Note on a Table

18 01 2014

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Had to go to Nebraska for a couple of different reasons. Went to a coffee shop for breakfast and found a note lying on the table. This is what it said.

 

My Future’s Manifesto
by D. B. Wyatt

“Probably”

I can see it and hear it now: Computers so smart they can actually mimic spirituality, because we’ll find that that a sufficient amount of computing power actually leads to an innate exocentricity – the impulse to “go beyond” one’s capacities, and this inevitably leads to a belief in God. The replication of intelligence begets replication, which by law of finite extrapolation, always leads to a desire for more. So get smart enough and you’ll want more than you have, and need more than you are. It’s a natural urge, which means that religion would have been developed whether or not there was a God. This doesn’t disprove the existence of God, but it makes it much less likely that such a being exists.

I can see it and hear it now. Computers so smart they can out-write, out-rhyme, out-paint, and generally out-create us. Because we’ll find certain innate algorithms built into nature that are expressly designed to create, and we’ll be able to replicate (and even manipulate and perhaps even improve upon) those algorithms in computers, but given that their computing power is so much greater, they will be able to out-perform us in creative tasks. So a computer will be funnier, more charming, even more sexy, than its human counterpart.

So religion will become a relic of the past, a natural stage in the progression of human intelligence, as we find that computers themselves begin to get not only personalities, but faiths. And this will prove, convincingly to most people, the true provenance of religious belief.

We’ll also come to the conclusion that we actually aren’t moral animals, we humans, and that our instincts for goodness are actually adaptability strategies in order to get along. We’ll find that there is no right and wrong, technically speaking, and that such concepts are developed for the propagation of the species. We make this shit up in order to survive, in other words. And it usually works, except when it doesn’t. It backfires because nature backfires. Every natural cycle is incomplete. Nature isn’t perfect – if it were, it wouldn’t change. Evolution is the process of attempting to reach perfection, which would be homeostasis. Religions call it eternity.

Anyway, all these religious impulses, all this morality wrought out of guilt, all this inspiration that supposedly came from the gods – all of this will, in time, be understood for precisely what it is – mechanisms built into the process of change for the purpose of insuring the survival of the host. Morality has no actual moral content of its own. Things are what we make them to be, and we make things that reflect what we want to be.

Will this lead to chaos and a rupture in the social fabric? Hopefully not, as people begin to accept that to live is better than to die, and so we must do everything we can to insure not only our own survival, but the survival of our progeny. This instinct alone, the desire and will to survive, will be recognized as the ultimate impulse—the ultimate religious impulse, if you will—that must be protected. Living will become the God. Life will be the God. Life will be God. God will be Life. It will be reduced to that kind of simplicity. There will be no need for sufficient complexity. It will be a call for sufficient simplicity. The simpler, the better, the more elegant, the more economical, the more efficient. Nature is actually on course to becoming more simple. It’s just that the road to get there is pretty complex ~

“I’m sorry this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.” Blaise Pascal

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The Shallows and the Deep: The Democratization of Truth

15 04 2013

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I found myself in one of those awkward situations yesterday where I was leading a discussion that was getting sidetracked by sincere questions that I knew from experience would lead to nothing but a series of tangled dead-ends, all of which begin with the implied qualification, “For what it’s worth,” to which the answer in each case was, “Not much.”

Okay, let me get more specific. It was about evolution and whether humans are simply the product of natural selection, or whether, perhaps, there’s a little more to it than that, like… say… God.

(*Qualifier: I’m no fan of creationism or any other religious attempt to usurp the basic theory of evolution. Nor, however, do I buy into the naturalistic assumptions of Darwinian theory, given that I believe that somewhere along the path to full humanity, God saw fit to establish a loving relationship with his creation and did so by giving us spirits, which I consider to be a basic element of our humanity, and likely the place where our species began. How, when, and where, exactly, did he do this? Ummm… January 1st, 10,000 BC, 6am local time? Humans are irreducibly spiritual beings, which entails the simple fact that our core selves cannot be reduced to the effects of naturalistic evolution.)

Okay, right? So boring as hell, so pre-2008. But please note: this wasn’t a discussion at a local chapter of the Society of Skeptics. No, this was an after-church discussion group at my local parish made up of five people plus myself: three college students from the school where I teach, all of whom happen to be wicked smart and traditionally conservative believers (no, not an oxymoron); our priest; and a graduate student from Caltech. You get three guesses who my interlocutor was.

