(This is the 8th edition of my Alpha Course reaction. For the first and all past posts, see the Alpha Page.)
Oh boy. I’m going to try to keep in reigned in, but this is going to be a doozy edition (as if the previous novels haven’t been). Wife and I attended the weekend Alpha retreat which included three Nicky videos and discussion sessions after each one. Plus, there’s the whole weekend experience surrounding it to talk about.
As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I went to Camp Galilee Methodist Church Camp when I was a teen. It was a very formative, wonderful experience, and the crest of my religious belief. Saturday, we had two Nicky and talk sessions (one of which rather emotional), and nice bonfire. So Sunday morning, after a terrible sleep on a horrible mattress in a rather nice cabin, I was exhausted. But after a tasty breakfast, everyone went down by the lake for a devotional and I stayed up at camp to read a bit from Paul Kurtz’s Affirmations: Joyful And Creative Exuberance; a humanist “devotional.” Then I had a moment to write this:
It’s 8:30 on a beautiful morning here at Camp Galilee. It’s overcast, cool, slight breeze, the tease of rain in the air. For me, that’s a perfect morning. I’m sitting on a park bench maybe 200 feet from the pavillian where when I was a camper here, 15 years ago, we had our nightly services and testimonials and music and song. I gave my testimony as a Christian there at age 17. It was sincere, and I felt I was filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, I know it to have been a very human, very wonderful, self-created emotionalism. It was an incredible feeling, one that I can just touch with the “tips of my fingers” when I performed in plays, sometimes when I watch an effective play or movie, hear a particular song. It’s an awesome feeling, this kind of pathos, no less wonderful because I had it in during a period of religious delusion. I actually treasure that time; I’ve come to terms with it. I’m glad it’s in my past, and I feel I now understand the emotion better, and I’m extremely glad I can have bits of it when I can enjoy touching art or feel awe and wonder at some amazing aspect of the universe. And having that past experience, I can relate better to other humans who continue to feel that emotion in connection to a religious belief. I can understand their not wanting to even entertain the idea of giving that up. The shame of it is, though, that one does not need to give that feeling up. And, like the “mysteries” of the universe, science, reality, understanding it does not eliminate the wonder and, dare I say, goodness of it..A formation of Canadian geese just flew over, honking the entire way. A few moments ago I heard the call of a buck. All around me is the sound of the wind through the trees, dead leaves shifting and tossing, and nuts falling from trees to crash to the ground or bonk on a roof and roll off. Earlier in my life I used to do this — sit and just listen to nature. It was the best part about camping as a Boy Scout, taking those moments. I’m thankful for this moment right now, this feeling of refueling.
Just a few more words about camp before I move to the meat of the weekend:
The camp is nice and well-kept. The food was really good. We, about 25 of us (?) were the only ones there. I didn’t get a chance to really explore some of the buildings I was most familiar with back as a camper. At the front of the mess hall was a giant, cartoon-looking cross with cartoon crown of thorns and three giant cartoon nails. Was pretty disgusting and disturbing, really, having this symbol of torturous death made cartoony and venerated for kids to see every day at camp.
But then, when I was 16 and 17, I would have loved it. In fact, during my early 20s I had a cross necklace made from three nails and copper wire. I thought it was great. Amazing what one accepts as normal when you’re brainwashed to accept death-worship and sado-masochistic “salvation” rituals as good and beautiful.
After we arrived, we filled out a questionnaire ranking our “spiritual gifts.” It was actually both fun and amusing. A lot of questions like “I enjoy doing things with my hands,” and “I like to share my faith with other people.” Naturally, I scored that last question low. But questions like, “I enjoy sharing my knowledge of scripture with others” pretty high! Of course, the reason being different than what the survey authors intended. 🙂
I ended up with my top three “spiritual gifts” being: Knowledge, Teaching, and Working with hands (arts and crafts). Hmm, I have knowledge about Biblical contradictions and issues, like teaching about them, and painting D&D miniatures. Wonder how I can use these gifts for the church. 🙂
Who Is The Holy Spirit?
