DIY Christianity: Everything you need to build your own personal faith experience!

I wish I could say that I was surprised by the Rob Bell controversy from last week, but it is really just the latest installment of our cultural surrender to subjectivism.

To those who have erased all the lines in their endless search for equality, the difference between the holy and the profane is really just a figment of our collective imagination, either the result of one’s upbringing or of their reliance upon obsolete religious texts written two thousand years ago.

The definitions are disappearing, and while the church tries to fight the wars without, we forget about the wolves within. Maybe it’s time for a refresher.

There is a sense in which the only power God gave mankind is what he gave to Adam in the Garden: the power to name. Think about it. The ability to classify, define, and communicate was the first power and responsibility granted to mankind, and has become the basis of literally every single thing we comprehend as human beings: beauty, strength, virtue, mathematics, philosophy, science, art, government – even language itself.

The power to define is the power to know, in every conceivable way. Too often we get lost in Christian terminology and don’t realize that God’s consistent call to holiness in scripture is the single most empowering call in the history of the world. To say that God is holy is true because he is not like us. To say that believers constitute a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” is true because we are called to be separate from the world at large, in our thoughts, our words, and our behavior. To be holy is to be more than just human, and can distinguish a person in a way that no physical trait or personality attribute ever could. This is the call of the Bible.

A confused form of make-it-up-as-you-go relativism has been at work in the church for some time, but is just now hitting its stride within a millennial culture that is experiencing a rebirth of spiritualism that stands in direct rebellion against the militant secularism popularized by the “God is dead” generation. Many younger Americans who do not directly identify with any organized religion still claim to believe in God and tend to accept spirituality. The combination of religious decline with an increase in spiritual awareness creates a perfect environment for moral and ethical relativism. Far from the overt bleakness of secular humanism, the do-it-yourself faith concept allows each person to dictate their own belief, their own virtues, their own sins, their own heaven and hell, and their own god.

The discomfort of distinction is nothing compared to the hopelessness of worshipping gods made in our image: if God can be anything, then God is nothing. If scripture is broad enough to reconcile the teachings of St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and Dwight Moody, with those of Rob Bell, Joel Osteen, and Fred Phelps, then scripture itself is meaningless. If being a Christian means whatever we want it to mean, then it means nothing at all, and Christianity really is everything the secularists claim – a crutch for the weak and the fearful, an attempt by the ignorant to make sense of the unexplained.

But for those seeking an unbounded means of spiritual expression, or just something a little more flexible than the whole “holiness” thing, here are a few tips to building your own personalized spiritual encounter.

The DIY Faith Kit: Build Your Own Faith in Six Easy Steps

 

  1. Have a really, really emotional experience. Why should the power of emotion in faith be limited to Pentecostal churches? Often the best way to get your emotional groove on is to get a visit from an angel or prophet. If you haven’t seen either of those around lately, a combination of mind-altering substances, meditation, and near-death experiences can often be a useful substitute. Rock concerts, college campuses, and Las Vegas are great places to find all of those things together. A strong emotional experience is often a catalyst for spiritual awareness, and if you’re finding it hard to jump-start your spiritual senses, emotion is a great way to do it. Emotion also plays an important part in deciding which religious truth fits your lifestyle, and which might be better left to those bigots who embrace traditional morality.
  2. It’s important that you find a connection to something beyond yourself, even if that something is just your imagination. If you like the idea of a god (or gods), that’s cool – you can choose from a wide variety of deities including, but not limited to, Jehovah, Allah, Odin, Zeus, Buddha, Krishna or John Lennon. If “god” is not your thing, concepts like collective consciousness, self-actualization, material paganism, or societal advancement can come in handy. The best part is that any and all of these may be grouped together, since we all worship the same god anyway.
  3. Once your supreme truthgiver is firmly in place, proceed to try to imagine what they want from you and structure your life accordingly. Every religion needs some sort of standardization, but with the DIY faith kit, that standardization can be customized to fit your individual needs. Just make sure that any rules you lay down are always dependent upon circumstance, and always remember that you have veto power in all moral decisions. Simply close your eyes, decide what makes you happy, and remember that your god of choice would never want you to be unhappy! It is not recommended that you refer to existing religious texts for your DIY faith. These inflexible passages tend to promote unhappiness and lay out truth claims that are uncomfortably exclusive. That kind of rigid dogma is also notoriously difficult to defend when speaking to others who may choose a different faith route. Your DIY faith, on the other hand, can easily be discussed with anyone, completely absent conflict! Just remind them that you have a right to believe whatever you want, and that your god is just as real to you as theirs is to them.*

