Writings by Dr. Blair

A Time and Place For Us

A Time and Place for Us

by Dr. Ralph Blair

A Time and Place for Us is an expanded version of the Keynote address given by Dr. Blair at the Eastern and Western connECtions2001.

(PDF version available here)

Frasier has dragged Niles and their father to a basketball game for “a good night of male-bonding” as only Frasier could fantasize. He’s trying his best to whip up their interest but dad is preoccupied with an old unsolved murder case and Niles is preoccupied with the music in his headset. A burly fan arrives late, plops down next to Niles and grunts: “What’s the score?” Niles lifts his headset and pronounces: “West Side Story.”

What’s the score? That depends. What’s the question?

One of the numbers from West Side Story promises “a time and place for us.” “Hold my hand and I’ll take you there; hold my hand and we’re half-way there.” That may work for infatuation—at least on Broadway, but let’s frame the question more broadly than Broadway. Not the narrow and harried world of lovers or the iso1ation of Frasier, Niles and their dad—all at the same game but each in his own world and each in his own time zone. Instead, let’s think of a time and place for us all in the deepest and widest of worlds.

We’re all enmeshed in time. It “weighs us down, every moment,” as Baudelaire complained about tick-tock time. When we’re younger or bored, time drags; when we’re older or having fun, time flies. There’s the life-giving time of pulse and brain waves and the life-stealing time of aging. In “Queer as Folk,” the narcissistic Brian rejects time with his sperm-donated son, complaining that a baby is just a “wrinkled little time clock ticking away reminding you you’re getting older by the minute, by the second.” Time is a mystery, always on the move in all directions at once. It’s what one scientist calls “the deepest of all enigmas in physics” [Malcolm W. Browne], what a classicist calls “the most nostalgic of elements.” [Robert Eisner] To ask: “What’s the time?” is like asking “What’s the score?” It all depends on what we mean. For some purposes we think of eons and light-years. For other purposes it’s enough to know what year it is or what day or what hour. At other times we must know the time down to billionths of a second. It’s the same if we ask “Where are we?” “Are we there yet?” That depends on what we mean. What are our expectations? What’s the question? Where was Niles? Was he at the basketball game or on a fire escape of a tenement in Hell’s Kitchen? Or was he sailing on a sphere called Earth, somewhere in the Milky Way?

God’s Time and Space

Many of you think you’re too old. But you’re even older than that. You did not begin on the day you were born. Biologically speaking, each of us began life at conception. All the raw material that we would ever be was there then. But we’re not simply nine months older than we thought we were. We’re much older than that. All the stuff that the universe would ever be was there in that split-second called the Big Bang. Each of us was there then—in all that everything—some 14 billion years ago. But we’re much older than that. We go back, not just to the beginning of time and space but, as Scripture reveals, we spring from the eternal purposes of God from “before the creation of the world.” No wonder we’re feeling our age!

“In the beginning of time, the Word already was.” “And all things came into being by that Word.” The Word came to expression in all worlds. The Concept created the cosmos. “In the beginning of time, the Word already was, … and the Word became flesh” in Jesus Christ, and “apart from Him, nothing has come into being that has come into being.” [John 1: 1-3 and 14.; cf Gen 1:1 and I John 1:1]

As Christians, we believe that God, in Christ, made time and space. And we believe that God made a visit as a man in time and space—2,000 years ago. Says a Bible translator: Christianity’s “starting point is the most important event in the whole of human history. The Christian religion asserts that … two thousand years ago, God, whose vast and complex wisdom science is daily uncovering, visited this small planet of ours in Person. … This is the heart and center of the Christian faith.” He goes on to say that “Nothing must be allowed to distract us from considering with adult minds and hearts whether this is true history or a beautiful myth. The decision is so important that it must not, indeed cannot, be avoided. Yet,” he observes, “this is the point at which so many people take evasive action.” [J. B. Phillips] Read more →

