Shall We Live?
Charles Colson and
(Tyndale House)Mr. Colson and Ms. Pearcy have put together a Biblical-looking volume of almost 500 pages to explain to Christians (and would-be Christians) how to live and survive in a world that seems to be falling apart --- where abortions are practiced extensively, where Darwinism is an accepted part of school curricula, and where meditative techniques are taught sub rosa in the public schools.
Colson, as you may recall, was special counsel to President Nixon, and because of his enthusiasm for his work, spent some time in the pokey for perjury. Jail, evidently, is a hell of a good place to practice divinity, and, as a result, he now embraces Christianity of the Fundamentalist School with the same enthusiasm he gave to the enemies list at the White House. When not writing and giving seminars, Mr. Colson preaches through his Prison Fellowship Program to a captive audience.
No matter what his Christian credentials, How Now Shall We Live? seems to be --- how can we say it delicately? --- somewhat hard-hearted. Colson harps, and harps at length, on the perceived failings of non-Christians, and his favorite whipping boys are abortionists, Darwinians, Murphy Brown --- and Hindus and Buddhists.
Ignoring centuries of a noble, peaceful, and profoundly intellectual history, Buddhism pops up in a chapter entitled "New Age Religion." He introduces it by quoting from, of all things, the musical Hair --- "harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding." He then says of Buddhism,
By denying the reality of sin, it fails to assess the crucial truth of our existence --- that we are fallen creatures prone to evil....It assuages the ego by pronouncing the individual divine, and it gives a gratifying sense of 'spirituality' without making any demands in terms of doctrinal commitment or ethical living.
In one fell swoop, the author has laid 2,500 years of Buddhist ethical teachings in the grave --- and patently ignores the fact that the eightfold path is a potent spiritual tract (with its own strict prohibitions) designed to bring a seeker to the meditative ideal of peace and forgiveness.
Further, Hindus (and Buddhists) learned long ago that the concept of "sin" is unnecessarily destructive. It implies a division between "saints" and "sinners," forgetting that these terms are highly subjective. Cruellest of all, it demonizes those who practice other religions.
One would hope that, as he grows older, and hopefully, less malign, Mr. Colson might begin to reflect on the gentleness of Buddhism in contrast with his own rigid view of the divine, for there is good evidence that Christianity --- or the best elements of Christianity --- came out of Eastern worship.
Some religious scholars have suggested, for instance, that Jesus was an Essene, a cult of the time that demanded abandonment of worldly goods and strict pacifism. It has also been thought that Jesus spent many of his "lost years" in India, studying meditative techniques.
Much like the Buddhists immolating themselves in protest the killing fields of war --- Jesus was possibly using meditative techniques to survive the terrible hours on the cross. Clearly, his words, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do is pure tantra --- it absolves others for their ignorance of The Way. For Colson to scorn Eastern religions is to scorn ethical systems that may have created the values of humility and love that are so deeply embedded in New Testament theology.
Before he embarks on his next panegyric, and to help rekindle a spirit of Christian love, we would suggest that Mr. Colson might find it worthwhile to spend some time studying the works of --- for instance --- the Dalai Lama. Snow Lion's recent "Eight Verses for Training the Mind" delivers a lengthy series of lessons on the necessity of forgiveness of others --- forgiveness, for example, of one's enemies (and certainly those who practice different religions) --- in order to create peace within the heart, to build love in the world.
Paradoxically enough, as with many Evangelicals, Mr. Colson abuses the Bible frightfully. He calls it "God's revelation in Scripture," but he is quick to ride rough-shod over those parts that don't jibe with his own belief system, especially the more down-to-earth elements. In none of his writings, for example, will you find reference to the wonderfully earthy back-and-forth between God and Moses that appears in "Exodus" --- in which Moses ends up getting mooned. Moses demands to see God's face, and God says, forget it, "because no man shall see me and live." Moses nags and nags, so God says,
O.K. But just this once. I'll put you in a cleft in a rock, and I'll pass by, and I'll take my hand away, so you can see me. But remember, no man can see my face and live.
