Recapitulation on the Question of Religious Fundamentalism

When people will not weed their own minds, they are apt to be overrun by nettles.
– Horace Walpole

My intellect would wish for a clear-cut universe with no dim corners, but there are all these cobwebs in the cosmos.
– Carl Jung

Often times I rush in “where angels fear to tread,” or speak (or write) before I’ve properly though through the subject upon which I’m commenting, and I’ve ended up unintentionally hurting people’s feelings or making them angry. While I don’t believe this is (or should be) the case with my latest post, “Sloughheart, My Self, and Silly Fundamentalism”, I would still like to recapitulate and make certain I’m being as clear and understandable as possible on this topic. Having said this, then, I’d like to proceed point-by-point, but I will also broaden the scope of fundamentalism to (hopefully) aid in the clarification of my thoughts.

First, using the Oxford English Dictionary, I defined “fundamentalism” in my most recent blog as:

Fundamentalism – 1 a form of religion, which upholds belief in the strictly literal interpretation and application, sometimes selective, of sacred scriptures and/or inherited customs and religious traditions; 2 the elevation of particular doctrines and practices as being fundamentally important to the religious faith-community, the observation and practice of which are obligatory, with the failure to adhere to this standard being punished, sometime severely.

Since I have lately dived into the dark morass of epistemology, skirting the coastlines of the philosophy of language in the process, I’ve become far more sensitive to definitions and the proper use of language, so… Is this a good definition? I’d probably benefit from having an encyclopedist and/or linguist critique it, but I don’t personally know any such persons; we’ll simply proceed to “pick apart” this definition and thereby (hopefully) bring greater lucidity to both what I mean and what I don’t mean. There are two parts to my definition; let’s begin with the first:

  • A form of religion, which upholds belief in the strictly literal interpretation and application, sometimes selective, of sacred scriptures and/or inherited customs and religious traditions

Upon further reflection, I believe I’d add “unreflectingly” before “upholds.” Fundamentalism is “a form of religion, which unreflectingly upholds belief in … etc.” There are people I know, and have known, who, for example, believe in a literal interpretation of the Genesis (chapter one) account of creation. However, they are willing to say, while they hold the position of scientific creationism, that belief in intelligent design or theistic evolution does not damn one’s soul to hell. Point in fact, they have friends and family members who hold such views, and some of these people I know are willing to admit they may be wrong in their viewpoint. They’ve also spent some time openly and honestly exploring the subject; therefore, I would not label them as fundamentalist. After all, if we’re not careful here, we could end up labelling the vast majority of humanity as fundamentalists, which would then render the term almost vacuous, an otherwise empty word bereft of any substantive meaning … except, perhaps, that it would be indicative merely of someone who believes something more or less definitely.

No, the fundamentalist, by the above definition (first part) would be someone who unreflectingly holds to scientific creationism. In this sense, it’s worth mentioning that not a few atheistic evolutionists fit this description as well, and make no mistake, there are fundamentalist atheists. The man who unreflectingly subscribes to atheistic evolution may be just as guilty of anti-intellectualism, at this point at least, as the proponent of scientific creationism … no matter how good and valid the evidence for biological evolution is (or seems to be.) Along these same lines, let me mention a point C. S. Lewis made in one of his essays concerning the interpretation of scripture: While he admitted he was not, properly speaking, a Bible scholar, he was well-versed in literature and the proper methods of reading, understanding, and interpreting literature (particularly that of Medieval Europe.) He contended that one first has to know the type of literature one is reading before she can hope to properly interpret that literature, and he applies this to Scripture.[1] The fundamentalist would (and does) balk at this, saying in effect that “God says what he means and means what he says, and it’s all clear enough, unless you simply don’t want to believe it. Then you twist it and turn it until it suits you better.” This is the anti-intellectual, narrow-mindedness of fundamentalism. It is not an anomaly, either; one finds this present in Islam, Hinduism, atheism, communism, etc.

Concerning “inherited customs and/or religious traditions,” we might look at the restrictive face-covering niqāb worn by Muslim women in Islamist societies as a strictly enforced adherence to an otherwise outdated custom. The less-restrictive hijab has been worn by women for generations upon generations as a way of showing, or preserving, modesty.[2] One wonders, though, just to what extent the Muslim woman ought to show modesty, even by Quranic standards. Should it be, as Islamists evidently believe, as far as wearing the niqāb? (I’m not an expert of Islam, but I believe the question is valid nonetheless.) Also, one might ask why it is the woman is forced to show such an extent of modesty, but not the man, which all seems a bit misogynistic by contemporary Western standards, at least. However, is the wearing of a hijab wrong, in and of itself? It would be difficult to make such a case; after all, there may be plenty of Muslim women who want to wear the hijab while knowing full-well that it’s not absolutely necessary to modesty and decency.

What about these women? One could hardly contend they’re fundamentalist, at least without (again) broadening the definition of “fundamentalism” to the point that it no longer serves any practical purpose in communication. There are, we should remember, plenty of customs and traditions, religious and otherwise, to which people faithfully adhere. Are they all fundamentalists? Are the people who put on traditional Fourth of July parades in the United States, as well as those who faithfully attend, socio-political fundamentalists? Perhaps some of them are – and they would more properly be called “nationalists,” I believe – but traditional Fourth of July parades do not make them fundamentalists … and I say this as one who’s never really cared much for this type of celebration, not because I consider myself unpatriotic, but simply because I really don’t like parades very much at all. But if we label someone who’s faithful to the tradition, the custom, of such parades a fundamentalist, then it’s only fair to ask whether or not I’m an anti-patriotic fundamentalist for rather decidedly refusing to attend and join such celebrations. I trust the reader will see how, if we’re not careful, use of the term “fundamentalist” or “fundamentalism” can quickly devolve into noxious absurdity.

Let’s now move on to the second part of my above definition:

  • The elevation of particular doctrines and practices as being fundamentally important to the religious faith-community, the observation and practice of which are obligatory, with the failure to adhere to this standard being punished, sometimes severely

And I would like to divide this up into portions (a) and (b) so that we’ll talk about “the elevation of particular doctrines and practices … etc.” first, then “the observation and … failure to adhere to this (or these) standard(s) being punished, sometimes severely.” So, as an example of (a) we might look at a favorite among fundamentalist Protestants, an eschatological doctrine: Dispensational premillennialism. This is the belief that “the second coming of Christ, and subsequent establishment of the millennial kingdom,” one thousand years of peaceful, paradisiacal life on earth, “is to be preceded by a seven-year … period known as” the Great Tribulation, “the earthly activity of the Antichrist, as well as the outpouring of God’s wrath on” sinful humanity. (Many, if not most, dispensationalists believe true Christians will be raptured off the earth before the Great Tribulation.) Dispensational premillennialism also “holds that the nation of Israel will be saved and restored to a place of preeminence” during the millennial reign of Christ on earth. “Thus, Israel will have a special function of service (during) the millennium that is different from that of the Church or saved Gentiles.”[3]

For some independent, fundamentalist churches, this is the linchpin of their theology; it is, by analogy, the hub of the wheel, and one cannot be a member of their church without subscribing to the doctrine of dispensational premillennialism (as well as other doctrines.) Examples of proponents of this doctrine are: Timothy LaHaye, John Hagee, Harold (Hal) L. Lindsey, Charles C. Ryrie, Robert (Bob) R. Jones III, Arlin and Beka Horton, and others known quite well within American Protestant circles – ones that agree with dispensationalism and one that vehemently disagree. If you’re unfamiliar with these names, or seem to be, then let me share a bit of information about them. Arlin and Beka Horton were the co-founders of Pensacola Christian College (PCC) in Pensacola, Florida. PCC is, perhaps, most notable for creating a curriculum, named after Beka Horton, widely used among Protestant Christian schools. PCC is also decidedly legalistic in its rules and regulations. Bob Jones III’s grandfather founded Bob Jones University in 1927 in Bay County, Florida. (The university is now located in Greenville, South Carolina.)

Timothy LaHaye, along with Jerry Jenkins, authored the infamous Left Behind series, which centers upon the apocalyptic end of the world after, of course, Christians have been raptured up to heaven. The series included 16 installments, all best sellers, and led to the production of several movies, video games, paraphernalia and whatnot – an abominable billion-dollar industry unto itself. Hal Lindsey authored the mega-best seller, The Late Great Planet Earth, back in the early 1970s; it had sold approximately 28 million copies by 1990.[4] He went on to write such books as Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth and There’s A New World Coming.[5]

On the obligation to adhere to certain practices – rigid rules, unyielding standards – with the failure to do so resulting in sometimes (oftentimes?) harsh punishment, there is no shortage of examples. The fundamentalist mentality is arrogant, concretized narrow-mindedness that demands conformity of its subordinates; thus, the legalistic fundamentalist (private Christian) school teacher beats a boy’s naked bottom for letting a “darn” slip through his lips, and his father (or mother) might very well reinforce this discipline at home by exacting the same punishment. This is certainly not unheard of; in fact, it might be all-too-common. Husbands demand silence and complete, abject obedience from their wives and children.

Pastors verbally pound their congregations two or three times each week for being wicked sinners in need of repentance, which is, frighteningly enough, one of the expected practices within typical independent, fundamentalist churches. Boys and men must have their hair cut short, above the ears and tapered in the back. Women must not cut their hair, beyond slightly trimming, perhaps; they must also avoid hair coloring and make-up. Jewelry is not allowed for males, of course, and often not allowed for women, either. Everyone is barred from listening to any contemporary music; sometimes everyone is discouraged from even listening to classical sacred music, i.e. they are limited to songs from the old hymn book and Gospel music. The list goes on and on, but the result is the same: There is some price to pay for failure to comply.

This is even more noticeable in Islamism; individuals can lose fingers and hands for stealing, or their very lives for what might be considered blasphemy, even if it is not so according to Qur’anic standards. The news around the world is packed full of horrendous stories of the extremities to which Islamists are going in order to enforce compliance to their exceedingly stringent, narrow version of Islam. People are being murdered, children are being ripped away from their parents, homes burned, sometimes entire villages destroyed. Adherents of other faith-religions are in constant danger… All of this militates against the mainstream history and heritage of Islam, which many in the West no longer know, as well as the basic attitude and perspective of Muslims round the world.[6] This is the ugly face of fundamentalism. It crops up, too, in Hinduism,[7] which seeks to recover “an original Hindu empire.”[8]

In Christianity, much of the problem with fundamentalism stems from an inappropriate interpretation and application of the scriptures, historical ignorance, and a gross under-appreciation for catholic (universal) growth and maturation. As stated before in previous blogs, I am no Bible scholar, but in the study of Scripture it seems to me an excellent approach would be as follows:

  1. Learn as much as possible the historical context of the passage, i.e. the social customs of ancient Israel, the Ancient Near East in general, Hellenization, the political situation, the early Roman Empire, concurrent religions, etc.
  2. Utilize basic study aids, such as: Dictionaries, Bible encyclopedias,[9] lexicons, concordances, etc. as well as at least three reputable translations[10]
  3. Consult commentaries, ancient and contemporary,[11] varied in theological perspective.[12]
  4. Take notes, discuss with others (intelligent and serious), meditate (prayerfully), etc.
  5. Consider what contemporary application – via (perhaps) appropriate re-contextualization[13] – the passage might offer, beneficially of course.

