Sunday, October 07, 2007

CONTINUING to PONDER GOD and HOW SOME CHRISTIANS BECAME DISORIENTED and LOST THEIR WAY by FOLLOWING and PURSUING RIGHT-WING CODE LANGUAGE IN THE 1970s

CONTINUING to PONDER GOD and HOW SOME CHRISTIANS BECAME DISORIENTED and LOST THEIR WAY by FOLLOWING and PURSUING RIGHT-WING CODE LANGUAGE IN THE 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s


By Kevin A. Stoda

A month ago, I was rereading Douglas Jacoby’s THE GOD WHO DARED: Genesis—from Creation to Babel (1997). When I came to the final chapter, I was astounded to find the appearance of the sort of code language shared so often by FOX News, Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson and others who have blindly supported the rightwing and conservative-Christian marriage which ultimately led to the Neo-Con takeover of the White House in the early part of this century—and all the related endless wars plus helping jumpstart a further growing division between rich and poor in America.

I had been planning to share Jacoby’s 1997 book (and to discuss its contents) with a young Christian from India at my own church who at that time was studying the book of Genesis in his own free time.

However, disturbed by the consistent usage of particular phrases by Jacoby in his chapter of that book, entitled “The Infernal Tower: Babel and Beyond”, I determined not to share that book with the young non-USA Christian.

I had found the phraseology in that chapter (and to some degree in some earlier chapters of Jacoby’s book) to be so objectionable that I had quickly decided I would write a blog about the terminology and code language used.

Happily, a good friend persuaded me to contact Douglas Jacoby at his own website on-line and ask him whether Jacoby now (ten years later) regretted a lot of his word choices in that ultimate chapter of that study of Genesis.

Hoping to provoke an on-line discussion about the usage and abuse of certain language which had led to very poor politics lived out by many mainstream American and right wing Christians over the last 3 to 4 decades, I wrote Jacoby as follows on his discussion board:

“In the chapter called THE INFERNAL TOWER in Jacoby's THE GOD WHO DARED (1997), the author's tone of voice and word choice moves away from his approximately 90% balanced narration—i.e. used in most parts of his work on Genesis--to one verging on "Neo-conservative Right-wing ultra stubborn Christian Culture War style" of writing—i.e. more common to Dobson and Robertson. In this final chapter Jacoby spends considerable time and uses numerous narration techniques calling the folks at Babylon "liberal humanists". Would he like to rewrite the chapter? The author seemed to be implying to conservatives Christians who believe in the God of Capitalism that it is OK to invade a sovereign country and try and rebuild a regime in their image. If the author had a chance to reword the chapter, would he?-Kevin”

Within one or two minutes, I received the following e-mail reply from Douglas Jacoby himself:

“Politically I am on the exact opposite end of this interpretation!

Anyway, the book is out of print. The 2004 GENESIS, SCIENCE, & HISTORY
is similar (included 33% of original book and another 33% rewritten)
but not quite the same. So maybe make suggestions based on GSH

Thanks for writing

BTW, you have completely misread me. Please search the website and you
will see that I am not your typical right wing Christian! Far from it.

Best wishes
DJ”


Next, I asked Jacoby to send me a copy of his newer book on Genesis, and for the subsequent two weeks I have continued to ponder whether or not to bring this matter of “language choice” in Christian bible studies to either an article- or blog format, i.e. in order to invite further reflection and discussion about who audiences are and what they might read into certain code words or catch phrases which have a tendency to pander to a particular political-economic narration of the world and the Word.


CAPTITALISM, ORTHODOX CHRISTIANDOM, AND HUMANISM

Being an evangelical Christian who lives in the Middle East and tolerates the evangelisms of Muslims and other theists sharing the country and planet with me, I have tried to live out in words and life the beliefs I have about how to make the world a better place for the old and the young. Previously, I have also worked in the country of Japan where both Shintoism and Buddhism have held sway for far longer than Christians (or many Christian ideals)--who first approached that island state’s shores less than 500 years ago for the first time.

It strengthens one’s self identity in many ways to either (1) live abroad or (2) live as a minority in any land.

