The New Republican Party

In Donald Trump, the Republican Party elected a thrice married, serial philanderer who was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women but claimed to be a God fearing born-again Christian, a ridiculous claim endorsed by the spineless likes of Franklin Graham. This same candidate mocked a disabled reporter and has repeatedly maligned "the fake news," itself an adaptation of the tried and true right wing scapegoat, "the liberal mainstream media."

Riding the coat tails of the right's shameful decline of conscience is Greg Gianforte, who last night was elected to serve the people of Montana in the House of Representatives, despite having been charged with assault for physically attacking a reporter the night before, which took place in front of three eyewitnesses and was caught on audio--and both accounts were widely disseminated and clearly incriminating. The truth is, most Republicans did not care. It was an acceptable lapse in judgement triggered, Republicans reason, by the fact that both liberals and the media are intolerable. As far as they are concerned, their is no loyal opposition--and given their fair-weather value system and growing affection for Russia, I'm inclined to agree with them, though I do recognize Senators Burr, McCain, and Graham, as well as a handful of other elected Republicans like John Kasich as a principled bunch of patriotic conservatives. But they are no longer a party. They are now just a moderate and sensible caucus within the party.

The Republican Party has reached a point where there is nothing more shameful and unacceptable, in their minds, than being a liberal. In the name of expediency, they are willing to muffle their conscience, discard morality, part ways with all manner of tradition and custom, and, apparently, elect violent criminals. They will align America and her prestige with authoritarian kleptocrats and despotic tyrants, if it means unseating Democrats.

The new Republican Party--and that is what this is, the dawning of a new right wing political faction--is guided by nothing but expediency. It is morally bankrupt. Any means is justified by the end goal of destroying liberalism for the likes of Trump, Sessions, Hannity, Limbaugh, and Franklin Graham. They are willing to partner with Russia, set aside the constitution, manufacture pure fiction, fear monger, race bait, and mortgage the very soul of their faith to prevent Democrats from winning an election. And that is dangerous. The Republican Party is heading down the road of tyranny.

The rhetoric of Trump and the election of Greg Gianforte in Montana shows us that Republicans have reached a breaking point where they believe it necessary to attack basic American freedoms, like the freedom of the press, in order to preserve their brand of freedom, which upon analysis is revealed to be no freedom at all. It is anarchy and rage.

Republicans are blinded by hate, not driven by principled conviction. They are a mob, not a political party. Republicans do not want compromise; they want a single party system or a white, despotic state characterized by Dixieland Christianity and the conspicuous absence of a welfare state.

This is the New Republican Party.

The Proclamation of Basic Goodness

The following is an excerpt from Finding God in the Body, Chapter 8, "Is It Not Written in Your Book?" Click here to order on Amazon.

“They took up stones to stone him,” John writes in Chapter 10, Verse 31. Jesus responds:
I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?

They answered, as Caiaphas would soon thereafter:
It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.
You see, moments before Jesus said, “The Father and I are one.” Steeped in Jewish mythology, as Jesus was, he turned to his stone-toting audience and asked, “Is it not written in your book, ‘You are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be in error,” he skillfully continued, “can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, I am God’s Son?” Simply put, if I am in error so is the book you believe to be inerrant.

Frustrated by Jesus’s sharp-witted response, the mob tried to seize him, but he escaped. Later, in the Sanhedrin trial, Caiaphas tried to pin Jesus down once again: “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

First he tells Caiaphas, “You have said so. But I tell you…” In other words, what you and I mean by “messiah” are two different things. Jesus then unpacks his messianic vision. He describes “a new heaven and new earth” where “God lives amongst mortals.” In his vision, humankind is at the “right hand of God.” The phrase “right-hand man” refers to someone who does the work of another, usually someone more powerful. Jesus is saying that humankind is the instrument of God’s peace and creativity. And that all the kings, queens, and ecclesiastical hierarchies cannot stop this evolutionary force because it is coming on the clouds of heaven. This is the messianic hope of Jesus.