Fundamentalist rarely do this, or if they do, then it’s quite narrow. They might, for example, use the Scofield Study Bible, extremely popular among dispensationalists, or the Ryrie Study Bible; maybe Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the King James Version translation, and the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary published by Moody Press. They’ll rarely venture out in Bible study beyond the narrow confines of dispensational, fundamentalist theology, though, and so while they learn, they really never mature intellectually. Their vision remains tunneled, their understanding very myopic. And this is why, in my previous article, I said:

Fundamentalism wallows in shallow, anemic over-simplification, and when challenged, IBFs will (in the greater part of such instances) either try to out shout their opponent(s) with Bible verses and trite remarks, or withdraw into their fundamentalist fortress where they can privately deride their opponent(s) and relish the fantastical feeling of victory.

Now, again, for what and whom I do not mean to indict in all this: I do not mean by “fundamentalist” merely someone who is theologically conservative, or more traditional – after all, I consider myself to be for the most part a consensually orthodox-catholic Christian – and I do not mean someone who stands confidently upon what she believes. None of this is, properly speaking, fundamentalism. Hopefully, my above comments will clarify any misunderstanding arising from my last article, or the one before: “Masculinity According to an Evangelical Woman.” Although I really should have entitled that article, “Masculinity According to a Fundamentalist Woman,” but alas, I did not, so I will simply have to proffer an apology here for that mistake.

Any other points that may need clarification will have to wait for someone eager enough to ask, which is certainly welcome, of course. Otherwise, we venture forth into other subject matter!



[1] I believe the essay is entitled, “Historicism,” and is found in Christian Reflections, 124-140. An interesting, and perhaps informative, essay on the topic of C. S. Lewis and proper interpretation of Scripture is offered by David Williams in “C. S. Lewis on Scripture: God’s Word in Human Words,” as accessed on May 20, 2015

[2]Women and Veiling: What is the Hijab and Why Do Women Wear It?” accessed on May 20, 2015; cf. Qur’an 24. 30-31; 33. 58-59

[3] “What is Dispensational Premillennialism/Premillennial Dispensationalism?” on GotQuestions?org, as accessed on May 20, 2015

[4] Bart D. Ehrman, MDiv, PhD. Historical Jesus. ‘Prophet of the New Millennium.’ The Teaching Company, 2000, Lecture 24.

[5] As an interesting aside, Lindsey evidently required help writing his first two books, Late Great Planet Earth and Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. What makes this so interesting is the fact that at least the first was actually ghost-written by Carole C. Carlson, a woman! David Jeremiah has also used her talents in writing a good many books. Cf. “Carole C. Carlson, The Mother of Modern Prophecy,” accessed on May 20, 2015; also, the Wikipedia article for “The Late Great Planet Earth.”

[6] Some will disagree with me on this point; however, I am not proselytizing for Islam, nor am I making outlandish claims for Muslim faith and practice. Cf. Professor Huseyin Algul, faculty member specializing in Islamic History in the Department of Theology at Uludag University, Bursa, Turkey, “Islam is a Religion of Love and Peace,” accessed on May 20, 2015; also, perhaps,the Islam Is Peace (British) web site.

[7] An interesting article to read on the topic of Hindu fundamentalism, and how it ties in with Indian nationalism, is “Outlines of Hindu Fundamentalism” found on the University of Idaho web site by an anonymous author, accessed May 20, 2015

[8] See above reference

[9] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia published by Eerdmans and edited by Goeffrey Bromiley is an excellent choice.

[10] Fundamentalists are notorious for the practical veneration of the King James (Authorized) Version; however, although this is one of the most beautiful classics of the English language – certainly appropriate on one’s bookshelf – it is based upon the Textus Receptus, the Received Text, which is outdated now. Better English translations include, but are not limited to, the Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New American Bible (Revised Edition), English Standard Version, and (from what I’ve been told by those who should know) perhaps the New International Version.

[11] The Church’s Bible series published by Eerdmans offers an excellent source of Patristic understanding of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.

[12] Background commentaries are also very useful, and several publishing companies, such as IVP (mainline conservative), offer such.

[13] An example of re-contextualization can be found on the Defeating the Dragons blog, specifically the article, “The Prophecy of Amos, Revised.”



Sloughheart, My Self, and Silly Fundamentalism

My own background was socio-politically conservative; economically capitalistic; and broadly evangelical, Protestant-Christian. To make some necessary distinction, though, it was not libertarian or hyper-capitalistic, nor was my background religiously fundamentalist. Growing up, I was encouraged to read (and listen) widely, including of course other, differing perspectives. For example, my father handed me The Communist Manifesto to read when I was about 14-years-old (or so), and at some point gave me an interesting introduction to Catholicism entitled, Mr. Jackson Talks to Father Smith,[1] which was written (and presumably published) in Jackson, Mississippi to be distributed there to anyone interested in the Roman Catholic Church. He also introduced me to his friend, the Catholic priest in our town, back in the early 80s, allowed me to visit other churches (and he was a pastor), introduced me to foreign films, notably those of Federico Fellini, an Italian filmmaker “known for his distinct style that blends fantasy and baroque images with earthiness.”

No, not in any sense did I grow up in a legalistic, fundamentalist background. Of course, I was appropriately catechized in the Reformed tradition, even though we attended an independent Methodist church my father pastored, the rationale being that George Whitefield was also Methodist and he was Calvinistic. We were not exactly Calvinistic, but leaned heavily in that direction, so the Westminster Shorter Catechism did nicely for my doctrinal training. However, I was also exposed to the sermons of John Wesley; we did have a traditional, Methodist-type service at our little church; professors from Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi were invited to preach and/or teach, etc. I remember, too, my parents purchasing for me (at my request) a collection of essays by Marx and Friedrich Engels on religion. (It turned out to be a rather boring read, but…) My father wanted me to understand libertarianism, socialism, the New Deal, and the Great Society. My mother particularly encouraged me to read especially C. S. Lewis, but also Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, etc. My father steered me in the direction of Leo Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Victor Hugo and others.

The last of five children, with my closest sibling being eight years my senior, to a certain extent I felt like an only child; however, my (by then older than usual) parents and I had an awful lot of fun. We went camping, hiking, fishing; we loved to grill out and play games, indoors and out; we had pets (always at least one); we loved singing and laughing and watching television (and later movies) together. My parents were by no means fuddle-duds; they were serious when they needed to be serious, but otherwise … fun … and very lovable. Consequently, I don’t know that I have the background necessary to critique fundamentalism – as I did in my last essay, Masculinity According to an Evangelical Woman – yet I don’t know that I can quite apologize for going ahead and doing so, either. Thankfully, my background also included some exposure to fundamentalism early on, and my father was the one who began explaining to me the pitfalls of moral legalism, theological dispensationalism,[2] and the anti-intellectualism that seems to attend both.

I also attended two Independent Bible Fundamentalist (IBF) high-schools – where, let me be quick to say, I met some of the best folk in the world despite the environment – and so I tasted enough firsthand to legitimately say that, despite my upbringing, I do have some experiential knowledge of legalistic fundamentalism. This is the topic I’d like to address now. So far as other socio-political and economic perspectives are concerned, well … perhaps another time. (Suffice it to say here, I have moved to just “left of center” politically, and I also see some redeeming value in socialistic ideology. Hyper-capitalism is no better for people in general, or society in toto, than Marxist-Communism … in my humble opinion.) Why this seems to be such a burning issue for me, I may never know, but it is and it has been for years upon years. One can readily see (I believe) from what I’ve shared that I didn’t get clobbered with legalistic fundamentalism growing up; just the opposite, in fact. Let me go one step further and say with certainty that I would never have read as much and as widely, nor travelled as much, nor frequented art museums, etc. had it not been for my parents. Yes, I have grown up into my “own man,” so to speak, and I know full well they would disagree with me at several points … but I also know they anticipated this with me, as they did with all of their children.

My encounters with fundamentalism and what knowledge I do have of this peculiar life-perspective has significantly factored into what “my own man” is today, that is, the still-maturing individual I am now. For example, I never understood the passionate zeal for altar calls and divinely gratuitous salvation displayed in so many IBF churches on the one hand, and extreme moral legalism on the other. What is the necessity, according to this way of thinking (if I may use the term loosely) for moral legalism if salvation is completely an unearned gift? Gratitude, perhaps? I can’t help but say, though, from my observation, IBFs don’t ordinarily strike me as being very grateful; point in fact, to look at their lives, salvation seems quite burdensome rather than something for which to be thankful. Nevertheless, gratitude may very well be a reasonable answer to my query; however, this only seems to include moral legalism, not charity. Where charity – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, etc. – is concerned, this is all-too-often condemned as “works religion,” something Roman Catholics do; no genuine, Bible-believing Christian would ever engage in works-based religion. There is, of course, an entire breakdown in logic in this line of thinking: If one should show gratitude through abiding by some strict moral standard, then one should also give charitably in order to show gratitude. (After all, it’s certainly commanded in Scripture!) If, however, charity is “works-based religion,” i.e. trying to earn one’s way to heaven, and if this is wrong, then abiding by a strict moral code must also be “works-based religion,” and thereby be wrong as well. Both are of the same species, and what applies to one, so far as life-action is concerned,[3] applies to the other, too.

I’m also certainly capable of illogic, perhaps as much as the average Joe or Jane (maybe even more so), but I think the difference is, if someone points out to me the intenability of something I’ve said or written (argued, presented, etc.), then I believe I will usually respond by rethinking my original position (perspective or whatnot) and make whatever corrections need be made, if not change altogether. The legalistic fundamentalist doesn’t typically do this, which is something brought through, at least indirectly, in my Sloughheart Series. On the topic of men and women, masculinity and femininity – gender characteristics, or attributes, I suppose – there is also a definite militation against the legalistic, fundamentalist perspective in the narrative. The character of Joy Brighterday serves as the premier example of this: She is well-educated, cultured, intellectually astute, and well-spoken; she has an affable personality, complete with an excellent sense of humor and deep compassion; physically she is stunningly beautiful, strong, robust, lively, and healthy. One might say I’ve idealized this character, making her an almost demi-god, but that’s probably not quite accurate.

The character has been exaggerated, and purposely so, but Joy Brighterday also has her share of shortcomings, evidenced, for example, in her meetings (along with Effete) with the attorney, Justin Case. Also, she is introduced at the beginning of the whole series struggling in prayer at the altar of St. Gianna’s, where she is the rector (or pastor.) She is unmarried, and in the end this seems to come back to bite her; she is, at a deep level, virtually left alone while those she has helped so much go on with their healing and/or now-very happy lives… All in all, though, the character of Joy Brighterday presents a woman, who is not only physiologically female but very much “in tune” with herself; who is strong, resilient, caring as well as commanding; who possesses upstanding character and integrity, wisdom and discernment, but also some faults, failings and shortcomings, too. And why this character? In order to image an archetype female in both a specific role traditionally ascribed to men and within a general cultural-societal context where women have found it difficult to thrive (and still do).

