Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Mystery of Heaven and Hell

"So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell,
blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?"

On the surface of things, talking about the “mysteries” of Heaven and Hell may seem as silly as Pink Floyd’s rhetorical questions. After all, our doctrines of Heaven and Hell are rather well established. However it is not these well established doctrines that I wish to discuss here. What would be the point after all? Among Christians there cannot really be a debate about the existence of Heaven or Hell as their reality was firmly established by Jesus Himself. Furthermore, I doubt I could add anything fresh to a discussion of what they are like. If you truly are interested in the various theories regarding the nature of Heaven or Hell I suggest you crack open a Systematic Theology textbook. Instead, I thought I would discuss something about the existence of Heaven and Hell that we don’t often talk about in Church – the fact that God didn’t really bother telling people about it for a couple of millennia.

Early Judaism had no concept of the afterlife the way we do in modern Christianity. Heaven was at best somewhere “above”, a place where God and His angels resided. With regards to Hell, there is a reason you don’t find it often (and not at all in the NIV) in the Old Testament and that is that the Hebrew word for Hell – Sheol – is usually translated “grave” instead of “Hell”. For the ancient Jews, Sheol was not a place of torment for the wicked but rather a place where the souls of all dead people went. Hell was used much in the same sense as death – “You saved me from hell and the pit” more or less translates to “You saved my life”. Much like the Greek Hades, hell was really just the land of the dead. However, that is where the similarities to other cultures end because the thing that really set the ancient Israelites apart from most other nation is the fact that they paid very little mind to the afterlife. They were the polar opposites of their next door neighbors Egypt. There, the afterlife was more important than life itself and the Pharaohs devoted most of the country’s wealth and resources to secure the best possible position in the afterlife. Not so with the Israelites. As far as we can tell they had no philosophy or myth regarding the afterlife (like the Greeks did). They certainly had no Theology regarding it – there is no discussion of the afterlife in the Torah whatsoever. Those who claimed to be in touch with the afterlife – mediums and witches for instance – were not allowed in the land on pain of death. It seems fair to assume that they thought no good could come from thinking about the afterlife, in fact it seems like they fully expected that only evil would come of it.

By having no focus on the hereafter, the Israelites were very firmly rooted in the here and now and nowhere is this expressed clearer than in the Psalms. There you will often find sentiments expressed along the lines of, “I have been faithful, bless me now!” or “He is wicked, make him suffer and then kill him!” Clearly they had no concept of rewards or justice being handed out after death, instead they fully expected it in the here and now. To them this life was all you had and death was the end. You know what’s really weird about this? God was apparently OK with all that!

See, if you had spent any time with Christians whatsoever, this is the very last thing you would expect God to accept. After all, to the Christian mind Heaven and (especially) Hell really is the point of everything we do. Repentance? So that you don’t go to Hell. Salvation? Getting saved from Hell. Jesus? Came to save us from Hell. Holiness? Because sin might cause us to go to Hell. Obedience to God? So that we may be rewarded in Heaven. And so then our entire faith becomes about making it to Heaven and not going to Hell. It certainly forms the core of all things evangelism related. Just last week I got a DVD in my mailbox entitled “23 minutes in eternity” – it was the testimony of a man who allegedly spent 23 minutes in Hell and a local church was handing out copies as some form of evangelical outreach. Evangelism has become synonymous with convincing people they are going to go to Hell and then offering them a way out of it. Thousands of tracts are distributed daily all with this very message. The entire Gospel message has been reduced to “turn or burn”. Frankly, if you have ever been within earshot of any kind of evangelistic outreach you would probably have gotten the message that God’s number one care in life is Hell.

But if that is true, why didn’t He bother telling anyone about it for so long? If the most important message that anyone can hear is that they are in fact hellbound – despite their good deeds – why did God not say it? Not from Mt Sinai, not through the Law or the judges or the kings or the prophets, not once. If we need to be constantly reminded that souls are being lost every day – via forwarded emails, sermons, tracts and films – due to our inaction, why was God Himself so inactive on the subject for so long?

Again, I’m not in the least bit trying to argue against the existence of Heaven and Hell. Jesus spoke about it at length after all, He left no doubts. What I am asking is why, if it is so incredibly important that every soul must know about Hell, did God not bother telling anyone about it for so long? And another thing – if it really forms the core of evangelistic outreach, why didn’t the New Testament evangelists (who certainly knew about Hell) use it? John the Baptist preached repentance but not in order to avoid hell but to welcome the Kingdom. Jesus discussed hell and final punishment often and yet His message was always that the Kingdom of God was at hand. When He sent out the disciples to preach, the message was again a Kingdom one, not a fire and brimstone one. In fact, in the sermons of the Apostles, from Peter to Paul you never seem to hear them say anything like “turn or burn”. They didn’t present people with Hellfire, they presented them with Jesus.

So if no one in the Bible ever converted the unsaved by first convincing them they were hell-bound, why is that standard operating procedure now? I get that it’s easier that way. In fact I recently saw a piece of a “Way of the Master” video by Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort where they explicitly explained that the best way to reach someone is not to reason with them but rather to “bypass their intelligence and go straight for the heart” – which turned out to mean, scare them with damnation and they will want to be saved. Just because it’s easier, does that make it right? Sure the “turn or burn” message is effective in soul winning but it does that in the same fashion that electoral violence and intimidation is effective at election winning. Shouldn’t it be significant to us that the New Testament church we all envy was built not on “turn or burn” but on “Have you heard about my friend Jesus”? Do we just not trust that the Holy Spirit is as powerful today as He was then? Is the easy way really the best way? Should we be choosing quantity over quality?

