The Greatest Years Since Jesus

Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

According to Fox & Friends, the Trump administration has beenthree of the greatest years since maybe Jesus walked the Earth with his ministry”

Here’s what people are saying about his Christ-likeness:

I think I am a great moral leader.” – Donald Trump

Voting for Trump is voting Christian values: “For a Christian, it’s who they are as a person, what they believe, and how they act (in other words, their fruit) that’s important.” – Ken Ham

I found a very caring man. I found a man who had more integrity than most people that I had encountered. A compassionate man.” – Paula White-Cain

Trump is a soft-spoken, kind man. “He watches Christian television: Kenneth Copeland, Jim Bakker, Paula White-Cain and others.” – Kenneth Copeland

I believe he has moral character and that he is a man of God.” – a New Jersey evangelical

Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment.” – Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Trump has “a heart of compassion and love”. – Sid Roth

In all likelihood never see a more godly, biblical president again in our lifetime.” – Michelle Bachmann

“President Trump and Vice President Pence are the most Christian acting political leaders of our lifetime. However, Biden and Harris are the most Satanic candidates in USA history.” – American Christian Voting Guide


Maybe your god is busy relieving himself

So they yelled louder and, in accordance with their prescribed ritual, mutilated themselves with swords and spears until their bodies were covered with blood. Throughout the afternoon they were in an ecstatic frenzy, but there was no sound, no answer, and no response. I Kings 28-29, NET Bible

With less than three weeks before the 2020 election, all signs indicate Donald Trump will lose. Maybe even lose badly. Trump can still win, and that’s what garment-rending evangelicals are beseeching God to do again. “I believe this is a president who wears the full armor of God,” one impassioned evangelical exclaimed.  Evangelicals know they… er, God… put Trump into the White House, and are confident they (He) are going to do it again. God anointed Trump’s re-election – it would humiliate God himself if Trump were ingloriously beaten and embarrassed by God’s enemies.

Despite the out-pouring of supernatural expectancy, some evangelicals have distanced themselves from the President, and bleak headlines indicate Trump’s base is somewhat eroding. One Christian Reformed pastor in Michigan made headlines by resigning from his church of Trump partisans, observing that the “white evangelical community in our country has abandoned” its role as conscience of the country. Paula White warns that Christians will “stand accountable before God’ if they vote against Trump”. If you vote against Trump, Kenneth Copeland says, you’ll be guilty of an abomination of God. It seems like TV-obsessed, narcissistic individuals understand one another.

Trump can still win; he must win and he will win because so many Christians believe in the Trump Destiny. And we have learned who Jesus is voting for from the anointed visions and prophetic words given to various Media Christians. Of course, God had to inform Pat Robertson personally that President Donald Trump will be reelected. “At 4:30 (am), the Lord said to me, I am going to give your president a second win,” prophesied a Nevada pastor whose church was hosting Trump. Back from a visit with God in Heaven, a charismatic prophetess reports that a thousand special agent angels have been deployed from Heaven to insure Trump wins. Prophecy has said so.  

There is a fever pitch atmosphere of supernatural expectancy in this last stretch. And seeing how things aren’t going according to God’s plan, Franklin Graham called for an emergency nationwide prayer huddle to beseech the Lord. With Election Day looming, these prophets and high priests will be “yelling louder”, in an “ecstatic frenzy” to gin up the evangelical vote. God, destroy our political enemies, in Jesus’ name, AMEN.

I plan to watch election night coverage on CBN to see the shock and disbelief as they see the bad news come rolling in. And, of course, see the reactions unfold as evangelicals begin to comprehend that God repudiated the Chosen One.  With “prophecy”, there is always a back door. If Trump loses on November 3rd, it’s not God’s fault. It’s the fault of lazy Christians who didn’t pray hard enough for God to intervene.

Or maybe the evangelical god was busy relieving himself.

The Fourth Seal

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. Rev. 6:8

Over President Trump’s term, Christianity had enjoyed “three of the greatest years since maybe Jesus walked the Earth”. We are still one week away from November 3rd, 2020, and there are strong indications the Chosen One of God will be unchosen by the voters of the United States. This, even though Archangel Michael, the captain of the army of the Lord of Hosts, has been assigned to “lead a team of fellow archangels to descend from heaven to achieve the victory.” They’ll  come in pretty handy, because according to the D.C. Police Chief, “(i)t is widely believed that there will be civil unrest after the November election regardless of who wins”. 

