Archive for the 'religion' Category

Questions for Bob Doll

Christ in Business – Bob Doll (Full video)

Published on Oct 24, 2014
On February 2014, Gordon-Conwell in Jacksonville hosted an event on Christ in Business. Our speaker was Bob Doll (CFA, CPA), who has been Chief Equity Strategist and Senior Portfolio Manager at Nuveen Asset Management, LLC since November 26, 2012.

I watched this video on Christ in business with low expectations, even so, I was disappointed. He works in the financial industry as a portfolio manager. He seems decent enough, but REALLY needs to check his privilege. He describes losing a previous job because, if I understood correctly, he refused to put an investment into a client’s portfolio because he did not think it appropriate. In this his faith protected him. Because, if I understand correctly, he was being asked to put a bum investment into a client’s portfolio and he put his client first. Good for him.

He also lost his job for “sharing his faith.” There are certain Christians who just won’t understand how inappropriate that is. If someone at work tells you there is sickness in the family or something like that it is fine to say “I will hold your child (or whoever) in prayer.” Even atheists, most of them, understand that as a friendly gesture. But if you ask them if you can pray with them, that is inappropriate. That is crossing a line. Can you imagine a Jew, Muslim, or Buddhist offering to pray with you? No, because no American Jew, Muslim, or Buddhist would possess the sense of entitlement that would allow such rude behavior.

Faith is a prickly subject. My minister once remarked in a sermon that there was a stretch in his life where he commuted on the train regularly. He always took his Bible with him to better study while riding. He always sat alone, no one wants to sit next to a man reading a Bible. That should tell you something about the public display of religion. The mere site of a Bible is enough to repel people. Christians would do well to ask themselves why that would be so. Christ calls on us to refrain from being jerks.

Matthew 6:6New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Let’s talk about his understanding of economics. He is a successful portfolio manager, so it is tempting to think that he understands economics. But he buys into the conventional wisdom that is destroying America. Doll reminds me of those fools who sleep walked their way into World War One. Like Nicholas and Alexsandra he appears to be oblivious to the widespread suffering around him, the extreme state represssion of its own citizens and other growing signs of social dysfuction.

He described the economy being in good shape because, in addition to other things, the federal deficit is down. In fact, that is precisely why the economy is so rotten. There have only been two times in American history that the federal deficit has been in surplus, 1928, and 2000. It is not coincidence that the biggest economic collapses came in the immediate aftermath of federal surpluses. Federal spending into the economy creates money and reduction of the federal deficit takes money out of the economy. Anyone who understands modern monetary theory understands this, and that conventional wisdom is tragically wrong. All the gains of the so-called recovery have gone to the top 1%. This is not a healthy economy.

Moreever he was lyrical about he energy sector, by which he clearly means fossil fuels. So he is OK with investing in the destruction of planet earth. Given that renewables now cost less than fossil fuel you would think that a man styling himself as a Christian businessman might invest in the preservation of God’s creation, but it seems you would be wrong. That is what I mean by sleep walking our way to disaster. Our elite, political and corporate, are like those fools who slipped into World War One.

So here are some questions I would have for Doll if he were sitting with me right now. What does it say about Christianity that the most religious nation with an advnaced economy also has the worst health care system among advanced nations? We pay the most money and get the worst results. What does it say about American Christianity that we tolerate such things? What does it say about our national priorities that we spend more on our military than the rest of the world combined? What is coming down from the pulpit that we tolerate such a state of affairs? What does it say about the US that Gitmo was ever opened? And that it remains open? Why haven’t Christians risen up and insisted that it be closed? Why aren’t Christians as a whole, not just a few faith groups here and there, calling for the prosecution of war criminals. Why is Doll more worried that the Hobby Lobby might have to pay for their employees sexy time than the fact that his government is committing torture on a systematic basis?

