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Saturday, December 19, 2015

I'm not an Evangelical!

A post over at the Otagosh blog recently asked the question "Are You an Evangelical?" http://otagosh.blogspot.com/2015/12/are-you-evangelical.html Based on the four point formula for identifying as an Evangelical given by America's National Association of Evangelicals, I guess I'd have to answer that question with an emphatic "NO!"

In the post, G.R. refers to folks who regard the Bible as their "paper pope." As I've stated many times on this blog, I do not subscribe to the theory that any human writings (even those that have been inspired by Almighty God) are perfect and without error. And I certainly don't believe that any book (whether human or Divine in origin) is capable of fully and completely comprehending the mind and purposes of God (God cannot be contained!).

My response to the four points:

1) God is the highest authority for what I believe. While the Bible, science, observation, reason and the musings of other humans have all contributed to my belief system, I don't consider any of them to be equal in authority to God or completely representative of "His" will.

2) Although I am willing to share with others who are interested the reasons for my devotion to Christ and the religion he founded, I don't feel compelled to convert anyone to that system or to encourage them to adopt my religion or Savior as their own.

3) Jesus Christ's death on the cross removed the penalty for my sins (death). Moreover, although I believe his death on the cross is also efficacious in removing the sins of anyone who accepts that sacrifice, I don't believe that everyone who has not made that profession in this lifetime is lost, condemned or otherwise removed from God's love and salvation.

4) I believe that God will save the vast majority of humankind through Jesus Christ, whether or not they have placed their trust in him during their physical lifetime on this planet.

So, I guess that means that I'm not an EVANGELICAL! What about you?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

NASA explores God's handiwork

We (humankind) should all be proud of (and awestruck by) the breadth and depth of the exploratory missions that have been undertaken on our behalf by NASA scientists within our solar system. The scope of the images and information provided by these expeditions is truly astounding and should make all of us reflect on just how grand our small corner of the universe really is. Take a moment to consider the evidence presented to us within just the last few years. You can check them out for yourself here: https://www.nasa.gov/

The Curiosity Rover's images from the surface of Mars continue to surprise and amaze. The probe has confirmed that Gale Crater at one time contained a lake with liquid water and has sent back images of Mount Sharp. The rover has even drilled into the planet's rocks and performed tests on the resulting dust to determine their chemical composition! After studying older images provided by the Mars Global Surveyor and comparing them with information provided by other probes, scientists have recently determined that there is still a large amount of water (mostly frozen) on the planet. Moreover, they have been able to determine that seasonal warming and high salt concentrations continue to make it possible for liquid water to flow over/across the interesting geologic features on Mars (present tense).

Cassini has been exploring Saturn's moons. Thanks to this probe, we have beautiful and detailed images of the surfaces of Titan and Enceladus. The most recent images of Titan have even penetrated the thick atmosphere and cloud cover of that world, giving us a glimpse of the large lakes of liquid methane and ethane and the windswept hydrocarbon rich dunes that cover its surface. We now know that somewhere deep under the icy crust of Enceladus a liquid ocean exists (we're still trying to figure out just how extensive it is).

The Dawn spacecraft has been exploring Vesta and Ceres in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Of particular interest to scientists and amateur observers (like myself), have been the prominent bright spots that Dawn has observed on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres. These spots are generally associated with impact craters and appear to be indicative of the exposure of materials covered by a thin crust (a type of magnesium sulfate mixed with water ice). Hence, once again, water appears to be a common compound in our solar system.

And have you seen the spectacular images from the New Horizons mission to Pluto and Charon at the outer edges of our solar system? I was astounded when I beheld an image entitled "The Mountainous Shoreline of Sputnik Planum." This fifty mile wide view of the al-Idrisi Mountains that rise up to a mile and a half above the planetoid's surface and end abruptly at a windswept sea of nitrogen ice is magnificent.

What does all of this have to do with God? Doesn't all of this tell us something about the One [or Force(s), if you prefer] that shaped these worlds and produced the phenomena that occur on their surfaces? In short, NASA has allowed us to wonder at God's handiwork and to put our own position in the cosmos into better perspective.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

God, Job and loss

While some folks are stuck debating whether or not Job was a real person who actually experienced the things written in the book in our Bible that bears his name, many Christians and Jews regard it as a parable that is illustrative of some profound spiritual truths. Nevertheless, in reviewing what some of the commentators had to say about this book, I was struck by the superficiality and materialistic nature of many of the interpretations offered. Yes, Job had a problem with self-righteousness, and he had failed to understand just how great God really is; but is that all we are to take away from this book?

For me, the entire book is about loss, and the way that we as humans process it and deal with it. Although the book makes clear that Job's friends had not given him comfort or good counsel, we see in their offerings many of the same kinds of remarks that we offer our friends and families when we are trying to console them or advise them about some loss that they've experienced in their lives. Most of the time it is unintentional, but don't many of us have a tendency to blame the victim of some disaster? "If he/she hadn't done this or that, then this or that wouldn't have happened!" In other words, he/she is suffering as a consequence of their own bad actions. "How dare you blame God for your problems! You should be ashamed of yourself!" When I read what Job's friends had to say to him, I see the kinds of remarks that many folks make when confronted with loss (including myself). Let's face it, most of us try to explain or fix things. Moreover, we would all do well to ask ourselves: Is that what this person really needs from me right now?

Likewise, it is apparent to me that this book was written from the perspective of contrasting Job's spiritual and physical condition before he suffered loss with what he experienced at the conclusion of his trials and tribulations (compare chapter 1 with chapter 42). In other words, God has improved Job's spiritual and material condition by the end of the story. The principle: God can turn lemons into lemonade - All things work together for good. Do folks necessarily want to hear that when they're in the midst of a loss? Do we want to tell folks who are in the depths of despair that all stories have a happy ending? Is that a constructive way to help someone deal with grief and sorrow?

Also, in making the above observation about contrasting Job's condition at the beginning and close of the story, have you ever noticed just how materialistic the perspective of the human author is here? In the first chapter, we read that Job had seven sons, three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred she asses, "and a very great household." (Job 1:2-3) Then, in the last chapter, we read: "So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses. He had also seven sons and three daughters." (Job 42:12-13) Everything is viewed from the perspective of personal possessions and wealth. There is no room for sentimental attachment in this account. Everything is doubled or replaced.

I can hear modern echoes of this ancient story in the way that we deal with loss today. "What's he bellyaching about? The insurance coverage built him a brand new house - better than the one he had before the tornado!" "Yes, his car was totaled in the accident, but look at that Cadillac he's driving now!" "She lost her beloved pet dog that she'd had for seventeen years, but her kids got her two of the cutest little puppies for Christmas!" Let me ask you this: How does a person replace even one child that is lost? If you had four more children, you would love them; but they could never replace or fill the hole left by the one who is missing!

Yes, the book of Job makes me think about how we treat each other in the midst of loss. And it makes me think: Maybe we should all do a lot less talking and a whole lot more listening! What do you think?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Is Pope Francis on God's side?

I really like the current pontiff. On the plane ride back from his most recent trip (Africa), he made some comments which I most heartily endorse!

He said:

"Fundamentalism is a sickness that is in all religions"

“We Catholics have some — and not some, many — who believe they possess the absolute truth and go ahead dirtying the other with calumny, with disinformation, and doing evil. They do evil. I say this because it is my Church.”

He added: “religious fundamentalism isn’t religion, it’s idolatry"

**The above quotes taken from http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2015/11/30/pope-francis-says-he-is-not-losing-any-sleep-over-vatican-leaks-trial/

I think he's got this one right. What do you think?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Did God lose ten tribes of Israel?

As my last post dealt with the question of God's perspective on refugees and immigrants, I thought that it would be a good time to talk about a book I've been reading. The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History (Published by Oxford University Press, 2009) by Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, Professor of History and Chair of the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University, is an interesting read for anyone who has been exposed to the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong relative to the modern identity of the ten "lost" tribes of Israel.

If there was ever any doubt, Benite makes it very clear that Mr. Armstrong was not the first person to embark on a quest to find out what happened to the tribes of Israel who were defeated and carried into captivity by the Assyrians. In fact, not only was he not the first person to "discover" their fate, this book places Mr. Armstrong's efforts in this regard into the context of a historical phenomenon that has spanned thousands of years, the entire globe and the work of many people!

Benite summarizes his book as being "about the messengers, visionaries, and dreamers who over the centuries have searched for the lost tribes - through scholarship and travel, through both scientific and religious means." He went on to say that his book "is particularly concerned with the speculation (emphasis mine) that has evolved over the past two millennia over the precise identity and location of the ten lost tribes."

Of course, from the perspective of archeologists and historians, the first question is: Were ten tribes of the Hebrews ever really lost? In answering that question, Benite and other scholars have examined the biblical accounts of Israel and its downfall, contemporaneous Assyrian accounts of what happened to them, the subsequent analysis of historians and other interested parties, archeological discoveries in the Middle East and other places, and the role that romance and legend have played in determining the fate of the Israelites. When one puts all of these seemingly disparate threads together, the answer that emerges is this: most of the people from the ten tribes who constituted the northern kingdom were never really lost.

