Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kickin' the Bucket List

The problem with writing a blog about my Bucket List is that I've never actually written up a Bucket List.  To be honest, my current 5 year plan is "Don't die".  Yet, my trip to the US did offer me the opportunity to do some things I've always wanted to do so I have decided to retroactively put these things on the Bucket List I never created.

Snow glorious snow
Yes, I know that it's terribly cliche to be the little African boy who delights in seeing snow for the first time but dammit, I loved experiencing snow for the first time.  In fact, I wrote an entire blog about the joy of snow.  I'm proud to report that even though I was out in a blizzard today I totally still  snow!!
If you can read that then you already know that no, you are not.

Well you can't come to Nevada and not gamble at least a little!  I had never played poker against another human before so joining a home game, coming in 3rd and winning $5 was a great experience.  I don't think playing Texas Hold 'em on my phone will ever be good enough again.  It's been the weirdest thing, I've had exceptionally good fortune throughout this trip.  I've never won a lucky draw or a raffle in my life and yet here I won a $25 restaurant voucher at the Reno Wine Walk! How awesome is that?!  Apparently in America I'm a winner!

Pissing on the Germans
Once long ago I blogged about Pastor Steve and his hatred for German men too wussified to pee standing upright.  Turns out he wasn't talking crazy for once, ze Germans really do have a major bug up their asses about men standing up to pee. Now much as I hate agreeing with Pastor Steve on anything, I knew that I just had to pee standing up in Germany if the opportunity ever presented itself.  Since I flew to the US via Frankfurt I had my chance and I utilized it fully! 
Yes that is a real German bathroom sticker.

The Doubledown
My trip to the US of A has been one great culinary adventure.  In America the portions are as huge as they are deliciously bad for your arteries.  I believe the KFC doubledown sandwich personifies the wonderful madness that is American food and I would have created a Bucket List just so I could put this magical chicken creation on it!
America! Fuck Yeah!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Condescension for Christmas

For the record, I have had a lovely Christmas filled with fun, laughter, great company, presents and good food.  Despite all this goodness though there is one fly in the ointment of my joy.  See I get that Christmas music is generally terrible so I don't hold it to a very high standard.  There is one song though that manages to grate my gears despite my best efforts - Feed the world by Band Aid.

Honestly, should that even count as a Christmas song?  It's not even really about Christmas, it's just a reminder of how you have everything in life while the sad sad people in Africa suffer.  All it does is attempt to make you feel like crap for not having a hellish life.  Worst part of all that is that they do it in an unbelievably condescending and utterly ignorant way.  So as a (extremely belated) Christmas present to these entitled bleeding heart rich kids, this African is going to lay down some factoids.

First of all, what is the deal with all this whining about there not being snow in Africa on Christmas?  WTF guys? You do realise that its Summer in the southern half of Africa during Christmastime, right?  (The northern hemisphere does have winter but it's all desert so again, no snow)  It's always been that way too so you won't find any kids in Africa weeping because the snow harvest didn't come.  Are you guys retarded or something?  

To answer the big question - do we know it's Christmas time at all? - well yes, yes we do.  You condescending asshats may not realise this but people in Africa have had access to the magic of "calendars" for many many years now!  Also, seeing as how the continent has around 400 million Christians, I can pretty much promise you we are all very aware of this whole "Christmas" thing.  We've been celebrating it on the continent for hundreds of years without the need for sanctimonious Europeans graciously reminding us that the day exists.

Lastly, yes I do get that this song was written for aid to the suffering Ethiopians in the. 80's but I really get royally pissed when people talk of Africa as if it's a single country.  This song never once mentions Ethiopia, instead using the blanket term "Africa" as if they are interchangeable things  Look, I get it, the British educational system is clearly crap and failed everyone in the United Kingdom - or at least their pop stars.  That is the only possible explanation I can think of for statements like "Where nothing ever grows;  No rain or rivers flow".  How is a statement this ignorant even possible from people living in the land of David Attenborough?   We have jungles, forests, endless savannas, entire plant kingdoms unique to the continent and no shortage of arable land.  Trust me Bono, plenty of things grow in Africa.  Also, while we do suffer terrible droughts we do get rains in Africa.  Toto even wrote a song about it ffs!  As for rivers, (1) we have many rivers and a great many of them do flow and (2) seriously, you don't even know about the Nile?  C'mon guys you people had colonies all over the place!  Seriously?!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dashing! (In the snow)

I remember reading this anecdote in an old Readers Digest once about a young man from somewhere in Africa coming to study in America.  While in US he encountered snow for the first time and was completely enamored by it, shyly remarking to his lecturer (the one who wrote and submitted the story) that he wrote a poem about snow.  Anyway, it then turned out to be a particularly brutal winter and the punchline was that before long, he told the same lecturer that he threw away the poem.  Before coming to the US myself, a friend of mine (who had traveled extensively) told me something similar, warning me that snow is great for about five minutes and then its just really annoying.

To these and all who agree with them I say "Bah! Humbug!"

It's so fluffy!!

Snow is awesome!  I loved it from the moment the first moment I stepped out into the snowy air and I love it still, even though I'm writing this with an aching back from shoveling snow off the driveway.  On my first morning in Reno I walked barefoot in the snow (not 20 miles to school but still) and my love of snow has not cooled to this day.  I love the way it falls like fluff from the heavens, I love the crunchiness of it under my feet.  I loved how trying to catch a snowflake on my tongue made me forget that I'm a grownup.  I love the clean serenity of a snow covered landscape and how it can transform even the most mundane piece of scenery into a wonderland. I love touching it and the soft popping noise a snowflake makes when it hits my skin.  I think snow is amazing.

Now I know that this may all change one day and that there is a chance that I won't always feel so lyrical about the cold white beauty of snow.  That day has not arrived yet though and for now the snow makes me feel warm inside.  I have always had a deep and abiding love of winter cold and all the wonderful things it brings - the warm clothes, the delicious stews and warm drinks - and snow was just the thing that made my winter perfect.

Me, being dashing in the snow! (Yes, I really am that awesome)

Friday, December 3, 2010

The food baby and the wolf pack

Non-Americans envy the Americans for many reasons like for instance their fantastic Constitution and Bill of Rights, their massive retail stores, the freakish amounts of freedom and choice they take for granted and the fact that no one gets thrown in jail for publicly disagreeing with the government.  Now, I too have felt the pangs of envy regarding some of those marvelous things yet the one American thing I have envied most of all has always been the celebration of Thanksgiving.

Like all kids in 3rd world countries I grew up watching American TV and so had to look on with longing every time a Thanksgiving episode aired, wishing and dreaming about one day perhaps taking part in this glorious celebration of delicious food and gratitude.  Well this year I finally had my chance.  You know how the saying goes "great expectations lead to nothing"?  Well fuck that!  My greatest expectations didn't even come close!!  Thanksgiving turned out to be better than I could ever have imagined.

