codices (“books”: having a bound spine) are another extraordinary rediscovery of ancient literature, mostly Christian and/or Gnostic, including unorthodox “gospels” mostly composed in the third and fourth centuries, as well as highly symbolic and obscure mythological texts, and some Platonistic wisdom literature. Gnosticism was a religious trend more than a religion, as such. Gnostics were anti-traditional, cosmopolitan intellectuals who believed they had access to secret wisdom, of which ordinary Jews and Christians were ignorant. Gnostic trends were very widespread in the Hellenistic world, and they penetrated deeply into early Christianity. Gnosticism was attacked by some orthodox thinkers but remained intertwined with Christianity until it began to be edged out (and edged itself out, with its increasingly hostile, anti-biblical formulations) in the third to fifth centuries. These books were buried in the Egyptian desert in the fifth century, when the monks who read them realized that they were liable to get in trouble for possessing such books. The Nag Hammadi Library is also referred to as the Coptic Gnostic Library (CGL).

    The Melchizedek Passages


    Now we can begin to look at the occurrence of the Melchizedek character in these various bodies of literature. Melchizedek appears in only in only three places in the whole Bible, but the passages are suggestive and influential beyond their number. Melchizedek occurs in two chapters of the OT, in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110.

    Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” (Genesis 14:18-20 NRSV)

    The LORD says to my lord, “sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” . . . The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” . . . He will shatter heads over the wide earth. Psalm 110:1, 4, 6

    This is a royal psalm, and so is being used to support the power of the Davidic dynasty. Head-shattering is a common theme in this nationalistic ideology that becomes dominant in Israel (such politicization happens in virtually all religions). Melchizedek is here being drawn into political ideology, but remains an enigmatic figure, more than just “king of righteousness,” as his name suggests, in Hebrew. He is a special figure, but the Bible does not spell it how or why he is special.


    The Epistle to the Hebrews is the one place in the NT where Melchizedek is mentioned. This letter brings in sacrificial themes, and so eventually came to be considered a Pauline letter by some parts of the ancient and by much of our contemporary church, but not so considered by scholars, since its anonymous author uses a much more educated and showy style of Greek than occurs in Paul’s letters. Hebrews does mention Melchizedek repeatedly, and builds part of its argument on the legitimacy of Melchizedek’s priesthood, and yet Melchizedek’s status remains as mysterious as in the OT. Of course, the focus in Hebrews is not on Melchizedek, but on the Messiah.

    “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications . . . . Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. Hebrews 5:6-8

    Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. See how great he is! Even Abraham the patriarch gave him a tenth of the spoils. Heb 7:3-4

    Hebrews is the only book in the NT that bases its Christology on the idea of Christ as the new high priest, but he cannot picture Christ as a Levitical priest, since Christ came from the tribe of Judah, not Levi (7:14). So he utilizes the Melchizedek priesthood, which is earlier and (according to Hebrews) higher than Levi’s priesthood: “the inferior is blessed by the superior”; and “perfection” was not “attainable through the levitical priesthood” (Heb 7:7, 11). He can make a virtue out of the absence of a lineage for this semi-divine figure, Melchizedek, who was a priest “not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life” (7:16). With Melchizedek, he has the suggestion of a heavenly priest, and he certainly sees Jesus that way: “we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (8:1), one who accomplishes a heavenly cleansing through his earthly death.

    One thing for us to notice in these different literary occurrences is how thoroughly contextual these meanings are. Genesis 14 and Psalm 110 highlight Melchizedek’s religious status, which implies a high status for Abraham, who receives a blessing from Melchizedek after his (Abraham’s) military victory. Hebrews highlights Melchizedek’s non-genetic and independent priestly status, his “forever” status, and his heavenly status (probably derived from his sitting at God’s right hand in Ps 110:1).