Well, let’s get started. I’m going to deal with all three of Nicky’s videos in a row, and then address the small groups. Stay tuned — that part gets heated(ish).
In the companion book, Nicky has a point that reads: “‘Holy Ghost,’ ‘He’ not ‘it,’ resisted.” He didn’t address this in the video; I wish he had. It’s already ridiculous to think of the over-God as “he” as that implies gender which implies sex organs — and you have to wonder a. What does the creator of all existence need with sex organs; and, b. Who would he use them with? An even less embodied entity, known as a “ghost” or “spirit,” having sex organs as well? Well, I guess it’s important if you’re going to impregnate a young woman. (Which also makes me wonder: The angel pretty much just told Mary what was going to happen, I don’t recall her being asked. Was her impregnation consensual?)
Nicky says the Spirit was involved in creation. How’s he know this? The Bible says so! Well, sorta. He quotes: “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” ~ Gen 1:2. (‘course, read the second creation story in Gen chapter 2, and you see God does all the work himself — and in a different order from chapter 1). We’re assuming “the Spirit of God” is a separate entity and not a poetic reference to God. In fact, the OT only mentions “Spirit of God” whereas only the NT has “the Holy Spirit.” The Hebrew in the OT translates what we call “spirit” as “breath” or “wind.” Interestingly, the Jews have always read this as the equivalent of the power of God, not as a separate entity. Even in the Attic Greek in the NT, the word for “spirit” translates to “breath” to match the intent of the OT writers. It wasn’t until the Vulgate Latin version of the Bible was translated, around the 5th century A.D., that “breath” became “spirit.” And it wasn’t also until that time that the concept of the trinity, of the “Holy Spirit” being a separate entity was even created.
Kind of odd that the “Holy Spirit” wasn’t thought of as an entity by God’s very “chosen people,” and it wasn’t until the early Christians were separating themselves from the other mystery cults of the region that the Holy Ghost was separated from the entity of God.
Nicky refers to Samson’s breaking his bonds thanks to the help of the Holy Spirit. I found that an interesting reference. Samson was basically an original “suicide bomber.” See this happy happy representation of the story: Samson’s Final Mass Murder.
Nicky mentions that the Spirit “sets us free from the negative,” and while it may be instantaneous for some people, for others it can be a life-long process. Well, that kinda covers all his bases, doesn’t it? Make you wonder just how powerful the Spirit is if it could take all life long to have an impact. Sounds suspiciously like it depends on how much work each individual puts into changing their own life.
The OT can be “summed up in one word: promise.” Funny, “blood-thirsty” is what first comes to mind.
“God says, ‘I will give you a new heart!'” Nicky says. Whoa, doesn’t that affect “free will” in some way? I mean, if God is intervening to make new hearts, and change you life, and have the Spirit make you a new person, isn’t that de facto an a violation of non-intervention on free will? But that’s not surprising; the Bible is also filled with instances in which God violates his most, er, second-most precious gift of “free will” by making people do thing, softening and hardening hearts. In fact, the entire murderous slaughter of countless Egyptian males, boys, infants, and probably unborn, came about because God specifically intervened and intentionally “hardened” the Pharaoh’s heart (“And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” Exodus 4:21).
Guess the “new heart” God gives you is a lemon?
Nicky tells a story of an unruly boy with a bad attitude, who “accepted Jesus” and, according to his grandmother (?) became a whole new person. Again: isn’t that altering free will? But even more important: Wouldn’t it be, like a whole lot more loving and fatherly and just to, I dunno, do that whole “new heart” thing to people who could really use it….before they act their free will by horribly harming others? I mean, if God’s going around blowing the Holy Spirit around and changing people’s behaviors and attitudes, wouldn’t it be cool if he did that to someone before they raped someone? Or murdered someone? Or embezzled the company pension fund? Or opened fire in a school? You, know, give new hearts when it really matters and not just to kids who very likely just went through a stage anyway? Just an idea.