REVIEW: Winter 2016

“A Denomination Hungry for Reconciliation: Grace, Race and the PCA” by Sean Michael Lucas, byFaith, October 19, 2015; “Tied in Knots: Americans Try to Redefine Marriage” by Alan Dowd, byFaith, October 12, 2015. 

by Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)

Even after the Civil War, in 1867, R. L. Dabney, a major Presbyterian theologian of the Old South, now considered a forebear of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), ended his 356-page “biblical” defense of slavery and attack on abolition by asserting: “Our people are now oppressed with present sufferings and a prospective destiny more cruel and disastrous than has been visited on any civilized people of modern ages. [But,] let the arrogant and successful wrongdoers flout our defence [sic] with disdain: we will meet them with it again, when it will be heard; in the day of their calamity in the pages of impartial history and in the Day of Judgment.” Evangelical historian Mark Noll notes: The slavery conflict “pushed theologians down the roads on which they were already traveling rather than compelling them to go in new, creative directions.” How typical!

Lucas, a PCA minister and Dabney scholar, reports that in 2002, PCA’s 30th General Assembly “named our sins from 1861-65 [but] not our more recent sins from 1961-65”. So, he calls the PCA to “confess our church’s covenantal and generational involvement in and complicity with racial injustice inside and outside of our churches during the Civil Rights era”. He argues: “Those recent sins of commission and omission – preventing blacks from worship in our congregations, … ‘biblical’ defenses for segregation, defending White Citizens’ Councils … need to be confessed and repented [so we can] see more clearly our own present-day failures to love our black brothers and sisters well and to use our positions and power to benefit them more than ourselves.” That, “too many (white) people ask, ‘Haven’t we confessed enough?’ and ‘Shouldn’t they confess too?’ demonstrates,” he says, “a general lack of understanding, imagination, and compassion”. Lucas admits: “It was disappointing to hear my fathers and brothers make arguments against the resolution. Not to know our history on these issues [is] not to be quick to recognize how they continue.” So, just how “hungry for reconciliation” is the PCA?

Outlawing slaves’ marriage and interracial marriage, and, even after Loving v Virginia (1967), ranting over race “mongrelizing”, now link to antigay rants propped up with other Bible verses. Lucas simply fails to note this link, but to Dowd, it’s not possible to connect these dots since he blasts marriage for same-sex couples. Once again, the roots are culture-based and stem from a self-righteous refusal to live Jesus’ Golden Rule.

Dabney’s views now disgust his Presbyterian heirs in the “pages of impartial history” he failed to foresee. Dowd’s views disgust many of his own evangelical contemporaries. All of this disgust reflects empathy freed from ignorance and outworn political agendas. Read more →

RECORD: Winter 2016

(PDF version available here.)

Christianity Today’s “most read article” in 2014 and in 2015 was on a gay issue. In 2014 it was on World Vision’s decision to hire gay Christians in same-sex marriages – a policy quickly dropped in response to hostile donor backlash. In 2015 it was on Obergefell v Hodges, the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage for same-sex couples.

 Barna Research’s top story in its 2015 “Year in Review” was the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage for same-sex couples. According to the evangelical pollster: “Active, practicing faith is more of a factor than either age or religious self-identification when it comes to supporting or opposing the Court’s ruling. Just one-third of practicing Christians under the age of 40 (35%) favor the ruling, compared with three-quarters of non-practicing Christians under 40 (73%).

Obergefell v Hodges ranks as No. 2 in the year’s top ten news stories, according to Bart Gingerich, managing editor of the Evangelical Channel at Patheos and a student at the Reformed Episcopal seminary. He says: “Many evangelical congregants now face anxiety over their jobs as their employers and workplaces have declared themselves openly hostile to biblical sexual mores, which are now labeled as bigotry.” His No. 1 ranked news story is “Continued Persecution of the Global Church”.

“We lost the entire culture war with that one decision!” That’s what James Dobson, Focus on the Family founder, is telling his supporters about the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage for same-sex couples. He says a “foreboding, black cloud” came over him a few days after the ruling, as he was “lying in bed and Shirley was not there yet.”

