From the Archives

Do You Tremble Before God and Fear Him?

fear of God

Christians talk a lot about love. Indeed, throughout the entire Bible, especially the New Testament, we find a lot of verses that talk about God’s love us and our love for God and our fellow-man.  The most oft-quoted verse in the Bible is John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Christians are convinced that God loves everyone. Well, most Christians anyway. Calvinists don’t believe that God loves everyone, According to them, God’s love is reserved for the elect, those chosen by God before the foundation of the world. But everyone else believes in the indiscriminate, unconditional love of God. Most people, at some time or the other, will be told that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives.

Certainly a God of love is a great idea, but unfortunately when we take time to carefully read the Bible we find that the God of love pales considerably when compared to God’s wrath, judgment, hate, and fury.

While a case can be made from the New Testament for the God of love, when it comes to the Old Testament, the God of love is largely absent. I’ve often wondered if some Christians secretly wish that the Old Testament had never been written. Their case for God being a God of love is much easier to make without the Old Testament.

When I read the Old Testament I see a God that any sane human being should fear. From the very first pages of the Bible we see a God that hates sin and has little tolerance for the foibles and faults of humans. According to the Bible, God created Adam and Eve and gave them one command to obey: don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. So what did Adam and Eve do? They ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. How did God respond to their transgression? He cursed them and condemned them to death. Not only that, but every human being after Adam and Eve was also cursed and condemned to death.

Someday all of us will die, and, according to the Bible, we will die because Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit. A piece of fruit? Yes, a piece of fruit. God so hated their transgression that he cursed every human being that would ever live on the face of the earth. This God is one not to be trifled with and one that we should fear.

Adam and Eve had two sons named Cain and Abel. I’m sure you know the story well, a story of two wonderful boys frolicking in the woods until one day, in the midst of an argument, one kills the other, After Cain killed Abel, God cursed Cain and put a mark on him. As a boy I was taught that the mark God put on Cain was that he made him black. Again, a God to be feared.

Six chapters into the book of Genesis we find that God is already sick and tired of the human race. God is so upset that he wishes he hadn’t created humans. How did God deal with the sin and rebellion of the human race? He killed everyone, save eight people. Think about this for a moment. God killed men, women, children, and unborn babies. Kind of hard to make a pro-life case for this God. Again, a God to be feared.

Throughout the Bible, God commands his chosen people to slaughter others. Anyone who got in the way of the Israelites or refused to worship the one true God, God commanded that they be killed. Even among God’s chosen people, God had no tolerance for disobedience. When God had Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he got upset over their lack of faith and obedience. So what did God do? He made them wander in the wilderness for forty years and he killed everyone over the age of twenty. Again, a God to be feared.

From Genesis to Malachi the message is clear, mess with God and you die. The Old Testament God is a God to be feared.

It should come as no surprise that some people decide that there are two Gods in the Bible, the Old Testament God and  the New Testament God. (Personally, I think there are multiple gods in the Bible.) These people rightly understand that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are incompatible. Christians have spent two thousand years trying to make the Old Testament God and the New Testament God compatible with each other. Perhaps God has a split personality and that explains the difference between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God. Regardless of the reason, OT God and NT God are dissimilar.

Even in the New Testament there are events that tell us that the God of love has a real mean streak. What are we to make of the death of Jesus on the cross? According to the substitutionary atonement theory, Jesus died on the cross for sinners. The Arminian says Jesus died for everyone and the Calvinist says Jesus died for some people, but regardless of the breadth of the atonement, Jesus suffered a painful, awful death on the cross because of the sins of others.

Who punished Jesus on the cross? None other than his father, the wrathful God of the Old Testament. God the father poured out his wrath on his son, ultimately killing him. Think about this for a moment. Think about a father brutally killing his son because of what someone else did. Would we think such a man to be worthy of our admiration or our love? I think not.

The death of Jesus on the cross at the hands of his father is a poignant reminder that God hates sin and those who do it. In fact, if it wasn’t for the atoning work of Jesus, God would pour out his wrath on us right this moment. This is a God to be feared.

In the book of Acts we are told a story about two people who told a lie. Ananias and Sapphira lied about selling some property and God killed them on the spot. The Bible says that great fear came upon the people. I too would fear a God willing to kill over the price paid for a piece of property.

