“The ill health of religion in the world is attributable to its dearth of creativity.”

Incarnation

For every lofty idea You need a lowly idea.
For every hope and aspiration
You need a circumstance and situation.
For every spirit that rises
You need a spirit made flesh.

…At the beginning of God in Search of Man, Jewish philosopher, Abraham Heschel notes that religion can sometimes be its own worst enemy. Rather than blame “secularism” for the demise of religion, Heschel says we need to look at the lack of creativity and relevance of our own faith traditions:

It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion—its message becomes meaningless.

…The ill health of religion in the world is attributable to its dearth of creativity. Non-creative religious traditions lead to fundamentalism, irrationalism, and dogmatism—upon which the sources of war and conflict feed.

Healthy religious traditions are attributable to the richness of creativity. Creative religious traditions lead to peace, healing, newfound wisdom—they draw on the sources of love and beauty.

As Callid notes: “It is possible to ask whether much of our Western Christian failings have arisen not from a lack of reason, but from too much of it, especially when we think that our reason is clearly reflective of some absolute Divine Reason of which we are the arbiters.” Theopoetics suggests that God is encountered as much in the theo-poetical as in the theo-logical. “Encouraging a poetic sensibility within theological discourse allows for the continuing interpretation of God, God’s word, and God’s action, without any proclamation that these things can be fully known and entirely named.”

• From the Preface to Way to Water: A Theopoetics Primer, by L. Callid Keefe-Perry.
By Terry A. Veling Faculty of Theology and Philosophy, Australian Catholic University

150 thoughts on ““The ill health of religion in the world is attributable to its dearth of creativity.”

  1. Christianne,

    The neo-Cals are also not like the old-school Presbyterians either, just as you mentioned in regards to the Dutch/Continental Reformed. Essentially the neo-Cals are Baptist posers and wannabees who subscribe to Reformed soteriology but nothing else (not in polity, view of the sacraments, baptism, church order, and many other things). They pick and choose like items from a Chinese menu.

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  2. Standard fare for Evangelicalism in 20th century America. The fact that it was from Finney should give you pause. Spurgeon didn’t do altar calls, neither did the folks at Old Princeton, Wesley, Whitfield, Edwards, the Puritans, etc. That is also a big tell on how legit the practice is. Other than the more recently dead guys like Stott, Packer, and Lloyd-Jones, I only read theologians who have been dead a good 100 years or more. Somewhere around 80-100 years ago, Evangelicalism in the US got onto the crazy train and it has been downhill ever since, IMHO.

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  3. I remember during my time in-country in the Evangelical Circus, I Saw Nothing Else. NOTHING. ELSE.

    All Altar Call/Sinner’s Prayer, with anything goes to Scare/Guilt/Pressure them Down That Aisle. (SInce this was the mid-Cold War period, Scare – in the form of Nuclear Armageddon – was very prominent.)

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  4. my comment response is ‘on hold’ . . . I hope it comes through as I think it is a good response

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  5. seems fundamentalist-evangelicalism is the ONLY part of Christianity that COULD even consider supporting Donald Trump, much less signing on up to 81%,

    yet there are fundamentalists in all religions, hiding in all ‘denominations’, even in orthodox and catholic circles, inspiring fear and hatred, and being controlling and manipulative, these souls are ‘nastiness’ personified

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  6. Let’s face it, you didn’t get into D&D because you were the Chad and/or Stacy holding court at the Cool Kids Table on-campus.

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  7. Thank you for writing this, Richard Herschberger

    I have seen many of the things you have written about in my communications with fundamentalist-evangelicals and with evangelicals who do not consider themselves to be ‘fundamentalist’.

    I am in process of trying very hard to comprehend WHY 81 % of ‘evangelicals’ support Donald Trump, but I haven’t been able to make sense of it, maybe because I have come at it with a set of suppositions that weren’t solid in the first place. (?)

    I wonder if you have communicated with Dr. Roger Olson who is on Patheos Evangelical Blogs? He also sees some differences between fundamentalists and evangelicalism and is not a follower of trumpism, no.

    I agree with you on many insights that you have concerning the mean-spiritedness of neo-Calvinism. It is a whole ‘nother creature from the Dutch Reformed Church that I am familiar with in the Northeast of this country, whom I have great respect for as people who are far from ‘mean-spiritedness’ indeed. Thanks again for sharing your insights here. They made sense to me and helped me to sort out some of my own observations over the last decade or so. I am Catholic so I started out not knowing much about Southern Baptists, except that I had a grandmother of that persuasion. So when I heard about the extremists who were picketing soldiers’ funerals, I wanted to know if that was the faith of my grandmother, but I learned it was not. But now, with ‘trumpism’ and all of its destruction of our norms, I am fearful for what has/is/will be happening to all of the good people who are touched by trumpist values and incorporated into that fearful darkness that sees ‘enemies’ among the ‘brown peoples’ and the poor and the immigrant/refugee.

    These are strange days. Your insights helped me much and I’m grateful you shared them.

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  8. Building a True CHRISTIAN Nation and all that.

    Just like the ending scene (according to Slacktivist) of Left Behind: Volume 12. Christ has Returned at Armageddon, Judgment has been handed out, and the two Author Self-Inserts are leaving His presence and Judgment Seat with their Rewards:
    “Now we can finally establish a Christian Nation.”

