The Raleigh Rant

#Come Sunday

Come Sunday movie poster

One reviewer summarized this movie that recently appeared on Netflix: “The preacher preaches that he no longer believes in hell, and he loses his church.” That covers the facts, but it misses a lot of complexities of the story:

  • His ego was so strong that he was convinced the congregation would follow him no matter what he said or did.
  • He challenged one of the fundamental beliefs of the evangelical church.
  • He left no options open other than to follow down the new direction he had chosen or to recant.
  • He made no effort to be diplomatic or transition this change; he simply said, “I have had a message from God,” i.e. he claims a higher power.
  • If there is no hell, then there is no heaven - the basic promise of salvation.

In the movie he dramatically makes this statement from the pulpit without warning his staff or giving any indication that he had been considering this drastic change. In reality, it probably happened over a period of time even though he made not have been conscious of his doubts. He is portrayed as a hero for standing up for his new beliefs, but he may have just been stubborn in asserting that he was right and no one else was wrong. You can’t challenge people’s fundamental beliefs and not expect a blow-back. It was as if Billy Graham said you no longer need to be saved.

He starts out as the pastor of a bi-racial megachurch in which his associate is white. This is hard to accept given the chasm in the cultural experiences of the races. He was a protege of Oral Roberts, and this public split makes Roberts look bad. The movie plays up the idea that Roberts had a gay son. The preacher ends up as a part-time pastor in a gay church. This implies that he also has come to accept homosexuality, which is another hot button issue in the evangelical church. The two issues in theology do not necessarily coincide. One is left wondering how much of the story is biographical and how much is fiction. If you claim that homosexuality is not a sin, that does not also claim there is no heaven or hell or that you do not need the salvation of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, some theologians debate what salvation really means. Is it more than just a one-time public declaration of faith? The teachings of Jesus are simple but not direct; they have been open to interpretation throughout the centuries. He lived in another world with a very different culture and tradition. In fact, he was a Jew.

The basic premise of the movie is not theological but demonstrates the fact that so many of these mega churches become cult followings of a personality who is only human. The church is “his” church and not the creation of the congregation or a part of the Christian tradition. When some expectations are not met, the magic disappears. The services are more entertainment than worship so when the theme is changed, the “experience” is lost. Some focus on a gospel of prosperity, and others on a gospel of a wrathful God. Are they really churches or just a TV show?

The World is Reverting to Tribalim

Vikings Landing

For several decades, the expansion of the world economy and the growth of multi-national corporations led a trend toward globalism. Not only were nations connected economically through trade and business connections, regional partnerships such as European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and others created a more stable world order. We've had regional conflicts that killed and displaced millions of people, and we've had proxy wars between the super powers. But we haven't had a war that reached world-wide in 70 years.

Even though the United Nations has had limited success in containing these regional wars, it has set up functions to help refugees of these wars. The media has focused primarily on the Middle East and ignored the conflicts in Africa and in Central America that also have produced a flood of refugees.

The nationalism of the 19th Century that created the British Empire, and to lesser extent the colonialism of the other European nations, was more limited in the later 20th and 21st Centuries with collapse of these empires. The broader sweep of history saw the decline of the significance of the political and military power of nation states and more on world-wide economic growth and stability. Nation states were just larger and more complex tribes. The United States was the dominant world power following the break-up of the Soviet Union, and only recently is being challenged by China. We were a stabilizing force for peace until we started disastrous foreign adventures in VietNam and Iraq.

In addition to serving as an economic power, the United States is a nation of immigrants, we (or our predecessors) all came from somewhere else. The growing problems associated with immigration, i.e. maintaining national boundaries (the EU has none), and integrating immigrants into the local economy and social structures have created flash points. Unfortunately, in this country the prejudice has been primarily against Mexican and Central American immigrants who are not white. Thus the issues are compounded by the racial divide. Racism is still a major issue in this country where white supremacy lingers on. The African slave trade to Western nations ended a long time ago, but segregation, discrimination, and bigotry against African-Americans is still evident in our judicial system as well as our politics.

The Islamic terrorists and so-called Christian right-wing terrorists are two sides of the same coin. Their beliefs in a theocracy where religion dictates civil policies of governments (as well as promoting the use of violence and intimidation) are reverting back to the tribalism of the Dark Ages. The tribes may be larger now, but the philosophies are still the same. The primacy of a particular Klan (based on race, religion, culture, or geography) are the social cohesive forces that override all other in forming tribes. This fear and hatred of the "other" leads to conflicts, wars, and power struggles that have continued on through history. We're just turning backward to a new form of tribalism after a generation of progress.

Until we come to terms with the real issues that drive refugees from their home, such as poverty, war, and disease, we can never have peace. Of course, there are those who profit from war, such as the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us against. They not only get a majority of our resources and national budget, they profit by selling armaments to other nations. Some have called the 20th Century the American Empire, which is now declining in the 21st Century. But we're still the strongest, and most expensive, military power in the world. Unfortunately, we're not matching that with moral authority.

