Monday, August 21, 2023

An excellent read from an ex-evangelical.


As you know, I once was an evangelical megachurch pastor and my pastoral career stretched over many years. Eventually, I could no longer teach Christian doctrine with a good conscience and realized this teaching was not truly changing people’s lives… and so I walked away from the whole enchilada. 
Below are 14 things that the misguided religious establishment doesn't want you to know. Speaking for myself and my personal experience, I was not able to see or admit these things to myself. I truly got into ministry initially because I wanted to make a difference and help people, and I relied upon the belief-system I learned as the proper framework to achieve this. It took a lot of post-religion reflection to see the ways this belief-system was hurting people. 

I offer the below list in hopes that you might disentangle yourself from harmful beliefs and attitudes impacting your life. 

14 things the misguided religious establishment doesn’t want you to know: 

1. Toxic religion is rooted in fear, especially fear about the afterlife. It leverages the false doctrine of hell to win converts and demand holiness. The fear of God's disapproval, rejection, abandonment and punishment is another hallmark of toxic religion. 

2. Clergy have no innate authority. Holding a church leadership position or having a theological degree does not imbue a person with special divine authority or superiority. The terms "anointed", "called", or "chosen" or titles such as "pastor", "priest", "bishop", "elder", "evangelist" or "apostle" do not confer any innate authority on an individual or group. 

3. We hold sacred what we are taught to hold sacred, which is why what is sacred to one community is not sacred to another. 

4. The stories in our sacred books aren’t history, nor were they meant to be. The authors of these books weren’t historians but writers of historical fiction: they used history (or pseudo history) as a context or pretext for their own ideas. Reading sacred texts as history may yield some nuggets of the past, but the real gold is in seeing these stories as myth and parable, and trying to unpack the possible meanings these parables and myths may hold. 

5. Prayer doesn’t work the way you think it does. You can’t bribe God, or change God’s mind through obedience, devotion, or groveling. The underlying theistic premises of prayer are untenable.

6. Anything you claim to know about God, even the notion that there is a God, is a projection of your psyche. What you say about God—who God is, what God cares about, who God rewards, and who God punishes—says nothing about God and everything about you. If you believe in an unconditionally loving God, you probably value unconditional love. If you believe in a God who divides people into chosen and not chosen, believers and infidels, saved and damned, high cast or low caste, etc. you are likely someone who divides people into in–groups and out–groups with you and your group as the quintessential in-group. God may or may not exist, but your idea of God mirrors yourself and your values. 

7. Nobody is born Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, etc. People are born human and are slowly conditioned by narratives of race, religion, gender, nationality, etc. to be less than human. 

8. Theology isn’t the free search for truth, but rather a defense of an already held position. Theology is really apologetics, explaining why a belief is true rather than seeking out the truth in and of itself. All theological reasoning is circular, inevitably “proving” the truth of its own presupposition. 

9. Becoming more religious cannot save us. Religion is a human invention reflecting the best and worst of humanity; becoming more religious will simply allow us to perpetuate compassion and cruelty in the name of religion. Because religion always carries the danger of fanaticism, becoming more religious may only heighten the risk of us becoming more fanatical. 

10. Becoming less religious cannot save us. In fact, being against religion can become it’s own fanaticism. Becoming less religious will simply force us to perpetuate compassion and cruelty in the name of something else. Secular societies that actively suppress religion have proven no more just or compassionate than religious societies that suppress secularism or free thought. This is because neither religion nor the lack of religion solely nullifies our human potential to act out of ego, greed, fear, hostility, and hatred. 

11. A healthy religion is one that helps us own and integrate the shadow side of human nature for the good of person and planet, something few clergy are trained to do. Clergy are trained to promote the religion they represent. They are apologists not liberators. If you want to be more just, compassionate, and loving, you must do the personal work within yourself, and free yourself from the conditions that lock you into injustice, cruelty, and hate, and this means you have to free yourself from all your narratives, including those you call “religious.” 

12. Religious leaders claims that their particular understanding and interpretation of their sacred books should be universally accepted. Religious leaders often say, “My authority is the Bible.” It would be more accurate for them to say, “My authority is what they taught me at seminary the Bible means.” People start with flawed or false presuppositions about what the Bible is, such as: the Bible was meant to present a coherent theology about God or is a piece of doctrinal exposition; the Bible is the inerrant, infallible and sole message/"Word" of God to the world; the Bible is a blueprint for daily living. Too often religious leaders make God about having "correct theology." There are a lot of unhappy, broken, hurting, suffering, depressed, lonely people in church with church-approved theology. 