And no, it wasn’t my priest. Or my students.

Let me get specific-er. Caltech guy was saying (arguing) that 1.) the process of evolution in no way presumes that God could not be a part of such a process and that 2.) humans are in no way qualitatively different from other species of animals but only quantitatively so, due to the evolutionary advantage of coming late to the party called existence, which has the wonderful fringe benefit of a measurably larger prefrontal cortex. Ergo, there’s nothing terribly unique about us that can’t be traced back to the circumference of our brains.

I was saying (arguing) that 1.) the process of Darwinian naturalistic evolution, to which my Caltech friend was referring, actually does presume both that God is not a part of the process and that the totality of our existence can be explained by simple reference to naturalistic causes; and 2.) that contrary to this, I believe humans are qualitatively different from other species of animals due to the fact that we were created imago Dei and have thus been endowed with spirits, which I take to be an uncontested fact in a setting of Christian believers (the fact, that is, that we are bodies and spirits and not merely bodies).

Caltech guy was incredulous at this, “this” being my position that we are qualitatively different from other animals due to our being the only ones created in the image of God, a point which I take to be one of the least sexy points I’ve made in probably, oh, three or four years. He was incredulous not because what I was saying contradicted scripture, which it does not, but because it contradicted his view of evolution, which he takes to be a theologically value neutral proposition, which it is not. No matter that what I was saying is implied (or explicitly stated) from Genesis to Revelation, and that Jesus makes repeated assertions throughout the gospels of our being unique by dint of our unique relationship to God, or that Paul insists again and again on the ontological priority of the human-God relationship vis-a-vis the rest of creation (Martin Buber’s I/Thou idea). Is it even prudent at such a point to start trotting out texts that speak directly to this issue (Romans 8:29, 1 Cor. 11:7, 15:49, 2 Cor. 3:18, Colossians 3:10, etc.)?

Regarding the whole idea of the biblical meaning of imago Dei, I refer you to this careful study by John Piper:

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/the-image-of-god

A few years back I did a talk for a local church on the biblical evidence for animals having souls (nephesh in the Greek), which I gathered was a good enough reason to treat animals with respect and care, and I was practically run out of the church by my own species. My point then, as now, is that the bible makes distinctions between animals and humans, bodies, souls, and spirits; and this is but one reason why hard-core evolutionists have such trouble with the Christian position, because we insist there is a God in whose image we humans are created, which is a complete non-starter for them (and understandably so).

But it isn’t just our position anymore. Even among scientific ranks there is division. Ian Tattersall, paleontologist and curator emeritus with the American Muesum of Natural History in New York and a noted expert on evolution, has argued that humans represent a “totally unprecedented entity” on the planet, and that “Homo sapiens is not simply an improved version of its ancestors – it’s a new concept” (from his book Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness, [1998]). It’s important to note that Tattersall is not coming from any particular religious perspective in saying this. He’s simply making the point that, scientifically speaking, “the notion of human evolution as being a linear trudge from primitivism to perfection is totally wrong” (from his Wikipedia page).

But back now to my Caltech interlocutor and our sabre rattling at yesterday’s church discussion. I found the whole give and take disheartening for a few reasons. First, I know precious little about what my Caltech friend is studying in the field of quantum mechanics, and given that he is the far more trained person than I in this area, I’d fully expect him to begin rolling his eyes if I started to put up too many objections if he happened to be leading a discussion on, say, whether light is a particle or a wave. So yesterday I tried to keep my comments civil and not roll my eyes as he continued to press me for answers to questions that, to be quite honest, betrayed any real familiarity with the issue beyond a casual grasp of basic concepts that could be gleaned from a close reading of one or two books on the subject. But secondly, and even more depressingly, was the tenor of his questions, the rank presumptuousness with which he questioned my position and the utter incredulity he expressed over rather basic and time-honored suggestions such as, for example, that human beings are unique in creation.

Why is it that when any topic related to theological concerns comes up, everyone thinks themselves an expert? Why? Because theology is, by design, accessible even to children. We begin asking deep theological questions at the age of five. The mistake comes in the presumption that its very accessibility allows anyone, regardless of training, to somehow master the more complicated ideas — which theologians have been thinking over and wrestling with for thousands of years — in a single afternoon’s discussion over Chinese food. It would be like my assuming I could question a physicist’s foundational assumptions about photons because I can wire a light switch.