But I digress, the original question was about why God waited so long to tell people about the realities of the afterlife. Well obviously I can’t pretend to know but would guess that maybe God wanted it to be about Him. Only Him. Not about what we can get, not about the punishment we fear, just Him. Maybe the way God revealed things tells us that knowing about the afterlife is for the mature, not the novice. See, I believe that learning about heaven and Hell too soon can cause us to lose sight of God altogether. It can simply become about us, about us choosing the good option over the bad. When you get right down to it, it’s possible to focus on the afterlife while thinking of God only peripherally. Knowing God should be first and foremost, when Heaven becomes anything more than a continuing relationship with God and Hell becomes anything more than separation from Him to us, maybe we are in trouble. I often look at David, how he loved and worshiped God with such vigor and passion – all while believing that after death he would no longer be able to worship God – and I wonder if I could have done the same. What would our faith look like if God announced today that Heaven and Hell was off the table, this life is all there is? Would we worship the same? Would we live the same? How would we evangelize? Would we even spread the Gospel if we didn’t believe in a Heaven and a Hell? Would we still try to live a holy life? (On a side note, am I the only one who finds it creepy as hell when Christians tell unbelievers that “if there is no heaven and hell you might as well go out raping and killing people” Why is it that the fundamentalist mind always seems to go straight for rape and murder? I think it’s really disturbing. ) Honestly I can’t be sure I would answer yes to all that. This just suggests to me that my religion is not very God focused. After all, God should matter more to me than eternity should He not? We often say Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship. Well if it is a relationship shouldn’t we be more concerned with making the Person we are in a relationship with happy than with the rewards and punishments of it?

Also I think a bonus side effect of not knowing about the afterlife was that the ancient Israelites focused on the here and now. The afterlife can be dangerous in that sense after all – we can be so fixated on the “one day” that we fail to be of any use in the “right now”…

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Where religion meets porn

According to the number one Christian porn site on the internet XXXChurch, pornography is something that 48% of Christian families admit to struggling with. That shouldn’t surprise anyone – after all, pornography and religion are a whole lot alike. They may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum, but in essence, both are about containment and control.

It actually makes sense that there would be a correlation between porn and religion. As Rob Bell pointed out in his book Sex God (try asking for that from the nice girl at the Christian bookstore with a straight face!) there are endless connections between sexuality and spirituality. Because of these connections I believe that religion is to God what porn is to sex. Both take something that is frightening to us and reduces it to something less frightening, something we can use the way it suits us.

I’m not judging here, it is after all a very human thing to do. We find ways to deal with things that scare the crap out of us, that’s just in our nature. That’s why we make tasteless jokes everytime a terrible tragedy occurs I think, it’s a coping mechanism. So when we are confronted with something as powerful and as scary as sex or God, our nature makes us try to find ways to shrink it down to something we can manage and control.

A great example of this would be Jesus – just look at what we did to Him. The Jesus of the Bible was a force of nature that refused to conform to anyone’s expectations of Him. In a 3 year ministry He managed to get on pretty much everyone’s nerves at some point. He was great at offending people and when He said something that upset everyone He didn’t follow it up with an explanation (the way we tend to do for Him these days) in order to make everyone like Him again. He just couldn’t be bothered by public opinion for or against Him and regularly did wild and crazy things like having dinner parties with unpatriotic traitors and prostitutes. Hell that one time He even took a whip to church and turned the whole place upside down! I think CS Lewis captured Him very accurately in the form of Aslan – Jesus was NOT a tame lion. Of course a Jesus like that is kind of scary. I mean what would your life look like if you had to follow someone like that? A life like that would certainly be unpredictable, why it may even be uncomfortable at times! So therefore we reshaped Him into the new, milder suburban Jesus we choose to follow these days. Now He’s nice and quiet and doesn’t really ask you to do things you don't want to and He certainly doesn’t offend anyone – although He is (apparently) really offended by everything we find offensive, like rap music and earrings on men. Basically we took someone who was not safe, but good and turned Him into someone who is safe, but not really good for anything.

I don’t know why we do this, why we find ways to tame and trivialize the things we should be treating with wonder and awe. Yet we do. In the case of both sex and God we are confronted with something that is somehow bigger than us, something that could tear us to pieces or give us healing, something that can overwhelm us, change us, break us, build us, comfort us, distress us, empower us or strip us of all our power. When faced with things as unpredictable and dangerous and downright frightening as these we tend to respond predictably. For some reason we don’t like the idea that some things can so utterly overpower us. Yet we cannot seem to bring ourselves to actually get rid of these things, our desire for them is just too deep. So we look for a way to have the things we want, just in a way that gives us a sense of control.

In the case of God we chose religion. Religion allows us to have God, but a smaller God, a God that is contained. It gives us a God that does what we want Him to, who doesn't really ask much from us in return. Its a God we can partake of when we need Him without the risk of Him partaking in our lives. The God of religion isn't very powerful because He can only do what we allow Him which is to make us feel better when we need it. The God of religion won't make your life any better but at least He is low risk. And safe. And contained.