    They have been in the Timeless Halls; they have received a new Arda — no, a New Ea — from the Hand of Eru Iluvatar Himself; and all they can think of is how this can help their Christian Agenda.

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  9. Bingo.
    Up here all you heard on Christianese media was that Montt was a Born-Again Bible-Believing CHRISTIAN doing God’s Work and we should be eager for God to send us such a Godly Christian President.

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  10. One of the most depressing episodes of my generally upbeat and comfortable life was a stint as a YWAM missionary in Guatemala during the vampiric Rios Montt/Mejia Victores era.

    Was that the during the Eighties when all you heard from CHRISTIAN media up here was how Guatemala’s Presidente was a “Born Again Bible-Believing Christian”, a turning Guatemala back to Christ?

    Most of my Guatemalan ‘brothers’ were firmly on the side of the death squads, whom they viewed as an extension of the.Ministry of Hygiene.

    In the Third Reich, procurement and use of Zyklon B (special order, without indicator odorization) was under the Department of Hygiene of the SS.

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  11. Don’t you know that C.S.Lewis was demon-possessed when he wrote those (and Narnia)?

    Years ago I heard PROOF from SCRIPTURE (verse, verse, verse) in a Christianese AM radio interview of some Pastor who KNEW What Was REALLY Going On.

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  12. Not much these days. Was starting into “Middle Earth Battle Companies” but the COVID lockdown cancelled the only scheduled meetups where we could get together.

    I’ve been doing Classic Traveller vicariously through articles at the online zine Freelance Traveller under my real name, but the uncertainty and fear with the COVID lockdown has dried that one up too.

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  13. But then how could 7-9 Virtue Signal for Social Justice?
    (Never mind the Mouse ears on everyone…)

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  14. Tabletop RPG Girls (the polite name) are generally are not glamorous or attractive in my experience. The LARPers can run the gamut, same with the women that attend the various Cons. I never did into the LARP stuff myself though.

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  15. Prosperity Gospel/Word of Faith/Name-It-And-Claim-It. Gee a really nice export to the developing world. NOT.

    Let’s take a heresy that caters to the selfish and materialistic nature of post-WWII American society export it off to countries filled with impoverished populations. I sometimes think that Dante needed to add a few more levels of hell for pushers of this excrement.

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  16. Don’t remember that one. Superhero RPG campaigns can be tricky to run and in many ways can be much “lighter” in tone than other genres. I actually liked the game mechanics and character generation of the Champions/Hero system and it is quite flexible, though albeit more complicated. There was a Marvel Superheroes RPG with its own mechanics I remember from the late 80s, but to be honest I think Champions was better IMHO.

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  17. Timothy Zahn does pretty good military SF. I wish the “Heir to the Empire” Trilogy had been made in Star Wars Episodes 7-9 instead of the ones that were made. Grand Admiral Thrawn is truly a bad*ss.

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  18. I had a copy of CS Lewis’ Perelandra on my desk back in the old days. One of my fervent friends asked, “Oh, you read those kind of books?” Anything that doesn’t fit the straight jacket script or even appears not to..,.

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  19. AD&D.
    Looking back on it, a snapshot of Gygax’s house rules circa 1977. As my DM put it, “the peak of ad hoc rules and tables for everything.”

    In the Eighties, my DM got heavily into Champions. (I never could get much into superhero RPGs.). But does anyone remember the FIRST Superhero RPG of the Seventies, Superhero 2044 (aka “S-44”)?

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  20. I remember my Dungeonmaster talking about “Dark Dungeons” when it first came out:

    “Not only is their DM female, she looks like this!” (holds up tract open to the page where the DM comes onstage) “If I ever met a DM who looked like that, I’d have married her by now.”

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  21. I remember reading the original Ender’s Game, the 1977 novellete that Card later expanded into the novel. It was in a paperback anthology of military SF edited by Jerry Pournelle (There Will Be War, 1983?)

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  22. Yesterday, while reading the story that Eeyore recommended (Yes, there are probably a lot of stories like that in our grandchildren’s futures), and something came to my mind – ‘this is the result of rancid, overripe religion’

    Curious as to how your mind connected the two —

    The story’s a Dystopian Disaster Tragedy (Trauma Conga Line/Empty Shell), but does not mention any religion. This is common in SF, as religion is usually off the radar of its authors or irrelevant to the point they’re trying to make. What path connects this Crapsack future to Crapsack/Crapsaccharine religion?

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  23. –> “The Left Hand of Darkness was an awesome book.”

    Oddly, that’s one of of the few “highly recommended” books that I just never seem to get into. Tried it twice and failed.

    I agree, though, with Ender’s Game (and by extension, Speaker of the Dead).

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  24. ASL… that’s a beast in more ways that one!

    Favorites of mine right now:
    -COIN game “Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar” (supplanting Vietnam War COIN game “Fire in the Lake” as my fave)

    -Paladins of the West Kingdom

    -Maracaibo

    -Vindication

    -Kanban (the “heaviest” game of the bunch, but I love it!)

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  25. The Left Hand of Darkness was an awesome book. As for Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game, need I say more?