    When we see Melchizedek in the DSS, it is as a heavenly and eschatological figure, perhaps a heavenly priest, but more concerned with military than with liturgical matters:

    In this year of jubilee . . . every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor [Deut 15:1-2] . . . . It applies to the Last Days and concerns the captives . . . . Melchizedek will return to them what is rightfully theirs. . . . releasing them from the debt of all their sins. 11QMelchizedek 2:2-6[1]

    This is the time decreed for “the year of Melchizedek’s favor” [Isa 61:2], and by his might he will judge God’s holy ones and so establish a righteous kingdom, as it is written about him in the Songs of David, “A godlike being has taken his place in the council of God; in the midst of the divine beings he holds judgment” [Ps 82:1]. Scripture also says about him. . . “Take your seat in the highest heaven; A divine judge will judge the people” [Ps 7] . . . . Melchizedek will thoroughly prosecute the vengeance required by God’s statutes. Also, he will deliver all the captives from the power of Belial, and from the power of all the spirits . . . Allied with him will be all the “righteous divine beings.” 11QMelchizedek 2:9-11, 13-4

    OT passages that speak of God are here made to speak of Melchizedek. And again:

    “Your divine being reigns” [Isa 52:7] . . . . “Your di[vi]ne being” is [Melchizedek, who will del]iv[er them from the po]wer of Belial. 11QMelch 2:16, 24-25[2]

    This document pictures Melchizedek playing an eschatological (“end-times”) role, fighting and defeating Belial, a devil figure.[3]

    Other scholars have noticed a remarkable similarity between the role played by Melchizedek in this document, and the role of Michael in another document, the War Rule:

    Melchizedek is clearly understood as a heavenly redeemer figure . . . . and judge on God’s behalf. . . . The role attributed to Melchizedek in 11QMelch is very similar to that of Michael . . . . [Both play the role of] heavenly warrior.[4]

    Michael fights Belial or a dragon in the War Rule and in Revelation, while Melchizedek fights Belial or a similar enemy in the DSS and Nag Ham.[5]

    Jewish Pseudepigrapha

    Second Enoch is a strange first century (C.E.) Jewish work, which includes God telling a holy man:

    I will establish him so that he will be the head of the priests of the future. . . .  Melkisedek will be the head of the 13 priests who existed before. And afterward, in the last generation, there will be another Melkisedek, the first of 12 priests. 2 En. 71:29,33-34[6]

          This highly garbled passage is the best evidence for a human tradition about the twelve Melchizedek receivers who took over planetary watchcare after the rebellion. Do not expect any real cosmic understanding or clarity, however, in Second Enoch. This is typical of most human traditions about events connected with the first three epochal revelations. Some human being, evidently, had some cosmic knowledge, but as he or she told the story, the hearers assimilated the information to their already-existing stories and mythologies.     


    Melchizedek  is a badly damaged Christian Gnostic text, with the confusing cosmology that is typical of Gnostic texts. This passage seems to be about Melchizedek’s heavenly status:

    He is from the race of the High Priest which is above thousands and thousands and myriads of myriads . . . . The adverse spirits are ignorant of him and of their own destruction.
    Melchizedek 6:16-22[7]

    Here we see the typical Gnostic theme of evil powers (usually called “archons”) who oppress humanity, but who are ignorant of the powers that are above themselves.

    [I, Melchizedek] . . . . have offered up myself to you as a sacrifice, together with those that are mine, to you yourself, (O) Father of the All, and (to) those things which you love, which have come forth from you . . . even the [perfect] laws. I shall pronounce my name as I receive baptism. Melchizedek 14:17; 16:7-14

    This seems to express the idea of Melchizedek offering a symbolic sacrifice, and this was probably re-enacted in a Gnostic ritual.

    [Holy are you, Mother of the] aeon(s), Barbelo . . . . Holy are you, [First-]born of the aeons, Doxomedon . . . . [Holy are you], Commander, luminary [. . .] Oriael. . . [Holy are you], Man-of-Light . . . . [Holy are you], Commander-in-chief . . . Jesus Christ . . . .         Be [strong, O Melchizedek] . . . [they] made war . . . they did not prevail over you. Melchizedek 16:25–17:16; 18:4-6; 26:2-7

    Gnosticism is famous for such lists of aeons (gods) and spirits. Further, “Commander-in-chief” is one of the titles given to Michael in some ancient rabbinic documents.[8]

    Finally, there was a group of Jewish Christians who were called Melchizedekians by their opponents. We know very little about them, except what we learn from one church father’s (Epiphanius of Salamis) attack on them, which probably contains distortions. He says they consider Melchizedek to be a greater power than Christ.[9]



    The superior cosmology of the UB is obvious, yet we cannot help but notice some broad similarity in the following areas: in the UB, as in these other literatures, Melchizedek is a unique religious leader and plays an eschatological role. Let us start with the UB's unique remark about (one) Melchizedek’ role in fostering the prophets, then move on to UB eschatology.