This kind of presumption is rife in today’s know-it-all “scientistic” culture, where gigabytes of information can be gathered in a single minute’s Google search sweep. But information is not knowledge, and so the truth — of anything — is not subject to majority rule or the principles of democracy or the hegemony of the scientific method. There is nothing inherently democratic (or, for that matter scientific) about the truth. It is entirely autocratic, even despotic, it its exactitude, by which I mean that even though our knowledge of any truth may be partially or even entirely limited, the truth still stands on its own as is, willy-nilly. And yes, this means that I believe in objective truth. And for those who think this a trifle bit naïf, I offer this bit of wisdom from philosopher Roger Scruton who said, “The man who tells you truth doesn’t exist is inviting you not to believe him. So don’t.”

In our age of democratizing claims to truth, it seems that anyone can question anyone any time about anything. Self-critical scrutiny of one’s own position, on the other hand, is a scarce commodity. How sometimes I wish theology was not accessible to children. But then, what would it be? The provenance of scholars only? Indeed, St. Jerome was right when he said about scripture, which I extend here to the task of theology, that it is “shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for theologians to swim in without ever touching bottom.”

And, if I may add, deep enough for quantum physicists to drown in.





The Tryanny of Experience

17 03 2013

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We live in an age when a person’s best authority is herself. What a poor and impoverished replacement that is for what used to count for authority: inherited wisdom, otherwise known as the giants on whose shoulders we stood in order to see farther. But in our hubris, we’ve jumped off their shoulders and claim to be able to see farther and know better, all from our vaulted perspective 6 inches off the ground.

Sure, there have always been things about our past (our traditions and elders) that we’ve needed to repudiate: slavery, the subjugation of women, child labor, bear baiting… But we’ve taken their whole system, all of their assumptions about the world and each other, both good and bad, and tossed it aside. We’ve reinvented the wheel and called it an improvement to ride around on square blocks. That’s the problem with progress… we always assume it means progress; or rather, that progress is always a good thing. Is the hydrogen bomb really an improvement over dynamite? Well, yes, in a way…

By elevating our own experience as the ultimate authority in matters of life and death, we’ve placed ourselves at the middle of the universe and essentially sacralized our perspectives. There is no room here for humility in this new order of things — the order of I (or should I say “i”?), and as a result, we have no claim to final authority, since your experience is your experience, and mine is mine, and whose going to gainsay anyone’s experience?

Well, I am. I’m not only going to gainsay your experience, I’m going to gainsay mine as well. Why? Because I’ve been paying attention the last 48 years of living, and if I’ve learned anything about human nature, starting with myself, it’s this: that much of the time we’re right about things, but almost an equal amount of time, we’re wrong, which means that at best, it’s a 50/50 proposition to hold ourselves up as an authority over much of anything terribly important. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. But here’s the zinger: those things that we stand the chance of being most wrong about are precisely those things that we hold most dear because they valorize our human proclivity for provincial thinking and denial, which is the second thing I’ve learned in my 48 years of paying attention: we live in denial much of the time in order to validate our own view of things, and we do all of this as a coping mechanism for the nihilism that we breathe in all round us.

And where does this leave us? That at the very places where we most need to have authorities outside of ourselves to give us perspective, we are least likely to avail ourselves of them. And so we take the wisdom of our ancestors and reform it to reflect our prejudices, and we fashion the religion and politics of our forefathers and mothers and mold them into our own biases and tastes. We change everything we believe to adjust to our experiences, never for a second thinking to ask ourselves whether our experiences themselves are open to other interpretations, or whether our experiences might actually be misleading. If this is the way I understand what’s happened to me, then by golly, that’s precisely what happened to me! Right?

Never was there a time so many of us trusted so unquestioningly our own personal view of things. Never was there a time our own personal view of things was so influenced by the deluded voices around us.

La la la la la la….





Fortunes and Futures

11 03 2013

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Could this be one of those times in human history when the future looks more bleak than the past? I look out ahead of me and don’t like what I see: explanations of our existence bereft of any soul; theories of our origins that could be explained with a pencil and a slide rule; ideas about love that are the provenance of chemists and not poets; and poetry itself, reduced to nothing but syntax arranged by a computer.