In the same way, in the case of sex we chose porn. Porn allows us to have a form of sex, but a safer, commitment free, one-sided form. It's sex you can be involved in without actually being involved, an intimacy we can have without actually risking intimacy. It gives us a way of experiencing the sexual in a way where we can get anything we want, when we want without the fear of having to give anything in return. Instead of risking heartache, rejection and hurt, porn gives us something we can use to make us feel better when we need it. It may not be much fun but it seems to be low risk, low hurt and safe.

But the problem is that both religion and porn make promises they cannot fulfill. They may claim to offer you something without asking for anything back and yet they both can end up making you feel hollowed out and empty. We may like to think that these things are reasonable facsimiles of the real thing but they aren't even close. Just because we can live with fake sugar, fake dairy products and fake meat doesn't mean we can be sustained by fake God and fake intimacy. We may be able to fool ourselves for a while but in the end we will have to face what we already know deep down - these are not smaller, safer doses of the real thing, they are nothingness pretending to be something.

Honestly, the amount of religious men and women involved in the consumption of porn do not surprise me in the least. Religion and porn do mix and they can mix with ease because they really are simply different manifestations of the same need to control the things that frighten us. This need will be our undoing. Trying to control the uncontrollable will do nothing but deprive us of what we truly long for. When we replace the scary things we deeply long for with small, safe, controllable versions thereof we are in fact filling ourselves with a void. Nietzsche once said that if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. I always liked that quote and I think it is especially applicable here. To think that you can control all things is a wretched illusion. Some things are bigger than you, some things are overwhelming in their power. They are supposed to be. They are supposed to influence you and change you and knock the roof off of your universe. Most of all they are supposed to scare the crap out of you because that is the only way you can reliably know when you are in the presence of the real and not the fake. Some things are wild and terrifyingly powerful and utterly beyond your control. They are not safe but they are good.

At least they can be if we only let them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The dangers of dying for doctrine

I recently came across two excellent videos on Youtube discussing the psychology of fundamentalism. They aren’t very flashy and are in fact more essay than video, but what they lack in style they more than make up for in substance. This was by far the best description of how the fundamentalist mind works and really helped me understand why they act and speak the way that they do. I would recommend that anyone who is able to should watch it, you can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

The reason I’m bringing these videos up is because I now realize just what a Sisyphean task it is to try to get fundamentalist to hear my point of view. The fundamentalist mind is largely incapable of processing things like nuance, irony and shades of gray and tends to instead see things in the very simplistic categories of right/wrong, good/bad, black/white, God/Satan only. In fact to even suggest that things may be more complex than that and that there may in fact be more than one correct answer tends to land you (and everything else you may have to say) on the side of wrong/bad/Satan. After all, to a fundamentalist Christian, the word “compromise” is the dirtiest of all swear words. The thing about people who divvy up the whole world and everything in it into neat piles of right and wrong is that they tend to classify themselves (and their beliefs) as “right” which inevitably means that all who differ from them must be counted as “wrong”. Nowhere is this kind of thinking more prevalent than in the area of doctrine.

Few things in the world can compare to the unwavering faith of a fundamentalist regarding his doctrine. Their doctrine is something they will stand for, fight for and defend with their dying breath. Most fundamentalists would rather be physically tortured than admit they may have been mistaken about their doctrinal views (in fact they may even welcome torture). As with most things in the fundamentalist mindset the reasons for this are simple – all their doctrine is based on the Bible, the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, therefore the Bible is perfect and therefore their doctrine is perfect. Now this certainly seems straightforward and logical on the surface – which is one of the reasons I was a fundamentalist myself for many years. But here is a question that never seems to occur people with this belief: If all fundamentalists base all their doctrine on Scripture only, why do most fundamentalist doctrines differ so much between denominations? Different denominations may all claim that their doctrines are completely Bible based but may end up having completely different ideas about “right doctrine”. Of course to a fundamentalist this is really a non-issue – if you don’t agree you are wrong, if you say you base it on the Bible you obviously don’t understand the Bible the right way.

Of course everyone except the fundamentalists sees the problem with that line of thinking. After all if they are basing their doctrine on the Bible and you are basing your doctrine on the Bible and the Bible is perfect and as clear and straightforward as you think, shouldn't you logically come to the same conclusions? The problem here is that the Bible is not as clear cut, simple and straightforward as the fundamentalist mind perceives it to be. In fact you would be excused for wondering if these proud defenders of the faith have ever actually bothered to actually read the Book they are constantly beating people with!

The truth is that a lot of what we teach in church isn't nearly taught as clearly in Scripture as some may believe. Some of the things that are taught are based on misunderstandings of Scripture - binding and loosening would be perfect examples of this. In the hands of charismatic Christianity one brief verse was turned into voluminous teachings about spiritual warfare. However in its original context it had nothing to do with fighting in the spirit world but was actually a rabbinical term referring to the allowing or disallowing of certain practices, ethics or teachings. Of course shoddy interpretation isn't the only reason for differences in doctrines. There are other cases where we have to infer doctrine because it isn't explicitly stated in the Bible. While that doesn't mean the doctrine is wrong it would be wrong to count it as an absolute and allow for no other interpretations than our own. Here are some well known examples:

The Trinity

The doctrine may be pretty much universally accepted among Christians (I have come across some exceptions though) but nevertheless there is no reference to, or discussion of the Holy Trinity anywhere in the Bible. This doctrine is a perfect example of making an educated guess in order to understand something that is unclear. Based on the information that we have, the Trinity is the best explanation. If the Father is God and Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God and there is only one God then logically the best explanation would be the Trinity. (I do however use the term logically very loosely here) While I personally agree with this doctrine I do also recognize that we are trying to wrap our minds around something far bigger than ourselves here. As a doctrine the Trinity may be 100% correct, but there is the chance that we are wrong. Can we even begin to grasp what the word God means? Can we really be 100% confident in our ability to dissect and comprehend His essence?

