Thursday, February 15, 2024

Historical Jesus?

Someone asked me if I believed in a historical Jesus-

"I think there probably was a Jesus... but everything we know of him is 2nd hand, generations later, motivated retells. So, I take the stories for what they are and what they say... and don't worry too much when Jesus contradicts himself or the Pauline epistles head in different directions.

In the end, those who scream most loudly about the Bible being the "Word of God" usually have a very thin knowledge of how it came about or what it contains. In my sect, Evangelicals, we would regurgitate the same 500 verses annually, while pretty much ignoring the other 30,000.

Ultimately, I think most folks find the Jesus they want in the Bible. I have friends of all different economic, social, and political persuasions... and funny enough, all of them quote Jesus and claim to be followers. Jesus has many faces."

Sunday, January 07, 2024

Abraham Failed the Test

I wrote this in a discussion about Abraham and Issac 10 years ago-

First, I don't think the event actually happened... It is a moral fable which a nomadic people told to make a point. If you get emotionally invested in it being real, you will probably miss the author's intended point... as you would if you felt Apollo was the negligent party with Asclepius by letting him drive the chariot in the first place.

But let's assume it all happened as it is written. First, we may error in assuming Abraham viewed Isaac the way modern parents view their children. Abraham most likely viewed Isaac as his most treasured possession... but still a possession. If it came down to it, he would save his own rear end before he would save Issac; in the same way any of us would sacrifice any possession we have to save our own skin.

However, I would look at it this way. What if the god Jehovah really wanted Abraham to say no? He is the most powerful being in the universe... he always gets what he wants... but he has no equal, so he lacks relationships. Here he is trying to forge one with his creation... but he can't get around his... imposing personality. He can't help but feel his relationship with Abraham isn't really a friendship... and it was proved that day. He had Abraham's obedience but that is a poor substitute for friendship.  He knows Abraham fears him... and this leaves him disappointed. 

God was like the bully of the playground who one day realizes that he has a big posse but no friends. He is surrounded by sycophants and those who are afraid of him. What he yearned for was for Abraham to say no. That is what friends do... sometimes they help protect us from ourselves. A true friend would never acquiesce to such a demand.

I don't think Abraham passed the test that day. He failed his son, and he failed the god who wanted to be his friend.

Monday, January 01, 2024

Conservative Faith Can Never Bring Peace

"'People kill for money or for power,' DeMello's Holy One teaches. 'But the most ruthless murderers are those who kill for their ideas.' It is not belief that causes war, it is believers who refuse to allow others to hold ideas other than their own." - Joan Chittister

This is why when you look through history, there are not examples of successful conservative religious societies.  They cannot tolerate other religions.  There is no peaceful coexistence.  Even if all are converted to the same faith, the orthodox will discover heretics.  Conservative religion despises, yet needs, the 'other'.

In my last years as a Christian, I had taken to announcing questions and conclusions I was coming to regarding my faith.  On one occasion, I got a retort on FB from one of my pastors.

Me: 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.

Our church was not a particularly heavy-handed conservative fellowship but showing an aversion to conversion was enough to categorize me outside the faith.  

There is no peace in conservative faith while unbelievers and folks of other religions remain.  Presently, "obedience to Jesus" when converting others is not violent but it has not always been so.  We can look around the world at conservative religions and see that they don't play well with others.  

I don't suspect America's conservative faithful would fare any better should they acquire real power.  Remember this, moderate believer, when you assume that voting for a conservative Christian is a good thing.  History and present-day global examples tell us otherwise.  There are legions of Christians in America who would use the force of law to make you obedient to their vision of 'Jesus'.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Experience vs Efficiency

In my classroom, the kids have weekly assigned jobs.  One of them is to pass out sanitizing wipes.  First thing after we come in the door, a student will grab the container and start putting wipes on each desk.

This week the task was assigned to “Joey” and he shows up late for school almost daily.  So, the job has been passed off to random students each day.  This has slowed our start each morning because it takes us a minute to realize it is not being done.

This morning as I was getting ready, I decided to pass out the wipes myself since “Joey” would probably not show up on time.  I noted how much faster I got it done… probably less than 30 seconds.  My students often take 5 minutes to accomplish this task.  They have trouble getting a wipe out, they drop the tub, they get distracted, they lose their place, they miss someone and an argument starts.

For a moment, I considered taking over this daily job.  It would save me time and, honestly, some stress.  But then I catch myself.  A major temptation I have to resist as a teacher is to do things for the students that they have the ability to do for themselves.  I have to regularly make peace with the reality that they will do a job slowly, messily, poorly.

I can add a lot of efficiency to my day by having students do very little.  If I do it for them, it gets done quick, clean, and without drama.  