    As for the Left Behind series, it has the distinction of killing the movie careers of both Kirk Cameron and Nicolas Cage…

    I guess an Amillennial End-Times novel wouldn’t sell. It would about 1 sheet of paper.

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  26. Champions is cool. Uses the same game mechanics system for Hero (which characters are built on fewer points). Played and ran Hero campaigns, played in Champions campaigns.

    My usual Champions character was skills, perks, connections, etc. guy (think a Nick Fury/Batman/Seal Team 6 type) with extensive martial arts.

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  27. Rick Ro, Eeyoru, and others,

    I have had done board-gaming in about 10 years, but when I did I went all in and my boardgame of choice (and played regularly) was Advanced Squad Leader (ASL). And yes I have boxes of all the modules, maps, counters, etc.

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  28. If you the Messanic Jews are odd, the Hebrew Roots movement adherents are orders of magnitudes worse.

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  29. Of course the altar call itself is derived from the “anxious bench” of that wonderful Pelagian heretic Charles Finney. Which was then popularized in the early 20th century by Billy Sunday, Aimee Semple McPherson, and then later on Billy Graham. A cursory look at the First Great Awakening, Wesley, Whitfield, Edwards, etc and you see nothing about altar calls and decisionall regeneration.

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  30. Robertson visited Montt in Guatemala just a few weeks after he came to power. Reagan visited him sometime later in the year to give Montt the U.S seal of approval.

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  31. What kind of games do you play now? I’m huge into boardgaming now, visit Boardgamegeek almost every day.

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  32. I remember Montt being interviewed by Pat Robertson on The 700 Club in the early 1980s. They were pals.

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  33. My point is that there is a problem of susceptibility to nationalism in institutional Christianity that existed even in historical contexts, like the Nazi era and the decades leading up to it in Germany, where evangelicalism in its American sense was not even an existing type of Christianity.

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  34. My point was that according to the evangelical-liberal bifurcation (i.e. anything not evangelical is liberal), Bonhoeffer would by definition be liberal.

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  35. I’m not blaming the “liberal churches” for what’s happening in the U.S; I’m pointing out that both “traditional” Christians —- Lutherans (as well as Reformed) and Roman Catholics — and liberal Christians in Germany fully cooperated with the Nazis quite apart from the American subcultures of Christian evangelicalism and fundamentalism. There are deep weaknesses in institutional Christianity that make it susceptible to nationalist passions, and those weaknesses existed before and apart from the American evangelical version of Christianity. The problems that are manifesting in American Christianity today in relationship to political matters is a problem in institutional Christianity, not just evangelicalism.

    I’m not sure what you mean by calling Bonhoeffer a liberal Christian. He seems to me to transcend the liberal/conservative polarity. When he was visiting NYC in the 1930s, he was appalled at the theologically empty sermons he heard when attending “liberal” Riverside Church on Sunday mornings; it was to Abyssinian Baptist church in Harlem that he went to hear good preaching, which we would consider patently evangelistic in style, delivery, and content.

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  36. I saw an interview with Anthony Hopkins after Silence was released. He admitted that the creepy sucking sounds after the infamous “liver and fava beans” line was ad libbed – “I heard a little voice in my head say, ‘Go on, do it!'” So he did. He said the director leaned out from behind the camera and said, “GOD YOU’RE SICK!” Didn’t stop him from keeping it in the final footage, however… ?

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  37. I did (A)D&D in junior high and high school, Rolemaster and Champions in college, then took a long enforced break due to my new evangelical friends and mentors not approving of games. I kept my finger on the pulse of gaming though. Came back to RPGs just in time for the transition away from 3.5, and immediately hopped on the Pathfinder bandwagon (and met the gamer girl who is now my wife 🙂 ). Switched to 5e two years ago, and still run it via Zoom.

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  38. They were NOT stapled together by school children. They were stapled together by Gygax and his gaming buddies in the basement of his late friend Dan Kaye. Get it right. 😛 (l’m virtually attending GenCon as we speak, so gaming is at the front of my mind ATM. 🙂 )

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  39. Awhile back, an anonymous person was leaving Chick Tracts in the men’s restrooms in my office building. Numerous posts were made in our internal social media for the Mad Tracter to leave copies of “Dark Dungeons” instead of the run of the mill Chick Tracts he was using – Dark Dungeons is a gamer collectible. Sadly, he never obliged. :LOL

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  40. In the words of the prophet Jeff Dunn:

    “Oh sure, you used to like listening to Christina Aguilera, but now you are a Christian, so you listen to BarlowGirl, not because you like their sound or their lyrics, but you would feel guilty listening to and enjoying Christina Aguilera now that you have been saved. You used to love reading science fiction by Orson Scott Card and Ursula K. Le Guin, but now you read Left Behind. You used to go study the works of Van Gogh, but now you look at a picture of a pasty-white Jesus knocking on someone’s door.

    “Are you enjoying your new choices in art? No, not really. But you would have a terrible feeling of guilt if you continued to consume that which you previously enjoyed. After all, if you like something, it has to be wrong, right?”

    https://internetmonk.com/archive/selling-jesus-by-the-pound

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  41. OTOH, it was liberals like Bonhoeffer (who was no fundamentalist/evangelical by any stretch of the imagination) who also stood up to Hitler. And it certainly IS evangelicals who are cozying up to the wannabe fascists here and now. So no playing the blame-the-liberal-church game, please.

