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Jesus, Trump and The Paris Climate Accord – Revisited, 2018

January 11, 2018

Below is a post I put up when President Trump was pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Accord in 2017. It has never lost pertinence, but especially now that he has signaled possible rethinking (or new bargaining). Fortunately, numerous American states, cities and corporations have effectively “remained in” and affirmed the accord, and publicly stated it. Here, again, is my earlier reflection on some pertinent wisdom of Jesus, shared by other religious and scientific traditions as well: 

For those who follow Jesus in one manner or another, did he say anything about climate change? Well, maybe…

Ever heard (or maybe sung, as a kid) “The wise man built his house upon the rock…”? When the flood hits, this man’s house stands.  The foolish man’s, built on sand (Mt. 7:26), cannot withstand the flood. Of course this is a simile.  Jesus’ says the wise builder is like the one who hears and does what Jesus says, not just hears but doesn’t act.

So this saying had nothing to do with weather, really… let alone climate over an extended period.  But the call to hear and act accordingly does apply to our current climate situation.  

And what is our Foolish-Man-in-Chief doing? He just took another step in building on sand… disavowal of the Paris Climate Accord.  Not that this, in itself, will necessarily mean a lot in practical terms.  But it is consistent with both rhetoric and policy that will make real differences… and it’s not houses or even the American economy at stake, but the welfare of the entire planet.  

He and fellow Republicans are rightly concerned about leaving a massive national debt to our kids and grandkids. But will that even come into play if the planet is barely hospitable and adequate food production unsustainable?

Even Trump implies, if he seldom states directly, that he accepts a human involvement in climate change. So my Trump-supporting friends (and some readers here?) might appeal to the obvious: We don’t know exactly how much we are affecting the climate or that it will necessarily lead to catastrophe.  But so what if we don’t? What is the “wise builder” approach vs. that of the “foolish builder”?    

And what words of Jesus should we be acting upon that relate to climate (and other environmental) challenges? I imagine you can think of others, but a critical principle he pounded upon, in saying after saying, parable after parable, was this: Act in the interest of others around you; sustain the foreigner and stranger. Be kind and cooperative (and only resist when the evil is clear and harming others).  Where is the message of competition? Encouragement to beat others out, to be “great again?” (Wasn’t there something in there about the one who is greatest will be least, and vice-versa?)

Sure, Jesus gave hints of supporting capitalism. I’d not say his message or his vision of the “Kingdom of God”, in earthly expression, was what we think of as socialism.  But it clearly was not about dominating or seeking to gain an advantage over others.  Just the opposite! 

O.k… some of you are probably thinking, “That was about personal behavior, not between nations”.  Don’t be too hasty! What can you base that on? Why should it not extend out to an international scale?

I like the approach of French President, Macron, much better than that of Trump, whose rationale for withdrawal from the Paris agreement was “Make America great again”.  Macron’s: “Make our planet great again”. Win together, not “We’ve been unfairly treated… we need a better deal…” The planet approach seems to follow the spirit of Jesus a lot closer.  What do you think?

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Where Are Evangelicals headed in 2018?

January 9, 2018

I’m a formerly “card holding” Evangelical…. Many years since I became “progressive” I still pay close attention and tend to relationships with family and friends still “in the fold”.  Part of the reason is that “Evangelicalism”, under almost any definition one may give it, is a reflection of much of our culture.  Changes within it is one measure of broader cultural movement.  Conversely, may it be that changes among Evangelicals lead certain changes in broader society?

I’m linking to an article by the leading Evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, which takes a brief look at the question of whether and how Evangelicalism may be “cracking up”. Or even changing significantly.  You can find it here.

Personally, I think 2018 will see at least as much change within Evangelical churches and institutions as recent years have seen.  I’m not foreseeing any significant “crack up” scenario. However, split-offs of certain churches or groups of them may continue. According to a Jan. 2 article in the same Christianity Today, a group of nearly 180 Mennonite congregations just officially split off from the Mennonite Church USA “related to disagreements over same-sex marriage”.

