January 22, 2021

New JSS Post + Podcasts + Notes on Carlin + Cornerstone

I have a new post at Jesus Shaped Spirituality called “Jesus Says Cross the Line.”

I have all the stuff with me for a podcast, but it’s hard to do podcast production when you are on the road. I’m sorry to not get something out this week, and I’ll do my best, but this is one of the few weeks I’m not going home for a day. (Anyone want to do my laundry?)

The George Carlin post has generated more comments that I’ve chosen not to post than any post in IM history. It’s amazing. And I want to say a few things about it.

1. Obviously, a chunk of commenters never read the post at all. That’s actually pretty normal for the blogosphere.

2. I’ve turned down at least 20 posts that in various ways say “Christians shouldn’t use profanity.” Ok….what are you talking about? The fact that Carlin used profanity (as do billions of people) and that I chose to say some good things about Carlin means that I’m somehow advocating the use of profanity?

Why don’t you run a long list of Carlin’s other vices and provide admonishments to avoid all of them as well? Since some of you apparently do little more in life than lecture other adults as if they were your kindergarten class, you should really expand outward and save us from drug use, making fun of politicians, doing the Hippy Dippy weatherman routine, etc.

3. There are some people who have decided that if a person is an atheist or says untrue things about God, then that person should be treated as an enemy, and derided in puritanical terms as deserving of disrespect and insults.

If Carlin said things about your religion that really offend you, that doesn’t mean that I can’t say Carlin said and did some things with his life that are worth taking note of. A thoughtful consideration of a life of a non-Christian actually can contain more analysis than “He was an awful man and he’s in hell. Think about that!”

You wonder why we can’t come up with thoughtful Christian discussion? You have to get past the mob with pitchforks. Seriously, if you don’t want to engage this kind of discussion, but feel you have to throw cold water on it, just go away.

4. Carlin did a COMEDY ACT. Why is it that some Christians have decided that because a comedy routine, movie or television show can be analyzed on the level of a worldview, then you must take everything that was said and done as seriously as a sermon?

Assuming Carlin was the atheist he purported to be, all reports are that he was a genuinely nice guy. He was a husband who lost a wife. He was a brother, a father and a friend. He was made in the image of God. I believe Jesus loved him and died for him. (Sorry Calvinists.) I think God was extremely fond of him. What went on between Carlin and God in that hospital is beyond what any one of us knows.

But here’s the thing: I need to be a decent enough human being to see the worth in my fellow human beings. If what your religion has done for you amounts to contempt and venom for your fellow human beings and certainty of your own moral superiority, then you can keep it. It’s got nothing I’m interested in and you’re wasting your time trying to preach that in these comments. Unless Jesus actually hates people, then Jesus has nothing to do with what a few commenters are saying. Down here in the basic class, I’m trying to love the atheists that wind up in my classes.

5. Several of you have admonished me to not say preachers don’t tell the truth. I appreciate the correction and I have edited that statement a bit. However, I’m at a point in my life that you have a real uphill climb ahead of you if you want to convince me that the Christian ministry, in large part, but not universally, is staffed with people who will tell you the truth about life. I don’t doubt they will tell you the truth about God, but the truth about life still seems to be rather elusive.

The truth about marriage, illness, money, families, mortality and so on is not doing real well among Christianity as I observe it. If I want to actually hear the truth and not some 5 step program for getting God’s Best, I may have to go to someone other than an “official” Christian. For some reason, we’ve developed a culture where just saying nonsense and religious noise is considered quite acceptable.

I’ve had it with that aspect of Christianity. I want some integrity and authenticity before I hear what you’ve got to say about all the things God has told you to say. I don’t want to have to deal with the hard truth of life AND the sudden discovery that what the church told me was pretty much a lot of spin.

When the church tells the truth, the church is really helpful. When it chooses to pump out “religious” versions of various popular myths, the church can make things worse.

One one other subject….Thursday, Friday and Saturday of next week I’m doing two seminars at Cornerstone ’08. One is on Dispatches from the Evangelical Wilderness, and will be about how those of us who relate to post-evangelicalism can make this journey with some sanity. (Don’t read my Carlin comments would be a start.) The other seminar is on Transparency and Vulnerability, and that’s what I’m going to talk about, especially as Christians need to practice it in community.

