Christian Radio

It’s Martin Luther King Day here in the USA. But I can’t think of anything related to MLK to say today.

So instead I’m going to try and write down my thoughts about the radio station I’ve been listening to in my car a lot lately, WCRF – FM 103.3 Moody Bible Radio Cleveland. Click on the link and you can listen too.

I found the station on a random scan of the radio after my car’s computer was replaced and all my set stations were erased. Initially I just turned it on to chuckle at the absurdity of it. The very first thing I heard was a call-in show about the evils of pornography, how it destroys families and suchlike. It was better than MAD magazine! Or even CRACKED magazine!

But then as I listened more I started to understand the appeal of the station, and perhaps of churches and mainstream religion in general. Most of the time, when I tune in for a few minutes while driving somewhere what I’ll hear will be mainly nice things. They talk about how to live a moral life, how to deal with marriage difficulties, how to just be excellent to each other and so on. Some of the advice is even kind of good. I listened to one guy talk about how he gave up watching football on TV and how much it improved his relationship with his family. Nothing so bad about that.

But then just when I think everything’s okay, they start slipping in stuff that’s either just plain mean or simply bat-shit crazy. And then ZING! they’re right back into talking about how to be a good person. And I’m like, where did that come from?

I heard one guy the other day practically frothing at the mouth over some legislation in California mandating that history teachers teach about prominent gay and lesbian figures. Never mind that the idea of talking about gays and lesbians in history is kind of anachronistic since the very idea of defining someone as homosexual is a recent invention. Which is a whole other topic. No, this guy wasn’t talking about that. He was raving on and on with a list of all the wholesome things that will be destroyed because of this new ruling — the boy scouts, motherhood, apple pie, baseball, marriage (of course), kindness, home cooking, flowers, bunnies… It just went on and on until the person interviewing him had to get him back on topic. “So what you’re saying is that children will not be allowed to question whether the villainous and evil acts of the homosexual are moral?” she said. “Oh yes! That’s exactly right!” he replied and started ranting some more. I think from now on schools in California have to require bands of roving queers to ass rape third grade boys in gym class. Or something like that.

Four and a half minutes later we’re back into relatively good advice about being decent to each other. Uh… what happened?

I think there’s a large segment of the population who must see a connection between these things that I am unable to see myself. I’d also venture to guess that many of these people are unaware that there are any other sources of information about how to live a decent life than those associated with whatever religion they may have grown up with.

It’s all very weird to me. But I think I understand part of the appeal of this stuff now. There are probably people out there who sincerely want to learn how to be decent human beings. Knowing of no other source of information on that subject, they get plunged into the bat-shit crazy stuff and end up associating being bat-shit crazy with being a good person. The mind boggles.

Then yesterday I was at Village Discount Outlet in Cuyahoga Falls (“East and West Coast Styles Arriving Daily!”) looking for bell-bottom jeans and I found a book called Glorious Appearing: The End of Days. This is the thrilling conclusion to the Left Behind series. The Left Behind books are a series of novels about what the authors imagine will happen once Jesus gets around to fulfilling all those End Times prophecies he said 2000 years ago would happen before his own generation passed away. The books have sold truckloads! There’s even a movie based on it starring Kirk Cameron.

The novels re-imagine the Book of Revelations as a kind of modern-day horror/science fiction story in which people vanish when God takes them up for being good Christians. In this book, the 12th and final of the series, Jesus at last reappears. He’s a kind of Godzilla-sized rampaging monster who torches cites and “splays and fillets” (I swear that’s a quotation from the book) those who oppose His wrath while He quotes His own words from the New Testament. I only read a few pages. But it’s the most over-the-top wish-fulfillment fantasy you can imagine. You fuckers didn’t believe us, huh? Well now here’s Christ-zilla to give you what you deserve! Ha! Ha! Ha! See you in Hell, bitches!

Great stuff! I want to see that movie! But I figured the book wasn’t really worth the 50 cents they wanted for it so I passed it up.

What to make of all this? I don’t know. But it’s really out there and there really are millions who believe in one variation or another of this kind of thing. Glorious Appearing was a New York Times bestseller. Hardcore Zen was not even close.

It’s very easy for people who don’t believe this stuff to make fun of it to other people who don’t believe it, like I’m doing now. The existence of this stuff used to scare me a lot more than it does these days. I don’t think it’s inconsequential. But I also don’t think there as many true believers in it as I once assumed. Probably most of the readers of the Left Behind books and listeners of Moody Bible Radio have plenty of doubts about what they hear. They may want to believe it a lot more than they actually believe it. Or they may tune in for the good advice about life and just ignore the rest.