Here's the thing, I love food.  I love it in ways that border on mildly disturbing at times.  The only thing I love more than eating great food is eating large quantities of it.  Yet I write this blog a changed and humbled man.  In my life I had never feasted like this.  Both the quality and quantity of the food was mindblowing - and I don't use that word lightly when it comes to food.

I had the good fortune to be invited to the shared Thanksgiving meal of two families and therefore got to load my plate with both traditional and Puerto Rican Thanksgiving delights.  Brined turkey so soft and juicy it was falling off the bone, pork that I can only describe as magical, mash potatoes, gravy, spicy rice, empanadas, fried platanos, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, apple crisp and pumpkin pie.  I should probably mention that  this list is only the food I actually ate.  There was probably more but after a while I was just too full to move.  I hate to say it but my first Thanksgiving set the bar so high I don't know if any other feast could ever live up to it!

My first (but definitely not last) Thanksgiving plate
To complete my Thanksgiving weekend experience I got to go to an American Football game the next day.  Now I have always considered American Football to be inferior to Rugby and this game really confirmed it for me.  However, I have to admit that this was one of the best sporting events I've seen in a very long time.  See I got to see UNR play Boise state and it was the kind of game you usually only get to see in David vs Goliath sport movies from Disney.  UNR was ranked at around 14 (I think) while BSU was ranked 3rd and for most of the game thats exactly what it looked like.  UNR was getting kicked around and were way behind in no time.  Yet, to everyone's surprise they made an epic comeback to win the game in overtime.  I believe it was the Reno's first win against a top 10 team and I got to see it!  It was -5 degrees C, the porta-potties were disgusting and the noisemakers didn't make much noise but I had a great time.  Even though I had never even heard of the UNR Wolf Pack I'm a fan now!

Go Pack!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The longest day of my life

Time travel sounds a lot cooler than it actually is.  About a week ago I learned this the hard way.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

A cloudy OR Tambo
So it all started with a very nervous Eugene about to leave the country for the first time in his life during a massive rainstorm that seemed to have arrived out of nowhere.  This was to become a theme in my journey, I left a cloudy, rainy South Africa, flew to a cloudy Frankfurt, took a connecting flight to a slightly less cloudy San Fransisco and from there took a small plane to a cloudy and snowy Reno.  It felt a little bit like being an Israelite during the Exodus though thankfully there was no pillar of fire at any point.

Cloudy Frankfurt
One thing this journey gave me was a renewed sense of appreciation for my homeland.  It's very easy to get negative about South Africa, especially when you live there.  However I got to see first hand that we actually have a lot to be proud about.  OR Tambo International is a beautiful airport that compares favourably to every international airport I traveled through.  In fact, I had a smoother, more professional travel experience in "3rd world" South Africa than I did in "1st world" Germany.  I flew Lufthansa both times but the flight from Johannesburg boarded on time in an organized fashion (by row number) and departed exactly when it was supposed to with zero hiccups.  I could not say the same thing about Frankfurt.  Not only did we start boarding late but when we did it was just a rush to the gate by everyone.  Then, once we all got seated we learned that 2 wheels needed replacement causing a delay.  Then while waiting for the wheels to be changed the electrical systems failed and that needed to be repaired and then the on-board computer needed reprogramming resulting in us taking off well over an hour late.  Not saying all this to dump on Lufthansa, they are a great airline, they were friendly and professional and I am certainly glad that all got taken care of before we took off!  All I'm saying here is that I learned first hand not to be so quick with the "first world/third world" labels.
A cloudy but rapidly clearing San Fransisco
Now the time difference between Germany and South Africa was not so much so it was only on the journey to San Fransisco that I learned the hard truth about time travel.  See we left Frankfurt at about 11 am, traveled for over 10 hours and arrived in San Fransisco at 1 pm - 2 hours later the same day.  Honestly I'm still having trouble wrapping my mind around that.  I lost all sense of time as a result, in fact I still have trouble figuring out when I am.  Oddly enough, the dreaded jet lag I had heard so much about seemed to not affect me at all.  I've been on a normal schedule since arriving in Reno and have had no trouble adjusting at all to living in a new time zone.  Just don't ask me to guess what time it is because my sense of temporal awareness is still shot to hell.
Reno Airport, cold and snowy on the outside...
So here is what my long journey to the US taught me.  First off, don't buy into all the stereotypes.  Things can run like Swiss clockwork in Africa while running like Zimbabwean clockwork in Germany.  Similarly, while they get a very bad rap all over the world, my experience of the American people have been overwhelmingly positive.  As for the dreaded security, my entry into the US was professional and pleasant and I did not feel violated at any point, despite all the horror stories I've heard.  Germany on the other hand was a different story.  They had all these beefy and extremely aggressive looking security personnel sporting Mohawks who looked ready to snap at the slightest provocation.  Due to a mixup regarding my boarding gate I had to go through security twice.  At the first one my bags made it through without a hitch but I got a really invasive pat down and every stud on my denim got checked.  Meanwhile at the second checkpoint I got through without a hitch but then someone decided my camera charger looked suspicious and it had to be checked for explosives.  Like I said, I learned not to believe the hype, reality tends to be a lot different.

... but bright and entertaining on the inside!! (Yes that really is the airport)
Another thing I learned is that of all the airports, San Fransisco definitely has the prettiest girls.  Admittedly at that point I had been travelling for well over 24 hours so I barely had the energy to notice or care but still, it was worth the mental note.  The most important thing I learned however was this.  When you are flying Lufthansa and the stewards come by after a meal offering you coffee, tea, Baileys or brandy - take the brandy!!  Trust me on this, that stuff is amazing!  I only wish I knew what the brand name was, I suspect it was a cherry brandy of some kind.  I may never be able to drink Klipdrift again!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My year of 2 winters

Global warming sucks ass.  This year, it robbed me of one of my favourite things in the world - Winter.  Oh we had some cold days, even a couple of cold weeks, but all in all it just didn't feel like much of a Winter.  It also ended really abruptly, I was wearing a jacket one week and shorts the next.  Just like that, winter was over before I had the time to really savour it.

However, all was not lost since this year I'm getting a second chance.  This year, I get to have a proper Winter in the USA!  So on 22 November I got to say "Yo home, smell you later!", boarded a plane and left sunny South Africa for the snowy hills of Reno, Nevada.  So far it's been a blast and I'll try to blog my journey as best I can since I would always want to cherish the memory but I'm never going to get into scrapbooking.

So whenever I get a moment I'll take a minute and tell you all about how my life got flipped turned upside down!

