The Pale Blue Dot

Some people believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, the only rule of faith and life, as illustrated by the website of a popular a mega-church:

We believe that the Bible is the Word of God, verbally and fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts and that it has supreme and final authority in all matters of faith and life.

The “original manuscripts” is the way out of trouble when the Bible we have seems off kilter from what they think it must have really said when God first verbally and fully inspired it. It’s a way around the horror of so much of it, like David, God’s chosen, beheading the opposing army’s giant, Goliath the Philistine, after slaying him with a stone from his slingshot. Then, as if winning were not enough, David parades into town with Goliath’s head on a stick.

“Don’t mess with me!” was the message of David, as it is today with ISIL, but it’s okay, one thinks, in David’s case because he was God’s anointed. Or, perhaps, it really wasn’t in the original manuscripts.

The questions of morality and ethics in these ancient, presumably less civilized times are brushed aside. David was God’s favored warrior and king who authored the Book of Psalms. He had human failings, for sure, arranging the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, to take his lovely wife for his his own pleasure, which made God kinda mad, but, what is God to do with a man’s man like David?

They also proclaim a literal, physical return of Jesus, and “believe in the bodily resurrection of the just and the unjust, the everlasting joy of the saved and the everlasting conscious punishment of the lost.

That’s the part that’s most disturbing. In a variant of the mega-church’s statement is the statement on the website of the General Association of General Baptist Churches, to which many of the Midwest mega-churches that strategically advertise themselves as “non-denominational” belong, the position on eternal punishment is stated as the difference between “the righteous” and “the wicked”.

We believe in the resurrection of the body, the final judgment, the eternal felicity of the righteous, and the endless suffering of the wicked.

Theology matters.

Is this view of 21st Century fundamentalist churches all that different from the culture that produced David and Goliath, and the deaths of Uriah the Hittite, Ish-bosheth, and the vengeful response to Ish-bosheth’s two beheaders?

We divide the human race between the righteous and the wicked, the good and the evil, just as I did as a child in my back yard playing cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians…until I learned the real story about the genocide committed by the righteous European “settlers” who assured themselves that they, the ones who knew Christ, were the righteous. the city set upon a hill of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Watch out for righteousness, argued Jesus. It’ll get you every time, and the log remains in the eye of the righteous. Come, Holy Spirit, come! Before we behead each other and destroy the life of the pale blue dot itself.

Losing Our Heads

Lewis Carroll knew nothing about ISIS when he wrote Alice in Wonderland, but he knew about the insanity of power in the high places of his own culture.

In the screenplay of Alice, the Queen of Hearts asks “Who’s been painting my roses red? WHO’S BEEN PAINTING MY ROSES RED? /Who dares to taint / With vulgar paint / The royal flower bed? / For painting my roses red / Someone will lose his head.”

The Card Painter responds “Oh no, Your Majesty, please! It’s all ‘his’ fault!” The Ace blames the Deuce. The Deuce blames the three. The Queen explodes.

“That’s enough! Off with their heads! I warn you, child… if I lose my temper, you lose your head! Understand?”

The very thought of beheadings chills us to the bone. It would be hard to imagine a more horrifying spectacle than what we have recently seen of American journalists losing their heads in the Middle East. The fact that British and American citizens have joined ISIS is nearly as chilling as the killings themselves; we ask why one of us would dare “to taint with vulgar paint the royal flower bed.”

There is no excuse for a beheading. It makes no difference if it’s at the hands of ISIS or David, as in the beheading of Goliath the giant Philistine, or those who sought to demonstrate their zealous support for David, sneaking into the bedroom of Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, beheading Ish-bosheth and presenting his head to David at Hebron. (Second Samuel 4:9-13)

To their great surprise, David, who had beheaded Goliath, is not pleased. “‘[W]hen wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood at your hand and destroy you from the earth?’ And David commanded his young men, and they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hanged them beside the pool at Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth and buried it in the tomb of Abner at Hebron.” (II Samuel 4: 5-12).

We don’t hear reading like this in church. But you will hear such Scriptures read daily in a Benedictine abbey, as I did while visiting Saint John’s Abbey to get my own head and heart straight in anticipation of the death of my stepdaughter. The reading I’m remembering was just as ghastly as the beheadings of Goliath and Ish-bosheth and of David’s response cutting off the killers’ hands and feet on the public square for all to see.

“Why,” I asked my Benedictine spiritual guide, “do you read those readings? They’re horrible!”

The answer, he said, would take too long really explain, but, in essence, such stories are lifted up in the Benedictine daily worship because that sordid history – that capacity for violence and brutality is a part of us still. We must never forget.

The pictures and stories of the ISIS beheadings are meant to terrorize ISIS’s opposition in places like Iraq and Syria, and here at home in the U.S.A. But there is evidence that they also produce a widespread determination to stop ISIS before it’s too late.

“That’s enough! Off with their heads! I warn you, ISIS… if I lose my temper, you lose your head! Understand?”

Moral outrage is in order. Yet a friend asked a question I didn’t want to hear and could not answer “As grizzly as the beheadings are,” he asked, “what’s the difference between that and blowing people’s heads off – enemies and children who are ‘collateral damage’ – with bombs dropped by a drone?”

President Obama has his hands full on this one. Some argue that he’s been too cautious. But before we go much farther down the road of exercising American power in ways that have produced hatred in the past and that will undercut whatever consensus of moral outrage is developing toward ISIS, we do well to remember the brutal response of David, whose cruelty at Hebron equalled and exceeded the wrongful beheading of Ish-bosheth.

Like the Benedictine brother said, we must not forget our history. Otherwise we paint the roses red and we all lose our heads.