If you can float a loan for gas and tickets, and if you can get past the crowds that will be hearing Shane Claiborne, come tell me that my accent is really amazing.


  1. I enjoyed your post about Carlin. I enjoyed listening to him myself. I was going to comment but didn’t because I knew when I read it that you would be inundated with more comments than you wanted to read, good or bad.

    It always frustrates me to hear people who proclaim to be Christians that find it somehow wrong to show decency, love, and compassion to “heathens”.

  2. I’ve always said, “Truth is truth no matter who says it.”

    Cant remember where I first heard it.

  3. I did not even know Carlin died until I saw the picture at the top of the post. Then my first reaction was a JR Ewing type laugh. “Now the man will know he was wrong about God! He will be making his snide jokes in Hell.”

    And I am not even certain I believe in Hell.. at least not the literal burning forever type of Hell.

    And proved I am more deserving of such a Hell than 100 Carlins rolled into one. If Jesus died to save sinners, then I should grieve if any escape that salvation. (And I should be very, very reticent to be so certain that any individual, including Carlin, is there.)

    So your article was a necessary slap in my face. It is one for which I will willingly turn the other cheek.

    Sorry George… Rest in God’s graces. I hope He is merciful to you cause I will need such mercy so more more than you. It will give Him practice.

  4. rampancy says

    I just about smiled when you mentioned Shane Claiborne – I’ve nearly finished Jesus for President and it did something few other popular Christian books have, which is to say that it really excited and energized me on so many levels.

    Anyway. Thanks for this post – I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who’s genuinely mad as hell about arrogant Christianity. Sometimes, it really does feel like I’m some kind of abnormality for feeling the way I feel.

  5. I do appreciate your editing of the “truth tellers” paragraph. I also reject stomping upon a dead man’s grave to prove our doctrinal masculinity, but I find it personally difficult to praise such a life. Aside from some doctrinal disagreements, I truly believe this statement:

    “If Jesus came back again as a man, He might look and live more like Shane Clairborne than John MacArthur.”

    That admission will reduce my fundamentalist rating several points. I will attempt to regain those points elsewhere. 🙂

  6. Michael:

    No need to apologize for your statement regarding preachers not telling the truth. In the ministries of many preachers, the freedom of the pulpit was forfeited long ago for the sake of careerism, getting along and getting paid.

    Most churches want their pastor to be an amalgam of a cheerleader, a therapist and a chaplain all rolled into one. And in many cases, possibly most cases, that’s what they get.

    Atheist or not, Carlin said some prophetic things that should have been said from the pulpit. It’s sad to think that more truth could be spoken in the midst of the boozy haze of the smoke-filled clubs where Carlin plied his trade rather than the solemn assemblies where many of us gather.

    Thanks for telling the truth.

  7. I want to be clear that I am not accusing Christian ministers of all being crooks. Far from it. I think most are quite sincere. But I am talking about the difference between telling a person the truth about the damage they’ve done to their marriage and saying “Do these 10 steps and your marriage will be blest.”

    A lot of this is just what evangelicalism is selling now. Instead of preaching Christ, they are unloading a flea market of how to’s and Success principles and and so on.

    I passed a church today- the only conservative evangelical church in a rather large area- and the message on the sign for the next sermon was on how not to worry.

    See, this is what we’re doing these days, and it amounts, in my view, to just running our mouths with a lot of useless cheerleading.

  8. Well, I can’t comment on Carlin, as a non-American I don’t know him, but the things you’ve said about him have encouraged me to find out. What I do know is that God often uses those outside the church establishment (I refuse to make a judgement call on someone else’s soul — not my job)to say those truths which many christians squirm away from. If we’re not humble enough to risk the mockery of comedians, we have a ginormous problem. And if our faith is so weak, and our concept of God so small and tight that we feel threatened when the world laughs at our mistakes, we also have a ginormous problem. We, and our amour propre, are not the centre of the universe, Jesus is, and He’s not afraid of laughing. As for profanity, I’m not advocating it, and I don’t do it, but really, what words are acceptable and what are not is terribly culture bound. We Australians speak the same language (mostly) as Americans, but our list of which words are acceptable and which are not is rather different (with some overlaps, of course). I don’t believe God has some magic list of particular syllables which must not be uttered. Far mosr important is why we say the words we use.