Dobson seems not to catch the irony of his lament over a ruling that treats others as he and his wife and supporters want to be treated, have been and still are treated, while they wage a culture war against others who wish to have the same structured rights for their marriage. Focus folks still refuse to take seriously the call to love others as themselves in summary of God’s Law and Prophets. And their refusal is in the Name of the One who gave that summary and call.

Focus on the Family’s Glenn Stanton has written, Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor (Moody Press). He says: “Sincere regard and warmth can take place between those who live at extreme ends of [the same-sex marriage] social chasm” and notes that he’s learned this from his friendships with writer Jonathan Rauch and philosopher John Corvino, two conservatives who articulately defend marriage for same-sex couples. Even so, Stanton caricatures homosexuality as “a particularly evil lie of Satan”.

Most American Christians (54%) say homosexuality should be accepted by society. This latest finding from Pew Research attributes the increase in acceptance to the views of the Millennial generation (born between 1981 and 1996).

Evangelical trends have shifted between 2007 and 2014 as follows: from 16 to 26 percent in the Assemblies of God; from 31 to 40 percent in the Church of the Nazarene; from 41 to 49 in the Presbyterian Church in America (the shift in the mainline Presbyterian Church USA is 52 to 65); from 31 to 35 in the Churches of Christ; from 23 to 30 in the Southern Baptist Convention (the shift in the mainline American Baptist Convention is 40 to 54); from 23 to 27 in the Seventh-day Adventists and from 44 to 56 in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (the shift in the mainline Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is 56 to 73). In historically black churches, the shift has been 54 to 61 in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and 35 to 54 in the National Baptist Convention. Read more →

“To God be the Glory”

“To God be the Glory”

Your Story in His Story

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This sermon was part of the 2015 Evangelicals Concerned Autumn Weekend in Ocean Grove, October 9 – 11, 2015 commemorating the centennials of Anna Bartlett Warner, Fanny Jane Crosby, William Howard Doane and Booker T. Washington.

(PDF version here)

“What’s the meaning of life?” It’s been said that this question is itself, meaningless. And some find saying so, a handy posture of sophistication in the face of fears over delving any deeper.

Still, as put, “What’s the meaning of life?” can seem so conveniently abstract that it’s tempting to try to distract ourselves from any meaningful inquiry and any serious response. We try too simply to dismiss it as simply “unanswerable”. It’s not so simple. Yet, the postured meek, shrug with arrogance and rhetorically ask: “Who am I to say?” – meaning: “Who are you to tell me?” But their condescending remark is itself presented as an answer to the question. And, it’s a dogmatically simplistic “answer”, at that! Besides, the postured explanation leaves the one who strikes that pose, stuck in the fears that prompted the evasion of the issue in the first place. Those anxieties are not resolved.

So, we really can’t duck out of our responsibility to deal with what’s, at least, meant by the question of the meaning of life. We do ourselves no favor, trying to duck out of our responsibility.

We can’t get away with merely rationalizing that we have more practical or more pressing personal problems to contend with than to waste time with some “ivory tower” speculations on “the meaning of life”. Again, even that “ivory tower” expression of dismissal is as much an answer, in effect – and by intent – as a response given after rigorous investigation and contemplation.

Well then, instead of using the so-called practical or pragmatic or personal as a way out of facing the question, a merely rationalized refusal to look into the matter of meaning, let’s make the question practical, pragmatic and personal in terms of everyday life. Let’s move it from the seemingly esoteric to the conspicuously egoistic.

   In fact, that the question of “the meaning of life” can be, as put, reasonably faulted as too impersonal, can be a useful gift, suggesting that we ask it in more personal terms. If we do ask it in more personal terms, we find that the most meaningful way to ask the question about the meaning of life is to ask, “What’s the meaning of my life?” “What’s the meaning of yours?” This moves it out of the all too comfortable sphere of propositions and theory – often quite conveniently judged to be so unanswerable, so then we’re so unaccountable – into the discomfiting zone of one’s very own personal life where, our everyday personal responses are our inescapably everyday responsibilities. After all, that’s where we live, and where our daily experience of meaning means so very much to us. Read more →

“This is My Story”

“This is My Story”

Your Story in His Story

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This sermon was part of the 2015 Evangelicals Concerned Autumn Weekend in Ocean Grove, October 9 – 11, 2015 commemorating the centennials of Anna Bartlett Warner, Fanny Jane Crosby, William Howard Doane and Booker T. Washington.