    Machiventa Melchizedek continued to take a great interest in the affairs of the descendants of….Abraham….This same Melchizedek continued to collaborate throughout the nineteen succeeding centuries with the many prophets and seers.93:10.3-4 [Foundation ed. 1024D]

    Recent rulings handed down from the Most Highs of Edentia, and later confirmed by the Ancients of Days of Uversa, strongly suggest that this bestowal Melchizedek is destined to take the place of the fallen Planetary Prince. 93:10.6 [1025:2]

    These 24 Urantia counselors….will no doubt continue to serve in their present capacities until some change in planetary status ensues, such as the end of a dispensation, the assumption of full authority by Machiventa Melchizedek….114:2.6 [1252:4]


    Note the over-abundance of revelation regarding Melchizedek. They tell us almost as much as they know.

    Machiventa….[has] been elevated to the position of personal ambassador on Jerusem of the Creator Son, bearing the title Vicegerent Planetary Prince of Urantia….forever a planetary minister representing Christ Michael. 93:10.5 [UF 1025A]


    Notice how they deliberately echo the “forever” of Heb 5:6; 6:20; 7:17, although they now refer to Melchizedek himself, not to Jesus.

    My summarizing remarks concern the evident importance of the tradition about Melchizedek. It seems that Melchizedek is a name that needed to be preserved in evolutionary religion, no matter how fragmentarily, because he will rule this world one day.

    Both the UB and our religious traditions affirm the seriousness of the human predicament, and the surety of the eventual triumph of goodness, with Melchizedek playing some key role in that. This is a remarkable point of similarity. Of course, to understand what the UB says about Melchizedek, one needs to understand the UB's cosmology, yet even our garbled human traditions were able to preserve some truth about Melchizedek, who is “a godlike being in the council of God,” and, “allied with him will be all the ‘righteous divine beings’” (11QMelchizedek 2:10, 14).[10] As for humans, “they are receiving from [you] yourself, O [Melchizedek], Holy One…the perfect hope” (Melchizedek 5:15-16).[11]

  • 2013-02-06 9:11 AM | Daniel

    "If God is the Father of all men, all men are brethren; and there can be but one law for home and school and shop and factory and market and court and legislative hall. One child of the common Father can not enslave another nor exploit another; the strong and the fortunate and the wise can not take advantage of the weak and the crippled and the ignorant, and enrich themselves by spoiling their neighbors; each must care for the welfare of all, and all must minister to the good of each. This is the law of brotherhood which directly follows from Christ’s doctrine of Fatherhood, and which is beginning to be seriously considered, all over the world, as the only solution of the problems of society."

  • 2013-02-06 9:06 AM | Daniel
    "If God is the Father of all men, all men are brethren; and there can be but one law for home and school and shop and factory and market and court and legislative hall. One child of the common Father can not enslave another nor exploit another; the strong and the fortunate and the wise can not take advantage of the weak and the crippled and the ignorant, and enrich themselves by spoiling their neighbors; each must care for the welfare of all, and all must minister to the good of each. This is the law of brotherhood which directly follows from Christ’s doctrine of Fatherhood, and which is beginning to be seriously considered, all over the world, as the only solution of the problems of society."
  • 2013-02-06 9:03 AM | Daniel

    John Henry Barrows, a Presbyterian minister, was chairman of the General Committee on the World’s Parliament of Religions, which convened in Chicago on September 11, 1893. In his “Words of Welcome” to the Parliament, Barrows said,

    “If anything great and worthy is to be the outcome of this Parliament, the glory is wholly due to Him who inspired it, and who, in the Scriptures which most of us cherish as the Word of God, has taught the blessed truths of divine Fatherhood and human brotherhood.”

