Do as you like.

“Love God, and do as you like, say the free spirits. Yes; but as long as you like anything contrary to God’s will, you do not love Him.”

Meister Eckhart

Theatrical illusion in the service of reality

The email appeared to be Christian spam, advertising a book and no personal greeting, but why did it come to me? I looked over the website it referred to, and then I could see why.

For thirty years Paul Kuritz was a respected (and atheistic) theater professor. Then, faced with personal crises and divine interventions, he found himself praying that God wouldn’t make him a born-again evangelical Christian. God did anyway, and Kuritz wrote more about his new perspective in the Porpoise Diving Life.

I wouldn’t agree with everything in the book The Fiery Serpent, which I haven’t read. For example, the email refers to the supposedly “undeniable truth: that Christian filmmaking and theatre… are having global impact on our world today.” I’ve already summarized my disappointing first-hand experience with imaginative conversions and Christian theater here. There really is a difference between drama and real life. You might also wonder how he can use Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Kazan’s On the Waterfront as examples in a book on Christian film and theater. But Kuritz is no wooly-minded, starry-eyed artiste. He doesn’t baptize the status-quo so much as he is calling for it to change. And he is calling for filmmakers and theater people to change.

Spreading the gospel of Jesus and American pharmaceuticals

Though American Christians may not believe that our culture is inspired, we often act like it. Some missionaries have actually helped reduce belief in the supernatural by teaching their Western worldview in contradiction to the Biblical worldview: “You don’t need to pray much about that, because we can give you a pill.”

I like what one village chieftain said when a Westerner explained that disease was not caused by evil spirits, but by germs that enter the body. He smiled and replied, “Okay, then what makes the germs enter the body?”

On a related note, some Bible teachers explain the Levitical test for an unfaithful wife by theorizing that a guilty person might be more likely to get sick.

In a real sense, the villagers had it right even before the missionaries arrived. Sickness is caused by spirits.

The Christian jihad

Most American Christians wouldn’t say they support the war in Iraq as a means of defending Christian beliefs. But certainly one of their main justifications for the war is to defend American beliefs. The Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition claimed exactly the same moral basis for their work that the Qu’ran claims for jihad (holy war) – to make our homeland safe for our faith. Now, I am not implying any other similarity between the Christian Right and Muslim jihadists. I realize that the Christian Right has not yet produced suicide bombers. But they are fighting for privileges that Jesus and Paul never had.

Not all Muslims and Christians are similar

My recent satire on the similarities between some Muslims and Christians seems to have been misunderstood. I’ve taken four graduate courses on the relationship between Islam and Christianity, and spent hundreds of hours talking with members of both religions. But I’m still learning how to write clearly.

No, I wasn’t saying that all Christians and Muslims have destructive beliefs and attitudes in common. Just many of them. More about that tomorrow.

Well, are you satisfied?

“He who is satisfied has never truly craved, and he who craves for the light of God neglects his ease for ardor, his life for love, knowing that contentment is the shadow not the light. The great yearning that sweeps eternity is a yearning to praise, a yearning to serve. And when the waves of that yearning swell in our souls all the barriers are pushed aside: the crust of callousness, the hysteria of vanity, the orgies of arrogance.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man Is Not Alone

Sin will keep you from this book.

It’s a mistake to think that people choose their beliefs because of reason or revelation. Most people choose their beliefs for their own comfort.

B.F. Skinner remembers that his grandmother taught him about hell by showing him the glowing coals in the stove. He didn’t want to believe in a God like that, so he didn’t.

Mel White, who used to ghost-write for Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, is now a pro-homosexual activist. But according to his memoirs, the first step to his new career was not a renewed study of the Bible. It was his first sexual experience with a man, condoned by a Christian counselor. After that, somehow his beliefs seemed to change.

Other “Fundamentalists Anonymous”-type memoirs have a similar plot. Girl gets saved, girl joins evangelistic ministry, girl loses virginity, girl loses her faith. It was no crisis of faith, but a crisis of conscience. And faith lost.

John Bunyan wrote that the tempter often spoke to him, ‘”What, will you preach this? This condemns yourself; of this your own soul is guilty; wherefore preach not of this at all, or if you do, yet so mince it as to make way for your own escape; lest, instead of awakening others, you lay that guilt upon your own soul that you will never get from under.” But, I thank the Lord, I have been kept from consenting to these so horrid suggestions, and have rather, as Samson, bowed myself with all my might to condemn sin and transgression wherever I found it; yea, though therein also I did bring guilt upon my own conscience. Let me die, thought I, with the Philistines, Judg. 16: 30, rather than deal corruptly with the blessed word of God.’