  9. 1. I read the post
    2.In the past, I have used and been around many that have used profanity. Profanity does not condenmn a man.
    John 3:
    17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

    3.Who said Carlin was the enemy? We do not battle against flesh and blood.
    On the other hand why is he being lifted up as some sort of icon?

    4. Whether one was a good brother, father, husband etc
    salvation does not come by works. Christianity 101.
    As for the worth of humanity, I am reposting my two parter on imago dei.
    I recognize that whether one is a calvinist or not,the method is the same; preach the Word, as nether side knows who is coming into the kingdom at any given momemt of time.
    Election is God’s domain.God so loved the world that He sent His Son, so if I love the world as he does I proclaim the coming of His Son, the reasons for His coming, and the fruit of receiving that good news.

    5. What is the truth about marriage, illness, money, families, mortality?
    The scriptures deal with these rather straightforwardly.
    I agree that the 5-10-12 step programs we teach are worthless.

    I have trouble with the bogeyman arguments laid out by those who oppose the “fundies”. It is also apparent that there are those who would use Carlin’s death to prove their theological stance versus the dreaded discernment bloggers.

  10. As an international M, I want to express to you what a blessing your blog has been these past couple of weeks. I ‘stumbled’ on to your site via another blog, that I ‘stumbled’ on via another….

    Your’s is refreshing and at times a bit offensive which I think we all need occasionally…I know I do!! And your latest post regarding the responses you’ve received regarding your thoughts on George Carlin is EXCELLENT!! It should be printed and included in every ‘worship folder’ across the nation this weekend!! Arrogant, and puritanical culture that tries to hide behind Jesus must be confronted before it turns the entire world off to the One Most High, Forgiving, Redemptive Father God!

    Thanks for being a new source insight and encouragement!


  11. Deacon: Usher, you’re a fan of Carlin’s aren’t you?

    Usher: Some of his early stuff was good. Especially the observations of people doing really stupid stuff and refusing to admit they are puppets of someone else’s way of thinking

    Deacon: You going somewhere with this

    Usher: He was kinda like us Deak, a buzzard of sorts, not welcome after he questions the establishment – but like Monk says, he ends up on the side of the infidels more often than not – I don’t see anything wrong with that – can’t get out of this skin and destined to life living on roadkill…

  12. I agree with you on #3.

    I have a homosexual neighbor who walks his dog all the time, and I always wave at him. My neighbor says he does not wave because he is gay, and he believes homosexuality is “frowned upon” in the Bible.

    While I agree that homosexuality is not condoned in the Bible, I do however still am nice to these people. I highly doubt there is anything I can do to change them, but that doesn’t mean I should be mean to them.

    (Sorry if this starts a complete off-topic discussion, but I do agree that even if people are atheists or sinners, we all are sinners, that doesn’t mean we completely ignore them and denounce them.)

  13. What did Martin Luther say about us being simultaneously saints and sinners? It isn’t either/or, but both/and. Some of those posting forget this bit of truth–or would they even consider it “a bit of truth?”

    By the way, Michael, I plan to be with a number of former students of Henry Walters tomorrow night and hope to hear some stories and memories about him.

  14. I-Monk,

    Very nice. (As I posted elsewhere on this topic) I remember when John Lennon was murdered – one Christian said “I wonder if he can imagine there’s no heaven now…” What rubbish…

    Lennon, Carlin, even Pol Pot for that matter were all created in the image of God – that’s Bible 101. If they were not “in Christ” that’s not something to “think about” it’s something to mourn.

    I appreciate the balance you maintained in recognizing Carlin’s faults but acknowledging his life.


  15. Jonathan says


    Dear Internet Monk –

    You write some excellent stuff. The link will take you to a superb analysis of Carlin and his work. Whether you post this doesn’t matter to me. I just thought that you might enjoy the analysis.


  16. Monk,

    Thank you.