This is why Americans or Brits living overseas often hang out with each other and identify memories and traditions more clearly as part of their heritage when living far from their friends, family, and other fragments of familiarity. Similarly, Muslims or Buddhists who move to the U.S. or Europe in some cases over time take on clearer cultural and religious identities than they manifested when living in the land of their birth.

For example, I know of several Palestinian and Turkish women who started to wear headscarves or other traditional coverings of their native lands only after they had lived in the U.S. or Europe for a number of years. Similarly, some people who are not strongly religious at home begin to seek our support groups among peoples of their own or of other faiths while living abroad.

Living abroad, one often finds many opportunities to clarify who one is and what one believes (is more important). In short, distance in both place and time can become either empowering or a divisive force to one’s sense of self or identity.

I recall feeling irritated one day back in 1994 when upon my arrival for a weekend of church service in Tokoyama, Japan, the wife of a pastor from California reported in one of our discussions, “Oh, I sometimes feel so outraged to see the large Buddhist statues and Shinto shrines all over town!”

I could tell that from her evangelizing background she felt called to denounce the “false Gods” of Shintoism and the statues of Buddha encircling and enveloping her life lived out in Japan.

Admittedly, I had occasionally felt such anger or moral outrage in my life about certain forms of cultural and economic worship, but I have seldom directed such anger towards images of religious themes or figures—regardless of the official religion or faith being discussed.

I replied to the preacher’s wife and questioned, “I feel the same way sometimes when I look across cityscapes in my homeland. Just look at the towers built encircling our urban landscapes as the 20th Century comes to an end! Many of them are constructed to commemorate insurance companies, finance offices or banks, and even world trade--or the Sears & Roebuck Company. Did you ever feel such a sense of condemnation back in San Francisco or some other part of the USA?”

I added, “It makes me shiver to think how man’s vision of mammon is manifested in the great construction projects of every age—but particularly in the engineering feats of this age.”

I recall how my history professors had made clear that every age is exemplified by the architecture it places at the hearts of its cities and among its connected rural landscape. In Roman times there was the coliseum, the pantheon, temples to a variety of gods, heated bath houses, and magnificence aqueducts. In the Middle Ages, the Cathedral dominated the landscape of cultures across Europe. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, minarets, mosques, madressas (schools), fountains, and waterwheels dominated.

In the 19th Century, factory chimneys reached to the sky and the train station and railroad lines became the focus of city planning and architecture.

By the late 20th Century tallskyscrapers, huge sporting complexes, and interstate highways dominated America’s design landscape. In the meantime, the military industrial complex had not only sent spacecraft far from the Planet Earth. Amazing new stealth technology and robotic devices came to dominate America’s place in the world as the 3rd Millennium started, and worshippers of USA’s warrior technology spent billions—of other people’s money—to try and build a new American Empire.

It is no coincidence that the World Trade Tower buildings in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia were the targets on September 11, 2001 for a people named Al-Quaeda—a people who were intent on rolling back most of recent world history.

In short, some people—like me—look at what kind of world is being worshipped by our wealth and mammon each year, and they see red!

This anger is misdirected, of course, but one cannot deny that images made by man can become the focus of our rage at a world—a world that is not on a good course to ensure the lives and security of our children and coming generations.

Many of us who marched against the nuclear arms races in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s felt that missile envy (and abuse of our financial resources on war) was a the root of great evil in our world. This was true whether one was a religious person or a so-called agnostic humanist. By the way, humanism was one way an agnostic (or someone who was dissatisfied with dysfunctional Christian practices) could find a voice against those who blindly took from Paul and Peter to pay an unending amount of tax dollars on John Doe Defense.

In the 1960s, this trend towards rejecting the religiosity of one’s elders or the elder generations’ manifestations of faiths was a reflection of the great discomfort a young generation felt at the shallow choices between a world at war and an international cold war. People were told that through supporting consumerism and the “American Way”, the world could conquer totalitarian communism. (This is not dissimilar to Bush’s request that Americans go shopping after the WT Towers were bombed in autumn 2001.) The objective through the 1950s was spend, spend, spend. A promise was made or implied—everyone could attain a middle class lifestyle! Everyone could enjoy a day a Disneyland. Everyone could enjoy the American dream of home and lifestyle.

Despite the near financial collapses of the 1970s and 1980s in the USA, the strange polygamist marriage between capitalism, right wing conservative religionists and the world’s largest military industrial complex continued to blossom.

