Posts Tagged With: religion

German Nationalism & Religious Conflict

Smith

Smith, Helmut Walser.  German Nationalism and Religious Conflict: Culture, Ideology, Politics, 1870-1914.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.

“Although unified politically, the German empire of 1871 was a deeply divided state,” Smith states (233).  This was not due to any lack of nationalism to bind the loyalties of the multiple localities to a single state.  Instead, this division was the result of multiple nationalisms based on confessional divides, each of which was trying to define, in its own terms, what it meant to be German.  In this regard, Smith’s book is not just a study of political or cultural nationalism, but of religious nationalism as well.

Smith positions himself against previous historians who viewed nationalism as a functionalist tool used by elites to forge a unified sentiment of loyalty to the new nation and empire.  Smith’s work displays a plurality of nationalities arising from below and trying to define the boundaries of German identity.  So, rather than diminishing Protestant and Catholic divides, nationalism(s) actually exacerbated differences among Protestants and Catholics.  “The move toward national unity intensified group tensions within the society by raising settled cultural forms out of their particular context, expanding them into general allegiances, and politicizing them” (239).  Protestants, who were the majority in the newly unified Germany, saw their Reich as being deeply tied to Protestantism, and so when Bismarck launched the Kulturkampf, they did not necessarily see it as a struggle between Church and state, but instead understood it as the imperial government forging a Protestant nation.

The Protestant League was founded in 1866 in an effort to further these goals.  But the end of Bismarck’s official Kulturkampf a year later did not mean that German Catholics and Protestants had settled their differences.  On the contrary, the Protestant League picked up the slack and tried to “break the power of Rome on German soil” (52).  They tried to emphasize that Germany was a specifically Protestant nation, and they went as far as supporting the turn of the century “Away from Rome” Protestant uprisings in the Habsburg territories.  These efforts were ultimately a failure and only resulted in the Protestant League losing money and its reputation.

By the first years of the twentieth century, the Protestant League had radicalized and was even willing to oppose the German government, which they saw as weak in the face of Catholic influence, particularly when it legalized Catholic religious orders in 1902.  In an effort to defeat the Center Party, which was open to Catholics, the Protestant League had to endorse the Social Democrat party, an act that caused more strife and divisions in the conservative League.

Ultimately, Smith’s book reveals that there were a multitude of nationalisms in existence during this period.  While Catholics and Protestants were busy promoting national identities based on confessional divides, other nationalist associations like the Agrarian League and Pan Germans sought to promote the Germanness of the Reich and downplay confessional loyalties.

Smith’s work also questions the role of religion in the “modern” world.  In other words, by bringing attention back to religion in the process of nation-building, he re-conceptualizes the role of confessional loyalties in the process of modernization.  Whereas a defining attribute of being modern is traditionally understood as being secular, Smith shows that religion and confessional divides were at the heart of issues of national identity.  Instead of being a “backward” hold out of a previous era, confessional conflict was an “integral part” of becoming modern for people who “often perceived themselves as forward looking” (235).

Fore more books on German history, see my list of book reviews HERE.

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“Homosexuality is an Abomination!” – God

I was riding down a south Georgia portion of Interstate 75 when I looked up and saw a huge, new billboard for a local church that read “HOMOSEXUALITY IS AN ABOMINATION.”  It was signed, “God.”  At first I didn’t let the sign bother me.  I had a good weekend planned, so I just thought, “Those ignorant mother f•ckers,” and kept on driving.  A couple of days later, when I was heading northbound, I saw that the church had the same sign posted so that everyone traveling on I-75 could see it, no matter if you were going north or south.

That time the gigantic billboard pissed me off.  I hadn’t noticed the sign until I was right up on it, so I didn’t have any time to jot down the phone number or even catch the full name of the church.  I’m sure it was something like “Christ’s Love Baptist Church.”  Normally, I don’t let anything like that bother me, but here I was, just driving down the road and minding my own business, listening to music, not hurting anyone, when some church tells me and every single car whizzing by that GOD himself thinks I’m an abomination.  I wanted nothing more than to blow that f•cking sign up.  But, of course, I kept my cool and drove on home, but I’ve been thinking about that sign for days now.