What does it say about our morals that so many people need to own guns, and not just a gun, but private arsenals. What is coming down from the pulpit that is turning America into an armed camp? It is not the crime rate, crime is way down. Paranoia is way up, and clearly the churches are not helping.

What does it say about America’s spiritual health that one in thirty of our children are homeless? What does it say about our economic system that vacant houses outnumber homeless people? How can Christians tolerate such a state of affairs?

These are all indications of systematic social moral depravity that Doll completely fails to recognize. And I love it that he is all for giving to his church but begrudges any money for taxes. There are many ways to give to God. One is in the form of tax so the federal government will repair the bridge before it collapses on us. There is no indication that Doll has any sense of social compact outside of his church.

Waldemar Januszczak on early Christian art

Waldemar Januszczak takes a fascinating look at early Christian art. It seems for the first centuary there was no art to speak of, only symbols, such as ROTAS squares, Chi Ros, the anchor, the fish, and very rarely, the cross.

When representations of Jesus first appeared in Italy, it was not the bearded Jesus familiar to us, but a boyish Apollo-like figure preforming miracles and bringing sweetness and light to all. The early Jesus is hermaphroditic. Not until Mary appears (borrowed from the Egyptian goddess Isis) does Jesus become masculine. Even then, the beaded adult Jesus does not appear until Constantine makes Christianity the official church of the Roman empire. Dark ages Jesus is Zeus like and presides over all. The tortured Jesus does not show up until the Middle Ages (and I would love to know when the tortured Jesus shows up and what the political developments were and which pope was in business). The Zeus-like Jesus is a feature of a state church where God is there to scare people and keep them in line. If they wanted mercy they were to pray to Mary or some other saint.

Which raises the question, what happens then the Protestant Reformation comes along and Mary gets pushed aside? So far as I am aware, Lucas Cranach is the first Prosteant artist to represent Jesus, and we still have the suffering Jesus. We also get baby-kissing Jesus and merciful Jesus protecting the adulteress. Protestant Jesus tends to be more alive, not on the cross like medieval Jesus or the angry Zeus of Dark Ages Jesus.

Go forward into the 17th century and we get Rembrandt’s tender long-eyelashes Jesus.

Now in modern times we have the kitschy praying in the Garden of Gethsemane Protestant Jesus.

Protestant faith journeys

Young Evangelicals Are Getting High

A friend of mine attended a Christian college where almost all of the students, including her, grew up in non-denominational, evangelical Protestant churches. A few years after graduation, she is the only person in her graduating class who is not Roman Catholic, high Anglican or Lutheran. The town I live in has several “evangelical” Protestant colleges: on Ash Wednesday you can tell who studies at them by the ash crosses on their foreheads.

dunno what to think

Michael Wood’s history of the British Reformation

Michael Wood did a wonderful series The Story of Britain – A People’s History. It is done from the point of view of ordinary people, a ground up view of British history.  It begins with Roman Britain and goes up to modern times. I only watched the parts through the 18th Century. Instead of cheesy historical reenactments, he has the descendents of those involved, or at least the current inhabitants of the historic locations, read the words of their forebears. For Wood succeeded in finding the letters and diaries of ordinary Britains going back to Roman times. It is very effective and illuminating. And it brings history to life far more than any reenactment.

So why was I so disappointed with his treatment of the British Reformation? Because he buys into the traditional top down view of the Henrician Reformation, rather than my view, Henry successfully co-opting a popular movement.

Wood does pay tribute to Wycliffe and his poor Lollard priests. And Wood quotes Ball’s most famous sermon “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was than the gentleman?” Wood goes on to observe that Lollardy was never entirely suppressed. But he does not convey how Lollardy flowed into the 16th Century Reformation.

