Monday, April 25, 2011

Strange New Godview: Drunk Zeus

This weekend, Christians all over the world celebrated the fact that their God is someone who deeply loves a broken world.  This is a God who loved the world and came to earth not to destroy it but to rescue it.  The God we celebrate on Easter was never a fan of sin but instead of fighting it with violence and destruction He opposed it through self sacrifice and love.  Not all Christians celebrate the God of Easter though.  Some Christians worship His polar opposite.  Behold for instance, the self proclaimed prophet of the Lord, Cindy Jacobs:

Now I know I call this series "Strange New Godview" but in this case that is not entirely accurate.  Her Godview (along with that of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robinson to name but a few) is actually not that new.  It may in fact be the oldest of all Godviews.  Eons ago, whenever something unpleasant happened I'm sure you would find plenty of shamans, priests and witch doctors telling the people that this bad thing happened because the gods were upset.  Coincidentally the gods always managed to be upset about something that the local shaman/priest/witchdoctor was also unhappy with.  To stop the bad thing from happening again all the people had to do was agree that the shaman/priest/witchdoctor was totally right about everything and immediately stop doing that thing that the shaman/priest/witchdoctor (and also the gods of course) hated.

It seems not much has changed.  You wouldn't like Cindy Jacobs' God when He gets angry and FYI, He gets angry a lot!  When He gets peeved you better believe that He will unlock the woodshed and take off his whuppin belt, just like Zeus of old! Only there is a major difference here.  Zeus at least bothered to hurl his lightning bolts at the person who offended him.  Cindy's god is not only violent it seems, he also drinks heavily seeing as how he tends to just randomly smite people/things who had nothing to do with whatever offended him.  How else would you explain dead birds and an earthquake in Japan because he & Cindy was upset about DADT?  Perhaps he is just kinda racist and thinks we all look alike.  Would explain the Bible Belt tornadoes her god uses to punish Hollywood (or something), wouldn't it?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Christian Fundamentalism isn't

In this video Sam Harris makes a very compelling argument that religious fundamentalism/extremism isn't in and of itself a bad thing.  How a fundamentalist behaves depends entirely on the fundamentals of his or her faith after all.  He uses the Jain faith as an example here - since pacifism and not doing harm to any living thing is a core component of their faith, being a radical fundamentalist in Jainism means to literally not hurt a fly!

Now you certainly cannot blame Mr Harris for using Jain fundamentalism as an example.  After all, how many religions can you name where you wouldn't feel at least a little nervous around one of their radical fundamentalists?  Take Christian Fundamentalists for instance.  When you hear that term, you almost instinctively know you are talking about a person who is:
  • Politically right wing, conservative
  • Anti-Abortion
  • Anti-Sex Ed (Pro-Abstinence only of course)
  • Against welfare
  • Anti-science (especially the teaching of evolution)
  • Opposed to environmentalism
  • Waiting to be Raptured
  • For the death penalty
  • Intolerant
  • In constant opposition to the "gay agenda"
  • Constantly offended
  • Feels persecuted when they don't get their way
  • Constantly trying to make their beliefs into law so they can always get their way

The problem is that while these things have become synonymous with Christian Fundamentalism, they have nothing to do with the fundamentals of Christianity.  I challenge anyone to find anything resembling modern Christian Fundamentalism in the pages of the New Testament - you know, the thing that chronicles the lives of the actual Christian Fundamentalists! Small wonder then that modern Fundamentalists usually have to ignore everything Jesus and the Apostles said and turn to the Old Testament to find justification for their actions.  The original Christians didn't really fit into the modern "culture warrior" mode at all.  I'm sure they disagreed with lot of the morals and laws of the Greco-Roman world yet you never seem to find the Apostle Paul picketing anything!  I could be wrong but in reading the New Testament it really doesn't seem like the Christians in it tried to enforce their faith on people outside it.  Really then, Christian Fundamentalists really aren't Christian Fundamentalists at all!

A real Christian fundamentalist (someone who follows the actual fundamentals of Christianity) would therefore be someone who:
  • Constantly feeds the hungry and clothes the poor
  • Is obedient and submissive to their government no matter how adversarial their government may be to them
  • Always turns the other cheek
  • Blesses those who curse them
  • Does good to those who harm them
  • Doesn't lie
  • Doesn't gossip
  • Does everything they do as if they are doing it for God Himself
  • Loves others unconditionally

When you start looking at the actual fundamentals of Christianity it quickly becomes clear that an actual Christian fundamentalist would never dream of shooting an abortion doctor.  In fact the more radical a truly fundamentalist Christian becomes the less violent he or she would be and the more of their stuff they would give to the poor!

