Category Archives: Religion

When faith is fragile

Christians have never seemed stronger in the United States than they appear today, with fundamentalism entrenched in the marketplace, education, entertainment, and government. But faith appears increasingly fragile.

Many families home-school children using curriculum materials that support biblical truth as opposed to social, historical, or scientific truth. Churches have their own rock music so they can rave without hearing contrary words, and there are Christian romance novels and Christian post-apocalyptic fiction for the young folks so they will not be led astray. Many Christians feel attacked by the mention of evolution, and their faith cannot comfortably coexist with science, other religions, or alternate lifestyles. To preserve their fragile faith, they silence or marginalize — perhaps demonize — people who do not fit their mold.

Human understanding of the universe and of people grows and expands, through human experience, reflection, discovery, and discussion. Such learning threatens the God of fundamentalism, who is changeless and text-bound, too small to contain the whole unfolding universe. So they protest too much and believe too little, and they are stressed-out and fearful, defending their downsized God instead of living in faith and moving forward.

The religon wars

Conflicts today often devolve to a conflict over religion, or at least between two groups committed to different interpretations of God. Both Islam and Christianity claim to be religions of peace, but history does not reveal them to be so. Judaism does not have an imperialist commission to convert people of other faiths and expand their territory, but it too bears historical scars of both oppressed and oppressor.

Yesterday in Egypt, a bomb exploded outside a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, killing several people:

After the explosion, some Christians from the church clashed with police in anger over the blast. The Christians hurled stones at police and a nearby mosque, chanting, “With our blood and soul, we redeem the cross,” the witnesses said. An AP photographer at the scene said the protesters stormed into the mosque, throwing books inside out onto the street. The protest sparked clashes with Muslims, as both sides began throwing stones and bottles at each other in the streets. (The Huffington Post, Maggie Michaell, “Egypt Church Explosion,” 12/31/10)

It is convenient in any conflict to be able to identify the “other person” who is the “enemy” as someone who does not worship the true God, meaning of course the one you worship. It doesn’t even have to be a different God. Arguably the reference “God” in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all refer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The whole problem is that Muslim fundamentalists understand this God one way, Christian fundamentalists understand him another way, and Jewish fundamentalists yet another way. The difference becomes a reason for any group to kill members of the other group, wreck or ban their houses of worship, destroy their books and artifacts, call them infidels, and otherwise treat them in unfriendly and injurious ways.

Through history, most of the world’s large killing sprees have involved Christians, frequently on both sides of the conflict. Muslim fundamentalists have warred against each other and against Christians, earning their reputation as terrorists by striking at civilian targets without warning. It is not as if they were powerless to do better, because they have the same platforms available to other groups from which to negotiate or otherwise present their grievances. Their method is of their own choosing, and they expect that their God will reward them with paradise. Somehow it is not incongruous to think of a Viking soldier believing that his spirit will be borne into Valhalla if he dies in battle, just as it is not incongruous to think that some shepherd on the hills of ancient Rome believed that the sun was Apollo’s chariot racing across the dome of the sky. But in a scientific age it is difficult to think of a modern human with a suicide bomb believing that killing a group of random strangers is his ticket to paradise.

Perhaps it is that religion, which probably should be about how we live, has come to be about how we ought to die for our faith. A martyr earns God’s special favor in paradise and headlines that go around the world to tell people he is a soldier of God, while a person who dies in his bed after a long life of service to fellow human beings gets only his obituary in the local paper for a couple of days and a few family to welcome him on the other side. Or perhaps it is even more simple, and since nobody is actually certain of their own God’s favor, they have to prove themselves right and righteous by proving the other person wrong. If the other person is trampled upon or dead, if the other person’s books and holy artifacts are trashed and his temple destroyed, obviously his God wasn’t as good as the God whose soldier is still standing.

With the Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution in our history, it seems likely to me that people could learn to live in peace if we could all manage to quit defending our all-powerful and eternal Gods against attacks by every piddly little infidel that strikes a pose.

Not a clue

It is not often that you get to meet a voter who knows exactly who God is, what God wants, and who God wants them to vote for, but I did meet such a person back in the summer while campaigning for Rick Boucher.