Then later that night we learned… What Does The Holy Spirit Do?
(You mean, changing hearts isn’t all?)
Nicky begin this video with a metaphor for how we’re (re)born into the Spirit: “When a man and a woman come together in an act of love, a physical baby is born….” And… what if a man and a woman come together in an act of rape? Or molestation? Or a drunken hook-up after the bars close? Ya gotta think your metaphors through a little better, Nicky. You’re basically telling us we get effed by the Holy Spirit.
As children of God, Jesus, on the cross, took our sins — past, present, and future. Naturally, we’re back to asking the perennial question: How?! By what mechanism does that work? Some would dismiss the question as unimportant, advise to just accept it. But it really is an important question; it speaks to the nature of this god and his power. On the one hand, he could have just snapped his Spirit fingers and BAM! we’re all forgiven. But instead, he enacts a bloody sado-masochistic torture and death which results in all his followers venerating the symbol of bloody and painful execution. If you don’t think this doesn’t do something to inform the general culture of Christianity, you’re not looking from the outside enough. The arrogant and righteous violence mixed with martyrdom-minded persecution-complex, comes from the worship and idolization of bloody death. Remember, at the core, it’s not about “sacrifice” because (a) nothing but 36 to 48 hours was actually sacrificed; and (b) the torture/murder is completely superfluous when Yahweh has the power and ability to forgive at-will.
Plus, let’s look a little deeper at this whole forgiveness thing, Dr. Freud. For what is this magnanimous uberdeity forgiving us, anyway? Sin, right? What is sin? It’s not inherently unethical things, as the Bible is soaked with unethical behavior that God’s cool with. Sin is offending God, not necessarily harming self or others. God is deigning to forgive us for offending him. You have to wonder, just how insecure and flawed an omni-everything god must be to feel it necessary to (a) feel offended by us; and (b) cast our souls into eternal torment because we offended him for 0 to ~80 years or so. You’d think a megagod capable of creating an infinite universe filled with galaxies and black holes and quasars and nebulae and photosynthesis and the wonders of human imagination, would kind of be bigger than the very very human weakness and failing as feeling offended by puny humans, and inordinate and unfair levels of vengeance for said offendedness.
Nicky says relationships grow by communication. Well, indeed they do! I agree, Nick ol’ boy. So, he says, the Spirit helps our relationship with God by helping us pray.
Uhm, do we really need to deconstruct this? OK, let’s go for it.
Having a one-way conversation at God, mediated by another entity, is being equated with having direct two-way, real-time communication with another person. Sure. Carry on….
He states that “the divisions within the church are such a tragedy,” by which he means the various Christian denominations. Well, whose fault is that?! There are supposedly around 3,800 different denominations. Even though most of those are tiny and insignificant, we all know that of many significant and serious denominational splits so drastic that they virtually form whole different religions: Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, Assemblies of God, Seventh Day Adventist, Lutheran, Charismatic Pentecostal, Branch Davidian, and on and on. The differences spawn, at the core, from very divergent interpretation of a book that was compiled nearly 2,000 years ago. Doesn’t this huge list indicate that there must be something wrong with the message if it results in such conflicting and contradictory interpretations — to the point in which long and bloody wars have been fought among them?
Ah, the apologist will say, it’s not the message that’s the problem, but human apprehension of it. Yeah, you know, that still goes back to the responsibility of the crafter of the message. If I’m writing a message to someone, a message so important, so vital that their life literally depends on their understanding the message, and having excellent intelligence sources, I know that the recipient of the message will be a little confused, a little slow, have some issues with receiving the message properly, isn’t it incumbent upon me to make sure I make the message as clear and unambiguous as possible?
