Saturday, March 23, 2013

Facebook Faith # 14 Hate is Love!

This meme has so many problems it makes me think of something my brother once said- "I am like a mosquito at a nudist colony... I don't know where to start." It is indicative of the cry of persecution many religious bullies shout when their words and actions are being publicly resisted.

Let's just look at the first one.  If someone is actively persecuting me and my community, would I actually care that they are "praying" for me? Is not the smarmy nature of this declaration just one more layer of insult?

But this is the shelter many religious folks run to... they want some religious act to somehow negate, or balance out their behavior.  I experienced this recently on my brother's Facebook page.  He had written an article that had a positive take on Rob Bell's recent supportive statement on gay marriage.  It was not long before the Christian conservatives started to circle the wagons. They could not understand how my brother could speak so good-naturedly of someone as "false", "low", and "disgusting" as Rob Bell.

I tried to engage the thinking of one of my brother's friends, but as can be expected, it went nowhere. She intended to interpret all disagreement with her position as an act of hostility and responded in kind. She had no tolerance for anyone who did not share her "biblical" view on homosexuality. However, for all her acidity towards homosexuals and those who support them, one of her final statements was:
"I don't hold an anti-gay view at all. I love people. period."
To borrow from Arthur Dent:
 "Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word 'love' that I wasn't previously aware of."
But that is the point... many Christians use the word 'love' in practice like they use variables in an algebraic equation - a = b = c :
I don't like you. I may find you low, disgusting, false, and repugnant. I will stand against you, treat you like an inferior, and try to enact legislation so that you are NEVER going to be considered equal to me. But I have the "TRUTH", and since I am sharing it with you - that means I love you.
Religious people tend to be well trained in doublethink and doublespeak. As such, a meme like the one above can be written and shared, dripping with self righteousness, while asserting a position of complete humility. They can claim to love you... while despising the air you breathe - and see zero contradiction.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Every Believer Reads A Jefferson Bible

Have you heard of "The Jefferson Bible"? The retired president, Thomas Jefferson, one evening took a pair of scissors and began removing from the gospels text that did not reflect his view of the divine. Though he held the teachings of Jesus in high esteem, there were various portions of scripture that he could not abide.  In this way, he was living out the yet to be spoken words of Walt Whitman:
“Re-examine all that you have been told... dismiss that which insults your soul.”
Jefferson's purpose in taking the blade to his bible was stated this way by the historian Gaustad:
"The president did not produce his small book to shock or offend a somnolent world; he composed it for himself, for his devotion, for his assurance, for a more restful sleep at nights and a more confident greeting of the mornings."
It occurred to me years ago, while I was still a believer, that every faithful person makes their own Jefferson Bible. We may not actually pull out the scissors, but we are bringing certain scriptures to the forefront, while sidelining others. When I was young, and full of Hell, Fire, and Brimstone, I read and quoted scriptures about sin and the judgement of God. When I was older, I saw scriptures of grace, love, and peace.

In each case, I was creating my own personalized version of the scripture; neither being an honest representation of what was in the text. No scissors, but scripture was nonetheless on the cutting room floor.

When you become a believer, you are instructed with a "Jefferson Bible". If you are a Charasmatic, your instruction will focus on about 100 verses concerning health and prosperity. If you are liberal mainline, you will spend a lot of time with the minor prophets and the gospels. If you are a conservative evangelical, scripture will clearly speak to the saved and unsaved, the haves and the have nots.

Like a Rorschach test, the bible will reflect what is happening in your soul. The verses you cling to, study, and quote will say much more about you than they do about any deity.

Like what you read?  Share it!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Facebook Faith # 13 Is God Bi-Polar?

Do you believe the bible is inerrant? Do you believe that God is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore?

I posed that question along with this meme on Facebook because I think scriptures such as these - and the bible is full of them - present many problems for people who hold such a view of God and the bible.  How do you reconcile verses such as this?

For the most part, you don't. I attended churches that held an inerrant view of the bible and an unchanging view of God for most of my life, and you never hear verses like this quoted or taught.  If you do, it is quickly ejected from the thought process.... nothing is allowed to simmer which might bring the steadfastness of God and his word into question.

Instead, stating you BELIEVE the bible becomes a mark of Faith. As reader and commentor Jonni observed a few posts ago, "To a Christian, the bible is like the terms and conditions on their itunes account. No one actually reads it - you're just supposed to scroll to the bottom and click "I agree".