And then there’s the book of Revelation. From start to finish the book of Revelation is all about God killing and destroying. God uses the most deplorable methods possible to prove that he is the meanest, baddest son of a bitch in the universe. I’m surprised that a movie has not been made about the book of Revelation. This movie would make Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ look like a G-rated kids flick.

While many Christians want to focus on the good stuff found in the Bible, things like love and forgiveness, we must not forget that far bigger than God being a God of love is the fact that God is a God of wrath and he should be feared. Hundreds of times in the Bible we are told to fear God. In the churches I grew up in, the college I went to, and in my own ministry, the wrathful God, the sin-hating God, the violent God, played a prominent part. It should come as no surprise then that I had a healthy fear of God. In my mind, God always seemed to be lurking in the shadows waiting for me to stumble and fall so he could chastise me or kill me.

I am sure that some readers of this blog will suggest that I have a warped view of the Christian God. I contend however, that those who preach up the love of God at the expense of the wrathful God are giving people a truncated view of the God of the Bible. Most of what we read in the Bible reveals a God of wrath not a God of love.

The conclusion I have come to is this: I find little about the God of the Bible that is worthy of emulation. Why would anyone want to be like the God of the Bible?

Many Christians have learned to compartmentalize the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. Yes, they are aware of the Old Testament God of wrath, but they prefer the New Testament God of love. The Old Testament God is kept in reserve, only to be trotted out for raining judgment upon homosexuals, abortionists, atheists, Barack Obama, Democrats, and St Louis Cardinals fans.

fear of god clarence Darrow

Fortunately, the God of the Bible does not exist. Imagine what the world would be like if the God of the Old Testament existed? I can only imagine that few of us would escape the death penalty. Even Christians would likely be killed by the God who hates sin and those who do it. If the God of love really existed, one would think that the world would be in much better shape and that peace and goodwill would fill the land.

If you’re Christian, I ask you, how do you reconcile the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament? If you used to be a Christian, did the Bible picture of God play a part in your deconversion? If you are a liberal Christian who focuses on the love of God, how do you square your belief with the fact that most of the Bible talks about a God of wrath and not a God of love?

For me personally, one of the reasons I left the Christian faith was because I could no longer square my view of what God should be with what the Bible said he was. When I stopped believing the fear went away.

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Freedom without Jesus

jimmy carter lust quote

According to Evangelicals, we live in world inhabited by fallen, broken people. All humans  are sinners, from the moment they come forth from the womb speaking lies to when they draw their last breath. Numerous Bible verses reinforce the notion that there is something seriously wrong with every one of us. We have a disease called sin and it is killing us.

According to Evangelicals, we are helpless, hopeless, and empty. We lack purpose, direction, and meaning. Simply put, we are fucked. There is no hope for any of us. From the first man and woman to the baby born just a moment ago, all of us are hopeless, helpless wretches in bondage to our wants, needs, and desires. Sure sucks to be us, yes?

But wait, Preacher Billy Mays says. All is not lost. God sent his son Jesus to earth to die on the cross for sinners. Through his shed blood sin is expiated, and by putting faith in him we can have our sins forgiven and find purpose, meaning and direction. And as an added bonus, at no extra charge, those who pray and ask Jesus to forgive them will be given eternal life and a home in God’s Holiday Inn after they die.

Millions and millions of people call the 1-800-salvation number only to find out that there is a catch. Yes, the salvation is free; yes, the eternal life and motel room is free, but there is a small shipping and handling charge. How much, you ask?

Just your life. If you buy what Preacher Billy Mays is selling, the cost is your life. Every moment of every day will belong to Jesus until you die. Your life will be governed by an ancient text called the Bible. This text has hundreds of laws, rules, regulations, and precepts that you will be expected to obey. While technically you can still get eternal life and a motel room after you die even if you don’t obey, surely you don’t want the room at the back of the motel, the room where the plumbing never seems to work.

Sold a fantastical story about sin, brokenness, and emptiness and forgiveness, healing, and fulfillment, the Evangelical gives the operator his credit card number and orders God’s Eternal Life Package, free, just pay shipping and handling. This shipping and handling charge, as they will find out later, will be charged to their credit card every month until they die.

Evangelicals love to point out the awesome freedom they have now that they have bought God’s Eternal Life package. Are they really free, the non-Evangelical asks? Bound to the words of an antiquated book, is the Evangelical really free?