The messianic hope is realized not by a prefigured savior or by a chosen few, but by the whole of society. “Messianic consciousness is not something that comes in the future; it is our intrinsic nature,” writes Rabbi David Cooper. “It is our birthright, available to all of us here and now. Although obscured over the millennia by clouds of ignorance, its light continues to shine in the divine sparks at the core of our being… In our time, the goal of raising holy sparks is nothing less than the attainment of messianic consciousness for all of humankind. In this context, the individual cannot be separated from the integrated whole; the collective enlightenment of humanity is clearly as relevant as any focus on individual attainment.”

When the messianic impulse is read through the lens of fundamentalism, it leads to complacency. Instead of saying “Yes!” to our adventure, we sit on our hands waiting on our savior. When the messianic myth is read within, it leads to responsibility. We all bear messianic responsibility. “You are the light of the world,” says Jesus. “A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp-stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

It is our task to transform the world, not by trying to change the people in it, but by recovering the spark of basic goodness that shines within ourselves and elevating that light to new heights. We must allow the flame of God’s Being to consume our whole person. When our life is set ablaze by the fires of basic goodness, others feel that flame burning within themselves. This is how the world is transformed.

Just before his arrest Jesus prayed, “Father, the glory you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Jesus did not see himself as the Boss’s Son. He saw the flame of basic goodness in the heart of all people: “God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust alike.” His message was a universal one. He did not see man, woman, black, white, gay, straight, Jew, or Gentile. Jesus wanted to speed up the day when all of God’s children would answer the call to participate in the Power of God.

Reverberating in the mind of Jesus were the words, “God saw everything that God made, and indeed, it was very good.” This “goodness” is at the core of the gospel message. It is the “good news.” At his baptism, when the heavens parted, Jesus heard the voice of God say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am pleased.”

At the top of the mountain, during the transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw the heavens part and heard a voice say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am pleased.”

When we look deep within ourselves, we see that we are good. “Christian life and growth are founded on faith in our own basic goodness, in the being that God has given us with its transcendent potential,” writes Father Thomas Keating. “This gift of being is our True Self.” The light of our True Life may be obscured by the clouds, but it still shines.

On the mantle of Jesus’s baptismal confession was the proclamation of basic goodness, the gift of eternal Being—not immortality but I am-ness. When we place him at the center of our baptismal confession, we become idolaters. When we place Jesus on our altar, we end up loving him more than we love what he embodied, which lives in our body. When we love something more than the indwelling presence of God, we break the first commandment.

Jesus walked the path for us, but not in place of us. He blazed a trail, but it is up to us to walk the path. The Power of Being must be resurrected in our body and no one can do that for us. We have to take up the yoke before us. We have to pick up the tools of self-analysis, study, prayer, and meditation.

Jesus Wasn't Polite Company

Well-intentioned followers of Jesus too often assume he was a warm, fuzzy guy. 

In him they see someone preoccupied with keeping the peace, not making waves. And there can be no doubt that Jesus was a peacemaker. He was non-violent to the core. But non-violent is not the same as non-confrontational.

Non-violence is an inherently confrontational practice. We need not look as far back as the Gospels to confirm this fact. Both King and Gandhi used confrontation to effectively dramatize injustice. Similarly, confrontation was a preferred tactic of Jesus. 

Jesus was undoubtedly a kind, compassionate, and loving man. But Jesus's message was subversive. His behavior, tactics, and rhetoric call to question the simple-minded ideas many of us cling to about love and compassion. The fire-brand that turned over the money-lender's table is tough to square with the overly sentimental image of Jesus many of us hold dear.

Jesus was not an "agree to disagree" kind of guy. When the Pharisees asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" Jesus did not say, "To each their own. Now go in peace my brother." He instead called them "hypocrites" and said,
"You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!"

Ouch. That is the sting of brutal honesty. 

“Our ideas of God tell us more about ourselves than about Him,” said Thomas Merton. I suppose the same is true about Jesus. The always affable and courteous image of Jesus that occupies the altar of our mind conforms more to our fears and expectations, than the picture painted by the Gospels. It appears to be an image cast in the shadow of our fear of confrontation. We don't want Jesus to be confrontational because we are afraid of following him into the conflict.

Conflict can be scary business. 

Jesus never declined an invitation to a good debate, even when tensions were high. "They took up stones to stone him." Stop and think about that: "They took up stones to stone him." If there is ever a time to keep your mouth shut, it is when they take up stones to to stone you. Yet, Jesus offers perhaps his wittiest response of all to this stone-toting audience: "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, you are gods?' (82nd Psalm) Now if those to whom the word of God came were called 'gods'—and the scripture cannot be in error—can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, 'I am God’s Son?' If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father." He said that to people who were about to stone him!