    *may not apply to Radical Islamists

  4. Choose a lifestyle to fit with your personal religion. Part of the fun of starting up your own faith is that you can then build a lifestyle to match, completely free of guilt or fear. Want to love your enemies? Great! Want to behead your enemies? Great! Just remember that the worst sin of all is judgment, so everyone’s personal priorities are equally valid!
  5. Every faith needs a motivator, and with your DIY faith kit, you can customize heaven and hell to fit your individual spiritual needs. Think of the absolute best thing you’ve ever experienced: Christmas with the family, your first time trying Oxycontin, that first night with your significant other, or that nature trip you took a few years ago. Any of those experiences can become your own personal heaven, to be sought after by following your prescribed faith path. Best of all, since you choose your own moral pathway, you never have to worry about being selfish or feeling guilty for pursuing things that make you happy. Because in the end, happiness is heaven for us all. The hell package is optional, but can serve as a useful attachment for those who might find they have a harder time refraining from self-destructive behaviors, or to those who simply need something awful to wish on that person who just cut them off on the freeway.
  6. Evangelize! Once your faith is custom-built to suit your needs, it’s time to help others find their way as well. You will find that showing others how easy it is to explore their spirituality, without actually knowing what spirituality is, can be incredibly rewarding. Too many people still ascribe to outdated notions of sin and repentance, believing in a God who holds mankind accountable for their actions, and whose standards are completely inflexible. Many of these poor folks refuse to seek out their own fulfillment, content to live by rules written centuries ago by a bunch of racist, sexist, homophobic bigots who had little understanding of the complex nature of human happiness. But the DIY faith kit has something for everyone, and even Christians will find that they can have a completely satisfying faith experience completely divorced from the teachings of scripture. Several leading pastors have already adopted our simple process, and have had great success in leading people out of the past, and into a future of personal spiritual fulfillment.

     

Stop making excuses! Get out of those musty old manuscripts, and step into a bright new future, with the DIY faith kit!

Rand Returns to His Roots

Nobody thought that former US Representative Ron Paul would show up in Iowa this week to stump with his son, Kentucky Senator and likely 2016 presidential candidate Rand Paul; but when Rand took the stage to deliver the keynote at an “Audit the Fed” rally hosted by Liberty Iowa, there was a whole lot of Ron in the room.

Ron Paul shirts, Ron Paul hats, and Ron Paul stickers adorned many of the roughly 120 people that gathered in Des Moines to hear the younger Paul speak. Even the speech itself sounded a lot more like the fiery Texas Congressman of yore than the polished, diplomatic tenor that Rand has worked to fine-tune over the course of his fairly recent emergence on the national stage.

While at times Sen. Paul has shied away from his libertarian heritage, he seemed to embrace it fully on Friday night – to the applause of an energetic crowd of Liberty activists from around Iowa. “Anybody here want to audit the fed?” Paul bellowed to the cheering audience as he took the stage. His opening line was a shot over the bow of the Federal Reserve, and an indicator that recent competition from the rest of the 2016 field may have pushed him back into consolidating the liberty vote, before expanding his appeal to other groups in the often-cliquish Iowa GOP.

Throughout his nearly 20-minute speech, he threw out plenty of libertarian red meat to his audience, hitting on executive overreach, prison sentencing reform, and foreign non-interventionism. After tearing into the lack of transparency and accountability demonstrated by the Federal Reserve, Paul discussed the more specific problem of backing currency with undisclosed federal “assets”, which according to him constitute taxpayer liabilities. “Once upon a time, your dollar was as good as gold. Then for many decades they said your dollar was backed by the full faith and credit of government. You know what it’s backed by now?” Paul quizzed. “Used car loans, bad home loans, distressed assets, and derivatives.”