Is it just me or did something go seriously wrong with Christianity at some point?  How did we get from there to here?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Moral Argument vs Sleeping Beauty

When I first read CS Lewis' book "Mere Christianity", the book and specifically the opening chapter blew me away.  In it, he made such a compelling case for the existence of God that I didn't know how anyone could read it and not come away a believer!  I didn't know the formal name at the time but he used the Moral Argument for the existence of God.  The gist of it is that all humanity throughout time and space and regardless of culture all have the same innate sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair.  We often choose to violate this sense but it's there nevertheless.  Since it is universal and since it is there whether we choose it or not it must be an external influence, as Lewis puts it, "a controlling power outside the universe" - a.k.a God.

Like I said, at the time I found this to be fantastically convincing.  In time however I came to realise that this is actually a terribly flawed argument and as arguments for the existence of God go, it was pretty terrible!  The entire argument falls apart at proposition number one.  It seems true at first but on closer inspection it quickly becomes clear that there is no set of universal right and wrongs that mankind has always been aware of.  Depending on your culture or your time period, your innate sense of right and wrong can be radically different from mine.

Now usually when arguing against the Moral Argument, opponents tend to bring up the horrors of the Old Testament.  Unfortunately this usually leads to otherwise good people defending genocide.  I think the patterns of attack and defense are just too well worn by now so that when this is debated, people just fall into argument and counterargument by reflex - which really accomplishes nothing.  Fortunately, this is one of those happy occasions where awesome talking dinosaurs can help!

Is it just me or is education more fun when it comes from dinosaurs?

As our lovable dinosaur friends here point out, the morality of the 17th century was rather sharply different from our own!  But, since I'm daring to disagree with none other than CS Lewis (who I'm very fond of for the record) I guess I can't just offer the word of a comic strip.  Even if it is a super fun and informative comic strip featuring a talking T-rex.  So I looked it up and here, is the original according to Wikipedia:

"Sun, Moon, and Talia (Sole, Luna, e Talia) is an Italian literary fairy tale written by Giambattista Basile in his 1634 work, the Pentamerone. Charles Perrault retold this fairy tale in 1697 as Sleeping Beauty.

After the birth of a great lord's daughter, Talia, wise men and astrologers cast the child's horoscope and told the lord that Talia would be later endangered by a splinter of flax. To protect his daughter, the father commands that no flax would ever be brought into his house.

Years later, Talia sees an old woman spinning flax on a spindle. She asks the woman if she can stretch the flax herself, but as soon as she begins to spin, a splinter of flax goes under her fingernail, and she drops to the ground, apparently dead. Unable to stand the thought of burying his child, the lord puts Talia in one of his country estates.

Some time later, a king, hunting in nearby woods, follows his falcon into the house. He finds Talia, tries unsuccessfully to wake her up, and rapes her. Afterwards, he leaves the girl on the bed and returns to his own city.

Still deep in sleep, she gives birth to twins (a boy and a girl). One day, the boy cannot find his mother's breast; and instead he begins to suck on Talia's finger and draws the flax splinter out. Talia awakens immediately. She names them "Sun" and "Moon" and lives with them in the house.

The king returns and finds Talia is awake – and a mother of twins. However, he is already married. He calls out the names of Talia, Sun and Moon in his sleep, and the queen hears him. She forces the king's secretary to tell all and, with a forged message, brings the children to court. She orders the cook to kill the children and serve them to the king. The cook hides them and cooks two lambs. The queen taunts the king while he eats.

Then the queen has Talia brought to court. She commands that a huge fire be lit in the courtyard, and that Talia be thrown into the flames.

Talia asks to take off her fine garments first. The queen agrees. Talia undresses and utters screams of grief with each piece of clothing. The king hears Talia's screams. His wife tells him that Talia would be burned and that he had unknowingly eaten his own children.

The king commands that his wife, his secretary, and the cook be thrown into the fire instead. The cook explains how he had saved Sun and Moon. The king and Talia marry; and the cook is rewarded with the title of royal chamberlain.

The last line of the fairy tale – its moral – is as follows: "Lucky people, so 'tis said, He who has luck may go to bed, And bliss will rain upon his head.""