(PDF version here)

Ever hear someone ask sarcastically, “What’s his story?” Ever hear yourself ask, “What’s her story?” The questioner smirks and rolls the eyes while putting the question to someone from whom a smirk and a roll of the eyes is sought and, calculatingly, assured. And it’s all done out of the questioner’s need for reassurance.

But, of course, it’s not really a question, is it? It’s a rhetorical question, so, it’s a statement.   And it’s a statement in search of affirmation and reassurance, so it has to be asked again and again – for seeking affirmation and reassurance that way never works. It’s put by someone who’s insecure enough to ask the “question” and it’s put to someone who’s insecure enough to give the affirming response that’s expected. It’s put by someone who’s seeking affirmation and reassurance, to someone who’s seeking affirmation and reassurance.

Now, there’s no chance for any real affirmation and reassurance from another who’s desperate for affirmation and reassurance. From his insecurity he’ll tell you whatever he knows darn well will work for him – for his best interest. So, how can one’s insecurity, plus another’s insecurity, add up to security for either person?

And, it gets still more troubling. The more anxiously insecure one thinks she is, the more danger she is to herself and to others. She attempts to overpower her anxiety with hostility but hostility isn’t up to the task. How so?

A person is anxious because he thinks he’s in danger. Whether or not he’s really in danger doesn’t matter to anxiety if he’s telling himself he’s in danger. But his hostility, meant to quell his anxiety, may actually invite an actually dangerous response from another whose sense of danger, from him, now prompts the hostility of his retaliation. Now he may sense even more insecurity and so, more ideas of danger and so, more anxiety, as well as now he might, in the presence of the real danger he’s brought on himself through his supposed remedy of hostility. So he escalates hostility.

Smirks and eye rolls are intended to bring reassurance of safety, but they betray the seekers and fuel the anxiety that prompted them. And each person senses something of what he’s doing as each one tries to escape the insecurity of his own shaky story about his own sensed flaws.

Meanwhile, our smirks and eyeball rolls about others, fail to address our own narcissistic notions that we don’t measure up. And, of course, it’s our judgments against ourselves that are distracting us, for what we really do think and worry about is what we buy into. And, too, our own smirks and eyeball rolls suggest that we are the objects of others’ smirks and eyeball rolls.

As long as that sort of assurance of safety is our aim and nothing more effective than denial and denigration of others is our game, our attention is stuck in our narcissism that’s, itself, of course, the trap. We can’t let go of our self-obsessing stories about our self-assessed flaws, even though our self-absorption is exactly what we really need to be freed from.

And trying to find faults in others does zilch to resolve any flaw we, ourselves, find in ourselves. We fall all over our own felt flaws and that’s not anyone’s fault but ours. Read more →

“The Bible Tells Me So”

“The Bible Tells Me So”

Your Story in His Story

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This sermon was part of the 2015 Evangelicals Concerned Autumn Weekend in Ocean Grove, October 9 – 11, 2015 commemorating the centennials of Anna Bartlett Warner, Fanny Jane Crosby, William Howard Doane and Booker T. Washington.

(PDF version here)

On the weekend after this summer’s EC retreat, an Australian ex-Catholic priest, now “theologian in residence” at Kirkridge, gave a workshop called, “In Memory of Jesus”. Advance publicity asked: “How would Jesus have wanted to be remembered?” Whoa! What’s with the subjunctive, the conditional and hypothetical? Does this ex-Catholic priest think Jesus didn’t make his intensions quite clear? Does he imply that Jesus was just another sage who got killed and vultures ate his rotting carcass, as another ex-Catholic priest, with the discredited Jesus Seminar, contends?