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  42. “Branson, Missouri — it’s what Las Vegas would be like if it was run by Ned Flanders.”
    The Simpsons

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  43. Tell me about it.
    “Messianic Jews” have NONE of what I associate with Western Jewish culture — the earthiness, the respect for learning, the focus on here-and-now, the sense of humor.

    Instead, they always came across as Calvary Chapel with Hebrew Buzzwords: “HAVE YOU ACCEPTED YESHUA HA-MOSHIYAH AS YOUR PERSONAL ADONAI AND SAVIOR?????????”

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  44. With no theological standard to uphold, there was little in the way of the “number of butts in pews” standard to prevail.

    I understand one of the reasons for the Altar Call was to get a public head count.

    Another was to get them up front to publicly sign the Dry Pledge, which had become another Litmus Test of Salvation.

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  45. “Salvation, for the American, cannot come through the community or the congregation, but is a one-on-one act of confrontation…”

    The Magic Words at the Altar Call (and the ending page or two of most Jack Chick tracts).

    The Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation, at heart a very selfish spirituality, at the least an end in itself.

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  46. One of the most depressing episodes of my generally upbeat and comfortable life was a stint as a YWAM missionary in Guatemala during the vampiric Rios Montt/Mejia Victores era. It was like living in the Southern US during the Apartheid era except with the white folks as brown-skinned American wannabees and the colored folk as indigenous subsistence farmers. American-style charismania was all the rage, and I spent a lot of time riding around in paneled vans with Guatemalan pastors translating the difficult parts of Kenneth Copeland’s cassettes for them.

    The whole experience was an eye-opener for me on several levels; I saw that the worst aspects of American culture were among the most exportable, especially to those who aspired to a first-world lifestyle. I also saw that Charismatic theology was no bulwark against the most brutal suppression of a despised minority. Most of my Guatemalan ‘brothers’ were firmly on the side of the death squads, whom they viewed as an extension of the.Ministry of Hygiene.

    The Marxists weren’t any better. They routinely slit the throats of church members in the villages they passed through, claiming that Christians would be worse than useless after the Revolution, and it was better just to kill them all now. It was after this that I became a Calvinist. Make of that what you will.

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  47. One of the most depressing episodes of my generally upbeat and comfortable life was a stint as a YWAM missionary in Guatemala during the vampiric Rios Montt/Mejia Victores era. It was living in the Southern US during the Apartheid era except with the white folks as brown-skinned American wannabees and the colored folk as indigenous subsistence farmers. American-style charismania was all the rage, and I spent a lot of time riding around in paneled vans with Guatemalan pastors translating the difficult parts of Kenneth Copeland’s cassettes for them.

    The whole experience was an eye-opener for me on several levels; I saw that the worst aspects of American culture were among the most exportable, especially to those who aspired to a first-world lifestyle. I also saw that Charismatic theology was no bulwark against the most brutal suppression of a despised minority. Most of my Guatemalan ‘brothers’ were firmly on the side of the death squads, whom they viewed as an extension of the.Ministry of Hygiene.

    The Marxists weren’t any better. They routinely slit the throats of church members in the villages they passed through, claiming that Christians would be worse than useless after the Revolution, and it was better just to kill them all now. It was after this that I became a Calvinist. Make of that what you will.

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  48. –> ” I don’t see Anthony Hopkins cutting up and eating people after he played Hannibal Lector.”

    Well, I did know a guy, who after that movie…

    😉

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  49. I got into D&D back then too, when a friend bought the small (5×7? 6×9?) booklets that looked like they’d been stapled together by kids in elementary school. TSR days….lol.

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  50. Rick Co,

    Agreed. It is like a tabletop version of Improv theater will rules thrown in on how the characters played by the actors interact. I don’t see Anthony Hopkins cutting up and eating people after he played Hannibal Lector.

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  51. Eeyore,

    I don’t go quite that far back, but I do remember when 2nd Edition came out and the gaming group I was in used took material from both editions added some house rules and called it 1.5. 😀 Did the vast majority of my gaming in my university days. I ran mostly SF and Cyberpunk type RPG campaigns with a bit of Fantasy Hero (Champions system with characters built on fewer points) thrown in.

    I also remember the Fundie campaign against RPGs and all the Jack Chick nonsense.

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  52. Except that largely Lutheran and Catholic Germany in the 1930s was not evangelical or fundamentalist. Actually, the most prominent and influential Protestant theologians of the era were liberal theologians, and many of the athem signed onto the Nazi agenda, and even joined the Nazi Party; some were not just capitulating out of fear but were real National Socialist boosters. That melding of liberal institutional Christianity and German nationalism had been going on for quite some time, and was in fact what led Karl Barth to reject liberal theology, even though many of his beloved professors had been liberals, and start a new theological movement with The Epistle to the Romans in 1916 during World War I.

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  53. Agreed. I’m talking about the culture of the US fed by what Mule and Hershberger describe.

    D.

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  54. When the dominant culture and Christianity have gotten too friendly down through history, it hasn’t turned out well in the end.

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  55. It’s pretty much mid-20th century generic Baptist at bottom. How much Christian? My experience was that they were as Christian and any other Baptists.