The billboard was referring, of course, to the random Bible verse in Leviticus (20:13) that states, “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.”  Yeah, I guess that’s pretty straightforward.  In fact, I can’t think of any other way to interpret that verse except that homosexuality is not only wrong, but an abomination.   And then of course, there is the section in 1 Corinthians (6:9-11) that lists who all won’t get into heaven (or, “inherit the kingdom” as the Bible puts it); yep, you’ve got it homosexuals are on the list, along with fornicators, thieves, wizards, and all of the other familiar evildoers.

Okay, so we’ve established that there are at least two verses out of 31,173 in the Bible that are against homosexuality.  But, it’s mainly Leviticus 20:13 that opponents of homosexuality cling to.  But here’s my question for that church who paid a lot of money to put up that billboard, and all of the other churches like it:  Why do you pick and choose which Bible verses you stringently adhere to?  The Old Testament is full of random and ridiculous rules and commandments that you have no problem overlooking.  Like, what about Deuteronomy 22:5 “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.”  So, say, women wearing pant-suits are an abomination, too?  While we’re on the topic of God deciding what we can and can’t wear, what about 1 Timothy 2:9:  “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.”  So, where’s your sign that says “WOMEN WHO BRAID THEIR HAIR AND WEAR GOLD ARE WHORES” – GOD” ?

And let’s not forget the Bible’s punishment for adulterers: DEATH for the man and the “other woman.”  Deuteronomy 22:22:  “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.”  MUST die.  Phew.  Maybe if we stuck to this rule the Earth’s over-population problem would be more in check.

So, why ignore those verses?  They’re just as straightforward as the one against homosexuality.  Actually, if you want to be such a good little Bible follower, then why not follow Leviticus 20:13 to the letter?  Because, let’s read the entire verse:  “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”  So, why quit with calling me an abomination?  Don’t be half-hearted about it; carry out God’s commandment and kill me.  I hear stoning was an Old-Testament favorite.  Or, perhaps, if you pray hard enough, God will destroy us with a column of fire.

If I had to guess, “Christians” and people like that who just pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to believe, are simply using the Bible – and Leviticus 20:13 in particular – as a shield to justify their own personal feelings and repulsion to homosexuality.  And don’t give me that whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” shit; that’s just a way for you to discriminate and still sleep at night.

And I guess, what I really want to ask is why did you choose to ignore Matthew 7:1 “DO NOT JUDGE, OR YOU TOO WILL BE JUDGED.”  Please, tell me, where in the Bible it says, “I, God, grant you permission; be my judges on earth, tell everyone that is not like yourself that I hate them and they’re going to hell; be arrogant enough to sign billboards with my name.”  I looked and I couldn’t find that particular verse.  Don’t you think if God really thinks I’m an abomination he’ll take care of me when I stand before him?  He doesn’t need you to do his work for him.

And what about the verse when the disciples asked Jesus which of the commandments was the most important, and the Prince of Peace answered (Mark 12:30-31), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”  Let me repeat, because obviously you missed that one, even though it’s written in red in the New Testament:  LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.  THERE IS NO COMMANDMENT GREATER THAN THESE.  Seems kind of like Jesus pulled the trump card there:  when in doubt, love your neighbor.  And I have to say, when I saw that billboard, or see signs on TV that say “God hates fags!” I don’t really feel the love.

If we’re all God’s children (Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”), then just let him deal with us, the people that you think are an abomination.  I’d much rather face him than you, because I pick and choose to believe 1 John 4:8:  “Whoever does not love does not know God, because GOD IS LOVE.”