Marilynne Robinson once wrote, “I miss culture and I want it back” (from her “The Death of Adam and Other Essays” collection, I think). I join in her lament. Scientists, those high priests of truth, are the self-appointed experts on everything, a position we all happily oblige them. After all, says we, if they can invent a light bulb, surely they can explain the mysteries of life. And so, slowly but surely, eternity morphs into infinity, poetry into word-play, erotic love into the chemical consummation of oxytocin and dopamine. You see this kind of reductionist metamorphosis all around you if you know where — and more importantly, how —  to look. Ads on TV, the perfume fragrance strips of magazines, pop music. It’s all about appearances, about glitz and glamor, pomp and ceremony, OMG! and Highlight reels. Even talk of content these days is so stylized, so self-conscious. Our souls collectively waste away as we settle for the Quick Fix.

Yes, I believe in souls, and that we embody them, and that because of this, our existence is greater than the sum of our parts, more complicated than our chemical alchemy, more mysterious than multiverses. Even philosophers, long since relegated to the back of the cultural and intellectual bus (I mean, who’s the last living philosopher you’ve read?), think they can cash in on the cheapest bit of intellectual property left for intellectual speculators: religion. It won’t be long before religion becomes an artifact of history, and supernatural belief a diagnosis in the DSM. Flannery O’Connor was right when she said that nihilism is in the very air we breathe.

Count me among the relics if and when that time comes, because explaining life by nothing more than a series of fantastical collisions of atoms does nothing for me. It doesn’t even make me sigh. It’s like being hit over the head by a fortune cookie. I mean, what’s the point?





Why the Republicans Lost

6 11 2012

Because they gave up their center to the folks on the far right called the Tea Party, who, though they are loud, represent an increasingly marginalized voice in America ~ disenfranchised white voters who cling to the myth of American exceptionalism out of sheer fear of losing their dominance in this country (and the world). The Republican wave has crested historically in this country as America continues to skew more to a black and brown-skinned populace, and by disenfranchising this group, the Republicans handed the election to the Democrats.

But there’s another reason they lost. Republicans gave away the farm regarding the Christian faith when they drunk Ralph Reed’s Moral Majority Kool-Aid two decades ago. The notion that America is a Christian country, that God is more concerned with individual morality than social ethics, that patriotism and faith run in parallel lines ~ none of these notions is in line with historical Christianity, and so they’ve managed to give their soul away, too. One of the great under-reported stories in this election are the 73% of Americans who call themselves Christians, and how many of them who form the mainline religious center did not vote for Romney for that reason. Most of the Christians I know — and I know more than a few — voted for Obama.

So what’s left of the Republican party at this point? Their cacophony, their hate, their vitriol, their blame, sure…. and if they choose to take that agenda to Congress thinking that it’s a mandate, they’ll suffer a worse fate in 2016. But there’s more to the Republican party than that, of course, and if they could just stop being obstructionists for a moment, we might actually get to see another, more salutary side. It’s time to get the monkey off your back called the Abrasive Right and take their place again in the political conversation. This country is not served by one super-dominant party. So get to work, Republicans. But remember, if you want your voice to be heard in this ever-changing country, you better find your soul first.





Finding EnlightenMEnt (Dogma as Drama, Part I)

27 06 2012

I have a good friend who doesn’t like Christianity because of all its dogma. He extols the virtues of free inquiry, parochially understood as thinking what you want when you want and how you want. I found the perfect religion for him this morning on a DVD some friends gave to me over the weekend: The Church of Scientology.

This “religion” is for the spiritually faint of heart, for those who spurn any ideas of existential commitment that might involve some pain. This religion is about getting rid of the pain through reaching the Clear, which fundamentally means becoming YOURSELF. And here I thought I was myself all along. Alas…

How does one achieve this self-indulgent enlightenment? Through auditing sessions with an Auditor who is trained to use an E-Meter(?!) that registers just how sick/healthy you are and where those blocks exist in your psyche and soul that are prohibiting you from true happiness and wholeness. All for the low, low cost of…

Scientology is for the dogma-averse who are naive enough to think that you can be tabula rasa going in and who don’t want to be preached at. They actually have someone on their promotional video say this: “This is a place where you won’t be preached at; where you’re not told what to believe ~ you decide what you believe”. But then, in the very next jump cut, they show you a typical Scientology “church,” which has dozens (hundreds?) of self-activated multi-media kiosks that dispense hundreds of tidbits of wisdom and insight for the wary seeker. Turns out, you’re verily assaulted with information as you walk through the door. I daresay, the Church of Scientology is the most “preachy” church I’ve ever encountered, even if it is all under the guise of “think-what-you-want’ism.” In the immortal words of the Who in their classic song “Won’t Get Fooled Again“: Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

But in truth, there really is no dogma (properly understood) in Scientology. Just creeds that say nothing specific or — God forbid — troubling. This is the Church of Thomas Jefferson where every truth is self-evident and easily swallowed. This is for the non-discerning seeker who wants a religion of ME. This is the perfect tonic for the Facebook generation. Watch it grow.