     The Daily Inter Ocean of September 12, 1893, in reporting on the gathering of religionists from disparate countries and traditions, referred to “a medley of universal brotherhood. The fair sex were there, too, and they were not neglected. But sisterhood in such a gathering was superfluous. The air was full of brotherhood, and it was the generic kind, such as fits both sexes."

  • 2013-01-25 8:56 AM | Daniel

    That someone of Attenborough’s stature (he has been knighted, among other official honors, and is so popular in the U.K. that he was named one the One-Hundred Greatest Britons in a 2002 BBC poll) would compare us to cholera evidences how mainstream anti-humanism has become within the environmental movement. Indeed, in the wake of the media firestorm about Attenborough’s remark, Population Matters—the U.K.’s largest population control trust, for which Attenborough serves as a patron—affirmed the analogy as “apt,” stating that we are indeed “like a plague of locusts, which consumes all it sees and then dies off.”

    Wesley J. SmithThis is nothing new for environmentalists. In 1972, the young David Suzuki told students: “One of the things I’ve gotten off on lately is that basically . . . we’re all fruit flies.” He likened us to “maggots” who are “born as an egg” and “eventually hatch out and start crawling around” eating and “defecating all over the environment.”

    One might forgive the excessive zeal of a young radical in a socially radical time for calling us embryonic flies. But given the opportunity in 2009 in a Canadian television interview to retract his insulting depiction of humanity, the now world-famous Suzuki demurred, lamenting merely that “Humanity is humanity. . . I just wish they’d stop being so human!”

    In recent years, deep misanthropy has seeped into the popular culture. For example, the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still starred Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, an alien come to earth to commit total genocide to “save the earth.” At the end, he shows “mercy” by stripping us of our technology—an event which, were it actually to occur, would result in billions of human deaths. Illustrating how times have changed, the 1951 original version had Klaatu on earth to save humans, not wipe us out.

    This deep misanthropy has found its way into curricula. A few years ago, for example, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website carried a children’s feature called Planet Slayer, featuring “Dr. Schpinkee’s Greenhouse Calculator,” with which kids added up their carbon score. The game ended with a “carbon hog” bloodily exploding. Data then told children how much longer they could live until they used up their respective “share of the planet”—strongly implying a duty to die thereafter in order not to be a plague on the earth.

    Deep misanthropy has helped renew the Malthusian drive to radically depopulate the planet of people as a remedy for environmental ills and human deprivation. Population Matters, for example, would have us voluntarily reduce our current population of seven billion by about half to save the planet. Another Population Matters patron, Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, says the optimal human count would be much lower, around 1.5 billion.

    Like The Day the Earth Stood Still, such advocacy has distinct genocidal overtones. But the Malthusians always assure us that they only support “non-coercive” measures, such as legally mandated access to “reproductive health”—which means, in part, contraception and universal abortion-on-demand.

    But actual population reduction to the extent for which the Malthusians yearn can’t be accomplished voluntarily. Consider China’s infamous “one child” policy. Despite more than forty years of forced abortion, ubiquitous female infanticide, eugenics, and other draconian population control policies, the population in China continues to grow. Indeed, while China’s tyrannical policies have succeeded in slowing of the rate of growth, today the country has a larger population than any time in its history.

    Massive depopulation would also require mass euthanasia of the aging and infirm—in part in order to balance the population pyramid. In this regard, the Japanese Finance Minister recently opined that his country’s elderly should “hurry up and die,” and yet, he retains his position.

    The Malthusians also want radical wealth redistribution. Thus, the “vision” of Population Matters advocates:

    Sustainability means greater equity. Renewable resources are insufficient for many to live in great luxury, while continued dire poverty is a recipe for resource overexploitation and conflict. Our vision, then, is of a global community with a relatively equal lifestyle, living in balance with nature and respecting the valid claims of all of its members.

    “All its members,” of course, means flora and fauna.

    The ongoing convergence of deep misanthropy, radical Malthusianism, and renewed advocacy for wealth redistribution is very dangerous. Advocates always claim that the profound changes they seek will be accomplished freely. But these are all Utopian endeavors, meaning that the perceived all-important ends will come eventually to justify coercive means.

    Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. He also consults for the Patients Rights Council and the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His previous “On the Square” articles can be found here.

  • 2013-01-23 8:50 AM | Daniel

    In the first paper, in section 1, “The Father’s Name,” The Urantia Book says, “The First Source and Universe Center has never revealed himself by name, only by nature.”


    But in 182: 1: 9, we are told,

    182:1.9 The Master, during the course of this final prayer with his apostles, alluded to the fact that he had manifested the Father’s name to the world. And that is truly what he did by the revelation of God through his perfected life in the flesh. The Father in heaven had sought to reveal himself to Moses, but he could proceed no further than to cause it to be said, “I AM.” And when pressed for further revelation of himself, it was only disclosed, “I AM that I AM.” But when Jesus had finished his earth life, this name of the Father had been so revealed that the Master, who was the Father incarnate, could truly say:

    • I am the bread of life.
    • I am the living water.
    • I am the light of the world.
    • I am the desire of all ages.
    • I am the open door to eternal salvation.
    • I am the reality of endless life.
    • I am the good shepherd.
    • I am the pathway of infinite perfection.
    • I am the resurrection and the life.
    • I am the secret of eternal survival.
    • I am the way, the truth, and the life.
    • I am the infinite Father of my finite children.
    • I am the true vine; you are the branches.
    • I am the hope of all who know the living truth.
    • I am the living bridge from one world to another.
    • I am the living link between time and eternity.

    182:1.26 Thus did Jesus enlarge the living revelation of the name of God to all generations. As divine love reveals the nature of God, eternal truth discloses his name in ever-enlarging proportions.

  • 2013-01-23 8:47 AM | Daniel

    In an article in the New York Times Book Review last month, Paul Elie ponders why Christian belief figures, “as something between a dead language and a hangover,” in current fiction. He observes that the literary heirs of Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy are strangely absent from the present class of MFA-credentialed young novelists now in vogue. And while Elie is right that it is a strange development, he misdiagnoses the reasons why.

    “The current upheavals in American Christianity—involving sex, politics, money and diversity—cry out for dramatic treatment,” he writes. While Christian writers, “who do draw on sacred texts and themes see the references go unrecognized,” other novelists are, &ldquldquo;depicting the changing lives of American Jews and Muslims with great success.”

    But is the ultimate purpose of fiction to depict the changing lives of certain demographics, or give dramatic treatment to sex and politics in the church? One hopes not, for the sake of fiction. Maybe the absence of faith or even a curiosity about it among contemporary novelists has more to do with a basic misunderstanding of the point of both fiction and Christianity than with the perceived “upheavals” of the latter. After all, fiction that is interested in Christianity (or any other religion) primarily as a way to explore identity or politics is really not all that interesting. In fact, it’s rather boring.

    A glibly-named NPR series that ran last week, Losing Our Religion, ponders why a fifth of Americans now choose not to identify with an “organized” religion. As you might imagine, the program does not delve very deep. But it is notable—not for what it thinks it reveals about American society, but for what it unintentionally reveals about a growing tendency in the American character, especially among young people. Listening to the interviewees talk about God, one gets the impression that their views are the result of ignorance and apathy, not a rejection of religion on its own terms. Simply put, they seem like they are bored of God—bored and blasé and for the most part unconcerned.

    In an essay published a few years ago in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Jonathan Lethem responded to a negative review James Wood had written of his novel, The Fortress of Solitude, some eight years before, in which Wood complained that the reader never saw Lethem’s protagonist thinking about God or the meaning of life. Lethem’s response is telling, and helps explain why we don’t see more novelists taking religion seriously:

    As for “thinking about God,” was there ever a more naked instance of a critic yearning for a book other than that on his desk? Can Wood’s own negative capability not reach the possibility that in some life dramas “God” never made it to the audition, let alone failed to get onstage? Pity me if you like, but I can’t remember even considering believing in either God or Santa Claus. The debunking was accomplished preemptively, preconsciously.