Two other approaches came up in the Facebook conversation for dealing with verses like this. One was shared by a pastor friend, who is a liberal Christian, and he holds the view that the bible is simply not inerrant. That verse was written by a flawed man trying to speak of God.

This is actually how I view the bible, and why I still find value in it. However, the slippery slope of that perspective lead me to realize that it was a an ancient text like any other... so why give it any metaphysical credence? How does an ancient people writing their thoughts about the divine have any more weight than the many similar texts which do the same thing?

The other response was that God just dealt differently at that time and our understanding is simply unclear... but that doesn't make God wrong.

I think this is a last ditch effort to cling to inerrancy when all evidence is to the contrary.  I also think it does not give enough credit to our ability to make a good judgement - most souls in this world would not struggle to make a call on the following:

Picture dragging a young girl to her father's house on her wedding night and throwing rocks at her unprotected body... skin lacerating... bones cracking... blood running... until she is dead.

Truthfully... is anyone going to try to spin that onto the good ledger?

If not, then the person holding the inerrant view must conclude that the God they worship today is still fully invested in that kind of thinking.

They probably also need to admit that they would view such an act in the Muslim religion as horrific.

So what do you do with those verses of violence?

Like what you read?  Share it!

Saturday, March 09, 2013

What I Believed

and monkeys might...
Three years ago, I posted a blog listing what I believed as a Christian. Two years ago, I reposted that list on Facebook and got taken to task by one of my pastors. I was still a Christian at that point, but my commitment and attendance at church had gotten thin. In fact, I seem to recall his response as a significant tipping point. There was no more denying that Evangelical Christianity and I stood apart.

Here is the list, and the subsequent conversation. It originally consisted of him responding to each of my points, and then I went back and addressed each of his concerns. For clarity, I will edit that into one streaming conversation. This is kind of long, so you might want to grab a beer and some popcorn.

• I do not believe God has any more investment in America than anywhere else. It is pure ego and insecurity that drives us into all of this "God is on our side" language.

• There is no "War on Christmas".

• I believe abortion is the murder of innocent life, but our attempts to legislate it away is closing the door when the horse has already left the barn. It is easy to shout against abortion, it is a sacrifice to work for the changes that need to come about to make a real difference.

• Christians are no different than anyone else.... really..... at all.

• I do not believe that any soul will spend an eternity in a place called Hell. Nope, not one.

• I believe prayer in public schools is motivated by a desire for power, not piety.

• I do not believe it is a threat to my children, nor to my marriage, if homosexuals marry.

• I believe the world would be a better place if the head of every ministry quit, then went and got a job at their local hospital.

• I do not believe in any kind of "rapture". I believe God wants us to redeem this world.

• I believe God is as close as out next breath, but that most Christian rhetoric shields Him from view.

• I believe Christianity competes with other religions, and that is a mistake.

• I believe most Christian parents lead their children to make spiritual decisions that they are not yet equipped to make.

• I believe organizations like Focus on the Family do more harm than good.

• I believe most churches indoctrinate their congregations and are houses of theological inbreeding. Inbreeding is bad in genetics and worse in theology.

• I believe Christians spend a lot of time working on "belief" rules (inerrancy of scripture, hell, trinity, salvation, etc..) so they can divide people into in/out and thereby give themselves a higher position.

• I believe Christianity has completely jettisoned the command to "love your enemy" and in doing so we have lost the heart of the gospel.

• I believe God stands with the poor. Christianity honors the poor while inside church doors, but mocks them in political discussions.

• I believe there are Christians who live contrary to what I have said, but they do not own the term "Christian" here in America.

And now, the conversation:

PASTOR: Andy, I really don’t think I can argue with your beliefs, because you obviously have a problem with some of the things Jesus and the Bible teaches. But I will give you my best shot from The Bible and the teachings of Jesus, just in case some may be swayed by your “beliefs”. 

Your friend! Pastor

ME: You seem to assume that your beliefs are biblically based, whereas mine are not. This is an erroneous assumption because I can scripturally account for every belief I hold. However, everyone “obviously has a problem” with various points of scripture because we all tend to highlight some parts while minimizing or ignoring others. This is why I often state that the bible is like one big Rorschach test. What we take away from it, I believe, says a lot more about us than it does about God. Using scripture to defend a point is of some value, but one can easily find scripture to the contrary point. This is why there are over 30,000 different versions of Christianity. The folks at Westboro Baptist probably have airtight scriptural reasoning for why they do what they do. I still think they are wrong.

•”I believe abortion is the murder of innocent life, but our attempts to legislate it away is closing the door when the horse has already left the barn.” 