13. If your livelihood depends on the success of your church as an organization, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that you will mostly define and reward Christianity as participation in church structures and programs. Christian living is mostly a decentralized reality or way of life, not a centralized or program-dependent phenomenon. Church attendance, tithing, membership, service, and devoted participation, become the hallmarks of Christian maturity. 

14. You are capable of guiding your own spiritual path from the inside out and don't need to be told what to do. You naturally have the ability, capacity, tools and skills to guide and direct your life meaningfully, ethically and effectively. Through the use of your fundamental human faculties such as critical thinking, empathy, reason, conscience and intuition, you can capably lead your life. You have the choice to cultivate a spirituality that doesn’t require you to be inadequate, powerless, weak, and lacking, but one that empowers you toward strength, vitality, wholeness, and the fulfillment of your highest potentialities and possibilities.

Jim Palmer

Jim Palmer was a former evangelical pastor who served at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. He also founded and served as the senior pastor at Springbrook Community Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

Palmer received his Master of Divinity degree from Trinity Divinity School in Chicago. He was also an author, speaker, artist, and spiritual director.

Monday, May 15, 2023

The Fascist Playbook

There is a playbook that fascists use to take and maintain power—think Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orb├ín (and more than two dozen plus authoritarian countries around the globe).

The playbook is always the same:

  • Draw up an enemies list—either you are with us or you are against us. Govern for the party in power, not for all the people. Intimidate, bully, marginalize and crush any opposition.
  • Systematically demonize the press—a free press is the enemy of the people; truth is fake news. Either delegitimize the press or control and use it as a propaganda tool. 
  • Lie, lie, lie—the bigger the lie the better, because people believe that the most outrageous and improbable lie must be true, or else no one would say it in the first place. Deny truth and create alternate facts, fiction, or fantasy.  Deny science and substitute religion. Propagandize with false information and conspiracy theories.
  • Weaponize religious ideology to support the regime’s agenda.
  • Control the courts; bully, delegitimize and politicize the judiciary. Control judicial elections and appointments so only those loyal to the party line become judges; take control of the judicial branch and eliminate constitutional separation of powers and checks and balances.
  • Destroy the Rule of Law–use laws to reward supporters and punish opponents; ignore laws not in accord with the party line; ignore court orders, disrespect civil authority. Knowingly enact unconstitutional laws; then blame “activist” judges when those laws are challenged and overturned.
  • Politicize the civil service, military and domestic security.
  • Involve government in surveilling the press, reporters, political opponents and those on the enemies list.
  • Fearmonger and demonize minorities, LGBTQ+communities, transgender resident, the disabled, immigrants, and the powerless; make them the scapegoats for societies’ social and economic ills. Weaponize and inflame racial and social prejudices.
  • Trash civil rights and liberties in favor of partisan and religious ideology. 
  • Marginalize and bully women; trash their gender-specific rights and needs; empower government to control their reproductive functions; keep them submissive to the patriarchy. 
  • Disenfranchise voters. Promote spurious conspiracy theories and lies claiming election fraud, stolen elections and voting irregularities. Demand recounts and audits of elections held and certified in accordance with governing laws. Sue on false claims without evidentiary support. Suppress the vote and make it harder and more inconvenient to vote. Subvert election results. Gerrymander and do everything possible to rig the system so that only the party faithful are elected. Empower the legislature to ignore the popular vote and change the results of elections. Hold on to power at all costs and with any tactics.

In short, the goal of all fascists is to control all branches and functions of government, and to make those and the minds of people conform to the party line and ideology. People do not count; the Constitution does not count. 

The Rule of Law becomes the Rule of Lie.

It has been said that “when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” And John Maynard Keynes observed that, “Perhaps it is historically true that no order of society ever perishes save by its own hand.” 

Sadly, history has shown both to be true, time and time again.

The fascist playbook ensures that democracy will die from within, not from without.

And, if you think “it can’t happen here,” you are wrong. Look where our state and our nation are headed; check off the boxes.

 It is already here.

By James C. Nelson

James C. Nelson is a retired lawyer and former Montana Supreme Court Justice. He lives in Helena.

Originally published in the Daily Montanan. Republished here under Creative Commons license 4.0

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Stop the tipping

Mark this one to my 'get off my lawn' age group, but, it just pisses me off when I'm asked, at a fast casual restaurant where you order your food at a counter, pick up your food at a counter and bus your own table, to tip when you pay up front at, yea... the counter.