In this case, people wanted to remain more conservatively oriented.  In other cases, especially for individuals, people want to be more progressive and leave for reasons related to that.  Often they don’t find a comfortable church home elsewhere.  Some are fine with that, others not.  My 2018 hope is that more church and denominational leaders will start digging deeper… into their own faith, to begin.  That would include their doubts (starting with admitting they exist, on a variety of issues, even though these leaders are looked to for providing answers). 

After some honest and deep reflection, maybe accompanied by some “opposition research” and serious “paradigm” reconsideration, my prediction for them would be this: They will help lead Evangelical institutions further along the inevitable road of conforming closer to a post-postmodern reality.  Why “post-postmodern”? (A long term needing explanation.)

Not just “modern” in an overly rationalistic defense of orthodoxy, seen for over a century.  And not “postmodern” in leveling all differences (the very charge of many Evangelicals against “postmodernism”).  Maybe some additional leaders who take thinking seriously will find that systems like “Process thought” have provided a stronger, more consistent foundation than has “orthodoxy” (read: tradition/status quo) for robust and satisfying communities of faith.  Communities seeking “miracles” and spiritual growth but also concerned with care for the earth, for the oppressed, for the findings of science.

A “Higher Order” Review: A Year of Trumpian Views on Trade and Economy

December 29, 2017

All I’m going to do in this post is link to what I had written shortly after Trump’s election to the presidency, with this brief intro: Now, almost a year into Trump’s presidency, we can begin to see what effects are building from the particular “thinking error” I was there pointing to.  It’s pertinent to this blog’s theme, having to do with ethical/spiritual themes like, say, the Golden Rule.

While there may yet be no obvious or profound negatives, any supposed positives are either incidental to Trump policies and rhetoric or, I would argue, are short-term and vulnerable to reversal and later effects in a negative direction.  The post is “A Fundamental Thinking Error of Trump and his Supporters”, found here.

Morton Kelsey: The Importance of Jung on Consciousness after Death

December 28, 2017

You may be aware that depth psychologist, Carl Jung, brought a lot of attention to what he called “synchronicities” (and Christians often call “God things”). I noted it in my recent review of a fascinating book on his body of work in relation to a patient and later collaborator, physicist Wolfgang Pauli, found here.

I was intrigued to find that, a few days after writing my review of the book on Jung’s and Pauli’s pursuits, I accidentally unearthed some more material on Jung I’d had over 2 years but not remembered about, from the estate of a neuroscientist friend who had died.  It was very pertinent (synchronicity or subconscious memory, triggered?)… on Jung’s work on death, dying, and continuation of consciousness.  In addition, it was by a professor whose work I’d been impressed with in the past, Morton Kelsey, an Episcopalian who taught at the University of Notre Dame.

It’s also interesting that what I’d been given may never have been published except for students or interested parties at Notre Dame, in the 1970s.  It is a copy of a typed manuscript, on legal size paper. With at least an unofficial (default) copyright, I will treat it as any publication for review.  Undated, it appears to have been written around 1972. Kelsey published books after this date, most of which I’ve not read to know if he later published this or similar material. (Title: “FACING DEATH AND SUFFERING: The Christian Hope, Part 1”, n.d.)

What is worthy to note is that Jung was both particularly science-oriented (collecting lots of data, weighing it analytically, researching, etc.) and spiritually-oriented.  He had broken from his mentor, Freud, over the “spirit/materialist” worldview issue.  In this, he stood over against most other analysts and psychiatrists of the day and since, who tended to be materialists or favored determinism, ignoring any realm of spirit.  They were, and a majority still are, reacting to the sloppy mix of wise mythology, silly superstition and confused conjecture with legitimate spiritual sensing that constituted most of Christian and other religion.  (Jung himself was far from any kind of traditional Christian, though raised in such a family and environment.)

