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The Essentials of Christianity

Most of the various groups/organizations which call themselves Christian have formulated some kind of official statement/summary of their b...

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Thank You!

Thank God for my grandchildren. And a special thank you for the sweet little girl that came into our lives today. I pray that they will live healthy, happy, productive and long lives on this beautiful blue-green orb we call earth.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

God, Intellect and Emotion

A series of comments appearing on some of the blogs which I follow, along with some comments from friends on things I've posted here, have inspired some thoughts on the relationship between intellect and emotion in understanding, explaining and experiencing Christianity. To be sure, I'm definitely not the first to discourse on the topic. In fact, I think one would be justified in characterizing this as one of the central philosophical questions relative to the study/topic of religion! Yes, the debate over the relevance of faith vs reason or faith vs rationalism is an old one with a distinguished pedigree (consider Plato, Aquinas, Pascal, Locke, Hume, Kant, et al). As such, some of you will probably find the current discussion presumptuous and narrow; but I hope that a few of my readers will find something of value in what follows.

To begin, it will not have escaped the attention of most of my readers that I have chosen words (intellect and emotion) which are not commonly used in this context. Hence, a word of explanation is in order, because I can assure you that I chose them with careful and delibeberate intent.

If we Google both terms, the reasoning behind the use of these words will be made more apparent. Emotion is defined there as "a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others" and as an "instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge." Likewise, we find there that intellect is defined as "the faculty of reasoning and understanding objectively, especially with regard to abstract or academic matters." From these definitions, we can see a clear contrast between the two concepts. Indeed, much of the previous commentary on this topic has framed the discussion in terms of a competition between the two - with folks giving the supremacy to whichever term fits their particular perspective or thesis.

The Armstrong Church of God culture (with which this blogger was previously affiliated) certainly had a perspective on the subject. They ridiculed the emotionally charged atmosphere apparent in Traditional Christianity. They made fun of the notion of "giving your heart to the Lord." Many of them berated other groups for "wasting" their time and financial resources trying to feed, clothe, house and educate the poor. For them, the church was primarily responsible for preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God. For them, their understanding of the Bible was of preeminent importance. The understanding and acceptance of their teachings/doctrines was evidence that one had (or was being led by) God's Holy Spirit. In other words, spiritual enlightenment was equated with intellectual understanding. Everything they believed "made so much sense" when compared with the emotionally charged dribble offered by Traditional Christianity.

Moreover, it is clear that this same perspective/attitude is still apparent within many of the current members of the culture and some of those who have left it behind. They are enamored with logic and reasoning - alternately employing them to "prove" or disprove the doctrines, depending on their particular perspective. For these folks (on both sides of the fence), emotion is still clearly inferior to intellect.

Nevertheless, if Scripture offers any insight into God's perspective on the subject, then it is clear that "He" believes that emotion is more important than intellect. The Bible is literally preoccupied with classifying emotions as good or bad, ranking their importance at both extremes and encouraging the cultivation of good emotions by God's people. In this regard, consider Christ's and Paul's numerous statements about the central and preeminent role of love in the lives of God's people. Notice also that Paul listed a number of emotions as evidence/proof/fruit that one has God's Holy Spirit or is in the grips of the sinful nature.

Indeed, in his first epistle to the saints at Corinth, Paul wrote at some length on this very subject (the relative importance of intellect and emotion to Christians). We read there: "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." I Corinthians 2:1-5

Unfortunately, many Fundamentalist Christians have used these and other scriptures as an indictment against any reasoning that interferes with their doctrines or appears to contradict anything in the Bible. My former church was fond of using Proverbs 14:12 in that capacity. Instead of a warning against choosing a path to follow based on a superficial or insufficient evaluation of the evidence, it was used to berate anyone who came to a different conclusion from the one which they had reached.

Likewise, for far too many folks, emotion is incompatible with reason. For the fictional character of Spock from the Star Trek series, logic was preeminent. Later on in the series, however, Spock came to understand that "Logic is the beginning of wisdom...not the end." - (13 Pearls of Spock's Logical Wisdom by Jesse Ferreras at Huffington Post) Indeed, modern scientific research seems to support this conclusion. In his article at www.fastcodesign.com, Eric Jaffe writes "Far from the enemy of reason, emotion may well be a friend." After all, we all know that emotion sometimes tempers the cold heartlessness of logic.

And, in the final analysis, emotion is the best justification for Christianity and it's continued existence. Doesn't the inspiration and motivation of people to help and care for others provide the best "proof" of its efficacy and legitimacy? Where are the intellectual arguments that one could marshal to compare with that?

