The Heretic and The Absolutes

the obligatory, black & white, author-ish headshot

Most people know me online as either bob_tomato – a nickname I used for several years writing reviews at the now defunct epinions.com – or as neodrew, a mostly harmless, game-playing, karaoke-singing tech nerd. Here, I will simply be me: Andrew Padgett, a husband, father, number-crunching analytic, part-time amateur media creator, and full-time verbal processor. Combine all of these things with a level of skepticism that mildly amuses / annoys most of my friends, and you have the makings of a modern “doubting Thomas”…

I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, the oldest of three kids, self-righteously stubborn about being right all the time (I was NOT – ask my sister). My father was a teacher and later a principal at Fremont Christian School, the private school we kids attended. The school was operated by the Assembly of God church our family called home. My dad was frequently busy grading homework or dealing with school business, but he made time for teaching me to love golf, the San Francisco Giants, and the Forty Niners. My mom was a housewife until my late teens, and was a constant guiding presence in my life.

The things I was taught growing up, whether at home, school, or church, were mostly influenced by the evangelical perspective of Fremont First Assembly. Growing up, I simply accepted what I was taught as factual. I did my best to dutifully behave, pass my classes and be a good Christian according to the standards set for me. As I got older, my thinking was grounded in what I had been taught from childhood. After I married and my wife and I began our own life together, I found myself in an entirely new reality.

After I’d been married some years, fathered three children (one of whom passed away in a drowning accident at the age of two and a half – expect this to come up in the future), I transferred to Texas for work. We settled in to a small town in the Dallas area, and we quickly got involved in a church community that seemed a good fit for us. Life continued on, the kids grew up, and my wife and I dealt with the complications of our shared experiences. Mistakes were made, some long-standing issues reared up, but we managed to work our way through these things together.

Most of the work we did to make progress in our relationship was based in honest communication. We talked through a lot of bad habits, thought processes, and beliefs we held that influenced the decisions we’d made – good and bad. And as we continued to talk things out, it became clear that my beliefs had changed. Things I had been taught as a child didn’t line up so neatly with life any more. Things we learned in new churches challenged old thinking, and our discussions began to range into possibilities that I had never considered.

My wife and I began to discuss the possibilities of what Biblical authors really intended to say, and what Jesus actually meant for his followers to do. I have always been willing to allow my mind to wander down unexplored paths, to see what might be found. What I found in our discussions was quite different than anything I’d learned in Sunday School. The God we talked about was not the God presented in the modern church. Their God seemed unable to handle any of life’s experiences that were outside the comfort zone of any traditional moral code. Their God wasn’t big enough to handle difficult questions that challenged accepted theological positions.

And at the heart of it all, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there were values common to all of humanity, things that transcend religions, cultures and boundaries, things that were truly universal. Things like Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control – does this list sound familiar? For Christians, it should – this is the “things against which there is no law” list that Paul wrote in Galatians 5. Yet, these things aren’t made somehow MORE special when practiced by a professed Christian.

Anyone can exhibit these qualities, no matter what their personal faith might be. In fact, none of them actually require a Christian belief or “the leading of the Spirit”. What they require is for someone to choose to put the needs of others above their own and serve their needs. Jesus spent over three years teaching this as a functional way of living to his followers (none of whom were “saved” since Jesus hadn’t yet died for anyone’s sins, so, if you think about it, being “saved” isn’t required for any of this, but I digress).

Here’s my paraphrase of Jesus’ instruction to his followers:

“Love God and love people as you live each day. Speak and act as I have shown you by my example. Become a good example yourself, so that those others around you might choose to live the same way”.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, Neodrew VERSION

What we saw within the church in the United States (I call it The American ChurchTM) was a largely selfish, insular community that sheltered in place, that seemed to care primarily about the business of doing church, rather than actually being Christ-like within their communities. To my eyes, the things on Paul’s list appeared fairly unimportant to The ChurchTM. Following the instruction was far less necessary than getting people down to the altar, and then inside the building for conferences and revivals.