It was particularly disturbing because the person was a Christian. In the authoritative Christian text, Jesus said “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s,” clearly separating the secular from the sacred. In addition, he refused to be king of the world, and he threw the money-changers out of the house of worship. His message to the woman at the well separated worship from geography, tribal origin, and nationality. So to call any nation a Christian nation is contrary to the teaching of Jesus. History books published prior to the Great Revision (BGR) all show that in the United States it is also contrary to the ideas of the Founding Fathers. As to what God wants us to do, the Sermon on the Mount does not go into much legal detail the way Leviticus does, but it says pretty clearly that while God really doesn’t need anything that we can give, our fellow human beings are often hungry and ill and anxious, and if we take care of them, it is the same as if we are caring for God.

Anyway, this voter had come with a group to Acres of Democrats, an annual Democratic party fundraiser. Her group filled a table at the front of the room to the right of the speaker, and when Rick had finished his speech, they were strategically positioned to surround and pursue him, scripted and choreographed. To their dismay, Rick passed right through them, and several of the Democrats who saw the ambush stepped into his wake and stopped them. There were five or six of them, including two women who were apparently spokespersons, a videographer, and an outlier or two who were there to block.

Two Democrats were comforting the crying woman, listening to her repeat tearfully, “I just wanted him to answer me, just wanted him to come to our event that we invited him to.” She was visibly distraught, which is important when when there is a video. As we all began to realize what was going on, people turned away from the scene.

I stood for a minute or two listening to her performance, then I asked her some kind of question, which caused her to turn to me. The two people who had been listening to her seized the opportunity and left, having done their duty.

This voter was in tears, as proponents of the extreme right often are — agonizing about whether to vote for an incumbent with a proven record of service or for a newcomer campaigning on the “I am Christian” platform. The incumbent had supported gay rights and women’s rights, and so was accused of threatening the sanctity of marriage and killing babies. This was old rhetoric that I had already heard. But I was surprised to learn from this voter that Liberation Theology, which originated in the Black church, specifically in Reverend Wright’s church, was the most serious problem facing Americans, that it was the basis for the class warfare being waged by Democrats and Liberals, and that it was going to destroy the United States and Christianity. She knew nothing about Cap and Trade, about climate change, or about any issue. She was concerned about that one great evil, Liberation Theology. I myself had not even recognized this as an issue. She was concerned, even distressed, about Liberation Theology, but she still didn’t know anything about it. She could not name any of the tenets or principles, or name a theologian other than Wright. She did say that she had read all about it in Glenn Beck’s book, and she was an expert because she had been studying history for three years. Somewhere someone has a video. If you see it let me know.

This person’s vote counted as much as mine. She had no clue about the issues, but she was a protector of marriage against the threat of gays, protector of babies against murdering Moms, stalwart of the Christian faith without a clue what that is, advocate for millionaires that she didn’t know against people living in her own trailer park, on a mission from God and Beck, and pretending to be a Democrat in order to ambush a Congressman and pour out her self-righteous tears on camera.

Maybe it really is time to kick out the incumbents

When things don’t go well for some time, it is apparently reasonable to suggest that we need to kick out the incumbents, and I think it might be time to kick out the incumbents in religion. Christianity has been around for a long time and controlled kings and empires, and “peace on earth good will to men” has not happened. Christian Dominionists keep war against unbelievers on the front burner. Islam is a few years younger than Christianity, and they have that whole jihad terrorist fatwa thing going — a state of affairs that is not evidence of progress in meeting expectations for the good life. Judaism is over three thousand years old, and their God promised a lot more than has been delivered. Peace is even farther away from realization because each group has its own supremacists, which means we are all condemned to war until the last sect standing.

I am not suggesting that we kick out the incumbent God. God is either there and impervious to kicking out, or not there to kick out in the first place. But we do not hear directly from God, we hear from God’s managers, translators, handlers, and emissaries who tell us what God wants us to do. They have had thousands of years to get the message right, and somehow the whole group of prelates, bishops, imams, preachers, prophets, gurus, rabbis, evangelists, and even the Pope himself, have been ineffective. If we kicked them all out and replaced them with people who weren’t so much into the ideology, or the organization, or the profitability model, or whatever it is that has them stuck, maybe we would get a better result.