It’s not easy to unravel this messy interwoven fabric. Jung knew this and was gifted with focus and persistence… and fortunately, a long life.  In this short paper on the impact of a course of his on death and dying for a class of pre-medical Notre Dame seniors, Kelsey points out that Jung had his own experience of being close to death for about three weeks during his sixties (he lived to 85).  He already had decades of research and similar impressions from reading and many interviews, to what he experienced directly at this time, during a series of vivid “visions”.  One with the strongest of impressions Kelsey summarizes as seeming “to portray his departure from this world in the most universal images, and then his return.”

He then quotes Jung from his Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963, posthumous), “‘It was not a product of imagination. The visions and experiences were utterly real; there was nothing subjective about them; they all had the quality of absolute objectivity.'” (p. 275)

Now Kelsey had met Jung on more than one occasion.  Jung did not share Kelsey’s views of Christian faith. However, he notes that Jung can hardly be charged with being either naive or mad. It would also have been totally out of character for Jung to have lied about his experiences.  “In talking with the man, I found it difficult to imagine a more down-to-earth person, or one more realistically critical and less naive. He gave himself no airs…. I found that I must take these experiences seriously and also other experiences of the same kind which have come to me through twenty-five years of pastoral experience, and longer than that reading and pondering the subject. For those who have not put on the blinders of a naturalistic world view, the evidence is there to read.” (p. 13)

In fact, there already were lines of evidence, many of them outside of organized religions, when Kelsey wrote this in the 1970s.  However, it appears Raymond Moody’s famous book of 1975, Life after Life, had not yet been published.  It was first of a long and increasingly detailed and verified series of studies of evidences for survival of consciousness beyond clinical death.  Perhaps not scientific-style “proof” of continuation of consciousness or “life after death”, but a welcome shift to curiosity and serious study of the nature of consciousness and how it may exist in both an “individual” identity (a “person”) or collectively, or both.

People of professional science need to give “spirit” and “paranormal” phenomena their due, and people of faith need to pay close attention to the findings of science.  That is, when it properly exhibits humility about the limits of its methods and refuses speculation and unwarranted conclusions as much as it expects that of religion.

Jung, along with Kelsey (also now passed), are prime exemplars in this endeavor.

 

The Interplay of Science and The Mystical: Review of “Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung”

December 14, 2017

This is an important and fascinating book. I just discovered it recently though published in 2009. Something sucked me into it. Perhaps my decades-long interest in the relation between science and spirit; between our intuitive, unconscious being and our rational, conscious being.

Here, as for Pauli and Jung, it’s not “science and religion” but what author, Arthur I. Miller, might prefer to see stated as “science and mysticism” or maybe “science and spirit”.

Once into the book, the hook was also the deep peer into two extraordinary minds and lives… of Wolfgang Pauli, physicist, and Carl Jung, psychologist.  And how Jung first helped Pauli out of despondency and self-destruction and then became an active collaborator as the two plumbed the depths of physical and psychic reality. Pauli seeking out the deepest, smallest structures, forces and “symbols” (mathematical equations) of the atom and Jung the structures and symbols of the mind and its “shadow side”.

There’s something here for a wide berth of readers: enough fascinating life-story for biography buffs; enough detailed atomic structure and history, personalities of early-to-mid 20th century physics for science buffs; enough political intrigue, conflict and drama for European history buffs; and enough of Pauli’s and Jung’s persistent probing into the relation of matter/energy and consciousness/life for anyone intrigued by the nature of reality and “what it’s all about”.

I want to keep this brief. So rather than summarize much of the wide-ranging, fascinating detective and historical work of the author (such as correspondence not made public before) or of the protagonists (both were historians as well as innovators in their own and related fields), here are some “take-aways” for me:

  • Innovation is fostered both by cooperative synergy and by competition (sometimes with a nasty edge)

  • While physics has advanced tremendously since Pauli’s death in 1958, some of the questions puzzling him and his colleagues remain unanswered, particularly the reason for the centrality of “137”, while even more have been raised

  • Similarly, Jung’s breakthrough insights about the collective unconscious and archetypes has been advanced in areas such as “resonant sensing” (or “remote viewing”), and “near death” studies, much remains shrouded in mystery