  17. Nicholas Anton says

    W. E. Vine defines God’s love as follows;
    “Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. God’s love is seen in the gift of His Son. But obviously this is not the love of complacency, or affection, that is, it is not drawn out by any excellency in its objects. It was an exercise of the Divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself.”
    “Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments. Self will, that is self pleasing, is the negation of love to God.”
    “Christian love, whether exercised towards the brethren, or towards men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclination, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered. Love seeks the welfare of all, and works no ill to any; love seeks opportunity to do good to all men and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith.”

    Non of us have merit to warrant God’s Love, and non of us will be eternally damned or eternally saved because of personal merit or demerit.

    It is Christ that Justifies through faith in Him.

  18. anonevan says

    There are many verses in the New Testament that make it clear that Christians should be kind and tender to non-believers. We’re supposed to be a testimony of the Lord’s love and grace, like a light shining in the darkness. It’s a shame we can be so eager to gloat over someone’s death.

  19. Holy cow! I’m shocked by all the hate and condemnation I just waded through in the George Carlin comments. Sounds like there are some pretty insecure people out there who don’t want anybody messing with their “rules to live by”.

    First of all, is God not bigger than all this nonsense about potty mouth, etc.? Oy. It is not the profanity of the word that matters as much as the feeling behind the words, what is in your heart. Does God not already know that? Those that boast of not or of never having uttered profanity are kidding themselves; they may as well start dropping f-bombs according to the crap coming out of their mouths in defense of God.

    Secondly, art is a threat to people who are bound to the live by the law. As a rule, art goes beyond the rules. (ha ha) Sometimes, the truth is just plain ugly and cannot/should not be dressed up to be inoffensive or pretty. It reminds me of Jesus and the Canaanite woman (I think she’s Canaanite…) where he essentially equates her with a dog (not worthy of the crumbs from the master). Harsh? Definitely. But I think he was just saying outloud what the apostles were already thinking. He displayed, for all to see, the ugliness that lurked in their hearts. I think some of Carlin’s routine did that at well, making us squirm a little in discomfort.

    I guess I just can’t get over the fact that people are doing the math with God’s rules and concluding that another human being is definitely in hell already. “Yup, according to my calculations….” Seriously?

    Jesus defeated death for everybody, right? He knew he was doing it in spite of the fact that not one of us would ever live up to being worthy of his sacrifice. None of us.

  20. I had actually missed your previous post about George Carlin (not being much of a fan of his, myself), but reading this made me go back and read it and then forward it to several friends who I know did enjoy his act. I agree with you completely. Of course, I’m not a Calvinist. 🙂

    Thanks for both the original post and your response.

  21. One of things I like about coming to this BLOG is the aroma of Jesus based truth I get when I come here. I will admit that I posted a link on another BLOG to your site because the difference was striking in how they discussed George Carlin. You got some traffic from a few of those guys. I apologize if this created any problems. Some of them I am sure came here to shape your head to be more like them.

    I just want to say keep up your Jesus shaped interpretation of scripture Michael.

    In Christ,

    My BLOG: http://spadinofamily.wordpress.com/

  22. The more I think about the fact that you got so many negative responses to Carlin I realized that Jesus shaped spirituality is less about a specific theological type (Armininian vs Calvinism vs Lutetheran, etc). Its much more about the MO (mode of operation) in how our theology plays itself out in our lives.

    I really like listening to a well known Arminian Pastor on the North side of the twin cities even though I have a much more Christian Reformed/Presbyterian stance. The reason due to this is that he keeps the Gospel and Jesus central to how he sees the world.

    Likewise, I tend to dislike (not disagree with) the MO of many of my Calvinistic brethren because of their MO.

    Does this make sense to anyone else here?


  23. And you people didn’t even get to read the really shocking Carlin comments!

    Joe: Most of the current reformed community struggles with this: they tend to see Jesus shaped discipleship being produced by being theologians. So they read a lot of books and learn a lot of theology.

    I think Mahaney has more of the right track – though Puritanism looms large in that camp- in saying that humility needs to come right alongside reformed theology to “sweeten” what can get quite stale and flat.

  24. Memphis Aggie says

    Hi Mike,

    I liked Carlin, especially his baseball vs football routine. He was genuinely funny, but I guess he could be offensive. It’s like the reaction I have to actors who say or do something very public and foolish. The next time I see them I can’t help remember it and it can taint their otherwise fine performance. I recently read a quote (I forget from whom) that argued that harboring this kind of minor resentment is a kind of impiety. In other words, since God is the source of Carlin’s great talent we should not restrain our praise for it. Of course God may have intended another use for George’s talent (what a delightful preacher he might have made).