Claiming that the practices of the Fed were also connected to the problem of income inequality, he took the opportunity to zing the Obama administration on the issue. “Yeah, I think there is (income inequality). It seems to be worse in cities run by Democrat mayors, states run by Democrat governors, and countries run by Democrat presidents,” Paul challenged, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.

He then pivoted to criminal justice reform, where he touted his willingness to work with the Obama administration and former Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder, shortly before his departure from the AG office, effectively barred civil forfeiture – a practice in which suspects could have assets seized by government agents without any formal charge or complaint filed against them. Paul praised the decision to end the practice, but took a shot at President Obama’s current nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, for openly supporting the continuation of civil forfeiture. “She confiscated 100 million dollars from people who were never charged, she’s ignored the reforms, she’s not filed the paperwork, she’s not trying to prove anybody guilty – she just takes their stuff,” Paul fumed. “That is turning justice on its head, and we should defeat her.”

Paul also delved into the separation of powers within the federal government, quoting Montesquieu and condemning the executive branch for assuming legislative powers through federal regulatory agencies that he claimed were never permitted by the Constitution. “Congress writes the laws, the President executes them,” said Paul. “But the President does not write law, and we need to stop him.”

He then proceeded directly to the holy grail of the Liberty Movement – and possibly its most distinguishing feature in a Republican Party that almost universally pays lip-service to limited government ideals: foreign non-interventionism. While calling for a robust debate about sending troops anywhere to defend vital American interests, Paul said that the decision to go to war belongs to Congress alone, and called it “the most important vote that any legislator will ever take.” Taking a swipe at the more hawkish national defense wing of the GOP, Paul pledged that whether as a Senator or a presidential candidate, he would continue to promote a return to a constitutional foreign policy. “There will be one loud voice in our party saying, ‘think of the unintended consequences…think about what we want to accomplish and whether it will work before we go to war,'” he promised.

His willingness to speak candidly on issues of great importance to the Liberty Movement was refreshing for some in the audience. James Schneider, of Cedar Falls, who showed up in a Ron Paul tee shirt, said he’s very concerned about the Federal Reserve. “The four-trillion-dollar debt that Rand just talked about tonight, I want to know who’s buying that up, and what that’s all about, and why we’re accepting this.” Schneider, who has a favorable view of Liberty Iowa, was impressed with Rand’s speech but is open to hearing from other potential 2016 candidates as well. “I’d be very interested in hearing Ted Cruz speak, if he were to come through and do something like this as well,” said Schneider. “I’d probably listen to Scott Walker as well, but Ted kind of stands out there a little more.”

Others in the audience are sure that they have found their man for 2016. Taylor Egly, a 2012 Ron Paul supporter and 2014 candidate for the Iowa House, acknowledged that his mind is made up. “I like Rand’s track record, I like the bridges he’s built; I think that’s very helpful to build those coalitions,” said Egly. “I’m pretty much on board with Rand 100% at this point.”

Paul’s natural appeal to the Liberty audience could prove to be a critical factor in what is sure to be a crowded 2016 field. In Iowa, the strident Liberty Movement seems willing to give him a look for the presidency, and at least for now, Rand Paul may find that the best way to grow his appeal, is to return to his roots.

Cruz to Liberty Movement: No Softballs

Nearly two weeks ago, just prior to his appearance at Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz carved out some time to meet with leading liberty activists from around Iowa. The low-key meeting, held in Des Moines, was many activists’ first time to meet the libertarian-leaning Tea Party firebrand. It was also Cruz’s first time fielding questions from a crowd comprised almost exclusively of members of the thriving Iowa Liberty Movement. Cruz opened with high praise for former Rep. Ron Paul’s rapidly-maturing political army. “The power, the energy of the Liberty Movement is inspirational,” said Cruz. “I think it is starting to change the almost inevitable currents of Washington.” He went on to discuss his appreciation for libertarian thinkers like Hayek, Bastiat, and von Mises, keying on areas of agreement with his audience.