According to the Evangelical, God created everything, including every human. God gave us sexual desire, the Evangelical says, but the Bible says we can only act on this desire if we are married to someone of the opposite sex. Acting on our sexual desire outside the boundaries of a heterosexual marriage is a sin, a sin that some verses in the Bible say will result in us forfeiting our Eternal Life Package and room at God’s Holiday Inn. Instead, we will get Satan’s Eternal Death Package and a room in Beelzebub’s Motel Six.

Not only does the Bible condemn any sexual behavior except married heterosexual intercourse, it also says that if we look at a person and desire him or her sexually, we are sinning against God; so much so, that God calls it committing adultery in our heart. Don’t touch, unless it is your spouse and don’t look lest you burn in hell. And Evangelicals call this freedom?

Earlier today I was watching a rerun of an NFL football game. As the camera man panned the sidelines the camera slowly focused on the cheerleaders. Next to the cheerleaders was a 40 something year old attractive woman wearing a Denver Broncos jersey. I thought nice, and I hit the replay button so I could confirm my observation. Yep, nice.

No guilt.

No fear.

No quick prayer asking forgiveness.

Like a road trip on a beautiful fall day, I was just enjoying the scenery.

And then it hit me, here’s the difference between the “freedom” the Evangelical thinks he has and the true freedom I have as an atheist. The Evangelical has to feel guilty over being a healthy, normal heterosexual man. He dare not hit the replay button lest he lust and commit adultery in his heart. If he does hit the replay button then he must confess his sin to God and promise to never, ever, fingers crossed, do it again. And come football season, because he is a man with a normal, healthy libido, he will once again, with one eye covered, gaze upon the cheerleaders’ comeliness. And as every time before, he will claim 1 John 1:9 and promise God to never, ever, fingers crossed, do it again.

Me, the godless atheist? I am free to enjoy life without feeling guilty over being a normal, healthy heterosexual man.

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Quote of the Day: The Myth of Immortality

clarence-darrow

There is, perhaps, no more striking example of the credulity of man than the widespread belief in immortality. This idea includes not only the belief that death is not the end of what we call life, but that personal identity involving memory persists beyond the grave. So determined is the ordinary individual to hold fast to this belief that, as a rule, he refuses to read or to think upon the subject lest it cast doubt upon his cherished dream. Of those who may chance to look at this contribution, many will do so with the determination not to be convinced, and will refuse even to consider the manifold reasons that might weaken their faith. I know that this is true, for I know the reluctance with which I long approach the subject in my firm determination not to give up my hope. Thus the myth will stand in the way of a sensible adjustment to facts.

Even many of those who claim to believe in immortality still tell themselves and others that neither side of the question is susceptible of proof. Just what can these hopeful ones believe that the word “proof” involves? The evidence against the persistence of personal consciousness is as strong as the evidence of gravitation, and much more obvious. It is as convincing and unassailable as the proof of the destruction of wood or coal by fire. If it is not certain that death ends personal identity and memory, then almost nothing that man accepts as true is susceptible of proof.

The beliefs of the race and as individuals are relics of the past. Without careful examination no one can begin to understand how many of man’s cherished opinions have no foundation in fact. The common experience of all men should teach them how easy it is to believe, what they wish to accept. Experienced psychologists know perfectly well that if they desire to convince a man of some idea, they must first make him want to believe it. There are so many hopes, so many strong yearnings and desires attached to the doctrine of immortality that it is practically impossible to create in any mind the wish to be mortal. Still, in spite of strong desires, millions of people are filled with doubts and fears that will not down. After all, is it not better to look to the question squarely in the face and find out whether we are harboring a delusion?

It is customary to speak of a “belief in immortality.” First, then let us see what is meant by the word “belief.” If I take a train in Chicago at noon, bound for New York, I believe I will reach that city the next morning. I believe it because I have been to New York, I have read about the city, I have known many other people who have been there, and their stories are not inconsistent with any known facts in my own experience. I have even examined the timetables and I know just how I will go and how long the trip will take. In other words when I board the train for New York, I believe I will reach that city because I have reason to believe it.

If, instead, I want to see Timbuktu or some other point on the globe where I have never been, or of which I had only heard, I still know something about geography, and if I did not I could find out about the place I wish to visit. Through the encyclopedia and other means of information, I could get a fair idea of the location and character of the country or city, the kind of people who live there and almost anything I wish to know, including the means of transportation and the time it would take to go and return. I already am satisfied that the earth is round, I know about it size. I know the extent of its land and water. I know the names of its countries; I know perfectly well that there are many places on its surface that I have never seen. I can easily satisfy myself as to whether there is any such place and how to get there, and what I shall do when I arrive.