Monday, November 15, 2010

How Francis Chan converted me to Paganism

Francis Chan

So the other day I watched a free online premier for a new Christian video series called BASIC.  Sadly the free, full length video is no longer available but you won't have to simply take my word regarding the content as I did find a copy of the audio here.  The first thing that struck me was how incredibly alike this video seemed to the NOOMA series by Rob Bell.  The similarities soon became even stronger and I started to suspect that the presenter of this series, Francis Chan, was a really big Rob Bell fan because he was downright channeling the man.  In all fairness, I probably can't judge since I've only seen the one video but to me it seemed that Francis here would like nothing better than to find Rob and skin him so that he may wear him and be him!

Anyway, apart from that it wasn't bad.  The theme of this particular video was "follow Jesus" and it made some very good points, for instance that we needn't debate how to follow Jesus since it should be obvious - just look at what He told you to do and then do it.  But then, about 8 minutes in, things got iffy.  The conversation turned from "how do we follow Jesus?" to "why should I follow Jesus?"  The first answer he offered basically came down to "Because it's totally a privilege that Jesus even lets you follow Him so you should, like, totally do it!".  Somehow I doubt that would convince a skeptic.  He probably guessed as much because then he sheds his Rob Bell impression completely and tells you that you need to follow Jesus because Jesus is one scary dude!

Here is why Francis says he follows Jesus, because Jesus promised to return one day and judge the earth and according to the Book of Revelation, this judgement is going to be pants pissingly terrifying (I may be paraphrasing here).  To illustrate, he quotes from Revelation 6:15-17:

"Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

He points out that Jesus often spoke of Hell - more often that He did of Heaven - and concludes that you should follow Jesus because He is a powerful Being and you want to be on His side because you wouldn't like Jesus when He gets angry!  So really, according to this video it's a case of follow Jesus or else!

This was a moment of epiphany for me!  He was completely right, I was using all the wrong criteria in deciding what to believe and who to follow.  Obviously one should follow the one that scares you the most.  
Therefore, thanks to Francis Chan, I now follow Xipe Totec! I'm a little confused as to why I seem to be the only one though, Pastor Chan made a good argument though for some odd reason he claims that he is following Jesus because "what other choice do I have?"  Seriously?  Have you even looked at some of the other deities out there?  Did Pastor Francis even consider deities like Set or Kali?  I did and there sure are plenty of powerful beings out there you don't want to be on the wrong side of!  In the end I settled on Xipe Totec because honestly, just look at the guy!  He invented war!  Jesus wants you to give Him your heart (metaphorically) - Xipe Totec literally wants you to give him (the still beating) hearts of other humans!  Jesus wore a robe, Xipe Totec wears flayed human skin* - you tell me who you find more fearsome.  I just hope my new lord will forgive me for not offering him any freshly removed human hearts, flayed skin and human blood as sacrifice.  Sacrificial pyramids just take time to build thats all.  Perhaps I should have started with arrow sacrifice or a fire pit instead...

"Our lord the flayed one"

 I must admit though, sometimes I do lie awake at night wondering if I made the right choice.  Especially when I consider the incredibly cruel punishments Zeus enjoys dispensing.  Don't get me wrong, hellfire is very scary!  Somehow having a a giant bird eat out your liver every day for all eternity sounds worse!  I guess it's because the flames of Hell just never end, its the same thing for every second of eternity.  But when you are chained to the rock waiting for the bird to come for your freshly regenerated liver those few hours of dread filled near normalcy just sounds even more excruciating somehow...

*Funny enough, according to Wiki, it seems both could heal you if you touched it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking

So while reading up a bit on Rev Schuller for my previous blog post I noticed a lot of online Christian sources blasting him for preaching a gospel of positive thinking.  At first I didn’t think too much of it, since that’s the kind of short hand many Christian groups sometimes use to indicate that a preacher isn’t anti-gay and pro-hellfire enough for their liking.  However when I finally got to the bottom of his Wiki page I noticed that they actually meant that quite literally – the power of positive thinking was his message.  Just look at the titles of some of the books he authored:

Way To The Good Life (1963)
Move Ahead With Possibility Thinking (1967)
Self-Love (1975)
You Can Be The Person You Want To Be (1976)
Self-Esteem: The New Reformation (1982)
Living Positively One Day At A Time (1986)
Success is never ending, failure is never final (1990)

If I threw in a couple of titles by self esteem/positive thinking gurus like Tony Robbins would you be able to tell?  (Just FYI, I didn’t.  Those are all from the good reverend).  There is nothing in there that even seems Christian for goodness sake!  The message is clear – if you want a good life you need good self esteem and a positive attitude.  Of course when you take in the reality of the Crystal Cathedral’s $43 million debt a very different message becomes apparent – positive thinking cannot save you.

Look, I won’t claim that positive thinking is completely useless since it demonstrably isn’t.  It makes sense that a positive person would be more likely to be looking for opportunities and would be more likely to actually pursue the ones they find.  In a way, positive people can create their own luck by finding and making good use of all the opportunities a pessimist might overlook or choose not to make use of.  However, that is where it ends.  No amount of positive thinking can control the universe.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what the positive thinking preachers would like you to believe.  Whether they dress it up in the Christian language of Rev Schuller or in the pseudo-scientific language of “The Secret”, in the end the message is still that you can bend the world to your will purely by thinking really positively.  The big problem with that idea is that the universe couldn’t care less what you thought.

The thing about reality is that it doesn’t require you to believe in it, doesn’t need you to approve of it and it doesn’t want you to like it.  It just is and wishing really hard will never change that.  That is why all the positive thinking in the world won’t prevent disasters (manmade and natural) from bringing destruction to your life.  Despite what you may have been told, no amount of positive thinking can cure cancer and other terminal illnesses*.  Unfair as it may seem to our tender sensibilities, a bitter and cynical person may survive the dread disease that a happy, positive person succumbs to.  It happens every day.  You can’t wish your way out of a bad situation.  Some things will always be outside your control and others are the inevitable results of the choices we make.  For instance if you eat more calories than you use you will gain weight.  Likewise, if you spend more than you earn you will go into debt, as the good folks over at the Crystal Cathedral so beautifully demonstrated.  Positive thinking cannot and does not make your debt disappear.  Happy thoughts cannot create money out of thin air.   

Seems to me that while positive thinking can do some good, it is just as likely to actually make things much, much worse.  Let’s say you start experiencing some worrisome physical symptoms.  A realistic thing to do would be to have it checked out, right?  You never know, it may be serious.  A positive thinker on the other hand may decide that going to a doctor is just too pessimistic and instead try to wish themselves better.  If something is in fact seriously wrong, who do you think has a better chance of getting treatment in time?  Now think about the positive folks over at the Crystal Cathedral.  A less positive group of people may have realized they needed to seriously re-evaluate their spending habits after the first couple of million dollars worth of debt.  Not them!  Seems they felt confident just going on with spending money they didn’t have and just believing that things would work themselves out.  After all, aren’t things supposed to all work out in the end?  Well no, no they aren’t.  Truth is, there is no realistic reason why things have to work out for the best for anyone.  Wishes are no match for reality and if you persist in a harmful pattern of behavior then all the positive thinking in the world won’t change the inevitable consequences of your actions.  Miracles don’t have to happen but reality always does.