  • “The academy” and control centers of both physics and psychology remain basically as closed and averse to serious research and examination of “parapsychology” as they were 50+ years ago, though these two men, with others since, have demonstrated the viability and promise of such research and consideration

  • (In other words, as to the above, institutional resistance yet needs to be broken down… resistance stemming from the doubly irrational positions of pure materialism in the physical sciences and much of psychology and the “magical” supernaturalism of its major opponents operating out of the orthodox theism of the monotheistic religions)

My own reflection, a step beyond or aside from where Arthur Miller leaves us, is that the complementarity of opposite poles considered crucial in both physics and psychology by Pauli and Jung is most often not in play, on a human level.  That is, few people allow for a valid “opposite” or counter-balance to their own perspective. We need a breakthrough toward mutual respect and greater introspection.  Rather than this holding sway, vast energy is being wasted by certain science representatives opposing religion (and/or spirituality) too broadly.  In reaction, many religious leaders and lay people take up an offense, counter-attacking science, being anti-evolution and such.

Fear of being ostracized or ridiculed by their colleagues, and of institutional “penalties” held back Pauli and Jung from some of what they wished to contribute to stimulate further thinking and research.  Sadly, it is not much different yet today.  But the legacy of both men, and of their “strange” and productive friendship leaves us a lot to work from and an inspiration to forge ahead.     

Review of a Radical Book — a Vision of Christian Action in Community

November 28, 2017

Don’t trip over the title. Counter-Imperial Churching for a Planetary Gospel is a very important book.  Author Timothy Murphy is aware that it is aimed at a relatively small audience.  But it’s an influential audience of progressive (and potentially other) church leaders and various thought leaders.

He repeatedly refers to the contents of the book as “this project”. The point seems to be that he is implementing the perspectives and practices he lays out and intends that others follow suit.  Many of his readers will be ministers and institutional leaders in progressive Christian circles generally and in Process theology circles more specifically.

I attended the same Process-oriented school of theology (Claremont) at which Murphy now teaches and am generally familiar with “Process” and what it tends to emphasize.  But he took me further and deeper.… I found his summarization of Process and the key points of some of its leaders clear and enlightening. (Not light reading but worth one’s effort.) It also lays an important foundation for his development of a “radical political theology”. He does a great job with a set of concepts simple in the end but challenging to explain in non-technical terms. (He does use some in-house Whitehead terms, but in a way that most educated lay people I think can follow, especially given his care with explanations.)

This aspect alone makes the book worth reading for those wondering what Process thought is and why it matters.  That is, if they come with some foundation in related areas such as theology, political theory, systems analysis, etc. Lacking this, I expect most would bog down and miss much of the real value in this work, value that is “real world”, not just theoretical.  Because of this, I’ll take the space to give some substance here, in order to deliver some of the value to lay readers.

Now, what does the difficult-to-remember title mean? It’s a very thought-out one, each term deeply developed in the book.  “Counter-imperial” expresses Murphy’s stance that God’s call, modeled in Jesus particularly, is to operate on another level from, and often in opposition to the typically oppressive and violent nature of systems controlling the world, often denoted as “Empire”.  “Systems” indicates that, while specific people need to be held to account for their actions, the problem is much deeper.  It includes their operating context, institutions, power dynamics, etc.  All of this is covered thoroughly in the book.

“Churching” clearly changes the noun, “church”, or “The Church” (as a theoretically universal entity) into a verb… something followers of Jesus (or others) do.  Murphy’s concept of churching is broad enough that an explicit tie to Jesus is not actually necessary although his concern is churching within Christian communities and individuals.

This churching activity is part of proclamation of a gospel for our planet.  Unlike the Evangelical mission, teaching about Jesus, assertions on things like his divine (or human) nature or concerns for our personal afterlife destiny (salvation) are not forefront.  They take only a background role.