Okay, I’m done with that.  I know I shouldn’t let such billboards make me bitter against all Christians.  Because I have met tons of Christians who actually follow Christ’s message.  I just find it repulsive when so-called “Christians” spend all of their time judging and preaching hell fire (not only against gay folks, but against anyone who doesn’t fit into their idea of a ‘holy’ person).  Actually, I pity those angry Christians.  I think it’s sad that they read the Bible and all they find is damnation.  They really missed the good stuff.

So, I may be done with the pick-and-choose Christians, but I do have a few other things to say.  So, sit tight.

First, let me say, that I’m not writing any of this to justify myself to anyone.  Nor am I writing to fight for understanding on behalf of every gay man and woman; I’m only one person and I can’t speak for everyone.

I’m not sure how many people out there still believe that being gay is a choice.  Maybe I’d be surprised by how many do.  Since I grew up in the Southern Baptist “Belt Buckle” of the Bible Belt, I grew up believing that being gay was a sin.  And if it was a sin, then it was a choice.  That definitely caused some conflict within me; I didn’t understand why, even though I was as good a Christian as anyone else, these thoughts and desires were still in me.  So, I’d pray harder for them to go away while wondering if the other guys in my class were struggling with the same thing.

It was not until I got to college that I even heard the idea that people could be born gay, and it made such perfect sense to me.  That was the only way to explain my “defect” and why it wouldn’t go away; it had to be inborn.

My reaction then, naturally, was to research what caused homosexuality.  I wanted to know exactly why I was they way I was.  What I found only frustrated me:  you could find articles that stated, yes, homosexuality is inborn, and the next article would say that there was no scientific evidence for that, so it must be a choice.  It pretty much depended who was funding the research, and it gave weight to the axiom that you find what you’re looking for.

Of course I dismissed the ones that said I had chosen this “lifestyle” and read the ones that suggested I was born this way.  Some hinted that it may be genetic (though I now understand that a “gay gene” will never be discovered, because that’s not the way genes work.  A single gene doesn’t control something as complex as sexual orientation or intelligence or personal dispositions).  Some research suggested it was environmental, perhaps a different blend of hormones in the womb.  Others still said that it was psychological – maybe the child didn’t have enough interaction with the parent (or relatives) of the same sex during the important stages of development.  Those same scientists said that even though homosexuality might have been onset after birth, it happened so early in development that it was still not a choice on behalf of the person.  Despite all of the studies on brain structure, and hormone levels, and birth order, it seems that the state of the science right now is that science can’t say decisively what causes homosexuality.  Here’s a good document for an overview of all the experiments and studies and the role that “choice” plays (namely that some people choose to live their life openly, while others choose to live a “straight” life).

I am a firm believer in the science of evolution, so my search for answers was not only for personal satisfaction, but also for understanding of why there would be homosexuals in nature.  Especially after being called “unnatural” once, I wanted to find out where in the natural world I fit.  An obvious answer would be that we’re an evolutionary mistake.  It happens; sometimes mutations lead to dead ends (like, uh, not being able to reproduce…yeah, that’s not so great for the survival of the species).  However, after giving it some thought, I only half-jokingly now state that in a world of rampant overpopulation, I and those like me are evolution’s population control, a “natural” way of slowing down our population growth so that the world doesn’t give out of resources quite as quickly.  A friend once told me that homosexuality is God’s way of assuring that the most brilliant minds are not bothered with children.  Hey, you’ve got to have a good sense of humor when dealing with this type of stuff…

Anyway, I eventually quit reading, because I only became more frustrated after each article.  I realized that I didn’t care whether it was a faulty gene, or a hormonal imbalance…I didn’t choose to be this way.  I just had to accept it and carry on with my life.  And eventually I did.  To hell with anyone (including myself) who demanded an explanation.