Clearly the dinosaurs had it right all along!  Apparently a story that we would see as tragic, violent and disturbing, to our not too distant ancestors was an uplifting tale illustrating that, "Lucky people are always lucky, even when they're asleep".  Don't know about you but I don't see the universal moral law in that at all!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Strange New Godview: The A-hole Boyfriend

The Bible offers a whole host of ways to picture God; He is presented as a Warrior, a Shepherd, a loving Husband, a Judge and a King to name but a few.  This is a practice that continues to this day and people come up with new ways to view God all the time.  Thing is, some of these are a little odd while others are downright disturbing.  I'm going to see how many of these strange Godviews I can find to share with the class.

I came across the first one in a recent blog I did on Rob Bell (it's what gave me the idea for this series).  I was watching this Aussie pastor giving a critique of one of the NOOMA films and noticed something strange about his God.  See if you notice it too.

Is it just me or does he make God seem like an emotionally abusive boyfriend?  This God doesn't think you can do anything right!  Self confidence?  Believing in yourself?  Don't make Him laugh!  You're stupid and rotten and you can't do anything right no matter how hard you try (He probably thinks you could stand to lose a few kilos too).  Honestly He doesn't even know why He bothers with you!  You're completely useless and unlovable!  You should just be grateful that He's willing to put up with a screwup like you in the first place.  Just do Him a favour and stop trying to think for yourself.  Since you're too fat and stupid to do anything right you better leave all the thinking to Him and stop seeing those friends who tell you differently!

You've seen guys like this with their belittled and bewildered girlfriends.  Does this God seem any different?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rob Bell states his beliefs

People often ask me if I get tired of being right all the time.  My humble answer is that no, I really don't.  Just yesterday I said of Rob Bell and his new book "Love Wins":

"I don't really expect him to actually come out as an universalist (everyone goes to heaven) or an annihilationist (you don't burn in hell, you are destroyed forever) or anything like that.  Despite all the controversy, I've found Rob to usually be pretty orthodox in his beliefs so I'm interested to see where he is going with this."

Today, on my FB news feed, I find the following video:

Slam dunk on the orthodoxy baby!  I just love the smell of vindication in the evening!!  In fact, I think I'm going to start insisting that my friends start calling me "Prophet Eugene".  On second thought, now that I said that out loud, perhaps not...  Hardly rolls of the tongue now does it?

Anyway, perhaps Rob has a point.  Perhaps if you know something about someone's character you can infer a thing or two about what they will or will not do...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Everybody Hates Rob Bell

I don't think it's strange that Rob Bell faces so much hate.  For the most part what is happening to him right now happens to every public figure that dares to have an opinion.  No matter what you say, someone in this great wide world is going to nitpick, disagree and/or call you names for saying it.  Sometimes this criticism will be richly deserved, other times completely unfair and the only constant in all this will be that you can't please all the people all of the time. Not ever.

Here is what I do find strange about all the cries of "heretic" and "false teacher" directed at Rob Bell though.  Somehow these same people only find these words objectionable when Rob speaks them - from the mouth of another they are perfectly acceptable.  Why is it that something can be a profound truth when someone else says it but at the same time be a profound heresy when Rob Bell says it?

It's the hipster look isn't it?  "Cool" pastors are always up to something!

I have two examples of this phenomenon.  The concerns a claim he made in the NOOMA video "Dust".  Behold the scathing Australian criticism:

Clearly Bruce* here has a real bug up his ass about the idea that people having any self confidence at all.  That is the only explanation I can offer for such an extreme reaction to such a minor point.    Apparently if you dare have self confidence and entertain the idea that God could somehow like you, you are giving yourself over to humanism, which is almost worse than choosing to be gay!  I have a few short notes on his criticisms.  Firstly, the Scripture is wide open to interpretation here.  He's right, it doesn't explicitly say Peter didn't have enough faith in himself but its not as if Jesus was specific in His reprimand; He didn't say "Why did you not have more faith in ME?"  Secondly, his analysis of the original Greek is an outright lie.  The original word by no means translate as "Faith in Christ".  For such a Greek word to have existed Christians would have had to invent it!  Check for yourself, the word Oligopistos means exactly what it was translated as: "little/scant faith".  Thirdly, commentaries are exactly that, they are opinion pieces written about the Bible.  What makes these interpretations more valid than the one offered by Rob?  Commentaries are not sacred, authoritative interpretation handed down to us from the Lord God Almighty!  They may be informed opinions but still just opinions.  Lastly it is his claim that no scholar ever expressed a similar opinion to that of Rob Bell that brings me back to my original point.