Benite points out that the numbers listed in both the biblical and Assyrian accounts indicate that only a portion of the population of the northern kingdom was removed by the Assyrians. The archeological evidence available to us from that period confirms this conclusion. Moreover, the Bible itself confirms that not all of the people of Israel were removed from the Promised Land (see the account of King Josiah's reforms that included the Israelites who had survived the Assyrian deportation in II Chronicles 34:1-10).

Unfortunately, for Mr. Armstrong and his followers, the only source that mattered was the scriptural one - all others were considered to be irrelevant and/or so inferior as to be of no use or consequence in determining the fate of the Israelites. However, it is now the opinion of a large portion of modern scriptural critics that much of the "history" of the Ten Tribes was manufactured and/or modified by Jewish writers with an agenda many years after the actual events relating to those people had transpired (remember the Kingdom of Judah survived the Kingdom of Israel by well over one hundred years). Indeed, from the accounts of I/II Samuel, I/II Kings and I/II Chronicles, it is clear that the Jewish authors of these materials drew on older sources and interpreted them in the light of their own times and circumstances (notice that, at the end of each king's reign, we are told that "the rest" of their acts are recorded in other books).

Context is critical to properly evaluating and interpreting the scriptural accounts of this period. We must remember that the Jewish priests and religious scholars who authored these accounts were writing from the perspective of the post-Babylonian exile of their own people. As a consequence, they were motivated to explain/interpret history in a way that comported with their own reality. Hence, their stories about the origins of the Hebrew people and nations (and their decline, fall, captivity and exile) were made to conform to their view of God and their belief that their tragic and tortured history must represent Divine punishment for the sins of their ancestors. After all, the story of the Israelites is one of loss, separation and alienation.

Benite describes it thus: "The sense of loss is embedded in the historical core of the story. The ten tribes fleetingly appear in the biblical narrative only to disappear definitively from it thereafter. The story begins with the tearing apart of a whole people into two, vividly and viscerally echoed in the tearing of Jeroboam's robe, and continues with the deportation of one part to somewhere else. How are the pieces to be put back together? The sense of loss that pervades the story derives not so much from any termination of the tribes, but rather from their ongoing - but unreachable - existence. This, then, is the true and most wrenching loss of the story - the history of this unknown-but-known and missing people, which is unfolding in a distant-but-close and unfound place. As the history of the remaining children of Israel, the people of Judah, unfolds, unfolding silently alongside it is the ever-present if unknown history of the missing tribes."

As Benite goes on to point out, this sense of loss has engendered a great deal of interest within the Judeo-Christian communities down through the centuries in finding their missing brethren. He talks about how the search for the "Lost Tribes" became global in nature, and how the Greek and Roman notions of ecumene (oecumene/oikoumene - the known or inhabited world) influenced that search. The Israelites were always just beyond reach - just out of sight, constantly wandering around the globe.

As Benite points out, this has generated all kinds of speculation regarding the fate of the Israelites. He talks at some length about the rabbinic traditions which placed the missing tribes in or just beyond "Sambayton." Likewise, as I have already noted, he talks about the influence of the Greek and Roman notions of the known world in placing the Israelites at the ends of that map (in Spain, China and Ethiopia). He also talks at great length about the roles that certain myth-makers, story-tellers and explorers have played through the centuries in expanding the number of places across the globe where the Israelites might be found. Benite also recounts the story of how the speculation concerning the origins of the Native Americans led to the conclusion by many that they were the descendants of the Lost Tribes (included in this section is some of the story of Mormonism).

Finally, Benite arrives at a discussion of the development of Anglo-Israelism (the belief that the peoples of the English-Speaking world are the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh). He talked about how Richard Brothers (1757-1823) was one of the first modern proponents of the notion, and how he eventually ended up in an insane asylum (which, oddly enough, did not impede his writing on the subject or the growth of his following). Benite wrote: "Thus originated Anglo, or British, Israelism - the belief that the Anglo-Saxons (and related Europeans) are the descendants of the ten lost tribes, a superior chosen race, destined to rule the world. The movements proponents and opponents - in the United States and in England - focus on Anglo racial supremacy. The pamphlets, sermons, and books that this movement generates to this day are numerous and in most cases repetitive."

He continued: "As we have seen, invisibility has been one of the markers of the ten tribes' exile, and it was often contrasted with the visibility of the Jews. In different contexts, this idea was expressed or implied in varying ways. Brothers took the idea to a new height: the invisibility of the ten tribes was caused by their 'loss of Israelite memory' and by the fact that other traditions or 'genealogical manuscripts' - false pedigrees - covered their real identity...Finding the ten tribes now meant revealing the true identity of the Britons/Anglo-Saxons. This notion supplemented that of a British 'return' to Jerusalem." Benite went on to discuss just how popular these notions became in the second half of the Nineteenth Century. Thus, although he mentions Herbert Armstrong's The United States and Britain in Prophecy in his bibliography, it is clear that Mr. Armstrong's contribution came rather late in the story of the search for what became of the ten lost tribes of Israel.

Benite concluded his work by returning to the overarching theme of his story: "The loss of the tribes, this 'huge tear that does not heal,' has spoken to and mobilized thousands of people across different times, places, and contexts, animating them to create different worlds - temporal, human, and physical. It is loss, then, that has, more than any other of its features, made the story of the ten tribes a truly global story and its history truly a world history. But ever nested within this profound loss and absence has been its mobilizing corollary: the idea of restitution, redemption, and wholeness." Perhaps Benite has at last captured the ultimate truth of the story: that God has (or someday will) redeemed that which was lost.

At any rate, the story continues to be relevant to the modern world. After all, God's instructions to the Israelites about their treatment of "strangers" was based on their own experiences as refugees/immigrants/aliens/strangers in a foreign land. Thus, the story of this dispersed people, and the hope for their being found and returned to their original home, continues to resonate in our world.

For believers, it is implicit in Benite's thesis that God never LOST the Israelites. We may continue to speculate about what happened to them, but God has always had them right before "His" eyes! Which, in the final analysis, makes our speculation a bit superfluous doesn't it?

Friday, November 27, 2015

God, Refugees and Immigrants

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last several months, you've probably seen at least a few of the many stories that have dominated the news about the Syrian refugee crisis. Most of us have seen the images of the wretched folks attempting to flee to Europe (many of them with just the clothes on their backs). Most of us have heard about the number of governors in these United States who have refused to take in any of these refugees, and about the actions of our Congress to stop the President's meager (the words insufficient and token come to mind) efforts to offer asylum to a few of them. Also, many of the candidates wishing to succeed President Obama have weighed in on the topics of immigration and refugees (most of them trying to outdo each other in being "tough" on immigration policy or hard-nosed about the acceptance of any refugees. The politicians pontificate about wanting to protect American lives, jobs and property from the ravenous and unruly hordes attempting to rush over our borders.

In an Introductory Note to the Geneva Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 "recognizes the right of persons to seek asylum from persecution in other countries." The United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) defines a refugee as "someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion." The Introductory Note further explains that "The Convention further stipulates that, subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules." Finally, they go on to point out that the Convention stipulates that these folks be treated humanely within the countries which they have fled to. Sounds like compassionate, common sense doesn't it?

What does God think about aliens, foreigners, refugees and immigrants? Well, if God truly is the epitome of LOVE, then I think that most of us can imagine what "He" must think about these unfortunate folks (many of whom find themselves in circumstances which they had no part in creating and/or have discovered that they have no power to mitigate or improve).

Likewise, if we claim the Judeo-Christian Scriptures as our guide in discerning God's mind on the subject, then we are left with one inescapable conclusion: God cares about these folks and demands that "His" people treat them with compassion and generosity. Notice that the Mosaic Law demanded that the Israelites not vex or oppress strangers (Hebrew "ger" - guest, foreigner, alien, sojourner, stranger, see https://www.blueletterbible.org) [Exodus 22:21, 23:9, Leviticus 19:33]. The same law commanded the Israelites to love the strangers living among them [Leviticus 19:34 & Deuteronomy 10:18-19], and to provide for their physical needs [Leviticus 19:10, 23:22, Deuteronomy 14:29, 24:19-21 & 26:12]. Not to mention the numerous demands that they be subjected to the same legal standards that applied to the Israelites. Indeed, Christ and his disciples said that the entire law can be summarized by adhering to the principles of love for God and our fellow man, and that the best way to demonstrate our love for God is to demonstrate it for the brothers and sisters whom we live among on this earth! And let's not forget Christ's parable about the sheep and the goats [Matthew 25:31-46], and his statement that "I was a stranger, and ye took me in."

So, if we really care about what God thinks about the refugee crisis and what "He" might expect from us, it is clear that the UGLY actions and language that we hear about on the news are not consistent with God's thinking and expectations. When we see the folks behind the fences and the hunger in their eyes, we should all be saying "My God, what are we doing? Somebody let them in!"

Friday, November 13, 2015

Is God in control?

Most Christians would immediately answer that question with a firm "YES!" However, if we would take the time to consider all of the evidence available to us on the subject, we might want to qualify our response or give an entirely different answer to the question! In fact, both Scripture and the world around us argue for a more nuanced view of the degree to which God is currently in control of things.

This is an issue which agnostics and atheists have taken Christians to task for on numerous occasions in the recent past, and most Christians have either ignored the challenge or failed miserably in trying to respond to it. After all, the question: "If God is in control, why is there so much sorrow, suffering and pain extant in the world?" seems to pose a legitimate challenge to either the existence of God, or the degree to which "He" is in control.