In the “supernatural realm”, nothing will change in Trump aftermath, because the Evangelical Industrial Complex has too many sunk costs waging the holy culture war between Good and Evil. Evangelical leaders depended on Trump – but not really. A perfectly wealthy Paula White told him she didn’t need his money. Like her, many megastar Christians have become millionaires through feeding their ardent followers with religio-political codswallop. “Winning” is relative where Trump is on the ballot, not them. They have their weaponized media to combat the enemy’s nefarious tactics, constantly reminding their vote-rich audiences that Satan will be fighting like never before in the days ahead. “There is also widespread belief that violence and anarchy are being organized and funded by powerful forces that are maneuvering America toward a socialist dictatorship”, writes James Dobson. President Biden is going to “hurt the Bible, hurt God … He’s against God”, according to Trump. We need to pray against those who refuse to accept Christ, according to one activist; “we pray God to take his enemies and rid us of them and destroy them.”

Juxtaposed against this is the apocalyptic evangelical persecution complex. Evangelicals have always functioned more effectively as a righteous opposition. And a volatile one, nourished on victimization. Franklin Graham warns that militant leftists are coming for you and your guns.  “I believe we’re going to see persecution in this country,” he warns. We have our backs to the wall and the spiritual battle is ongoing, no matter the election results. In addition to the usual litany of end times fear-mongering, a number of evangelical leaders juiced up on the Democratic demonic death cult predicted – or even encouraged – armed rebellion. “If the Democrats are successful in removing the president from office, I’m afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal,” Robert Jeffress warned during the impeachment proceedings – and Trump re-tweeted it. James Dobson intimates that violence and anarchy fomented by Soros-funded socialists may cause “another civil war”. Were Trump to be impeached, Jim Bakker warned in 2019, Christians would finally come out of their shadows and begin a second civil war. Trump’s vindication in the Senate was a further indication of God’s hand on the President. Undeterred, in their Plot to Steal 2020, the forces of Satan will try anything to win through treachery – deceitful tampering with ballots, fraudulent ballots from dead people, cyber-subterfuge, intimidation – and 1000’s of spell-casting witches.

Trump has never met a white supremacist – “very fine people” – he didn’t like. In a shout-out which many interpreted as tantamount to encouraging violence, he told a gun-toting, far-right group to “stand back and stand by”. “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if this election is rigged,” Trump declared, stoking fears he will refuse to accept the results. He cheerleads the chants of “Lock Them All Up”. But he was “having only fun” at a Trump rally – after thirteen people had been charged with domestic terrorism in a plot to lynch Michigan’s Democratic governor. White evangelicals attend his super-spreader rallies in droves, and share many of the ideological principles as their white supremacist confrères. They swim in the same ocean of disinformation, conspiracy theories and lies. Evangelicals love this “meanest, toughest, son-of-a-you-know-what” and his violence-exploiting rhetoric. Grievance-nursing evangelicals may not actively sanction armed rebellion, but they have a shared destiny where whites will come out on top. Their End Times narrative keeps them locked into it. Like Saul, they would watch over the cloaks laid at their feet. Rick Wiles threatened Trump’s loss would force him to stockpile to defend his home and church. “We’re in time for war,” Rick Joyner said, adding a vision in which he saw godly militias popping up like mushrooms.  “At the end of the day, the least you’ve got right now is in the low tens of millions of people who’ve actively prepared to murder their countrymen and in many were looking forward to it.”

There will never be a peaceful transition of power under Donald J. Trump,” warned Michael Cohen. Get ready; the knives are out. Whoever did this to Donald Trump is not gonna get away with it.

This isn’t about politics.

I’m not encouraging people to vote for Trump.”

I am not asking people to endorse him.”

This isn’t politics.”

This is not a political endorsement.

 “No, this isn’t a political event.”

“One thing I appreciate about President Trump,” remarked Franklin Graham on one of his Decision America tours. “He’s not a politician”. Posing as apolitical, Graham insists he is not telling anyone who to vote for, but these events occur like clock-work just before an election to gin-up right-wing voting. We’re just going to have people come and pray over a divided nation and for God’s protection over the president, he often says. He doesn’t outright tell people to vote for Trump, but he makes no bones about who he hopes the country will elect come November.