My puny human brain can come up with a handful of ways I would, given the power of omnipotence, impart the most important message in all existence to flawed humanity. And the least effective way I could come up with would be a book written during a primitive time by ancient people in an age steeped in superstition and utter misunderstanding of nature and reality. The claim that an omni-power/knowing being could come up with a way that looks suuussspiciously very human-created, can only mean (a) Yahweh is an idiot, (b) Yahweh is a mean, cruel, sadistic bastard, (c) Yahweh doesn’t exist and the Bible really is a creation of ancient people steeped in superstitious and barbarous beliefs. Occam’s Razor would lean toward which answer?
So here’s a funny bit: At the beginning of this video, Nicky states that all of us have the Holy Spirit within us from the time we’re born. It’s up to us to decide to accept it or not. Then, toward the end of the video, he states that “people without the Spirit in them do not belong to Christ.” Sorry, didn’t you say we all have the Spirit with us? Pedantic contradiction pointing when there’s much more serious issues to point out; sorry for the diversion.
Nicky then talks about how we must “grow the family,” we must share the message with others and bring more people to Jesus, and the Spirit makes it easier for us to do so.
Now, I know I’ve gone on about this many times in my blog, but I don’t recall if I’ve addressed this in the Alpha posts yet. This is the concept that served as my Final Straw into atheism after years of research and debating and trying to find answers to my questions and the issues I saw. No parables or metaphors, here’s the theological setup: God sets up a system of eternal reward which can be paradise or eternal damnation. He sets up the rules and conditions by which he’ll judge you upon death (or the End Times, depending on your denomination). This is a pretty big deal, yes? I mean, no denying, this is The Big Deal of all deals! So, what does God do to tell we subjects, we victims, of this setup? He avoids telling anyone about it until a few thousand years into humanity’s history, and then lets a handful of people in a desert land in on the secret. And then commands this small group to go by foot and tell other by mouth of this Ultimate of Big Deals.
Really? This is the best the all-knowing, infinitely wise god of gods could come up with telling humanity that they’re doomed to damnation unless they do the one thing that will save them from it? A process that looks suspiciously like the methods and activities of a cult.
OK, analogy: (I think I have said this in Alpha posts…) I’m a loving, caring, forgiving father with many children. I pull one aside and tell her, “Say, here’s a secret I’m telling you and only you: If any of you, my children and your children, fall asleep tonight laying down, I’ll come chop your arms off with a rusty saw. Now, go forth and tell your siblings.” And I do this knowing that it’s impossible for her to possibly tell all her siblings and their children — and that the default result will be rusty arm removal since sleeping lying down is just the normal way humans behave.
The rational, ethical Christian naturally understands that this is a problem. Which is why it often crops up in serious discussions (like the small group here), what does God do about people who lived before Jesus? Or in places where humans haven’t reached with the Gospel? And the rational, reasonable Christian will rationalize that a loving god would never be so evil as to damn people who didn’t hear about Jesus out of sheer luck of where and when they’re born! And good for them for rationalizing this.
But let’s step it back a step, shall we? If God is willing to reprieve and not damn countless billions to hell because evangelicals hadn’t told them they’re sinful and evil and need to accept a torture/murder as a process of forgiving them, then why not skip the whole mistranslated, misapplied, war and suffering-starting Good News altogether?! The existence of the Bible and it’s rules and bigotry and racism and misogyny and cruelty, has been responsible for unimaginable suffering throughout the world, and it still does. And yet, evidently, God could and does bypass the whole thing in order to not cast into hell people who haven’t encountered his blood-thirsty Bronze Age tome. Result: (a) Yahweh is an idiot, (b) Yahweh is a capricious, fickle, psychopathically cruel and arbitrary dictator, (c) Yahweh doesn’t exist. Occam’s Razor says…?
Finally, in this video, Nicky ends hammering on an idea that he kept beating throughout the video: God’s offering us a “free gift” of the Water of Life! We just need to accept it.
Funny how we have such different ideas of what “free gift” means. In my world, a free gift would be:
“Hey, Joe. I have this cool widget for you.”
“Ah, thanks! Do I owe you anything for it?”
“No, Joe, it’s free!”
“Why, thanks, pal.”