And to anyone who believes that there can be “gay therapy” or that you can “pray the gay away,” I have a little experiment for you:  for my straight readers – try to make yourself truly love and have sex with a member of the same sex.  It just doesn’t work, does it?  When you were born, you didn’t decide, or make the choice to be straight, right?  And being attracted to another guy or another woman just doesn’t make sense to you.  It’s the same thing – I tried for years and years to be “into” girls.  It just didn’t work.  And to expect that gay folks can be “cured” by therapy is absurd.  Sure, there are “success” stories – of gay people who want to be accepted SO bad, and have been told for so long that they are a sinner and disgusting, that they “convert” to being straight.  And they may even believe they are straight.  But in my opinion, they’re just acting straight to gain acceptance.  And to me “gay therapy” is destructive to people’s identity and self esteem.  But I’m not the only one that thinks that way.  Here is the link to the official paper put out by the American Psychological Association on the dangers of gay therapy.

I think that most people who are against homosexuality, or at least have an aversion to it, don’t understand it; they don’t know (or at least don’t know that they know!) a gay person.  It seems like most people’s mind goes straight to the bedroom when they think of “gay.”  That’s normal, I guess.  I mean, sex is one way we categorize ourselves; it’s in the terminology:  homosexual, heterosexual.  We put ourselves into boxes depending on our reproductive capability and sexual attraction.  But, what a lot of people don’t take the time to think about is that just like straight couples, what goes on in the bedroom is only one aspect of life.  Gay men and women actually (believe it or not) love each other just as wholly as straight couples do.  Remember that uncontrollable, dizzying feeling of butterflies in your stomach when you have a crush on someone?  And that moment when you may realize that, despite yourself, you’re in love with that person?  I’ve felt that.  For another guy.  Maybe I’m just some idealistic, hippy humanist, but I’m not sure how love, in any of its forms, can be wrong.  And I’m not sure how someone can tell me that the love that I feel is wrong, or less than the love that they feel.  Oh well; there are a lot of things in life that I don’t understand…

So, wrapping this wandering pondering up, besides the legal injustice (people have no problems accepting our work and our tax money, but only just recently let us serve openly in the military, and only allow us to receive the legal and financial advantages of marriage in 6 states of this Land of the Free), I find it really sad that people like me have to worry about coming out – about explaining and justifying who they are to their friends and families.  That’s something that straight people don’t have to do.

Now, let me add again that I’m not writing for every gay American.  I don’t know how they all feel.  I know that some people have had a way worse experience than I’ve had; we’ve all been made aware recently of the kids committing suicide because they were bullied.  My heart goes out to them.  But, fortunately, while deciding to come out created a lot of distress for me, I try not to focus on the negative (though it’s hard when I’m driving along the interstate and see such billboards!) and instead focus on the positive.  Yeah, America still has strides to take in order to treat all of its citizens equally, but in some countries people are still murdered and chopped up with machetes for being gay.  So, in that respect, I’m thankful that I happened to be born in the US.

And lastly:  I don’t expect everyone to accept homosexuality.  That simply won’t happen.  But please don’t, for example, use the argument that gay marriage will ruin the institution of marriage; 51% of marriages (between a man and woman, mind you!) in America end in divorce.  And don’t quote the Bible against me, because there are just as many verses that can be fired against you.  And if you really have to have someone to “blame,” then either blame God for creating us, or blame straight parents…they’re the ones having all the gay babies!  (Okay, maybe an inappropriate time to joke…)  And even if you believe that I chose to live this way, what does it matter?  How does it hurt you?  Don’t worry, I’m not out to convert you or your children to the dark side!  And sure, I want to take over the world, but that has nothing to do with me being gay.  So, even if you think homosexuality is a “lifestyle” that is chosen, I just don’t see how it affects you.   Who cares what I do in my life as long as it doesn’t negatively affect you?

So, I will end with this request:  I do not ask that you understand me or welcome me with open arms.  You have the right not to.  I will not hate you if you don’t.  But, I ask for the same in return.  If you don’t love me or accept me, at least leave me alone.  

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The Son’s Salvation

Here is my Sunday sermon: 

The Son’s Salvation

He is sitting on his throne, hands gripped tightly on the rests.  He is powerful and frighteningly vast; lightning flashes in his eyes and thunder is his voice.  A blinding light hides his face, so that no one may look upon it and live.