In 1972, Billy Graham intended to vote for his golfing buddy, Richard Nixon. But at least he pretended to be bipartisan, laying low until the end of a close race, so he could throw his support to Nixon more effectively. Unlike his father’s Crusades, however, Franklin’s events make no excuses about being thinly-veiled political rallies with a spiritual veneer, where a person can be converted by both the gospel and the Republican party.

As if to reinforce that marriage, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association publishes its Special Election Guide, with a dire warning that “voters are choosing between two polar-opposite visions for America”. In 39 pages of fear-mongering hyperbole Graham wants to bring the country together with culture wars broadsides that are tearing our country apart. If you get through to the back cover, there is the obligatory Billy Graham devotional,. The rest of Franklin’s contribution of evangelical gospel is little more than right-wing footnotes

Franklin Graham says that Trump is not a politician. No matter how much he doth protest, he couldn’t say that with a straight face about himself.

More Coronavirus Ironies

Let’s Not Meet The Lord In The Air:   Televangelist Kenneth Copeland casts the threat of Coronavirus into his own brand of spirituality. “You get your tithe in that church if you have to go take it down there and drop it off or stick it under the door or something”.[i] He runs a high-overhead business funded by ordinary people sacrificing their paychecks. If his marks are broke, he’ll be broke too. Never mind you’re unemployed; you need to keep giving him the Lord’s money even if you may not see another paycheck for a long time. Maybe a better money-raising idea for him would be to put his fleet of private jets on the block. This is Coronavirus lock-down time; no one’s flying anywhere. As he once protested against his flying commercial – “This dope-filled world, and get in a long tube with a bunch of demons. And it’s deadly.”[ii]

Guess the Country Quiz: “________ have been put at risk by the callous policies of _____________ that values retaining power, protecting its image, and safeguarding its own economic, political, and ideological interests over public health.”[iii] If you guessed this was some rational person talking about Trump, you’d be wrong.

Pooping out Christian lawyers into an oversaturated market satisfies the Fundamentalist itch to save America. Liberty is the go-to pipeline to fill out the Trump administration; they have that working for them. Perhaps its best that the University preferred a law school over a medical college. Given the prevalence of anti-vaxxers, even if a vaccine were found, these tribalists probably wouldn’t support it. Being anti-science is a quaint religious belief, until it starts killing other people.

See how they love one another!  It’s been widely reported that Jerry Falwell Jr. is not shutting down in-class studies at his Liberty University, implying that the coronavirus outbreak only affects the elderly and infirm. “I think he is dangerously wrong here and seems unable or unwilling to recognize it,” an LU professor had the temerity to write.[iv] Brother Falwell is right one respect – mortality from the virus is more prevalent among vulnerable populations. And yet, any one can be an asymptomatic carrier – and we have no idea how many people have the virus but have not been tested. We’ve always been told that brotherly love is infectious. We’ll see how Typhoid Mary plays out in the Liberty dorms.

“You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.” Committed evangelical and Lt. Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick was speaking on behalf of all AARP-age people.  He said he and other American seniors would be willing to die from the coronavirus in order to save the economy. Patrick was mimicking Trump, who was mimicking Fox News. “My message is: Let’s get back to work,” he said. “Those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country.”[v] Moral Triage: If the price is a few dead old people, so be it. Like the Nazis thought, they are simply “useless eaters” anyway.

David Brody now on Enemies List? As political reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network, David Brody has had carte blanche access to the President. Maybe not so much anymore, after two negative tweets accused the President of providing “… false information about testing…multiple times! Invoking hyperbole in certain situations may be permissible but false statements about the #Coronavirus is sloppy & dangerous.”[vi] Does this signal an evangelical divorce from President Trump? No, but Trump will etch this disloyalty into his very stable genius. He never forgets a slight, and forgiveness is not in his moral vocabulary.