Cruz, who recently challenged Republicans to “lighten up a little”, also threw in some of his characteristically disarming humor. Admitting himself to be a “geek” while discussing his high school pursuits, the 44-year-old Senator related an instance in which he recently dropped a Star Trek reference to his younger policy staff in Washington. As the story goes, the Senator sat at a desk, picked up a computer mouse inquisitively, and proceeded to speak into the mouse with his best Scottish brogue, “Computer! Computer!” as though expecting the computer to respond to his voice. When his staff greeted him with bewildered stares, Cruz had to explain that he had been imitating the Enterprise’s affable engineer, Scotty, in a comedic scene from Star Trek IV. “It made me feel both old, and really geeky,” Cruz confessed, spurring laughter throughout the room.

The questions started rolling, and Cruz fielded broad queries about executive overreach, shutting down government agencies, and changing the culture of Washington. But after the first couple questions, the Senator paused and threw down the gauntlet. “Let me make a brief request, which is just in general: no softballs,” he challenged, “Ask the hard questions. I suspect not everyone here is right now inclined to support me, so ask the hardest questions you have and let’s have a conversation.” Emphasizing the importance of forthrightness, he added a promise on his end. “I’m not gonna blow smoke at you. Where there are areas we agree I’ll tell you, where there (are areas) where we disagree I’ll tell you… And I hope you will come to conclude that where we are on the same page you can trust me to say it.”

Though several faces in the room full of notoriously-combative libertarians registered surprise, they certainly took up the challenge.

The next hour saw a blitz of questions about a wide range of issues, from Cruz’s own eligibility for the Presidency (a challenge Cruz insisted had no legal or constitutional merit), to states’ rights and marijuana legalization, to the Patriot Act and the NSA’s domestic spying scandal. There was even a question regarding Cruz’s rumored relationship to the Council on Foreign Relations – a group generally despised by the Liberty Movement.

Though the Senator managed to navigate two hours of pointed questions without much disagreement, several activists did take issue with what they saw as an ambiguous answer regarding his criticism of the Obama administration for failing to enforce federal drug laws, as well as his assertion that the greatest threat to US national security was a nuclear Iran. “Greater than the national debt?” Quizzed one activist. “Yes,” Cruz responded, “And I am very concerned about the national debt, but the national debt is not going to drop nuclear weapons on us.”

Throughout his responses, Cruz maintained a theme of action over talk. “All of us are cynical on politics and distrust politicians. And you know what? I agree with you – Do not trust any one of us,” said Cruz. “Every one of us should ask any politician, ‘you say you believe these principles? Show me. When have you stood up and fought for them?’ Don’t even ask people what they believe – they can pander. Just ask a real simple question: ‘what have you done on this issue?'”

Inevitably, the conversation turned to 2016 and the prospects of the dueling candidacies of Cruz and fellow “Whacko Bird” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Likening the Republican Primary to the NCAA basketball tournament, Cruz admitted that Rand was strong in the libertarian “bracket”, but made it clear that should he run, he would fight for the liberty vote as well. “I intend to vigorously contest (for support from the Liberty Movement), and I think it’s entirely consistent to fight for liberty… and to fight for conservative principles as well,” said Cruz. He also noted that he was the only candidate in the country in 2012 to be endorsed by both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum in his Texas Senate race. “Now, those are two worlds that are not normally arm-in-arm,” Cruz explained in an understatement that drew laughter from the room.

He highlighted his support for the USA Freedom Act, legislation that Paul did not support alongside Cruz and Mike Lee (the third Senator in the Tea Party Triumvirate). Paul was the deciding vote against the bill, which Cruz described as the single best opportunity to protect civil liberties. “Had Rand voted yes,” he added, “we could have taken it up.”

He also managed to indirectly implicate Rand for failing to stand with him and Lee against moderate party leadership and then-minority leader Mitch McConnell during the debt ceiling fight – reminding the room of a relationship that has consistently engendered distrust for Rand within the Liberty Movement.

Sen. Cruz also took time to tout his co-sponsorship of the Smarter Sentencing Act and Audit the Fed – two touchstone issues within the libertarian wing of the GOP. He also tapped into the non-interventionist tendencies of the Liberty Movement during a discussion of foreign policy, holding up an amendment that he successfully added to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act which required the Defense Department to conduct a review of overseas bases in an attempt to “reduce our overseas footprint”.