PASTOR: REALLY? Go Back in time and tell that to the abolitionist and the slaves in both England and the USA. Glad they didn't take your advice.

ME: I don’t think I hold as contrary an opinion here as you seem to allude to. I just don’t think legislation accomplishes all that much when the majority of people hold a different ethos (not to say that it isn't an avenue). Slavery was ended, but it was generations before any real change started to happen. Some Christians feel morally obligated to vote for only pro-life candidates, yet it is often the case that less abortions occur under pro-choice legislatures and administrations. I just think this issue runs deep, but often we seem content as a Christian community to address this as purely a legal battle.

• Christians are no different than anyone else.... really..... at all.

PASTOR: REALLY? The Bible Calls Christians “sanctified”, “set-apart”, “chosen” “holy”. Christ made a Huge difference in my life. Without him, my life would be a crap hole. If Christ in me, the hope of glory doesn't make me different, than I am one to be pitied.

ME: But lots of folks have pulled their lives out of a “crap-hole” without “Christ”. And many people with “Christ” remain in a crap hole. As Christians, we are just as statistically likely to divorce, gossip, slander, sue, go to war, hate our enemies, kick the dog, etc. We can say lot of euphemisms to declare our differences…. But we are not fooling anybody. Jesus made this clear during the Sermon on the Mount. IF one is really different, I think it should be what others say of us… not what we say of ourselves.

• I do not believe that any soul will spend an eternity in a place called Hell. Nope, not one.

PASTOR: REALLY? From what do you base this belief on. I do not like the concept of hell at all, but the one who claimed he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life taught more on hell than heaven. If we don’t believe in one, we shouldn't believe in the other. 

ME: As I stated above, I have scriptural arguments for my Universalism (all on my blog). But here is just one “In Adam all died, in Christ all are made alive”. I never said I didn't believe in Hell, or ramifications, or punishment – I just don’t think scripture consistently can be used to make an “eternal” argument. “God disciplines us for our good; that we may share in his holiness.” His corrections, like all good fathers, have a hopeful end. God never fails.

• “I do not believe in any kind of "rapture". I believe God wants us to redeem this world.”

PASTOR: REALLY? There is only one redeemer, Jesus Christ: “Christ redeemed us from the curse” Galatians 3:13. Not even Jesus can redeem this world. He can only redeem those who believe and are washed in his blood. The rapture is clearly communicated by Jesus, the Apostle Paul and others in the Bible.

ME: Well, again, your hermeneutic here is just different than mine. I believe scripture calls us to be redeeming agents in this world (we are his hands and feet, equipped to do good works). I would also argue that the rapture is a fairly new Christian teaching and exists clearly in the Left Behind novels, but fuzzy in Scripture – if at all.

• I believe Christianity competes with other religions, and that is a mistake. 

PASTOR: REALLY? Jesus said “go and make disciples of every nation.” Guess what his disciples did. They went out and made disciples of Jews, Gentiles, Idol worshippers, and people of all religions. That’s not competition, that’s obedience to Jesus. We Christians still follow Jesus’ commands, whether you think that is a mistake or not. 

ME: But in many cases I think our conversions are often worsening the problem (“You scour the land and sea to make a disciple, and when you do, you make him twice a son of Hell). But my point is that our view of other religions is often based on false assumptions, and our superior/competitive attitude often prevents us from being good neighbors.

• I believe most Christian parents lead their children to make spiritual decisions that they are not yet equipped to make.

PASTOR: REALLY? I believe that Christian Parents should: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deut 6:5-7
Unfortunately, from over 20 years of experience in Children’s Ministry, most Christian Parents do not teach their children to Love the Lord with all their heart. Some even forsake the church and release their children to the world.

ME: Teaching is one thing… indoctrinating is something different. I guess it depends on how one is using the word. However, I was addressing decisions. We would never let our 9 year-old pick their spouse at that age – Why? Because they do not have the facilities to make such a huge decision… what musical instrument they want to play is probably enough at this stage. Yet parents often want their children to make big religious decisions. It makes me wonder if they really believe it to be an important decision. A lot of parents direct their children into decisions and somehow think their child made a “real” decision. I have a card trick that I do for my students. They are amazed at the end because they think they made every choice along the way, yet somehow I knew their card. The truth is that “I” made every one of those decisions – performers call this “magician’s choice”. I see parents do this all the time with their children spiritually, but not only does the child believe they made the choice, the parent also believes the child made the choice.