But then they experience nothing.  

So, I remind myself – let them cut out the circles… badly.  Let them move the items… and knock half of them over.  Have them pass out the papers… and be painfully slow doing it.

Efficiency seems ideal in the moment but kids need the inefficiency of experience if they are going to grow.

Monday, September 04, 2023

Humanity's Desire for the Fantastic

I recently read an article by science fiction writer, David Brin, commenting on Congress's need to address some UFO conspiracies. 

Be it ghosts, deities, UFOs, auras, crystals, or vast conspiracies centered on pizza restaurants... underlying all of this is a desire for the fantastic.  We want our emotions stirred.  Most folks find that in music, art, books, movies etc...  But for some reason, many humans are not content with story and imagination.  They want it to be "real".

I do too.  It would be a blast if people could swing between buildings after being bitten by a radioactive spider.  How amazing would it be if aliens landed in Central Park and wanted to introduce us to the wonders of the universe.  Wouldn't it be great if a deity or two could secure peace and let us know that everything will be alright?

I just don't think that is the world we inhabit.

But I understand the draw.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Those First Few Weeks of School

I think parents, teachers, and students need to give themselves a little grace during that first month of school.

Have you ever turned down your music when driving in a new neighborhood trying to find an address?  What does music have to do with directions?

It is another input.  Another distraction when all of your mental energy is trying to focus.

My classroom is old-hat to me.  But to my new students? Everything is novel.  Where the pencil sharpener is, how I pass things out, procedures for lining up.  Literally, everything is new.  So many inputs. And, unlike the music in your car, there is no button to tune some of it out.

The first month is kind of nuts.  Take a breath.  It'll get better.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

No Ulterior Motives

This meme was recently posted by a pastor friend of mine on Facebook.  Beneath it were these comments:

"One day they will wish they hadn’t denied Him!"

"I wouldn't want to be the one that would deny that our Lord does not exist I love my Lord and I know he loves me 💖💖"

In a similar vein, I was chatting with a former believing colleague on a thread who was trying to "reconvert" me.  I was polite but made it clear I just wasn't buying what he was selling.  At that point, he became very angry and launched into a string of personal attacks and finished with the old threat of "You will be dead one day, soon, and meet face to face with Almighty God Himself!" and that he feared for my soul.

This is fairly typical of the believing sect I came from.  Common to their belief is that anyone not of their sect should "fear" their life ending in unbelief.

But I don't.

First, because I believe we are biological and that is all there is.  One day I will die.  All my biological functions will cease.  I will have no awareness after that.  I will be gone.  Contrary to the statement of Augustine, I have no ulterior motives for this belief.

Second, if there turns out to be something beyond this life, I can't imagine it is anything like what they have put forth.  Their take is simply unreasonable and unloving.  Perhaps an eternal, all-powerful being really is that petty and insecure... but in that case, my former tribe will ultimately be no more safe than anyone else.

Rather, if it turns out there is something out there, beyond our moment of death, I think it will be something wonderful... for everyone.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Conservative Religion Never Trusts

I don't believe in any religion but I don't necessarily think they are all harmful. However, I would struggle to find redeeming qualities in conservative religion and this meme is an example of why.

First, there is no humility in their theology. We are right, everyone else is a heretic. I don't care what sect you are from, you have never had a personal one-on-one with a deity (stirrings in your heart and feeling his/her presence don't count). Therefore, ALL of your notions about your deity are secondhand, a telephone game that has gone on for hundreds and thousands of years. Even if there is a central text, there has never been a time when wildly varying sects have not laid claim to that same text. There is a simple reason for this: a text cannot speak. It is subject to the interpretation of the reader and therefore will ALWAYS speak with many voices.

Second, conservative religion is always on a bug hunt for heresy. Not only are they terrified of outsiders, often known as "the world", but they are forever looking for "error" among their own people. Loyalty pledges and behavior rules are a favorite to demonstrate that one is a "real" believer (much like their conservative political siblings who like to judge who is a "real" American).

I grew up in conservative religion. I know the fear of not wanting to be tainted by "the world" or heresy from within.

What I find kind of humorous about this quote is that I consider Hillsong a conservative religion. Similar to my final church home, they put on a more welcoming front and use inclusive language as much as they can, but at the end of the day, they are on the same exclusive road as the pastor being quoted. 

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Church is like Baseball

There are a lot of similarities in America between sports enthusiasm and religious devotion. Both have the ability to bring together or divide a community. Each of them can stir up the passions of people for good or for ill.  Devotion and enthusiasm are not good or bad... it just depends on how they are handled.