This is where America found itself in the 1990s—i.e. with no evil empire in sight and with no apparent need for the post-1945 marriage of religion and capitalism to continue!

This feared loss of a long-term oversea’s enemy was one reason why—as early as the 1960s—a sort of culture war was promoted in the American landscape. This led to a growing division among Christians over the next few decades. It also led to a blind alliance between the so-called religious right and the new Republican party in the post-Vietnam era.

The subsequent battles in this period oversaw a born-again Christian Baptist, Jimmy Carter, called a non-Christian by the new right or so-called “Moral Majority” in the 1970s. Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan, simply followed or continued to follow (the truly fairly conservative) Carter’s 1979-1981 arms buildup, but Reagan took all the credit by using “God’s” name in connection with the “American Dream” more often than had any of his immediate post-WWII “so-called humanist” predecessors.


ABUSIVE LANGUAGE

Douglas Jacoby, in the Spirit of 1980s and 1990s CBN religious phraseology, begins his final chapter on the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) by describing what the world looked like in the time of Babel—just a few short generations after Noah and the Great Deluge:

“The spirit of gratitude after the rescue from the flood gave way in time to a self-assured and humanistic outlook on life.[Italics mine] Mankind lost gratitude and became grasping. At Babel he grabbed for the same thing he was really grabbing in Eden; personal autonomy, ‘freedom,’ the right to be master of his own destiny.”[p.153]

Jacoby continues his narration by noting that in Gen. 11:2 the Babylonian city of Shinar is mentioned as the location of Babel. Jacoby states, “Unity is a good thing, provided those unified are good people. But this was hardly the situation at Shinar.”[p.154]

It should be noted that in this chapter (and in my online communication with Jacoby), the author had had ample time to indicate that not only humanists—like those in the states of the former Soviet Empire—had had the ability to be unified and in error before God, but so did Christians who align themselves with one political party or in another in the name of unity.

Yet, not once does Jacoby clearly point this fact out to his 1990s’ audience in any straight forward manner.

First, Jacoby notes, “Man had a plan. He had superior construction techniques. Still on the run from God, he wished for security. The Tower of Babel was nothing more than man’s monument to his own ego.” [p. 154]

I respond, “Security? Wasn’t that the reason the U.S is now in several foreign wars simultaneously? How can we talk about Babel or Iraq today and not see a connection to the Homefront?”

As (1) I was living in Kuwait while reading this particular passage last month and because (2) the region where Babel was reported to be is only a few hours drive north of where I was living, I began to think of the Bush and Cheney leadership which captured the USA state department in 2001 from the democratic party--a supposedly more humanist American regime.

I thought about the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld plan to take over Babel or Babylon from Sadam Hussain’s regime. I realized clearly what happens when men have plans and are seeking security. I thought, “The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was nothing more than a coalition of men building a monument to their own egos.”

Nonetheless, in the 1990s when Jacoby published this particular Bible study on Genesis, he attempts to keep his finger clearly only in the direction of humanists. Is that a responsible way to narrate when already the country is overrun with such hyperbole?

Jacoby writes, “What was so dangerous about the brewing situation that God had to ‘come down’ and act so dramatically? What sort of citizen was being produced in Shinar?” [p. 155]

Jacoby answers his own questions with these replies concerning the characters of these people of Babel. Babel was for the:

(1) Haughty (Ezekiel 16:50), humanistic, “liberal” thinkers who flatter themselves ‘too much to detect or hate’ their own sin ((Psalm 36:2).”
(2) Men and women who commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong (Psalm 36:4).
(3) “Guilty men, whose own strength is their god” (Habakkuk 1:11).
(4) It’s a city where people sacrifice family for money, where lust is confused with love, where weekends and vacations are lived for self, where everyone is too busy for “religion”. [p.155]

Even though, all four of these statements appear to describe the approach Americans have witnessed to governance by the Republican Neo-Con clan since 2001, the author Jacoby painfully used jargon pre-W. Bush American Christians in writing, “We too must watch ourselves lest we become too humanistic.”[p. 155]

Why did Jacoby repeatedly state that the enemy at Babel was “humanism”? Was he trying to please a certain faction of Christianity? I hope not, but that is the way it appears looking back ten years later and after Jacoby wrote much more critical pieces in other areas of research, critical essays, and discussion. On the other hand, perhaps 1990s America had hoodwinked Jacoby into misreading the muse of history and the spirit of biblical narration.