    But JFJ is what you get when you come from a background with a rich tradition – the good kind – and find yourself in a situation where “tradition” of any kind is a dirty word. However, there is an authentic Christian Tradition, and at least one of the original Jews for Jesus, James Bernstein, became an Orthodox priest 🙂

    Dana

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  56. ““the culture”… has played a role, especially with some aspects of it providing convenient excuses for leaving religion).”

    OTOH, is it really culture’s job to make it easy for Christianity? The NT never makes that assumption, and the early church managed well enough in a culture that was utterly hostile to it.

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  57. D&D
    PRed Box, 1979. Can’t get much more classic than that without having played in Gary Gygax’s basement. 😉

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  58. Yep. And (Godwin’s Law alert) it certainly helps one see how a “Christian” Germany back in the 30s could be duped and swayed by who turned out to be a very evil Fuhrer.

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  59. I fully expect to meet Heschel on the other side of the curtain, and I agree with his analysis reading the quote it in its 20th century context. I can easily see, and have certainly experienced in religious culture, all the problems he outlines. I do believe “religion”, especially in the First World and North America became “irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid”. This is a lot of what Dreher is talking about in “Benedict Option”, especially that the vast majority of religious communities don’t have a clue that this devolvement is what has happened and that’s why they’re in trouble, not primarily because of “the culture” (though that has played a role, especially with some aspects of it providing convenient excuses for leaving religion).

    Creed, discipline, habit, Tradition, authority are not bad things in and of themselves; in a society based on Enlightenment Rationalism they become overly-valorized as expressions of a particular kind of work ethic (definitely not strictly Protestant!) and assume a place they were never meant to have. Thus the baby gets thrown out with the bath water. But what if faith upholds creed, worship supports discipline, love energizes habit, the living fountain slakes our thirst for the proper stability of Tradition, when Compassion is the only point of authority? I believe this, and more, is what one finds at the heart of the depth of ancient Christianity. It is what is truly expressed in “Jesus-shaped spirituality”.

    Dana

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  60. ChrisS… Another song idea for you, based upon the song title “Lack of Imagination.”

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  61. –> ““The moral panic of the anti-D&D crusaders was sheer nonsense, but those fundie moral crusaders weren’t wrong to fear the threat that such games posed to their ideology. Fundamentalist ideology is a fragile thing, after all, so almost anything other than itself is correctly viewed as a subversive threat.”

    When I became a Christian and then some Christians found out I played D&D, they were quite perplexed. “Isn’t that bad for you and your walk?” they’d ask. “And isn’t it dangerous to believe in magic and demons?”

    My answer tended to revolve around these four things:
    1) Well, I played it for several years before becoming a Christian, and it didn’t stop me from becoming one.
    2) I’m a Christian now, and it doesn’t seem to affect my ability to worship Jesus and God.
    3) It is all make-believe, you know.
    4) If you’re worried that someone might delve into things “Satanic” or “demonic” by playing D&D, then there are other things in that person’s life leading them down that path. Take D&D away, and my guess is they’ll still get there.

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  62. Long-time-ago D&D player here, too. I’ve had two DMs over my RPG days who were absolutely AWESOME in creating and managing their games. Some really good times.

    I just got “Jaws of the Lion,” which is like “Gloomhaven” Lite, which is like D&D in a box. Great game!!!

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  63. –> “But Eastern Christianity is more comfortable with ‘mystery’ and therefore more accepting that ‘the holy’ is surrounded with mystery.”

    Oh, I don’t know about that. I have several Christian friends — self included — who are pretty comfortable with the mysteries of God.

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  64. –> “Humility is to Eastern Christianity what chastity is to Western, more lauded than practiced.”

    LOL. There’s probably an element of truth to that, yes?

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  65. Eeyore,

    You are a classic tabletop RPG’er? Same here. Headless Unicorn Guy and myself have discussed RPGs and our time as gamers on other threads.

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  66. As far as nonsense goes, you’d have to go some to match early Mormonism, and there are now as many Mormons as there are Jews, maybe more.

    Progressive revelation saved these guys’ hash.

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  67. I think that CM and Rick are pointing to something that I would locate under the heading of “beauty”. It’s the difference between art and kitsch. It’s the “added dimension”, often when we can’t exactly pinpoint what the addition actually consists of. I think there is “imagination” involved in creativity, but I wouldn’t describe it as simply running visuals across the screen of your mind; there’s more to the workings of our innards (including reasoning) than that. But wonder is definitely a part, as Chris notes below, especially if gratitude wells up in its wake.

    Our culture pays lip service to “imagination”, often using that word when it means merely “novelty”, and we Americans are all up for “new and improved”. Being overly inclined toward rationality, we often perceive this aspect of Beauty as something that could may well lead to the dreaded Superstition… But it’s in the liminality where we find connection, wonder, the “added dimension”, the Beauty. It’s hard for us; even though the veil is very thin; the Rationalism and Scientism in which we swim insist that it is actually leaden. But neither is it simply “the doors of perception” opened by some drug trip; such a thing is still all in one’s own mind.

    Reality is One Thing, and Beauty is at its heart.