“Think nothing of it.”
In Nicky’s world, “free gift” comes out more like:
“Hey Joe, I’ve this widget for ya. It’s a free gift for you!”
“Oh cool. Thanks.”
“Wait a second there, Joe. Where ya going? The widget is going to cost you. You need to be my servant and do what I command and give me love and devotion.”
“Whoa whoa whoa, pal! That’s not ‘free,’ that’s a pretty penny! Never mind, I don’t want your gift.”
“Oh, Joe? You don’t want the gift? OK, Joe. If you won’t take the gift, I’ll stab you in the face with a bear.”
“Holy crap, pal! Your gift isn’t a gift at all! It’s extortion!”
Love those gifts you’re forced to take under pain of eternal torture!
The small group discussion after this video got very interesting, and involved me having a small row with a pastor. But, that’ll come in the combined discussion section. For now, on to video three…
How Can I Be Filled With the Holy Spirit
So, if you accept the extortionary exchange, you too can be filled with the Holy Spirit. And some people react to the Spirit physically, like falling from the “gale” of God. Sort of like this?
Physical reactions to emotionally charged situations are a part of the human makeup. It’s why you can find in every human religion of every culture, people reacting physically to ceremony, ritual, any situation in which there is a communal, emotionally charged atmosphere, and an expectation of physical reaction!
Nicky tells a story of a service in which people weren’t told about possible physical reactions to receiving the Holy Spirit, and were shocked by the them. First of all, you have to live in a cave to not have in some way encountered the idea that falling, or weaving about, or vocal emissions, and the like, don’t happen in emotionally charged Christian events. It’s not necessary for the pastor in attendance to have to tell the audience about such things for some of them to have been pre-suggested of such reactions. Secondly, because we can see people from all over the world react to emotional ritual in similar fashion, there’s a semi-universal physical response that’s triggered in many people regardless of whether they’re in a Christian service, a Sufi, a Hindu, an aboriginal, a Zulu, tiny cult, etc. ad nauseum, ritual.
But Nicky spends most of his time talking about “the most obvious of the spiritual gifts” (because healing people from indisputable death and restoring amputations and moving mountains I guess just aren’t obvious enough now-a-days) of speaking in tongues.
Nicky is very careful to remind people that being given the gift of speaking in tongues does not make one a “first class Christian,” but that it’s simply a gift that some receive but certainly not all. That’s the last reasonable thing he says.
He claims that while speaking in tongues, “the speaker is in full control.” And yet, later, he claims that speaking in tongues is a method one has to leave control of their rational language when speaking to God, allowing the spirit to speak through them when human words just won’t do. Huh, that doesn’t sound like full control!
He says that the only way to start speaking in tongues is to just start speaking, and he gave an example of how once when he was in a very hightened emotional state, he did so and he started speaking in tongues to God. This goes back to the fact that every religion, every culture, has and venerates as holy various unusual behaviors people experience when in hightened emotional states in a religious context. Ancient Greece had the bacchates or maenads, followers of Dionysus (who, by the way, shares many specific similarities with Jesus) who would send themselves into frenetic emotional states during worship. Sufi dancers spin themselves into emotional fugues (“whirling dervishes”). Many native Americans fast and “sweat lodge” themselves into hallucinogenic states where they can receive guidance from the spirits. Hindu is filled with various emotional states one sends themselves into, Tantra being one of the disciplines of, in order to become more spiritually aware.
The list of ways in which various religious beliefs give context to the way we humans can play with our own minds to provide alternate states of “awareness” goes on and on. It’s not unique to Christianity, and speaking in tongues, it’s universal to being human and having gray cottage cheese meat organ serving as the material that controls our senses, our awareness, our perception of reality.