Have you ever gone to a little league baseball game?  One parent uses sports to teach their kid fair play, good health, and personal excellence.  Another parent is giving different lessons as they cuss out the teen umpire in front of their child.  I have vivid memories of sitting on my glove in the outfield at 7 years old - our game was paused as two dads went to blows over home plate.

We had a family reunion two summers ago in Iowa. One evening we went to a minor league game.  I am not a sports person, but I am always up for a social happening in almost any context.

It was a really nice stadium.  We got the hot dogs, nachos, and pretzels.  The game was close, the family was there... we were having a good time.

However, for a lot of folks in the stadium, having a good time was accomplished differently.  For them, enthusiasm came from dissension. Everything the OTHER team did was awful and everything their team did was great.  A ref was good or bad based on calls for or against THEIR team.  I even saw one dad teaching his son to heckle the other players.

Religion and sports... the good and the bad are all in how you approach the game.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Star Trek Canon and Biblical Theology

Way back in the 1960s, there was this show called Star Trek.  Maybe you have heard of it.

In one of the episodes, Captain Kirk fights with a lizard creature from a species known as the Gorn.  Of course, what those writers didn’t know at the time was that a future Star Trek show, nearly 60 years later, would also want to make use of the Gorn character.

Our present Gorn look and act much different than the Gorn of William Shatner’s day.  60s Gorn looked like a guy in a big rubber lizard suit – because it was a guy in a big rubber lizard suit.  The Gorn of the 2020s look like they were born on the set of James Cameron’s Aliens.  Instead of lumbering behemoths, they are wicked, sleek, and scare the bejeezus out of even the most stone-faced Starfleet officer.

So, how does one explain the difference in the presentation of the Gorn species?

Of course, the most obvious answer is that film and tech have improved vastly in 60 years.  If the writers of Star Trek in the 1960s had access to 21st-century tech, they would not have thrown Bill Blackburn into a rubber lizard suit.

But that explanation does not work for a lot of Star Trek fans.  For these folks, there is a real discrepancy that needs to be accounted for WITHIN THE STORY.  These differing Gorn appear at nearly the same time in Star Trek history, so why do they not look the same?

If you go to Facebook and Reddit, you will see fans developing very intricate explanations that will allow both accounts of the Gorn to remain canon (true within the story).  There are dozens and dozens of theories.  Some vary only slightly, while others have wildly differing explanations.  My favorite so far is this one:

They're not the same species.

Kirk in his recording, says specifically, "... what the Metrons call the Gorn." Not what he, or Starfleet, call the Gorn. But what the Metrons call that species. 

If you apply SNW to the TOS timeline, they know what the Gorn look like and how they behave. I've interpreted Kirk's words as one of puzzlement: "We know what the Gorn are, these aren't them, why the heck are the Metrons calling them that?"

I love that this guy is digging down and dissecting Kirk’s words.  There is no way the original writers meant this… but he is able to use their chance verbiage to design an entire thesis.

Now, most fans are just having fun with this… but there are a few who take this seriously… and angrily.  They have choice words for folks who do not validate their theory and they HATE anyone who shrugs it off as just a story.

Observing this has reminded me of so many theological discussions I have been involved in and witnessed.  Christians are also concerned with canon and how they deal with discrepancies in their story varies on a scale even greater than Star Trek.  How does a God who acts horribly throughout a lot of the story suddenly get credited with peace and love?  How can contradictory ideas and events within the Bible be accounted for?

Some Christians recognize that a lot of the early Bible writers were only a few steps up from cavemen and their God acted like it.  Later, as civilization matured, so did "God".  By the time we get to the later writers, God looks a lot different.  We have moved past the rubber suit.

Other Christians want these discrepancies to work within canon.  They will dig down and dissect the wording.  Books, seminars, and studies exist to keep things canon. They use chance verbiage to develop a thesis. They try to get the story to flow… but they can’t always get it to work.  In the end, there are lots of ways to make the not working… palatable.

And then there are those who take it seriously… and angrily.  They have choice words for folks who do not validate their theories and they HATE anyone who shrugs it off as story.

I get along fine, generally, with those first two groups… but the angry group has little patience with an atheist like me.  Especially when they find out I was once a believer.  It is difficult for many Christians to reconcile a former believer becoming an atheist… while maintaining canon.

Some, like a colleague I once worked with at a ministry, say I am now “possessed by a lying spirit.”  My lack of belief is not really me… it is a demon.  Various canon problems can be solved with this approach.

Others have decided I was never a believer in the first place.  My decades in the faith and ministry simply… didn’t happen.  Their only way to maintain canon is to proclaim that I never really believed.

This approach occurs with Star Trek fans too.  If you get to a really sticky wicket, you just proclaim it “not canon”.  It never happened.

I think I want a shirt that reads, "Not Canon".  :)


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