    Dana

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  68. This is pretty close to my analysis of the history of Evangelicalism in America. By way of some tweaking, anti-intellectualism is baked into modern American Evangelicalism, but it was not an original feature. The early Evangelicals were educated men. The change came via the experience of the frontier. Following Independence the frontier opened up and white people started heading west. The established eastern churches for the most part did a poor job of keeping up. This required organizing and financing missionary efforts. As the various churches scrambled to catch up with the frontier, some had institutional advantages. The Baptists were the clear winners. The whole point of the Baptists was that there was no Baptist theology. You don’t need an expensive seminary education to do that, giving them a leg up on any church that had to devote years of training before sending the missionary westward.

    This is how the Baptists became the default rural church through much of America. But this doesn’t speak to the success of any given Baptist missionary. Which were the most successful? How do we measure this? With no theological standard to uphold, there was little in the way of the “number of butts in pews” standard to prevail. Which got the most butts? The charismatic preachers, of course. But which of the charismatic preachers was most successful? Here we get the heart of the matter: The ones who told the people what the people wanted to hear. And that is extremely culturally determined. This is how you get the Southern Baptist Convention. It was created to argue that slavery (of other people, of course) is good. This is a wildly successful message for slave owners, and people who dream of being slave owners. It also is syncretism, pure and simple.

    The final step was what I call the Great Reclassification of the mid-20th century. The divide between Fundamentalist and non-Fundamentalist Evangelicals was one and the same as the anti-intellectualism fault line. Intellectualism, after all, can lead one in challenging ways. This is the opposite of telling people what they want to hear. The Great Reclassification was when the non-Fundamentalist Evangelicals were reclassified as mainlines. Hence the historical weirdness of the Methodists not being considered Evangelicals. This opened up the word “Evangelical” to be embraced by the Fundamentalists, and in turn “fundamentalist” to be redefined as “Those crazies over there–not nice people like us.” At the same time, under the influence of Billy Graham, who was an atypical Fundamentalist in that he was also a big tent guy, the Pentecostals got moved into the Evangelical category. This is theologically incoherent, but Pentecostalism lent itself well to its own anti-intellectualism. Who needs book learning when the Holy Spirit is shouting in your ear?

    So what we have is that what we nowadays call Evangelicals are a combination of what a century ago were the Fundamentalists and the Pentecostals, more and more leaning to the Pentecostal side. Neo-Calivinism is a rear-guard action of the Fundamentalist wing against the Pentecostals. It seems to be losing, which is probably a good thing. The Pentecostal wing is open to nastiness, but Neo-Calvinism is based on it.

    An awful lot about modern American Christianity made a lot more sense once I worked this out.

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  69. Actually, Chaplain Mike, I was just about to post the following thought…

    –> “the last thing I would ask for at this juncture would be another injection of imagination into the overheated American religious psyche.”

    I’m not smart enough to articulate or reason out what I might be thinking regarding this, but my basic thought is this: That maybe there’s a difference between “imagination” and “creativity.”

    God is the God of Creation.
    Perhaps, though, He is not the God of Imagination.

    Do you need to imagine to create? Can “imagination” lead to the creation of something that’s not good? Can people get too “imaginative”?

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  70. –> ” I’ve had it, so have you, that’s why we’re both here. I think most Americans have had it, and its why we tend to run to extremes (other than it is profitable for some people to push us to those extremes).”

    My experience as well. That’s why, when I had my first true “desert” experience — a 5-7 year long absence of “feeling” God — it was such a down, depressing, faith-shaking time. When I came out of that experience, I realized that I just couldn’t let the extremes (“God did something, I can FEEL Him, this is AWESOME” vs. “Why isn’t God doing anything, I can’t feel Him, this Christianity stuff SUCKS!”) ruin my faith. So even though I’m an INFJ-T, I try to manage my “feelings” when it comes to this God stuff.

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  71. At the risk of sounding elitist, I would say there is a difference between a truly literate imagination and a “comic-book” imagination. What else is dispensationalism, for example, but a superhero story in other guise? Or creationism? Or revivalistic religion? Fundamentalism may have imagination, but it is garish and two-dimensional.

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  72. Humility is to Eastern Christianity what chastity is to Western, more lauded than practiced.B

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  73. Fundamentalists seem to be heavily into controlling and manipulating people with strict codes for being in the ‘in group’ and for whom to ‘exclude’.

    They seem heavy into contempt for ‘the others’ and without much regard for accepting the dignity and worth of ALL human persons.

    The term ‘mean-spirited’ applies more to fundamentalism than not.

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  74. Western thought is more logic-based, true. And this is reflected in Western Christianity. But Eastern Christianity is more comfortable with ‘mystery’ and therefore more accepting that ‘the holy’ is surrounded with mystery. There is more appreciation in the Eastern Church for humility also.

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  75. Europe has the distinction of having developed fascism first, and most fully up to this point, though it might be surpassed in the future, time will tell.

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  76. You mention kitsch.

    The link between kitsch and fascism, especially that of Hitler, Franco, and Mussolini, is well-known. The less-known link between kitsch and the self-proclaimed ‘proletarian culture’ of the early Soviet Union is not as well known.

    According to art historian Jeanne Willete, kitsch is a debased form of an accepted tradition of ‘high art’. It is different from a genuine ‘popular art’ or ‘folk art’, which is not as easily pressed into political service.