The publicity’s question disregards what Jesus told his disciples on the night before his crucifixion. It discounts their accounts of that memorable night in the upper room. It discounts their amazing accounts of his having been raised from the dead – an utterly unexpected outcome so far as they’d been concerned.

Postmodern “progressives” pretend to know better than eyewitnesses whose lives were completely changed after their encounters with the risen Jesus. These Jews then submitted to torturous deaths rather than recant their witness that Jesus is the risen Messiah, the everlasting Lord.

Clearly identifying with the Paschal Lamb, Jesus pointed to the sacrificial significance of his death. This was nothing his disciples expected. So, they didn’t make it up out of nothing.

Jesus, himself, told them to remember him, as he, himself, intended to be remembered: as the Innocent Substitute, Ultimate Sin-Bearer, God’s Sacrificial Lamb, as he began to disclose this to them, there in that upper room, in his discourse over bread, “my body”, and wine, “my blood”.

Of course, there in that upper room that night, what he was saying was not all that clear to them. But they sensed something strangely significant that required subsequent events to flesh out – literally – when they would later touch his resurrection flesh.

After despair and fear experienced over Calvary, after his resurrection and their fellowship with the risen Christ, they began to grasp the fuller meaning of his words and something of the eternal implications for them and for the whole wide world.

But a “bloody gospel” of sacrificial substitution is not what religious progressives wish to tolerate. This is what they despise. They insist that that’s all now so unacceptably out-of-date.

Well, they’re more right than they realize, they’re more right than they want to be and they’re right for the wrong reason. Read more →

Your Story in His Story

Your Story in His Story

The 2015 Evangelicals Concerned Autumn Weekend in Ocean Grove

October 9 – 11, 2015   Thornley Chapel
Commemorating the Centennials of Anna Bartlett Warner, Fanny Jane Crosby,

William Howard Doane and Booker T. Washington

Including Three Teachings by Dr. Ralph Blair
“The Bible Tells Me So”, “This is My Story” and “To God be the Glory”

(PDF version here)

It’s 1915

It’s 1915. “The Great War” rages in Europe while the U.S. resists involvement, though 123 Americans are among over a thousand dead in Germany’s sinking of the Lusitania. All warnings were ignored, believing that a passenger liner carrying civilians was safe in an active war zone. There’d not even been a lifeboat drill.

The Ottoman Caliphate slaughters millions of Armenian Christians. Ignored, this genocide will spur Hitler’s pursuit of his “Final Solution” against the Jews, sneering: “Who remembers the Armenians?”

A hundred years hence, Islamic claimants to the allegedly final Caliphate, will kill thousands more Christians in one year than the Romans killed in 300 years, and they’ll leave millions homeless. The Ayatollah of Iran’s theocracy will call for annihilation of Israel, death to America and to all who will not bow to worldwide Shariah.

Meanwhile, amid the dead in Belgium, surgeon and poet John McCrae pens memorable lines while he mourns the death of his beloved young friend, Alexis. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, / Between the crosses, row on row, / That mark our place; and in the sky / The larks, still bravely singing, fly / Scarce heard amid the guns below. / We are the Dead. / Short days ago / We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, / Loved and were loved, and now we lie / In Flanders fields. / Take up our quarrel with the foe: / To you from failing hands we throw / The torch; be yours to hold it high. / If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders fields.”

It won’t end until the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. In its wake, 9 million are dead, 21 million wounded and millions more die of disease and starvation. Even then, it won’t end. From 1939 to 1945, unresolved self-righteous resentment will break out in still more deaths and destruction called World War II. That will give the present conflict its lasting designation, “World War I”. After that, there’ll be yet more “wars and rumors of wars” – in Korea, Southeast Asia, the New Middle East and elsewhere. (Matt 24:6)   Read more →

RECORD: Fall 2015

(PDF version available here.)