There was an empty throne to his right, for I stood before him.  He looked down at me and I knew he was angry. “I will destroy man whom I have created.  They shall know my wrath!” he bellowed, “for I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End; I am the Creator and Lord of all; I am who I am.”

He was, once again, ready to start over, declaring that the next time, Mankind would choose the correct path.

Even I, his son, felt small in his intimidating presence.  “But you have done this,” I told him.  “You decided upon freewill.  And since then, you have given them nothing but cold tablets and a book filled with rules, and you then expect them to worship you without ceasing.  They only fear you because you have shown them no real grace.”

Roaring tongues of fire erupted and consumed his hair and beard.  “I created the heavens and the earth for them!” he thundered.

He settled back into his throne and I waited until I could no longer feel the heat of the fire on my face.

“Spare them.  Please.”

“Why?” he retorted.  “They have such a brief, fleeting life.  Nothing awaits them in the end.”

“It is precisely the shortness and fragility of their life that causes me to care.  It’s all they have.  Why destroy it?”

The light radiating from his face suddenly blazed and I had to shield my eyes.   It then slowly dimmed until I could see an outline of his face.  At first he revealed no emotion.  And then, he looked… disappointed.

“If you care so much for them, then you may take their Fall.  But, if you leave here, you will never return.”

His statement took my breath.  I knew my father’s care had its limits, but to banish his own son for eternity?  I looked over at the angels, who were still bowing to and worshiping my father.  One looked up, anticipating my answer.

I glanced at my throne and then turned to look at the miniscule speck of blue situated in an immeasurable ocean of blackness: Earth; the realm that my father provided for his favorite creation.

I looked my father in the eyes.  “Thank you,” I told him.  I then turned and entered the world of Man.

***

Crude spikes penetrated my hands and both legs.  A soldier below stabbed my side.  I cried out in agony.  The pain is something that I had never before experienced and its excruciating sharpness consumed me.

The crowd below laughed and spat at the base of the cross that held me high and exposed before them all.  “Some Messiah you are!” one man yelled.  Despite the fact that I had never claimed to be a messiah or king, they had shoved a crown of thorns into my scalp.

Perhaps my father was right.  Man shouldn’t be saved.  No; they didn’t deserve it.  I tried with all of my might to call upon my father’s angels to free me from that cross and to destroy those ungrateful mortals who mocked me even then.

What had I done to make them hate me so?  I merely taught to love your neighbor and your enemy as you love yourself. And yet they were crucifying me.

Yes, I called on legions of my father’s warriors.

But none came.  There was no answer from my father at all.

“Father, why have you forsaken me?” I called out.  I relaxed and let the weight of my body pull against the stakes.

Then I looked over and saw him.  He looked like the Rest, but I knew him:  he was Racism and Bigotry; Ignorance and Greed.

He was smiling.

I tried to lunge forward but only succeeded in tearing more flesh.

He spoke, though his mouth did not move.  “To think that you could prevail in such a world.  What a silly, idealistic notion.”

“If I could just teach them,” I heard myself saying, “If I could just open their eyes, they would see that what they share is greater than what divides them.  I can teach them Compassion.”

“Your father forbade that Apple and hid it from them long ago, keeping it for himself.  Why do they bother you so?  Even He has left them,” he said, glancing up to the heavens.

“Yes, but I am here –”

“You are nailed to a cross!” he shouted out loud.

I blinked.  And then looked down and saw blood, so much blood.  There were two men, one on either side of me, both talking, but I paid them no attention.  I was dying.

The sun dipped below the horizon and the world grew dark.  I knew my father had turned away from this world.  A tear slid down my cheek.  I breathed my final breath and then hung my head.

***

I’m sitting in an alley, just off the busy, main street.  I readjust myself, trying to find a more comfortable position against the concrete wall of the skyscraper behind me.  I place a cigarette between my lips and search my pockets for my lighter.

“God?” someone asks.  I look up and see a man, incredulous look on his face, stepping into the alley.