#NeverAgain

It's taken the anger of a bunch of high school kids to embarrass some of the corrupt politicians who have been bribed for decades by those who profit from the sale of guns or gun violence. The inane justification that "guns don't kill people; people do" is laughable in the lack of logic in the statement. I won't cite the statistics of mass shootings in this country in recent decades, but I will note the comparison with other countries. Most other developed nations have regulations and effective enforcement of gun laws, and when you compare the level of violence in those countries with the US the contrasts are striking.

Assault rifles were designed for use by the military to kill people quickly and effectively. They have no place in civilian society for any purpose, including self-defense. We had a ban on assault weapons that was lifted, and with it came the accompanying spike in mass shootings. The issue is a moral question more than a legal one although better laws and enforcement of who can get guns are parts of the solution.

Yes, we have a mental health crisis in this country, but that encompasses a much broader scope than simply gun violence. Because we also have failed to deal with this other issue, we have millions of wasted lives, a significant drain on our economy, and broken families who receive inadequate support or treatment for those in need. Those who are mentally disabled need treatment not judgment after they have committed a crime. We need preventive measures, not retribution or revenge.

It seems ironic that the American people can accept the need for laws regulating alcohol, cars, dangerous drugs, and fraudulent products but cannot rationalize the need to regulate dangerous weapons. We're not talking about second amendment rights - just read it. It is quite explicit. We're not even debating the need for self-defense. No one is considering outlawing the possession of guns for sport or self-defense. The debate is about the irrational and fear-mongering propaganda promoted by the National Rifle Association in defense of gun manufacturers from any liability over the use of their products. The automobile manufacturers for decades fought the requirement for seatbelts, and eventually they lost that battle in favor of common sense safety requirements. The tobacco manufacturers lied for decades about the cancer-causing addictive effects of their products, and eventually they also lost but not before millions of people had died of cancer.

It is a simple question of profit before people, and there is no moral or economic justification for the continuing debacle of gun violence in this nation.

Call Me By Your Name Review

Call Me by Your NameLast weekend I went to a nearby suburban cinema to see a matinee of Call Me By Your Name. Later I read some of dozens of reviews of the film, and they clearly indicated whether the reviewers were gay or straight by how they saw the film.

For me, it raised a hosts of ghosts. Although I was never that beautiful at 17, I was just as skinny when I fell in love with a boy for the first time. We never consummated that relationship, but we remained extremely close until he died of AIDS in 1990. A weekend in Venice with a midshipman (again never consummated) came flooding back in my memory as I recalled the most romantic setting. I was 44 when my 19-year old partner-to-be descended upon my condo looking out of desperation for someplace safe. We lasted for eight years before circumstances broke up our relationship. It has been many years since I was in a relationship, and the loneliness and regrets have taken their toll on my life that was spent too much hanging out in bars hoping for love and only finding empty sex.

The implication of the film is that when people are coming to terms with their sexuality, their inherent bi-sexuality is dominant and externals may determine which way they choose to develop. For me, being gay never was a choice even though I remained in the closet for a decade. The pressures to marry were especially strong back there, and I almost took the plunge once. That would have been a big mistake for both of us.

I won't comment on the scenery or the acting since everyone else already has beaten that horse to death. I will say that in the end, I didn't find the story line romantic even though this clearly was Elio's first real love. The film wasn't just another "coming out" story. In retrospect, it came across to me that Oliver was just taking advantage of a beautiful summer fling that wouldn't have turned out any different if it had been with a girl. To me he appeared arrogant, self-absorbed, and cruel.

So what is love, and how is it expressed, depending upon your sexual orientation or gender identity? In the most simple terms, love is when we intimately and deeply connect with another human being, which usually is expressed in a sexual relationship. Of course, we have familial love of parents and children and other blood relatives. We have love between long-term friends who have shared many interests and experiences together. A lot has been written about "male-bonding" in sports and in war time that usually does not include sex.

The Christian and Jewish religions have a hard time with considering the beauty of sex as anything other than the simple biological act of procreation. Of course, sex without love is as common place as the world's oldest profession which caters to fill one of our basic human needs for sex.

But our first love is always special, simply because of the process of discovery and all of the emotional intensity that involves. That was the beauty of this film.

It's Time for a New Political Strategy

We're into a new season of demonstrations and political action committees raising funds to support their causes with the new year. Neither the strategy nor the circumstances are really anything new. But the power of corruption has spread through all levels of government at both the executive and legislative branches of federal and state government. The impact of the Citizens' United Supreme Court ruling has morphed into a democratic crisis in which the power of money not only influences elections, it also dictates the policies and regulations (or lack therefore) at all levels of government. The chaos has run amok with no limits. We may not have the direct bribery of 150 years ago, but the effects are still the same.

We've had calls for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the Supreme Court ruling, but I agree that I don't think that's politically feasible. That doesn't mean, however, that it is impossible to take any remedial action. The court struck down some specific legislation, but we could create new legislation that still could survive another conservative court decision if narrowly targeted toward the issue of corruption in public affairs.

Read more: It's Time for a New Political Strategy