Cruz concluded by painting himself as the most consistently principled candidate in a soon-to-be-crowded Republican primary, and challenging his hearers to look beyond rhetoric and judge the records of those who would ask for their support. “Y’all are looking for people who are willing to stand up to the Washington corruption, who are looking to stand up to both parties, what I would suggest is look to the field and ask ‘who’s actually doing that?’ Look at the dozen biggest fights of the last two years…and ask ‘who has stood up to fight on those, and who has been willing to stand up against the establishment of both parties?'”

After the meeting ended, Cruz – already running late for his next engagement – stuck around to shake hands and take pictures with the activists, even fielding a few pop-quiz-style yes or no questions as his staff worked to get him to the car.

While noncommittal in terms of support, several of the activists in the room said that they were impressed with Cruz – particularly with his willingness to meet and address issues relating to the Liberty Movement in a candid Q and A format.

Attendee Gabe Lanz of Des Moines said he came away with a better feeling toward Cruz overall. “He was frank, didn’t run from the tough or uncomfortable questions, and gave further insight to his past that displays a record of championing and fighting to preserve conservative principles,” said Lanz.

Dr. John Bowery, Page County GOP chair and longtime Republican activist, says that Cruz carried himself well and answered questions frankly, and will be keeping an eye on Cruz’s impending candidacy. “A candidate doesn’t have to agree with me on every point to win my support, but he does need to show that he can learn and listen as well as communicate. I am looking forward to see if Senator Cruz passes that test.”

Others look forward to hearing Cruz elaborate further on issues of concern – most notably states’ rights and US-Iranian foreign policy. But one thing is certain – Cruz is serious about coming after the liberty vote, and some members of the Liberty Movement are willing to hear him out.

CRUZ ON THE ISSUES

On executive overreach: “One of the most troubling aspects of Washington is the explosion of the federal regulatory state. It’s a fourth branch of government with unelected bureaucrats that frankly are accountable to no one, and they view elected officials  like a mild annoyance that will come and go… One of the things we have never seen a president do, is use the full, Article II authority of the presidency to go directly after the regulatory and administrative state, to start dismantling this regulatory morass.”
On shrinking government: Would shut down the Department of Commerce and the Department of Education, as well as the IRS.  Wants to implement a flat tax so simple that Americans can file their taxes on a postcard, which would lay the groundwork for a transition to a Fair Tax system.

On how to change the culture of Washington: “At its core, what I have been trying to do in the Senate is bring a ‘disruptive app’ to Washington to change the means of decision-making, and to move the power out of Washington, to the American people – to the grassroots,” said Cruz. “What we have to do is to make it politically more risky to do the wrong thing, than it is to do the right thing – change the calculus. And that’s a lesson the Liberty Movement understands.”

On the Patriot Act and domestic spying: “I would not vote for a straight-up reauthorization of the Patriot Act.” Supported USA Freedom Act that would have ended bulk data collection by the US government.

 

 

On the military-industrial complex: “You want to talk about people with effective lobbies, that’s right at the top of the list. A weapons system will be built in ten different states because it is members of Congress trying to bring home the bacon.  When it comes to defense spending, I think the focus should be on ‘what are the national security needs of the country?’ not, ‘What brings jobs to my particular district?’

 

On gun rights: Referenced his now-famous exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on the 2nd Amendment. Opposes any effort to scale back 2nd Amendment rights.

On foreign policy and ISIS: “I am a constitutionalist. I have been very outspoken that before military conflict, Congress needs to authorize it,” said Cruz. “We need to have a congressional debate about authorization.  What the President is doing is illegal and unconstitutional.”

 

On pain-capable right to life legislation: “I strongly support pain-capable legislation. As a matter of principle, we should not have exceptions.  But I will also take incremental gains.”

 

 

On state drug laws and his prior criticism of the Obama Administration for failing to enforce marijuana laws in states that have legalized pot: “What I was focusing on with respect to marijuana prosecution was not the Colorado and Washington state piece, but rather, Eric Holder has unilaterally instructed US attorneys not to prosecute for certain smaller amounts of marijuana possession,” said Cruz. “With respect to states that have affirmatively legalized pot, my view is a federalist view, which is (that) we should defer to the states on that.”