But back to my anti-dogma friend. He grew up in a Christian fundamentalist home, an often sure-fire guarantee of a swift departure from all things Christian in later life for any earnest truth-seeker. One only hopes such people find a path back to the heart of the Christian faith and away from the pharisaism of Fundamentalism. My friend is yet to get on that path. For now, he is his own Church, the Church of Syncretism, where he takes a little of this, a little of that, patches it together and — wala! — basks under the light of his own creation. And not that I can blame him, mind you. He’s doing what he needs to do to get rid of the detritus of his former prison. I don’t begrudge him. I admire him. At least he has the chutzpah to take it seriously. I only hope that he moves beyond this level.

Trouble is, without dogma, you have nothing worth believing. And by “dogma” I mean insisting upon things that are not readily self-evident, and because of that, are not always palatable, and hence often difficult. Take for example,

I believe in One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Come again? Since when did One = three? Or how about this doozie:

I believe in Jesus Christ, God a very God and man a very man.

You see, if you’re a church and you want to have creeds, or you’re an individual and you want to be a church, have the huevos at least to come up with a creed that actually challenges your tenacious grip on this illusory thing called the Self and on your precious notions of freedom. There’s a scant difference between religion and a Hallmark card, but the difference is crucial.

Scientology has some very reasonable things to say, and some very reasonable practices to help one achieve clarity. And I have no doubt that it helps some people, just like a colonic might, or a good night spent with friends, or a good counseling session. The trouble comes when it goes above its pay grade and fashions itself a religion on par with other religions. It lacks all the moxie of authentic religion. It doesn’t smell like a religion, or “feel” like one, much less look like one. It’s the path of least resistance to easy spirituality; it’s the Masonic Lodge for the 21st century, but instead of Masons, when you join the church you’re called a Thetan. Nifty, no? Hell, even their video looks like it was put together by the marketing and promotional department. In fact, I’m certain it was. It has the look and feel of a Nike ad, replete with ambient rock music (think U2 on ecstasy) in the background, good-looking people, bad acting, scenes of nature, happy couples, kittens, the obligatory 3rd world starving child. It all wreaks of tawdry sentimentalism disguised as authentic spirituality. Much like, I must confess, many expressions of Christianity in the contemporary church.

In my next post, I’d like to extol the virtues of true dogma, dogma that hurts, that isn’t self-evident, that takes maturity to adopt, much less understand. In the meantime, if you want something that isn’t atheism but is, more or less, religion for the agnostic, you might want to try Scientology. There’s something there for everyone.





The Problem with Rick Santorum, Inc.

19 02 2012

Rick Santorum is among that curious breed of folk who profess a singularly conservative theology that happens to look nothing like the belief the Bible prescribes. Otherwise known as “neo-conservative evangelicals,” these people lay claim to true Christian belief and act as if they were the mouthpiece of such belief. The more secular public has, for the most part, taken them to represent the Church as a whole, even though much of the rest of the Christian world does not understand these folks to be anything near the representations of authentic Christian belief. There is an entire swath of Christianity, in fact, who considers itself “evangelical” in the sense that it takes Scripture to be the inspired word of God and believes that Jesus is who he said he was, and who, as a result, remains steadfastly committed to the poor and disenfranchised and who support political platforms that give voice to this commitment. But you rarely hear of these folk. Why? Because our position isn’t titillating, isn’t prone to being summed up in cleverly cynical one-liners, neither provokes the political frenzy that such hyper-patriotic malcontents as the Tea Party seem singularly committed to fomenting, nor bow to the political pressures of gender or race or sexual identity politics. Our position doesn’t sell newspapers, in other words, because it isn’t prone to soundbites.