Along the way, the attempt is made to provide justification for this in the face of condemnation by the character Fen Sloughheart, an independent, legalistic, fundamentalist preacher – the antihero of the story. One episode consists of Joy writing to a young woman considering entering the ministry. Early in her letter, Joy notes:

Yes, even now it’s still difficult for women, especially when you’ve grown up in a tradition, such as your own church, that (paradoxical as it may seem) both honors women and yet bars them from ordination. Have no fear on that point, though; I know you’re not ‘dissing’ your church, as you say! And I’m not going to either, but believe me, I fully understand.

It is still challenging, but not impossible or unbiblical. (Bishop N. T. Wright addresses this issue very beautifully and effectively in an essay entitled, “Women’s Service in the Church.”) This is something completely out-of-bounds for the fundamentalist, though: To completely reconsider long-held perspectives, even by means of utilizing careful exegesis of Scripture. (One could reasonably argue that if they did so, they would no longer be fundamentalists!) The fundamentalist would say, “Thus saith the Lord…” and that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it will be in obedient, Bible-believing churches until Jesus comes back to rapture the faithful into heaven (leaving billions behind to suffer unthinkable atrocities … supposedly.) For some reason, this mentality is excruciatingly difficult for me to ignore; I suppose to some extent, at least, I take it personally, almost as if beloved family are being attacked. Of course, I know very well that the Ancient Near East was a patriarchal society, just as I know the ancient world as a whole was thought by its occupants to be shot through with the numinous, often to be overrun by the dæmonic, full of mysterium tremendum.[4] There are no illusions here, and perhaps this is part of the point.

My ancestors in the faith-religion of Judeo-Christianity may not measure up to contemporary, Western, socio-religious and ethical standards any more than my biological ancestors. There is no pretending otherwise, I suppose, but I’m still in many ways their progeny; consequently, I don’t really appreciate their lives being misrepresented or their teachings misconstrued … or sometimes horribly distorted. That convoluted interpretation of selected portions of Scripture is often used to justify all forms of abuse only makes legalistic fundamentalism all-the-more egregious. One simply cannot cherry-pick juicy bits of an ancient law code of nomadic peoples about to settle into an agrarian way of life and apply those decrees and guidelines – or forcefully impose them like diktats – within contemporary society, no matter how divinely inspired in origin. Besides, we have ample witness from the New Testament that much of the ancient law code would no longer be applicable to Christians – Jew or Gentile – and that was approximately two thousand years ago!

Fundamentalism wallows in shallow, anemic over-simplification, and when challenged, IBFs will (in the greater part of such instances) either try to out shout their opponent(s) with Bible verses and trite remarks, or withdraw into their fundamentalist fortress where they can privately deride their opponent(s) and relish the fantastical feeling of victory. In the meantime, the archetype of Joy Brighterday answers them on a number of fronts, including, for example, the ordination of women to the ministry:

You probably know, of course, some of the common objections to the ordination of women. The Apostle, St. Paul, instructed women to be silent in church, but then he also recommends women as “fellow workers” and even deacons, like Phoebe. Besides which, there were always female prophets, with whom Paul would have been familiar, like Miriam and the four daughters of Philip as well as the prophetess Anna, who openly spoke at the Temple. So, in my estimation, this particular argument is rather weak.

Of course, Paul also instructs women to veil their heads when they pray, yet how many opponents of female ordination actually push this practice? You see, as in so many other cases, there seems to be some inconsistency here, but I think Paul’s words ought to be contextualized anyway … at least, as best we can do that, and only then applied. But there are other arguments, too, like, ‘Christ was male, and so his priests should be male.’

My response to this has simply been the fact that there are any number of qualities we might lay down as restrictions. He was also Jewish, for example, but do we really want to prohibit non-Jewish people from serving in ordained ministry? For that matter, I suppose we could restrict ordained ministry not only to Jewish males, but to virgin-born Jewish males! You see, that sort of argument is not only weak, but it’s anything but helpful.

The question is, how much difference does gender really make in ministry now and why? And is the restriction of this vocation physiologically based? If so, why? Or is there another reason … perhaps psychological and/or spiritual? You see, one either quickly descends into a morass of confusion on this point, or ends up forwarding chauvinistic arguments, such as:

  1. The woman is physically weaker; therefore, she cannot command the respect, much less the following, of adult males
  2. The woman is generally less intelligent; therefore, she cannot reasonably be expected to teach adult men, who are, on average, more intelligent
  3. The woman is more emotional; therefore, she is psychically unstable and, thus, unable to “shepherd the flock”

And other distasteful, reprehensible contentions, all subsumed under the heretical assumption: God created woman to be subservient to the man.

This is not, of course, the only area in which the legalistic fundamentalist perspective is baneful. Another is the fundamentalist’s aversion to the Sacraments – which, naturally, they don’t recognize as Sacraments – thus, their infrequent celebration of Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. Simon Chan explains their excuse(s), then rebuts those reasons quite effectively:

Two reasons are commonly given for infrequent observance of the Eucharist. One is that if the Lord’s Supper were observed too frequently, it would lose its meaning. But according to a Reformed evangelical pastor, Leonard J. Vander Zee, this rationale betrays ‘the old gnostic tendency’ to exalt the ‘spiritual’ and denigrate the ‘material.’ Further, the rationale assumes the Lord’s Supper is another commemorative event, like a birthday or wedding anniversary. But if the Lord’s Supper is indeed a ‘feeding on Christ to eternal life,’ making us into what we eat, then there is no question about whether frequent Communion would cause a loss of significance. No one has ever yet complained that having three meals a day had eroded the significance of eating. (Some even insist on have more!) As Vander Zee puts it, ‘If God feeds and confirms our faith in the sacrament, then we deprive ourselves of the fullness of his grace when we sit around the table only once in awhile. We need every nourishment God provides, and to miss the meal not only snubs his gracious hospitality but creates spiritual anorexics.’

Second, it is sometimes argued that Word and sacrament are merely two ways of communicating the same gospel. If what the sacrament conveys is already conveyed, in fact in a better way, in preaching, then the sacrament is quite extraneous in the regular church service. Sacrament, according to this view, merely ‘portrays’ the gospel – and in a limited way at that – whereas preaching gives almost unlimited scope for the exposition of the gospel. But this is to misunderstand the very nature of Word and sacrament and their distinctive functions in the liturgy. Not only is the sacrament more than the visible form of the Word, but each is indispensable to the other. Sacrament brings the proclaimed Word to its fulfillment.

We come to know the Real Presence effected by the Spirit in the Lord’s Supper. Word without sacrament remains incomplete, and sacrament without Word becomes an empty sign. ‘If one cannot live by bread alone, neither can one live by word alone.’ For just as the Word is completed in the sacrament, so the sacrament derives its meaning from the Word. As Louis Bouyer states, ‘Every sacrament is a verbum visibile, a word made visible, and every sacrament also essentially implies verba sacramentalia, the sacred words which give to the sacred action itself not only meaning but also its own inner reality.’ Word and sacrament cannot be separated. The whole liturgy of Word and sacrament is both God’s Word and God’s action for the sake of the church. Worship becomes less than what it is when one is emphasized at the expense of the other.[5]

Chan states these two commonly given excuses for infrequent Communion quite graciously, wording them far more intelligently than one usually hears them in person. Still, he points out quite well the lack of spiritual depth and theological understanding one typically finds within the IBF world,[6] which reveals an ongoing spiritual abuse-by-neglect in these churches. Bereft of healthful, life-sustaining, divine nourishment, it’s little wonder, then, there is also abuse-by-action. It’s almost as if, being starved within sight of food and drink they cannot get to, they become frenzied and begin cannibalizing each other!

Fundamentalism is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “a form of a religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, which upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.” I think I would modify this definition to read, “1 a form of religion, which upholds belief in the strictly literal interpretation and application, sometimes selective, of sacred scriptures and/or inherited customs and religious traditions; 2 the elevation of particular doctrines and practices as being fundamentally important to the religious faith-community, the observation and practice of which are obligatory, with the failure to adhere to this standard being punished, sometime severely.” Robert J. Burrowes offers an apt analysis of the fundamentalist along the lines of this definition:

A fundamentalist is usually considered to be a person who adheres strictly to a doctrine, viewpoint or set of principles that are considered original and ‘pure’; this doctrine might be theological in nature. For the fundamentalist, many of their beliefs and the behaviors that arise from them will, at least in theory, be derivative of their fundamental doctrine. For the fundamentalist, there is no room to consider views that are at variance with their accepted doctrine and contrary views will usually either be dismissed out-of-hand or resisted with considerable vigor and, often, violence.[7]

Touché! Which makes me all-the-more grateful that I grew up in an environment of free enquiry and learning, wisdom and discernment, appreciation for the arts, literature and music, and so much more conducive to a healthy mind, body and soul. Pity the victims of legalistic fundamentalism!



[1] Note: I believe this was the title, though I’m not completely certain. Also, I’m not absolutely sure of the place of publication.

[2] Dispensationalism is a Christian evangelical, futurist, Biblical interpretation that believes that God has related to human beings in different ways under different Biblical covenants in a series of “dispensations,” or periods in history.

[3] In other words, same context, i.e. one’s life; similar scriptural injunctions; same purpose, i.e. to show gratitude; etc.

[4] Rudolf Otto’s classic work, The Idea of the Holy, is an excellent read on the subject and where I got the expression of mysterium tremendum. On this note, I would venture to say we could use more mystery and greater awareness of the numinous in our day and age, if for no other reason than to counter-balance the all-too-often cold and impersonal sciences as well as what has come to be called the “corporate mentality.”

[5] Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community, 65-66

[6] Note: This is not to imply that IBFs are the only ones who partake of the Lord’s Supper infrequently. This, in fact, is Anabaptist in origin, yet no one would say Ulrich Zwingli was cognitively retarded. Also, many evangelical Protestant churches have fallen into infrequent celebration of Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, yet this is not the Lutheran or Reformed heritage. Martin Luther celebrated Holy Communion weekly, if not more frequently, and promulgated the doctrine of consubstantiation. Calvin in Geneva celebrated the Lord’s Supper more often than four times per annum (quarterly,) and believed in the real pneumatic presence of Christ. Of course, the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican churches celebrate the Eucharist quite frequently and most reverently with a far deeper, richer understanding of Communion than one finds elsewhere.

[7] Robert J. Burrowes, “Fundamentalism: A Psychological Problem,” January 9, 2014, as accessed on May 19, 2015


(Some) Christians’ Phallic Fallacy on Authority and Leadership

I have known good, Christian women who, in an effort to shape their lives by the scriptures of our Faith, have deferred to the authority of their husbands in every matter, even despite very obvious cognitive deficiencies and spiritual-psychological inadequacies that lead to sometimes horrendous difficulties. Example after example comes to mind, which is not to say that men in general have such gross deficiencies and inadequacies, yet the solution to many difficulties in marriage might be more authentic co-operation stemming from a right understanding and application of biblical principles not at first blush having anything to do with leadership (or headship) within the sacramental covenant of Holy Matrimony.