The makeup of man

I was brought up to believe that man is made up of a body, a soul and a spirit. In fact there was some rather detailed theology in place discussing what each part was like and what functions they have. Interesting, considering there is really not much in Scripture to back this up! Basically there are 3 theories regarding the makeup of man: The Monist view where man is just animated flesh, the dichotomous view that man is body and soul/spirit and the trichotomous view that man is body, soul and spirit. Thing is, you could make a Bible based argument in favour of any one of these. Actually the one with the most evidence seems to be the dichotomous view as it has the largest amount of Biblical support. In almost the entire Bible the terms soul and spirit are used interchangeably and everything that is said of the one is said of the other (this includes sinning, praising God and feeling emotions and at death, Scripture interchangeably states that either the “Soul” departs or the “Spirit” departs. Do a word search sometime, its fascinating!) The trichotomous view is based on a grand total of two verses (1Th 5:23 and Heb 4:12) and it can be argued that these Scriptures no more intend to list soul and spirit as separate components than for example Mat 22:37 intends to classify heart, mind and soul as separate components. Point is, there is no way we can know any of this with dogmatic certainty. We can dissect the body but there are no anatomy handbooks for the soul.

The Rapture

The Rapture of the Saints is another well established doctrine that you will not find directly referenced in the Bible. In fact the word "rapture" isn't even in the Bible! This is not to say that there will be no such thing as a rapture but once again we are making conclusions from a handful of ambiguous verses. The Bible does clearly teach about the Second Coming of Christ in which the believers of the world will be "caught up" to Christ but the version of events as portrayed in for instance the Left behind series is mostly guesswork. Likewise any doctrines about the rapture happening "pre-tribulation" or "post-tribulation" - both camps can quote Scripture to support their position but since there is no explicit discussion of the rapture anywhere in the Bible it is impossible to be dogmatic about this. Here is an interesting article giving a fuller discussion of the arguments for and against the rapture.

The End Times

Of all the things to be dogmatic about, eschatology is probably the most senseless. Yet, to date that hasn't stopped some rather sharp divides from forming in the Christian community. I'm not going to discuss the merits of Amillennialism, premillennialism and postmillennialism here because the point is that there are plenty of ways to interpret the book of Revelations (and Daniel and the End time prophecies of Jesus). They contain so much imagery and symbolism that no one in his right mind could claim to have the one and only correct interpretation. Surely there can be no talk of literal interpretation here because such a large part of the content is clearly not literal! Yet somehow people still do... To date almost every generation (for the past 2000 years) have come to the conclusion that they are the ones referenced in the Book of Revelations and that the events and people of their day fit all the prophecies therein. This however just highlights the sheer amount of guesswork and creative interpretation involved in eschatology. Compare for instance the views of dedicated Bible literalists Jack Chick on the one hand and Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (authors of the Left Behind series) on the other. Both claim to give Biblically accurate portrayals of the end times in their books and yet Jack Chick has the Pope as the Anti-Christ and the Vatican as Babylon while the Left Behind series portrays the Anti-Christ as a charismatic eastern European and takes allusions to Babylon to refer to the actual city of Babylon in Iraq (rebuilt of course).

I don't think fundamentalists are necessarily bad people for believing the way they do. Certainly the stark shades of good and evil with which they colour their world must on some level make life seem simpler, safer and easier to deal with. However, fundamentalism is still a dangerous and destructive thing. It has the appearance of zealously guarding the faith but in actual fact it is destroying it. In my previous post I discussed the hypocritical way that those who claim they follow the Bible literally actually follow some parts while ignoring others. Here I tried to show that many of the doctrines fundamentalists claim they would give their lives (or destroy yours if need be) to defend are built on nothing more than guesswork and conjecture. None of this helps the Christian faith. In fact it's unthinking, unquestioning, hypocritical behavior like this that make a lot of people not want to have anything to do with Jesus. I know that no fundamentalist will be able to hear a word I just said but I really wish I could get through to them. Things are not all black and white, there are in fact several shades of gray. Of course this doesn't mean I think that all of Christian doctrine is negotiable - nothing could be further from the truth! But if you are waiting for me to list the doctrines one shouldn't negotiate on you have missed the point of this entire post. Thoughtless Christianity is dangerous and destructive, if you believe in something you should know why you believe it. Personally I can respect many viewpoints, even ones I don't agree with but I find it exceedingly hard to respect an opinion that is held for no other reason other than the fact that "that's what I was told". Being a thinking Christian is a confusing and frightening path sometimes, but I wouldn't have it any other way because to me that is what a life of faith is really about. The black and white world of fundamentalism takes no faith - just brainwashed obedience to the doctrines of an organization. That may feel safe, that may feel easy but that is not faith. I would want no place in a religion that didn't allow me to believe AND think (thanks to fundamentalism that idea seems like a complete oxymoron to the ears of most non-Christians now) Somehow I think the Bible would have looked a lot different if that's the kind of life God wanted for us!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The baffling inconsistancy of Creationism

I read an interesting piece by the Creationist organization Answers in Genesis recently that explained that because the Earth/nature is cursed and man is fallen we cannot really trust things like science, experimentation, reason and logic because they must be untrustworthy. Since the Fall rendered all human capability to correctly interpret the evidence utterly useless, we should then rather blindly put all faith and trust in the Bible as it is the only interpretation that can be trusted. So if you have hard evidence telling you one thing and the Bible telling you another you should discard the evidence and believe the Bible instead. Words like “interpretation” and “allegory” are for hell-bound heretics. The funny part is that these people sincerely believe that telling intelligent, thinking people not to think or reason is an effective form of evangelism.