  25. 🙂 They guy that I believe is bringing back Jesus shaped thinkology to the reformed/Presbyternian mindset is Tim Keller with his centrality of the Gospel (Lutheresque) theology. This gets lost quite often as the Calvinists hang on more tightly to TULIP than Jesus Christ.

    Mike, if you are ever in the twin cities let me know and we can do coffee (or pop in my case). 🙂


  26. It is interesting that I knew almost nothing about Carlin, except for a few mellow gigs on the Tonight Show a couple of decades ago.

    I think my lack of exposure to him was the fact that when Carlin was at his zenith as a performer, I was at my zenith as a closed-minded Evangelical.

    Because of you postings, I down-loaded about 2 hours of his work last night (after getting home from Boston) and watched it until I went to bed.

    It is hard to describe my first impressions (as a Christian) to the raw Carlin. I think the best way to put it is disturbing . . . but in a positive way. We all need to be disturbed . . . frequently. It’s like when anyone speaks raw truth that makes you feel very uncomfortable (again in a good way). Of course not saying everything he says is truth. But, he does make good observations about life, religion and us. Observations that are not filtered through cultural expectations and taboos.

    Saturday I was visiting the campus of Harvard with my daughter. I remember when we use to demonize that school because of the likes of Dr. Stephen Gould. But being on campus and standing beneath a huge banner with their shield (Veritas) on it, man I almost had a “religious experience.”

    Like Carlin, they honestly seek truth and that’s tremendous, and godly (in the true sense of the work.) They don’t always get it right . . . but often they do. I would be honored if one of my children when there and I wish I could have.

    Rev. John Harvard was a Puritan that I wish I could have known. He was a man that desired truth and didn’t seem to want to hide behind religious dogma.

  27. I am going to make one last comment. As people look at the differences of others I always think of when Jesus said “But go and learn what this means. I desire Mercy not sacrifice”.

    As I was walking today I was listening to… Tim Keller of course. In his sermon he said people will only substitute their natural idols with something they have a complete and utter passion to follow. Replacing our natural idols is a very hard and lengthy process. As Christians we tend to see irreligious idols and critique them but we seldom see our own religious idols … whatever they may be.

    I wrote a BLOG topic titled “The Aroma of the Cookies in Jesus Christ. The idea behind it was that different churches, people, ideologies can be similar but give off completely different aromas. The link to that BLOG is here:


    I don’t think as Christians we give enough thought to what aroma we give off. As for me and my house, I want to give off the aroma of the Gospel and Jesus Christ and not the aroma of “churchy religious activity and stuff”.


  28. Wow … I love you guys. Thanks for being real.


  29. IMonk, your responses from “Those who have God’s list about who is in Hell” are nothing new.

    There’s this anecdote about Gary Gygax’s death — mailing list, Website, I don’t remember. Goes like this: when news of Gygax’s death reached one of the informant’s relatives, she responded with a crowing “NOW HE KNOWS *ALL* ABOUT DEMONS AND HELL!”

    And I remember my search results when Stephen Jay Gould died (5/5/2002) and I searched the Web for his obituaries. All the hits I got from Christian sites were rejoicing at/gloating over his death.

  30. “Scratch any cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.” G. Carlin

    I’ll always fondly remember Carlin playing Cardinal Glick in Kevin Smith’s movie ‘Dogma.’ Cardinal Glick, of course, was the moving force behind the “Catholicism Wow” campaign, which featured the “Buddy Jesus.”

    Kevin Smith, who also directed the movie, said of Carlin:

    “His whole world view as it were inspires this movie, and I thought it was important to have Carlin involved because he’s one of the bastard fathers of the whole thing. He really dug on the idea of playing a Cardinal. He knew that it wasn’t just a joke and he wanted to show what’s at the heart of Glick – who is a salesman but is also totally sincere. George turned out to be one of the most professional performers I’ve ever worked with, giving 150% all the way.” – Kevin Smith

    R.I.P. George

Speak Your Mind