Or, someone at a coffee shop who makes your coffee (and isn't a 'server' so, isn't making 'server' wages of $2 an hour). Those tips? That's a way to keep wages up to market values, without paying for it, best case. More often? Those employees aren't seeing all (or even any) of those tips. The business just keeps it as profit. No one's watching the employers. No one's auditing anything.

It's a rip off of both consumers and employees by business owners.

So, I looked into tipping a little deeper and, man, it's dark. This is not a good thing and we should all start working for required living wages vs. this bullshit we call tipping.

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Fraud and Late Stage Capitalism at work

 The more I look at todays medical system, the more disgusted I get.

I'll be 65 next year, and going on Medicare.

Want to see what massive corporate fraud looks like? Look no further than private 'Medicare Advantage' plans.

By next year, half of Medicare beneficiaries will have a private Medicare Advantage plan. Most large insurers in the program have been accused in court of fraud.

I used to be a dyed in the wool capitalist and believed a free and open market was the most efficient way to provide the best services and products at the best cost.

I was wrong.

Todays late stage and predatory capitalism isn't efficient, it's coordinated and driven by greed and profit. There's nothing balanced about America's market economy today. Nothing.

We need to look at real Universal Health Care in this country. We're one of the few 1st world countries that doesn't have it and it makes no sense. It's more efficient (yea, it really is, the 'market gurus' are lying to you and it's easy to prove) it's cheaper and doesn't make billionaire health care company owners and executives even richer.

You can bet the exact same thing is going on with your regular health care insurance as well. It's about corporations profit off their product.

Their product? 


And the sicker you are (or they can make you appear to be), the more profit they make off you. They don't sell health care. They sell 'what's the least amount of care' so they can keep more money.

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Cryptocurrency, blockchain and the potential future authoritarian world it could create.

Cryptocurrency Might be a Path to Authoritarianism

Extreme libertarians built blockchain to decentralize government and corporate power. It could consolidate their control instead.

By Ian Bogost

I remember reading this Atlantic article when it first came out almost 5 years ago and thinking "this sounds about right" It, and other examinations of what was going on, kept me from getting involved in the whole crypto world.

Now here we are, half a decade later, and I would say that it was a little bit wrong, but a lot more right.

The only thing missing (or is it?) is far right-wing, or far left-wing, governments of the world, to start enacting just some of the imagined uses of an authoritarian state this article lays out. I can see China already starting, and I'm pretty sure Georgia, Florida, or Texas wouldn't hesitate to use this kind of tech to control voter roles, once it decides it can get away with it.

And there are many many more scenarios that have been made possible with the continued advancement of the tech in the crypto/blockchain world.

I've got some very dear friends who've bought in wholeheartedly to this world. I hope they understand what they're really supporting and Web3 (which is what they're calling it) doesn't take the path of the Internet that I was deeply involved in ('web 2.0).

We really believed we were creating something that democratized information for individuals and society as a whole. What we really did, mostly, was create tools for corporations to massively centralize information and turn even tiny bits of it into financial transaction devices, also known as the securitization of information.

NFT's are the current manifestation of that. Laugh at them if you want, but, fiat money (i.e the US Dollar) is no less ethereal (pun intended Ethereum fans) than crypto-currencies and NFT's.

Massively distributed systems may be 'the democratization of X', but, they can be used for the opposite as well. 

The article above sums it up nicely:

"blockchain’s future seems tied to the short-term vision of investors and entrepreneurs willing to speculate on a hypothetical, distributed utopia without hedging against the consolidated autocracy it seems equally likely to realize. “This is what happens,” Greenfield says, “when very bright people outsmart themselves.”

I'm no longer the young idealist that went to silicon valley in the 80's to work for Apple. I've seen some shit. Especially in the last 5 years, I've come to conclude that humans will not, always, pick the best path for all of us collectively, or even, themselves individually. Some days, being a misanthrope is just easier.

I know this sounds like a 'get off my lawn' post, but, every so often, the old geezer yelling that old anachronistic stereotypical trope, is right.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Small Town Politics in 2021

Watching the latest small-scale municipal election unfold here in my hometown of Longmont, Colorado, I'm struck by how things have changed in a relatively short time, effectively, the last two years.

Our town is very blue (Democrat). It was once a Republican stronghold, but no more. Much of liberal Boulder has moved to lower cost and more family-friendly Longmont over the last few years making it as, or more, liberal than the famously liberal "People's Republic of Boulder" town twelve miles to the Southwest.

But you wouldn't think that looking at our latest City Council race and School Board elections.

We had nine candidates for City Council this year. Three for mayor, and six for two open at-large seats.