Here we are, stuck in a big universe that seems indifferent at best to our personal happiness.  So of course we would all be drawn to the idea that we are in fact not completely out of control, that there is some magical way we can control our reality.  No such way actually exists but of course that has never stopped people from selling programs and "principles" for those desperate for some form of control.  Sadly, those are all illusions and nothing more.  There is no way to actually make yourself rich or thin or healthy or happy simply by wishing really hard or being really really positive about things.  We all have to play the cards we are dealt, that is reality.  If having a positive attitude helps you make the best of the reality you've been given then great, do not stop.  Just don't get carried away and start thinking you can alter reality through happy thoughts and wishful thinking.  Some things will forever be out of your control and anyone telling you different probably has a book they would like to sell you.

* The clinical studies done on the subject show very clearly that attitude has no influnece on survival when it comes to serious ilnesses like cancer. Contrary to conventional wisdom, there have been studies showing that pessimists cope really well with cancer.  In fact, according to at least one researcher I could find, the whole positive thinking movement can do more harm than good for cancer patients.  Jimmie Holland, MD, psychiatrist at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center coined the term "the tyranny of positive thinking" to describe the belief.
"The idea that we can control illness and death with our minds appeals to our deepest yearnings, but it just isn't so," she tells WebMD. "It is so sad that cancer patients are made to believe that if they aren't doing well it is somehow their own fault because they aren't positive enough."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Obscene Christians in a time of suffering

If you have watched any Christian television at some point in your life you may be familiar with this building:

This is the world famous "Crystal Cathedral" in Orange County, California. The prominent architect Philip Johnson designed the main sanctuary building, which was constructed using over 10,000 rectangular panes of glass and its sanctuary seats 2,736 persons.  I think it would be fair to say that you would be hard pressed to find another church like it.  It may not have as much gold and famous art but it somehow manages to outshine the most opulent Cathedrals of the Catholic Church.

Somehow it manages to look even bigger from the inside

Now my parents were kind of big fans (some members of my family still are) so I've had to sit through quite a few episodes of "The Hour of Power" which usually turned out to be far more bland than the name suggested.  Now the founding pastor of this megalithic mega church is this guy:

Rev. Robert H. Schuller 
Just to make it interesting I should point out that the good Reverend here wrote the following book (among many others):
Amazon still has a few copies! Buy now!

Chew on that fact for a moment.  Now try to comprehend the following.  The Chrystal Cathedral is in debt.  Lots of debt.  How much debt?  Well it depends on who you ask but Wiki & others tend to put it at over $40 million.  That's a 4 followed by seven zeros.  In US dollars, not Zimbabwean dollars.  I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that it would be a lot of debt for a small country, never mind a single church!  Now let's say you are the Reverend Schuller.  What do you tell your congregation?  Do you say "I'm sorry, we've clearly made some terrible mistakes and we will work hard to get out of this mess?"  Turns out that no, instead you go before your congregation and say:

"I need more help from you," Schuller said, according to the Orange County Register. "If you are a tither, become a double-tither. If you are not a tither, become a tither. This ministry has earned your trust. This ministry has earned your help."

Yep, he wants you to give a lot more money to him because "This ministry has earned your trust".  Dude!  Like WTF?!  You say the words but I don't think you understand the sentence you are using.  Ending up in tens of millions of dollars worth of debt is the opposite of earning someones trust.  When someone is in so much debt that Oprah herself could not bail them out then who in their right mind would trust them with any of their money?  Yet this guy wants people to give double and triple the amounts they usually would.  During one of the worst recessions in recent history.  Thousands are unemployed, houses are being foreclosed on faster than the banks can fill in the paperwork but apparently the trustworthy place to put the little money you have left is in a giant Xmas tree ornament/church.  What??!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Theology vs Truthiness

In my previous blog I illustrated that claiming having lustful thoughts are exactly the same as being an adulterer is not only stupid, it destroys the entire Christian faith.  Now you may have read that and thought to yourself, "Well hold on, that may be a well reasoned argument* but that doesn't change what it says right there in the Bible."  You would be correct of course, it certainly does look like Jesus was agreeing with Christine O'Donnell when you read the passage in question.  But is that really all there is to it?

The answer is that no, there is actually a lot more to it.  Many Evangelical Christians prefer to use the Steven Colbert approach to Bible reading.  It's a lot easier to just believe what your gut tells you ought to be true and forgo all the hard work of exegesis, understanding context and looking at the bigger picture.  The problem is that this doesn't always lead you to truth.  You are far more likely to end up with "truthiness".  Just because it feels true that doesn't mean it is true no matter how convinced you may be that the feeling in your gut is actually the Holy Spirit.  See the Bible wasn't written for any of us.  Every Biblical author wrote at a specific point in time and space and addressed the work to a primary audience with a specific background, language and culture.  If you aren't willing to understand Scripture the way the original recipients understood it then you may be better off not studying it at all.

In this specific passage in Matthew we don't have an English speaking Caucasian pastor addressing a western mega church.  Instead we have a First Century Jewish Rabbi addressing a group of Jews seeking religious instruction.  Rabbis were not only people who taught you what God commanded (the Torah laws) but also tried to show people how living according to God's commandments was supposed to look practically (called halakhah, "the path that one walks").  So then we find Jesus in Matthew 5 using a rabbinic practice called "putting a fence around the Torah" (Mishnah, Pirke Avot 1:1).  See, the rabbis reasoned that since small missteps can (not inevitably though often enough) lead to the actual breaking of Torah law, the best solution was to give rulings that prevented people from even coming close to breaking the actual Law.  For instance, one such ruling taught people not to handle tools on the Sabbath lest the temptation to work became too strong.  (I have never struggled with that particular temptation myself but you can see the principle at work here. ) In short the idea was that if you never took the first step towards the slippery slope, the chances of you actually slipping were nullified.

Lest ye doubt me, here are some examples of the same practice by other rabbis, bearing a rather striking resemblance to Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount:

"He who violates, 'Love your neighbour as yourself', will ultimately violate, 'You shall not hate your brother in your heart', and 'You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge', until in the end he will come to shedding blood" (From a Rabbinical commentary dating around 200 to 300 AD)
The train of thought is pretty clear here.  While only murdering your neighbour is actually against the law, the rabbinic restrictions are there to keep you from ever going down the path that could possibly lead to murder in the first place.  Best to stay as far away as possible from small sins lest they lead to big ones.