Murphy also reminds us that “global” is a less concrete and Earth-and-life involved term, so he prefers “planetary.” And, rather than being only a broadly general concept, the “… gospel offers good news to the situations we find ourselves in”. (p. 185).  In the same concluding section, as throughout the book, he specifies what we may properly call “Christian” in it: “… the good news that Jesus brings or reveals.” This good news, in Murphy’s context, is all about this life, with no speculation on the nature of the next or connection of this life to the next beyond the idea of continuation of consciousness (or “eternal life”, as we often term it, in some form).

In good beyond-postmodern fashion (what might also be called “Integral”), Murphy locates himself in terms of both his views and his institutional affiliations (Disciples of Christ/Christian Church, United Church of Christ, recently the interdenominational Progressive Christians Uniting, and several other church involvements in addition to teaching at Claremont School of Theology).

In the preface, Murphy says he writes “particularly for those who like myself desire to hold together as inseparable both spirituality and social commitments. They are not merely two things that are held in tension or as a paradox.  Rather, they are inextricably bound together.”  He further explains this is why he often compares and contrasts authors who “… sometimes… would not be interested in each other’s projects. Yet somehow there is the sense that these thinkers need each other, that what they are saying is connected so thoroughly, even though they offer differing insights”. (p. v).  I applaud this appeal to cross-pollination, including across academic disciplines (little seen anymore).

This inter-connecting Murphy does is one of the values of the book.  Should one want to explore any of several innovative scholars on issues related to his themes, he gives helpful summaries and many endnotes.  He points out both what he likes and finds helpful and what he doesn’t, with a sense of fairness and appreciation…. After all, one of his key themes is listening to and appreciating differences.

In fact, the third chapter, following a meaty Introduction and “Proclaiming the Planetary Gospel” (Ch. 2, touched on above) is “Practicing Differentiated Solidarity”.  This scholar-speak means basically that we can and should stand in solidarity with others who have significant differences from us. The search for common ground is important but not at the expense of recognizing and respecting differences.  Often common goals (such as fostering counter-imperial communities) can be approached from very different starting points and with different methods. Not knowing or grasping context is often the key to why we so often fail to move in solidarity with others, including other Christians.  When it comes to “churching”, Murphy repeatedly emphasizes that there is no general or universal pattern for how it should look.  Churching is localized, in widely varying contexts, while it also reaches out to new and different contexts.

In this chapter, Murphy describes the work of Joerg Rieger and Kwok Pui-lan, who develop the similar concept of “deep solidarity”.  He says the term “differentiated solidarity” was “coined by the feminist political theorist Iris Marion Young” though utilized a bit differently.  As to Rieger and Kwok, it “includes yet also transcends their economic model.” (p. 69).  He remarks that they “primarily focus on the class solidarity of the 99%” and his use of the term “… extends beyond that context to wherever one sees and is moved by oppressive actions (which quite often include class dynamics)”. (p. 70).  A key point of Counter-Imperial Churching regarding these two and related appeals for broad, inclusive solidarity is this: the mutual interest of all…. We are all interconnected, in more ways and more powerfully than we tend to realize.

The first three chapters have covered two of Murphy’s three-point outline of the activity of churching: kerygma (proclamation) and koinonia (fellowship).  Chapter four comes to diakonia (service), titled “Political Influences in the Struggle for (and Struggles of) a Radical Ecclesiology”.  For readers unfamiliar with churchy lingo, “radical ecclesiology” is the concept of being (or doing) “the church” truly at the root of things.  It’s thinking and acting on the most basic of the attitude-and-action-oriented teachings of Jesus.

Here are a few bullet points from this crucial and potentially most controversial chapter of the book:

  • “Mainline” Christian liberalism should more thoroughly critique itself, expand its consciousness. It is still too enmeshed with the blinded nationalism of civil religion. (However, I might add, less so than the “religious right”.)
  • A “grassroots democracy of direct participation” is possible.
  • It’s possible because “… the multitude [potentially everyone] can become a force of counter-globalization that avoids Empire’s controlling functions”. (p. 97).

The book is basically about how Jesus-followers, especially in groups locally or regionally, can and must lead this force.  God is behind and within it but is not restricted to the efforts of these people, who mostly self-identify as Christians.

