Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Over Coffee

ExPreacher says this way more harshly than I would, but he makes some valid points.

First is the point about some scriptures getting enormous airtime while others get none. You may hear, "I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" a half dozen times or more in sermons throughout the year.  However, there is a good chance you have never heard from the pulpit, "Take vengeance on the Midianites… kill all the boys and all the women who have had intercourse with a man.  Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves."

As a Christian, I knew way more of the bible than the average parishioner.  I had committed whole books to memory.  Still, there were swaths of scripture I was completely unaware of.  There are over 31,000 verses in the bible but only a few hundred of those ever make it into sermons.  When I was deconstructing, this kind of conversation happened regularly-

Me: Did you know the bible says you can have slaves and that you are free to beat them… because they are your property?

My wife: It does NOT say that.

Me: But it does say you should not beat them to death… you can get in trouble for that.  However, if they live for a few days after the beating and then die… it’s all good.


Me: Yeah, it does.  Right here.

My wife: What… the… hell…?!

Bible scholar Bart Ehrman says, “We read our scriptures devotionally, but we view the scriptures of other religions objectively.”  Read that slave scripture to your average Evangelical and tell them it is from the Koran and they will see clearly how awful it is.  Tell them it is from the Bible and the spin will begin.  

I was no different.  The few times I heard such biblical critiques as a believer, I quickly shrugged them off.  Even if I didn’t have a counterargument, I was confident someone somewhere did.

The second point ExPreacher makes is about the way most believers sign off on the Bible’s inerrancy while having so little knowledge of it.  Like the Terms of Service agreement on a piece of software, they click YES without having read the terms.

For evangelicals, belief in the Bible as wholly true and perfect tends to be non-negotiable, even when they don’t understand it.  I once talked to a pastor friend about these biblical concerns.  He agreed that the Bible is messier than most believers understand, that its construction was complicated and political, and that he believed for all of the divine inspiration that may be there… man's fingerprints are all over it.

“And I can say that here over coffee with you as a friend,” he admitted, “but I can’t say that from the pulpit Sunday morning.”

If you go to his church website, it is written in the belief statements that the Bible is “inspired, infallible, inerrant”. 

Simply put, most Evangelical churches exist to direct thinking… not expand it.  Christian churches have varied views on things like salvation, atonement, tithing, Hell, church governance, gender issues, etc.  There are Christian churches out there that are comfortable saying the Bible is not inerrant. Until I started to look at things with a little more objectivity, I was completely ignorant of how narrow my view of faith was.

As Salt Lake Tribune writer, Robert Kirby, put it -

"For years, I never doubted the truthfulness of what I was taught. This is not surprising considering that virtually anything will make sense if it's all you know."

They say the Truth does not need protection.  The Bible has centuries of safeguards put in place to keep most believers from ever viewing it with a critical eye.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

No Hope for Fox

On my podcast list I have David Frum, Jay McFarland, David French, Bill Kristol, etc.  I listen to these guys because I want to hear a calm articulation of the conservative viewpoint.  I also eschew liberal voices that tend toward the sensational.  I want to try and understand reality as best I can.

I know I have friends and family who have a steady diet of Fox News, OAN, Newsmax, Breitbart, and the AM radio talk show circuit.  Their view of reality could not be more tilted.

Folks on the Left, Right, and Middle who deal in reality are hopeful that the revelations these past few weeks - that the folks at Fox knowingly and willfully engaged in falsehoods in order to appease their viewers- will bring some change.

I don't have that hope... at all.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Every Kid Needs a George

Our local NPR affiliate did a story on a recent study which showed that a third of 4th graders are not reading on grade level.  I listened for the first 5-10 minutes and then turned it off in frustration.  They started to go down the path of how our schools teach reading and why it has been producing this outcome.  The thesis was that, about 20 or so years ago, schools moved away from phonics instruction.

This is a popular notion right now as the education pendulum swings back toward phonics.  States are jumping on board the train.  Here in Utah, every K-3 teacher has been made to take part in a two-year program to get them on the phonics page – essentially, a college class for teacher’s evenings and weekends.

Underlying all of this phonics fervor is the mistaken notion that schools can instruct students into reading proficiency.  Contrary to the radio show thesis, I think schools made the mistake of thinking they could move students to proficiency without family involvement.  

It was about 20 years ago that I noticed a shift in the rhetoric at trainings and meetings.  If a teacher brought up strategies for how to get families involved with reading with students at home we were told, “We can’t control that, so let’s talk about the things we can control.”  Instruction of students became less of a partnership between home and school.  Over time, the responsibility shifted solely to the school.  A lot of parents took that as a signal that they could leave the work of educating their child to that building the child busses to each morning.  For many, education became a consumer item that one could write a check for and forget about. 

So, in a lot of American homes, kids just quit reading.  There is your third of students not reading on grade level.  The best instruction by the best instructors will not change that.

There is a slice of students who need intervention due to reading struggles… but, in my experience, that is not the issue with most underperforming readers.  These kids need time on the page and they are not getting it.  They need daily, one on one, time with an adult who reads with them.  Schools (for all of their best intentions) and states (with their expectations) cannot make up for that lack.

Let me give the example of George.  He was a (very) senior citizen who came to my former Title One school every day to read with kids.  He was not a reading specialist.  He was available and he read with one of my 6th-grade students almost every day.  

My student read at a 2nd-grade level.  She didn’t like to read because she was unsuccessful at it and because she was unsuccessful at it she didn’t like to read.  Most of my Title One students were stuck in this vicious circle.  Still, she was willing to read with George.

Over the months, her resistance to reading lessened.  She started carrying a book in her back pocket and I would catch her at recess reading under a tree.  By the end of the year, she was reading at a 4th-grade level.

Her success had nothing to do with my reading instruction (I had 37 students that year).  It was her daily time spent with a saint who somehow got from his downtown apartment to our building.  

Moving that struggling third cited in the radio show to grade-level is not going to come about due to instructional methods.  It will happen when our culture gets back to adults being available to read with kids.

Friday, March 03, 2023

Rare Things Happen All The Time

Almost every day, I hear believers thank a deity for some happy circumstance or coincidence.  The fact that they got the job that they wanted, or that parking spot, or a reduction on some bill, is evidence of divine assistance.


At one time, I too saw little evidences of my god all around me.  I tabulated a number of such things when convincing myself to move out to Utah twenty years ago.

But I have been out of the faith now for a decade.  The interesting thing is that just as many happy coincidences happen to me now as ever did.  In reality, every person, regardless of faith status, gets their share of good and bad happenstance.

I now see all of that dot-connecting as a desire for meaning.  It may be great that I got that job... but if GOD got me that job, then I am significant.  I matter. I am seen.

But, that kind of meaning is exterior... and as with all such forms that give one a sense of worth, that route is fleeting.  

Friends and family, jobs and money... even gods... can only serve as a band-aid.  Eventually, alone with your own thoughts, you have to create your worth and meaning.

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