    There’s not much reason to work out how you feel about religion if the question of God’s existence is preemptively decided in the negative. Perhaps the growing numbers of Americans who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated feel like Lethem; they didn’t have much interest in God to begin with. No wonder they have little stomach for grappling with the questions and contradictions of faith.

    Same for novelists. If the question of God isn’t taken seriously, why bother exploring it in any depth? Let faith be a prop, a way to talk about politics, or just another aspect of one’s identity.

    But part of why religion was always a compelling, even essential, aspect of literature is that novelists used to take it seriously—even those who didn’t, in the end, believe. The struggle to keep one’s faith, even in the face of suffering, and to be transformed by it, is one of the hallmarks of human experience: working out the inherent tensions between body and spirit, judgment and mercy, right and wrong—this is interiority par excellence, and exploring that interiority, making it come alive, is what fiction is supposed to do.

    It is also, in a larger sense, what the practice of religion is supposed to do. But the prerequisite is to understand religion as a lifelong undertaking that obliges, and in fact requires, believers to grapple with their faith and fears and doubts. To do that, you have to believe there’s more at stake than your own identity or experience. If that were all there was to religion, it would be very boring indeed.

    John Daniel Davidson’s writing has appeared in n+1, The Morning News, The Claremont Review of Books, The Millions, and elsewhere.

  • 2013-01-23 8:44 AM | Daniel

    If President Obama’s goal with the inaugural prayers was to marginalize and offend devout, conservative Christians and orthodox Jews, it would be fair to say: mission accomplished.

    The choice of Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, departed from historical protocol. She was the first female and first non-clergy member to lead an inaugural prayer. She did so in the wake of Pastor Louie Giglio’s unceremonious removal from the dais after the discovery he had preached a sermon 20 years ago expositing the Bible’s position on homosexuality. While it’s understandable that Evers-Williams would feel the need to temper her prayers, lest the current administration banish her from future public speaking engagements, her words represent a stunning departure from historical inaugural prayers and from anything resembling a Christian, Jewish, or even a generic Judeo-Christian prayer.

    Evers-Williams, when asked to describe her religious affiliation by Religion News Service, said,

    I have been Baptist, I have been Methodist, I have been Presbyterian. I have attended all of those churches depending on where I have lived in my life.

    The answer seems rather dodgy, but nothing out of the ordinary, so when her “prayer” began as something of an announcement, we waited for the “prayer” part to begin:

    America, we are here, our nation’s Capitol on this January the 21st 2013, the inauguration of our 45th [editor’s note, should be 44th] president Barack Obama.

    And we waited some more…

    We come at this time to ask blessings upon our leaders, the president, vice president, members of Congress, all elected and appointed officials of the United States of America. We are here to ask blessings upon our armed forces, blessings upon all who contribute to the essence of the American spirit, the American dream. The opportunity to become whatever our mankind, womankind, allows us to be. This is the promise of America.

    Was this a prayer or a speech? If it was a prayer, note that Mrs. Evers-Williams addressed it simply to “America,” imploring “America” to bestow blessings upon our leaders and our country.

    And it became more confusing from there:

    As we sing the words of belief, “this is my country,” let us act upon the meaning that everyone is included. May the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of every woman, man, boy and girl be honored. May all your people, especially the least of these, flourish in our blessed nation.

    To whom is this prayer directed? Evers-Williams still hasn’t given any indication, other than to begin simply with “America, comma.” And again, near the end of the speech, she quotes the words of a hymn and appears to be addressing “America” rather than a deity:

    There’s something within me that holds the reins. There’s something within me that banishes pain. There’s something within me I cannot explain. But all I know America, there is something within. There is something within.

    Finally, about halfway through the speech, after invoking the “spirit of our ancestors” in the civil rights movement, Evers-Williams gives a quick shout-out to… something:

    One hundred fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after the March on Washington, we celebrate the spirit of our ancestors, which has allowed us to move from a nation of unborn hopes and a history of disenfranchised [votes] to today’s expression of a more perfect union. We ask, too, almighty that where our paths seem blanketed by [throngs] of oppression and riddle by pangs of despair we ask for your guidance toward the light of deliverance. And that the vision of those that came before us and dreamed of this day, that we recognize that their visions still inspire us. [emphasis added]

    We aren’t told if it’s the “almighty” spirit of the ancestors or the “Almighty and all-merciful Lord, by Whom all powers and authorities are ordained,” the deity invoked by the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church at President Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. Even so, she looks to the “visions of those that came before us” in the civil rights movement for inspiration rather than the “almighty.”