But if I am told that next week I shall start on a trip to Goofville; that I shall not take my body with me; that I shall stay for all eternity: can I find a single fact connected with my journey — the way I shall go, the time of the journey, the country I shall reach, its location in space, the way I shall live there — or anything that would lead to irrational belief that I shall really make the trip? Have I ever known anyone who has made the journey and returned? If I am really to believe, I must try to get some information about all these important facts.

But people hesitate to ask questions about life after death. They do not for they know that only silence comes out of the eternal darkness of endless space. If people really believed in a beautiful, happy, glorious land waiting to receive them when they died; if they believed that their friends would be waiting to meet them; if they believed that all pain-and-suffering would be left behind: why should they live through weeks, months, and even years of pain and torture while I cancer eats its way through vital parts of the body? Why should one fight off death? Because he does not believe in any real sense; he only hopes. Everyone knows that there is no real evidence of any such state of bliss; so we are told not to search for proof. We are to accept through faith alone. But every thinking person knows that faith can only come through belief. Belief implies a condition of mind that accepts a certain idea. This condition can be brought about only by evidence. True, the evidence may be simply the unsupported statement of your grandmother, it may be wholly insufficient for reasoning men; but, good or bad, it must be enough for the believer or he could not believe.

Upon what evidence, then, are we asked to believe in immortality? There is no evidence. One is told to rely on faith, and no doubt this serves the purpose so long as one can believe blindly whatever he is told. But if there is no evidence upon which to build a positive belief in immortality, let us examine the other side of the question. Perhaps evidence can be found to support a positive conviction that immortality is a delusion.

….

All men recognize the hopelessness of finding any evidence that the individual will persist beyond the grave. As a last resort, we are told that it is better that the doctrine be believed even if it is not true. We are assured that without this faith, life is only desolation and despair. However that may be, it remains that many of the conclusions of logic are not pleasant to contemplate; so long as men think and feel, at least some of them will use their faculties as best they can. For if we are to believe things that are not true, who is to write our creed? Is it safe to leave it to any man or organization to pick out the errors that we must accept? The whole history of the world has answered this question in a way that cannot be mistaken.

And after all, is the belief in immortality necessary or even desirable for man? Millions of men and women have no such faith; they go on with their daily tasks and feel joy and sorrow without the lure of immortal life. The things that really affect the happiness of the individual are the matters of daily living. They are the companionship of friends, the games and contemplations. They are misunderstandings and cruel judgments, false friends and debts, poverty and disease. They are our joys in our living companions and our sorrows over those who die. Whatever our faith, we mainly live in the present — in the here and now. Those who hold the view that man is mortal are never troubled by metaphysical problems. At the end of the day’s labor we are glad to lose our consciousness and sleep; and intellectually, at least, we look forward to the long rest from the stresses and storms that are always incidental to existence.

When we fully understand the brevity of life, it’s fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring us a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death.

Clarence Darrow, Why I Am an Agnostic and Other Essays, The Myth of the Soul

You can purchase Why I Am an Agnostic and Other Essays here.

Evangelical MLM Evangelism

Several days ago, I wrote a post titled J.A. Medders Asks: What Do You Think Jesus is Doing Right Now?.

As I read the comments on this post, I had thoughts about how similar multi-level marketing (MLM) programs are to the various methods and programs Evangelicals use to evangelize people they deem unsaved/lost/unregenerate and headed for hell. This post will details these similarities.

From 1995-2002, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. During my tenure at this church, I had to deal with well-intentioned members and Christian friends who tried to recruit me into their MLM programs. I was an attractive candidate due to the fact that I had a name-filled Rolodex that could be mined for new victims. Always polite and respectful, I never said NO and this made me an easy target for church members who were involved with selling everything from Amway to long distance telephone service.

One day the telephone rang and it was Brother Bob (names changed to protect the guilty) calling to ask if he would come over and talk to me about something that he was SURE I would find interesting and exciting; an opportunity to help other people and make money too. I thought, Not again, but not wanting to upset Brother Bob, I said, sure, when would you like to come over?