At that point, as the text states, wryly enough, "I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen."
Colson and his co-religionists also choose to ignore the exquisite multi-racial, passionate love poem that we now know of as "The Song of Songs." As the Oxford Companion to the Bible says, "The Song's frank erotic imagery, its indifference to social proprieties such as marriage and reproduction, and its lack of overtly religious sentiments have forced generations of exegetes to allergorize its sensuality to bring it into harmony with the social control of sexuality sought by most biblical scholars."
Mr. Colson also has an unusual take on Satan, His vision of Beelzebub ignores the Bible's own description of the powerful and mutually dependent relationship between the fallen angel and the Divine. "Zachariah" (3:1-7) and "1 Chronicles" (21:1) present Satan as an agent acting on God's behalf. In the "Book of Job," The Oxford Companion points out that Satan appears as "a legitimate member of God's Council." The Book of Job itself is a hair-raising tale of God and the Devil jointly deciding to wipe out Job's family and wealth, and --- as well --- inflicting the poor old fellow with a ghastly attack of boils, just to see if these troubles will crack his faith. Job thus becomes a plaything, a fly in the hands of the Divine and the being who (even now, as we speak) sits there on "the left hand of God."
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Like many fundamentalists, Mr. Colson has a paranoiac view of the devil. He is everywhere, working diligently to lead humans into sin. Contemporary psychology teaches us that such a world-view tends to externalize evil, creating bifurcated personalities --- eg, "the devil made me do it." Perhaps this religiously sanctioned schizophrenia explains why evangelicals tend to see plots everywhere. For example, Mr. Colson says that "New Age programs have even permeated our elementary and secondary schools." He describes a book called Meditating With Children that teaches the concept "that we all are God, that salvation consists in realizing our divine nature."
He quotes the book as saying, "Your Clear Mind is the best friend you will ever have....It is always close to you, and it will never leave you." He then tells us, "This sounds suspiciously close to biblical language: I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Josh. 1:5)" Another phrase, he says --- "I am me, I am enough" --- has echoes of biblical themes: I am who I am. (Exod.3:14)."
His conclusion: New Age folks are inculcating the minds of our young with Hinduism by writing phrases which are very close and almost indistinguishable from to Biblical phrases. These writings are then secreted in children's books to implant destructive New Age doctrines of self-belief.
Those of us who lived through the age of McCarthy find these fears to be similar to the fears of the militant anti-Communists --- the Communists were remarkably shifty; they were everywhere --- in disguise; and they had an uncanny ability to destroy the will of innocents.
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Colson and his co-religionists carefully ignore the harsh parts of "Leviticus" and "Deuteronomy." The only exception --- those chapters having to do with "a man lying with mankind, as he lieth with a woman." For example, "Deuteronomy" 21 gives specific methods for dealing with a son who is "a glutton, and a drunkard," who is "stubborn and rebellious" and "will not obey our voice." The solution: "The men of the city shall stone him with stones, that he die."
Now, it's entirely possible that Mr. Colson and other evangelicals subscribe to this treatment for juvenile delinquents --- they just don't talk about it very much. In direct contradiction of the tenets of Jesus, they are bitterly unequivocal in their affection for capital punishment. They see it as the best deterrent for society's wrongdoers, ignoring the grisly fact that, 2,000 years ago, in the Roman Empire, crucifixion was the most favored form of capital punishment.
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When Colson was Special Counsel to President Nixon, he famously said, "I would walk over my grandmother if necessary to assure the President's reŽlection." And in his office, these words appeared above his desk:
If You Have Them By The Balls, Their Hearts and Minds Will Follow.
The personality traits that made him one of the scariest operatives in Washington have, evidently, not disappeared; they've just been transmogrified into a new Charles Colson, appearing in the role of principal gun-slinger for The Divine.
--- Ignacio Schwartz