Cosmopolitan Concerns

Today, while waiting for a beef burrito at a Zip Trip gas station, I was jolted by my cultural cluelessness. What planet I have been living on for 30 years? That’s the amount of time that has passed since I last looked at Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Its current cover features Miley Cyrus decked out in a bejeweled flesh-colored outfit with the following headline: “It’s Party Time: Eat, Drink and Twerk Your A** Off.” Another headline expressed an exciting holiday wish: “Sex Up your Holiday: 38 Naughty…”

You get the idea.

“Cosmos” is the ancient Greek word for the world. “Cosmopolitan” is the modern English world for worldly. Indeed, worldliness is nothing new. And yes, I was well aware that bad taste sells magazines. Still, those of you rolling your eyes at my naiveté’ may need a renewed sense of how much has changed in 30 years. I remember when Cosmopolitan Magazine featured beauty tips, home décor and a little harmless idolatry offered up to celebrities.

Maybe I was more naïve back when I took our culture’s idolatry so lightly. Maybe I am more naïve today in terms of how God works in the midst of evil to do His good. Maybe God is working behind our current cultural rot to help us distinguish the things of God from the things of “Caesar” more clearly. Maybe God is using shock and awe to awaken His followers from the moral hibernation that inhabits Western Christianity.

Instead of ranting against cultural rot (as if it was something new), I must confess to a struggle over knowing what to do with it. It’s not easy to think straight when it comes to culture. I cannot embrace it or ignore it. I sometimes hate it and sometimes love it. I need some Scriptural insight to help me think straight.

Oops, the Bible also seems to convey mixed feelings about the world. A love / hate relationship between God and the world can be seen in the New Testament.

First, the love:

  • “For God so loved the cosmos, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
  • Jesus calls us to be the light of the cosmos (Matthew 5:14).
  • Jesus was sent to be the savior of the cosmos (1 John 4:14)
  • The apostle Paul spoke of the gospel growing and bearing fruit all over the cosmos (Colossians 1:6).

Next, the hate (so to speak):

  • Cosmos is what Satan offered to Jesus during his temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:8). Jesus knew that the cosmos hated him and would also hate His followers (John 15:18). He offered a peace that the cosmos cannot give (John 14:26). He told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this cosmos. (John 18:36).
  • Paul equated the forces of the cosmos with the forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). He knew that the god of this cosmos blinds unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that the real God considers the wisdom of this cosmos as foolishness (1 Corinthians 3:19). Paul advised against holding cosmos-based desires (Titus 2:12) and reminded us that the things of this cosmos are passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31).
  • The apostle Peter warned against the defilements of the cosmos (2 Peter 2:20).
  • The apostle James defined true religion as remaining unstained by the cosmos (James 1:27). He warned that friendship with the cosmos is hostility toward God (4:4).
  • The apostle John cautioned against loving the cosmos and its’ things (1 John 2:15). After all, the cosmos lies in the power of the evil one (5:19).

In context, many of the passages above do not actually convey confusion about our relationship with the world. Perhaps I bring my own confusion to the table. Still, it is easy for sincere Bible readers to wonder whether we are supposed to love the world or not. The answer is both yes and no.

Here’s what I wish Miley Cyrus knew: As dangerous and corrupt as the cosmos is, God sent His beloved Son to save it! We can never understand the extent of God’s gracious love until we see how evil the cosmos is—the cosmos that Jesus came to save.


Photo Credits


Hands holding Earth

A Dream or a Nightmare?

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr., from his “I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.

I share this dream. Bigotry disgusts me. Bullying is for cowards. Human beings should be treated as equal in worth and dignity, regardless of their skin color, gender or class. Racists, on the other hand, focus on surface characteristics to make judgments about people they don’t even know. America is not about unifying people around their common physical traits, party labels, ethnicities or pedigrees. We unify around common principles and convictions, like liberty, truth and justice.

Below is a video I want you to view before continuing. Please consider how it impacts you before reading my take on it.

Jane Elliot is a teacher and diversity trainer. She is also a bully, paid to abuse and intimidate. I realize her bullying was part of a role-playing “learning” activity. However, it remains unjustified because the “lesson” being taught was itself deceitful, destructive and nightmarish. Here’s why:

  1. The teacher’s use of profanity evidenced her irrational hostility to dissenting points of view.
  2. Her reference regarding a girl’s legs being spread apart to achieve an “openposture” was inexcusable. Then she said, “Bring it on, honey!” A man would be fired for such disrespect.
  3. When a girl left the room after being verbally berated, the teacher immediately referred to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and Emmett Till’s hanging as pretexts for justifying her own abuse of the student. The teacher also presumed that her abuse was okay because the girl was not in “physical danger.”
  4. It dehumanizes people of color to claim that they have no choice on how to respond to abuse. It was intellectually dishonest to expel a returning student involuntarily while claiming that the student made the choice.
  5. The student who refused to apologize said, “I will not apologize because it’s not a matter of race always.” Her use of the word “always” made her spot on right. Yet, she was ejected and demeaned after she left.
  6. The student who wanted to be seen as a “male” was being taught to sell himself short. He should rather want to be seen as a “man” and manhood has nothing to do with body parts, facial hair or voice pitch.
  7. The teacher asked a black student if his color was important to him and he said it was “because that is who I am.” Actually, he is much more than that! It lowers everything that is best about human beings for them to fundamentally define themselves (or be defined by others) on the basis of inborn surface traits that have nothing to do with their character.

