Dangers of Experience

I’m so used to being behind everyone else that when I turn out to be ahead of the curve it occasions genuine surprise.  That’s the way it appears when I think about the dominance of the far right in American politics.  As an editor I get to read proposals for other editors on the board.  Political scientists are trying to analyze how we’ve come to be a nation of religious far-righters when we seemed so progressive that we put a smart phone in everyone’s pocket and Alexa in everyone’s voice range.  I grew up as a far-righter when it certainly felt alienating.  Apart from people we met at church I didn’t know any others outside my family.  People we knew were, well, just different.  Back in those days we didn’t judge them.  We accepted them for who they were.

One of the aspects of my life to which I’ve grown accustomed is being ignored.  I’m not a big person, nor am I a loud one.  It isn’t unusual for me to be overlooked at work and even at religious gatherings (a field in which I’m a bona fide expert).  Nevertheless, I have a wealth of experience among the far-righters and I think it might help to understand our political climate.  I think I have a pretty good grip on what motivates this crowd.  Since I grew up (serious study will do that to you) and am no longer arrested at that stage, I’ve blended into the crowd as someone just as perplexed as everyone else.  I do, however, have an idea of what they’re after.  Our particular sect didn’t push this—we seemed more worried about our own souls staying out of Hell—but many fundamentalists wanted to take over the nation.  In fact, they have.

The fact that 45 isn’t one of them is immaterial.  Power is the thing.  Power to make others conform or suffer.  This particular faith is built on fear, not love.  It’s as if their New Testament lacks the gospel of John.  You see, I was ahead of the curve.  I was part of it before it took over congress, the White House and the supreme court.  Things move so far these days that thinkers just don’t have time to think about everything.  Work days are long and covid still complicates everything.  Who has the time to seek out those who grew out of the very source that now endangers our democracy?  I think I prefer running a little behind, don’t you, Cassie?

High Road

“You take the high road and I’ll take the low road,” starts the chorus of that overused, unofficial national anthem of Scotland. The low road, while offering less spectacular views, is quicker and more practical. At least that’s how it seems to this erstwhile expatriate who spent three bonnie years in that land. Still, we all know the appeal of taking the high ground. In studies of morality, high moral standards are better than low. High income is sought after over low. We are encouraged ever to reach higher, shooting our probes out to the very stars. Who wants to admit to being low? There’s more than a hint of this condescension in the terminology I’ve lately been noticing when it comes to the Bible. Instead of saying that an author of a book is Conservative, it is now common code to claim that s/he has “a high view of scripture.” I guess the rest of us have a low view.

Despite the increasing secularity of culture, there are still many, many books being written about the Bible. In fact, the standard industry rag, Publisher’s Weekly, routinely carries story after story about religion publishing, much of it biblical. But readers want to feel safe when approaching the Bible. New ideas can be dangerous and challenging. So we want to know the perspective of the writer before we crack open the cover. Those who believe, within a reasonable degree, that the historical tales of the Bible are factual have a high view. When the four stories of Jesus contradict one another they can be harmonized. That’s the high view. Saying that the world was created in one day, as Genesis 2 asserts, is tending toward a low view, literal though it may be. After all, didn’t we just read in the previous chapter that it was six days? One can become six with a high enough view. Just stand on your tippy-toes.

A high view

A high view

Now the cynical side of me wants to believe that this coding of the high view of Scripture is willful misrepresentation. The stratospheric viewers may not actually say that the industry standard has a low view—not exactly—but miracles are easier to see from the mountain top. If you want to know who to trust, you rely on those with a high view. In this world the sun can stand still and giants can grow to be nine feet tall. It is a high view indeed. While no one knows the original meaning of the lyrics to “Loch Lomond,” many associate it with the Jacobite rebellions of the eighteenth century. The lyricist may be referring to the heads of the executed exhibited on pikes along the high road from London to Edinburgh while their dispossessed relatives walked on the low road. Neither group devalues its native land where some hope to return and others died trying. So feel free to take the beheaded high road while I take the low, because we’ll all end up at Loch Lomond in the end.

True Colors

Over the past year several colleagues have urged me to join Facebook. To put this in context, I am one of those dinosaurs who made it through a Master’s program without having touched a computer – all theses and term papers were typed on a typewriter. It was only with the sheer volume of written material for my doctorate that I finally gave in to the technological revolution. Since then I’ve been sucked further and further into it, always a little bit reluctantly. When I read I like to have a book or magazine or newspaper in hand. When I communicate, I prefer a conversation to an electronic chat. Well, there are advantages to the technological world, but Facebook seemed a little too much. Caving to pressure, however, I eventually gave in and became a Facebooker.

One of the things I’ve learned from the daily updates of people – many of whom I’ve not seen since high school – is just how religiously conservative many of my friends are. I get daily, sometimes hourly, news updates about what the Lord is doing. He’s a pretty busy guy. Sometimes these friends look at my blog and wonder what has happened to me. When they ask, I have to wonder how deeply down the rabbit hole do they really want to go. I’ve been a professional religionist for nearly 20 years now – unfortunately several of those years have not included regular employment, but the work it took to get here can’t be undone – and prior to that I spent nearly 10 years in school studying religion. Anyone who makes it through an advanced degree in this field and comes out with the same viewpoint as when they entered it has had their mind firmly closed all along.

Religion is a phenomenon that can be studied, just like pottery or fashion history. Once a genuinely open mind is brought to it, perspectives begin to shift. Some of my friends who are less gracious about this respond by quoting the Bible at me, as if I’ve somehow learned how to forget the Bible while earning a Ph.D. in it. What they don’t realize is that if you want to learn about your religiousness in any serious way, there will be several Rubicons to cross and some pithy snippet from Paul is not going to change that. I don’t use Facebook to announce my religious thoughts to the diverse body of “friends” on my account. I use this blog for that. Those who are truly curious about religion might learn something from someone who’s been in the biz for nearly three decades. Others are content to announce to the world what the Lord is doing through Facebook.