Guess who said it long before Rob Bell did?  Scholar, historian and conservative Christian darling Ray Vander Laan.  His "That the World May Know" ministry strives to teach the Bible in it's original Jewish context and he has a DVD series where he takes tour groups to the archeological sites in the Middle East to to just that.  I own almost all the DVD's and would recommend them highly.  On DVD number six named "In the dust of the rabbi", (in section two) you will find him making the exact same claim Rob Bell makes.  In fact it should be pretty obvious when you watch it that Ray Vander Laan served as the source material for Rob Bell and not vice versa**.Now Ray is nowhere near as famous as Rob but he is not some fringe element either.  His video series is fully endorsed and distributed by none other than Focus on the Family.  You don't really get more fundamentalist than Dr James Dobson and I heard him give his personal hearty endorsement to the very video in question on his radio show once.  Interesting then that when a Christian scholar says it, it's a thought provoking discussion on what it really means to be a disciple but when Rob Bell says the exact same thing he is a heretic promoting humanism? 

My second example is of course the source of all the current hoopla, the latest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  Now I can't say too much about the claims the book makes because I haven't read it yet.  I'm definitely going to, I've already ordered a copy but for now I simply cannot comment on statements I haven't actually heard being made.  I don't really expect him to actually come out as an universalist (everyone goes to heaven) or an annihilationist (you don't burn in hell, you are destroyed forever) or anything like that.  Despite all the controversy, I've found Rob to usually be pretty orthodox in his beliefs so I'm interested to see where he is going with this.   But let's say the great fears of his critics are true and that he claims that God isn't going to torture untold billions for ever and ever while only saving the teeny minority who happened to have been at the right place and right time in order to believe the right thing.  Is that really anything new?  Is this a claim that has been made by other popular Christian authors perhaps?  You bet!

Guess who said it long before Rob Bell did?  Only one of the most popular Christan authors and lay theologians of all time, CS Lewis.

Yeah that's right, the Narnia guy!

As Jeff Cook noted in a recent blog comparing the two men, "There’s not one controversial idea in Love Wins that is not clearly voiced as a real possibility by the most popular evangelical writer of the last century, CS Lewis".  Now that blog post offers a good comparison between the works of CS Lewis and Love Wins so I'm not going to do a rewrite all of that and instead just offer one more example.  In the last book of the Narnia series, there is a scene (one of my favorites of the entire series really) that gives a facinating look into Lewis' views on the afterlife.  Here Emeth, a follower of Tash (a demonic entity that was the god of a different country in Narnia) meets Aslan (the allegory for Jesus) in the afterlife:

"But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."

Yet while that piece seems to clearly suggest that CS Lewis thought that followers of other religions will ultimately be redeemed in Heaven I've never heard anyone make a peep about it.  Certainly the average evangelical doesn't habitually reach for their fainting couch when CS Lewis gets mentioned.  If anything he is considered a wise teacher of profound truths.  Why is Rob Bell then such a heretic for having an allegedly similar opinion?

I wouldn't have much issue with the criticism Rob receives if it was at least given consistently.  However it is increasingly starting to look as if the problem is more with the person giving the opinion than with the contents of the opinion itself.  Increasingly the relationship between Rob Bell and his critics are starting to resemble the relationship between Obama and the Republicans...

*They're all called Bruce right?  Surely Monty Python wouldn't lie to me?
**The dvd series used to be on the Mars Hill recommended resource list (which doesn't seem to exist anymore).  If a comment he made on "Everything is Spiritual" is anything to go by, Rob actually attended at least one of these tours too.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A GaGa Paradox

You have to believe me, I never wanted to be a fan of Lady GaGa.  Back when Poker Face first hit the airwaves I was determined to ignore what I thought was just another shallow popstar singing vapid (and incredibly catchy)  pop songs.  But the more I heard the more I liked, despite myself.  Before long she progressed from "popstar I don't care for" to "secret guilty pleasure" to "dammit, I'm a Lady GaGa fan now, aren't I?".  She is just so refreshingly different.  So unashamedly weird.  Best of all, despite all the theatrics she just comes across as so... honest!  Anyway, I'll just come out and admit it, after seeing this interview with her on 60 Minutes I totally had a crush on Lady GaGa!

I freely admit that it gave me great schadenfreude to read a review of her new song "Born this way" on the Christian review site Plugged In Online.  It was adorably cute to watch the reviewer do mental gymnastics in order to explain that, yes she is totally right in saying "God makes no mistakes" and that everyone is lovingly created by God to be special in their own way buuuut that this cannot in any way include your sexual orientation because being gay is always wrong even if you were born that way.