Of these nine candidates, five were, effectively, Republicans. We're supposed to have non-partisan races, but, it's clear, there's a left and right in Longmont and they're organized. But one is more organized and coordinated, than the other.

Of the six City Council candidates, four were GOP funded and supported. They attended meetings together and strategized with their local GOP supporters at various get-togethers. They even endorsed each other, openly, in debates. The GOP mayoral candidate in our town called out the four GOP-supported candidates running for council in a recent debate, calling for the city to elect them, along with himself, 'to bring balance' back to the City Council.

How do I know the GOP was so organized and funded? Mostly by one obvious example and a few hints. The obvious one is the candidate for mayor in our town is a local handyman. Nice guy. Quite likable, but, he had a 'handler' that's with him at all times. The handler is a lawyer from New York. This handler was writing his scripts and his debate answers as well as coaching him through interviews and video productions. Several of the candidates have also talked about 'a meeting on Sunday (and many other days)' with names of all the conservative candidates, only. It's coordinated.

The Democrats, by contrast, were eating their own in a scene that's eerily similar to the Democrats at a national level in 2021. There are center-left and progressive Democrats running for office here, and they dislike each other more than they, it seems, dislike their GOP opponents.

As noted above, it also is interesting to see the contrast of how well organized and funded, the conservative GOP-supported candidates are in comparison. They meet regularly with each other and their handlers/funders. They're focused, energized, and on message.

They also used tried and true ratf*cker methodology, a GOP-developed strategy for winning that can be mild (as it is in our case) to extreme (mostly used at a national level and exhibited by people like Roger Stone, Lauren Boebert, and, of course, trump).

Our local example has one of the GOP candidates who was allegedly unvaccinated and refused to wear masks in Boulder County, where mask mandates are in place for all indoor activities, running a largely single-issue campaign focused on a 'hyperloop' transportation system that is, at best, 50 years out. It's one of those things that everyone thinks is cool and likes, but, is used primarily as a diversionary topic to keep people off of her position on issues this particular candidate doesn't want to talk about. What are her positions here? No idea, although hints of a Lauren Boebert like mindset did appear. Whenever asked about specifics this candidate would divert back to the 'hyperloop'. That's the point of the strategy. 

Although to be fair, the other side may not be immune to this kind of behavior. I heard from an, at the time, sitting council person, that they had 'suggested he run' to the GOP Mayoral candidate. Apparently, he was this person's handyman. They seemed slightly surprised he actually ran though. Did they really encourage him to run? Was it with the intent to counter the 'not liberal enough' liberal candidate? It's hard to tell. If true, that's a 'clever' way to take out an opponent. As our city's recent ex-mayor likes to say: "Politics in Longmont is a bloodsport", so who knows.

Another big sign was this year's School Board race. The fact that there even was a race is really unusual. There is almost never an election in this town for a school board seat. They have a hard time finding people to run and there's almost always just one person for each seat on the ballot.

Not this year. Several seats were contested, and the 'new' folks are all GOP-controlled conservatives.

The aftermath of the elections was predictable. The conservatives lost, however, they had an effect. 

The Center-left mayoral candidate, who was a likely shoo-in for the job, lost to the more progressive left-wing candidate because of the GOP candidate. How? The GOP candidate took 20% of the vote, including the centrists and slightly center-right folks that would have voted for a center-left candidate over a farther to the left candidate.

The City Council candidates that won were the incumbent everyone already knew and the first black women to ever be elected to a Longmont City Council seat. Both are on the left side of the spectrum. The left-leaning candidate also won the School Board election.

The GOP, this time, actually created a more liberal government by coming out in force to try and take the City Council and School Board over. I'm sure that wasn't the intent, but, that was the end result.

Did they learn from this? I'm very sure they did. 

Boulder County is 80%+ blue so the GOP losing isn't a surprise. However, if we were a 55% or 60% blue county, which it was not that long ago, the results may well have been very different.

There is a national, coordinated, and well-funded effort on the part of the Republican Party to take over local governments. Grinding it out. Learning the lessons. Year after year after year. 

Election Commissioners, County Commissioners. City Councils. School Boards. Municipal Boards and Commissions. 

All of it.


I've seen it up close and personal right here at home. You might want to take a look at what's going on in your town, too. If you don't like what you see, get involved. And for gods sake, vote! 

Everyone, please, vote.

An excellent read from an ex-evangelical.

  As you know, I once was an evangelical megachurch pastor and my pastoral career stretched over many years. Eventually, I could no longer t...