What do you say to these beans? They’re magical. Plant them overnight and …”, Jack protested to his mother. Never mind that Jim Bakker can’t sell his miracle silver Kool-Aid any more. Now he’s peddling “some of the most common and powerful medicinal herbs that can be readily grown from seed”. You can buy a bucket’s worth of this medicine exclusively from him for $99. Or you can get a similar one on Amazon for $20. You have to hand it to Brother Bakker. He may be greedy, but at least he’s resourceful.[vii] 

[i] Michael Stone, “Televangelist Copeland Commands Unemployed Followers To Keep Giving”, Patheos, March 19, 2020.  (accessed March 23, 2020).

[ii] Jessica Chasmar, “Televangelists Defend Private Jets: Commercial Planes Full Of ‘Demons’”, The Washington Times, January 5, 2016.  (accessed March 24, 2020).

[iii] James Phillips and Nicole Robinson, “Iranian Regime’s Reckless Disregard Made the Coronavirus Outbreak Worse, Daily Signal, March 20, 2020. (accessed March 24, 2020).

[iv] Marybeth Davis Baggett, “Dear Liberty University Board: Please Stop Jerry Falwell Jr. Before It’s Too Late”, Religion News Service, March 22, 2020.  (accessed March 24, 2020).

[v] Jonathan Tilove, “Dan Patrick’s Coronavirus Sacrifice: I’ll Risk My Own Life To Keep Economy Humming”, Austin Statesman, March 24, 2020.  (accessed March 24, 2020).

[vi] Sky Palma, “‘A Major Failure’: Evangelical Pundit Turns On Trump For ‘Confusing People‘ With His Coronavirus Lies”, Raw Story, March 12, 2020.   (accessed March 24, 2020).

[vii] Hemant Mehta, “Jim Bakker, Unable to Sell Virus ‘Cure, Promotes ‘Make Your Own Medicine’ Plant”, Patheos, March 20, 2020.  (accessed March 24, 2020).

Random Evangelical Thoughts on the Coronavirus

The President of a large Christian nationalist university wondered on national television if the Coronavirus was a Chinese and North Korean conspiracy, premeditated to make President Trump look bad. He echoed his political hero, who himself repeatedly pointed the finger at China for spreading the virus, referring to it as the “Chinese Virus”. By that logic, history books should be obliged to teach that the smallpox epidemic that decimated American Indian tribes be called the “White Man’s Pestilence”.

At that same large Christian nationalist university, its President reportedly remarked that students aren’t treated like family but rather “like customers”.[1] Suggesting that Coronavirus was a hoax perpetrated to undermine President Trump, he kept in-person classes open, just as students were returning from Spring break. The decision contradicted the advice of health experts on safeguarding students and staff. But the university was a business, and the students were not family – just customers. Your family is precious and you protect them, but you can always get new customers.

A well-known televangelist/telemarketer reportedly went on-air to say his silver concoction could kill pathogens like SARS, HIV, and some strains of coronavirus. The miracle elixirs disappeared from his television show after several states filed lawsuits alleging false advertising. Hawking a fake cure was only a sideline, and he fell back on his survivalist food buckets. It’s a win-win deal. He finally got the great disaster to move his Armageddon rations, and his prayer partner-customers could sit back and gloat, “the world is dying and we’re having a breakfast for kings!”[2] It pays to stick with what you know.

Despite the country teetering towards financial meltdown, the White House refused to postpone its rule change imposing strict work requirements onto SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance. The White House projected that 700,000 would be kicked off the food stamp program even before thousands lost their jobs when Coronavirus measures took effect. Magnanimous display of empathy when unemployment could rise to 20%.

Wheat stockpiles are at an all-time high. The Government is sitting on a 1.39 billion-pound stockpile of cheese. Producers are sitting on 2.5 billion pounds of frozen meats. We’re running out of warehouse space to store it all. How is it then, that anybody in this country can go to bed hungry?

The average Fox News viewer is 67 years old. The average evangelical church-goer is 50. These are not normal times for the 55-to-dead demographic. It would make sense that pastors would be concerned that encouraging old folks to attend church invites them to get the virus and die. Not all of them get it. A pastor in Louisiana is not unusual in claiming the blood of Jesus would protect his church. He got the great idea of passing out “anointed handkerchiefs”. People could sneeze and cough their lungs out with no risk to the congregation.