I can only think that men and women, down through the ages and in our own day and time, have committed what I’d like to refer to as the phallic fallacy of leadership; that is, that the possession of a penis alone qualifies one for authority. I don’t know if this sounds too Freudian. I’m certainly not deriving my thought from Freud, but rather from observation as well as inductive reasoning. After all, the holy Scriptures of Judeo-Christianity really do not, on the whole, preclude female leadership. Even the Apostle St. Paul’s prohibition of women teaching men in the Church,[1] rightly understood, does not preclude any and all forms of female leadership, however conservatively one wants to interpret his directive.

Deborah, prophetess and judge of Israel, led her people into battle at the behest Barak ibn Abinoam.[2] Jael, which means “wild gazelle” or “mountain goat,”[3] slaughtered Sisera, captain of Jabin’s army and became instantly a celebrated hero among her people.[4] The prophetess Huldah was consulted as the only one in or around the Jerusalem area who could interpret the Law of God during the reign of Josiah, when no one else (presumably) could truly and insightfully understand the Book of the Law[5] – an outstanding example of spiritual-religious (and, to an extent really, socio-political) leadership. Dr. Joseph Priestly invidiously commented on Huldah, noting:

It pleased God to distinguish several women with the spirit of prophecy, as well as other great attainments, to show that in his sight, and especially in things of a spiritual nature, there is no essential pre-eminence in the male sex, though in some things the female be subject to the male.[6]

Junia (or Junias) was “prominent (outstanding, notable) among the Apostles.”[7] Phoebe was an ordained deaconess commended by the Apostle Paul to the Church at Rome, to be received and assisted in whatever matter she might require.[8] Sheerah, daughter of Ephraim, founded and built three towns.[9] Of course, one might justly say these (and others that could be mentioned) are exceptions to the rule, but here is the point: There are exceptions to the rule, and this is notable as it comes from patriarchal ages and cultures that were sometimes even quite misogynistic. Of course, there are examples in Scripture of wicked women who exerted authoritative influence upon their husbands, such as Jezebel. Yes, it cuts both ways; however, the thought of someone – anyone – following a raving idiot over the side of a cliff due merely to age or biological relationship, or because that person wears an insignia of high rank, possesses a penis, or whatever is completely intolerable, yet this is precisely what many conservative Christians still believe, teach, and live.

Perhaps we can begin a reevaluation of the relationship of male to female with the observation of St. Paul that “there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”[10] By the love and unity of the Holy Spirit, in Christ Jesus, such divisions and distinctions have not been entirely removed but superseded. Yes, the female is still female and the male is still male, but the consequence of this distinction fades into the background when the couple stands before God, who is above and beyond such disparities, filled with the Spirit of Life, in and through Christ Jesus. In the context of this relationship, love and wisdom will certainly be (or should be) the two most important operating principles. To turn away from all sense and sensibility (to borrow from Jane Austin) and endanger the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, for example, all to obediently appease the phallus-bearing “head of the household” is shameful and irresponsible … not pleasing to God. The almighty Creator gave each of us, women as well as men, an organ called the brain… He expects us to use it!

Interestingly enough, it is from Lady Wisdom – Sophia – we most aptly learn to think rightly and righteously, “for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”[11] Indeed, “wisdom is a fountain of life to the wise…”[12] And so we are enjoined to “learn where there is wisdom, where there is strength, where there is understanding, so that we may at the same time discern where there is length of days, and life, where there is light for the eyes, and peace.”[13] Some are wiser than others; some women very obviously have more insight, understanding, and perception than men; some men are keener than women. Who should make the decisions, then? The one who is wiser. It may be that the man has many, many gifts and talents, works hard and honestly, and lives his life with complete integrity, yet this man may not be adept in financial matters or real-estate or household management; he may be an electrical engineer or college professor or agriculturalist of the highest caliber, though. Albert Einstein was one of the greatest scientist of the 20th century – perhaps the greatest – yet he had difficulty navigating through ordinary, everyday life. Is it really unrealistic to believe that someone like Einstein might actually need a loving partner to take charge of practical matters and daily affairs?

I vividly remember watching a somewhat dark-comic movie titled Pumpkin,[14] which was about a beautiful, uptown college girl who falls in love with a cognitively challenged young man affectionately called “Pumpkin” (at first by his mother and then others, of course.) He fell in love with her, too, but his mother and her parents and friends all thought the whole arrangement was utterly foolish, totally impractical … but they genuinely loved each other. By the end of the movie, everyone recognized this, appreciated and even supported it; however, there were no illusions concerning who would necessarily provide overall guidance and direction – wise and loving leadership – in the relationship. There could be no question as to who was capable of managing, of presiding over their household. She would have to assume the responsibility of headship (and, to a great extent, really, guardianship), phallus-deprived though she was, and Pumpkin would have to accept this necessary marital structure. This could be, and probably is – surely somewhere – true-to-life, and is this wrong? Is it sinful for the mentally-challenged to fall in love with someone who thoroughly loves him? In other words, is what we might now call the “Pumpkin Relationship” untenable just because the phallus-bearing mate is incapable of leading? Should he be consigned to a life of loneliness, deprived of Eros bathed and wrapped in Agape love?

If not, then, could you imagine a woman in a Pumpkin Relationship saying something like, “He gave me some money to spend today, so I can treat myself to lunch.” Or worse still, “Pumpkin gave me permission to pay off the bills this month, so we won’t incur any penalties.” Or even more egregious, “Pumpkin said it’s not black mold in the bathroom, and he won’t let me treat it or get rid of it; in fact, Pumpkin won’t allow me to open the windows to let in fresh air, despite the good weather, because he says it bothers his allergies.” Insane? Yes, of course it is, but I tell you I know of such situations. I’ve heard such statements almost verbatim, except for the “Pumpkin” part, of course. And the rationale behind this? The woman claims she wants to be obedient and honor God. Harrumph! Would someone tell me how endangering the well-being of oneself and, if it’s the case, the health and welfare of one’s children is honoring God? I do not question a woman’s right to marry a buffoon, but she ought to realize she’s marrying a buffoon and act accordingly. If the pompous, idiotic ass feels slighted because he’s the one with the penis but hasn’t carte blanche authority, then she should pack his bags and send him back to mamma. As Sophocles said in his Antigone:

The kind of man who always thinks that he is right, that his opinions, his pronouncements, are the final word, when once exposed shows nothing there. But a wise man has much to learn without a loss of dignity.[15]

Of course, we are talking about wisdom bathed in love or, better yet, enveloped and kept in love, specifically the love of God. “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”[16] Marriage and family are all but nothing when devoid of love. I don’t know if there is any personal relationship worth having in which love is absent. But why bring up this subject at all? We’re living in the 21st century, after all, and in a progressive society, right? Well, there are at least three reasons:

  1. There still exists a substantial minority of people who adhere to the grossly misconstrued “biblical” principle of pater familia.
  2. There remains vestiges of this principle in at least the subconscious thinking of (probably) the majority of people in our society, men and women.
  3. Because of points one and two, the result is the continuing inexcusable degradation of women.
    1. This includes the forming and shaping of the disposition of young females toward lives of practical inferiority to the male.

I certainly do not want my daughter to grow up with the absurd idea that she needs the male counterpart in her life because she is incapable of actually living life apart from some man; although the man, whoever he is, would be completely capable of doing just that precisely because he is a man. (Not that I have any influence in the matter anymore, but…) I don’t want her to grow up believing that her “place” in life is abject subservience to her husband, when her husband may very well be wrong many times over. Not that I want my daughter to be lonely – no! certainly not – but like any single man, the single woman can surround herself with good, wholesome friends, and integrate herself into a healthy faith community, engage in productive and fulfilling employment, and so forth. And, no, I’m not holding this up as being ideal, though some individuals are called to this sort of life; I am merely saying I want my daughter to know that her life, and the rounding out and wholeness of her life, does not depend upon any man rescuing her like some damsel in distress, and holding her hand as if she were infantile. I want her to realize, as the case may very well be, that the success of her marriage depends as much upon her wisdom and love and, yes, guidance and direction as much as it does upon her husband; that, in other words, the relationship is better fit to succeed and be what God intends through genuine co-operation … not abject subservience. And I don’t want her ever to feel as if she’s caught in a trap of grave stupidity and dangerous folly with no way out, which does not mean that I want her to divorce at the first sign of trouble. Again, to borrow from Jane Austin, it’s a matter of exercising sense and sensibility.

I have addressed this subject before from different angles, but now I want to end this particular essay on a personal note: I’ve never felt comfortable as a male, who is quite comfortable in his own skin, so to speak, trying to fit myself into some predesigned mold, which is all-too-often a kind of John Wayne seasoned with a little Jimmy Stewart kind of model of what it means to be and live like a “real man.” What if my gifts and talents lie in areas outside the traditional purview of household management, or headship? Is it impossible for me to still be very much a man, who nevertheless listens to and generally follows the leadership of his wife? Is this radical, or can I not fulfill my own destiny in life without dirty boots, shotgun shells, pick-em-up trucks, and cans of cheap beer? Is it not possible that I might actually be “stronger” in some areas of life and my wife “stronger” in others? Could we not genuinely co-operate with me, as the husband, generally deferring to the wisdom and love of my wife? Really, just how unbiblical does this look and sound? On another personal note, I’ve always wondered how some women, so evidently intelligent and talented and otherwise strong, could continue to degrade themselves in bending the knee and bowing the head to foolish, self-serving, adult-sized boys when there are more than a few truly decent, mature men in the world, who would genuinely love and respect them? This is not the time or place to attempt to answer this question, though. Enough for now to say, “Enough is enough! Time for Christians – more specifically of the fundamentalist ilk – to stop committing the phallic fallacy on authority and leadership!” Amen and Amen.



[1] Cf. I Timothy 2. 12

[2] Cf. Judges 4. 8

[3] Cf. Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions H3278

[4] Cf. Judges 4. 7 – 5. 24

[5] Cf. II Kings 22. 8-20

[6] As quoted by Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible, on II Kings 22. 14

[7] Romans 16.7 (NRSV, ISV, EMTV, RV)

[8] Cf. Romans 16. 1-2; also Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible for same verses; The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on the same, as well.

[9] Cf. I Chronicles 7. 24

[10] Galatians 3. 28b NRSV

[11] Proverbs 8. 11 NRSV

[12] Proverbs 16. 22 GNT

[13] Baruch 3. 14 NRSV (Note: “you” changed to “we” to flow with sentence structure)

[14] Pumpkin, 2002 drama directed by Adam Larson Broder and Anthony Abrams, released by Indie Films

[15] As quoted at, accessed on May 5, 2015

[16] I Corinthians 13. 4 RSV


Ripping Good Testimony, Ripper’s Predicted Plea Bargain

Justin Case JustinCase3was beaming, which made this nicely contoured, 40-something with dark, wavy hair and tan skin all the more attractive to the two women seated in his office. Of course, Joy Brighterday and Effete Sloughheart not only knew he was married with children; they also had no desire to launch any kind of romantic venture … although it did do something to lift their spirits seeing such a bright, healthy, handsome man seated behind the desk, knowing he was on their side, to fight tooth and nail for Effete and her two boys.