I am not saying that Jesus was unnecessarily combative or the First Century equivalent of an internet troll, but I am saying that when ideas and practices deviated from the truth as he saw it, Jesus turned into that friction, rather than away from it. He was not concerned with "keeping the peace," so to speak. He said, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Obviously, he is not referring to physical violence. He is talking about the sword of wisdom which cuts through those ideas, beliefs, traditions, and institutions that prevent us from realizing what he called "The Kingdom of Heaven."

Challenging someone's "beliefs" is often thought to be impolite. Social customs that place our religious ideas above dispute are built in memetic devices that aid those ideas in their struggle to endure. On the spiritual path, such etiquette is counter-productive. It compartmentalizes our beliefs, segregating them from the reality of our daily life, which is the environment they must learn to operate within. In fact, unless they learn to operate within that environment they cannot be considered proper beliefs.

Kant describes three degrees of conviction: opinion, faith, and knowledge. In brief, opinion is both subjectively and objectively insufficient; faith or proper beliefs are subjectively sufficient but objectively lacking; and knowledge is both subjectively and objectively sufficient. Sufficient to what? Establish truth. What is the minimum threshold of truth? According to the pragmatic theory of truth as fleshed out by William James—which is the most suited for our purposes—it is utility. When an idea inspires action and the corresponding result of that action proves to be useful, then that idea ceases to be a mere opinion and becomes a proper belief, though it lacks the persuasiveness or efficacy needed to be universally accepted as knowledge. This is the ladder our ideas must climb to become beliefs, the ascent of which requires study, debate, self-examination, and spiritual practice.  

Social taboos against openly critiquing religious or spiritual ideas do nothing more than guard those ideas against the pressure truth applies to them, which is what forces them to adapt or mature into proper beliefs. As a result, our ideas about spirituality fail to ripen into a practical and effective spirituality. They remain adolescent, under-developed, ill-suited for life in an adult world, which is why Jesus ignores this custom. He embodies the sentiment expressed by Paul when he wrote"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways."

Politics is another sphere of intellectual life that is often quarantined. We are afraid of the tension soaked conversation that ensues when politics, religion, or the ever combustible combination of the two surfaces. People tend to identify with the the ideas that collectively define their religious and political orientations and therefore feel internal friction—stress, fear, anger—when those ideas are challenged by competing points of view. Therefore, those conversations typically surface only in the "safe space" of like-minded people. And breach of this unspoken protocol is thought to be bad manners, as the old saying goes, "In polite company, it’s not proper to talk about religion or politics."

Jesus is not polite company! 

He is extremely critical of other's beliefs. In fact, the word "hypocrite" appears approximately twenty times in the Gospels. I am not suggesting we run around calling people hypocrites, but I am suggesting that open and honest debate is healthy, even necessary, for spiritual growth and a thriving democracy. We should be respectfully critical of other's beliefs, as well as our own. And by critical I do not mean rude, but "crit·i·cal: an analysis of the merits and faults of a given idea, proposal, or practice."

Beliefs are the ideas that orient us toward the world in which we live. They are those ideas upon which we act. When beliefs or traditions prevent ourselves or others from orienting their entire Being toward the reality of our daily life, they should be challenged. If there is a manner of living that is more fulfilling, then that life should be lived and any beliefs that prevent us from actualizing that life should be challenged. Avoiding this confrontation is a form of spiritual bypassing. When our ideas are challenged, it is an invitation to grow: an invitation to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.

I am not suggesting that walking the spiritual path requires us to become contrarians. I am simply saying that debate and discussion are an essential part of a balanced and healthy spiritual diet. And furthermore, they are part of the path outlined by the example of Jesus.

We have to be willing to have those uncomfortable conversations. Discomfort is the texture of kenosis, which is the active ingredient in spiritual growth. We have to be willing to question not only our beliefs and traditions, but the beliefs and traditions of others—not out of spite, but as an expression of love and fidelity to the truth. This is part of Jesus's yoke, his jnana yoga, if you will.      

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