Tyndale saw a Lollard priest burn at the stake as an adolescent. He describes it most movingly and it clearly made an impression upon him. So here is one direct link from Lollards to Tyndale. Later, after Oxford, Tyndale was tutor to a Lollard family of weavers. Lollardy and the cloth trade were closely linked. Lollard strongholds, or should I say remaining Lollard networks, were the early areas of Protestant activism. It would have been nice to have a glimpse of those weavers who befriended Tyndale. It also would have been nice to have a sense of those involved in the smuggling Tyndale’s bible into England. Was London the only port of entry? Or were there others? And how were the bibles reassembled in London? And once they were reassembled, how were the distributed? It would be nice to know all that. I am thinking something a little more scholarly than Tony Robinson doing a Worst Jobs of the Reformation series, although that would be a start.

What Wood does do is give us a view of what it was like to be on the business end of Reformation politics. First Henry, then Edward VI’s hard-line Reformation, complete with the smashing of statues and white washing of paintings, then Bloody Mary, and finally Elizabeth. It cannot have been pleasant to have been whipsawed by all that, and Woods gives us a sense of that.

Wood talks about the Prayer Book rebellion in Cornwall. It seems that the Cornish spoke in Cornish (a Gaelic language) and prayed in Latin, and so had no use for an English prayer-book. And here we see the truly nasty side of Cranmer’s Reformation. If spreading the Word of God was your first concern, you would translate both the bible and the prayer-book into Cornish, Welsh, and Irish. But of course if you were to do such a thing, in addition to spreading the Reformation, you would also be reinforcing and strengthening those cultures. When Luther translated the Bible into German he not only spread the word of God, he strengthened the idea of a German identity. Likewise Tyndale with the English Bible. The last thing an Archbishop of Canterbury would want is strengthened Cornish, Welsh, and Irish identities. When service to the Lord clashed with the needs of cultural chauvinism, service to the Lord was never going to prevail.

What is really needed is a history of the British Reformation going from Wycliffe to the King James Bible. And we need a ground up view, not just of the leaders, but the host of individuals who made it happen.

Michael Wood’s In Search of Shakespeare

If you have enjoyed all the Elizabeth’s from Glenda Jackson to Cate Blanchett, if your ideas of history comes from Garrett Mattingly and DL Kier, if, in short, you have drunk deeply from the Gloriana Kool Aide, then Michael Wood’s In Search of Shakespeare offer’s a much needed antidote.

It seems that Shakespeare was from a Catholic, family. In the religious cold war of Elizabethen England, this made him and his family suspect. It was why Shakespeare had to leave school and could not go to University. It also gave him an outsider’s view of Elizabethan England that would serve his well as a playwrite, the ability to see a story from both sides of view, to comprehend how complicated the world is.

Shakespeare studied Latin in Grammar school and it seems that he loved Ovid. This obviously shaped his writing. In all of Shakespeare’s plays, love is the highest ideal, romantic love, family love, but always love.

Wood does a great job weaving the story of the events of Elizabethan England, events in Shakespeare’s personal life and themes of his plays together. It seems that Shakespeare’s most famous patron, the Earl of Southampton, had Catholic sympathies. Speaking only for myself, this adds a twist to the Essex rebellion. Now of Essex’s religious views there can be no doubt. Essex was a descendant of Mary Boleyn. You cannot have a more Protestant pedigree. Moreover, Essex’s stepfather, the Earl of Leicester, was a royal favorite of Elizabeth and a general for her in the war in the Spanish Netherlands, very hard line Protestant. However, it is interesting that Southampton, a Catholic sympathizer, was among Essex chief lieutenants. Did Southampton hope for better treatment for Catholics in the event of a successful
rebellion? No way to know.

And as an additional aside, one wonders if any part of Shakespeare’s Richard III was drawn from Shakespeare’s opinion of Robert Cecil, Essex great rival? For like Richard III, Robert Cecil was a hunch back. Pure speculation on my part, based on no facts whatsoever.