“Three,” Case held up three fingers. “I was confident some folks would eventually come out of the woodwork, but three men this early in the fight.” His eyes danced. “And they came in together; all of them friends; all three of them, and their families, former members of Ebenezer Bible Church; all three testifying right here in this office; all three giving three separate, signed and notarized affidavit statements.”

Justin Case may have been one of the better attorneys in Verdure County, but he was also quite unassuming. Point in fact, his character in general didn’t seem to fit legal battles at all, but it was precisely in the office and courtroom where Case flashed most brilliantly. He was no soft-touch, to be sure, nor was he in the least dull-witted or lethargic. No, he knew law, law enforcement and the judicial system like the back of his hand, and he was very keen and quick, almost like a young Mohammed Ali in the boxing ring, except it was the court. Now, this good-looking, unassuming man was shining … and it was contagious, happily contagious.

“Three?” Joy asked, amazed.

“Testimony?” Effete queried, cautiously.

“Yes, three middle-aged men came into my office this morning to offer their collective testimony about Fen Sloughheart,” Case responded. “In particular, these three friends said they felt it was their ‘moral duty’ to tell me about one specific meeting they had with your husband just about two years ago.” Joy and Effete were locked in now, like this was an edge-of-your-seat moment in a nail-biting, high quality mystery-action movie. They were glued. “And what they relayed has been a long time coming … well, actually two years in coming. Each of them felt guilty for not having spoken up sooner. Instead, after the meeting, they just decided they and their families would move on to another church, and that’s what they did … and all they did until now.

“And now what did these brave men finally decide to share … as their ‘moral duty,’ of course,” Joy asked rather sardonically.

“I know, I know,” Case held up his hands in a mock plea. “They should have said something sooner. They did not, and now they feel guilty – as well they should – but they are making amends as best they can and, might I say, at just the right time.” He paused to let his sagacious words sink in and hopefully calm the storm beginning to rage inside Joy. “As for what they shared, well, they are friends, as I indicated, and have been since childhood. Anyway, they and their families were all members of the Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church as a result of an evangelistic rally they had attended the previous year.”

“Anyway,” Justin Case leaned back in his cozy, leather office chair, “after attending for so many months, and wanting to ‘grow more spiritually,’ as they put it, they decided to make an appointment with the pastor for all three of them, expressly to seek his counsel on how to be ‘better, biblical husbands and fathers,’ and to have ‘better, godlier homes,’ since the Rev. Sloughheart had preached on that topic quite a few times.” Case looked at Effete. “And I take it this is one of his favorite topics.”

“Oh my God, yes!” she responded without hesitation. “You’d better believe it, and it has almost everything to do with discipline and order, and those God-given responsibilities rest exclusively upon the shoulders of the man, because the man is the man, don’t you know?” Effete’s voice was rising and trembling. Joy laid her hand on Effete’s arm, squeezed gently, and began rubbing ever-so-softly. “Yeah … he likes to put women and children in their place. And, well, I guess men, too,” she laughed ironically, “in their proper place of authority and domination.”

“Yep! You just hit the nail on the head. You’ve just summarized the testimony of the three men, except it gets a bit more insidious since it was a confidential meeting, of course. They said he wasted no time when they told him why they were there. Strangely enough, at least to them, he began with ‘godly counsel’ concerning the wife. He quoted some ancient Jewish writing that said point-blank, ‘from a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die … so do not give yourself to a woman and let her trample down your strength.’”

“Ha!” Joy shouted. “Very, very odd that he would be quoting from the apocryphal book of Sirach! Unashamedly hypocritical and disgusting, as much as he’s pronounced ‘those books’ as satanic writings produced by the ‘harlot Roman Catholic devil’s church.’”

“Hmmm, that is interesting, to say the least,” Case responded with a bit of a surprised look on his face. Effete was somewhat amazed, too, but she figured whatever fit neatly into Fen’s perspective and agenda was good enough for him, no matter how hypocritical; he just covered this one up by telling the three men the quote was from “an ancient Jewish writing.” Oh well, Fen has always had his own gospel … his own religion, really, Effete mused. I just didn’t realize this so clearly until now, now that I’m free!

“Well, anyway, he proceeded to advise these men to ‘be men, as God created men to be,’” Case continued. “And naturally this meant ‘taking dominion over their homes, their families,’ and this included their wives as much as their children. He made striking comments, such as, ‘the woman is not only the weaker sex, she is virtually childlike in her weakness … weak in mind, body and soul,’ and ‘if left to her own devices, simply cannot exercise good, godly judgment,’ that ‘in fact, the woman will always resort to being another Eve because by nature she is a daughter of Eve,’ and this is why ‘women – especially wives and most especially where children are concerned – must be restrained.’ Of course, as these men related, this meant ‘consistent discipline and strict order,’ which would necessarily mean ‘resolutely establishing their sole authority in the home.’”

Joy’s face was turning red; Effete only nodded, knowingly. None of this really shocked her in the least; she’d been a victim of his “consistent discipline and strict order” for years.

“By this point in their meeting the men were already growing uncomfortable, but, as they said, Sloughheart didn’t seem to notice or, if he did, he didn’t care. They said he grew more excited and even rampant, and this is when their little get-together with the pastor got really interesting … and sickening. He was, by then, apparently beyond any discretion he might have otherwise exercised. He quoted the old proverb, ‘He who spares his rod hates his children, but he who loves them disciplines them promptly;’ he went on to add that this scripture applies as much to wives as it does to children. He cautioned them to exercise wisdom and discernment, but quickly added that women were created to be the ‘servant-helpers of men,’ and that they were expected by the Lord to ‘keep the place God had given them, carrying out the duties and responsibilities spelled out for them in the Bible.’”

“Revolting! Sickening! Abhorrent!” Joy blurted out, shaking her head. “He should be publicly caned, the stinking, fat bastard!” Now it was Effete’s turn to grab Joy and stroke her arm a bit. Joy knew that meant, O.k. Quiet down, please; you’re getting upset’s not doing me any good.

“O.k. This is good news,” Effete responded calmly. “Now, where does that put us?”

“Where does that put us? Oh my,” Case practically hooted. “In a damn good position, pardon my French! We have the evaluation of Dr. Pert Kibitz, an excellent and highly-respected psychologist. We have the testimony of the social worker, Sage Mentor, the hospital records as well as statements from the two attending physicians and the one hospital psychologist, who visited you the evening after you were taken in to make an initial evaluation. We have the testimony – practically lifelong testimony – of both of your children, given safely and privately in Judge Goodman’s office with his legal secretary and Ms. Mentor present.”

“Now, we have this bombshell of testimony from these three men, who ended up making their statements separately from the other two, then signed and notarized… I did that purposely, of course, just in case any one, or all of them, suddenly gets cold feet. I wanted each of their testimonies live and in the raw, so to speak, and officially stamped and sealed, good to go! And of course, we have your own testimony, as well as Joy’s, which is important because you so wisely confided in her at some length before this latest, particular incident of domestic violence. All in all it’s enough to push Jack Ripper into some very gracious plea bargaining. The man’s an evil viper, no doubt, and not to be trusted, but he does not like to lose. If he can work his way out of this case without mud in his face, then, that’s what he’ll do no matter how your husband feels about it. Mark my words, Ripper will open with an offer tomorrow afternoon at the latest.”

“You’re actually going to bargain with him?” Joy asked incredulously.

“Bargain does not necessarily mean compromise,” Case answered. “And given our strong position, if we can walk away with more than a marginal victory – I would dare say at least a critical victory – without having to actually go to court, then…” he lifted his shoulders and threw his hands up, “absolutely. Think about what we’re after here; what we want; what Effete wants out of all of this … what’s best for Effete and the boys. If we can achieve that while avoiding a vicious and possibly extended legal mêlée, why not?”

“Fen Sloughheart is why not,” Joy shot back. “I was serious about the public caning.”

But,” Effete looked over at Joy and slightly smiled, “we’ll wait for the Ripper to call and at least hear what he has to offer, even if we’re put off by the thought of negotiating.”

When did she suddenly become so calm, cool, and collected? Joy wondered. That’s my role!

Sloughheart Goes to the Ripper

Jack kusoD. Ripper was perhaps the meanest, most incorrigible, unethical attorney in all of Verdure County, but he was also one of the most effective, and Fen Sloughheart needed effective. In fact, he needed very effective, very badly, and so he found his corpulent body squeezed into a chair in the office of a lawyer, who may as well have been the devil incarnate. Jack D. Ripper would never have stepped within 50 feet of the Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church and Fen Sloughheart would ordinarily have never been caught dead within 50 feet of Jack D. Ripper.

Fen Sloughheart was desperate, though. He very desperately needed a very effective attorney, very sorely, because he was not only in the toughest situation he had ever found himself in his life, he was also very frightened. And so, the fundamentalist preacher who made a career out of denouncing the devil and everything about the devil was now about ready to pay the devil for his services. This particular devil was all too happy to oblige… so long as the preacher man was able to pay, and he did not come cheap.

Fen Sloughheart tried to make himself more comfortable which, due to his obesity, made this quite impossible, so instead he just sat there sweating like a stuck pig. When Ripper finally entered the office Fen thought he might faint, but Ripper quickly sat down behind his desk and got right to the point. “You are a crapulous, uneducated, legalistic, fundamentalist wife beater. For years you’ve gotten away with your unsavory ways, even enjoying a life of some ease and prosperity … and some popularity, which is totally beyond me, but that is none of my damn business.”

Fen was floored and could only open his mouth without uttering a sound. He was astounded to say the least, never expecting his legal consultation to begin this way.

“There’s no use denying it,” Ripper said. “I’ve had plenty of your breed in my office before, and you fit the bill perfectly. So,” the lawyer took a deep breath, “I don’t have time to play games. You abused your wife that night; you know that and I know that, so there is really no use to discuss it in detail. The problems you face are charges of physical abuse in the second degree and, of course, divorce in which your wife is fighting for full custody of your two children. Now you’ve come to me to see what we might do to save your sorry ass. Is that right?”

“Well…” Fen cleared his throat, fidgeting very nervously, “I don’t know; I came here to you for possible legal assistance in this matter upon the recommendation of several members of my church,” which was a lie. “I never expected to be blatantly, flatly accused of being an abusive man by the attorney who might represent me in the court of law.” He was now gathering some modicum of courage. “You are perfectly free to look at my record, both criminal and financial, and you will find those records are clean.”

Jack Ripper leaned back in his chair and laughed a very sardonic laugh. “Reverend, I’m not here to listen to you while you try to defend character and integrity you’ve never possessed. In fact, I really don’t care about your character. We’re just going to begin with the facts and proceed from there; that’s the way I operate. And you’re a wife beater, like I said, and you know it and I know it. So let’s just get past that and focus on the problem at hand. You are being accused specifically of beating your wife that night and then shoving her down the stairwell.”

“In my estimation, even though this is a very serious accusation, it might not be one impossible to mostly nullify, at least in court … Or maybe, hopefully, before court. After all, no one actually saw you beating your wife, and no one actually saw you shove her down the stairwell. Yes, by all physical appearances that is precisely what happened, but in the final analysis it comes down to your word against her word. So our case would likely be that, yes, there was yelling and screaming, and maybe even some threats and pushing, but no actual physical abuse. Your fight that night, we would contend, made its way from your bedroom out into the hall where your wife neared the top of the staircase; in all the nasty confusion your wife misplaced her foot on the top step, lost her balance, and fell headlong tumbling down the staircase to the very bottom. And this accounts for the injuries.”