Prayer requests

I posted a this request on the Facebook “resources on prayer you’d like to see offered” discussion board of the National Prayer Center of the Assemblies of God:

I would like to see you denounce imprecatory prayers and specifically the Facebook page praying for the death of President Obama. If the people signed on to these pages actually believe in the effectiveness of prayer, they are making serious threats on President Obama’s life, and that is disrespect for the law as well as the President. If they believe their action is harmless, they do not believe in prayer or in God. If you permit it to continue without commenting, you are abdicating your leadership role, concurring in the death threat, or denying God’s power.

I received this response, posted to the discussion board:

The National Prayer Center vehemently denounces the expression of prayer for the harming of anyone, and would remove such sentiments from its page as soon as noticed.

This discussion board has only the invitation, my request, and their response since the middle of March, so not much of a discussion is going on there, and the response posted in this quiet corner does not amount to “vehemently denounces.” What I cannot understand is the quantity of mean-spirited and downright hateful rhetoric that is coming from self-proclaimed Christian people, and the silence of the church at large regarding the situation.

Here is the problem:

  • If a church does not believe in the power of prayer and still asks members to invest their time and energy in a useless activity, that church is committing the worst kind of fraud.
  • If a church does believe in prayer and tolerates — or worse encourages — members to pray for harm to people, that church is concurring in the curse.
  • If believers are acting contrary to the understanding of the church and doing in the name of Christ something that the church denounces, that church is ineffective as a spiritual leader.

To be perfectly clear, when I say “a church,” I mean the group of people with whom you gather for worship as well as the larger denominational organization — Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Catholic, A of G, Church of God, Church of Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, Church of the Brethren, etc. All of these should be publicly denouncing the use by Christians of imprecatory prayer to curse our nation and our leaders. So far as I have seen, they have not done so.

This world we live in

The newspaper reported that a third to half of parents at one middle school kept children home on Friday because they were afraid the children would be ritualistically sacrificed by other children who had joined a vampire cult and had to kill to gain immortality. I’m not making that up.

It appears that a girl was suspended recently for stating that she had to kill someone to gain immortality, a startling aspect of a religion that she got from a comic book. The aunt of another student heard about this cult (?), composed the details into a message titled “‚ÄúSomething to PRAY ABOUT!,” and sent it to ten or fifteen of her close friends on Facebook.

Well, the friends passed it on to their friends. They kept their kids home the next morning. Parents who got the message after their children had already gone to school started picking up their kids. The newspaper is unclear about how the school superintendent found out about the panic, but he went to the school personally and sent out a calming e-mail.

You can chuckle over this, but there is a serious issue embedded in this story. It says to me that religion has gotten out of hand. A school is disrupted by rumors of a vampire religion because a child reads a comic book. A relative hears about the cult and leaps to the rescue by requesting prayer on Facebook. What world do these folks live in? They are able to believe that middle school children are joining a vampire cult and planning to kill each other, and they pass around a prayer request on Facebook? In my world, if you think there is a vampire cult that is going to kill your children at school, you really should call the school principal.

Jerry Falwell’s Passing Over

In other terms than global warming, the world probably got just a little warmer with the passing of Jerry Falwell. He grew hate in his backyard and spread it around by the truck load — and with his masterful use of the media and political influence, he made a hate-filled version of Christianity the norm of the day. He played upon the fears of people and helped rally the Christian right to place George W. Bush in the presidency and our democracy at risk as it is today.
There is hardly a segment of society that he did not insult, including many Christians, with his bigotry and arrogance. With his passing, Christianity has an open door to move to a more actually Christian attitude. I found a message on that topic at Pomomusings that is worth reading.
As for whether Rev. Falwell is in heaven or hell, you already know I don’t believe in the existence of hell. As I have said before, hell is just wishful thinking. In the reality Falwell has left for his followers and his enemies, the damage he did will be a long time healing.

Our ignorance is beginning to show ?