And, if that isn't enough to deal with, Scripture offers a number of different perspectives on the issue. Nevertheless, I think that most Christians would begin their attempt to answer this question in the pages of the Bible.

The first two chapters of Genesis reveal God as the Source or First Cause of everything we see around us (including us). Hence, it is reasonable for Christians who give credence to what the Bible relates about creation to conclude that God set everything in motion. However, the third chapter of that book indicates that mankind rejected God as the source of their moral code and decided to formulate one of their own. We are also told there that God, as a consequence of this choice, decided to cut off direct access to "Himself" and the "Tree of Life." Does that imply that mankind was on its own after that event? At the very least, I would say that Christian theology demands some kind of alienation/separation/remoteness from God after the events described there. Isn't reconciliation/atonement the very thing that Christ's sacrifice was supposed to accomplish?

There is also the concept of free will to grapple with in properly addressing this question. Doesn't the ability to decide or choose the course which one will pursue in life (good or bad) imply/demand a certain amount of nonintervention by God? After all, if God is really in control, there is no such thing as free will is there?

However, we also have the phenomenon of Divine intervention described in the Bible. The book of Exodus describes God's intervention to free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. Likewise, we are also told there (and in Leviticus) that God gave "His" laws and judgments for the Israelites to Moses. In Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, we read about God's intervention in battle on behalf of the Israelites. Hence, we must grapple with the fact that Scripture insists that God has the ability to intervene in human affairs when "He" chooses to do so. Nevertheless, for those of us who do not subscribe to the doctrine of inerrancy, I would say that a healthy dose of skepticism is in order regarding Divine intervention in human wars or using God as a justification for humans killing humans.

The book of Job introduces yet another concept concerning the degree to which God is in control. In the opening pages of that book, we read that God allowed Satan to afflict Job. This is a theme that will be employed many more times throughout Scripture: God is not the source of evil or bad things, but "He" does allow or permit them to exist/happen. So here we have the concept of God sometimes choosing not to be in control.

The Psalms, on the other hand, tend to present God as being in control of everything. The psalmists often refer to God as the active sustainer of creation. They even present God as the source of wind and rain, and the one who feeds the wild animals. To be sure, the language of these poems/songs is highly symbolic and metaphorical; but the image of an active God (one who is in control) is undeniable.

Likewise, we have the instance of what happened to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon recorded in the book of Daniel. We are informed there that God was determined to show the king that "He" was the one who was truly in charge. The occasion was yet another dream that the king had had about a great tree that was chopped down. In the dream, a "watcher and a holy one" descended from heaven (Daniel 4:13) and said that everything that was about to happen to the tree was for the purpose of demonstrating "that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men." (verse 17) Moreover, when Daniel interprets the dream for the king and it's subsequently fulfilled, God's control is reiterated. (see verses 25 and 32, and 5:21)

The Apostle Paul seems to echo these sentiments in the New Testament. He wrote to the saints at Rome: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers . For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God." (Romans 13:1) Likewise, a passage in the first epistle of Peter seems to imply that the civil authorities are God's agents. (I Peter 2:13-14) Nevertheless, a word of caution is in order here for Christians - many of whom have interpreted these Scriptures to say things that they do not say.

The Bible makes clear in a number of places that God's laws trump those issued by the civil authorities. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar. (Daniel 3) We are informed in the book of Acts that the apostles believed that God's laws superseded those issued by the civil and religious authorities. (see Acts 4:19-20 and 5:27-29)

Further caution is in order when we consider history. In times past, these verses about God setting up rulers were used to support the notion of the "Divine Right of Kings." In other words, the view that the king/ruler was God's chosen instrument and was therefore never to be opposed or deposed. Unfortunately, many Christians have extended this notion to the President of the United States. Many have used this as a justification for not participating in the political process. They reason: "I don't want to inadvertently oppose God's candidate."

In addressing the Biblical offerings on the subject of God's control, we would be remiss not to mention one of the sayings of Jesus recorded in the gospel of Luke. We read there that his disciples told him about Pilate killing a group of Galileans. (Luke 13:1) Christ responded: "Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." (verses 2-5) Jesus seemed to be hearkening back to something recorded in the Old Testament here - about "time and chance" happening to all men. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) In other words, everything that happens does not originate with God.

In response to Pilate's assertion that he had the power of life and death in his hands (John 19:10), we are told that Christ responded: "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above..." (verse 11). In another gospel account, when he was before the Jewish Council, we are told that Christ informed them that he had the ability to summon twelve legions of angels to his defense. (Matthew 26:53) Hence, it is reasonable to conclude from these two passages that Christ subscribed to the view that God had given Pilate the authority that he possessed, and that (although "He" has the power to do so) God doesn't always choose to intervene in or control human affairs (that "He" sometimes allows things to happen to further "His" purpose(s).

Then there are those pesky scriptures that would seem to indicate that Satan is in control of events here. Paul tells us that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of his world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Ephesians 6:12) In this same epistle, he had previously informed his audience that Satan was the "prince of the power of the air." John tells us that Satan has deceived the entire earth. (Revelation 12:9) Moreover, in the gospel accounts of his temptation of Jesus, it is apparent that Satan believed "he" had the authority to offer the kingdoms of this world to Christ. (see the fourth chapters of Matthew and Luke)

Finally, relative to Scripture, there is a sense throughout the Bible that God is directing events in a more general way. While "He" may not be in day to day control of events, God is certainly orchestrating events in the direction of fulfilling "His" overall designs and purposes for creation and mankind. (see Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Revelation)

What about science and history? What do they suggest about the degree to which anyone is in control of what's happening on this planet or in the universe beyond it?

As I have previously related on this blog, scientists inform us that the earth on which we reside has undergone dramatic changes through the ages. The evidence tells us that the earth has been subject to great volcanic eruptions, floods, meteor strikes and the like. The fossil record demonstrates that life on this planet has changed and evolved over time. We know that there have been several mass extinction events since life was first introduced to this planet. What does all of that suggest about the degree to which anyone was in control? It seems to me that a reasonable person might conclude that the traditional conception of a hands-on God (at least in terms of how that has traditionally been understood) is suspect.

Likewise, history presents some problems for those who have imagined a God who always has "His" hands on the levers. Do we really want to make God responsible for all of the violence and wars of the past? When Abraham Lincoln pondered God's involvement in the American Civil War, he concluded that it was a distinct possibility that neither side represented God's interest(s). In fact, he went on to speculate that maybe God had "His" own purposes in allowing it.

Having discoursed on the subject at some length, I ask again: Is God in control? What do you think?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Is Bill Watson doing God's work?

The men who constitute the hierarchy of the Living Church of God aren't the only ACOG ministers obsessed with the subject of homosexuality. It is obvious that the Church of God International's Bill Watson also has a fascination with the subject. In his most recent offering on their Armor of God program, he discourses on the subject under the title "What is Marriage?" If you have the stomach, you can listen to it here: http://cgi.org/armor-of-god

He opens with: "In today's world, there is an outright attack on the traditional definition of marriage and family." Really? I was under the impression that there was a rather eclectic group of folks who were seeking to promote tolerance and the availability of the blessings of marriage and family for more people. How does that change (or infringe upon) Mr. Watson's definition of marriage and family? He goes on to decry the fact that this has somehow perverted what was previously considered to be "normal and right" (although, he never does quite get around to explaining exactly how that perverts the understanding of those who still adhere to those principles).

Mr. Watson then proceeds to launch into a diatribe against the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision on gay marriage. He says that the justices were acting outside of the constitutionally prescribed limits on their authority by legislating from the bench. "Can marriage be redefined?" he asks. "Yes," Mr. Watson. The marriages recognized by the government of these United States can be defined in any way that government deems appropriate. The Supreme Court ruled on the definition of the secular institution of marriage by applying the constitutional standard that every citizen should have access to the same rights and privileges that every other citizen enjoys. The Court was not interested in the Biblical definition of marriage and did not seek to change/amend it in any way.

Mr. Watson goes on to ask: "Is there a true definition of marriage?" and "Is there a standard we can appeal to?" If he's implying that we appeal to Scripture for our definition/standard, then I have a few questions for him: If the ideal marriage is one man and one woman, why is there so much polygamy tolerated among God's servants? Why are there numerous laws regulating the practice of plural marriage? Does Scripture allow for any man to marry any woman? And, if we are to understand that polygamy should be confined to the Old Testament, then why did Jesus tell a parable about a bridegroom and ten virgins preparing for a marriage (although only five of them were ready)? Why are there different provisions in the Law for divorce and remarriage? Mr. Watson claims his intelligence is being insulted. What is he doing to his audience when he directs them to such a diverse body of commentary on the subject of marriage for their standard?

After a brief digression to lambaste President Clinton and Obama, he decries the failure of the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 that sought to define secular marriage as only being between one man and one woman. Then he launches into a bit of self-promotion by offering his audience a one hour presentation on the "Sacred Meaning of Marriage" (hosted by none other than the aforementioned Mr. Watson). He also informs us that he is quite sure that our forefathers would be "rotisserating" in their graves if they could be made aware of this fact (I'm not sure how he knows this). Mr. Watson went on to say that it's "bad enough that we're even talking about it." In other words, no discussion would be preferable to the democratic debate that is currently ongoing. After all, as Mr. Watson puts it, this is a "no brainer" - "It's common sense!"