The next night a new Cadillac pulled into our driveway. Unbeknownst to me, Brother Bob had brought someone else with him. Great, I thought, now I have to deal with Brother Bob AND a stranger.  As they came on to our front deck, I opened the door, and putting on the biggest I love Jesus smile possible, I invited them into our spacious, palatial 14’x70′ home on wheels.

Brother Bob was wearing Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, while the intruder who came with him looked like he stepped out of the pages of a fashion catalog. After trading pleasantries, I invited Brother Bob and the now-I-know-your-name stranger into our expansive 70 square foot dining room. Brother Bob sat on one side of the table, I sat on the other side, and the stranger — let’s call him Dick — sat at the head of the table.

Dick relaxed into his chair, putting both arms on the table with hands clasped. In doing so, I couldn’t help but notice his Rolex watch and large diamond ring. These accessories were a perfect match for his calendar model look. From this point forward, Brother Bob didn’t say another word. Dick began talking to me about wants, needs, and desires, focusing on the accrual of wealth and material goods. At this point, he had not yet told me WHY he and Brother Bob were there. Having evangelized hundreds of people over the years, I knew Dick was trying to make me think that we were friends and that we had common wants, needs, and desires. He regaled me with stories about how his standard of living had mushroomed since he joined — are you ready? drum roll please —  AMWAY.

Dick asked if I had ever heard of AMWAY. I told him I had, but that didn’t stop him from giving me a well-rehearsed speech about the history and wonders of AMWAY. After 30 minutes or so, Dick thought it was time to close the deal. He asked me if I wanted to earn more money and improve my standard of living — offensively assuming that there was something wrong with my current lifestyle. Dick reiterated all that Amway had done for him, sure that I would want the same things. Imagine his surprise when I told him that I really wasn’t interested in accumulating material goods.

Dick had said he was a Christian, so I was somewhat surprised that he didn’t know that the Bible said:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17)

I shared with Dick my view of wealth and material goods, and it became quickly clear to him that I was NOT a prospect for AMWAY. Dick quickly ended his attempt to hustle me, saying to Brother Bob that it was time for them to go to their next appointment. I shook hands with them, walked them to the door, and off into the night they went looking to suck the blood out of other friends of Brother Bob.

Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church and twenty-five years in the ministry, I knocked on the doors of thousands of homes as I followed the Bible mandate to preach the gospel from house to house. My goal, regardless of the church I pastored, was to knock on the doors of every home, introduce myself, and, if possible, share the gospel. I also encouraged church members to get me into the homes of their lost loved ones so I could share with them the wondrous good news that Jesus Saves!

I believed throughout my years in the Christian church that every person in the world needed to hear the gospel. While my fervor greatly waned in later years, I still considered it my duty and responsibility to put a good word in for Jesus whenever possible. It always troubled me that OTHER Christians (and pastors) didn’t seem as bothered as I was about the lostness of their family, friends, and neighbors. Despite hearing and knowing the gospel, most church members showed little interest in getting others saved. I suspect most members viewed me as some sort of hired gun trained in the art of winning souls. Content to invite the unsaved to church so they could hear me preach, church members busied themselves with building a kingdom on this earth. No matter how often I attempted to raise an army to wage war against sin and the devil, most members were content to let me and a handful of other zealots do all the evangelism.

Think for a moment about soulwinning Evangelicals and the preachers of the  various MLM gospels. The methodology, techniques and promises are quite similar:

  • Both attempt to befriend people in hopes of getting them to buy what they are selling.
  • Both attempt to manipulate emotions in hopes of making people sympathetic to their sales pitch.
  • Both attempt to bolster their sales spiel with stories of how wonderful their lives are since betting saved/joining MLM program.
  • Both attempt to appeal to prospective customers with promises of a better life.
  • Both promise lives of meaning, purpose, and helping others.
  • Both attempt to impress on people the importance of making an immediate decision.
  • Both leave literature if people want to think about it or are unwilling to make an immediate decision

I am sure there are other connections. If you think of any, please share them in the comment section.

I am sure that Evangelicals will object to how I have painted their evangelistic efforts, but the fact remains the Evangelicals are sales people with a product to sell: forgiveness of sin, salvation, and a home in heaven. This product purportedly offers purchasers joy, happiness, meaning, and purpose. The difference between what Evangelicals are selling and what the MLM zealots offer is that Evangelicals attempt to sell an invisible product that may not pay off until after death. Those who buy into the Jesus Saves program must exercise faith, believing in the end that the multi-level marketer in the sky — Jesus — will move them to the top of the MLM pyramid, granting them a sparking new mansion along streets of pure gold. With AMWAY, at least, converts can — in this life — judge the quality and truthfulness of its claims. This is why most people drop out of MLM programs, while most  Evangelicals stay in their program until the end. Imagine what might happen if people required Jesus’ soul-saving MLM program to pay out BEFORE death. Why, most people would abandon Evangelical churches in short order.