Doubt may be our greatest friend in turning the tide. This is why I always fight against the sorts of Buddhism that tries to erase doubt from the picture. A few years ago a group called “e-sangha” issued an alert about me saying that I preached heretical doctrines denying the reality of reincarnation. But if Buddhism ever starts being the kind of thing where we need to be warned against those who doubt the literal interpretation of its scriptures, we’re sunk. We might as well write our own Left Behind type books.

Hey maybe I’d finally get a best seller if I did that!

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121 Responses

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  1. the Stranger WiTh I n
    the Stranger WiTh I n January 18, 2012 at 7:00 pm |

    is there anything like this in the Buddhist world?

  2. proulx michel
    proulx michel January 18, 2012 at 11:33 pm |


    try this:

    Gwen (White…) wrote

    If it were so easy for people just “take more personal responsibility” and separate the helpful and harmful parts of what religious leaders tell them, they wouldn’t need you to scold them as a reminder.

    It actually takes a lot of personality to be able to do that. If you really want to let go, you need to trust in yourself. If you want to be able to admit that the Self is a construction, you really need to have a well built one.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 19, 2012 at 4:12 am |

    "Doubt may be our greatest friend in turning the tide. This is why I always fight against the sorts of Buddhism that tries to erase doubt from the picture. A few years ago a group called "e-sangha" issued an alert about me saying that I preached heretical doctrines denying the reality of reincarnation. But if Buddhism ever starts being the kind of thing where we need to be warned against those who doubt the literal interpretation of its scriptures, we're sunk. We might as well write our own Left Behind type books."

    very well said !!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  4. Boonton
    Boonton January 19, 2012 at 4:54 am |

    I too wonder about such stations. I wonder how many of their fans really buy what they are saying or is it mostly about enjoying 'trash talk'. Sort of like Sports Radio stations where hosts and callers trash talk the visiting team and talk up the home team all day long.

    For a while I started watching Harold Camping, the 80+ yr old guy who predicted the end of the world on May 21st. While I thought his thinking was bunk, I was impressed by how honest he appeared. IMO, he literally had no desire at all to be famous or amass a fortune. He simply was calling it as he saw it and when he was demonstrated wrong his stance was "well it didn't turn out how I expected, I must have missed something let me see what I can figure out now". In other words, despite being so totally wrong, I found him refreshing for his total lack of ego.

    Anyway you may want to look into the work of Christopher Hitchens who just passed away before Christmas. You can read his stuff but better to peruse him first using Youtube. He was an avowed atheist and had numerous debates with various believers as well as others. When he learned he had cancer, he also had to confront his impending death and with it the pressure from those who would say "still want to play atheist now?!" And he confronted it with quite a bit of honesty and bravery….

  5. roman
    roman January 19, 2012 at 5:10 am |

    something I wrote about Brad after meeting him in Frankfurt a few years ago

    I thought it might be interesting for those who have never met Brad in person.

  6. Greco
    Greco January 19, 2012 at 6:21 am |

    Wow, Brad gets tired like everybody else? Who knew?

  7. boubi
    boubi January 19, 2012 at 6:24 am |

    Gwen said…


    Basically ALL religions have some version of this Christian Radio behavior you describe. Do you think it sounds any less crazy to the average Christian when a Buddhist starts a conversation about compassion and segues into discussing reincarnation or deva realms? Is it really hard to understand why, if you have a spiritual mentor who has taught you a lot about how to be a good person, you feel pressure to trust what they say about other topics?

    Not that this kind of lapse in critical thinking should be encouraged—quite the contrary—but I also don’t think it’s hard to understand.

    Hi Gwen, the topic is not "crazy things", the topic is racism/discrimination mixed with religion.

    Believing in life after life or in the X-files or in deva's paradise, as much as plugging whichever consensual hole, belongs to the realm of privacy. Inciting hate of unruly pluggers in name of some great being in the sky belongs to some form of fascim.

    THAT's the HUGE difference.

    To Michel

    … i thought it was some religious stuff.


  8. boubi
    boubi January 19, 2012 at 6:42 am |


    The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

    Francisco Goya


  9. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 19, 2012 at 6:47 am |

    …and The Monster of Reason produces Sleep!