In The Duty of Poets, Wood tells the story of Robert Southwell, a cousin of Shakespeare’s who was hung drawn and quartered for no crime save that of writing Catholic poetry. Afterwards friends of Southwell brought Elizabeth a copy of Southwell’s book, On The Duty of Poets, which was dedicated to Shakespeare. It is said that Elizabeth wept. Elizabeth was a great one for weeping for those she had executed. And here I must interject a check on that famous quote, “no desire to make windows into men’s souls.” We impose a Jeffersonian view on that quote, but Elizabeth was no friend of religious toleration. Soon after Elizabeth ascended the throne, Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity. Now I ask you, does the Act of Uniformity sound like the work of anyone interested in religious toleration? The act required everyone to attend services at their parish church of the Church of England. It outlawed the mass and made being a Catholic priest a capital crime. Does that sound like religious toleration to you? When you make attendance at the state church mandatory there is the question of sincerity. Are people going to church because they believe? Or only because there are penalties for not going to church? This is the meaning of that famous phrase. Under her sister Mary, people had been burned merely for being suspected secret Protestants. Elizabeth took the view that on this side of paradise outward religious conformity was sufficient. It was for God to decide someone’s sincerity, not princes.

Wood does not mention Shakespeare’s portrayal of religion in his plays, but Shakespeare does not give a good press to priests. They are mostly bumblers. As for Protestants, the puritan in Twelfth Night is portrayed as a vain fool who gets his comeuppance, and I bet it was a great favorite with the crowd. Having watched Wood’s documentary I wonder if Shakespeare viewed clerics as fools who got people killed for nothing. Love was always the highest ideal in his plays.

Wood goes into the reality of the Elizabethan police state and even into some detail of her hideous rackmaster Richard Topcliffe. It will surprise no one that her rackmaster was a total pervert who really enjoyed administering long sadistic executions. We get a hint of this in Brian Wilde’s portrayal of Topcliffe in Horrible Conspiracies.

Wood repeatedly makes the point that like all police states, Elizabeth was suspecious of artists and writers in particular. Not entirely without reason. Shakespeare’s Richard II was preformed, complete with sensitive deposition scene, the night before the Essex rebellion.

As a Catholic, Shakespeare had to be especially careful. It seems that the theatre was dominated by Catholics, both members of the company and patrons. This may be an additional reason for Puritan eagerness to shut down the theatres, not only the suspecion of any institution that they did not control, but the knowledge that the theatres were dominated by Catholics would only have fueled the Puritan’s view that theatres were places of subversion. I think it is very significant that both of Shakespeare’s daughters married hardline Protestants. One married a the son of Huguenot immigrants, the other a Puritan.

Wood points out that in The Tempest Prospero throws away his magical powers in the interest of his children. For Shakespeare love was always the highest ideal and it seems that he remained on good terms with his daughters and sons in law.

Shakespeare’s son died in his childhood, leaving his father prostrate with grief. The child’s name was Hamnet, which is WAY too close to Hamlet for coincidence. Except, Hamnet died as a child, so could not in any way serve as a model for Hamlet. Yet, it simply cannot be coincidence that Shakespeare chose a name so close to his child’s. Something is going on. Also at the beginning of the play Hamlet is returning from studies in Wittenburg. That has great significance, even if you don’t know that Shakespeare was a Catholic. Of all the towns he could have chosen, there is great significance that Hamlet went to Wittenburg to study. But I can’t say what, the last time I saw Hamlet was at the Folger Theater in 1985. So without seeing the play again I really can’t work out why Shakespeare decided to insert Wittenburg into Hamlet. After all he could have written Two Gentleman from Wittenburg, but he chose Verona instead. So, there is a reason that Wittenburg appears in Hamlet. Upon further reflection it seems significant that in the play within the play the player king is murdered by having poison poured in his ear while he sleeps. I can’t think of any other story where poison is administered through the ear. Maybe Hamlet is part allegory about theological dispute. Everybody dies. Maybe not. I will have to see the play again.

Shakespeare lived into the Stuart era, and his company became the Kings Players. The first play they preformed for King James VI/I was Macbeth, a play about the murder of a Scottish King, before a Scottish King whose father had been murdered. Shakespeare did not lack for nerve.