As long as Evangelical churches promise things that can only be gained AFTER death, people will hang on, hoping that after death they will cash in their eternal lottery ticket. While religion certainly has (for some people) utilitarian value, I do wonder if people would spend time going to church, giving their money, and attempting to live according to the teachings of an ancient religious text if there were no divine payoff.

Think back to your Evangelical days. If there was no life after death, no eternal reward, would you have been a Christian? Would you have lived as you did? If this life is all there is, how differently would you have lived your life. Please share your thoughtful ruminations in the comment section.

Sacrilegious Humor: If Atheists Went to Heaven by Dark Matter

atheists-go-to-heaven

Comic by Mark Lynch

This is the forty-third installment in the Sacrilegious Humor series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a comedy bit that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please email me the name of the bit or a link to it.

Today’s bit is a video titled If Atheists Went to Heaven.

Warning, many of the comedy bits in this series will contain profanity. You have been warned.

Video Link

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: “Saved” Ex-Mormons Mock Their Former Beliefs

mormon-missionary-quote

Mormon Missionary Quote

This is the one hundred and twentieth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip produced by Mormons who saw the light, rejected Mormonism, and embraced “true’ Christianity. These “saved” Mormons mock their former beliefs, thinking that they are now enlightened and have found the true path to salvation. I find it amusing that they fail to see that all they have done is trade one crazy religion for another. Many of their points of mockery could just easily be applied to “orthodox” Christianity.

Video Link

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: J.D. Hall and Fred Phelps, Two Peas in a Pod

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Pastor J.D. Hall

This is the one hundred and nineteenth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a video clip produced by one Baptist (Peter Lumpkins) showing that two other Baptists (J.D. Hall and Fred Phelps) are one and the same when it comes to judging the salvation of others. Phelps says Baptist Billy Graham is headed for hell and Hall says Baptist Ergun Caner will soon split hell wide open too.  Or just another day among the Baptists.  Everyone knows Fred Phelps, the deceased leader of the Westboro Baptist Church cult. J.D. Hall?  Hall, a Calvinistic wanker, pastors Fellowship Baptist Church in Sidney, Montana and blogs at Pulpit & Pen.

Lumpkins, Hall, Phelps, Caner, and Graham all have one thing in common: they emphatically believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God.

Video Link

Kindred Spirits in a Pathless Land — Part Seven

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Guest post by Kindred Spirits

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six

Continuing from the last installment regarding “The Big Silence” documentary, and the thoughts of Maggie Ross the 30+ year professed solitary and theologian…
Maggie Ross’ view of the relationship between silence and religion is shown in one of the essays in her book “Writing the Icon of the Heart.” According to Ross, the Church began losing its understanding of the role of silence during the 1400s, with disastrous consequences of not understanding the metaphors contained in the Bible. In particular, she’s a stickler for the use of the world “behold.” My understanding is that the types of experiences you get from extended silence, as demonstrated in “The Big Silence” documentary, are what “beholding” is about. (Although she also makes a distinction that most of the actual resulting of sitting in silence and beholding isn’t the “experiences,” but the changes that occur in the subconscious that one is not even directly aware of.)

You can read excerpts from the book online at the publisher’s website: Writing the Icon of the Heart, In Silence Beholding;

From the Introduction:

This silence is not the absence of noise; it is the vast interior landscape that invites us to stillness. At its heart, in our heart, it is the Other. Silence is not in itself religious, but to express the ineffable joys found in its depths is almost impossible without metaphors that frequently sound religious.

Silence and beholding coinhere, mutually informing one another.

Beholding, also, is not in itself religious; the primordial silence we engage in beholding is unnamable and not an object. Beholding leaves traces in its context and bestows an energy that is likewise often expressed in religious metaphor.