Recent studies have indicated that glossolalia is not a uniquely Christian practice. Glossolalia is practiced by a large number of native non-Christian living religions around the world. Glossolalia is found amoung the “Inuit (Eskimos), The Saami (Lapps), in Japanese seances in Hokkaido, in a small cult led by Genji Yanagide of Moji City, the shamans in Ethiopia in the zar cult and various spirits in Haitian Voodoo. L. Carlyle May shows that glossolalia in non-Christian religions is present in Malaysia, Indonesia, Siberia, Arctic regions, China, Japan, Korea, Arabia, and Burma, among other places. It is also present extensively in African tribal religions. http://www.goodnewsaboutgod.com/studies/speakingtongues.htm
Glossolalia. That’s the name given to the act of speaking in, essentially, gibberish. Dan Barker, a former evangelical preacher and now co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, was a guest at last year’s Skepticon in Springfield, MO. (He’ll be back for this year’s in November.) He told the audience that speaking in tongues used to be a pretty common thing of his when he was religious. But now he recognizes the emotional state and the psychological triggers of it, and if he wanted to, even now as an atheist, he could put himself into a state where he could glossolalia again.
Fortunately, not all glossolalia is delusional. it’s left-brain-bypassing emotional root is used by a couple of my favorite musicians: Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance (and increasing success as a film music composer) has used the glossolalia she’d developed since she was 12 in her etheral/ambient/world music singing.
And Jón Þór Birgisson from Icelandic band Sigur Rós also incorporates glossolalia to create their music’s otherworldly sound:
These incredible artists understand that the semantic meanings of intelligible words can get in the way of emotional impact. Just as Nicky said, sometimes there’s not the words to properly express a feeling. He’s right! And we have an entire half a brain that operates separate and even in opposition to language. There’s nothing spiritual, mystical about it. It’s an aspect of human psychobiology.
(Seriously, though, if I may say, Dead Can Dance is one of the best music groups evah!)
Oh goodness! This has been a chore of post! But we’re almost done:
And here is where once again I learn my “classmates” are cool… and pastors/preachers/etc. are purveyors of blatant BS.
So, running the weekend’s three small group discussions together, it started out discussing “gifts.” The consensus of the group is that we’re all born with our “gifts” and that circumstances bring them out in us. So then I wonder, if anything you can do is a “gift,” how do you know it’s a gift and where it came from? By what scale or guide can you determine your courage, or rising to an occasion, or ability to sing, or whatever, is a spiritual gift as opposed to just something that’s a part of your DNA/experience/training? If it’s something so ephemeral and ambiguous, and these are qualities that people all over the world of all religions (and no religion) can have — what’s the point of calling it a spiritual gift?
Don’t remember what brought it up, but one person mentioned that judging other people is bad, because you will be judged by the same measure you judge others. And no one should judge, because we’re all human and we all have failings, etc. But isn’t that just the pernicious trap of religion? We all have failings, failings are sinful, you must pray and return to religion for forgiveness, and repeat the cycle forever.
Before Christian missionaries arrives to the Polynesian islands, their belief system had no proscriptions regarding sex. There was no “sin” or divine offense in regards to (consensual) sexual behavior. Oh but food, they had tons of rules about food! When to eat what, who could eat what. If the wrong person ate the wrong thing at the wrong time, you offended the gods!
Then the Christians came and guess what they brought with their conversion? Food became no big deal, but sex! Now there’s where Christian excel at creating guilt and shame and attributing sinful behavior.
In both very different examples, you have a human biological drive (eating and sex) that become favorite tools of the religion to vilify, create issues, and then force you to return to the religion for a solution to the arbitrary constraints. Religion creates this viscous circle of co-dependence necessary for its very survival! Richard Dawkins had it right on when he coined the term “meme” as a mind virus, and religion was the most virulent of the mind viruses.
The second night we had a pastor sit in with the group. She made this absurd claim, as we discussed whether God sends good people to hell regardless of faith, that Gandhi was a Christian. I know I must have made a significant face of shock and annoyance at such an outright untruth. He was very much a devout Hindu. (And a probably pedophile, but that’s never been proven. He only wrote that he liked to sleep with naked young girls and not have sex with them to prove the strength of his faith; he never wrote about any failures he may have had in his own testing.)