• I believe most churches indoctrinate their congregations and are houses of theological inbreeding. 
Inbreeding is bad in genetics and worse in theology.

PASTOR: REALLY? The Church is the bride of Christ. Calling her a theological inbred is just not nice.

ME: I don’t mean it as an insult but as a description. When theological ideas are coming from only one source, or only approved sources… that is inbreeding. It can produce theological offspring with serious “health” issues. Paul warned against this - “when they judge themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves; they are not wise.”

PASTOR: Andy,
I love you and your family, and actually don’t hate anyone. As a pastor, I have never taught anyone to hate another person, nor have I ever been a part of a church that taught hate. You make the church out to be “The mother of all Haters” and for that I am saddened. As a leader in the church, perhaps I and all my fellow ministers should give up, close the doors of the church, and “redeem the world” as you put it. But that wasn’t God’s plan. Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell (yes, a real place) will not prevail against it.” God’s only plan is the church. It is the only hope for the world. It’s the only organization which can point people to their Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Think About it!

ME:  My thought is that I don’t think I make the church out to be the “mother of all haters”, but neither do I see the church as one monolithic unit. As I indicated in my last “belief” there are many types of Christians out there, but the kind of Christian I would hope would pop in the mind of a non-Christian is usually not the one that pops in when the term is mentioned.

Again, we differ on a perspective of organized church…. I think it is part of how God is redeeming the world, but not limited to it.

Yes, I believe Hell is a real place…. And I also believe it will not prevail, not once.

I don’t expect you to change your views based on anything I said, but I hope we can move away from your initial insinuation that you are speaking for God, whereas I am speaking without Him. We disagree on many things (perhaps strongly), but we probably agree on many as well. I would hope there is enough common ground there to find us each a place in Christianity.

PASTOR: Love you man. Happy New Year to you and your Family!

and that was that...

Just as some background, my family moved out to Salt Lake with about 35 other folks 10 years ago to start that church. At the time of this conversation, we were already on our way out. My views above had been that way for years, and did not mesh well with the church and some folks in it. Still, inertia kept us going there for quite awhile after our expiration date had passed. I was given some advice that I could get back into everyone's good graces if I would just quit announcing my opinions and tone down the blogging.

"It might happen. Shyeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt!" ~ Wayne Campbell

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Facebook #12 The Bible is What I Say It Is


A friend posted an article, actually more a list of sayings, that has made the rounds over the past few years. The sayings reframe various Old Testament events as being superseded or completed in Jesus. Here are some:
Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.
It goes on to make a dozen similar connections to the Old Testament.

My friend, like many, use a list like this to give a poetic licence of Grace to the Old Testament. However, one does not need to be a Hasidic Jew to realize this rendering of the ancient scriptures cannot help but lead to misunderstanding. 

But - this is my point - UNDERSTANDING is not the point. Feeling good about the God of Jesus is the point.

In order to do that, the Old Testament... and some of the New... must be emasculated. All the blood, death, genocide .... the pages saturated with violence and gore must be ignored, glossed over, or re-imagined. Spend too much time in the Bible, reading it as it is, and any person of good conscience is going to struggle to feel good about the God of Jesus.

I appreciate the views of  Walter Brueggemann, a noted Old Testament scholar, who eschews the Christian tendency to avoid the violence of the Old Testament. Rather than avoiding it, or denying it, he attempts to name it for what it is... a reflection of the character of God. He states:
" the God of the Bible is “in recovery” from a propensity to violence, a recovery that requires, on God’s part, intentionality and resolve against an easy reactive treatment of any opposition."
This is not how Christians are instructed to wrestle with the Old Testament. When they think of Noah, they picture cute Arks and animals that children play with in nurseries... not children drowning. When they think of God's commands, they think of the Ten Commandments - not the ones where God encourages the owning of slaves and justifies their beatings. When they think of the armies of the Lord, they picture God as the great and just commander; not one who tells the soldiers to kill every man, woman, and child... but to keep the virgin girls for their own use. You don't tend to hear these scriptures quoted or sung in this fashion on Sunday morning.

No - Most Christians proclaim the bible to be the inerrant Word of God without ever having read it. They grant it unquestioning authority without ever having wrestled with it. This is the definition of blind faith.

Passages like the one I referenced at the beginning serve as a type of inoculation. Having read such items, the Christian feels they have a sense of the "true" heart of the Old Testament. Objective views in church culture are rare, but any that surface will be quickly rendered inert by proclamations of a grace-filled God... who bears little resemblance to the God presented throughout much of the Old Testament.

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