If the silence and the beholding that underlie these metaphors are not acknowledged and understood, we cannot interpret any of the texts that refer to the processes of the interior life, including Scripture. For example, in the Bible the imperative form of the word ‘behold’ has more than 1300 occurrences in Hebrew and Greek. After God has blessed the newly created humans, the first word he speaks to them directly is ‘Behold’. This is the first covenant, and the only one necessary; the later covenants are concessions to those who will not behold. In the NRSV the word ‘behold’ appears only 27 times in the Old Testament and the Apocrypha, and not at all in the New Testament.

[….]

One of the reasons for writing this book is to attempt to make more accessible the assumptions about silence and beholding that underlie the often arcane language of the interior life. To do this, I have often referred to key functions of the brain that are familiar to everyone. The paradox of intention is the one most critical to both silence and the religious metaphors that refer to it, and it turns up in these essays in a number of guises. I have illustrated some of these observations about the mind with quotations from Isaac of Nineveh, whose unsurpassed writing on the spiritual life is underpinned with a psychological acuity that was widespread among ancient and medieval writers. In many ways they knew more about the way the mind works than we do; some of the most basic insights—such as how we arrive at insight—have corollaries in recent neurobiological studies. This correlation does not ‘prove’ anything, however; it rather shows convergence at a cellular level with what had been common knowledge for millennia until about the middle of the 15th century, when the practice of silence was suppressed by the Western church.

A summary of some of the things that change in your life once you embrace silence, which she writes about in a blog post titled Ethics Issuing from Silence IV:

It is something of a shock the first time you walk into a big store and realize that not only is there nothing you want to buy but that most of what is on offer looks shabby and sad (not to mention a waste of natural resources). It isn’t a matter of like or dislike but rather of indifference and compassion.

[….]

You seek wisdom. Slogans, half-truth, political insincerity, being told what someone thinks you want to hear (he or she is often trained to manipulate instead of relate) as opposed of being told the truth becomes so naked that you wonder why anyone falls for these ploys—until you look at the faces around you and see the expressions of lostness, bewilderment and pain.

In short, there is good news and bad news. The “bad” news is that you will never again feel at home in the culture around you. The good news is that you now lead a life whose riches were once unimaginable.

Heaven Can’t Wait

And another example of Ross’ views, “Heaven Can’t Wait,” demonstrating that she doesn’t follow the “official” views regarding heaven and hell. The first part is excerpted below, with links to the remaining parts that are serialized on her website:

Heaven Can’t Wait, by Maggie Ross

“What do you think happens when we die?”

My eighty-year-old mother had the pedal to the metal. We were hurtling through spring sunshine and green hills, past the long sparkling lakes that mark the San Andreas fault just south of San Francisco. I was careful, very careful, not to express surprise at her question. Religion was an unmentionable subject in our family, a topic loaded with dangerous intimacy.

Her Edwardian outlook, capacity for denial, and inability ever to let go of anything were hallmarks of her life, yet she had grown old with unusual grace. Paradox was her métier: when facing a difficult choice she would worry and fret, twist and turn, her anxiety levels skyrocketing. But when the dreaded task could be avoided no longer, she would walk serenely through the jaws of whatever it was she had feared as if she were going to a garden party at the Palace of the Legion of Honor.

She liked to present herself as a grande dame but she had a wild streak, which I encouraged whenever it peeked out of its elegant shell. The car we were riding in was the consequence of one of these glimpses. Little did I know that it was a mild flutter compared to the escapades her envious, more conventional friends would recount after her death.

“What do you think happens when we die?” Her question was costly; how long had she been waiting for the right moment to ask it? What had provoked it? She was not requesting a story or a discussion but demanding a naked truth that would bridge the abyss between our conflicting perspectives. Underneath my mother’s studied nonchalance lay barely controlled terror; for me, death was as familiar as my own face.

I shifted slightly, as far as the bucket seat, restraints, and g-forces would allow, trying to respond as casually as she had asked the question, laughing a little at the existential and cosmic incongruities.

“My views on this subject are mindlessly simple. I think the universe is made of love and that when we die we are somehow drawn deeper into that love.”

Having obtained the information she desired, Mother withdrew into her own thoughts, and we traveled the rest of the way to Palo Alto in silence. I have no idea what she thought about heaven. She was an obsessively private person and not an abstract thinker. Until the last four nights of her life, when she had no other choice, this single exchange was as close as she would ever allow me to come. To ask for comfort would have been, for her, a serious moral lapse.”