"What is marriage?" he asks. Mr. Watson defines marriage as: "the seed of the family" (whatever that means). He says that marriage "creates an environment for teaching" and "for sharing activities and time with each other." He goes on to say that marriage provides us with opportunities to educate our children (things like "learning how to shoot a gun"), and share in their successes (as in when they participate in peer sporting events). Finally, he says that marriage can be instrumental in imparting the right characteristics to our children's personalities (things like honesty, caring and sacrifice). The obvious question is: Couldn't two dads or two mothers be just as effective in performing those functions as a "traditional" couple?

Mr. Watson claims that those nasty "liberal progressives" are encroaching on our educational system and indoctrinating our innocent little six year olds with things like tolerance and kindness for people who are different from themselves. Horror of horrors, they are exposed to books about alternative families and descriptions of the real world!

After decrying the fact that our society has drifted away from absolutes, Mr. Watson declares: "I'm not homophobic at all. I'm not narrow-minded at all! I'm just rooted and grounded in what I know to be right because of revealed knowledge from my Bible." Sounds mighty suspicious Mr. Watson. If you don't want to be labeled as homophobic, you may want to reconsider some of the verbiage you employee in your sermons and articles!

He quotes Paul's letter to the saints at Rome to make his case. "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Romans 8:5-7) So, those that are not subject to God's law of love (love for God as expressed in our love for our neighbor) are carnally minded and headed for death? Better watch out Mr. Watson!

He finishes up with a discourse on the meaning of what he considers to be a couple of key verses in the first two chapters of Genesis. He informs us that Genesis 1:27-28 reveals that God intended for one man and one woman to marry and reproduce (it says that both male and females were created in God's image and are a reflection of "Him," and that God blessed them and told them to replenish and subdue the earth). According to Mr. Watson, "If you would read it for what it says, and then read into what you've just read, you would see that it says a lot more than what it actually says." WHAT? So the problem is that we're not reading into The Bible what Mr. Watson is reading into The Bible?

To make matters worse, he then proceeds to discourse on Genesis 2:18-22. Mr. Watson informs us that "males do not reproduce, and nor do females reproduce." Really? He might want to rethink that one - especially in light of the fact that he is talking about a story where God makes a woman out of one of Adam's ribs! He concludes with "God could not find, OUT OF ALL THE ANIMALS , you get my drift?, a help meet, so He creates this woman." Let me get this straight (no pun intended), God couldn't find any animals that would be a suitable "help meet" for Adam so "He" decided to create a woman? The woman was an afterthought? Yeah, I think I'm starting to understand the "traditional" definition of marriage. How about you?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Is the doctrine of inerrancy an affront to God?

Fundamentalists and Literalists would do well to give some consideration to the following statement:
"Inerrancy is only ever used to defend sin, whether that sin happens to be the enslavement of other human beings or the inappropriate exaltation of one’s own thinking." --James McGrath at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2015/11/inerrancy-is-used-to-defend-sin.html#disqus_thread

Think about it. Most Fundamentalists consider the Bible to be their FINAL AUTHORITY in things spiritual/religious. The foundation of this belief is the doctrine of biblical inerrancy - that Divine inspiration means that Scripture is without error or inconsistency. They claim to get all of their beliefs from the Bible, but have you ever noticed the HUMAN REASONING that this belief launches when you challenge one of them about the slavery, misogyny, racism, homophobia or genocide apparent in Scripture? They REASON around why all of those things are not inconsistent with the image of a LOVING, FAIR and MERCIFUL God. Moreover, by adhering to Scripture as their FINAL AUTHORITY, many of them are perfectly comfortable with asserting the superiority of their thinking and interpretations to those who do not adhere to the doctrine of inerrancy.

Is Dr. McGrath the only one who sees the irony in this position? Aren't Fundamentalists being just a little hypocritical and disingenuous when they accuse their critics of employing HUMAN REASONING? What about those of us who acknowledge God as our FINAL AUTHORITY in matters of faith? Hmmmm, Aren't there a couple of scriptures about placing ANYTHING before or in place of Almighty God? Don't see the irony yet? Ask a Fundamentalist minister about why Abraham marrying his sister Sarah was not a sin, then sit back and enjoy the explanation that follows!

Friday, October 30, 2015

How God revealed to me that "He" wasn't a small god

In a comment that I offered about my last post, I referenced a post over at The God Article w/ Mark Sandlin entitled "A Minister's Letter to a Small God." You can view that piece at this address: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thegodarticle/2015/10/a-ministers-letter-to-a-small-god/ In the post, the author describes how he gradually came to the conclusion that the god that most people worship wasn't worthy of such adoration and respect.

Well, I have my own story to tell in that regard. In a private response to my last post, it became clear to me that some of the folks who read this blog on a regular basis are not familiar with my own background and story. Although I have shared parts of my story in previous posts, it occurred to me that it would be easy for folks to miss a post here and there and consequently miss some or all of the story behind my expansive views regarding the nature of God. Hence, I am offering this more complete treatment of my own story to explain how this blogger came to be aware of the fact that God cannot be contained.

I was aware of God at an early age. I remember my grandmother reading the Bible to me as a toddler. I also recall laying across my father's bed, next to my younger brother, and listening to Garner Ted Armstrong talk about God on my dad's little transistor radio. These experiences had a profound impact on me. As a boy, I began reading the Bible on my own and studying the literature of the Worldwide Church of God. Moreover, although my father did not join the church, I began attending on my own as a teenager and was baptized into that organization at the tender age of seventeen (something almost unheard of in that church).

All of this irrespective of the fact that I was physically attracted to members of my own gender. I was convinced that those feelings were wrong and dirty, and that God would help me to overcome them. As a consequence, I pursued a life within what I believed to be God's one and only TRUE church. Indeed, I was so scared and repressed with regard to anything sexual that I ignored both genders throughout my adolescent years. I did not date or establish intimate/close friendships with anyone during this period. I told myself that I was saving myself for marriage, but the prospect of marriage really scared me and seemed a remote possibility. Looking back on it now, I was a miserable, opinionated and self-righteous young man who had a very narrow view of myself, God and the world around me.

And then, wonder of wonders, I met a bright, attractive young woman in college. I felt comfortable around her. I could talk to her. Even more astounding than my own interest, this young lady appeared to be interested in me! For the first time in my life, I began dating (I was 24 years old at the time). In time, I grew to love Darlene and began to imagine that it might be possible for me to have a "normal" life. After all, wasn't that what God expected/wanted/demanded?

There was, however, one big problem (other than the fact that I was GAY): Darlene was not a member of the one and only true church. Why was this a problem? Because we (the members of the church) were not supposed to be unequally yoked - we were not permitted to date outside of the church! Being the innocent, naïve and silly young man that I was back then, I went to the ministry and told them about Darlene. Much to my surprise, instead of compassion and understanding, I was immediately disfellowshipped/excommunicated for breaking the church's dating rules!

The Lake of Fire yawned before me. What was I to do? I was on the outside of the one and only true church. Nevertheless, I knew that this might be my one and only opportunity to have a "normal" life - to do what God expected all men and women to do. I wanted to have children. I desperately wanted to be within God's will and to do what I thought God wanted me to do. What was the right decision?

I broke up with Darlene. I was miserable, and she was too. Even so, I was told that I would not be allowed to return to church until I had "fully repented" of my sins. Now I was really alone. Talk about depression - I can tell you a thing or two about the "black dog."

In the meantime, my father had joined an offshoot of the Worldwide Church of God that had been founded by that same Garner Ted Armstrong whom I had listened to as a child. In desperation, I wrote to my dad for advice. I poured my heart out to him and asked him what I should do.

Miraculously, in spite of everything that had happened, Darlene was even interested in my religion. The church, however, was not interested in her.

My father quickly wrote back to me. His letter was full of compassion and assurance that God had not abandoned me. He would not tell me what to do, but he assured me that God would be with me if I asked for "His" help and guidance.

I decided to marry Darlene. Suddenly, it became clear to me that God was bigger than the Worldwide Church of God. I had an epiphany: A God of love and mercy would not condemn me to a life of loneliness and hopelessness.

Of course, none of this addressed the much bigger problem that underpinned everything else that was going on - I was a closeted and repressed homosexual! Even so, I told myself that God would bless my efforts to live the kind of life that "He" wanted me to live. Selfishly, it never crossed my mind just how unfair I was being to Darlene. I didn't allow myself to stop and think about how a Gay man could possibly expect to satisfy the physical and emotional needs of an attractive and vibrant heterosexual female. I told myself (truthfully) that I loved her, and that that would be enough.

But, it wasn't enough. Although we had two beautiful little girls together (the joy of my life), the marriage was falling apart. I was a reasonably good dad and provider, but I sucked as a husband. Oh sure, I was technically faithful to my marriage vows; but the entire relationship was built on a lie. I was not (and never would be) sexually attracted to females.

I wanted to overcome my "perversion." I wanted to do what was right in God's sight. I had prayed. I had begged God to change me - to make me "whole." Why hadn't God answered my prayers? Hadn't I done everything in my power to do what "He" wanted me to do?