Again, the general consensus among most of the class was that no, God would never send good people to hell for simply not believing! Of course, this does make me feel good about these people (have I mentioned I like Methodists?) They are moral, ethical, caring people with good hearts! Unfortunately, the god they say they follow is a cherry-picked one of their own creation, and not the Biblical Yahweh. (Actually, that’s very fortunate, not unfortunate, when you think about it.)
According to the Bible:
Matthew 18:8-9: If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
Matthew 25:41, 46: Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. … And these shall go away into everlasting punishment.
Mark 9:43-48: … into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
Luke 16:22-24: And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
John 5:28-29: The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9: In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction.
That’s a short list.
(Oh! I should warn you, that video has a couple of F-bombs, in case you have kids around or something. But please, do watch it its entirety! It’s not very long and it makes excellent points which must be thought about by the believer.)
So, if you’re going to believe in Yahweh, the god of the Bible, you have to believe that he send people to eternal damnation those who don’t follow his rules, those who offend him. (See earlier posts for the illogical, unreasonable, immoral situation of sending people for eternity of pain and suffering for offending his delicate sensibilities; and the extortion of forcing people to looove you, using your “free will” by the way, or else it’s lakes of fire for you.) If you don’t believe in this god, you don’t believe in the god of Jesus and Paul and the disciples of the Bible, plain and simple.
If you don’t worship the god of the Bible, that has set up rules and demands that you worship him and not offend him, lest he torment you forever, that’s great! You are a moral, ethical, thinking person. But you have no right nor reason to call yourself “Christian.” Congratulations: you’re a deist, or a pantheist, or a transcendental theist, or maybe Buddhist, why not. But you’re not a “Christian.” Everything about being a Christian comes from what JC is supposed to have preached — and I guess, if you believe that he was the son of God, then you have to accept that what he supposed to have said is gospel truth, so to speak. And what he said is unambiguous: God judges and he sends those who don’t follow him into eternal torment.
Now, I know as a modern, moral, ethical, thinking person, this is anathema to you, this idea of a god so capricious, petty, vengeful, cruel, let’s face it, downright evil. And well you should have a problem with this concept! It’s ancient, superstitious thinking. But, that’s the Bible all over — ancient, Bronze Age, violent, superstitious thinking. And that is the root, foundation, “soul” of Christianity and you can’t cover up the truth of it with rationalizations and cherry-picking. The Christian believes the Bible is the word (or at least directly inspired word) of God himself, and unless you’re Mormon, there have been no further revelatory decrees and manuscripts from God since. What’s in the Bible, is what’s “true.” If you don’t like what the Bible says, good! You’re a good person. But you can’t just make up your own ideas of what God is and wants and does, and still call yourself a term (“Christian”) that applies only to people who do believe in the only source of “knowledge” that imparts what it means to be a Christian.
So, good news: Most of the people in small group (and that church and Methodism and modern, liberal Christianity) are moral and thinking enough to not believe what the Bible says. Bad news (for them): That makes them not Christians. (Well, at worst, they’re Christians who are ignorant of what it means to be a Christian.)
I say, if you’re going to ignore most of the Bible, rationalize away and negate the stuff that’s cruel and immoral, and basically defang God and believe in a god and messiah that’s not the one depicted in the book, just go ahead and jettison the label and the burden of immoral, illogical religion altogether! Be the good, ethical person you already are who loves your family and friends, does good works, etc., and do it because you already know it’s the right way to be, and you know it despite what the book/religion says! You’re already using your reason, your empathy, your ethics to pick-and-choose what make sense to you, and you do so completely at odds with the religion and its dogma and orthodoxy. So, take the logical step and chuck off the label “Christian.” It’s ridiculous to keep calling yourself something you’re not.