Jacoby called Babel the place of “The Infernal Tower”. That means it is a place of the damned—kind of like many now living, fighting, struggling, and dying in Iraq and other wars.

Jacoby warned readers, “Babel was the infernal tower. Its ego was inflated so large that its field of vision was totally blocked; it did not see God, arms outstretched, pleading. In unmitigated pride it embodied the spirit of the age, having forgotten the truth about the past and refusing to consider the truth about the future. It promised everything, but delivered nothing. In pretense it reached towards the heavens, but its true foundations were in hell.” [p. 158]

By the time I had read these lines summing up what the story of Babel and its tower meant to Ibrahamic Faiths, I could see that in the first decade of the 21st century those words written by Jacoby (a decade earlier)and the projects and plans of men in Babylon today now pointed the finger of Babylonian witness at the strange coalition of Christians who considered humanism the enemy—rather than the follies against God and against the will of God or the desires of God for man as the really of their faiths.

These Christians had agreed to blind themselves to the facts on the ground which showed that the plans of the Neo-cons and others in the executive branch leadership did not serve either the will of God nor the American people. The crimes against humanity done in their name should call all involved to search their souls and to end the pretense of the enemy as being (1) someone who hates America or the enemy being someone (2) who is humanist.

The enemy is found sometimes in the sort of unity we seek with and in groupings with others.

Do we ignore God’s out-stretched arms to build a better world for current and subsequent generations? Or do we ignore his commands to do it on our own? I.e. Do we serve ourselves and undertake big projects and wars on behalf of God?--Or simply for mammon, fame, so-called security, and profit?


JACOBY AND CULTURE WARS

To be fair to Douglas Jacoby, he does ask many of the right questions in 1997 when he wrote this particular study of Genesis. Jacoby asks his students:

(1) Do we hunger for honor and recognition? Do we seek to make a name
for ourselves?
(2) Are we easily flattered? Do we feel ourselves influenced by
the “sophisticated”?
(3) Do we cringe when someone else gets credit for something we have done?
(4) Are we more likely to follow God’s commandments when others are watching?
(5) Are we more impressed with degrees and qualifications or character and
faithfulness?
(6) Are we more impressed by who somebody knows or what he knows?
(7) Which do we know more thoroughly: radio song lyrics and sports stats or
the Word?
(8) Are we false optimists? Confident the future will be better because
we have ‘plans”?
(9) Do we seek security in neat systems? Or in our relationship with god?
(10) Is God our “tower”—the biggest, most exciting, most impressive part
of our lives? [p. 157-8]

There were too many Christians claiming that those who opposed and marched against the shameless takeover of Iraq in 2003 “were drinking Saddam’s cool-aid”. What a horrible thing to say about your brothers and sisters in Christ seeking the best for your soul and America’s soul—as well as for the children and mothers of so many since-dead in Iraq.

Jacoby in his footnotes also asks, “What about our ideological or political arrogance? Did we ever think totalitarianism was a good idea? ‘Enlightened’ leaders making all the important decisions for the people who, after all, are just ‘children’?”

From my perspective, too many Christians—including too many in my own church—began to get Milton Friedman Capitalism and Pat Robertson Christianity confused with a living faith that involves fighting political and ideological ignorance.

This lack of will to call Christian leaders and others to account when they rage on-and-on about foreign- or humanist dangers but lead a whole country, people and political-economy to war-without-end MUST STOP NOW!

It should have stopped decades ago.

But, too many good Christians in America and in Europe were silent and let others define Christianity and living faith for them. The same has happened over the centuries in the Middle East, but that doesn’t mean we all need to do what John Doe Babel does.







NOTES

International Teaching Ministry of Douglas Jacoby, http://www.douglasjacoby.com/

Jacoby, Douglas. THE GOD WHO DARED—Genesis: From Creation to Babel, Woburn, MA: DPI, 1997.

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3 Comments:

Blogger kuwaiting for godot said...