The marriage finally collapsed under the weight of my own self-denial. To say that I was bitter and disillusioned would be the understatement of the century! How could God allow this to happen? Hadn't I done everything that "He" expected of me? Hadn't I done the right thing?

For a time, Darlene and I went our separate ways. We all suffered (the girls, Darlene and me).

Eventually, however, Darlene and I were able to focus on the love that we shared for the beautiful daughters whom we had created together. We both came to realize that they were more important than our petty differences and mistakes. We both came to understand that God was much bigger than we had thought "He" was when we first met each other. For the first time in our lives, we were honest with each other and God about who we were and what was really important to us in life. And, we finally forgave each other and fully accepted each other exactly where we were. In short, we embraced reality and a much bigger conception of God and what It wanted for us and our children.

Darlene and I have lived together as friends, parents, companions and family for many years now. She has stood by me through thick and thin. She is my very best friend in the world, and I love her with all of my heart. We have been devoted to God, our children, grandchildren and each other for years; and I can't imagine any other kind of life now.

Yes, I am still a homosexual. I will always be a homosexual (at least, as long as I inhabit this tabernacle). And, although I now believe that I would be free to engage in a committed relationship with another man if I chose to do so, I have learned that fidelity/faithfulness extends to things way beyond a physical relationship between two people. Love is much more complex and diverse than I ever imagined before. Moreover, my current circumstances (of not being in a homosexual relationship or overtly acting on those feelings) enables me to be a voice with the weight of a considerable amount of moral authority on the subject of homosexuality (and sexual orientation in general).

I have learned that God's grace is sufficient to save me (and any other homosexual who wants it). God is big enough to love me, to help me and to someday enable me to stand in His/Her presence! I no longer believe that God hates me, or that "He" is capable of hating anyone. I now understand that men have created an image of God that is inconsistent with the reality of God. And, I can now clearly see that even men and women who are (or have been) inspired by God are capable of making mistakes and presenting false ideas about God and "His" will. Even a book as grand, beautiful and special as the Bible is not big enough to contain God or explain all of "His" purposes. In short, God is much greater than you or I have ever imagined!

Anyway, that's my story; and I'm sticking to it!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

There they go again!

Wayne Hendrix (this blogger's father) and Bill Watson of the Church of God International (CGI) are featured in yet another web chat on that organization's website. It is entitled "Satan and Demons," and can be viewed here: http://cgi.org/armor-of-god-web-chat/2015/10/15/satan-and-demons As with many of the group's recent offerings, the discussion is eventually diverted to a negative commentary on homosexuality. Hence, if one was expecting a serious theological discussion on the nature of the Devil and his minions, that person will be sadly disappointed in this program.

In the piece, homosexuality is labeled as a satanic perversion of the God ordained purposes for sex and marriage. Although they stop just short of saying that homosexuals are demon possessed, they strongly imply that Satan and his minions are behind the phenomenon. They reason that since human reproduction is a reflection of God's plan of salvation for mankind, and that human reproduction is only accomplished through the union of one man and one women, that a sexual relationship between two members of the same gender is thereby shown to fall short of God's standard. They go on to imply that homosexuality is an addiction that must be overcome by those who are afflicted with the condition and equate it with drug addiction and alcoholism! They conclude their discussion of homosexuality with a warning that those who indulge in the behavior are opening themselves up to demonic influence. Really guys?

What about sexual intercourse as an expression of love between two people? What about sexual intercourse as the symbolic melding of two souls into one? If marriage is solely for the purpose of reproduction, then why are heterosexuals who are physically incapable of having children permitted to marry or have sex? What about older folks who remarry after the mother/father of their adult children has died? What about those couples who choose not to have any children? Are same sex couples who adopt or care for children contributing to human reproduction? Isn't this CGI argument against homosexual relationships a little simplistic and tired?

As for their reference to addiction, most experts would say that almost ANYTHING that humans enjoy has the POTENTIAL for turning into addictive behavior. Smoking, drinking, eating, taking drugs, gambling, shopping, sporting, watching television, internet surfing and having sex can all become addictive behaviors. For instance, there are some heterosexuals who are addicted to pornography and having sex with multiple partners. There are some heterosexual men who think about women, their bodies and having sex with them all of the time (some would characterize that as an addiction). Likewise, there are homosexuals who are afflicted with the same kind of sexual addictions.

Nevertheless, we should all be able to see that it would be inappropriate to say that all heterosexuals or homosexuals are in the grips of a sexual addiction. We should also all be able to acknowledge that sexual attraction does not qualify as an addiction. Are young heterosexual males who think about young females sexual addicts? Is physical attraction or sexual desire inherently addictive? Does the enjoyment of an occasional beer or glass of wine make one an alcoholic? I would be very interested to hear some answers to these questions from Mr. Hendrix or Mr. Watson, but I'm not going to hold my breath until I do.

As for the "Prince of the Power of the Air," I expect "he" is having a good chuckle right now. Satan must find it extremely amusing and satisfying that "he" has so thoroughly deceived the world about the nature of human sexuality. That Old Serpent has been very successful in making most of us ashamed of our own bodies. Lucifer must be extremely proud of the fact that "he" has succeeded in turning something that God ordained to be enjoyable, beautiful and good into something that is regarded as disgusting, hideous and evil by a majority of Christians. We are told in Scripture that Satan is the father of lying - that "he" likes to twist and pervert that which is holy and good. I don't know about you, but it certainly seems to me that the Prince of Darkness has scored a dramatic triumph relative to the way that most people (especially Christians) think about sex.

I know that God has the power to change hearts and minds, but "He" clearly has "His" work cut out for "Him" on this one! And I'd like to leave my readers with a warning of my own (well, OK, I wasn't the first person to issue this warning): The standard you use in judging others is the standard by which you will be judged by Almighty God!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Glory of God

My favorite time of the year is here again: Autumn. I love the beautiful fall colors everywhere I look: The crimson red Sumac along the roadsides; the orange, yellow, pink and red of the Maples; the multi-colored Oaks and Sweet Gums; and the Golden Rod and purple Asters. They are glorious!

And what about the processes which are responsible for this show? The process within the leaf that replaces the green chlorophyll of summer with the other pigments of fall. Also, the structures and process within our own eyes and brains that allow us to appreciate them. What a magnificent and complex phenomenon it is!

Even so, we must remember that this is just one small part of our world. It is one aspect of an even more grand and complex system that we experience as residents of planet earth, which is one small corner of a vast and glorious universe!

I love to stand outside on a starry night and gaze up into the heavens and think about the billions of stars out there (many of them with planets swirling around them. I wonder about how many of them contain water - maybe even life. Scientists have determined that water exists on other celestial bodies in our own solar system, and they've recently discovered that water still flows on the surface of Mars! What an exciting time to be alive!

I think too about the glorious complexity of my own body and its many systems. There is a complex system that allows me to respire, circulate blood, digest food, eliminate waste and experience the world around me. I understand well the statement of the psalmist reflecting on the construction of his own body that "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." When I think about the things of which the human brain is capable, I am humbled. Consider the art, music and architecture that mankind has created through the ages. Think about the mind power that produced the Theory of Relativity!

All of these things are glorious, but they're only bits and pieces of a much grander whole. The universe is full of beauty and complexity. And yet everything in it is composed of the basic building blocks that we call atoms. Moreover, atoms are themselves composed of sub-atomic particles and held together by forces that we are really only beginning to understand.

What is the point of all of this musing about us and our surroundings? How do these things relate to the glory of God?

God is greater than the sum total of all of the parts! Try to imagine, try to appreciate the mind behind all of these phenomena. David said: "The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world." (Psalm 19:1-4) Paul told the Romans that non-believers are without excuse: "They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature." (Romans 1:19-20)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Is God Disgusted By Girls Who Menstruate?

A friend forwarded me an article that appeared on NPR yesterday. The article is entitled "A Girl Gets Her Period And Is Banished To the Shed." You can view the article here: http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/10/17/449176709/horrible-things-happen-to-nepali-girls-when-they-menstruate-15girls The article was written by Jane Greenhalgh and Michaeleen Doucleff, and it's riveting.

The authors tell the stories of two beautiful young Nepali girls, Kamala (14) and Prakriti (15). Sadly, Kamala is forced by her family and friends to live in a shed when she is on her period. The authors report: "Kamala believes that if she enters the house while she's menstruating, the people and animals will get sick. The gods will be angry and she'll bring a curse onto the house. She's also been told her hands will curl up and become deformed." Likewise, Prakriti told the authors "When I'm having my period, I can't touch my grandmother, I can't eat while she's eating. I can't touch the table while she's eating. I can't touch my father, I can't touch my mother."

The initial reaction of most Westerners to these stories will probably be one of horror and outrage that young girls could be subjected to such treatment in this day and age. Many will make disparaging comments about the Hindu religion that inspired such treatment. Nevertheless, many of these same folks will gather in Christian churches today and proudly profess that every word in the Bible on their laps is from God. But how many of them have read what that book says about females who menstruate?