Today, Americans are being bullied into buying health coverage plans they don’t like and having the ones they do like canceled, by force. Christian bakers and photographers are being brutally bullied into betraying their faith as they are forced to offer their services to sanction homosexual marriages. The government attempted to bully Hobby Lobby into supporting abortions. E-Harmony was bullied into adding a homosexual dating branch to their business. Bullying is big time business today and while unscrupulous lawyers lead the way, many politicians and teachers foment it as well.

The video featured above infuriated me. It promotes state-sponsored racism and turns King’s dream into a social nightmare! The teacher exploited the youth and inexperience of students to manipulate them into a more divisive race-based mentality. She did this through cruelty, disrespect, profanity and crassness. She undermines the good that needs to be done to unify people rather than isolate them on the basis of surface qualities that should have little to do with how we treat each other. She breeds bitterness for a living. Please, do not let yourself be intimidated by racialists like this teacher. Rather work for unity, kindness, grace and respect for all regardless of race.

“What is Truth?”
(A Case Study in Pragmatic Politics)

Pontius Pilate was a politician. He was the Roman governor of Judea and like many first century Romans, he was a pragmatist. His job was to keep the peace and he had five infantry cohorts and a cavalry regiment under his command (5,000 men) to maintain order.

The Jewish rulers who convicted Jesus of blasphemy needed Pilate’s authority to get a death sentence. And they were willing to disturb the peace. The accusations the chief priests, temple officers, scribes and elders brought to Pilate against Jesus were largely political. In Pilate’s court, Jesus was tried as a tax rebel and a pseudo king. Pilate never really grasped Jesus’ admission that he was indeed a King, but he did get that Jesus was innocent. Even his wife saw Jesus as a “righteous man.” So, “innocent” was Pilate’s initial decision rendered for Jesus.

Then, Pilate’s pathetic pragmatism kicked in. Jesus’ accusers found the crowds to be easy to manipulate. Pilate learned that once their anger was stirred, they were not easily appeased. He offered the people a choice between releasing Jesus or a notorious prisoner (a robber and murderer) named Barabbas. We all know who they chose, but we seldom reflect on the fact that Pilate made such a cynical offer in the first place. He governed with no apparent concern for justice. He just wanted to appease those with the loudest mouths and to manipulate a convenient political outcome. When he asked the people what evil Jesus had done, Pilate just let their loud shouts carry the day. Persistent passion smothered all concern for justice. He caved. Then he washed his hands, proving that unbelievers can also be ridiculously legalistic and superficial when it comes to self-justification.

During Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus, the defendant said he was born to testify to the truth (John 18:37). Jesus was not speaking the language of pragmatism so Pilate was clueless. He asked, “What is truth?” (vs. 38) but took no interest in a reply. He went out to declare Jesus’ innocence to his angry accusers.

Are you shocked that a politician who cared little for justice would care even less for truth?

As Pilate deliberated, the demands for Jesus to be crucified heated up. Pilate’s strategy to just have Jesus flogged went nowhere. They told Pilate, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” (John 19:7). Then Pilate became “even more afraid.” He returned to Jesus seeking a last resort excuse to release him. Then Jesus’ accusers made the ultimate threat: “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:12). They used political pretext to get their way. They had religious titles but were pragmatic politicians to their core.

Pilate’s final sentence was that a man he knew to be innocent should die. His verdict was purely to placate the Sanhedrin and the crowds. Consequences mattered to Pilate, not truth. He feared conflict. Others suffered for his moral cowardice. His soldiers scourged Jesus and ridiculed him mercilessly with mock reverence, face-slaps and public expectoration. Pilate had clean hands but a corrupt heart. He was weak before Jesus’ accusers throughout the trial but with Jesus dying on the cross, he suddenly held firm when the Jewish rulers asked him to take down Pilate’s note saying, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Whether capitulating or holding firm, Pilate’s focus remained on emotional reaction and pragmatic politics. He ignored principle.

A 4th century bishop named Eusebius records that Pilate eventually committed suicide after an investigation in Rome led to his condemnation for his part in a massacre of innocents. His pragmatism failed him in the end.

Today, when you see a politician distort truth and justice to get elected, that’s Pilate. If lies are needed to get a bill passed, politicians like Pilate will lie. What is “truth” anyway? Judges who play activist politics on the bench rather seek justice are Pilate incarnate. A Pilate could stand up tall for traditional marriage in a campaign and decimate it when in power if political rewards are forthcoming. They can flip on a dime to please people or avoid conflict. I could see Pilate blaming everyone but himself when difficulties rise and claiming top credit for positive developments. If others are hurt, that’s politics. Pilate would thrive today.