Much as it pains me, I have to note though that there is indeed a teensy problem with the lyrics to "Born this Way".  See the chorus proudly states:

I’m beautiful in my way
’cause god makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way

OK, still all good but then later she says:

No matter gay, straight or bi
lesbian, transgendered life

Wait a second, did she include transgendered on that list?  That makes the song a bit oxymoronic, don't you think?  According to Wikipedia: "Transgender is the state of one's "gender identity" (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one's "assigned sex" (identification by others as male, female or intersex based on physical/genetic sex)".  In other words the concept of  being transgendered is in direct opposition to the notion that "God makes no mistakes" and that He "made you perfect".  To be transgendered is to say, "There's been a mistake, I'm not the gender I'm supposed to be".

Is it nitpicky?  You betcha!  But if my relationship with Lady Gaga is to have any future she needs to understand that I only nitpick the ones I love!

OK, slept on it and while I stand by my nitpick I do feel there is one more thing I should add.  If I could somehow have been there when she wrote "Born this Way" as a good friend and trusted adviser, I would probably still have shaken my head a bit at the bit about transgendered life but I would not have changed a damn thing about the song.  What I love about Gaga is that she is the patron saint of aggressively being yourself.  She manages to convincingly bring the gospel that it is OK to be who you are, even if that means you don't talk, dress and act like your peers - I mean she dressed in meat ffs!  That, I believe, is a message worth sharing.  I never did a great job fitting in as a kid and I was a heterosexual male Caucasian!  I can't even imagine how hard it must be for those who are actual minorities.  That is why I love this song enough to nitpick it!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chaos, Conspiracy & Control

While on the hunt for some links to use in my previous blog post I found something awesome*.  Turns out Jack Chick now also posts his comic books online for all to read for free!  I read through most of them and may I just say, holy flying assweasels!!  If you thought his tracts were out there, wait till you read the comic books!  Usually you have to go to a website with bright colours and EVERYHING WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS (with lots of exclamation marks!!!!!!!!) to find someone piling on the crazy this thick!

Now fair enough, all the conspiracy theories I've ever heard seemed pretty crazy but the Satanic conspiracy theories have a far darker edge than your usual "UFO's are real!!/Bigfoot lives!!/There was no moon landing!1!" conspiracy.  At their core, conspiracy theories are fantasies about how the world really works.  You know, behind the scenes.  In a way that only the really smart and tuned in people can see, unlike the rest of us sheeple.  Now I'm sure any conspiracy theorist would take umbrage at me calling it "fantasies" but that's exactly what it is: it's something you believe despite having no proof to back it (and usually plenty to debunk it) because it makes you feel good/smart/enlightened/special to do so.  What sets the Satanic Panic fantasies apart from all the rest is that they are really gutwrenchingly horrific fantasies!  Call me crazy but when I fantasize I usually imagine a world better than the one I am currently in.  People who buy into the wild tales of these  (alleged) former Satanic superstars like John Todd and Mike Warnke do the opposite - they fantasize about a world much, much worse than the one we live in!   Ritual rape, black magic, incest, human sacrifice, torture, demons, infanticide - the fantasies these people come up with would make Jeffrey Dahmer queasy!  What then would drive a good, mild mannered Christian to want to passionately believe in such a B horror movie version of the world?

I could be wrong but I think this XKCD comic about the "Pen Fifteen Club" may hold the answer:

The world is a damn scary place.  Bad things happen to good people all the time.  Everything can seem so chaotic and random and that makes it terrifying because if bad things happen at random then you are not safe!  But what if it was not random?  What if there were evil people who worshiped Evil personified who were actually causing all the bad things you see and hear about?  What if there was actually a plan behind all the chaos?  That would make it a lot less scary wouldn't it?  Even if the plan was horrifying and evil it would still be preferable to no plan at all right?  If there is a scapegoat, if there is a single malevolent cause to all the evil in the world then that means there is also a way for you to protect yourself!  Pray, practice spiritual warfare, read your Bible, avoid the ever growing list of things that invite satanic influences into your home, etc and you have your control back.  In a demon haunted world, the chaos of the unknown is kept at bay and order is restored to your existence.  Not only that but you can now live a heroic life, constantly locked in battle with the forces of darkness.  Maybe you can't do anything about the evil ones running everything in the world behind the scenes but you sure can keep them out of your house!   By making the world more scary you can somehow make it less scary.  In this way a world filled with dark magic and human sacrifice can somehow become a better world than the boring/uncertain one we really live in.  As make believe worlds go it's pretty awful but I see now that there is some twisted logic to it.

*Opinions may vary.