We read in the book of Leviticus: "Whenever a woman has her menstrual period, she will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. Anyone who touches her during that time will be unclean until evening. Anything on which the woman lies or sits during the time of her period will be unclean. If any of you touch her bed, you must wash your clothes and bathe yourself in water, and you will remain unclean until evening. This includes her bed or any other object she has sat on; you will be unclean until evening if you touch it." (Leviticus 15:19-23, NLT) By the way, these instructions follow others that pronounce a male who happens to have a wet dream unclean for a day. (verses 16-18)

Several questions come to mind: Is menstruation a natural biological process? Where did it come from? If God designed women's bodies to function in such a manner, how can "He" declare it/them to be unclean? Is the blood that flows through our veins dirty? Is semen a dirty and disgusting fluid? Where did these notions originate? Did they originate in the mind of God? Or are they the product of ignorant and primitive men and societies that did not understand human biology and bodily functions? What do you think?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Hierarchy: God's or Man's?

A friend recently sent me an article by Philip Zaleski entitled "A Peculiar Little Test." It originally appeared at First Things, a religious/philosophical website. In the piece, the author talks about an exercise that he administered as part of a course that he taught on a regular basis regarding writing about nature.

As a part of this class, he gave his students a list of fifteen items (e.g. mouse, boy, sun, angel, ant, crab, Norwegian pine, corn, amoeba, hamburger, potato, Moby Dick, Taj Mahal, Rolls Royce, the idea of the good), and then asked them to rank those items using whatever scale/measure seemed most appropriate to the individual students. He related that, frequently, the sun was given the place of honor on many of these lists. Many of his students reasoned that the sun should have this place because it is the source of life.

Although Zaleski sees this as evidence that his students retain a sense of hierarchy, he also sees this as evidence that something is seriously amiss. "Crab over humans? Sun over angels?" he asks. As a consequence, he concludes that most of his students had no understanding of the idea of hierarchy. He wrote: "Most students feel on a gut level that ranking is legitimate; that cabbages and kings are not interchangeable. What they lack is the knowledge of hierarchy that comes from a careful study of tradition."

Zaleski insists that "The principle of hierarchy is fundamental to the apprehension that ontological distinctions do exist." When we Google the term "hierarchy," we read that it is "a system or organization in which people or groups are ranked one above the other according to status or authority," and that it can be described as "an arrangement or classification of things according to relative importance or inclusiveness."

This raises a number of questions: Whose hierarchy do we employ? Do we appeal to the hierarchy revealed in the Hebrew Bible? Do we appeal to one based on a study of tradition? Do we adopt a hierarchy based on our own observations and reason? Or do we appeal to a hierarchy that employs all of these approaches? After all, if we can't reach some agreement about what constitutes the idea of a hierarchy, what benefit can be derived from it?

Zaleski says that "Hierarchy is part and parcel of perception; we discern, therefore we order, therefore we establish above and below." He points out that the idea "defines all traditional religions." He asks: "What social consequences result from the abolition of levels?" The author then proceeds to list the breakdown of the nuclear family, abortion and promiscuity as being among the most serious consequences of this ignorance of the idea of hierarchy.

But can we accept Zaleski's conclusions about hierarchy as being authoritative? After all, many Christians ignore Christ's clear instructions to his disciples that he didn't want them to lord it over each other. Likewise, many ignore Paul's statements that Christianity obliterates distinctions based on ethnicity, social status, wealth and gender. Many Jews and Christians adopt the paternalistic misogyny of ancient Israel and proclaim that man is superior to woman. Other folks insist that man's dominion over the earth places all of the other creatures/life forms on this planet at his disposal, instead of fulfilling the role of caretaker that some of us see as being explicit in those passages. Many Christians ignore the scriptures that indicate that God cares about the other life forms on this planet. And what about those passages that imply/state that God is the epitome of love and is no respecter of persons. Still others have ignored numerous indications in the Bible that man is inferior to angels, and that God is Supreme over all.

Yes, I agree with Zaleski that an understanding of hierarchy is essential to a proper appreciation of the world around us and our part in it; but I wonder if his hierarchy would look like mine? More importantly, I wonder if our ideas about hierarchy are in harmony with God's notions about it? What do you think?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Religious or Spiritual?

About twenty years ago now, I had an epiphany while visiting with a gay cousin. We were discussing our grand-aunt. In the course of our conversation, we both agreed that she was one of the sweetest and kindest people that either of us had ever known. "Yes, she's very religious," I said. "No, she's very spiritual," my cousin corrected. That hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew instantly that my cousin was correct in making that distinction. My own experiences with religion had taught me that there was a difference.

I had been a member of the Worldwide Church of God, founded by one Herbert W. Armstrong; so I knew what it meant to be religious. I knew that being religious involved a commitment or devotion to following a set of beliefs/doctrines/principles. Moreover, as a devoted follower of Armstrong's brand of religion, I was convinced that there was a clear distinction to be drawn between FALSE and TRUE religion. My religion was meaningful and efficacious, but other religions were meaningless and unproductive. The TRUTH made me righteous and superior to other believers. At least, that is what I thought until I knew better!

Over time, I came to understand that religion was a man-made construct - a human process or systematic way of dealing with the Divine. Sure, most Christian religionists (including Mr. Armstrong) claimed to derive their religion from the Bible; but each one of them had their own unique understanding/interpretation of what that book required of them. When I finally left the Worldwide Church, I came to understand that the Bible itself was a very human book in many respects. After all, God had used humans to write, edit, translate and organize the books that made up the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. I came to understand that inspiration itself was a process that God used to work through humans to produce something, and that the resulting product would not be perfect because of human involvement. In fact, it was inevitable that the weaknesses and prejudices of the humans involved in the process would show up in the finished product.

On the other hand, being spiritual implies/suggests an elemental connection to the supernatural - the Divine. A spiritual person manifests the very nature of that other world. A spiritual person exhibits the love, kindness, compassion, patience and mercy which is generally attributed to the Divine. A spiritual person is eager to explore the meaning behind the rituals and doctrines that preoccupy the religious. The spiritual person seeks to align him/herself with goodness - to be in harmony with the creation and its Creator. The spiritual person seeks to transcend the mundane and temporal and is not interested in exercising authority/power over others or forcing them to adopt his/her viewpoint or creed.

Another former Armstrongite recently wrote a piece for The Journal: News of the Churches of God (Issue no. 174, June 2015) that illustrates the difference between religiosity and spirituality with great clarity. In the article, Patt McCarty talked about his experiences with Mr. Armstrong's teachings about divorce and remarriage. He shared with his readers the story of how the church destroyed what had been for him a happy second marriage (after what had amounted to a youthful indiscretion that was considered by the church to be his only valid first marriage), and how that destroyed his self-confidence and relationship with God and led to addiction and a downward spiral.

Looking back over his story, he wrote: "Mistakenly, I had pursued Herbert's image of God for a large portion of my adult life and found only condemnation continually coming form the image of his God. When I allowed Jesus to apprehend me for His purpose, then and only then did I find right relationship with Father God in Jesus. Then Herbert's image of God was exposed for the fraud it is by the revelation of the loving God in me." Mr. McCarty had had the same epiphany that I had experienced. He came to understand that you can't be in harmony with the Divine by adopting another man's formula or system for doing so. True spirituality involves a personal relationship with and connection to the Divine.

Carol Kuruvilla recently wrote a piece for Huffington Post about Reba Riley's "Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome." You can view the article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/post-traumatic-church-syndrome_55d3fe11e4b07addcb4499d5?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000051 Riley defines this phenomenon as: "1) It’s a condition of spiritual injury that occurs as a result of religion, faith, and/or the leaving, losing or breaking of those things. 2) The vile, noxious, icky and otherwise foul aftermath of said spiritual injury. 3) A serious term intended to aid serious spiritual healing -- without taking itself too seriously in the process." I think that this is a good description of what many religious folks experience at some point in their religious career.

Likewise, I found that I could really relate to her answer to Kuruvilla's question regarding what had frustrated her about her childhood faith. She said: "It’s really death by a thousand cuts. You find cracks in your faith and you express them and you try harder to hide them and reason your way out of them. The process was probably a year and a half long before I recognized that what I grew up with was ‘believe it all or believe it none’ theology. When I realized there were tenets of this faith system I couldn’t believe in, I didn’t have a choice. It was all or nothing. It’s not that I left my faith, it’s that my faith left me."

For me, the realization that it didn't have to be "all or nothing" was a big turning point in my own spiritual journey. From that point forward, I could begin to sort out for myself what was man-made and what originated in the mind of God. I could truly begin to yield to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and accept that God was much bigger and much more profound than anything that I had been taught by others or imagined through the process of my own reasoning. It was then that I finally realized that God cannot be contained by us or anything that we can construct.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The ten most viewed posts on this blog:

1. God and Dinosaurs --14 March 2015
2. A few questions about God and Homosexuality --15 February 2015
3. You didn't choose to be a heterosexual! --19 February 2015
4. Give us a sign! --18 August 2014
5. God and Capitalism: Seven scriptural principles that contradict modern American Capitalism --5 December 2014
6. Conclusive proof that God didn't have anything to do with writing the Bible? --2 August 2015
7. Is the universe organized to produce life? --20 April 2015
8. Does God motivate all evangelistic zeal? --9 September 2014
9. Atheist or Theist: Self-righteousness is still ugly! --5 August 2014
10.Scientists and Theists: We want an explanation for everything! --28 March 2015

** While these posts have sparked the most interest from the public, they do not necessarily reflect my favorites.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

False Christianity

A good friend sent me a link to an excellent follow-up article to my last post "Who is a Christian?" The piece was written by Edwin Lyngar and appears at Salon.com at this address: http://www.salon.com/2015/08/17/i_was_betrayed_by_republican_religion_what_my_years_as_a_christian_fundamentalist_taught_be_about_right_wing_faith/

Lyngar points out some of the glaring contradictions between the Religious Right's self-identification as Christian and their political behavior/positions on issues. In writing about his own religious experiences, he said: "Like many self-identified American Christians, I grew up calling myself such while adhering to few of the precepts and never going to church." Sound familiar? How many right wing politicians have we heard espouse family values while they are personally working on their second, third or fourth marriage? How many right wing politicians have we heard denouncing the women who get an abortion while advocating a slash in support of public funding to poor families? How many right wing politicians have we heard condemning illegal immigrants and ignoring Christ's statement that he appeared in the guise of a stranger whom his true followers welcomed into their homes?