OK so it’s not that funny, but sometimes I have to laugh to keep from weeping.

I have noticed however that most Young Earth Creationists are so busy patting themselves on the back for defending the literal truth of the Bible that they never even realize how hypocritical their behaviour is. I wonder if it ever occurred to them that they contradict everything they claim to stand for everytime they go to the doctor? Of course to prove this I’ll be using some of that inherently fallen human “reason” here so maybe it doesn’t count. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

As it has been explained to me frequently, you can only be a real Christian if you believe that that the Universe and everything in it was created 6000 years ago in 6 literal days of 24 hours each, everything in its present form. You also need to believe that a massive worldwide flood 4500 years ago killed every human and animal in the world except for those on the Ark. Now of course there may be some evil atheist scientists out there who would try to show you “evidence” that “proves” that this cannot be literal truth. However as a real Christian you must accept the above doctrines as literal truth and reject all “evidence” to the contrary because:

  1. This is what the Bible teaches and it gives no other options.
  2. This is what God said through Moses and God also gave the 10 Commandments through Moses so to reject it is to reject the Commandments too.
  3. Jesus also referenced this so therefore to reject it would be to reject Jesus.

Now with such compelling reasons you would expect utter consistency among creationists – surely they will treat every other scientific theory the way they treat the Theory of Evolution right? Well you would expect it but you would be wrong. For some unexplained reason they make an exception for germ theory.

See if they were consistent, Creation Scientists would be rejecting the pathogenic theory of medicine by using the exact same guidelines as they use for rejecting evolution. (As far as I can tell the only people who are actually this consistent are Christian Scientists – not to be confused with Christians who are also scientists of course!) Here is why Bible literalists should also be rejecting the germ theory of diseases:

1. It goes against the Bible

Just like evolution, germs are never mentioned in the Bible and therefore cannot be taken as a scientific fact – surely if it was a fact God would have mentioned it somewhere! The Bible makes it clear that diseases are not caused by the so called “germs”. Diseases are caused by demons, Satan or by God Himself so clearly then this so called “germ theory” is really just another attempt by the Atheist Agenda to marginalize and discredit God. The Bible clearly teaches that disease is supernatural in origin and therefore all evidence given by scientists with a naturalistic bias cannot be trusted. The supernatural nature of disease is further demonstrated in the Bible by the fact that the sick are not told to see doctors (as they would have been if there was any truth to this “pathogen” thing) but are rather instructed to seek healing through prayer.

2. It goes against Moses.

God clearly pointed out to Moses that He was the one who caused diseases and He was the one who cured them. The only reason people so readily accept the germ theory of disease is because it gives them an excuse to sin without guilt. After all, if you can reject what God said to Moses about disease you can reject what He said about adultery being wrong!

3. It goes against Jesus

Jesus never talked about germs at all. Instead He repeatedly endorsed the supernatural origin of disease by healing illnesses supernaturally and driving out the demons that were causing disease. Germ theory is just another attempt by Satan to discredit the authority of Jesus and any acceptance of germs theory is in effect a denial of the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to the Father.

In fact even the non-theological arguments creationists’ use against the Theory of Evolution can be used against the pathogenic theory of medicine. Germ theory is also “just” a theory, you an argue that it caused millions of deaths (far easier too than with the ToE I might add), it certainly doesn’t provide any clear moral guidelines for living and it demeans the intrinsic value of human beings by suggesting people are nothing but breeding grounds for these pathogens. Also, while there are some stories about scientists being wrong about evolutionary details in the past it cannot begin to compare to the many medical horror stories from the past!

Logically then you ought to find a consistant rejection of this and similar scientific theories among fundamentalist Bible literalist Christians. Of course the reality is that you will find no such consistency. Even though the germ theory (and several other scientific theories) should be opposed by the same reasoning they use to oppose the Theory of Evolution it is not. Why not? Why pick on evolution? For that matter why do the same people who so frequently express a desire for a return to Biblical Law go to the police when their daughters are raped? After all according to Biblical law the rapist is supposed to pay the dad and marry the girl, not be prosecuted! Funny how the same people who get all excited about fun things like executing gays and witches are less enthusiastic about that part… Why is this?