Wood goes into the Gunpowder Plot and its aftermath. Not until seeing this documentary did I realize the impact of the Gunpowder Plot in marginalizing British Catholics. I somehow thought that they had been marginalized even before the Armada. But I get the feeling not, so the Gunpowder Plot really put the lid on Catholic England.

Wood shows scenes from Bonfire Night with scenes of people walking around carrying torches in the shape of a burning cross. To American eyes this is a most fearful sight, because in America burning crosses have never symbolized holiday fun. I always wondered where Nathan Bedford Forrest got the idea of burning a cross. Now I know.

Wood ends the documentary with Shakespeare’s famous will leaving only his second best bed to his wife. Wood can’t bear the thought that Shakespeare was a rotten husband, and as he rightly points out, it is impossible to know what is happening inside a marriage. Indeed, the most likely explanation is that they grew apart, this happens. But there are troubling clues that point in a different direction. The Taming of the Shrew. It really is an open apology for domestic violence. As I remember the play, the husband does not actually strike his wife, but he does psychologically batter her. And she becomes sweet and happy under the treatment. No man who respected women could have written such a play. And there is another clue, Othello. Now Wood would have us believe that this play was written to prick the conscious of Britain, because Othello is a tragic figure. Mebbe. Mebbe Shakespeare wrote it for such a purpose, or at least partly. But I wonder. White men have such a gift for projecting their own violence on to black people. Wood informs us of an incident in Shakespeare’s life that offers another possible clue. Shakespeare had a mistress who was a Venetian Jew. In his poetry he describes her as dark. He also describes how he was driven mad by his passion for her. I have not read the poems, but judging by Wood’s description of it, it sounds like she awakened all the control freak in Shakespeare. Domestic violence is peculiarly a crime of control. In the grip of such jealously it is not difficult to imagine Shakespeare imagining a story about a tragic figure who was driven to murder by jealously.

And there is yet another clue. Both of Shakespeare’s children married hard line Protestants, one a Huguenot immigrant, the other a Puritan. Now we don’t know what happened, it could be as simple as they met these men by chance and fell in love. It only happens every day. But I can’t resist the temptation to speculate. What happened in the family after Shakespeare left Avon? Ann and the children where living with Shakespeare’s parents. That cannot have been comfortable for Ann. Who was the preacher in the local church? Was he a fiery reformer? One of the Marian exiles who had studied under Calvin in Geneva? (The role of the Marian exiles in setting the stage for the English civil war has never been adequately examined that I know of.) Did Ann find solace in a Protestant church for her loneliness? Did being deserted by her husband cause a crisis in faith? We really have no way to know, this is all sheer speculation. But the fact that both Shakespeare’s daughter’s married hard line Protestants suggests that there were deep divisions within the family.

Not the opiate of the masses

I can certainly understand why Karl Marx thought that religion was the opiate of the masses. History is replete with examples of how religion was used by rulers to deflect and deligitmize rebellion.

However, when you look at actual rebellions, religion is usually an important factor. Below is an imcomplete list of rebellions that were guided by relgious movements.

Palm Sunday and Easter
Such was the quality of Christ’s ministry that people from miles around gathered to welcome Christ to Jerusalem and spread palms in his path. Such was the quality of the Sermon on the Mount that the Roman occupation took fright and crucifed him a week later to put and end to the insurrection. Indeed, they knew not what they did.

The Great Uprising of 1831
The English peasant rebellion was an anti-tax rebellion, but it was inspried in part by a Lollard preist, John Ball.