They also - just like Jesus - seemed to come out very harshly against relatively mild transgressions like gossiping and humiliating someone in public.
"To which is gossip more similar, robbery or murder?"
"Murder, because robbers can always give back what they have stolen but gossips can never repair the damage they've done"
"... one should rather fling himself into a fiery furnace than humiliate someone in public." (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 59a.)

[Interested in learning more about the Jesus as a Rabbi?  My source here is "Sitting at the feet of Rabbi Jesus" by Spangler and Tverberg.  Its an accessable and easy read that does a great job at exploring the Jewishness of Jesus]

Actually I just realised that I'm wasting energy even explaining this.  Firstly, no one actually leveled any such criticisms at me.  Then again, there are probably not a lot of Biblical literalists who would regularly read a heretic's blog.  Secondly - and this is the big one - no one actually believes that claim, not for a second.  Oh they would say they do, but they don't.  If you asked Christine O'Donnell or Ray Comfort (or anyone who regularly speaks to Christian teens) if they believed that lustful thoughts were the same as adultery in the eyes of God they would reply without hesitation that yes they do believe that because that is what the Bible teaches.  But they lie.  They may not realise that they are lying but actions speak louder than words and no one lives as if they actually believe that.  Think about it, let's say you are totally committed to Biblical Literalism and you find out your pastor/spouse had a sexual relationship outside marriage last week Tuesday.  You would be upset right?  You would be asking for a resignation/divorce immediately.  Now what if you found out that last week Tuesday your pastor/spouse saw an attractive person and had a quick sexual thought about them, what would your reaction be then?  The same?  Somehow I doubt it.

*In my head you are very well mannered and courteous, whoever you are. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Getting Stuck in a Pumpkin or How To Destroy Christianity through Biblical literalism

Up until very recently, very few people outside the United States had even heard of the state of Delaware.  Then Christine O’Donnell came along and changed all that thanks to a seemingly endless stream of clips of her making statements that make Sarah Palin look like a reasoned intellectual.  Now there have been a couple of doozies but arguably the most famous is the one of her arguing against masturbation, claiming that based on the Bible it was the same as committing adultery.

The strange thing is that this is probably the least crazy of her statements.  A very large subsection of Evangelical Christians would tell you the exact same thing – especially if you’re a teen at a Christian Youth Camp.  Many Christians would tell you that Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:28 – “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." should be interpreted literally and therefore it’s a sin to even fantasize about another person.  I bought into this too as a teen and suffered endless guilt for being normal.  Eventually I figured out a loophole for myself.  Since the verse specifically mentioned “adultery” I would therefore be OK as long as I never fantasized about a married person.  I still recall the sad day that all my Sarah Michelle Gellar posters had to come down because she got married...  But I digress.  I mentioned this in an earlier post on the Ten Commandments but this literal interpretation is a vital weapon in the evangelism arsenal of groups like Way of the Master.  To recap, their method of evangelism typically goes as follows:

  • Ask the target if he/she considers themselves to be a good person.
  • When they answer “yes”, test them against the Ten Commandments (aka God’s rules for being good enough to make it into Heaven.)
  • When they do well on this test (and they tend to since most people aren’t adulterous, thieving murderers), go “Oh Snap!  But what about thought crime?”
  • Then convince them that since God counts sinful thoughts the same as sinful deeds, they are horrible, evil people deserving of an eternity of torture.

Now this approach is surprisingly effective at making converts but it does have a rather severe flaw built in.  See, while it can convert you, it cannot convert you to Christianity.  This is because if the premise of this method – that God punishes thought crime – is true then Christianity is false.  Don’t believe me?  Let me show you how a literal interpretation of Matthew 5 utterly destroys the Christian religion in just a 3 easy steps:
  1. If you take Matt 5:28 to mean that lust in your heart is literally the same as adultery in the eyes of God then it follows that anger must literally be the same as murder to God, according to Matt 5:21-22.
  2. Now then the Bible records several instances of Jesus being angry (Mark 3:2-7; John 2.13-22; Matt 23:13-36).  Therefore Jesus must have been guilty of several instances of murder in the eyes of God.
  3. Therefore His execution would have been just and He could not have been the sinless Lamb of God who bore our sins in our stead and impugned his perfect, sinless life to us. 
Presto, the entire Christian faith is invalid, all because you just had to have the thought crime stick to beat people with!  Thing is, you don’t need the weapons of guilt and shame to win converts – you would be hard pressed to find examples of anyone in the Bible doing that and Christianity somehow spread just fine back then.  However, some people just can’t do without it.  They have to make people feel as rotten about themselves as possible, they have to make them feel ashamed and since people are rarely as evil as they need them to be, they need thought crime to do it.  They never stop to think of the logical consequences, they just have to have guilt as a weapon.  It reminds me of how baboons get trapped.

See a popular way to trap a baboon is to anchor a pumpkin securely to the ground and to then make a hole in it just large enough for the baboon to squeeze his hand through.  When a baboon then reaches inside and grabs a handful of tasty pumpkin flesh he can’t pull his stuffed fist back out of the hole and so becomes stuck.  The thing is, the baboon can be free at any time, he just needs to let go of the stuff in his hand, yet they never think that far.

It’s exactly the same with many Evangelicals.  There is a world of freedom out there but they cannot enter into it because they are stuck holding on to the notion that God will damn you for your emotions and thoughts.  Even though it traps them in a religion that cannot – by their own rules – exist.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lazy Language

For sale here

I’m trying to make healthier eating choices lately and since I’m going off meds for a month starting today, I need to make healthier choices than ever.  It’s not easy though, I like good food.  On the one hand both my father and paternal grandfather died of heart attacks but on the other hand I don’t want to live in a world without delicious bacon!  So I’m trying to find a good balance between eating well and eating healthy only to find that the marketing department of every food manufacturer is trying to make that as hard as possible.  Worst part is that they are using my own laziness to do it!

Here’s the thing about shortcuts – we can’t live without them.  We need shortcuts.  Sure, its lazy but can we live any other way?  If we had to do life Ent style and take endless hours to ponder every decision in detail civilization as we know it would grind to a halt.  It’s a good idea to carefully consider some things of course, but who has the time to carefully consider everything?  That’s why we have clich├ęs and stereotypes, for better or worse they’re real timesavers!  Unfortunately, advertisers figured this out a long time ago and have been using it against us ever since.