In the midst of the pandemic, Florida tele-preacher and Presidential horse-whisperer Paula White made a pitch for $91 donations from her contributors. As she explained, she was in charge of a hospital – a spiritual one.  Meanwhile, sick people in Florida were headed into real hospitals. Many were losing their sources of income. Here’s a thought – why not dip into your millions and pay each of your congregants $91 instead. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,’ but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it?” James 2:15-16 (NET Bible).

Here’s another thought: If prosperity gospel is based on faith, it should work both ways. Tele-preachers call upon their audience to give in faith. The prosperity gospel should work both ways. The preacher should take a real step out in faith to accept only $1 lottery tickets. If he has the faith of a mustard seed, God’s blessings should flow over each prayed-over and mailed in ticket; same as cash! Such an anointing could rake in millions!

[1] Zachary Petrizzo, “Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.: ‘We Treat Students Like Customers’”, Mediate, February 12, 2020. (accessed March 21, 2020)

[2] Kylie Mohr, “Apocalypse Chow: We Tried Televangelist Jim Bakker’s ‘Survival Food’”, National Public Radio, December 5, 2015. (accessed February 2, 2019).

And they’ll know we are Christians by our stuff, by our stuff…

Rarely a day goes by when we buy nothing – and even more rare is the day when we intentionally refrain from making a purchase. We even go shopping as a pastime; entering the mall with no intent to buy, but leaving with bags of unplanned purchases. Lacking any telos; an unending quest for new ways to consume without having any ultimate consummation. On one hand, this practice invests things with redemptive fulfillment. On the other, they can never measure up to that and so must be discarded for new things that hold out the same unfulfillable promise. We no longer consume to live; we live to consume. It compensates for a central emptiness in which serial acquisition makes itself its own goal. We have become comfortable with the circular equation that defines our never-satisfied acquisitiveness; an addiction common among Americans. In fact, the chronic disease of overconsumption has a name – affluenza.

         Where do we go from here? Like 12-steppers, we face a hard choice: whether we are Christians or consumers. We evangelicals would do well to take a moral inventory of ourselves, ask whether our life revolves around our things, and admit we are powerless before impulse and excess without Christ restoring us to sanity. A reasoned approach, as any credit counselor will advise, is to live like credit cards don’t exist, and impose a budget with planned expenses that curbs indiscriminate buying and the temptation to “buy now and pay later”. Even saving and waiting does not transform our connectedness to things. We want them all the same; having to wait until we can afford them only increases the craving. The biggest hurdle is shifting our self-stimulation by cheap, shiny trinkets that quickly lose our esteem. The psychological dependence upon things is something that we as consumers will never understand unless we confess their mediating role in our lives, and quit being managed by things which moths and vermin destroy, and thieves break in and steal.

         Perhaps the best antidote to consumer choice is anti-choice – to “unshop and unspend”. Christmas is every day in America, and very few of us really need anything. At the forefront of a growing anti-consumerism movement are faux ministers like the “Reverend” Billy Talen and his Stop Shopping Choir, and secular advocacy groups which sponsor an annual protest against Black Friday.[i] On Buy Nothing Day for example, community leaders in Rhode Island hold a Winter Coat Exchange.[ii] “How, in the richest country in the world, do people not have winter coats?”, one organizer asked.

         “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none,” John the Baptizer preached.[iii] Evangelical Christians are among the most generous givers, both in terms of money and time. Food pantries, soup kitchens, farmers’ markets, food trucks, clothes drives, and rummage sales are just few of the concrete ways they share Christ’s love. Giving from one’s surplus is what God expects of those who have more. But Jesus takes it further. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” was not just a suggestion but a command. He has something to say about owning things not for their value in terms of utility, but in what they express. And about amassing a disproportionate surplus of what is needed. Americans buy because we can, and have for having’s sake. Jesus intimates that what we consider our assets are actually liabilities. We protect our toys with alarm systems and insurance premiums. And we worry over all of it. We are hoarders, with basements and garages chock full of no longer wanted bicycles and ski equipment. Not to mention the burgeoning self-storage industry, which is like long term parking for our overflow stuff. It rarely occurs to us that maybe the stockpiled treasure we are continually amassing owns us instead.