Tony Campolo affirms same-sex couples. On June 8, 2015, he explained: “I have come to know so many gay Christian couples whose relationships work in much the same way as [my marriage]. Our friendships with these couples have helped me understand how important it is for the exclusion and disapproval of their unions by the Christian community to end. We in the Church should actively support such families.” He notes: “Rest assured that I have already heard – and in some cases made – every kind of biblical argument against gay marriage. … Obviously, people of good will can and do read the scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.” But, he says, he’s “old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases” against other things we’ve since changed our minds about. “I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again.”

David Neff, Christianity Today’s longtime editor-in-chief and National Association of Evangelicals executive, salutes Campolo’s support for same-sex couples. Neff, who retired in 2013, writes: “God bless Tony Campolo. He is acting in good faith and is, I think, on the right track.” Neff told CT’s current editor, Mark Galli: “I think the ethically responsible thing for gay and lesbian Christians to do is to form lasting, covenanted partnerships. I also believe that the church should help them in those partnerships in the same way the church should fortify traditional marriages.”

Campolo’s announcement wasn’t surprising, but recent shifts on these issues by Neff and other evangelical leaders have caught the conservative religious establishment off guard. Those in charge at Christianity Today, World magazine, conservative churches and other antigay institutions and agencies are frantically pushing back.

Instead, they should be receptive to warnings against, yet again, “making the same kind of mistake” that’s been made repeatedly, and regretted repeatedly, throughout church history. Indeed, what are now seen as atrocities committed by church leaders of the more distant past and cruel and embarrassing mistakes of later eras, even in recent times by CT, World, Southern Baptists, Southern Presbyterians, et al., should be enough of an alert.

Yet, the Religious Right’s Mark Tooley, while easily granting that the church was wrong on issues of women as teachers, slavery, etc., mocks Campolo’s caution: “So …we all know better now and so too on same sex marriage. Let the nuptials begin!” But Tooley misses the point. The words of caution come with sad memories that, in each case, it was always only after the mistakes were made and the damage done that we all admit, “we all know better now.”

Looking Back: Evangelicals and Homosexuality

To put current events in the context of some of the relevant background of evangelical responses to homosexuality – as well as to other social issues in the past and to the shifts on these matters – we interrupt Record’s usual format with the following retrospective.

Much of what’s been written on same-sex issues and evangelical response today suffers from self-serving polemics on all sides and, even more so, by a serious ignorance of history. The following overview is meant to give some corrective perspective.

Bob Jones, Sr. was right: “You can’t move without producing friction.” The moves by Campolo, Neff and other evangelicals are producing lots of friction. Sparks fly as Mark Galli, on behalf of the flagship of evangelicalism, resists these moves. He quickly distanced himself and his employer, Christianity Today, from the empathy shown by Campolo, Neff and other evangelicals who’ve lately joined the evangelicals who, over many decades, have given their support to same-sex couples.

Among these more recent supporters are Baptist ethicist David Gushee, Nashville megachurch pastor Stan Mitchell, former NAE executive Richard Cizik, and pastor Fred Harrell of the (formerly PCA) City Church in San Francisco.

In 1975, Ralph Blair founded Evangelicals Concerned for just such support. He’d written, The Bible is an Empty Closet, and began by saying: “There are no homosexuals in the Bible. Ruth and Naomi were no lesbians. David and Jonathan weren’t gay. Neither were Jesus and John, the men of Sodom, cult prostitutes, slave boys and their masters, nor call boys and their customers. The Bible is an empty closet.” He meant that both antigay and pro-gay propagandists look in vain to find a homosexual in the Bible. Read more →


“The Supreme Court: Greasing the Slippery Slope” by Eric Metaxas, BreakPoint, July 2, 2015; “Statement on Same-sex Marriage: PCA’s View” by L. Roy Taylor, byFaith, June 27, 2015; Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls (Tyndale, 2015), 240 pp.

by Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)

With the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling, “the two words that come to mind” – i.e., Metaxas’ mind – are “anything goes”.  Same-sex couples now can have just as legal a marriage as Metaxas has been enjoying and “anything goes” is what comes to his mind?  How about two other words: “Golden Rule”?  Billions are spent on porn and 40 percent of kids are born outside the stability of a marriage, but same-sex couples are granted the conservative, constraining framework of legal marriage and this means, “anything goes”?