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 19, 2012 at 7:45 am |

    This brings up a large and long standing split in the Buddhist traditions, a dualist and a non-dualist divide.

    The non-dualists: the Buddha, Nagarjuna, Dogen, etc…

    and the many dualists who try to sneak back in a self (atman) in some form, such as some self/ego to be reborn (not realizing the Buddhist objective is NOT to be reborn!!) or often as some disembodied mind/spirit (open Buddhism insert Christian God/Hindu Brahm?).

    Hakuin zenji's "great doubt", he wrote,
    "At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully, you will awaken fully"

    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."

  11. Gwen
    Gwen January 19, 2012 at 8:50 am |

    Hi boubi,

    While I agree that chasing a compassionate message with racist & discriminatory propaganda is infinitely more harmful than chasing it with stories about the X-files, my point is that the methodology is essentially the same. Both involve a perceived leader/spokesperson using the trust and authority they have built with their audience to introduce new beliefs. Because of this established trust and authority, the audience is more easily influenced.

    Clearly, the position of influence can be used to introduce new beliefs that are helpful, or beliefs that are completely destructive and hurtful. My interest though lies more with how all of us “audience members” can learn to better walk the line between staying open-minded to new ideas and letting ourselves be influenced in a negative way. It can be a slippery slope. I wrote a post about it here…

    …which explains better what I am trying to say, if you are interested.

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 19, 2012 at 11:14 am |

    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."

    …and a definition is exactly what it is!

  13. roman
    roman January 19, 2012 at 12:01 pm |

    greco, not like everybody else, I have personally seen about 100 zen teachers at different retreats and none of them seemed sleepy or extremely tired so I was happy there was a zen tacher who gets as tired as I do

  14. Greco
    Greco January 19, 2012 at 2:35 pm |

    100 of 'em? Ain't that enough to make you sick of it?

    Get you some of that Espresso.

  15. boubi
    boubi January 19, 2012 at 11:38 pm |

    to Gwen

    My point is that there's a difference between making you believe in a some paradise somewhere or some nirvana and making you believe that other people don't deserve to live because of what they do in their private life.

    You can use a fork to eat a pie or you ca use it to stick it into your neighbor eye.

    Group psychology/dynamics and guru led entities are potential breeding ground for a lot of things as much as kindergarden.

    We humans are for the good and the bad gregarious animals, we tend to follow the herd and a leader like dogs and unlike cats.

  16. roman
    roman January 20, 2012 at 4:45 pm |

    greco, if you practice in Kwan Um school for a few years, you will meet lots of zen teachers, and none of them is sleepy, as the kwan um style is like as if all of them were on extasy all the time – there is no lack of energy whatsovever

    so switched to Dogen school and they, the teachers there seemed sober, but I dozed off… so I was happy to see Brad also sleepy and bored by zazen…

  17. Anonymous
    Anonymous January 21, 2012 at 9:46 am |

    those left behind books are such a hideous embarrassment for poor slobs who got sucked into it….but at least i didnt get sucked into to corporate yuppy land…..actually the jesus freaks just had a bigger PR machine and had all us zen types stuffed in a bag sumwhere or relegated to bookstores in obscure dark corners, talking bearded reclusive guys….the irony here is that why not blow the wad and make cheesey zen films…..all u need is a couplah bottles of wine and a jaded brain full of cheap inspiration….id download that for free……..peace

  18. big_buddha
    big_buddha January 23, 2012 at 9:15 pm |

    Do it up, Brad! I'd read that Buddhist End Times book in 1/60th of a minute. ONE SECOND. I'd find it in a local library, be shocked (like most of your books I found), and sit on the floor instantaneously. As for Christian radio we have a saying at work when the sermon begins at 6:30 p.m. "MICK TURN THE RADIO OFF I'M BRUNING, MAN! MAKE IT STOP!"

  19. BK
    BK January 25, 2012 at 6:21 am |

    I watched the film "Doubt" – with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman – today, which is all about what we can and can't be sure of, both in a religious context and otherwise; and the value of doubt. I'm not religious, but the main themes are valuable to all of us, I think. A great film and I recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it, whatever your beliefs.
    Good post, Brad. 🙂

  20. Zippy Rinpoche
    Zippy Rinpoche January 25, 2012 at 1:45 pm |

    You can't hurt me! I have an ASSUMABLE MORTGAGE!

  21. sute
    sute February 19, 2012 at 10:45 pm |

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