         “Godliness with contentment is great gain,” wrote St. Paul to Timothy.[iv] Former President Jimmy Carter was asked if there is anything he wanted but didn’t have. “I can’t think of anything,” he replied.[v] Carter eschewed many of the financial perks associated with former Presidents, and in comparison, has chosen a modest lifestyle formed by his faith. Spiritual stewardship of possessions is not simply making a statement against consumerism, or even being judicious in personal spending habits. These are still decisions made by the self, and for oneself. Like dieting, exercise, or other forms of self-discipline, minimization in the form of ascetic restraint can be made into a god as well. Spiritual stewardship requires us to ask the question, how can my decisions on acquiring and retaining goods benefit not myself, but honor God and further his Kingdom?

         For Christians like Ann Patchett, it is not simply an anti-lifestyle. She described the epiphany of “living with the startling abundance that had become glaringly obvious when I stopped trying to get more.”[vi] As a Lenten practice, instead of asking herself what she could buy, she began asking what could be given away to benefit others. Patchett is dead-on in her assessment. It’s not so much a matter of downsizing the house, as it is decluttering your heart; making room for the work that God can do when you focus on others’ needs instead of your own wants.

Like the woman at the well I was seeking

For things that could not satisfy;

And then I heard my Savior speaking:

“Draw from my well that never shall run dry”. [vii]

[i] Cif Green, “The Ultimate Christmas Gift? Buy Nothing”, The Guardian, November 26, 2009. (accessed June 2, 2017).

[ii] Michelle R. Smith, 50,000 Free Coats: Holiday Ritual Bucks Consumerism”, Washington Times, November 24, 2016. (accessed May 12, 2017).

[iii] Luke 3:11 (NET Bible).

[iv] 1 Timothy 6:6 (KJV).

[v] Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan,  “The Un-Celebrity President”, Washington Post, August 17, 2018. (accessed August 29, 2018).

[vi] Ann Patchett, “My Year of No Shopping”, New York Times, December 15, 2017. (accessed June 5, 2018).

[vii] Richard Blanchard, Fill My Cup, © Copyright 1959 Word Music, LLC.

The Real War on Christmas

         “I’ve done this every year for the past six years,” one Black Friday shopper told the Boston Globe. “I love the anticipation of the doors opening and me going in and getting what I want.” And Christmas creep guarantees they begin earlier and earlier every year. We spend more money at Christmas than the gross domestic product of over 180 different nations. Americans don’t celebrate Christmas; they sacrifice to it as god.

         In itself, consuming is not bad; it is the food on our tables, the clothes we wear. And one cannot argue against the manifold material benefits that the free market system has provided America. Our high-output engine of productivity has delivered a land of plenty, with buying power never before imagined. We are no longer relegated to buying what is needed; we buy whatever fulfills our desires. Even the majority who don’t consider themselves either rich or materialistic are vested in the American zeitgeist of consumption. “The consumer is a totem pole around which a multitude of actions and ideologies now dance,” write two noted sociologists. “At its heart, consumerism is an ideology on a par with religion and politics – even overtaking them on some fronts. It looks at consumption as the source of meaning, identity and pleasure.”[i]

        “‘The main ritual in our society right now is shopping,’ explains Billy Talen. ‘It’s the national religion. It’s the thing we all do that we don’t even question anymore.’”[ii] And if there were any cultural metaphor for sacramentalizing the person-object relationship, it would be the Christmas buying season. No one splurges over Christmas better than us. When Jesus ascended on high, he “gave gifts to men”.[iii] Never mind those; gifts are the reason for the season. And we want the kind Amazon brings.

         Santa Claus is “the embodiment of our culture’s greatest religious myth: the myth of success and affluence, right engagement with the economy, and the acquisition and consumption of images and objects… In short, Santa is not secular. He is sacred.”[iv] Christ’s more agreeable successor is the ultimate mediator between life and the material world.  Santa is holy because he is beyond sin, sees everything we do and loves everybody anyway. He has no Cross, no doctrine, no church; people can believe whatever they want – the only stipulation being that they have “been good”. No matter, his annual largesse comes regardless of your sins. Contrary to popular belief, Santa doesn’t manufacture items – he manufactures desires. And he fulfills them through fleets of container ships from China weighted down with the fripperies that define the good life. So he checks his list twice to bless those offering their credit cards in his many shrines. Regardless whether it be online or the Mega-mall, the annual consumer binge is the holly-jolly obeisance to a tinseled calf.