I'm afraid that question will have to remain rhetorical as I have no idea why so many Christians have this weird double standard. It certainly makes no sense to me. What I do know is that this has to stop. Ignoring all evidence that contradict your position is no way to gain credibility - quite the opposite in fact! The double standard is fooling no one. As for me, I have faith in God and I accept scientific findings (regardless of what they are) and contrary to what my Young Earth Creationist brethren may say, I don’t think this makes me any less of a Christian. I believe in the Bible too, I believe that it is God breathed and useful for instruction. I just don't see how that automatically means taking everything as literal, especially when the evidence disagrees. Regarding things in the Bible like the Creation account I believe that God met people at the level they were, giving them what they were able to process. (Take the rape legislation in the Bible for instance - sure its incredibly barbaric now but back when it was written it was a giant leap for womens rights!) I don’t for a second believe that God intended for us to ignore facts just so we could keep continue having faith in Him. I think faith is supposed to be better than that. I don't think God would ask us to be that brainwashed either.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I'm a winner!

Recently I was struck by the overwhelming urge to say "You love me! You really love me!". Turns out I wasn't just being hormonal, I actually won an award! And it's not even award season!!

Recently GumbyTheCat awarded me the Arte y pico award. Firstly I would like to thank Gumby for awarding me this award - I really am honoured. Please go check out his blog (and I'm not just saying this because he gave me an award and said some really nice things about me either!), he covers a range of topics on religion, science and why there is no fun in fundamentalism - you will be a better informed, more enlightened person for reading his blog, that I promise you!

Secondly, just a note about the award for those who (like me a week ago) had never heard of it. The Arte y pico award is a little bit like a chain letter except that it's not evil and threatens you with nothing if you don't comply. Also, unlike chain letters, this award is something you want! Rules for the awards are as follows:

Here are the rules from the originating website,
  • You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award, creativity, design, interesting material, and also contributes to the blogger community, no matter of language.
  • Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.
  • Each award-winning, has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.
  • Award-winning and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of “Arte y pico” blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.
  • To show these rules.
So, with that in mind, here are my own five award-winners in no particular order:

Water and Wine - If you like really good, really honest and heartfelt poetry then this blog is a must read. Tania's poems tend to either break my heart or warm it (and at times manages to do both at the same time). They tend to leave me at a loss for words and struggling to think of something to write as a comment that won't look utterly banal in comparison to the poem. If they don't move you at all then you have no soul!

Plucky's World
- This blog is a little hard to categorize apart from saying it's is an amazing blog to read. It's personal, its humorous, it's deep, it's thought provoking, it's brutally honest and even though I never met him, I feel like I have known Tim and his family for years. He also writes some great religious satire in his other blog Pixie Dust Faith - check that one out as well!

The World through shaded eyes - These are the thoughts and rantings regarding the world and everything in it by Mr Miles Weaver. You may not agree with everything he says, but it is well worth the read. It is honest, confrontational, direct, opinionated, strongly worded and controversial - in other words it's never ever boring!

Created and Rational - Usually when you run across high school kid taking part in the great Evolution vs Creationism debate you are struck with the overwhelming urge to just keep on running. Not so in this case. He blogs about his Christian faith and his views on science in a way that I always enjoy reading.

New World Disorder - This is a brand new blog tackles the weird and wacky beliefs of the conspiracy theorists. I met Lawrence on the discussion boards of Facebook where he was trying to educate people who believe in chemtrails, a 6000 year old earth and that the moonlanding was faked and that the governments were run by shapeshifting alien reptiles and I just loved his style. After bugging him for months to start an educational blog he finally gave in so go support him please and bug him to post more often!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Intro to Christianity

Most churches offer some kind of “Welcome to the faith” booklet/pamphlet/course for new converts. While these tend to cover a lot of important issues and address a lot of the questions a new believer may have, I can’t help but feel like they overlook some other, very important ones. It may very well just be me, but looking back there are several things I wish someone told me when I was new to the faith. Ever so often on – in real life and online discussions – you run into some young (in the faith, not necessarily age) Christians and the way they talk and behave reminds me a of Labradors. See Labradors are full of love and good intentions but when they aren’t properly house trained they tend to show their love and good intentions in a way that leaves vases broken and muddy paw prints on expensive fabrics. A loving Labrador can leave a lot of destruction it its wake and will never realize it – after all, they are full of only the best intentions and really mean to do no harm. Young Christians can be like that too. Now I don’t expect my version of the “Welcome to the faith” pamphlet will ever catch on, but never the less, here is what I wish I was told when I was new to Christianity

Get to know your roots

The sad truth about Christianity is that it has become divorced from its Jewish roots to a large extent. It is vitally important to remember that at its very core, Christianity is Jewish. After all, we serve a Jewish God, we follow a Jewish Rabbi and His teachings as well as the teachings of his Jewish disciples. We read from a Jewish book written by Jews (with Luke as the sole exception) first and foremost for Jews (again with a few exceptions, but that is what they are: the exception not the rule). Therefore it is impossible to truly make sense of Christianity and the Bible separated from its Jewish roots. Unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened in the church – we lost touch. This has caused us to come to some very strange (and dare I say wacky?) conclusions in the modern church based on verses of Scripture that we failed to comprehend because we failed to read them in their proper Jewish context. If you are serious about your faith, take the time and learn more about the Jewish roots of Christianity. There are plenty of good books on the subject ranging from the very scholarly to works written with the layman in mind. Read one – you will be richer for it!

Christianity is not cool

Coolness – we don’t all have it but most of us want it. Naturally there is therefore a movement in the church to draw more people – especially young people – by attempting to make Christianity “cool”. While there is nothing wrong about wanting to make the faith as attractive as possible to as many people as possible you have to accept the fact that by its very definition, Christianity is not now, was not ever and will never ever be “cool”. See, at its heart Christianity is the opposite of cool. Christianity is (or should be at least) about including the outcasts, the ugly, the marginalized and the forgotten – in other words, the uncool. Face it, including the “uncool” will never be “cool”. So by all means, relax the dress code and make the church music more contemporary. Just don’t forget to make room for those who don’t dress, act or talk the way you do – they matter to God, they should matter to you.