Fat free tea.  Because apparently that was a problem that needed solving.  
Obviously they can’t tell a bald faced lie about their products because that’s the kind of thing leaves them drowning in lawsuits.  However it’s not illegal to tell the truth about your product, even if it’s a very creative truth.  For instance, a few years ago a couple of sunflower oil manufacturers advertised that their products had 0% cholesterol.  This was technically true but only because cholesterol is an animal product and you were never going to find it in a plant product anyway!  Most of the time it seems they just let us do the heavy lifting ourselves.  By just using a few “shortcut” words, we jump to our own conclusions and they don’t have to go making too many claims that need factual backing.  These are words that make you instinctively assume something good (about their product) or bad (about a competitor) when in fact these words are actually quite neutral.  They can mean something good or bad but over time we have associated some with good things and other with bad.  Some examples would be words like:

Traditional.  Ahh yes, you see the word “traditional” and you immediately assume this product is just filled with the goodness and wholesomeness of the good old days.  Just hearing the word brings to mind your grandma’s kitchen – which is probably the intention!  But wait a second, who said “traditional” was the same as “good”?  The word “tradition” only refers to “a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting”.  In other words it’s simply a way of doing things that’s been around for a while.  That doesn’t necessarily make it bad but it certainly doesn’t make it good and it definitely doesn’t make it the best way.  If you go back a 100 years you would find that people were probably doing the best they could with the knowledge and technology they had, but you wouldn't assume they were doing it better than we currently do in any field - except apparently with food.  For instance the traditional way of traveling between continents was by using a ship.  These days we travel by airplane.  Now is traveling the traditional way bad?  No, certainly not.  However it’s definitely by no means better than the modern form!  Just because something is older does not make it better.  If you find a 200 year old recipe for lemonade that includes 2 cups of badger urine, would you choose that over a different brand simply because it’s “traditional”?

Sometimes "Traditional" is just another word for "pain in the ass"

Natural.  If you see that a product is “natural” then you know it’s good for you because everything from nature is good for you right?  Well no, no it’s not.  Lots of things from nature are terrible for you!  Some of the most poisonous thing in the world are 100% natural.  The thing is that while there certainly are a whole lot of wholesome things in nature, you will find that nature can be pretty vindictive too.  Plants actually produce their own pesticides to ward off bugs, so odds are that the totally organic broccoli you bought from that hippie at the farmers market is probably still full of pesticides.

Chemicals.  Grrr, argh, chemicals bad!!  No one would want chemicals added to their food right?  You probably wouldn’t like it if I added 2-oxo-L-threo-hexono-1,4- lactone-2,3-enediol to your juice would you?  How about if I added some extra Vitamin C, would that be OK?  Sure, no one would object to that, even though Vitamin C and 2-oxo-L-threo-hexono-1,4- lactone-2,3-enediol (or L-ascorbic acid for short) is exactly the same thing.  Think back to your basic chemistry classes for a second.  Everything is made of chemicals.  Your body is full of chemicals and so is everything you eat.  Water, air, carrot juice, rump steak – all made up of chemicals.  There are good chemicals and bad chemicals so to simply and reflexively consider the word “chemical” equal to “toxic waste” is just lazy thinking
Di-hydrogen monoxide - it kills thousands of people each year!!!
Processed.  Again, here is a word that we associate with bad, plastic food almost immediately.  Sometimes that is most definitely the case (looking at you processed cheese).  However, the term “processed” when applied to food simply means that the food has gone through some kind of process.  If it was sliced, peeled, dried or even just washed it’s technically processed.  Therefore if you want your carrot “unprocessed” then you better have it fresh from the ground, dirt and all.

I hate having to be so on guard when I’m grocery shopping, but these people leave me no choice.  Bastards.  They are forcing me to confront my shortcuts!  Not cool guys!  Now I have to judge every product on its individual merits!

So these are some examples of lazy language I have come across so far.  Does anyone else have some more for me?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Two Mars Hills


I had barely published my previous blog on the wonders of yoga when I was confronted by this video by Past. Mark Driscoll explaining how yoga is evil and demonic and all who practice it are hellbound.  At times like these I am astounded by the difference between Mars Hill and Mars Hill.

There are two famous churches in the USA which go by the name “Mars Hill”.  One is in Seattle, Washington and is headed by Mark Driscoll.  The other is in Grand Rapids, Michigan and is headed by Rob Bell.  Superficially they seem very similar at first.  Both are very large and both are well known and popular far outside their respective city limits.  Both are thoroughly modern with pastors who are engaging public speakers – not to mention that they both sport interesting hair and non-traditional dress sense.  Yet these two couldn’t be more different from one another*.

If you sat down the leaders of both Mars Hill churches and made the statement that “everything is spiritual” then they would both agree with you but for very different reasons.  For Rob Bell, the statement “everything is spiritual” means that your spirituality involves the entirety of your life.  In other words, you don’t have a “spiritual life” and a “normal life” separate from one another.  Therefore everything you do can be an act of worship and God is involved in everything you do.  I suspect Mark Driscoll on the other hand would agree because he thinks there are demons behind everything.  Yoga?  Demons.  Popular works of fiction?  Demons.  Popular movies?  Demonic.  Mormonism?  Founded by demons.  I’m sure if I looked harder I could find more examples but clearly the man lives in a demon haunted world.

Mark Driscoll
This leads to the two Mars Hills preaching very different versions of Christianity.  Pastor Driscoll’s demon-centric worldview necessitates a tough kind of Christianity.  At his Mars Hill Church, God is tough as nails who tolerates no sin or deviation from doctrine.  He is the Yahweh the Warrior, the God of the predestined, the One who saves only a select few from this world filled with demons and deception.  In this Mars Hill they do not flinch from using strong language or violence.  This is a church that is into MMA and Christian Cage Fighting**.  Here the measure of a man is tied to his prowess in the field of battle.  Because of this you will find no gentle Jesus here.  At Mark’s church Jesus is the ultimate Alpha Male, a tough guy who can beat up your dad (much like Mark himself).  To him, “Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” 

Rob Bell
Rob Bell on the other hand doesn’t strike me as much of an alpha male.  In fact I’m pretty sure your mom could beat him in a cage fight.  His Mars Hill Church is far more geek friendly and you are far more likely to hear a Star Wars reference than an Ultimate Fighting metaphor from his pulpit.  Doubters, heretics, the lost, the weak and the broken are all welcome.  The God of this Mars Hill is far more welcoming and has hope for all mankind.  Rob Bell’s Jesus is more likely to give you a hug than an uppercut.  One quote by Rob has always stuck with me.  In Velvet Elvis he wrote “Why blame the dark for being dark?  It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn't as bright as it could be.”  That pretty much sums up this Mars Hill.  It isn’t focused on sin or demons at all.  Instead there is a constant focus on being a light in a dark world by doing good to others.  I think the closest I’ve heard him come to apologetics was his suggestion to those struggling with their faith to join a program that helps underprivileged children.  That is where their God lives – amongst the poor and the broken.  Like the one in Seattle this Mars Hill is also quite aggressive, only here they are aggressively into charity (both domestic and internationally).