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  77. When I searched on this Rabbi Cahn, what popped up first was guest-appearance videos from The Jim Bakker Show.
    Do I need to say more?

    The second was his Congregation’s website. Whose home-page puff piece read like Hal Lindsay with Jewish Shticks. A “mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles” which sounds like Jews for Jesus/”Messianic Christian” code words.

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  78. Well like I said, there are a lot more than three words to be said about those three words I think those are some good words. Finding innocence is an arduous journey. The first time round it’s a gift and the second time around it’s an acquisition.

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  79. Blake would argue that Imagination, which is very important to his poetics and religious vision, is not possible as a creative act until it has moved beyond Innocence, passed through Experience and learned to see the world in a visionary state beyond both, but incorporating the lessons they each have to teach.

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  80. >It is an extremely important historical observation: in many cases Europe was HAPPY to see these groups set sail.

    And yet in their absence Europe didn’t do too well. European culture and institutional Christianity had no success in checking the development and rise of fascism last century, in fact cooperated with it and looked to it as an ally, may have even been one of the root causes of it. Fascism does not seem to be alien to European culture, or European Christianity.

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  81. “I credit discovering Dungeons & Dragons (and its spark to imagination and connections made outside of “Christian Fellowship”) with pulling me out in the first few years. And the fact I had previously read and absorbed a LOT of imaginative fiction (and had to read a lot more to stay one jump ahead of my Dungeonmaster). Once you have experienced the real thing, you will not be satisfied by the Christianese knockoff.”

    I was chewing over a lot of dissatisfaction with evangelicalism in particular, and theology in general, for many years. Getting back into D&D was a catalyst for me as well, in many similar ways. (Not the least of which, gamers were and are much easier to hang out with than serious religious people.)

    “The moral panic of the anti-D&D crusaders was sheer nonsense, but those fundie moral crusaders weren’t wrong to fear the threat that such games posed to their ideology. Fundamentalist ideology is a fragile thing, after all, so almost anything other than itself is correctly viewed as a subversive threat.” – https://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2014/04/08/go-and-learn-what-this-means-lawful-evil-chaotic-good-and-b-a-d-d-theology/

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  82. The same thing with Christian rock/pop. It’s embarrassingly derivative and cringe-worthy. Many so-called worship leaders seem to be nothing but make-believe rock stars.

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  83. > every subsequent outburst of enthusiasm; the 1850s, the 1880s, the 1940s, it got more
    > and more, I don’t know, for the lack of a better word it got crazier and crazier

    I share your observation in this regard.

    > For Americans have always wanted to be ‘Born Again’. They left Europe

    It is an extremely important historical observation: in many cases Europe was HAPPY to see these groups set sail. It was a applauded good-bye [and good riddance]. Their ideologies did not make good neighbors on the east side of the Atlantic, and then they sailed to the west side of the Atlantic; where, for a time, they didn’t have to deal with neighbors, or at least not white ones.

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  84. I remember that after my time in-country (saturated with the Gospel According to Jack Chick and Hal Lindsay), I had to put God completely out of my mind in order to spark any creativity. Otherwise all the guilt and fear would just dry it up. This decayed over time, but never did completely go away. (Like I healed but there was some permanent damage.)

    I credit discovering Dungeons & Dragons (and its spark to imagination and connections made outside of “Christian Fellowship”) with pulling me out in the first few years. And the fact I had previously read and absorbed a LOT of imaginative fiction (and had to read a lot more to stay one jump ahead of my Dungeonmaster). Once you have experienced the real thing, you will not be satisfied by the Christianese knockoff.

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  85. One of the problems with American religious imagination, including and especially with regard to the development of QAnon, is that it’s rife with kitsch. It’s an exercise in imagination, but poor, garish imagination, or if you like, an exercise of imagination in bad taste. The imagination is not merely a positive faculty; it also has a nightmarish, febrile, fanatical side, not very creative but tumorous and metastasizing, characterized by its habit of parodying the truly creative imagination and producing aesthetically poor output that readily gets mixed up with malignancy.

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  86. Buttressed by the Baptisitic notion of Once-Saved-Always-Saved, which has the same resemblance to the Calvinist doctrine of Final Perseverance as does the Golem of Prague to the Ba’al Shem Tov.

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  87. I like the definition of Innocence I once heard: Innocence is the capacity [willingness?] to be surprised, without it the entire world turns grey.

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  88. The only way out of that Platonic cave through repentance – and we Americans have *never* been good at that. We act like it’s a one-and-done thing…

    We Said the Magic Words at the Altar Call, and that’s It.

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  89. > collective action would mean stuff gets taken from me and given to people

    Yep, Austerity vs. Abundance. The Zero Sum fallacy.

    Wasn’t there a thing about a basked of fishes?

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  90. Like there’s a surplus of imagination/wonder/delight among the New-York-Times-a-latté-and-a-croissant-on-Sunday-morning crowd.

    Exhaustion, I think, drives them to the “not affiliated” world.

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  91. I’d go further – it’s individualism linked to a faith in “meritocracy” and the assumption that any collective action would mean stuff gets taken from me and given to people who “don’t deserve it”. Again, a lack of vision, of not looking at the world through Christ-colored glasses.