Be merciful

Right, so you are full of fire and the zeal for the Lord fills you. You have turned your back on sin and you want everyone else to do the same. That’s awesome. But please, in all your fiery zeal, don’t forget to add generous amounts of mercy. Never ever forget what Jesus taught about throwing stones (Hint: John 8). Memorize and continually meditate on Matthew 7:1-2 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Seriously,I cannot adequately stress how important this is! No matter how you feel right now, you are not perfect. Everyone messes up at some point and you are no exception. One day you too will fall on your ass, the only question is how hard and how publicly. Having a little mercy on the imperfect people around you now makes the difference between people running to help you up or pointing and laughing at you when you make a mistake.

Being an ambassador for Christ is really unfair

I’m not sure if anyone warned you about this, but being a Christian sucks sometimes! From the moment people know you are a Christian, your life will be under the microscope. You (yes poor little imperfect, mistake-prone you) will be held to an impossibly high standard and there will be many people just waiting for you to slip up. You see, Paul wasn’t kidding when he talked about Christians being ambassadors – now that you are a Christian you represent something far bigger than yourself. Just by looking at you, some people will make conclusions about the Church, about Christianity and about God Himself. Your screw-up could negatively influence the way someone thinks about all Christianity - how is that for a pleasant thought? Now you may think that this is an impossible burden to bear and you would be right. What's more is that it's most certainly an unfair one – especially for someone new to the faith. Unfortunately for you this burden is not one that's going to disappear any time soon. Sorry. So on that note, if you are really struggling with some kind of sin, maybe you should consider not advertising your faith just yet. It’s just much easier to deal with something when you don’t have a whole crowd of people rooting for you to fail. As you may have realised by now a lot of people really are rooting for you to fail, it's almost as if they need you to fail. But unfortunately hiding is not always an option. Best advice I can give you is not to go at it alone – independence is foolishness, you need the support of the community of believers, use it. No one enjoys being in an unfair system but unfortunately that system is not about to change. Good luck, you’re going to need it!

What purity is really about

I’m willing to bet that you are serious about being pure and holy in every area of your life. You are probably working very hard right now to be holy in word, deed and especially sexuality. Odds are you are at the same time encouraging others to do the same and thereby annoying the living crap out of the people around you in the process. (You may not have realized this yet but trust me on this) Problem is that purity and holiness is not about having a list of “Don’ts” and feeling guilty for not measuring up to it (or for that matter making others feel guilty for not measuring up). Let me tell you what holiness is like. Have you ever been in the company of a really stylish person? How did that make you feel? In my experience being around someone truly stylish didn’t make me feel bad, it made me want to be stylish too. That is what holiness is all about, living in a way that makes others want to be better too. Or as a wise vampire* once put it, “Live as though the world was what it should be to show it what it can be”

Careful what you swallow in church

I’m guessing your pastor/reverend/priest/bishop is a really good, honest person who knows his stuff. I'm not for a moment suggesting that he isn't all that and more, but that doesn’t mean you should unquestioningly accept everything he tells you. Preachers are people and people are just plain wrong sometimes. Furthermore there is a disturbing trend in the Christian church to pass on hearsay as if it was truth. People hear something from someone they trust and believe in and they repeat it as Gospel truth – even though it may be a complete and utter falsehood. Please understand, I'm not suggesting people are repeating lies because they want to deceive you but rather because they are themselves deceived. They may have the best of intentions, but that doesn’t make them right. So take advantage of the fact that you live in the information age and do the one thing Christians are notoriously bad at – check your facts before you repeat them. Who knows, you may find they aren’t facts at all! On the other hand, if they are facts and you are challenged on them you would be better equipped to state your case. See? Checking your facts is a win-win! Bottom line is that double checking what you hear from the pulpit is not rebellious or sinful, in fact its recommended in Scripture – just look at the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:11. On the other hand, blindly following a charismatic leader is the reason we have sayings like “don’t drink the Kool-aid”.

On taking offense

By now, your spiritual leader would probably have given you quite the laundry list of things to “work on”. Chances are good however that there is one vital omission there – offense. Christians just seem to love getting offended and they take offense at every turn. Big mistake! See the moment you take offense you are effectively disarmed and rendered useless. By now, pretty much all non-believers know this and employ it regularly as a Christian deterrent. It’s extremely effective, I’ll give them that! Don’t make it so easy, don't be so easy to get rid of! Work hard at not getting offended. Some Christians treat taking offense as a holy calling – they seem to think that being offended because someone said or did something inappropriate makes God feel better about it. I could be wrong here, but I doubt it. Seriously, don’t be mad at the darkness for being dark, rather ask why the light isn’t as bright as it could be. You know that non-Christians don’t believe as you do so of course they are probably going to end up saying or doing things that you may find “offensive” - why are you expecting them not to exactly? So rather expect to be offended but don’t allow it make you useless.

