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The Replacement Doctrine: How Evangelicals Attempt to Co-opt the “World”

The Wall around Vatican City, similar to the wall around the Christian Ghetto

Many Evangelicals see a clear dichotomy between the spiritual and the non-spiritual world. The spiritual world is where the Christian God rules and reigns. This world is dominated by Christianity and its God, the Bible, and its standard of morality and ethics. The non-spiritual world is one where Satan is king. The Bible says that Satan is the God of this world, the prince and power of the air. According to the book of 1 Peter, Satan walks about the earth as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. While Satan certainly is not equal in power or authority to God — after all he’s a created being — he can display near God-like powers such as causing death, sickness, and all sorts of catastrophes. Just as God the Holy Spirit does with Christians, Satan can invade non-Christian minds and bodies, taking up residence and controlling them.

Evangelicals believe that God and Satan, both on earth and in an unseen spiritual dimension — think Frank Peretti — are locked in a battle for the souls of humanity. Satan wants to take as many souls to hell as he can, so Christians feel they are duty-bound to do all they can to make sure that as few people as possible end up in the Lake of Fire. They also believe that Satan, despite Christians being indwelt by the Spirit of God, can influence and, at times, control followers of Jesus. While Satan cannot take away their salvation, he can, through trial and temptation, keep them from being the kind of Christians they should be — people who follow the Lamb (Jesus) whithersoever he goeth. Such Satan-influenced Christians are often called carnal or worldly believers. Often these weaklings in the faith are called baby Christians. This terminology came up in public discussions about “Christian” Donald Trump’s abhorrent, vile behavior towards women. Desperately wanting to believe that the Republican candidate is God’s chosen leader for America, some Evangelical talking heads have suggested that Trump is a “baby” Christian. By labeling Trump this way, they dismiss virtually all of his narcissistic, psychopathic behavior.

Evangelical churches, pastors, and parachurch leaders, realizing that the overwhelming majority of American Christians are behaviorally no different from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, have decided that the best way to counteract and repel Satan and his atheistic, secularist followers is to build some sort of alternate reality, one that I often call the Christian Ghetto. The goal is to wall off Christians, as much as possible, from the world. They do this by replacing the “things” of the world with Christianized versions. The Bible says in 1 John 2:15-17:

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.

Knowing God’s view of the world while at the same time understanding that Christians are, after all, h-u-m-a-n, Evangelical leaders have developed programs and activities that allow Christians to feel that they are part of the human race without being tainted by worldliness. Every day, millions of Evangelicals, forced to work secular jobs, go out into the world and endure rubbing shoulders with the followers of Satan. They do all they can to put in a good word for Jesus through witnessing, handing out tracts, writing Jesus loves you on bathroom stalls, and decorating their cubicles with religious kitsch. When lunchtime comes, these light-in-darkness followers of Jesus will quietly bow their heads and offer up a prayer of thanks for their lunch. They will also likely ask God for strength to help them get through the day as they come in contact with “sinners.” Come five o’clock, these world-weary Christians file out to their cars, turn on the local Christian radio station or stream their favorite contemporary Christian artists to their car’s entertainment system, and head for home. Once home, they immerse themselves in the Evangelical replacement culture. Whether in their car, at home, or at church, Evangelicals do all they can to cleanse their minds and hearts from what they perceive to be the filth of the world. Many of them will offer up prayers of not only thankfulness, but of repentance, telling God they are sorry that they allowed the “world” to influence their behavior.

Evangelical churches and parachurch groups have spent the past seven decades building a Trump-worthy wall around the Christian Ghetto. On Sundays, the front gate is opened so unsaved people — often viewed as Wildlings (Free Folk) in the Game of Thrones — can attend church services, with Christians hoping that the worldlings will get saved. The rest of the time, the gate is shut, opened only when its inhabitants go out into the world to scavenge for food and earn money to pay their tithes and offerings.