If our shopping habits seem to take on the appearance of sacred ritual, it is because we have failed to see them for the idolatry they are. Spending is so intrinsic to our life, we rarely pause first to ask, do we really need more stuff? While God has declared everything he made to be very good, Satan’s great masquerade easily deceives man into the illusion of our desires garbed as the good. Eastern Orthodox spiritual elders reflected on this, in the notion of prelest (Прелесть). Roughly translated from Church Slavonic, it represents the sort of susceptibilities to be led astray by false beauty. The closest approximation in English might be when Eve responded to God that she had been beguiled by the serpent – while perceiving the fruit to be good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and to be desired.[v] Prelest is the corruption of human nature through the acceptance of mirages; our human desires supply the self, the individual identity to what is otherwise an empty center. That is to say, the object of our devotion has no life other than what we supply it. We bow down to a sacred nothingness of lies and fantasies enticingly disguised as truth and reality. Idols are the ultimate objectifiers of prelest. Their sole reason for being is to mediate the illusory; to transfix our gaze is their raison d’être. Idols are contemplated first within the inner eye and reflect our ultimate desires; Timothy Keller calls these the deep idols.[vi]  The intrinsic power or value of the created or superficial idol, be it money, sex, a house, car, boat, or whatever, rises and falls depending on whether its appearance continues to satisfy our heart’s subliminal gaze.

The face we fashion onto the lifeless image is the semblance of that god projecting outwards from our hearts, through which we experience the divine, and with which we seek spiritual completeness. The divinity infused into an idol is authentically sacred, because into it, we have deposited our deepest desires and our most dreaded fears. “The idol therefore delivers us the divine, wherefore it neither deceives nor disappoints. It delivers the divine to us to the point of enslaving it to us, just as much as it enslaves us to it.”[vii] What makes their removal so difficult is that, while we delude ourselves into worshipping the divine, idols speak in the voice of their maker. There are not two minds – only one and the same; the disembodied echo of oneself. The idol speaks no words of its own, performs no gestures on its own, nor grants or denies any desire of its own choosing.

         It’s an expression of what the late Jesuit priest, James Kavanaugh, prophetically called the commodity form of life, “in which the producing, purchasing, and consuming of objects provides the ultimate horizon of meaning for persons.”[viii] And yet, the Empire of Things is not redemptive, but enslaving. All those good times come with a price, and many awake to a new year staring down the real costs. January is the busiest month for the weight loss $6.3 billion industry. By then, the shopping adverts have been replaced by a barrage of weight-shame commercials, where celebrity endorsers try to snag contrite revelers before the good intentions behind their New Year’s resolutions wear off. After the annual guilt trip subsides, some 94% backslide into recidivism. Conventional weight-loss programs count on this yearly cycle of guilt for repeat customers. That’s the bitter irony of the consumer god – once you satisfy his wants, he shames you for it.

         “We are shaped by what we desire, and what we desire is shaped by the material culture that surrounds us,” writes  D. B. Hart.[ix] Christmas is not being secularized by atheists as Fox News would have us believe. It is being resacralized with the help of comfortable Christians with an acquisitive worldview. Evangelicals are just as apt as anyone to seek happiness through frenzied holiday shopping and overspending. We pray that God gives us our daily bread. Consumption, which traditionally addressed the personal need for food, shelter and clothing, is no longer emblematic of sustenance, but self-empowerment.  We no longer need to buy just for living; we buy for desire, where more often our purchases reflect a “need” where none previously existed. Christ has promised to give us everything we need for life and godliness. But maybe he seems a bit slower on delivering the goodies than Amazon does.

         Like the calf-worshipping Israelites in the wilderness, consumerism is the temptation to see God’s provision as not good enough. Our economy has brought abundance, but it is never a big enough pile of abundance. The lifeblood of capitalism is the creation of artificial necessities to satisfy our presumption of entitlement to them. Marketing determines our most intimate psychological needs and convinces us that our emotional identity lies in purchasing just the right things to satisfy them. Products make up who we are. Their uniqueness expresses our individuality and defines why we are different from the rest of the world. The wherewithal to choose and acquire them allows us control over the good life. We pour over fashion and home magazines, lovingly polish our golf clubs, even give names to our cars. We infuse our possessions with deep emotional attachment. But when something newer and better comes along, they are unceremoniously dumped in a landfill or peddled on Craigslist. Wash, rinse, repeat: buy, use, dump. After Christmas, Santa goes off to begin manufacturing next year’s desires, because the allure is already wearing off the ones he’s just delivered.