Now if my tone wasn’t a clear enough indication, I’m not a fan of Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill but I am extremely fond of the Mars Hill of Rob Bell.  The funny thing is that when I was half as old as I am now it would have been the other way around.  Back then, I would have agreed with Rob’s detractors that to not preach on sin, hell and the demonic is simply unchristian.  The sheer manliness of Mark’s church would have been far more attractive.  I considered all that peace, love and charity stuff to be uncomfortably close to the antichrist agenda.  Not so much anymore though.  Nowadays the “lets call everything we don’t like/understand demonic” brand of aggressive Christianity that claims to always be right despite all evidence to the contrary drives me toward agnosticism.  It is only Rob Bell’s brand of Christianity that makes me believe that there is something to this faith after all.  I don’t think I would want to worship a God that would like to beat me up.  Violence and aggression is not the same as being tough.  An angry child can swing a fist.  Self-sacrifice, now for that you need to be tough.  Opening yourself up to constant hurt by trying to heal the messiness of humanity, that takes courage.  Cage fighting doesn’t scare me, caring for the helpless does.

*To be fair, I have never attended either one of these churches.  I have heard sermons from both and I have seen plenty of video from both so I’m fairly certain I can offer my opinion fairly here.
** A term that had a completely different meaning in the Coliseum in 1 AD methinks…

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Would you like poop with that?

For my birthday last year, I gave myself the gift of yoga.  Now I admit I was skeptical at first but, after getting my thyroid removed, I needed something to help keep my weight from ballooning and after seeing what it did for that yoga granny I was willing to give it a shot.

I mean look at her!   She's 83!  I couldn't do that at 23!
Of course being the manly man that I am I wasn't keen on the incense and sitar music type of yoga so I got myself something far more manly - Yoga for Regular Guys by the pro wrestler Diamond Dallas Page.  This book was all about manly exercise* and didn't try to impart any New Age spirituality.  Instead it had a foreword by none other than Rob Zombie and the book had tons of hot yoga babes demonstrating the poses.  The book really lived up to its promise of less "Namaste" and more "T&A".

I'm not sure exactly what I expected to get out of it but I have to admit, yoga turned out to be shockingly good exercise.  The first time I tried it I couldn't believe how worn out I got just from stretching and breathing!    Now I'm no yoga expert, I still can't do all the poses and I definitely can't twist myself into a pretzel.  However I am definitely stronger and more flexible than when I started, the regular neck and lower back pain I've had for years is gone so my painkiller use went from "alarmingly regular" to "almost never".  Best of all, the mysterious** leg injury that had me functionally crippled for over a year and that simply would not heal was gone for good within two months.

Here's the thing though, I never actually read all the way to the back of the book.  I stopped at the exercise descriptions, but there is a long chapter in the back that forced me to rethink my original judgement that this book contained no New Age Woo.  There is all kinds of questionable diet and health advice, most of it pretty much harmless*** but others - like suggesting that the right juice diet can cure cancer - maybe not so harmless.

One strange thing really stood out amid all the strange dietary advice though.  Way at the end there is an endorsement for something called "Ezekiel 4:9 Bread" which immediately caught my eye. I looked it up and found arguably the best demonstration of why you shouldn't treat the Bible like a book of magic spells (or in this case recipes).  Now if you look at the verse in Scripture you certainly do find a recipe for the 100% flourless bread promised by the Ezekiel bread people:

""Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself." (Eze 4:9)

However, that is not all it said.  When you see something advertised like this it creates the impression that you are dealing with a magic recipe straight from God so surely it must be meant to provide great health benefits.  When you actually read the entire chapter 4 in Ezekiel you will however get an entirely different impression really quick.  See Ezekiel had to eat this - and apparently only this - for 390 days while lying on his left side.  (He then had to do 40 days on his right side.)  He only got to eat 8 ounces (about 0.2 kilogram) of this per day with 2/3 quart (about 0.6 liter) of water.  This was all part of a prophetic display of the horrible times about to befall the nation of Israel.  Verse 16 makes it pretty clear:

"He then said to me: "Son of man, I will cut off the supply of food in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair, for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin."

See?  This wasn't about eating a healthy diet, this was about suffering with small amounts of terrible food.  The bread wasn't made without flour because flour is a bad dietary choice but rather because Ezekiel was telling the nation that things would be so bad for them that there would be no flour for bread!

Doesn't seem like such a magic health recipe now, does it?  I bet you the people who sell this product didn't even do the recipe correctly!  Pretty sure they left out an important ingredient:

Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel." The LORD said, "In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them." (Exe 4:12-13)

Yeah I'm pretty sure they left out the poop vapors...  Way to half ass a Biblical recipe guys!

And that, dear friends, is why you shouldn't use the Bible like a spell book.  You may just end up eating poo flavoured bread!


* It even renamed some of the poses to give it more manly sounding names.
** I still don't know what happened.  It was fine before I went in for surgery and then I woke up feeling like something was torn!
*** Or not, its pro Atkins and I've heard that it may be bad for you but since I'm not knowledgeable on the subject I'm letting that one slide.  I don't care how much you try testosteroning it up though, there is no way you can make eating a hamburger wrapped in lettuce leaves in lieu of a bun sound manly!

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Pope is calling the kettle black

Just the other day Pope Palpatine thought it would be a good idea to point his finger at others.  Maybe his mom never told him that when you point at someone else, three fingers point back at you.  During a speech in England, he made the following statement:

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime's attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a "reductive vision of the person and his destiny".

Now I finally understand why the Pope has to wear a dress - it's to hide his massive balls!!  It takes of an incredible amount of chutzpah to blame Nazi Germany on Atheism!  Best of all, he managed to make it sound as if dehumanizing and persecuting Jews was something other people did.  That is simply... astounding.  If it was anyone else I would have been willing to entertain the notion that maybe he was just ignorant on the matter but not with Ratzinger.  FFS, the man was in the Hitler Youth*, there is no way he made those statements out of ignorance!

OK, obligatory disclaimer time.  Unlike Jack Chick, I do not believe the Holocaust was a Jesuit orchestrated Inquisition against the Jews.  The Pope isn't all wrong, there were plenty of Christians who stood up to the Nazis and many of them were Catholics.  Furthermore I would certainly agree that Hitler was in no way a Real True Christian and the Nazis certainly didn't act in a way Jesus would approve of.  Nevertheless it is utterly dishonest to claim that they were Atheists.  Hitler hated atheism.  Any survey of his speeches and writings quickly show that his rhetoric was incredibly religious, not secular.  As much as the Pope would like to rewrite history to show the Vatican in a more flattering light, it is a historical fact that the Catholic leadership  and the Nazis got along like a house on fire (for a time at least).  To illustrate just how well, I've included some of the pictures I found online in this post.  To now try and blame it all on Atheism is a cheap shot.  Hitler banned Atheist and Freethought groups in Nazi Germany but signed treaties with the Vatican (who chose to remain neutral for most of the war).  You do the math.