    “Give to whomever asks of you.” – Jesus
    “What do you have that you were not given?” – Paul

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  92. From Harold Bloom –

    “Salvation, for the American, cannot come through the community or the congregation, but is a one-on-one act of confrontation… This mode of the Self Asserted ran wild at Cane Ridge among mountain men and women, establishing a spirituality that has been with us since. All of the unique qualities convincingly ascribed by Greven to Genteel Self-Assertion are now the common emotions of our contemporary Pentecostals and rural Baptists, giving the glory at once to God and to their own magical or occult selves.”

    I have called this version of Christianity “Christianity 2.0” where you have some kind of defining experience of the Divine that realigns your life. I’ve had it, so have you, that’s why we’re both here. I think most Americans have had it, and its why we tend to run to extremes (other than it is profitable for some people to push us to those extremes). I’ve taken refuge among the Greeks, with their Christianity 1.0 where you stay with the community and develop your spirituality along with the community. The Greek-Americans, though, are Americans, and we have the whole menagerie of Late Imperial spirituality from Early Earth Creationism to Sophia Feminism manifest in our parish.

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  93. A lack of creativity/richness is what I think drives the evangelical into the liturgical world and the liturgical into the evangelical world, and drives both into the “Not affiliated” world.

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  94. I might be so bold as to sum it up in three words: Lack Of Imagination. There are many more than three words to be said about those three words but in my mind they put it in a nutshell. Where imagination dies, child-like innocence dies. Wonder and possibility die. Exuberance dies. The fountain dries up and light goes from the eyes. Boredom and drudgery ensue.

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  95. > I think it’s a – to put it in biblical language – a lack of vision

    When your frame is the Individual – and anything that might result in anything like Collective Action is anathema – Vision can only look so far, and in very specific directions.

    Evangelicalism is the desire for a breath-taking view while in the top-most room of a tower overlooking the sea yet refusing to raise the curtains – – – one can never be sure what might be out there.

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  96. I don’t think in these cases it’s an overdose of imagination – imagination is only a tool, after all. I think it’s a – to put it in biblical language – a lack of vision. Specifically, a lack of a vision of life through Jesus’ eyes. We all blithely assumed that we could just tack Christian faith and beliefs onto our American lives and beliefs with no contradiction or struggle – that Americanism was Christianity, and vice versa. If you are taught that, and have no desire to critique that, then when that model fails you, you have to resort to more and more elaborate conspiracy theories, and more and more slanders of those who don’t share your delusions, to hold it all together. Imagination in the service of a very narrow and selfish view of the world. That kind of imagination, like milk left out in the summer heat, will curdle and go sour quickly. The only way out of that Platonic cave through repentance – and we Americans have *never* been good at that. We act like it’s a one-and-done thing, rather than a long, slow, painful process of dying to self (ANOTHER thing we’re very bad at). We’d rather lose the war than admit we made a mistake.

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  97. Yesterday, while reading the story that Eeyore recommended (Yes, there are probably a lot of stories like that in our grandchildren’s futures), and something came to my mind – ‘this is the result of rancid, overripe religion’ The adjective that actually came to my mind was scatological, but you get the picture.

    The kind of Evangelical Christianity that all y’all are in the wilderness from seems to be a uniquely American production, a product of the so-called Second Great Awakening, proceeding from the frontier revivals of the early 1800s. While this religious impulse was fresh, it seemed to produce a democratic, egalitarian vision of Christianity that stood in stark contrast to the formalistic, hierarchical/aristocratic Christianities of old Europe. It spread like wildfire during the 19th and 20th centuries.

    Problem is, it seems to me that every subsequent outburst of enthusiasm; the 1850s, the 1880s, the 1940s, it got more and more, I don’t know, for the lack of a better word it got crazier and crazier. The original campmeetings of the frontier also produced the Mormons and the Adventists. The dark side of the Moody/early Pentecostal was the spread of Dispensationalism and Rapture theology – the Rapture is purist Gnosticism. By the time this impulse devolved into the Jesus Movement of the 60s and 70s, the crazy was almost unbounded.

    In the waning years of the Clinton administration, I made the mistake or reading Harold Bloom’s critique of American religion, , the American Religion , and I can’t shake certain of key points out of my mind. For Americans have always wanted to be ‘Born Again’. They left Europe and underwent the long Baptism of the Atlantic Passage in order to burn themselves free from the fleshly constraints of their countries of origin and soar into the Empyrean as creatures of pure imagination and sheer will.

    Now it is 2020. Yesterday, I got some spam in my mailbox from Charisma magazine touting the recent book by “Rabbi” Johnathan Cahn. I read the sample chapter they offered me. My psychotic father’s scribblings about the Assyrians, the Huguenots, and the cycles of Desire and Empire made more sense than that drivel. Add to that the Q-Babble spreading through the Christian media mind like the Coronavirus, the last thing I would ask for at this juncture would be another injection of imagination into the overheated American religious psyche.

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  98. Lack of religious imagination and creativity lead directly to the most postmodern form of quasi-religious fanaticism and irrationality: QAnon.

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  99. “As Callid notes: “It is possible to ask whether much of our Western Christian failings have arisen not from a lack of reason, but from too much of it, especially when we think that our reason is clearly reflective of some absolute Divine Reason of which we are the arbiters.””

    I think Mr. Keefe-Perry has it nailed.

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