“Close,” I mutter before lighting my cigarette.

“Are you really him?” he asks.

“It depends.”

“On what?”

“On who you mean,” I say and take another drag.  The man doesn’t say anything for a moment.

“May I have a seat?” he asks.

“Of course,” I say and spread out some newspaper for him to sit on.  “Sorry I didn’t offer sooner.”

“It’s alright,” he says as he sits down.

I smile.  It’s alright he told me.  I chuckle. He forgave me.

“Do you mind?” he asks, and I look over to see that he’s pointing at my cigarette.  “The smoke kind of bothers me.”

My smile continues and I snub out the cigarette.  “Yeah, dirty habit,” I admit.  “So,” I say, “Ask anything.”

The man exhales; the enormity of the opportunity is obviously daunting.  “Since you’re here, does that mean that the End is here, as well?”

My smile drops a little, but I answer him.  “People speak of a Second Coming, but what they don’t realize is that I never left.” I pause, and then,” That wasn’t the question you really want to ask.”

He looks over, looks me in the eyes, and then quickly glances away.  “I just don’t understand.  Any of it.”

I take a moment to think.  “People often mistake the simple outcome of History as my father’s favor. But do you think that some living so lavishly while others suffer from the day of their birth is all part of some mysterious plan?”

The man just stares at his shoes.  I continue.  “My father retreated from this world long ago.  Only I am here now.”

The man clenches his jaws.  “So much blood has been shed in your name,” he says with a forced calm.  But, his next words spill from his mouth.  “Why don’t you reveal yourself?! Why don’t you come forward and straighten out the world?  Why don’t you perform miracles and show people that you are still here?!”

He is angry, but he is angry at the rampant injustice that has existed since the beginning, and so I stay calm.

“Miracles?” I ask.  “I stepped into the world of Man armed with the most powerful and infinitely beautiful miracle of all: the message of Compassion.  It is not a new message and it is a miracle that you yourself can perform every single day.

“I have watched acts of Compassion since the very beginning, but unfortunately, it always seems that its enemies are more aggressive.  I thought if only I could come and devote my life to teaching that Message…”I trail off.

But then continue.  “But since then I have watched one empire fall only to be replaced by another just as driven by Power and Greed.  I have ached as Exploitation and Indifference spread seemingly unchallenged.  My Words are highlighted in red, but are seldom actually read.

“But at the same time, I’ve heard dalai lamas, imams, and preachers alike teach my Message in ways I never could.  I’ve seen my works carried out by single parents, farmers, peasants, and students.  I’ve witnessed atheists follow the Scripture of Compassion closer than ‘believers.’

“You see, these people who recognize the humanity of others, who appreciate the diverse human experience, they understand what it really means to be saved, to be released from the bonds of Ignorance and Hate.  That is the salvation that I, Compassion, bring.  You don’t need a book or any deity to realize that salvation has been available to everyone, and through everyone, since this world began.”

We sit in silence for several minutes.  The man is thinking and I can sense that he is even a bit hurt.  Knowing that salvation lies in the hands of humanity can be overwhelmingly disheartening.  But, I am comforted in knowing that I am sitting next to my Equal; his heart is full of Compassion.  It feels good to be in his presence, and perhaps I am once again saved.

But I know that there is one more thing that he wants to ask; it’s the same question that everyone wants to ask me.

“Go ahead,” I tell him.

He bites his lip, partly because there is a little bit of anger welling up in him.  But I also think it’s partially because he is afraid that he may already know my answer.

He stares somewhere past me.  “There has been so much suffering, so much hurt.”  He then looks at me in the eyes. “Where were you?” he pleads.

I don’t blink, but hold his gaze for a moment.  I can feel my heart beating in my chest.

My voice cracks slightly.  “Where were you?”

He hangs his head and rests his hands on his knees.  A single tear runs down his cheek, and it reminds me of that day so long ago when I too realized that it was Mankind that had nailed me to that cross.


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“The Son’s Salvation” by W. J. Newsome is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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