However blaming the Holocaust on atheism, doesn't even come close to pretending that persecuting the Jews is something that nasty old nonbelievers did.  No Pope Ratzinger, you don't get to do that.  Not when you are the head of an organization that has been dehumanizing, persecuting and executing Jews for centuries!  Putting Jews in Ghettos, forcing them to wear a mark, murdering them in mass - Hitler didn't invent these things, the Catholic Church had been doing all that and more for over a thousand years by the time Hitler came to power.  For crying out loud, the official Catholic charge of Deicide (the teaching that the Jewish people were collectively accountable for the death of Jesus) was only repealed in the 1960's!

So nice try but no cigar.  Point the finger anywhere you want old man, we weren't born yesterday.  You don't get to just wash your hands of your entire past and you don't get to make a scapegoat of anyone else.

"God With Us"

*To be clear, I'm only pointing this out to make it clear that his remarks were dishonest, not ignorant.  I'm not trying to imply that he was actually pro-Nazi and pro-Holocaust.  I'm satisfied by the research that showed that he was forced to join and that he didn't take part in any atrocities.  He was right there though, he knows the truth and he's choosing to not tell it.

EDIT 19 Sep 2010:
OK, I've calmed down a little bit since writing this and here is the moral I was getting at which may have gotten lost in the general rant.

The Pope's statements were more than just dishonest, it destroyed the most important lesson of the Holocaust. This horrible thing happened and it was perpetrated by people just like us. They weren't aliens, they didn't belong to another species. The Nazis went to church, had pets, loved their kids, enjoyed chocolate, loved good music and beer - just like anyone else. The moment you start thinking that this is only something that some alien, "other" people can do you lose sight that it can happen again at any time, right where you are.

Whenever a religious leader starts blaming all these atrocities on "Atheists" or "Darwinists", they conveniently lose sight of the fact that the vast number of Nazis were church going Christians.  Yes, they acted in a way completely in opposition to the teachings of the New Testament.  That is exactly why Christian leaders should not pretend the Holocaust was the act of "others".  It was the act of people who went to the same churches you do, who read the same Bible you do and prayed to the same Jesus you do who nevertheless did all these things because a charismatic leader using religious language convinced them it was good and right - even though their actual doctrine should have convinced them that it was an abomination.  If you are a Christian leader you need to realize that and allow it to scare the living crap out of you on a regular basis.  That is one of the best ways to prevent history from repeating itself.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

As any Pentecostal can tell you

I freely admit to forgetting a lot of the things I've learned in Bible study over the years but one of the things that stuck with me was when someone described the Pharisees as the Pentecostals of their day.  That description still makes me snicker because Pentecostals tend to really dislike the Pharisees - about as much as the Catholics and for pretty much the same reasons.  Firstly there is the whole "they believe in works based salvation" thing.  Secondly - and this is the part that really makes us feel superior - there is their reliance on oral law and the traditions of the elders.  Que headshakes, smiles and faux exasperated sighs.  Why couldn't they simply listen to The Bible without adding all this extra stuff?  You know, the way we do it!

Now on the first matter, Pentecostals are entirely consistent - for better or worse they certainly never preach about the necessity of good works.  However on the second matter the difference is entirely imaginary.  We might like to think that all we believe comes with a solid foundation in Scripture but that is simply not the case.  I can't speak for all denominations but Pentecostal Churches as I know them have plenty of teachings and doctrine based almost entirely on "oral law" and "the traditions of the elders". 

For instance, if you've spend enough time in a Pentecostal Church you are bound to have heard human beings described as "being a spirit, having a soul and living in a body".  You would probably also be familiar with the notion that your soul contains your "intellect, will and emotions" as well as some other teachings about the role of your "spirit man".  None of that is in the Bible.  Seriously.  Go do a word study, the Bible uses the words "soul" and "spirit" interchangeably - everything attributed to the soul in one verse is attributed to the spirit in another.  Doesn't mean that the church is wrong about humans being tripartite beings of course, just that most of the details assigned to said parts have no actual basis in Scripture.

Then of course there is the matter of Satan, demons and Spiritual warfare.  Based on many Pentecostal sermons you would be forgiven for thinking these were some of the most prominent themes of the Bible.  If you actually read the Bible though, it is another matter.  You would be hard pressed to find 2 consecutive chapters dealing with the matter!  The extrabiblical ideas in the church regarding the devil and evil spirits is a blog post all on it's own.  Suffice it to say for now that for most "Deliverance Ministries" the nonscriptural source material vastly outnumbers the Scriptural.

All other oral traditions pale against the mack daddy tradition of the elders - The Rapture!  Now I know, I know, all supporters of the Rapture and the whole premillenial dispensationalist shebang are shocked, no shocked AND hurt that I would even suggest that!  After all, they frequently claim that what they believe is based on nothing but a straightforward and literal interpretation of the book of Revelation.  To which I say, bollocks!  I'm willing to bet all my worldly treasures that if you gave the Book of Daniel, the Book of Revelation as well as every other book in the Bible containing a hint of prophecy to someone who has never heard of the Bible or Premillenial Dispensationalist teachings they would not reach the same interpretation in a 100 years.  Yes, the Bible does say that Christ will return.  It does not however say that there will be a Second Coming: Beta Release where Jesus only comes half way down to scoop up believers followed by a Second Coming: Premium Edition where He actually touches down.  While the Rapture may be a central belief to millions of Christians, the fact remains that the Bible doesn't mention it even once.

If you are interested in an excellent discussion on the Rapture and the End Times and the contents of Revelation I strongly recommend The Rapture Exposed:  The message of hope in the Book of Revelation by Barbara R. Rossing.  If you read only one book on the subject, read this one.  Alternatively if you've read all the Left Behind books and/or the many other works on "End Times Prophecy" then you owe it to yourself to hear the counter argument.  The book traces the history of the Rapture idea from its start 200 years ago in the visions of a 15 year old Scottish girl, right through to its present day incarnation.  It also provides an alternate interpretation for the Apocalypse of John, which quite frankly makes a lot more sense than the commonly accepted Pentecostal one.

Now for the most part, these oral traditions in the Church don't matter much to me.  Most of them, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, do not pick my pocket or break my legs so I don't really feel too strongly about them.  However, Jesus spoke out against some of these traditions for a reason:

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" 

Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

Today, just like in the time of Jesus, people are still using their passed down traditions to overrule the basic good and decent things Jesus commanded them to do.  In this way the completely unbiblical ideas of many Christians regarding the "end times" are a very real obstacle.  Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers" but because of their eschatology, many Pentecostals are anti-peace and for bloodshed and war in the Middle East.  That to me is a clear case of nullifying the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 

Guess the Pharisees and the Pentecostals aren't so different after all...