Monday, August 30, 2010

A Loss of Faith in Institutions I

There is something striking taking place that is, at this point, under-reported. It does not take much to connect the dots to come to this conclusion as it is painfully obvious that people have lost faith in institutions.

There is anger toward our leaders in Washington, D.C. This is not new. People were angry at the government and tossed Republicans out of power. President Bush left office with very low approval numbers and Vice President Cheney was a little less popular than phlegm when he left office. There was a major power shift in Congress. There was a rebellion on those in power. We were in two wars with uncertain outcomes and the economy was bad.

Times have changed but people’s anger has not subsided. President Obama’s approval ratings have dropped and Congress is as beloved now, in Democratic control as it was in Republican control. Combat troops have left Iraq but over 50,000 American soldiers remain there and no one really knows the future of Iraq. Afghanistan remains a mess and the economy is still bad. The strategies for dealing with the economy changed, but far too many people remain without jobs.

People are angry. Democrats rallied and supported the non-establishment candidate, Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton and followed this through to the election.

People have lost faith in government in a big way. Both parties have attempted to take advantage of this, but if either party had the courage to really deal with this they would find that the problem is that both parties have failed the country miserably. Ideologies are not principles; ideologies are simply ideologies that, when followed blindly lead into an abyss. As our political parties become increasingly ideological, they become increasingly less pragmatic and increasingly less interested in serving people.

People have lost faith because they are being sold a bill of good by both the Democrats and the Republicans. Both parties are living by the same credo: Party First!

But, alas, there is more. People have also lost interest in church. Increasingly people are identifying themselves as atheists or spiritual but not religious. By the end of the next decade I suspect that at least half the churches in existence across the country will have closed. Many will have run out of people and money and will cease to exist. Others will have run out of clergy.

The problem isn’t God. God remains the same. People’s need and desire for God remains the same at gut level. The problem has been the Institutional Church. The child molestation issues within the Roman Catholic Church have been devastating to everyone. If people cannot trust their children, their precious children, with clergy in the church, who can they trust? That lack of trust is devastating.

But it is far more than the Roman Catholic Church. The Institutional Church, on every level, has been in a civil war. Conservative versus liberal. Prosperity Gospel versus Liberation Theology. Traditional versus contemporary. When the author Anne Rice made the observation that the Christian Church was more interested in fighting amongst itself, her words were an honest indictment on Christianity. Denominations, often seem more interested in determining how to survive than how to serve. Local churches are often trying to figure out how to stay alive for even five more years than to serve the communities around them.

I love the words St. Paul wrote to Timothy so many years ago:

I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

In watching Glenn Beck ‘preaching’ it was startling. His ‘theology’ was bogus nonsense. He had nice pious platitudes wrapped around the Prosperity Gospel and seemingly Messianic ambitions of his own. But there are a lot of itching ears embracing his words and believing in him. As a member of the clergy who does try to embrace the truth of God, it was chilling and frightening.

Yet, I don’t blame Beck. He’s filling a void and his coffers. I feel badly that people embrace this nonsense, but I’m also recognizing that they are embracing it because the Institutional Church has failed and is failing on so many levels.

People have lost their faith in institutions because those institutions are failing them on a regular basis. I’m going to continue to wrestle with this over the next days and share my wrestling match with others. I’d love to hear others’ observations as well.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday Random Thoughts

I watched the news this morning. A second person from “Jersey Shore” was arrested for something. These people are going to give the impression that people from New Jersey get in trouble or something. What bugs me about “Jersey Shore” is that Seaside Heights is a family place that most people from New Jersey have been going to all their lives. The television show makes it look like it’s this awful place.

“Jersey Boys” is a play and a lot of people have been going to see it. Whenever I want to see a Jersey boy, I look in the mirror. (For those who are wondering, this is a joke.)

The whole mosque controversy in New York troubles me. Seriously. To be perfectly honest, I am not feeling warm and fuzzy toward Islam. I sincerely believe that moderate Islam and moderate Islamic nations need to be more pro-active in addressing the abuses of radical Islam. As for the mosque in that area of New York City, again, I’m not feeling warm and fuzzy about it. I’d greatly prefer an Interfaith Center where all faiths can come together. I believe the symbolism of that would be important and good.

But, I don’t believe that it ought to be stopped. The President’s comments the other day were, in my mind, right on. We do have a freedom of religion in the United States that cannot be trampled by anyone. Newt Gingrich recently said that Saudi Arabia does not have any churches or synagogues in their nation. That’s dreadful, but I has nothing to do with us other than make us happy we are not like them. I’d hate to go down a path of denying religious freedom. It’s just wrong. Nothing is more American than allowing a place of Worship to be built; even if we disagree with who they are and how they Worship.

While I am ranting, the immigration debate is obviously hot and heavy. An underlying problem in this debate is this. There are actually two ‘signs’ up for the people crossing over from Mexico. One sign says, ‘Keep Out.” The other sign says, “Help Wanted.” There is a great deal of energy spent in wanting to keep people out and to toss the people who are here illegally; but there is virtually no energy at penalizing the people and businesses who hire illegal immigrants. If those hiring the illegal immigrants were targeted and illegal folks had no place to work, the incentive to cross the border would diminish greatly.

I have a modest budget balancing proposal for Congress that would address term limits and the budget deficit. Eliminate all Congressional pensions. The money the nation would save would be huge and people who limit their terms without having to change the Constitution.

Speaking of the Constitution, it is always entertaining how the party out of power always speaks about the other party not following the Constitution. The Democrats screamed it when George W. Bush was the President and the Republicans are screaming it now.

And if it’s so good, why do people always want to amend it?

The Giants and the Jets have their pre-season game tonight. I have my DVR ready to record it. I’m not expecting a great deal. Pre-season football is pretty awful. From the looks of the weekend the Colts will be terrible and the Redskins will be a powerhouse. I doubt both of those premises a lot. But speaking of the Colts, I hope they do well, but lose the second game of the regular season on a last second winning touchdown pass thrown by Manning. For those who are wondering, there is a way for Manning to lose this game and for Manning to win this game...

Bristol and Levi are turning into the new Jon and Kate. And one Jon and Kate was enough. Please. Stop!!!

And lastly. Brett Favre retired. Again. If I express skepticism at this, please forgive me.