“Now, of course, you’re having a clean record does come in handy, especially the fact that you have never been reported for abuse. Add to that as many affidavit statements we can solicit from members of your church, family, and the community vouching for the character and integrity you don’t possess will also help. Also, you have been the sole provider for your family; you have a nice home, respectable employment, more than decent transportation, food, clothing and whatnot. During this entire time, meaning your marriage, your wife has not worked for pay even one day. She has not been in the position of having to work because you have been able completely support your entire family by yourself and this you have done consistently. These facts also bode well for you. All of this taken together will make it more difficult for your wife to win full custody of your children. She will of course be granted the divorce, and she will receive mutual custody of your children, and she will be named the primary caregiver. This is just something you’re going to have to suck up and accept, my overly rotund friend.”

Fen Sloughheart actually suddenly felt a sense of great relief. His fears and anxieties began to subside some, and he even began to feel the first small stirrings of hope. Perhaps all was not lost; perhaps he would not go down in flames after all. Perhaps Effete would not win everything, and he would not lose his church and ministry, and the school. Maybe, just maybe, he allowed himself to dream of little, the Lord will allow me some triumph in this horrendous, diabolical battle … even something of a comeback, victorious comeback, righteous resurgence…

“Don’t get any overly optimistic, heavenly ideas preacher,” Ripper cautioned as if he could read Sloughheart’s mind. “We’re going into an uphill battle here. You understand you are facing serious charges; charges we may not be able to simply brush aside. It may very well come down to having those charges reduced, and with all of the evidence and testimony likely to be brought against you, there is a high probability that, even though you may not land in prison, you will at least face a steep fine, some form of community service over the next six months to a year, and essentially lose your children on top of that … or at least only be allowed limited supervised visitation.”

Fen was now just as suddenly deflated; this was going to be bad anyway he looked at it, and all Ripper could do, really, was minimalize the repercussions as much as possible. But if he felt deflated by the latest torpedo from his would-be attorney, he felt completely knocked out of the saddle when Ripper mentioned his retainer fee.

“This legal consultation has cost you a cool $200,” Ripper announced matter-of-factly. “My retainer fee, however, is quite a bit higher, and I don’t give discounts to clergy. In fact, I’m almost inclined to charge more to the religious type, but anyway, my retainer stands at $20,000. This is to be paid upfront and in full. Are you able to make that payment today or sometime within the week? Or ever? If not, then I hope this little legal consultation has helped somewhat, but you’ll need to move yourself on to find a cheaper and much less adroit attorney.”

Fen Sloughheart’s wallet felt very, very thin.

Luce’s Unpleasant Reminiscence of the Sloughhearts

LuceLuce Featherwit was an exception in his family – bright, talented, war veteran, educated – and he seemed to see and hear more; his natural intuition always sharp. One reason he was never sucked in by the Sloughhearts and their ilk. He was just too damn smart! But as he sat in his favorite, old recliner in the living room, staring out on an overcast day, his mind travelled back to the beginnings of the Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church. What a hell of a mouthful, he thought.

Luce was an older contemporary of Fen’s father, Bog Sloughheart, who had grown up in the home of his uncle, the Rev. Dr. Chase Stoutman Charger, after his own parents passed away unexpectedly when he was still but three-years-old. This made the Rev. Dr. Charger older than Luce, of course, but not by that much. This meant that Luce was around when the action began or, more to the truth, arrived in Splinterbit and the surrounding area: the great “Battle Over the Bible” and traditional, (Protestant) Christian faith.

Luce was no theologian or Bible scholar, never had been; he was a civil engineer, now retired, who’d served a couple of terms on the Splinterbit Town Council and one term on the Verdure County Commission. But Luce remembered rather clearly those tumultuous years. ‘Higher criticism’ they called it, he mused, and ‘liberal theology.’ Demonic monsters creeping in to steal our souls … just in time for the Second Coming and so you’d better be ready for the Rapture. Luce audibly chuckled but then turned his memories specifically back to Chase S. Charger.

War veteran, authentic hero, he attended the Charles Spurgeon Christian College immediately upon being honorably discharged, and there earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theology. He wasted no time in then registering as a student at Strictline Bible Seminary, where he earned his Master of Divinity. Charger, an adroit and attractive speaker, then began to preach here and there in various churches throughout the whole region. It was during this time he discovered that, in his estimation, the “old time Gospel” had been virtually thrown out the window in many churches.

True to his character, though, Major Chase S. Charger was intent on arming himself to go to war for the Lord and his truth. And for him, this almost naturally meant more training and equipping, Luce reminded himself. Hell! He may have been an inflexible son of a bitch most of the time, but he was smart, and if he was ‘going to war,’ any war, he at least knew how to go about it! So he attended Zwingli Bible Seminary, where he earned his Doctorate of Divinity. And despite the fact that each institution was theologically conservative-to-ultra conservative, they were academically reputable and accredited. This, in turn, afforded Charger more clout among his peers and more so with the general public throughout Verdure County.

Still fairly young and full of energy, this is when he founded the Ebenezer Bible Church – the addition of “Independent Fundamentalist” would come later – and began publically debating other pastors on various topics, mainly surrounding the credibility of the Holy Bible as “the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God.” And disagree with the hardnosed bastard much as you might, he was quite adept in debate, Luce admitted to himself. No, the Rev. Dr. Chase Stoutman Charger was no pushover; don’t remember his ever leaving an auditorium with his head down and tail tucked … even if he hadn’t quite ‘won.’ He could always at least hold his own.

It was also during this time that Charger acquired an important life responsibility he’d rather not have had foisted on him. His sister and brother-in-law suddenly died in an accident, leaving their three-year-old son, Bog, orphaned. As it turned out, he and his wife were the only family suitable (and at that time, expected) to take in the little tyke, so the conscientious, disciplined veteran took his responsibility seriously and immediately moved Bog into his home, though he never adopted him. Bog would remain Bog Sloughheart, not Bog Charger … and always the nephew, never the son. Strange, too, Luce thought, they never had any other children. Hmmm.

Of course, even though he never wore the name of “Charger,” he did follow in his footsteps; he virtually had no choice. Bog did not attend Charger’s old alma mater, though, because his uncle said Charles Spurgeon Christian College had gone the way liberalism, buying into the higher critical methods of studying Scripture and practically denying some of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Consequently, Bog ended up attending the fairly new King Josiah’s Bible College, where, academically, he faired decently. The next step Charger dictated for Bog was attending Strictline Bible Seminary for an MA in Bible Studies, not a Master of Divinity.

Yep, old Charger said even Strictline was starting to waver, Luce recalled, but he told Bog there were still some good, solid professors in the Department of Bible Studies, and he wanted the young man to take advantage of their vast array of godly knowledge so Bog would be better equipped to defend the faith. Huh! Luce frowned and shook his head. He may have learned something about defending fundamentalism, but he sure as hell didn’t learn anything about how to live the Christian life! This dismayed Luce somewhat, because for all of Chase Charger’s rigidity and austere religiosity, he was generally known and respected as a man of character and integrity; not so Bog Sloughheart.

Nevertheless, upon graduation from Strictline, the Rev. Dr. Chase S. Charger appointed Bog as his assistant pastor, without any opposition from the church council, of course. He already had one assistant pastor, but with Ebenezer having grown to around 400 members there was certainly practical need for another. Besides, it had long been generally conceded that Bog would inherit the pulpit from Charger when the time came, although no one expected that time to come so quickly and shockingly.

One bright, sunny, summer day while walking to the church, Charger just keeled over dead as a doornail, and suddenly the then 28-year-old Bog Sloughheart, now married with one son, found himself taking the reigns of leadership over the Ebenezer Bible Church. Six years of formal, fundamentalist education plus four years directly under the mentorship of his uncle seemed to have prepared him well enough to maintain the status quo but really nothing more. Bog was not an intellectual; not an erudite thinker; not an especially great speaker (though fair to good); not an educator; not an inspirational leader … not really more than an adequate placeholder.

Fen was 10-years-old then, Luce recalled, and thankfully so for the church, I suppose. Naturally, Fen followed his father’s, or Charger’s, course of life … somewhat. Fen attended King Josiah Bible College, but pursued education no further than his Bachelor’s degree. This met with Bog’s approval, of course, because the man assumed that all educational institutions, except for King Josiah’s, had “gone to hell in a hand basket.” Besides which, Fen was already proving himself a better preacher than his father, so Bog was anxious to use him as much as possible to further the church. Membership had dropped off to around 250 under his pastorate. Of course, the times had changed and Ebenezer had not … not one iota, he ruminated, and adding ‘Independent Fundamentalist’ to their name had to make matters worse. Hell, I know it did!

Fen Sloughheart was then made assistant pastor and, almost unbelievably, history repeated itself. After four years serving under his father, Bog Sloughheart just dropped dead. Fen took over, basically latched onto two themes – salvation and the end of the world – and through good, old-fashioned, pulpit-pounding preaching as well as the surprisingly capable staff he appointed, Ebenezer resurged. Point in fact, it was more like resurrection. Fen also had sense enough to update the pew Bibles to the New King James Version and replace the old hymnals with newer, more “user-friendly” ones that were still quite conservative in tone and temper.

All in all, I have to say he made a success of his ministry, Luce admitted to himself, but the ministry and the church also grew darker and more self-insulated. Fen has proven to be nothing like his uncle at all. Three generations marked by three levels of degeneration, he surmised. The first, well-trained and decorated hero, then extensively educated, even if it was in lop-sided, narrow-minded schools. He was not likeable, to be sure, but he was a man of character and integrity. The second grew up in an overly-disciplined, militaristic environment, then pursued higher education, but only went about half as far, and ended up being mediocre, at best, as pastor. He was publicly obnoxious, with nothing in his background to warrant respect, and he was also privately abusive. The third grew up in an abusive home, largely cornered off from the world around him, achieved even less of an higher education, and was really rather publicly insufferable. He was also abusive at home, even more so than his father. But what also struck Luce was the fact that each succeeding generation was more legalistic and fundamentalist than the one before.

“Definitely there’s a connection between education and socialization on the one hand, and spirituality and theology on the other,” Luce offered his analysis out loud to the nicely decorated living room. Sully, his dear wife, would be home soon, so he had to come to some firm conclusion about all this quickly now. Why, he didn’t know, but he just did; it was important for some reason. “Less education and socialization, and I would also add less healthy discipline with some self-sacrifice along the way, adds up to less character, integrity and respectability in general. This also means potentially more dangerous in leadership positions, both in and outside the home.” Luce laughed sardonically. “Funny! Those who call themselves fundamentalists, especially now, lack any good, solid foundation … but, then, I suppose if they had a good, solid life foundation, they wouldn’t be legalistic fundamentalists!” Luce laughed again.

Just then the back door to the garage opened with a sing-song, “Hallo … Luce?” Sully had returned in all her obtuse glory, sounding quit happy, which made Luce happy even though his meditative reflection had been abruptly cut off.