Lyngar wrote: "The political version of Christianity is first and foremost a media construct, like so much of our lives these days. It’s championed by Fox News, the 700 Club and a parade of has-beens and never weres, selling the “prosperity gospel” like so much snake oil. It’s a powerful and toxic stew that is as relevant to Jesus as professional wrestling or a discarded Playboy. Conservative Christianity in America is less a religion and more of a secret handshake, a group signifier of exclusion and moral superiority. Its swaggering and masculine cruelty is at once its greatest weakness and most attractive feature for working class white people who have seen their lifestyles and power eroded."

While I concur with Lyngar's characterization of conservative hypocrisy, we should not fall into the same trap that many of these folks on the Right have stumbled into. As I've said before, God is not a Republican or a Democrat. God is not a Capitalist or a Socialist. God is not a Conservative or a Liberal. Self-righteousness can and does afflict those on the Left too! How can you ignore all of the scriptures that require the poor to work for the food and support they receive? How can you talk about raising taxes to pay for government programs while doing everything in your power to reduce your own tax burden? How can you advocate for an end to the death penalty while showing complete disregard for the life of a fetus? See how this works both ways?

That's why it's so dangerous to say things like: "If you support the Supreme Court's decision on Gay marriage or abortion, you can't be a Christian!" Brethren, whether you support or oppose a Supreme Court decision says absolutely NOTHING about whether or not you're a Christian! Do you love your neighbors, brothers and sisters as yourself? Do you treat other folks the way that you would like to be treated? Do you do your acts of kindness and charity to demonstrate your love for God and Christ? From where I'm sitting, these are the pertinent questions in determining whether or not you're living your profession of faith. What does your own conscience tell you? In the words of another friend, is there enough evidence to convict you of being a Christian?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Who is a Christian?

A good friend of mine, one whose opinion I hold in high regard, recently commented on what it means to be a Christian. He said: "I settled on this definition: Anyone who says he's a Christian is a Christian. One reason this works is that Christians can't agree on a definition anyway so mine's as good as any." Like many of the other things he's said or written in the past, his words played around in my head for several days. The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how thorny of a proposition it is to pin down what it means to be a Christian. Moreover, I realized that his definition eliminates the problem of Christians disowning each other because of minor/major differences in doctrine - something which my own posts and comments have indicated that I abhor.

His comments also prompted me to ask a few questions of myself: Am I as tolerant as I thought I was? Do I truly accept anyone who claims to be a Christian as my brother or sister in Christ? How do I define what it means to be a Christian?

In the meantime, something happened at work that brought more clarity to my own thinking on the subject. My new boss announced that her priorities in life were God, family and our business. "Sounds good," I thought; but there was also a whisper of a voice in my head that said, "We'll see!"

I didn't have to wait long. This past week, it was announced that everyone's hours in our part of the business would be changing. Instead of working from 7 AM to 4 PM, everyone would be required to work 4 AM to 1 PM. I, along with my coworkers, quickly realized that this would present a whole host of problems for a large number of people. What about college students, people with second jobs or spouses who worked other shifts/hours, people with health problems, folks who had small or school age children, employees who worked part-time and the folks who had transportation issues? How could the folks who worked 8 AM to 5 PM Monday thru Friday in nice offices implement a policy that would work such havoc in the lives of their worker bees? Would there be any accommodation or compassion in implementing these new hours? The answer was basically NO! They would have to "work with" college students. "There's no way around that, I'm required by law to work with them," she grudgingly admitted.

I was sitting there in disbelief listening to all of this, and her modified traditional Christian statement of priorities (It's usually expressed as God, family and country) came to my mind. I slowly raised my hand and said, "Those of us who list God as a priority in our lives generally attempt to follow the Golden Rule (Treat others the way that you would like to be treated)." "How would all of you (upper management) like it if someone suddenly required all of you to work these hours?" I asked. There was a moment of stunned silence as everyone absorbed the implications of what I had said, which was quickly followed by angry indignation. I had had the audacity to point out that her public profession did not comport with the standard of behavior implicit in such a profession.

In the back of my mind, I could hear the words of Jesus: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21) He had also said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:27) Paul had declared, "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." (Romans 8:9) He went on to list the fruits (or evidence) that one had that Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) So, according to Jesus and Paul, BEHAVIOR was the key to properly defining a Christian. One had to have the Spirit, and the evidence that one had that Spirit was love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, etc. Nevertheless, Christ had also warned against snap judgments of people. (Matthew 7:1-5) Evidence requires observation and observation requires time. There are moments when I'm not patient or kind - does that mean that I am not a Christian?

The moment of clarity - I had my own definition of what it means to be a Christian. It isn't one's adherence to a set of beliefs or doctrines. It isn't one's profession of Christianity. It isn't one's name on the membership roles of some human organization. It isn't going to church every Saturday or Sunday. It isn't wearing a cross around one's neck or refusing to wear makeup. A person is a Christian when he/she is attempting to behave like Jesus Christ - one who is attempting to exhibit the merciful, compassionate and healing nature which the founder of the movement exhibited during his lifetime on this planet. In other words, don't tell me you're a Christian - SHOW ME that you're a Christian!

Are there Christians among the ranks of the upper management where I work? I don't know. I do know, however, that their behavior in this instance was not consistent with this definition of who many of them claim to be. Are there Christians among the ranks of the Armstrongites? Based on my own observations, I believe there are many Christians among them - not because of what they say they believe, but because of the way they live their lives. How do you define what it means to be a Christian? Are you a Christian?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Could God be pleased with a Roman Catholic?

Like many Protestant and independent American Christians, I came from a religious background that was rabidly anti-Catholic. One of the groups which I was formerly affiliated with taught that the Roman Catholic Church was the epitome of false Christianity. They taught that the doctrines and beliefs of that church were diametrically opposed to the TRUTH of God. They taught that the Roman Church was the tool that Satan had used to deceive people into accepting a false Christianity. They taught that the Roman Church was the Great Whore of the book of Revelation, and that a pope was the most likely candidate for the Anti-Christ. All of this was based on that church's teachings and history.

What about the fruits produced in the lives of individual members of that church? That was ignored. Frankly, it didn't matter. Doctrinal correctness is what mattered - it was the only legitimate measure of who was and was not a Christian! After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Never mind that Jesus Christ said that it was the fruit that a person bears during his/her lifetime that identifies them as good or bad (Matthew 7:16, 20). Never mind that Jesus Christ said that LOVE would be the single most important trait in identifying his followers (John 13:35). Never mind that the Apostle Paul said that the evidence that one had God's Holy Spirit rested in the character traits of the individual (Galatians 5:22).

A few days ago, a friend sent me a biographical clip about one Franz Jagerstatter. Franz was a Roman Catholic Christian in Austria in the 1930's. Franz was a simple man who became a sexton in his local church and refused any compensation for the services he performed for the brethren in his community. In 1938, he was the only person in his local community with enough courage to vote against the Anschluss with Nazi Germany. He also had the moral courage to refuse to fight in the German Army. In short, Franz was devoted to God, and what he believed that God expected of him. He was willing to face execution at the hands of the Nazis instead of participating in their murderous regime. He wrote from prison: "Neither prison nor chains nor sentence of death can rob a man of the Faith and his free will." Franz remained faithful to God and was eventually beheaded by the Nazis. (You can read more of his story here: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20071026_jagerstatter_en.html)

Was Franz Jagerstatter a Christian Martyr? I think that the story of his life provides more than enough evidence that he was. And, if this Roman Catholic man was indeed a Christian, what does that say about the teachings of all of those anti-Catholic groups about what constitutes a Christian? What do you think?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Conclusive proof that God didn't have anything to do with writing the Bible?

Gavin Rumney posted a chart the other day on his Otagosh blog which originally appeared on the Yuriy & Inna blog. The article can be viewed here: http://www.yuriyandinna.com/ The chart highlights differences between the Greek Septuagint and Hebrew Masoretic Text relative to how the authors of the New Testament used certain passages from the Old Testament in their writings. The chart appears as part of an article entitled "Why I don't trust the Bible," which is itself the fourth part of a series of articles that underscores "a clearly human writing history" for the Scriptures.