The Worldwide Church of God (my former affiliation) failed in both the intellectual and emotional appeal of their theology. Having failed on both fronts, I think that it is fair to wonder what justification could possibly be offered for continuing to adhere to such an ideology?

Friday, March 11, 2016

God, Love and Deception

I have been accused by some of my former associates within the Armstrong Churches of God of harboring feelings of bitterness, resentment, anger and revenge toward them and the theology which they still hold dear. As a consequence, I'd like to address these accusations within the broader context of my current beliefs and attitudes. Moreover, I wish to make clear that I feel compelled to write this post in the spirit of exposing and explaining the motivations behind my posts, comments and other statements - NOT as some kind of feeble attempt at apologetics. Only God knows my heart, but I feel comfortable in allowing my readers to have a peek inside my head.

First of all, I wouldn't be honest with myself or my readers if I failed to acknowledge the hurt and disappointment which I have experienced as a consequence of the rejection of some of my former associates. Nevertheless, I can honestly say that my personal pain has not blinded me to the many fine qualities of my former associates or the benefits which I have derived from knowing them. Although I now regret some of the choices which I made in times past, I wouldn't eliminate those experiences or associations if I could - They have all helped to shape the person I am today (and I think he's better than he used to be).

My introduction to what would later become the Worldwide Church of God was listening to Garner Ted Armstrong on my father's little transistor radio as a child. And, for the record, those memories are still precious to me - not because of anything GTA was saying, but because I associate it with a time of closeness with my my father.

Although my father took me and my brother to services a couple of times over the years that followed, he was not ready to commit to the church at that time. Nevertheless, I began reading and studying the Bible on my own. I went through the church's Bible correspondence course, and later (as a teen) began attending services on my own.

The man who mentored me through this period was a local elder, who was thoroughly steeped in Armstrongism. I remember purchasing a copy of the Jerusalem Bible and questioning him about the Apocrypha. Needless to say, he didn't like the questions; and he "borrowed" the book and never returned it! Nevertheless, I had the opportunity to speak to him many years later as he was dying with cancer. He informed me that he had been afforded the opportunity to get reacquainted with Jesus Christ, and he apologized to me for the condescending way that he had treated me in the past. How could I feel anything but love for that man?

Back then, I had considered attending Ambassador College (Thanks to God that life and circumstances moved me to attend a real college). Nevertheless, something about our young minister (an Ambassador graduate) seemed incongruous to me. How could this nice young man be qualified to give advice on child rearing and finance to men and women who were twice his age? He was a good speaker and seemed to have a kind disposition, but I could never quite get my arms around the concept of him as an authority on life.

Later, when I was disfellowshipped for dating someone outside of The Church (at least it was a female!), my father and Bill Watson helped me through a very difficult time in my spiritual life. I will ALWAYS be grateful to them for their compassion, support and generosity during that trial. In fact, Bill Watson rebaptized me and my wife (at our request), blessed my oldest daughter when she was born and preached my grandmother's funeral. Moreover, I have to say that I feel nothing but gratitude for the good friend that this man (Mr. Watson) has been to my father.

Unfortunately, the sentiments which I just expressed will seem inconsistent with the criticisms which I have directed at some of the teachings of these men to some folks. They simply cannot separate the personal from the religious. However, I believe that it is possible to strongly disagree with a person on some topic(s) and still sincerely love and respect that individual.

I happen to believe that their stance on homosexuality and British Israelism is bigoted and wrong, but I don't hate them for taking that position. Did God hate me when I was deceived and shared those views? Oh yes, unlike some of my fellow bloggers, I'm ashamed to say that there was a time when I fully embraced British Israelism. Fortunately, I believe that God showed me that I was wrong. I am so vociferous in attacking and condemning the teaching because I realize that people can grow, repent and change (I'm proof of it).

Prejudice and bigotry are bad and ugly things, but they don't make the whole person bad or undeserving of love and respect. I had a great aunt who once proclaimed "I'm not prejudiced against n_____s as long as they stay in their place!" That is an awful, ignorant and reprehensible statement, but I never stopped loving her. She was a deceived bigot, but she was also kind, affectionate and very charitable.

We are all a mix of good and bad. If the Bible is to be believed, then everyone of us is deceived to one degree or another. Good people make mistakes and occasionally do bad things. That doesn't mean that they should be rejected, ignored or abhorred.

Anyway, that's the premise and experience behind what you see here. This is what motivates me to identify and criticize certain teachings in the strongest terms possible. If you want to make that personal, that's your business.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Holy Spirit: God's Luminol?