On giving offense

Like I said in the previous point, there are multitudes of Christians out there who enjoy nothing more than being offended. So here is another hard truth about the Christian life – at some point in time you are probably going to end up offending someone. It may be your hair, your clothes or something you said. Nine times out of ten it is going to be something utterly trivial. Nine times out of ten it’s not even going to be something you did wrong (as in morally, ethically or Biblically wrong). Unfortunately it is still going to happen and there isn’t much you can do about it. Make peace with it, you will never be able to please everyone. Unfortunately I can’t really give you advice here other than to tell you to expect it to happen at some point. When it does happen, check to make sure it isn’t that one time out of ten that you actually did something wrong. If it is, be humble enough to admit your error and try to fix it. If its not, don’t let unfair criticism bring you down. Oh and good luck with that last part by the way!

“Turn or Burn” is a terrible way to win converts

So you have found salvation and are now burning to fulfill the Great Commission and get the rest of the world saved as well? That’s awesome! But please, I’m begging you, when sharing your faith, please don’t use the old “turn or burn” line. I know it is incredibly effective, but it is effective in winning souls in the same way that violence and intimidation are an effective way for dictators to “win” elections. People shouldn’t be Christians because they are afraid of going to hell. Honestly, if you don’t get why that's wrong, you probably shouldn’t be evangelizing in the first place…


Aretha Franklin famously sang “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me” but I’m sure that you have already decided what it means to you. The real question is: do you know what it means to other people? Most Christians are aware of the fact that the Bible teaches that you will reap what you sow. However they don’t seem to realize that this verse wasn’t talking about how God will make you fabulously rich if you give money to the church – instead it truly applies to all areas of your life. Christians are quick to cry “persecution” or “war against Christianity” whenever someone treats them and their beliefs badly. Amazingly however, these very same people have no qualms about treating other people and their beliefs just as badly! So please try to always remember this principle under every circumstance - you reap what you sow. If you are belligerent, condescending and disrespectful to others, don’t cry “persecution” when they return the favour. Unfortunately its a sad fact that a great number of Christians are apparently completely blind to this fact. The simple fact is that the way you relate to people is of paramount importance – it doesn’t necessarily matter that you have “the Truth, the Life and the Way” on your side because no one listens to a word you say when you are coming across like a complete tool. No one responds well to being talked down to. No one. Also, try to keep in mind that “non-Christian” isn’t the same as “total moron” – people can tell when the only reason you are “building a relationship” with them is to "win them" and they probably won’t respond well to that. I sincerely hope that this doesn’t come as a surprise to you, but conditional friendship and acceptance is easy to spot and is very unappealing. See it's easy to use rethoric like "People are made in the Image of God and are precious" at pro-life rallies, its harder to actually apply that in day to day living. See if you truly believe that people are precious you should always treat them that way whether they are responsive to the Gospel or not. At no point can "nonbeliever" mean that a person has no intrinsic value and worth. Let people be worthy of your time and friendship because they are people in the image of God and for no other reason.

Actually read your Bible (No really!)

I know, by now you’ve been told a million times to read your Bible. However, allow me to clarify, I don’t mean that you should read John 3:16 or Psalm 23, I mean you should read the whole thing, starting in Genesis and ending with Revelations. I know it seems terribly intimidating and those genealogies can be boring as hell but trust me, it can be done and you can do it. Reading the whole Bible can be hard work but it really is worth it. Here are just some of the many benefits you will get from reading it all:

  • It will keep you from embarrassing yourself by making broad, sweeping statements like “there are no contradictions in the Bible” or “Every verse of the Bible is literal” or anything else that will prove to anyone listening that you have never actually read the Bible. There are contradictions and that is why we have the field of Apologetics – to explain these away and to convince people that God isn’t as bad as He seems sometimes. Not every doctrine we have is clearly spelled out, not everything is clear cut, not everything is literal. That’s why we have Theology – to try to puzzle it all out and make sense of the difficult parts. It is also why we have so many denominations, all insisting that they have it right… (By saying that it is not all literal I'm by no means trying to discredit the Bible, for something can be true without being literal. Truths are greater than facts sometimes. If you don't understand that statement go read some poetry until you do. In fact go read some poetry anyway, a substantial part of the Bible is poetry and you will never understand the Bible until you understand poetry. )
  • If you read the whole Bible and not just the selected favourite verses, you will run across some very real people having some very real struggles – maybe even struggles you are familiar with! It’s very encouraging, because this is a reminder that God doesn’t only work with those who have it all together and have it all sorted out. God works with real people, people who don’t know all the answers, people like you.
  • You will find (to your shock even) that the people in the Bible were very honest with God – especially when they were angry. David, Job and others didn’t put up a false front when talking to God. Learning to be honest with God (especially honestly angry or honestly doubtful) is the most freeing thing that could happen to your faith.
  • It will help you to have realistic expectations. Contrary to what the nice preacher man on TV might have told you, not every one of God’s children ended up rich, healthy, happy and trouble free - and neither will you. Life can be hard, it can be unfair and it can be downright cruel. The worst part is that sometimes the best of people are the hardest hit. Name it and claim it all you want, bad things will happen, you won’t always get what you want and you will not always be blessed and prosperous beyond your wildest dreams. Trust me, if you need a reality check, stop reading the “happy” verses and read the whole book.

*The quote was taken from the TV series “Angel” episode nr 67 “Deep Down”. The full quote is: “Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. - It's harsh, and cruel. - But that's why there's us. Champions. It doesn't matter where we come from, what we've done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world was what it should be, to show it what it can be.” I love this quote.