And then, 9/11. The Bush era. Mitch McConnell and the rise of obstructionist opposition. Or, as the The American ChurchTM likes to call it – “Patriotism.” “Freedom.”

“Righteousness.”

Ever since the Reagan administration, conservative politicians have leaned ever more heavily on the so-called Moral Majority, now more commonly understood as single issue evangelical voters. Voters who ignore most of the reality facing most of society in favor of legislating their selective morality. And when those others had the audacity to hope for lasting change by electing its first black President, the Republican Party became the party of obstruction. Evangelicals became morality warriors on social media, proclaiming themselves the arbiters of everything good and right with America. To them, the black man in the White House was the Antichrist, a man who could not open his mouth unless it was already filled with a lie.

This is not the church I was raised in. These are not the sort of followers Christ has taught to be examples of his way of living. I struggle to reconcile Christ’s commission with conservative agendas that ignore the poor, the hurting and the hungry within a so-called “Great Society” that purports to be founded on “Judeo-Christian principles.”

And in the midst of this chaos, the evangelicals elected a President who is the actual antithesis of everything Jesus taught. A man who actively sought to cheat his way out of deals he crafted. A man who actively denies the claims of over twenty women alleging sexual abuse and misconduct. A man who actively reviles the poor, the hurting and the hungry.

They called him God’s hammer. They anointed him the elected savior of our sacred Judeo-Christian nation. They said he would break the chains of liberal evils off our society. The religious symbolism was overt and absolutely backwards.

All he has done is lie.

Check the Washington Post’s tracking list of the tens of thousands of lies Trump has told. Unless you believe the Post is fake news? That’s a classic gaslighting move of a fascist government – constantly declaring that the media is the liar. We all recognize there are challenges with our media today, but fake news is not what they do.

Fake is how Donald Trump and today’s GOP operate. Look at all of the recent court cases rejecting the ridiculous and evidence-free claims made by Trump’s legal team. Look at the baseless and unproven accusations of rampant fraud.

Look at what Donald Trump is saying right now. Look at his actions right now. Look at what his followers are willing to repeat when he or other GOP leadership make ever-more ridiculous claims. The truth is not in any of them.

I challenge you to find genuine examples of Donald Trump telling the truth about this election. I challenge you to find genuine examples of the President choosing to act in any way that would demonstrate his alleged Christianity. I don’t care whether he, or anyone else, says he is “saved.” Go find examples. Go ahead. Bring them to my Facebook page and we’ll talk about them.

But I need to wrap this up, so –

Read Jesus’ instructions again. Read Paul’s list again. These things are Important. Universally so. They apply to everyone, and they are evident when anyone chooses to serve selflessly.

Collectively, I call these things The Absolutes. And in one word, they are simply Truth

It is my assertion that Truth is the lens by which all must see, hear and process reality.  No one can determine what is real and what is not real if they cannot recognize facts. If you can’t recognize facts, recognizing truth is impossible.

Throughout history, Truth has always been attacked, obscured, and abused by those seeking to manipulate reality to their advantage. If you think I am being partisan, I’m not. All politicians throughout history have manipulated facts in an effort to gain power.

Over the past four years, America has experienced a well-coordinated, heavily-concerted attack upon reality by those seeking to maintain their waning power. Their constant gaslighting and pervasive propaganda have created an Orwellian alternate reality where facts are fiction, science is suspect, reason is ridiculous, and Truth has become heretical.

In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act

ascribed to George Orwell

Here is my purpose for this blog: I plan to talk about this reality we find ourselves in, and to discuss it through the lens of the Absolutes .  Absolutes are those Things I believe are universally good within the human experience. Things that are common to each of us, and that often find different forms of expression.  Things that Jesus taught us to live by, and that Paul says are the evidence of such a life.

Absolutes have the power to free us from lies. They are the Truth our society needs to understand and live by. We need to free ourselves from the alternate reality we now experience.

These days, Truth is Heresy.  The only way to talk Truthfully is to frame it Absolutely.

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