    Mid-speech it seems that Evers-Williams went out of her way to exclude God when she recited a section from the Pledge of Allegiance, omitting the words “under God”:

    We now stand beneath the shadow nation’s Capitol whose golden dome reflects the unity and democracy of one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

    Like President Obama has done on numerous occasions, Evers-Williams engaged in selective editing to remove religious references.

    In the RNS interview, Evers-Williams sheds some light on why she may have been so obtuse in her word choices about the deity (or lack thereof):

    I have never been shy in mentioning my relationship with what I call God, a Spirit, and there certainly have been times over the years that I have called on him — or her, if you wish — in public. I deeply believe that there is a Supreme Being that sees us through.

    That’s very similar, in fact, to Obama’s spiritual line of thinking, as he explained in a 2004 interview with Cathleen Falsani:

    I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people. That there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and there’s an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived.

    Ah, the “collective” that Obama referred to in his inaugural address: “Preserving our individual freedom requires collective action.”

    The vague spirituality (and the nod to collectivism) is reminiscent of the ’60s counterculture and their rejection of organized religion. It brings to mind Norman Greenbaum’s hippie folk anthem “Spirit in the Sky.” Greenbaum, a practicing Jew at the time he wrote the song, said cowboy movies inspired him to write it, explaining that: “even though I’m a bad guy, I want to redeem myself and go to heaven. I just chose the spirit in the sky. The part about Jesus was just a natural part when I put it all together.” He has also said, “It wasn’t like a Christian song of praise it was just a simple song. I had to use Christianity because I had to use something. But more important it wasn’t the Jesus part, it was the spirit in the sky.”

    Never been a sinner I never sinned
    I got a friend in Jesus
    So you know that when I die
    He’s gonna set me up with
    The spirit in the sky
    Oh set me up with the spirit in the sky
    That’s where I’m gonna go when I die
    When I die and they lay me to rest
    I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best
    Go to the place that’s the best

    There was a sense when listening to Evers-Williams’s speech-prayer that she “just had to use something.” We get the same feeling when we listen to President Obama’s uncomfortable religious explanations.

    In Evers-Williams’s prayer, just like in Greenbaum’s song, Jesus makes a token appearance:

    In Jesus’ name and the name of all who are holy and right we pray. Amen.

    Fortunately, the names of “all who are holy and right” are left to our imagination and we don’t have to suffer through a list of Evers-Williams’s choices.

    Those of us who are Bible-believing Christians take particular offense at a civil-rights-leader-turned-pontiff adding Jesus, who was given “the name that is above every name,” to a shopping list of afterthoughts at the end of a motivational speech.

    I understand that we live in a diverse land with Americans of many different faiths. No legal obligation requires the president to represent my faith or any faith on the podium at the inauguration.

    However, I think it’s important to stop for a moment and note this moment in history when we first witnessed a distinct change in the nature of the inaugural prayers. Read through the modern presidential prayers and see the difference. Read the religious content of the inaugural speeches of the Founders and compare them to President Obama’s speech and you will see the stark contrast. When considering this in the context of Louie Giglio’s removal from the inaugural prayer and the many attacks on religious liberties in Obama’s first term, we must ask if our country has crossed the spiritual Rubicon.

    I believe that God is in control. That President Obama serves with Almighty God’s permission; He “removes kings and sets up kings” (and presidents, too). That should make the president tremble, and I hope and pray that he realizes the implications of that verse. The president has the prayers of my family and my church.

    After listening to the inaugural prayer, I needed a spiritual shower. If you feel that way too, you might enjoy refocusing on God with a good helping of Phillips, Craig and Dean’s “Revelation Song.” If you’re not familiar with the song, it’s from Revelation 4, the apostle John’s vision of God on the throne in heaven. It may be just what you need after a 24-hour news cycle of Obama worship.

    At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

    And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

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