At the same time, Murphy is very specific in educating readers.  He wants us to see how systems of oppression are set up and operate; how political (governing) processes are a part of but not the totality of injustices; how movements must be more self-aware and sophisticated for broad effectiveness.  In these important details, he is addressing mainly thought leaders who often are activists as well, or certainly can influence “the multitude” of activists.  The book is mainly one of scholarship (vs. popularization) in terms of this.  In this vein is also his coverage of many other thinkers and approaches to “counter-imperial” action for the good of humanity.

As to the service aspect of churching, the counter-imperial approach “… requires being able to say boldly who you are and show how you are confronting the systems that ignore people’s value.  Otherwise, you are functionally irrelevant, both to your context in American society and to the planetary gospel that needs proclaiming in your setting”. (p. 115).

Note that this goes beyond the also-important service of meeting immediate needs and supporting hurting or marginalized people.  Is it controversial and dangerous in some sense? Murphy implies “Yes” throughout the book.  And is rocking the boat with “political theology” needed? Yes, because “… there can be no clear division between the secular and the religious, as they are co-constituted in their very constructions”. (p. 115).

In the sixth chapter, Murphy tackles the vast subject of approaches to ecclesiology (or “The Church”) as they contrast with or contribute to his own vision and what he seeks to promote among Christians concerned with good news for the whole planet.  He deals mostly with three theologians: Jürgen Moltmann, Marjorie Suchocki, and Marcella Althaus-Reid.

While departing from the highly influential Moltmann, Murphy affirms Moltmann’s purpose of encouraging “… moves away from large organizations to small-scale communities… [with] a shift from church as ‘religious institution’ that cares for people into more of a real community in, through, and with people”. (p. 118). Murphy critiques the tendency of Moltmann, typical of most orthodox views of the Christian church, to reassert “… too quickly… a universal unity at the expense of particular expressions of the good news”. (p. 120). The idea is that a planetary gospel is essentially the collection of many, many localized efforts and communities.  It is not a single message or movement spread throughout the world.

As to the work of process feminist theologian, Suchocki, Murphy is basically in agreement and support.  The process foundation of forward-focus and becoming, with the impetus of a God of true love (uncontrolling being a crucial feature), he sees as vital.  His main critique is Suchocki’s willingness to leave it to others (such as himself and many local act-ers) to be specific in reforming church traditions and institutions in needed directions.

One of these directions, for Murphy, is to stop being so concerned to be “decent” (or supportive of the status quo). He likes Althaus-Reid’s (who is Argentinian and female) steps toward what is often considered “indecent”, particularly in sexual identity and sexual ethics. Not an “anything goes” approach but rather one that removes boundaries for inclusion and supports the struggles of the marginalized, including those marginalized for the nature of their sexuality and its expression.  For example, he quotes her saying that her “particular” (vs. universal) church “… is constituted by ‘Queer dissidents in search of paths of holiness through social practices of justice in sexual, religious and political areas of their lives’.” (p. 153, footnote 166).

The last chapter is “Living Out a Counter-Imperial Ecclesiology”. How does one, with one’s faith community, go about this churching thing? Even here there is substantial material.  One aspect may be useful to younger or somewhat evangelically-leaning readers: Murphy’s comparison of his concepts to the nature of the emerging church movement (ECM). He says of his approach, “Like the ECM, it challenges the use of traditional religious space and time. It seeks active participation among worship attendants, such as the use of prayer stations. It is more decentralized than pastor-driven churches and is open to forms of postmodern philosophy…” and self-emptying thinking (p. 160). However, on the movement’s shortcomings, he says “it misses its privileged place in globalizing”. (p. 160). It is privileged places of class, wealth, etc., and their support of oppressive systems which are particularly attended to in Murphy’s churching model, whether the support is knowing or unknowing.