Many atheists are fond of dismissing the Holy Spirit as evidence of God's existence. The following remarks from a post entitled "Why The 'Inner Witness To The Holy Spirit' Is Evidence of Nothing" (Atheism And The City, 17 July 2013) is illustrative of their arguments in this regard: "It seems that some people just 'know' that god or some higher power exists because they 'feel' it, and nothing can come in their way. But it always seemed obvious to me that the fact that Christians, Hindus, Mormons and New Age spiritualists alike can all have these amazing emotional/spiritual experiences, that their experiences were indicative of nothing more than just our natural tendency to attribute deeper meaning to our emotional experiences and hallucinations." He went on to question the Christian God's existence by asking his followers "why would he be giving Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims amazing transcendent spiritual experiences when they meditate, chant and pray?"

By now, you're probably wondering what all of this has to do with luminol? According to Tom Harris in his article "How Luminol Works" traces of human blood are revealed "by a light-producing chemical reaction (chemiluminescence) between several chemicals (C8H7O3N3) and hemoglobin." (science. howstuffworks.com) In other words, things that are not readily apparent to the naked eye are made manifest to investigators by the use of this chemical. A room that appears as though nothing important ever happened there in normal light can be transformed into a major crime scene by turning off the light!

Similarly, the opaque blackness of night can be transformed by a pair of night vision goggles (as a former soldier, I can attest to the validity of this phenomenon). Likewise, things that are not visible to the naked eye are made manifest by telescopes and microscopes.

Think about it, it wasn't that long ago that we didn't know that things like bacterias and viruses existed. To be sure, there were other indications/evidences that these microbes existed (e.g. the presence of disease). We, however, had never actually seen them.

In fact, humans find that we need assistance from many different devices/instruments in order to see or hear things that are normally beyond our natural abilities to observe. So why is it such a stretch to suggest that a "Holy Spirit" is necessary to perceive/understand things spiritual? And, is it really that far-fetched to suppose that a Universal God would make something of that nature available to guide/help/aid people of different faiths?

Why doesn't the Holy Spirit make everyone "see" the same thing and impart perfect understanding? Is that how Luminol works? Is that how a microscope or a telescope works? Isn't the performance of all of these tools dependent on the abilities of the people who use them and the techniques which they employ in their use? What do you think?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A grandfather's delight

Yesterday, we took our two year old grandson to see his first movie on the big screen. I will never forget that look of wide-eyed wonderment on his face. He was transfixed by this new experience. He couldn't take his eyes off of the screen, and we couldn't take our eyes off of him.

Later, in reflecting on my grandson's reaction to the experience, I was reminded of his and his cousin's reactions to seeing the ocean and beach for the first time. I'll never forget the way that they explored the texture of the sand and tentatively approached the water's edge. They literally squealed with delight as the waves rolled toward them.

In reflecting on those firsts, I was also struck by the intensity of the pleasure that we derived from witnessing their wonderment. Is it possible that Almighty God experiences anything like that as "He" watches over us? Did God delight in Charles Darwin's exploration of the questions surrounding the origin of species? Did God exult in Albert Einstein's calculations and musings? In short, is it possible that God derives pleasure from our discovery of the world around us? What do you think?

Friday, March 4, 2016

How does Donald Trump compare to God's standards?

The American race for the presidency on the Republican side currently looks more like a reality show than a series of political primaries/caucuses designed to produce a nominee for the Party. In short, Donald Trump has occupied center stage for several months now and appears to be within reach of clinching the Grand Old Party's top spot for the 2016 election! He has been alternately praised and vilified by party members. But how can there be such a wide range of opinions on a potential nominee in God's Party - The Party of FAMILY VALUES? Wouldn't it be relatively easy to compare his behavior and statements with what the Judeo-Christian Scriptures claim to be God's standards?

A few words immediately come to mind when I think of Donald Trump vis-a-vis the Bible:
Prideful
Haughty
Arrogant
Harsh
Mean-spirited
And contrasted with words like:
Humble
Patient
Kind
Compassionate
Merciful

Some other things also come to mind:
How many times has Mr. Trump been divorced/married? Matt 5:31-32 & Mark 10:1-12
What did Jesus say about wealthy people? Luke 18:24-25
What did Christ say about Godly/Christian leadership? Mark 9:35
What did Christ say about judging others? Matt 7:1-5
What did Christ say about going around saying "I promise you..." all the time? Matt 5:34-37
What does the Bible say about folks who have a problem controlling their tongues? Proverbs 21:23 & James 3:5-13
And, aren't there numerous indications within Scripture that a person's true nature is revealed by his/her speech and actions?

How does Donald Trump compare to God's standards? What do you think?