Reviewing One Riveting Week

As was her nature, Joy reviewed the week just ending while she ate her last bites of Crêpe Suzette, finely prepared by Effete. She’d never thought of having an exquisite French desert for breakfast, but the tasty treat along with sliced bananas and tangerines, with milk and a small glass of orange juice completed the perfect morning feast so far as Joy was concerned. Not to mention that Effete ascended in her already high estimation of the woman. She was a veritable chef dessus l’excellence! Rue and Bane were already finished and getting ready for the day.

Certainly the last seven days (or more) had been the most hectic, stressful, heartbreaking, hopeful and productive in her life … and Effete’s, too. They retained the services of Justin Case, one of the best attorneys in Splinterbit, who immediately filed a restraining order and requested temporary orders, including primarily child custody, pending the divorce. Case also promised to have the actual dissolution of marriage papers filed by the end of the week. Thankfully, as well, his retainer was quite reasonable. Thank you, again, Lord!

The meeting with Dr. Pert Kibitz couldn’t have been better. Effete immediately felt comfortable with Joy’s warm and affable ole school chum. And just as Joy promised, the time spent was really not an “official” counseling session, just an introduction and acquaintance time during which, somewhat to Joy’s surprise, there was actually a good deal of laughter and no tears. Joy knew Effete was holding back somewhat, but her laughter was really genuine. Thank you again and again, gracious God!  Effete wanted to go ahead and jump in with both feet as soon as possible, so Pert kindly worked her in for a one-hour on Thursday (striking out her lunch break.)

“You full, or shall I fill your plate again, mademoiselle?” Effete asked in a lightheartedly, affected tone of voice. Actually, she sounded quite French, Joy thought, and how appropriate with the French cuisine! Joy smiled, even more amazed at Effete or, really, the authentic Effete beginning to surface more and more right before her eyes. Thank you again and again and again, God! Bless this dear woman… Oh God! I love her!

“Plus ou pas,” Effete asked with a broad smile. Now Joy was really taken back.

“You cook and speak French?”

Effete chuckled. “Only a wee-little, Reverend,” she replied with a wink.

Well, this was undoubtedly starting out a better day than Wednesday, when the Splinterbit Chronicle called wanting an interview with both Joy and Effete. It didn’t come as a complete shock, since Sage Mentor had kindly warned them the media might very well be poking around for a story. After all, both Fen Sloughheart and Joy Brighterday were well-known figures in the community, and Effete being taking from her home by ambulance to the hospital, and then from the hospital to the residence of Joy Brighterday, whom practically everyone knew the Rev. Sloughheart detested, was quite a journalistic “big fish” for the town … if the right reporter could hook and reel it in.

“Oh, no thank you,” Joy said, stifling another of many yawns that morning. “But it was all excellent, Effete. You absolutely amaze me … more and more each day. Merci beaucoup, and I’ll get the dishes, of course!”

“Hey, fair enough! I’ll go check on my little monsters to finish getting them ready,” Effete said as she wiped her hands with a dish towel, “which shouldn’t be too hard since they’re seeing their new hero, the super-amazing Moxie, today.” She laughed quietly and winked before heading down the hallway.

Really, now that Joy thought about it, the fact that they hadn’t been contacted sooner rather surprised her. Of course, the paper ran what Joy called a “skim milk” article the morning after Effete landed in the hospital, but it consisted of the bare-bones police report and a couple of quotes from neighbors, along with basic information about the Reverend Fen Sloughheart that readers likely already knew. The follow-up came when Effete was released from the hospital with, thankfully, no photos or detailed information about her stay (which was legally confidential anyway.) The paper again managed to get some quotes – two from neighbors and two from members of Ebenezer Church.

Ah, but Wednesday morning rolled around and the Chronicle called. It was 7:30 a.m. and Joy was somewhat prepared. Effete would not be speaking with anyone in the media for the time being, but she did have a statement to release via the pastor of St. Gianna Church, Joy Brighterday herself. Actually, it was Joy’s statement; Effete just gladly accepted it with a “thank you” for protecting her from the media … or trying to, anyway.

“Effete Sloughheart is recovering well, thanks to the excellent care she received at our superb hospital, and her two children are also doing well. For the time being they are not living at their residence and, yes, a restraining order has been issued on the Rev. Fen Sloughheart. Also, her attorney, Justin Case, has in fact requested temporary orders, but Effete would rather not say anymore about this at this time. She would like to thank the police who responded to the incident, as well as the hospital staff who treated her so professionally and caringly. Any further questions about this event should be directed to her attorney.”

And that was that, although the Splinterbit Chronicle got wind of the fact that Effete and her two boys were actually residing with the Rev. Joy Brighterday, and did not hesitate to mention the fact in what was finally their “big catch.” Naturally, they also tried contacting Fen Sloughheart, and naturally he was “unavailable for comment.” However, he had his own statement to release, compliments of the Ebenezer Church’s Board of Deacons:

“First, the Reverend Fen Sloughheart would like the public and, in particular, members of his church to know that he loves and cares for his wife and two children very deeply. He is very thankful that his wife received such excellent treatment by qualified, medical professionals at the hospital. They have his deep and genuine gratitude. Second, the Reverend Sloughheart would like the public and, in particular, members of his church to know what is now rather obvious, and that is that he and his wife have been having troubling issues in their marriage for quite some time – issues that he desires and fully intends to address in an affectionate, understanding, biblical manner. To this end, he asks for the prayers of all believers and, again, particularly members of his church. Third, and finally, the Reverend Sloughheart would very much like to address the particulars of this most unfortunate and distressing incident. However, he has been advised not to do so at this time, except to state again unequivocally his love and genuine concern for his wife and two children, adding in his own words, ‘This horrible episode in our lives will pass, by the grace of God, and we will have a stronger and healthier marriage and family in the end because that is what the Lord intends.’”

Well, Joy thought as she got up to start cleaning the dishes, he must have an inside track on what the Lord intends, because so far as I’m concerned the bastard deserves to be publicly caned … and never allowed behind another pulpit again … or anywhere near a woman again … or children!

“Hey! When are we leaving to go pick up Moxie?” the cheerful voice of Rue rang out.

Effete Inspired by Joy’s Take on Inspiration

Tea“Well, let’s take a look at this whole ‘inspiration’ idea then,” Joy said, as she took another sip from her second cup of hot tea. Effete was positioned on the other side of an old, cozy couch facing Joy catty-corner with her own steaming cup. It was early morning, and the boys were still in bed, but why not let them sleep in on what would hopefully be an uneventful Saturday anyway? Besides, Effete needed some “Joy time” all for herself.

“The one scripture verse you just quoted is the penultimate favorite among legalistic fundamentalists, like your husband,” Joy continued boldly. “The problem is – and this is true in many areas – they miss the point, misfire, and misapply. In this case, they focus on one word, insert a period where there is none, and virtually leave the rest hanging … except maybe for the ‘reproof’ and ‘correction’ part, and that they love!”

Both women laughed, Effete nodding her head. “Oh God, how I know!” She took another sip of tea, set her cup down on the side table, and looked serious again. “But I’m having some real difficulties here, especially now that it seems like everybody knows I’ve left Fen. I feel like I’ve been branded an evil wife, or ‘loose woman,’ rebellious, reprobate … you name it, but whatever it is, it seems to come straight from the inspired, infallible Word of God.”

“Well, first of all,” Joy responded as she set her cup down, too, “everybody may know, but not everybody is condemning you; not by a long shot! In fact, even though I haven’t conducted a scientific survey,” she smiled, “most people who know anything at all about Fen Sloughheart just automatically sympathize with you, even if they don’t know any of the particular reasons why you left… But, you know, word does have a way of getting around. In that case, I know most people will, or already do, sympathize with you … greatly!”

“God, I hope you’re right,” Effete responded and instinctively moved closer to Joy. “I’ve tried till I can’t try anymore, and if the Bible condemns me, then the Bible condemns me. What else can I say?”

Joy put one hand on Effete’s knee and wrapped the other around her right hand. “This book of books we call ‘the Bible’ does not condemn you, my love. In fact, it has no power whatsoever to condemn or justify; that falls within the province of our loving, nurturing God. Scripture, as valuable and holy as it may be, does not sit on the throne of the Almighty.”

“Besides, like I said, they focus on one word in one verse – and that verse really refers to what we call the Old Testament anyway, because the New Testament hadn’t even been completed – and they put the rest down on a lower shelf, so to speak.” Joy was gearing up now, doing what she loved to do in offering passionately, positive instruction; she was virtually made for it … and counseling, too.

“So for your entire marriage, and in that church, you’ve heard the same mantra over and over: ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ (II Timothy 3.16-17, NKJV) To which you could easily have replied, ‘O.k., then, at least every man should be well equipped.’”

Both women virtually cackled at that, with Effete surprisingly adding, “Well, I know one man who’s not so well equipped!” They doubled over laughing, Joy sporting a look of shock on her face. “Not enough inspiration, maybe?” Effete proffered.

“Oh, no!” Joy answered. “He had plenty of inspiration; don’t ever doubt that, Effete! He just evidently wasn’t up to the ‘good work.’” They doubled over again, both astonished at their risqué repartee. “Oh God! Woman, you’re awesome! And it’s so damn good to see you and hear you like this! Thank you, Lord!”

“So, o.k.” Effete retrieved her calm. “‘All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.’ (II Timothy 3.16-17, HSCB) Tell me, my master-teacher, what does this mean? Correct and lead your servant-pupil up and onward to better understanding.”

“Alright,” Joy was still having difficulty catching her breath. “How about we look at that troubling word first. Of course, I’m sure you know it literally means ‘God-breathed.’” Effete nodded in affirmation. “Very important, because the Apostle St. Paul could have said, or written, ‘God spoke it, so-and-so wrote it down.’ Paul did not; instead, he chose the word ‘God-breathed,’ and this makes an indelibly important difference. The Everlasting One breathed.”

“So, how about this paraphrase-type translation that gets to the guts of what the Apostle was telling Timothy? How about, ‘God has breathed life into all Scripture, and it is useful for teaching us what is true. It is useful for correcting our mistakes. It is useful for making our lives whole again. It is useful for training us to do what is right. By using Scripture, the servant of God can be completely prepared to do every good thing.’ (II Timothy 3.16-17, NIRV)  Sound different?” Effete nodded again. “Yeah, well it should, but it is not different from what St. Paul was telling St. Timothy.”

“You see, Effete, the most important part of this passage is not the one word ‘inspired,’ although it is important, of course; it’s the second part … the part about how all of these sacred writings can and should be used. And this is good and positive and uplifting; meant to grow and mature us into the women and men God always intended us to be as humans. Scripture was not given to brow-beat and abuse; it was give to build up and adorn. It was given – and is given – to help us bear what we call the ‘fruits of the Spirit.’”

“Ah, that’s not something we really focused on at Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church.” Effete picked her cup back up to finish off the now lukewarm tea.

“No, I don’t expect so, and how tragic,” Joy instinctively reached for cup, too. “But you know them and, more importantly, you grow them – love, patience, tenderness, goodness, faith, hope, modesty, stamina – and you are an exquisitely gorgeous tree.”