Tricky Rick is in another conundrum altogether, however, in that he’s a Roman Catholic, which in the eyes of many evangelicals doesn’t even count for Christian. Many of my students, most of whom come from conservative evangelical backgrounds, are quite taken aback by my insistence that Catholics are every bit as much Christians as they are. Often, even among my Catholic students, there is this disingenuous distinction between “Catholic” and “Christian.” So Mr. Santorum finds himself in a bit of a double-bind, in that many of the very people he’s courting find it difficult to accept him as one of their own. I must confess to a bit of private glee when I think of how the Republican party, which fashions itself as the bastion of true Christianity and decent family values, must choose between a Mormon, a Catholic, and a man on his third marriage. Not that I hold any grudge against any of these monikers, but the irony is, many Republicans do.

In an article from Reuters, we learn that Santorum said “the Obama administration . . . . was using ‘political science’ in the debate about climate change” and that his “agenda is ‘not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.'” He was speaking to a crowd of Tea Party conservatives (natch).

I guess I’d like to know what theology Santorum’s positions are based on, because the more I read his position statements, the more convinced I am that it’s a disingenuous blending of equal parts Bible and American Constitution, and therein lies the problem. We learn from his website that Americans need:

“… a system of governance that promotes human flourishing, seeks the common good and maximizes personal liberty. . . . Our founders understood that man’s nature is inclined toward self and sin, and that no one person or institution should have the opportunity to consolidate power, lest the freedom of others be taken away.”

Now riddle me this, Mr. Santorum. If our founders understood that man’s nature is inclined toward self and sin (actually, Jefferson didn’t, but that’s another issue), how is it that maximizing personal liberty, which is code for deregulation in virtually every area of life, even remotely makes sense? Wouldn’t maximizing our freedoms, by definition, lead to greater sin? That’s certainly the position of Scripture, where God makes it clear that, left to our own devices, we humans are our worst enemies and must therefore live within a set of strict moral and ethical guidelines and bear one another’s burdens when we fall and hold one another accountable in the meantime. Just read Paul’s letters to the Romans, chapters 1-3. But oddly, at other times, Santorum has said just the opposite ~ that the platform of the left is all about “I have the right to do what I want to do” (i.e. maximum personal liberty) ~ and then goes on to say that this is not the sort of freedom that our Founders envisioned. So I’m left to wonder, whose personal liberty is Santorum exactly trying to maximize? Republicans’? Neo-conservatives’? Fundamentalist Christians’? Because any way you cut it, the idea of maximizing personal liberty does not come from Scripture. All talk about freedom in any meaningful biblical sense comes from the freedom of slavery to sin, not the freedom that results in maximized personal liberty. It may be a Constitutional value, but then, the American Constitution and Scripture are not the same thing (which is a bit of a news alert to many social conservatives, including Santorum).

Santorum unabashedly believes in and promotes American exceptionalism, another one of those Republican “core Christian values.” But what is American exceptionalism if not outright idolatry? It is the view that understands America as a “city on a hill,” which is an explicit biblical designation reserved for the disciples of Christ alone and which Christ used in Matt. 5. The phrase “city on a hill” has been co-opted many times to refer to something other than the Church itself, which has conversely led to issues of confused identity. The Puritan John Winthrop called the Massachusetts Bay Colony a “city on a hill,” which eventually led to misguided views of American exceptionalism and to the idea that America is somehow especially blessed by God (“My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty” and all that ~ which, not incidentally, ends with this stanza: “Long may our land be bright, With freedom’s holy light, Protect us by Thy might, Great God our King”).

This is how Santorum puts it on his own website: “I truly do believe we are ‘the last best hope of earth. . .'” When Santorum channels Lincoln in this way, he is bastardizing Lincoln’s message, which was not about America being the last great hope of earth, but that the way of freedom for all people is the last best hope. The speech Lincoln gave in which he used this phrase is short, eminently readable by anyone caring to know a little bit about our own history. The context of the phrase is this:

“In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.”

Notice how Lincoln is calling a way the last best hope, not a country. It is in extending freedom to all people that the last best hope resides. Not in some national identity. Turns out, Santorum’s theology is less built upon Scripture than it is upon this false ideal of American greatness. Santorum believes that America is exceptional not merely for what it has done, but intrinsically so, and he’s said as much. There is something almost divine about America ~ the city on a hill, that Promised Land of God’s favor. So for him to question Obama’s commitment to Christianity, and to claim that Obama’s theology comes from some place other than Scripture, is just plain hypocrisy.

The problem with Rick Santorum is that he, like many of his conservative cronies, has confused the American political vision with the Church’s Christian vision, and he no longer can make a meaningful distinction between the two. This is called idolatry in Scripture, and God has limited patience for such a thing.

To put it mildly.