Read all 5 parts at her blog:  Heaven Can’t Wait, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

Religion, Death, and the Afterlife: Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Deshler Ohio

As many of you know, Polly and I travel the highways and byways of Northwest Ohio, Northeast Indiana, and Southeast Michigan looking for photography opportunities. I have developed an interest in how we as Americans — particularly Midwesterners — memorialize life and death.  Of special interest is the various means religious people use to remember the dead. This interest might seem odd for someone who is an atheist, but I am attracted to roadside memorials and cemeteries. From time to time, I plan to share a few of the photographs I’ve shot while stalking death.

I shot these photographs at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Deshler, Ohio.

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J.A. Medders Asks: What Do You Think Jesus is Doing Right Now?

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Pastor J.A. Medders, Redeemer Church, Tomball, Texas

J.A. Medders, pastor of Redeemer Church in Tomball, Texas thinks asking people What do you think Jesus is doing right now? is a great way to start a conversation with unbelievers. Medders writes:

If you struggle to get the conversation with your friend, neighbor, or barber rolling toward the gospel, there is one question you can ask that will get you there quickly. Whether you are talking to an Uber driver, a family member, or the server at The Cheesecake Factory, this question will likely get a friendly gospel conversation rolling:

“What do you think Jesus is doing right now?”

When I recently asked this question to our server at a restaurant, she was struck. “What do you mean is doing? He’s dead. He’s not alive.” She picked up on my grammar. The red carpet suddenly rolled out for me to tell her Jesus is not dead. He folded up his grave clothes, walked out alive, is still alive today, and desires for her to be saved.

Just what every server want to hear, right? Evidently, Medders doesn’t understand personal boundaries or that discussions about religion and politics should be off limits in work and social gatherings — especially in public settings. Sadly, Evangelical zealots such as Medders believe they have a God-given right to verbalize their beliefs to anyone, anytime, everywhere. Medders is like one of my grandchildren — a two year old — who gets out the community toys and declares, Lilly’s toys. In her mind, all the toys belong to her, to the exclusion of our ten other grandchildren. Medders is the typical selfish preacher who sees people as toys. He claims these toys for his own, in Jesus’ name. Instead of being a decent person, Medders chooses to inflict his religion upon an unsuspecting, busy, hardworking server.

The server — likely clueless that Medders has an ulterior motive — innocently answers his question, only to then be forced to listen to his red-carpet-rolled-out preaching. Medders clearly violated the server’s personal space and kept her from taking care of other customers (you know, those who don’t see people as prospects for evangelization). In other words, Pastor Medders, a card-carrying member of Club John Calvin®, defrauded the server and her employer by robbing them of her time.

As for Medders’ question? The server was right. Jesus is dead. His bones lie buried in an unknown grave near Jerusalem. This Jesus, as with all humans, lived and died, end of story. Telling someone what the Bible says about a Jesus who lived two thousand years ago is not evidence for the claims Evangelicals make for their God. Outside of Bible, there is no evidence for what Medders claims. Either someone believes by faith what the Bible says or they don’t. Medders believes. Great! Go with God, but quit forcing others to listen to your religious drivel.

Of course, as a good Calvinist Medders believes that it is God alone who saves. Medders has been tasked by God to preach the gospel, but it is up to the Holy Spirit to give dead sinners life (regeneration) so they can truly hear the gospel. I say truly hear because Calvinists believe that people can hear the gospel but not really hear it. Only those who are the elect (chosen, predestinated) will savingly hear the gospel. The non-elect, people not chosen by God before the foundation of the world, can “hear” the gospel, but it will have no effect. Yet, God holds the non-elect responsible for hearing the gospel despite their inability to savingly hear the gospel. Sound convoluted and contradictory? Welcome to Calvinism.

Medders likely views himself as a sower of seeds. Wherever he goes he throws seeds to the wind, trusting that God will cause some of the seeds to sprout and produce fruit. It is God who saves, so why not preach to whomever, wherever, and let God do his work, right? I wonder how Medder might respond to the server if she said what was likely on her mind: Fuck off, asshole. I have customers to take care of and I have no time for listening to you tell me fables from an ancient  religious text. Of course, unlike Medders, the server is polite and respectful, so she quickly answered Medders’ question, only to then to subjected to his preaching.

Medders needs to spend some time with unbelievers who work service jobs. Perhaps they can school him in how attempts at evangelization are viewed by them. Perhaps readers who work or used to work in the service industry can share in the comment section how they view those who attempt to evangelize them while they are working.