One could say the book includes a call to become more informed, more world-aware.  As he says in New Testament fashion, “we are in the System, but not of the System”. (p. 161). Historically, Christians and Christian institutions have usually bowed to or even imitated systems of the world rather than stood against them.  In this final chapter, Murphy emphasizes again how counter-imperial churching is not just against Empire and its evils… it is locally and practically proactive.  One example he cites is Urban Mission in Pomona, California. Only one of its centers is for worship. It went about assessing “… the spiritual, physical, and social needs of the primarily working-class Latino community in which it found itself.… With multiple bi-vocational ministers, one focuses on healthy eating and ecological living, while another specializes in ministries of re-entry and restoration for the formerly incarcerated, and another leads engagement with the real needs of the community.” (p. 174).

I found this defining statement particularly cogent: “Churching is not a refuge for the lost, a place for private solace, or a community of the saved separated from the remainder of the world.  It is a means by which divine values and desires are reflected and revealed for the world”. (p. 177).

Note: Thanks to Process Century Press for kindly providing me a copy for review. This has not influenced my thoughts regarding the book.  

Hobby of Artifacts Runs Amok… Due to Childish Faith

July 7, 2017

In case you’ve not heard the recent news on stolen and smuggled ancient artifacts here it is: Hobby Lobby and its CEO, Steven Green, have just reached a settlement over having purchased ancient Iraqi artifacts outside of proper credentialing and against warnings. The big “whoops” involves about 5,500 artifacts such as cuneiform tablets and similar objects, according to Newsweek, NPR and other news sources.

Per the settlement with the US Dept. of Justice, Hobby Lobby will pay a $3 million fine and forfeit the artifacts, which will be returned to Iraq.  Why the Green family would want so many of this kind of artifact was news to me… or that they were even in such a collecting business! The situation is this….

The Greens, according to reports, have put 500 to 800 million dollars into building a vast Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.  I’m posting this, for timeliness, without doing much research into this project.  But I’ll venture a couple educated guesses on what this is about.

First, the Bible is part of an extremely powerful mythology under-girding the development of Western culture.  This began to change about 3 centuries ago with the Enlightenment.  However, the Bible, and certain interpretations of it, are still consciously foundational for a large portion of particularly the American populace.  Of course, below most of our consciousness, the Bible and “Judeo-Christian heritage” is indeed the foundation of much of our law, culture, etc., even as their direct influence has waned.

But the changes begun in earnest in the 18th century, both outside and within Christianity, are still what drives efforts like a fundamentalist Museum of the Bible.  “The Bible is under attack”! (Well, in one sense, yes… all the way back to its inception, but particularly in the modern/postmodern era.)  Of course the broader concern is that “Christianity is under attack”.  (Well, certain forms of it, yes.) But its existence is far from threatened.

And I’d bet my genuine page of the first edition of the King James Bible (1611, KJV) that it is actually the subcultural values and beliefs of fundamentalists that they most seek to defend.  It’s an entire view of life, culture, history and the world that they think is “under attack” and needs defending.  And what better than a “rational”, quasi-educational “infotainment” center (museum) to do it?

With this you can not only attract big crowds but also weave a selective story “proving” the historicity (and authority) of the Bible and the events it records.  

I see it akin to two other endeavors: First, the Creation Museum in Kentucky, founded by creationist Ken Ham. It’s also large and splashy and seeks to present the (very short, under 10,000 year) history of humanity under God’s direction.  Second, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  They present aspects of culture mixed with religion in an appealing way which creates a veneer of being “mainstream”.

Without knowing much about the Museum of the Bible, I’d venture to say it will aim to appear very scholarly and to tell a story of and about the Bible that is at least superficially believable.  Particularly to the faithful.  But it may pull in others with little background or discernment with which to evaluate their claims.

Why the drive to obtain rare and valuable ancient artifacts, even if not directly related to the Bible or its creation? One answer would be to raise interest for people to come see the museum along with some cool story-telling inside it.

Unfortunately, it’s quite telling (in a not-so-spiritual story) that in reaching a large settlement including a fine, the collectors are tacitly admitting they breached their own supposed ethical standards in their zeal.  Worse yet, purchases of black market antiquities from the Middle East have been shown to sometimes fund the work of terrorists, whether or not this is known to buyers.