Kevin, I think you flatter Jacoby too much with the level of attention you give him. Are you disappointed because you thought you had found a truly revolutionary voice and later discerned that you were mistaken? Incidentally, would you object to being associated with Liberation Theology? I have often wondered why that movement has been so abandoned, but maybe I'm just not keeping up enough. I like your thinking, but I'm not sure why you feel the need to pit yourself against divergent thinkers. You mention that you are living in the Middle East. I am as well. I am learning a keen lesson by watching how religious people with conviction can feel so compelled to get everyone else in alignment with their thinking. You mentioned that you spent time in Japan as well. I did too! (We have a surprising amount in common.) Buddhist spirituality rests in the knowledge that all things contain the Buddha nature. What is there in Christ's teachings that can provide us with a similar anchorage so that we can dispense with the Islam-like need to proselytize?

10:48 PM  
Blogger Kevin Anthony Stoda said...

I recommend you read some of my other blogs, like on Op-Ed News. I appreciate comments. Yours would go along well there, too.

I, too, am living in Kuwait most of the time and I write about comparative cultures a lot. I have a colleague at work who is Buddhist and I have volunteered with Japanese Buddhist Relief for Burma in the past.

I wrote on Douglas Jacoby because he is not associated with rightwing cultural political-economics fascists or fanatics, like Dobson or Robertson.

Jacoby is considered a great teacher and as he noted in his e-mail to me. He sits on the far end of the political perspective to Bush and Co.

I, therefore, used his ten-year old writing to focus on how people--in a subtle and sometimes unintended manner--end up pandering to the religious right and its political coalition of some of the worst sorts of phobia and bad thinking in modern times.

This is why I chosed Jacoby. I think he is reasonable and if he rereads what he wrote he might likely admit to his many on-line readers and Bible students that he errored in his WORD CHOICE and pandered directly and indirectly to the worst in American conservative.

I, naturally see myself as progressive and have stood by too long as Midwesters fall prey to the limits of ideology in language simply becaus local and national radio and TV media are controlled by the Right and fascist groupings who are intent on their on perpetuating their own interests, etc.

I will pass on the discussion to Jacoby at a later date and see how he responds.

I think Christians who are thinking need to reconsider the world view draped around our poor communication patterns. Jacoby has the following to get about a million readers to move on from the past ages dominated by propaganda.

That's all for now. Take care!

1:35 AM  
Blogger Kevin Anthony Stoda said...

(1) I want to say that on the one hand, I agree that Liberation Theology, which was under attack by both most famous pope of the 20th century-John Paul II--and some facets of right wing conservative chritianity for most of the past 35 years, has been too ignored by too many evangelical, charismatic, conservative, and other so-called orthodox christians.

I used to attend a liberation church in Managua, Nicaragua in 1995-96 when I taught there. It was located less than a mile from the US embassy. It was very much alive then--and I imagine it is so today. Such churches are also still alive in Brazil and El Salvador.

Evangelicals have only one real reason to ignore the wonderful message of liberationists. This is the neglect of evangelism.

The catholic and orthodox churches have much more to lose, they would be transformed greatly into people's churches and be more indivdualized--with little emphasis on hierarchy.

(2) I was babtized at the age of 37 1/2 in 2000. It was a lifelong journey. You see my mother is a United Methodist minister. She does not support adult babtism or "rebabtism"--as she calls it. I studied the matter for nearly twenty years and was babtized by evangelistic christians from the International Church of Christ.

Because of this long study of scriptures, I believe that both babtism and evangelism are very important to christians.

However, I lean toward liberation theology because it has the potential to help reform many movements--especially evangelical, charismatic and conservative ones.

You see, too many evangelists focus too much on evangelism while they should be working on daily witness by living out their faith--just as Muslims and Buddhists should be doing, too.

(3) All of the Ibrahimic (Abrahamic) faiths--Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are evangelical. Each of their sacred books commands the faithful at various points to evangelize--be up front and announce one's faith and why it is good to follow it.

Similarly, from 500 BC until about 1700 AD Buddhism was an evangelical faith. The evangelical fervor died out in Buddhism's birthplace in India first but continued on until Japan, Cambodia, and Vietnam were Buddhist.

The problem is not evangelism per se. The problem is one of balance and evangelizing by being truly carrying out and living out one's faith in a daily, hourly, and minutely fashion.

2:07 AM  

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