Effete leaned over and placed her head in the crook of Joy’s neck, now one of her favorite spots, and simply said, “Thank you.”

“What’s for breakfast,” came the voice of one bleary-eyed Bane from the mouth of the hallway.

“Something inspired,” Joy replied, and both women laughed again.



God is the God of Truth … Anywhere and Everywhere

religionThe great Medieval Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, purportedly said, “We must accept truth wherever we find truth.” Touché! If God is the God of truth – more than this, if God is truth, as the Christian claims – then it naturally follows that all truth ultimately derives from God, no matter the earthly source.

Now, at the point, many of my dear brothers and sisters in Christ might be tempted to naively limit truth to only that which is found in the holy scriptures of the Christian faith. This line of thinking is easily refuted by the simple reality of the world that has always existed beyond the narrow confines of the Ancient Near East; i.e. the Judeo-Christian scriptures say nothing of the peoples or cultures or historical events of the Korean peninsula, or North and South America, etc.

Perhaps, though, my beloved brothers and sisters of a more narrow mindset would limit the truth in question to spiritual truth – that is, that truth necessary unto salvation – precluding all other religious writing and sacred literature as being false or, at the very least, completely unnecessary. That is to say, all necessary and profitable spiritual truth is contained within the Christian scriptures and these scriptures alone.

Ah, but this is a dubious perspective at best. Certainly, the Apostle St. Paul did teach that “all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (II Timothy 3.16, NRSV)  Forget for the moment that the Apostle was referring to the Old Testament (or Hebrew scriptures), which, interestingly enough, had not even yet been finally canonized in totalitas. Let’s go ahead and apply his statement to the whole of the Christian scriptures (full canon, mind you). To say that “all scripture is inspired by God” is not the same as saying “God inspired only scripture.” St. Paul was making a statement about those scriptures; he was decidedly not  circumscribing the possible inspirations of God throughout the rest of the world.

At this point, some may concede but ask, “Why bother with other religious writings or sacred literature, though? Do we not have enough in the Christian scriptures?” The answer to this is rather simple, really, but important: 1) To broaden one’s psychological, cultural, and spiritual perspective, 2) To deepen one’s own spirituality, 3) To better understand many truths of the Christian faith taught from a slightly different perspective arising from out of a different time and culture, and 4) To more firmly establish universal divine truth.

Certainly St. Jude had no problem with this as he authoritatively referenced I Enoch and the Assumption of Moses as points of truth. (Cf. Jude 1. 6, 9) Even the Apostle St. Paul quotes Greek poets to make, or buttress, an important point of truth. (Cf. Acts 17. 28ff)  So, yes, “all scripture is inspired by God;” however, the light of God has shone forth throughout the world, throughout all generations, even if it was but moonlight in comparison to the brilliance of his revelation to one especially chosen people. Hence, there is no reason the Christian cannot and should not benefit from the sacred literature of the world without compromising his or her creedal convictions; after all … the moon may be dimmer, yet it also has a splendor all its own.

Checking the Checklist With Joy

JoySerious4Riding down the road with Effete early Tuesday morning with an important to-do list, Joy was certainly thankful Moxie had volunteered to watch the boys. Able had a couple of classes that day, but hers all landed on Mondays and Wednesdays this term, and Moxie kind of liked the idea of playing around with Rue and Bane anyway. Not that she really knew them – she didn’t – but Moxie could tell they needed some love and attention … and fun. She seemed more than happy to give it. Besides which, she thought she needed some time away from Able, and laughing and horsing around with a couple of kids seemed like an awesome way to spend that time.

Effete didn’t seem too sure about leaving the boys with Moxie when she answered the door in her rather scanty, black halter top and skin-tight sleep shorts. And, of course, the heart and thorns tattoo in the middle of her lower back didn’t help alleviate any of Effete’s concerns, but Joy told her Moxie had never been known to sacrifice before sundown, adding with a good deal of laughter that they’d be back well before night. Effete was not at all convinced but agreed anyway. After all, even a tattooed, barely-clothed girl had to be better than the hell they’d escaped. Besides, it was high time the boys got to know people outside of fundamentalist circles.

“Are you o.k., Effete?” Joy asked as they stopped at a red light. “They really will be fine, I promise you. Moxie’ll take good care of them, I swear.” And she couldn’t help but laugh again. “Really, it’s pretty early. She just got out of bed… They’ll be fine, o.k.? While we’re running around they’ll have a blast. Moxie’s just like that… Ha! She’ll probably have them flying off the roof in an hour or so…” Joy caught herself. “Just kidding!” She patted Effete on the leg. “Just kidding, but they’ll be alright and they’ll have fun. Meanwhile, we’ll do what we need to do today … every last, tough, boring, painful thing!” The light turned and she took off again.

“You probably think I’m being a real bumpkin or something,” Effete started. “I guess it’s just, I’ve never really left them with anyone before … not really. And someone I don’t know, or … ha! Never met, and … God! I’ve been in one place for so long … one stinking, super-strict, super-religious prison for so, so long…”

“It’s o.k., Effete.” Joy took her hand and gently squeezed.

“If you say they’ll be alright, then I know they’ll be alright. She just seems so … different than what I’m used to.”

“Oh yeah!” Joy erupted into a good belly laugh. “Yeah, she definitely is!” Joy could barely contain herself. “Moxie Keener is one-of-a-kind, that’s for sure… Oh God! You don’t know the half of it…” Joy looked over at the growing fear in Effete’s widening eyes. “And this isn’t really helping, is it?”

“No.” Effete shook her head slowly. “Not at all.” She shook her head a couple more times. “In fact, I think you’d do better this morning if you played straight-laced pastor … or I think I might jump the car and go back screaming for the very lives of my dear children.”

“Oh good heavens, Effete!” Joy chuckled. “No … Come on, I mean it. They’re alright and so are we.” She patted her leg again. “Now! Our checklist!”

“Ugh! I don’t think I can do this… Not all in one day.”

“It’s really not that much, and it’s necessary. Remember, we talked about this last night … far too late last night!” Joy looked over and winked. “Until you finally  rolled over and started sawing some logs!”

“I don’t snore, do I? Did I keep you up? I’m so sorry!”

“Effete! Quit that!” Joy teased her with a mock frown. “And, no, you don’t snore … much. Anyway! Item number one on the agenda. We’re going to see the attorney, Justin Case – good man, great experience, excellent reputation – and he’s a member of my church. Remember what we went over yesterday? I know you do. ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ Right? Be upfront and completely honest – don’t be afraid, I’ll be there the whole time – but keep it to-the-point. Summary of background and history, then ask about restraining order, then temporary custody, and finally divorce and full, permanent custody. In that order, and we don’t let him stray. Right?”

“Yes… Right.” Effete sounded somewhat uncertain and paused for a minute. Joy was just about to get discouraged when Effete nodded her head and said again, “Yep! That’s the plan. I’ve got it, captain!”

“Well, o.k. then!” Joy felt a rush of relief. It was bound to be a long day; she sure didn’t need Effete bowing out on her this early in the game! “Next, we make our way to Dr. Pert Kibitz – friend of mine from high school, actually – and you’re just going to … really just kind of get to know her today. She may, and I stress may, do an initial evaluation if  you both feel comfortable. But mainly it’s an introduction and opportunity to get to know each other, and you’ll love her! She’s very approachable and relaxing, not at all intimidating. And you’ll know right off the bat she wants you to feel as much at ease as possible… I really think it’ll be good.”

After visiting Effete in the hospital that first night, Joy decided she definitely needed an experienced, professional counselor in the loop. Especially if she was going to play the role of sturdy companion and faithful friend. Like her old mentor, Dr. Sharpman, had told her, it wouldn’t be wise trying to wear the hat of psychologist, too … and she wasn’t one anyway! So she’d called up her friend, Pert – now the respected Doctor  Kibitz – to ask for help.  Of course, Pert agreed and invited Joy to bring Effete over Tuesday morning and, best of all, it would be gratis. No charge, which made Joy’s already strained pocketbook quite happy.

“Are you going to be there?”

“Well, of course…” Joy started to answer. “Oh, you mean in the room? Well … I’ll introduce you, and … I may stay for a couple of minutes, but the two of you need to talk privately. You’ll be alight, Effete, I promise.” Joy rubbed her leg reassuringly. “Pert’s a wonderful person. You’ll get along fine. Just remember what we’ve said. You have nothing to be ashamed of, no reason to feel guilty or down on yourself or humiliated or anything like that, and Pert Kibitz will not  do or say anything  to make you feel that way, either. Promise. She’s very understanding, and not only a good person but an excellent counselor, too. And you need that right now.”

“O.k.” Effete breathed out hard. “And then lunch, right?”

“Right!” Joy beamed. “But not just any lunch. We’re meeting Sage Mentor at that little hole-in-the-wall I told you about.”

“She’s the caseworker, right?”

“Yes, but more than that, Sage is just an all-round good adviser. Of course, she’ll want to set up a time to meet Rue and Bane, probably at home – my home … or, guess I should say ‘our’ home now,” Joy grinned and winked at Effete, who allowed herself only the slightest smile in return. “We’ll want to tell her about meeting with the attorney and counselor – and sooner than later put all three in touch with each other so they’re all on the same team with the same game plan, but anyway – we’ll tell her about the morning, then ask specifically about the boys. All the do’s and don’ts and what to be careful about. That sort of thing. And she’ll have some good advice.”

“I’m already exhausted.”

“Chin up, my dear, it’s still too early for napping.” Joy slowed to a stop at another red light in downtown Splinterbit. They could see the courthouse two blocks down, surrounded by mostly shady pseudo-businesses, like payday loan-sharks and bail bondsmen. It somehow seemed fitting to Joy, though, an uninterrupted landscape of exploitation and injustice. “Anyway, the afternoon’s an easy ride. We’ll go to the post office to have your address changed, but unlisted, and then from there to the grocery store … not  the one you usually go to, of course, but the other one I told you about last night when you were yawning in my ear.”

“I did not!” Effete cackled. “Did I?”

“The one just outside town.” Joy ignored the question. “It’s a fun little place. They’ve got a lot of organic stuff at some pretty good prices.”

“Good. After eating a big, fat, juicy hamburger and greasy fries for lunch we’ll be ready for healthy, right?”

“Right!” Joy laughed as she pulled her car into the left turn lane. “It’s balance. Unhealthy, healthy. Unhealthy, healthy. Unhealthy, healthy. See? You just gotta be consistent. Consistency’s the key, my dear!”  They both laughed, especially Effete for the first time that morning. It felt good.

“Thank you.” Effete grabbed Joy’s hand. “For everything… I don’t know what I’d do without you. Thank you.”

“You’re certainly welcome…” Joy pulled into a parking space in front of an unassuming little office, then looked straight into Effete’s eyes. “More than welcome. It’s an honor to know and love someone as kind and wonderful and beautiful as you, Effete… And I mean that with all my heart.” She smiled. “And no matter how exhausting all this may be for both of us, we’re gonna make it.” Joy leaned in closer. “Now, let’s go in, meet Mr. Justin Case, and get item number one checked off our check list. Okay?”