Over at CNN this morning in a story named ?Jesus Sells? presented by Susan Hendricks and narrated by Delia Galligher, both commentators call Jesus a prophet ? so, it is cute, ?profit from a prophet,? but in the current christianist spirit of the times I imagine there will be Easter eggs thrown at them.
The relevant text is in Matthew 16:13-18, where the divinity of Jesus is stated by Peter and confirmed by Jesus. Jesus further states that His divine nature has not been revealed by earthly witnesses, but that it was revealed to Peter by God Himself. This scripture contains the absolute statement that Jesus is not a prophet. Matthew 16:18 is the foundational scripture of Christianity, the reason St. Peter?s Basilica in Rome is called St. Peter?s, and the establishing scripture of the Catholic church.
Now, over in islamist tradition and scripture, Jesus is recognized as a prophet, but he is a lesser prophet than Mohammed. And because of the declaration in Matthew 16:16, the islamists call Christians polytheists ? since we obviously have at least two gods, Jesus and His Father.
Personally at Easter I am for the chocolate bunny and the jellybeans, coloring the boiled eggs for the kiddies, and looking at the spring flowers. I have been out of the theological discussion so long that I don?t even know whether to call the misstatement at CNN apostasy or heresy, but I know it is one of those. Could be it is both. Or maybe you can?t be apostate or a heretic just because you are ignorant. Go ask a theologian.
However, let?s be clear about this. Christians aren?t profiting from a prophet. In the terms of their own liturgy, when they sell the little WWJD trinkets and the horseshoe nails on a bead chain they are profiting from the ?Christ, the Son of the Living God.? (Matt. 16:16, KJV)

Improving my Prayer Time?

I don’t click on spam links. Really. I guess the spammers have to send the messages, but I don’t have to respond. I always read the from and subject lines with my fingers on Ctrl-D, and I can see the come-ons going by in the preview window. When the spam is all gone — usually 20 or so messages — I read the newsletters I have requested and sometimes hear from a friend or family member.
But I was tempted, really tempted, to click on this one that came today.
It came from Living Christian. Now, who in their right mind with the last name Christian would name their kid “Living”? When choosing names, one should give some thought to where the names will appear: on the birth announcement, on the diploma, on the wedding invitation, on the organizational chart, on the grave marker. Imagine seeing in the obituaries that Living has died. Or maybe somewhere a spam think-tank believes that Living is such a common name that I will believe it is someone I met at a conference and open the e-mail and be snared by the come-on graphics.
But wait, the e-mail isn’t addressed to me. It is addressed to N. I am not N. I know who M is, and I know who Q is, but these are the only letter people I know. I know a Bea, a Dee, and a Jay, but these aren’t B, D, and J. I don’t even know who N is, and here I am with N’s e-mail.
In the preview pane, there is the come-on graphic. An ethnic-appearing model, not quite any race except Maybelline. Just the head, arms, and shoulders. Face almost in profile, just a bit toward the camera. Elbows on white sheets, hands clasped under her upturned chin. Eyes on the ceiling light fixture, apparently. A loose plunging neckline of white in a sleeveless camisole. Long black hair loose and brushed back. Full mouth closed, a bit sad. And the headline — actually reading toward the forehead —

Strengthen your Faith Daily
Try Living Christian Software Free* Today

There are exciting features listed, like searching for any Bible passage (the way you can in Google, I imagine), and add and track your notes through the program. And “tests and quizzes throughout to track and test your knowledge.”
And at the bottom of the graphic of course the reminder that you can try it free.
Living Christian, which, by the way, you can try free, is not the only product in the ad. Outside the graphic box (which is one big link, just in case you are one of those random clickers) there is another teaser. It says “Improve your prayer time — visit here.”
Now, improving your prayer time has to be serious business. And I am impressed that you can try Living Christian free.
But my fingers are on Ctrl D, and I am not N, and the nano-second that I wonder what they are selling and how much it costs falls to the reflex, and I go read my newsletter from AARP.
But I did pause for just a split second, so I may be getting weak. Next thing you know I may click on “Innovative Degrees” or “Dream Job” or “fwd: Wanna money with BCLC great” or “FSR – Turn your PC into a SuperTV.” But I did manage to resist “Are you Christian, N?”

Seeking definition…

You scored as Cultural Creative. Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

Cultural Creative
















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