Well, that who topic of sending good people to hell lead to a discussion of theodicy, which naturally brought the observing pastor into the discussion. To her I asked the basic questions of suffering in the world: Why is there an excessive amount of it when there’s ample proof a barest fraction is all that’s necessary to test faith (if that’s the intent)? Why is it a good, fair, and just thing for people to be able to use their free will to horrifically harm innocents (if free will is the holy price to pay for so much suffering)? Why can’t God simply create a world where we have limited ability to cause so much harm to others, and not realize we’re limited (since he is all-powerful)? Etc etc. And at each question, at each challenge, her response was not just basic apologetics that don’t address the question asked, don’t provide any sort of answer, simply moves the goal-posts, and don’t stand up to logic and reason.
It actually got a little heated. Well, not anger heated… although, I admit that for my part, I did (and do) get a little pissed. For example, she actually brought up the rationalization that others’ suffering is perhaps to help others feel compassion. I leaned forward and scowled, and I knew my voice was emotional, when I challenged, “Are you telling me that the horrible death a child in the arms of a mother in Africa, dying painfully of starvation and cholera, and the despair of the mother, you would go to her face and ell her, ‘I know you are suffering, but feel joyous because your suffering and child’s death is teaching some people how to donate money’?!” That angers me.
That then led to the ultimate ridiculousness, when she broke into some story she obviously learned in seminary, about how John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) was on a boat Moravian missionaries during a bad storm. And their singing and lack of concern gave Wesley hope and reminded him that death and suffering is nothing compared to his relationship with God.
Yeah. It’s one of those answers pastors are really good at. Where they don’t actually answer the question posed, but they usually sound good and positive and hopeful, and distract you from the question or concern. And the usual questioner will often go away, feeling like they were answered even though they really weren’t. Ghost whispering psychics are good at that too. Watch John Edwards of Sylvia Brown sometime. When they give a “miss” (as in, like, claim the subject’s dead relative may have died from something they didn’t or something), they will snake and prevaricate and basically distract the audience away from the miss. And people feel comfortable that they got the answer they wanted, and felt good about it. Although, interviews with psychic audience members days later, many times will report the opposite feeling once they had a chance to think about it.
In this case, as this pastor started in her story, I could tell she lost. (No surprise there: I’ve read and seen debates and interviews with Christian apologists of world-class level all of who miserably fail at answering the question of suffering.) The conversation was over, and she was going to do some hand-waving for a while. I looked at her with unhidden incredulousness and disgust, and sat back quietly, waiting for her to finish her pointless and unrelated tale. I was done with her. I only wish I could know whether or not the other people in the room recognized her smoke and mirror act.
So, I’ve mentioned the one lady in class who has a very authoritarian outlook of God (which is actually a more Biblically-honest belief than everyone else in the room — if more immoral belief). Interestingly, the conversation did turn to gays, and the fact that they can’t help being born gay. (I am so glad that from what I could tell, (most?) everyone in the room recognizes a person does not choose to be gay. Have I mentioned I like Methodists? Baptists: you can bite me.) I don’t recall exactly what was said, but something related to that appeared to make that lady seem to reconsider he homophobia a little bit. At least, I hope.
Speaking of more Biblical belief, there’s one other guy in the group who has mentioned a couple of times, “Even the devil believes in God.” (This is in response to that earlier conversation about whether or not good people who don’t believe will get punished or not.) He says when he was himself not really committed Christian, he had a friend point to the Bible where it says that the devil believes in God, and it blew his mind. Really?? That’s like saying, “Even Sauron knows the One Ring can be destroyed, because it says so right here in Lord of the Rings!” C’mon, think about it. Let’s say god Yahweh is indeed a myth, that would mean that the Bible and all it says (in regards to supernatural creatures at least) is also myth. Thus, the devil and what he does or does not believe, is also a myth. Q.E.D. If I don’t believe in god, I don’t believe in the devil and what he says either.
On the third day, on the subject of spiritual gifts, I was also impressed that the group as a whole was not just skeptical but negative about TV faith healing. But goodness, more about that in a later post for a more recent week. (I’m like, two weeks behind now.)