And it is not hard to see why Wycliffe’s bible had such a radical effect upon the peasants who read it. Imagine being intimidated all your live by your local priest, and seeing the bishop from afar living in his palace surrounded by finery. Then imagine reading the Book Of Acts for the first time:

44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common.
45 They sold possessions and chattel [They sold possessions and substances, or goods], and parted those things to all men, as it was need to each.
46 And each day they dwelled stably with one will in the temple, and brake bread about houses, and took meat with full out joy and simpleness of heart, [Forsooth day by day they lasting together in the temple, and breaking bread about houses, took meat with gladness and simpleness of heart,]
47 and praised together God, and had grace to all the folk [praising together God, and having grace to all the people]. And the Lord increased them that were made safe, each day into the same thing.

The contrast between those words that the wealth of the medieval church must have been staggering. You can’t read the Book of Acts without realizing that Christianity preaches equality and any political doctrine that teaches otherwise is contrary to Christianity. It must have been an intoxicating experience to the English peasant.

German Peasant’s Rebellion
143 years later, the peasants of Germany had precisely the same reaction to the New Testament. When given the chance to read the word of God for themselves, they realized it bore little resemblance to the teachings of the medieval church. Martin Luther and other leaders of the Reformation turned against them, but the cat was out of the bag. Once people could read the word of God for themselves, the old obediance would never entirely return.

The Dutch Revolt
You just cannot separate the Dutch war for independence with the Dutch Reformation. The two are so intertwined as they cannot be separated. The Dutch revolt was driven and shaped by Calvinism.

The Indian Independence movement
While Ghandi was careful to build a multi-reglious movement, he completely embraced Hindu ascetism as part of his message of non-violence. Religous commitment on the part of his followers, of whatever religion, gave them the strength to maintain non-violent discipline in the face of violent provocation.

The American Civil Rights movement
It is not a coincidence that it was led by black ministers. It is not simply that the black church was the only institution that completely belonged to the black community. The Gospel of Jesus Christ that enabled activists to maintain non-violent discipline in the face of violence.

The Philppine Snap Election
Corazon Aquino’s devout Catholicism sustained her in the aftermath of her husband’s murder and enabled her to overthrow Marcos without violence.

Poland Solidarity
Although the intellectuals who led the Committee for Workers (Polish acronym KOR) were secular Jews, the Solidarity movement itself was led by devout Catholics like Lech Walensa.

Happy Easter!

John Wesley Sermon: Thoughts on War

John Wesley Sermon: Thoughts on War

C and E Christians, Know the code!

I want to talk to my fellow Christians. In the meantime, atheists and others are invited to enjoy this musical interlude.

Are you a C and E Christian? As in you go to church on Christmas and Easter? Or would if you had a church to go to? Attracted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but put off by the very unchristian conduct of so many clergy? If you are Protestant, you just need to know the code.

If you are United Church of Christ, you want a church that styles itself as Open and Affirming. If you are Methodist you want a church that is reconciling. If you are Lutheran, you want a church that is reconciling in Christ. If you are Presbyterian, you want a more light Church.

This is all church code for we welcome gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders. My experience is that churches that welcome gay, lesbians and transgenders have a welcoming attitude generally and practice a merciful view of Christ’s ministry. I don’t like to use the word liberal in a religious context.

I posted this because I thought at this time of year some of my readers might be interested.

The first blogger

495 year ago today Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg Germany.

He did this as a protest against the selling of indulgences, but the theses go farther than merely protesting indulgences. Luther had not yet developed the doctrine of sola fide but these theses push in that direction.

The response Luther got, that so many people were interested indicates how much resentment there was against Rome, otherwise everyone would have just ignored it.

Most of us will never blog anything remotely as significant as Luther’s 95 theses, but we should never forget that sometimes just speaking out can make a difference.

Pussy Riot gig at Christ the Savior Cathedral (original video)

Pussy Riot gig at Christ the Savior Cathedral (original video)

Pussy Riot’s gig at Christ the Saviour took place on 21 February. Five members broke into the Moscow cathedral, performing a “punk prayer” from the altar. Their song “Holy Shit” is a condemnation of the Russian Orthodox church’s close ties to Putin. “Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin,” they sang, “chase Putin out!” Three of them have been arrested for hooliganism and they could face up to seven years in jail.