While I agree with Yuriy that many Christians are unfamiliar with the contents of the Bible (what is actually said in its pages) and how it came to be (how it was written and the history of how the canon was put together), I do not agree with him that an awareness of those things will lead one to the inevitable conclusion that God didn't have anything to do with the writing of the Bible - that it is an entirely human enterprise. Yuriy's conclusions are based on naive notions about the Bible (and, once again, I'm not disputing that these notions are widespread within the Christian community). Yuriy summarizes these notions as "1. God inspired people to write divine revelation, without error; they wrote this down in Greek or Hebrew, put it together in a book called the Bible; and 2. This Greek and Hebrew Bible was translated into English, and you have a copy in your hands."

As long time readers of this blog will readily acknowledge, this blogger does not subscribe to such notions about the Bible. My overall beef is not with Yuriy's scholarship (although I do have a few observations to make about the chart later) or his conclusions that Scripture was written by humans, edited by humans, translated by humans and put together by humans. No, Yuriy and I part company in our determinations about what that evidence means in terms of God's involvement in the process.

I am reminded here about the different perspectives of the optimist and the pessimist. The optimist sees the glass as being half full, and the pessimist sees the glass as being half empty. Same glass of water perceived differently by two independent observers.

Yuriy and I do not disagree that Scripture is full of errors, contradictions, additions, deletions, obscure, crude, bigoted and disputed texts. We do disagree that these features lead to the conclusion that God had absolutely nothing to do with the writing of Scripture or the formation of the canon. Think about it, Yuriy's conclusion is only warranted if one accepts the traditional understanding of what inspiration is (which I do not). I do not believe that inspiration takes away our human propensity for making mistakes and bad decisions. If we allow all of Yuriy's evidence of human involvement in the process, are we truly being objective if we disallow any evidence of God's involvement in the process?

There is a considerable body of evidence that there is a remarkable degree of harmony and continuity in the writings known as the Bible. I hope that Yuriy would be willing to acknowledge that one is able to find great beauty, love, compassion, mercy, hope and spiritual insight in the pages of the Bible. Where did those things come from? If Yuriy was willing to acknowledge the presence of those things, he would probably point to the same source - humans. I, however, see these things as evidence of a different set of fingerprints - what I characterize as Divine fingerprints. Yes, I can see the human fingerprints all over these documents, but I also can clearly discern that there is another set of fingerprints all over the evidence.

As for the chart referenced above, we must admit that such a chart could be dangerous in the hands of those who are unfamiliar with the history surrounding the Septuagint and Masoretic Text. It is a fact of history that the Western world (including the Jews) was heavily influenced by the Greeks during the period between the later prophets and just before the events described in the New Testament. The fact that the New Testament was composed in Greek is itself evidence of this phenomenon. As the Jews spread out from Palestine and established communities in areas that were even more directly influenced by the Greek culture and language, it became necessary for them to translate their scriptures into Greek (many Jews adopted the language of the intellectual and commercial elite). This happened during this period between the Old and New Testaments.

As Yuriy points out in his article, the earliest Greek manuscripts (the more complete ones) date back to the Fourth and Fifth Centuries of the Common Era. The earliest complete Masoretic Text (Hebrew) manuscripts date to the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries (it has also been demonstrated that there are significant differences between these and the Dead Sea Scrolls). Which one is more authoritative? Which one is closer to the original? (Yuriy points out that we don't have ANY of the originals) If we based our answer on age, we'd have to give the edge to the Septuagint. Is it possible that the Jews who were responsible for the Masoretic Text had an incentive to discredit the Septuagint and the New Testament? (After all, they didn't accept Jesus as the Messiah - Which came first: the chicken or the egg?)

Finally, take another look at the different translations. Doesn't the Greek version appear to make more sense within the context sometimes than the Hebrew? Hence, while it is safe to look at this chart and conclude that there are discrepancies between the Greek and Hebrew versions of the Old Testament, one would be on shaky ground to conclude that the human authors of the New Testament consulted an inferior source for their quotations from the OT.

Yuriy concludes his article with this statement: "Your Bible is the best possible scientific recreation, based on a scientific theory (yes, just like the theory of evolution, which also attempts to reconstruct the past based on available evidence, without access to complete evidence). I agree with that statement, and I am comfortable saying that's good enough for me. I accept the Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang Theory based on incomplete evidence (as does everyone who accepts them). Isn't it just a tad hypocritical to dismiss those of us who accept the Bible based on the same rationale?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

God, Adam & Eve and Science

Dr. James McGrath has posted an interesting graphic depicting the degree to which the various denominations of Christianity accept evolutionary science. (View at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2015/07/science-and-christianity-in-the-u-s.html) As part of the same post, he provided a link to an article that I found to be extremely interesting and thought provoking. The article by Karl Giberson of Stonehill College is entitled "Why Losing Adam & Eve is so hard." (View at: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2015/06/gib398002.shtml)

In his article, Giberson looks at the profound impact that the Biblical story about Adam and Eve has had on Western thought, especially within the United States. In fact, he makes a compelling case for this story being "The Central Myth of Western Culture." Giberson sees this story as the basis for the opposition to science that exists within Evangelical Christianity. He points out that this myth has colored Western notions about such things as man's relationship with the natural environment, the proper role of males and females in society, the institution of marriage, race relations, free will and the nature of sin and temptation. Of particular interest to this blogger, Giberson underscores how this mythology has been used in the fight against gay marriage ("God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!") He also points out that the study of genetics has demonstrated that we (humans) are closely related to chimps and bonobos, and that mankind existed for many millennia prior to the events described in the second and third chapters of Genesis.

Nevertheless, after reading the article, I found myself once again asking the question: Why must we accept the understanding/perspective of the literalists in interpreting this story? Is acceptance of the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the events described in these two chapters of Genesis, really essential to understanding this story and incorporating it into our theology? In the article, Giberson wonders aloud whether or not the original human author(s) of these passages even believed that they were recording a story about real individuals and events. When one considers the highly symbolic nature of the language employed in the telling of this story, I think that we would have to admit that this is at the very least a possibility (e.g. a paradise like garden, a tree of life, a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a talking snake). Moreover, Christ's and Paul's use of the story does not necessarily entail an endorsement of the historicity of the characters or their story. Isn't it possible that they recognized some profound spiritual truths had been communicated in this story, and that they used it to illustrate/communicate some spiritual truths of their own?

Why can't we see this story as an affirmation of God's interest in and involvement with mankind? Why can't we see this story as an affirmation that humanity shares a common origin - that we are all related to each other? Why can't we see this story as illustrative of the truth that mankind has rejected a moral code of Divine origin and has pursued one of its own devising? After all, isn't it possible to say that various passages throughout the Bible are illustrative of what happens when man pursues his own understanding of what is right and what is wrong? Does this story mandate the acceptance of the concept of original sin, or is it possible to interpret it as illustrative of how each of us as individuals pursues our own definition of right and wrong and lose our innocence along the way? Does this story mandate the notion that our collective and individual ability to reason has been corrupted (Giberson points out in his article that Aquinas didn't think so)? Does this story negate the notion that each and every one of us are born with a tabula rasa and ultimately bear at least some responsibility for what gets written on its surface? In short, does the whole theological house of cards have to collapse if Adam and Eve never really existed?

In the final analysis, we each have to answer these questions for ourselves. This blogger is comfortable with the story of Adam and Eve and accepts evolutionary science. What about you?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Some thoughts on choosing a church to attend

Gavin R. just posted an article on the "Functions of Religion" on his Otagosh blog. You can read it here: http://otagosh.blogspot.com/2015/07/functions-of-religion.html This post was based on a post by Sabio Lantz entitled "Religion as Moral Signalling" on the Triangulations blog. I found both pieces to be interesting and insightful.

Like many of my readers, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that religion is much more than a set of doctrines and beliefs. In fact, my readers may have picked up on the fact that I do not have a very high opinion of man-made religion or the organizations and denominations that it has given birth to. As a student of history, I see the harm and destructive impulses that many of these groups have perpetrated and unleashed in the world; but I also understand that they have some value to the religiously inclined person. As indicated in the posts cited above, these groups can be a source of fellowship, support, security, reinforcement and comfort.

Moreover, if we appeal to Scripture, it is apparent that the author of Hebrews felt that it was very important for Christians to meet together and interact with each other. We read: "Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another; especially now that the day of his return is drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24-25) In fact, the New Testament is full of encouragement for Christians to meet together and spur each other on to love and spiritual growth. As we have noted in previous posts on this blog, the Greek word that has been translated into English as "Church" indicates an assembly of people.

So what should a sincere Christian be looking for in a church? Here are a few questions (based on Scriptural standards) which anyone seeking a church to attend may wish to consider:
1) Is a spirit of love, support and peace evident in the congregation/group?
2) Is the focus of the congregation/group outward? That is, are they focused on helping others?
3) Is the group tolerant of differences? Do they embrace everyone within their midst? Or are there elites and cliques present?
4) Do the individual members appear to be happy and well-balanced personalities?
5) Does the atmosphere feel spiritual? Can you feel the "magic/electricity" when you attend there?
6) How do you feel when you walk out of that church? Uplifted? Rejuvenated?
7) Is doctrine, authority and judgment placed above the other values just mentioned?

It seems to me that anyone who took the time to ask themselves these questions in evaluating whether or not to attend with a specific group would have a better chance of having a good religious experience. Contrary to what the group taught that I was formerly affiliated with, it's not what you know (or think you know) - it's what you do with what you know! Good rule of thumb: Any man/woman/group that interferes with or supersedes our relationship with the Divine is not a healthy or spiritually productive association.