[i] Yiannis Gabriel and Tim Lang, The Unmanageable Consumer, Los Angeles: SAGE Publ., 2006, pp. 8-9.

[ii] Jana Kasperkevic, “The Church of Stop Shopping Doesn’t Pull Punches On Its Return To New York”, The Guardian, November 27, 2015.  (accessed January 14, 2016).

[iii] Ephesians 4:8 (NET Bible).

[iv] Dell de Chant,  The Sacred Santa: Religious Dimensions of Consumer Culture, Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2002,  p. 194.

[v] Genesis 3:6, 3:16 (KJV). 

[vi] Keller, Timothy.  Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. (New York: Penguin, 2009).  p.  ___.

[vii] Marion, Jean-Luc. The Idol and Distance.  (Bronx: Fordham Univ. Press, 2001).  p.  6.

[viii] John F. Kavanaugh, Following Christ in a Consumer Society, Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, April 2014, p. ___.

[ix] David Bentley Hart, “Mammon Ascendant: Why Global Capitalism Is Inimical To Christianity”, First Things, June 2016. (accessed July 14, 2017).

Coronavirus and Corporate Greed

Whatever cannot go on forever must end, including profit-taking. The 2017 corporate tax cuts dropped a cash windfall into the hands of American companies. It was ostensibly for repatriating cash to stimulate investment in long term growth.  Instead, many companies opted to plug billions into share buybacks and executive pay packages instead of re-investment. The concern, writes Emily Stewart, is that companies “are rewarding stockholders instead of investing in their workers, research and development, new facilities, or other more productive arenas.”[i] Wall Street likes it because it inflates the price of shares. It worked in the historic profit-taking stretch which saw little volatility with optimistic investors, banks and consumers loading up on risk. It all looked so rosy. Boeing is a case study on how this can all go south in a hurry. A triple whammy of the 737 fiasco, trade war, and now the ripple effects of Seattle as virus epicenter. Who could have expected the company to husband its cash for a rainy day no one ever expected to come? We finance our First World lifestyle largely through debt. If one thing, Coronavirus is exposing how vulnerable our borrowed decadence is…

[i] Emily Stewart, “Stock Buybacks, Explained”, Vox, August 5, 2018.  (accessed March 12, 2019).

The “I” in Evangelicalism, Part 3.

Our churches,” writes Craig Gay, “seem to have forgotten the centrality of embodied human existence within the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[i]This hyper-spiritualized bent dovetails with a premillennialist apocalypticism, with Scofield’s footnote to 1 Timothy 4 reading, “The predicted future of the visible Church is apostasy”.[ii] We live in the final “dispensation,” where the institutional church has become Laodicean – prosperous, full of happy smiles, and increasingly apostate.[iii] The end-times church “represents the final form of the professing church, which is rejected by the Lord and vomited out of His mouth.”[iv] Many Dispies believe this Tribulation is preceded by the Rapture, where true believers will meet the heavenly Bridegroom mid-air in the clouds. They possess this secret Bible code, the gnosis, deciphered by John Nelson Darby. Salvation means not only escaping Hell in the next life, but also “this world as a wrecked vessel”, as Moody called it, including the institutionalized “Whore church”.[v] This otherworldly emphasis creates confusion in how the mystical body of Christ now dwelling on earth relates to the nature of the local church gathered in Jesus’ name, making the visible church an afterthought to most evangelicals.

[i] Craig M. Gay, Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018, p. 134.

[ii] Marcus P Johnson, “The Word Became Flesh: John Williamson Nevin, Charles Hodge, and The Antichrist”, Evangelical Calvinism: Volume 2: Dogmatics and Devotion, edited by Myk Habets, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publ., 2017, p. 1276.

[iii] Revelation 3:14-22

[iv] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010, p. 212.

[v] Dwight Lyman Moody, The New Sermons of Dwight Lyman Moody, New York: Goodspeed, 1880, p. 535.