Accusing Kennedy of “a generously-greased slope”, Metaxas slips on his own “slippery slope”.  There’s no causal connection between gay marriage and polygamy, pedophilia or who-knows-what’s in Metaxas’ mind. Polygamy failed long ago; Sarah and Hagar are still at odds. ‘60s “Open Marriage” fads failed, as do all inevitably competitive, jealousy provoking 3-ways. Ashley Madison adultery was designed by a double-incentive deceit since postmodern expectations are egalitarian.  But they forgot about hackers. And, news flash: Three new films reveal that human/android romance is a dud.  Who knew?

Accusing Justices of “making it up as they go”, Metaxas forgets that the Constitution requires interpreting for application in various circumstances – as does the Golden Rule.

2015 marks centenaries of Booker T. Washington and Fanny J. Crosby. Washington told Southern preachers: “If you want to know how to solve the race problem, place your hands upon your heart and then, with a prayer to God, ask Him how you today, were you placed in the position that the black man occupies, how you would desire the white man to treat you, and whenever you have answered that question in the sight of God and man, this problem in a large degree will have been solved.”  Inspired by Jesus’ summing up of the Law and Prophets, Crosby wrote: “Love the Lord, the first command, with thy soul and mind; Love thy neighbor as thyself, both in one combined.” Read more →

Self-Righteous Enslavement

Self-Righteous Enslavement

Dr. Ralph Blair

Evangelicals Concerned 73rd Connection, May 30, 2015

In 1946, a 20-year-old Flannery O’Connor came north to take part in the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. But, privately, she was writing prayers: “Dear Lord, please make my mind vigilant about [loving others]. I say many, many, too many uncharitable things about people every day. I say them because they make me look clever. Please help me to realize practically how cheap this is. I have nothing to be proud of yet, myself. I am stupid, quite as stupid as the people I ridicule. Please help me to stop this selfishness. … I do not know you God, because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”

She wasn’t yet the popular storyteller she’d become before she’d die just 19 years later. Her fellow believer and author, Marilynne Rob­inson, in a 2013 New York Times review of the posthumously published prayers, writes: “The brilliance that would make her fictions literary classics is fully apparent in [these early prayers].”

What else is fully apparent is the young O’Connor’s honest sensi­tivity to her own self-righteousness. But secular reviewers of these prayers tend to miss this. Sadly, that’s largely due to their self-righteous distaste for her serious Catholic faith and her having grown up and remained in the rural and segregated south.

Now, nobody holds the patent on self-righteousness. Human history is the history of self-righteousness. It’s a predisposition of all men, all women, every race, ethnicity, nationality, class, political stripe, ideology, gender identity and sexual orientation. Self-righteousness is rife in secular and religious realms. Even a public mea culpa can be infected and indeed, induced, by self-righteousness. The passive, “mistakes were made,” and similar self-righteously unapologetic “apologies” are the real mistakes.

Well, as Schiller knew: “The history of the world is the judgment of the world.” Aware of this history, Pope Francis says his central concern is “massive amnesia in our contemporary world.” In such stupor, the Right longs for what it romanticizes as the past while the Left lauds what’s replaced what it scorns as the past. Both are but self-serving figments of illiterate imagination – one in the nonsense of nostalgia, the other in the nonsense of narcissism.

As self-righteous know-it-alls, we refuse to accept what we refuse to know. Averting attention from what stares back at us from all the accusing mirrors of our minds, we try manipulating into mantras of “self-esteem.” We try to swallow shibboleths we can’t swallow. We try to think we’re good or, at least, better than “them,” so as to sanitize “us” and disparage “them.” But who needs to sanitize or disparage if we really think we are as good as we pretend to be? There’s something afoot. Read more →

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