Inside the Christian Ghetto is found a plethora of worldly things that have been Christianized. Take Halloween. Many Evangelicals, not wanting to support Satanism and witchcraft, instead turn to Halloween-like parties and events that have been sanitized for Christian use. Children wear Bible character costumes instead of dressing up as witches, fairies, or Walking Dead characters. Some churches use Halloween as an opportunity to evangelize those who live outside the ghetto. These churches sponsor what are commonly called Hell houses. One such event was scheduled to be held at a Chicago public school, that is until school officials found out that the event included a re-creation of the Pulse nightclub shootings. The goal is to scare the hell out of people, and lead them to saving faith in Jesus Christ. As is often the case, Evangelicals are quite willing to use the world to further their agenda. The Catholic church wrote the playbook for this when it, centuries ago, co-opted pagan and secular holidays and turned them into religious holidays.

Most of the time, however, Evangelicals are content to live safely behind the walls of the Christian Ghetto, reading Christian books, listening to Christian music, surfing Christian websites and blogs, and attending a plethora of services and activities meant to make fat sheep fatter. Evangelical pastors, churches, and parachurch leaders know that most Christians want what the world has to offer. We humans want what we want, right? Despite everything the Bible says about the world and avoiding its soul-damaging influence, most Evangelicals want to enjoy all that life has to offer. While some Evangelical sects choose to develop rigid lists of rules that dictate what behaviors are permissible, other sects choose to allow congregants “freedom” to enjoy life, but only within the context of the Christian Ghetto. Evangelical preachers will preach against rock music and secular musicians, encouraging church members to listen to contemporary Christian music or Christian rock. They also encourage members to listen to local Christian radio stations instead of tuning into classic rock or top 40 stations. The recent explosion of praise and worship bands onto the church scene allows pastors and church leaders to use rock ‘n’ roll music during worship services. Churches now have full-blown bands that almost rival Satan’s bands. I say almost, because, as anyone who has ever lived in the Christian Ghetto knows, rarely are Christianized replacements as good as those which are found in the world. Sadly, much of the entertainment-driven worship found in many evangelical churches is a cheap imitation of that which is found in the world.

When presented with a choice between the real thing and a cheap imitation, many Evangelicals choose both, negating the purpose and reason for the Christian alternative. Fact is, despite an endless stream of Christianized entertainments, Evangelicals still love the world. DirecTV provides all sorts of Christian and “family” oriented channels and programming, and I am sure that cable TV does the same. Despite having a treasure trove of Christian programming at their disposal, Evangelicals still watch “worldly” programming, and are quite capable of having intelligent conversations about shows such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. The same Evangelicals listen to Christian music, but when pastors or fellow Christians are not around, they flip the channel to local classic rock radio stations and sing along to songs by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to give up on the replacement doctrine. It simply does not work. Evangelical parents can homeschool their children or send them to Christian schools for thirteen years, hoping to shelter their offspring from Satan and his humanistic, secularist, immoral ways, but sooner or later these same children will have to go out into the world without mommy and daddy protecting them. And once out in the world these lambs become easy prey for those who really do want to hurt them. Or, as many of us can testify, once free from the constraints of Evangelical parents and churches, young adults will throw themselves headlong into “worldly” wants, pleasures, and desires, often making a big mess in the process. The solution is not to build higher walls around the ghetto, but instead to teach children how to navigate a world filled with things that could harm them. Instead of giving them long lists of things to avoid, children would be better served if they were taught to think for themselves. Instead of telling Evangelical teenagers that drinking alcohol and engaging in premarital sex are sins, perhaps it is better to teach them how to make responsible decisions when confronted with opportunities to engage in these behaviors. Of course, part of this training would mean teaching them a situational or relativistic view of human conduct, and therein lies the problem. Evangelicals are wed to the notion that the Bible is some sort of divine road map for life, and its directions must be followed at all times. Because of this, Evangelical girls end up pregnant and boys and girls alike end up infected with sexually-transmitted diseases. No need to teach them to handle their sexuality responsibly, because God says it’s a sin and that is all they need to know. Well, God says lots of things are sins, yet from my seat in the pew, it seems that most Evangelicals are not paying attention. Try as they might to play by the rules, Evangelicals need, want, and desire that which a bunch of bronze-age and first-century men say they can’t have. Freedom awaits those who dare to consider leaving the Christian Ghetto. The first step towards freedom is relegating the Bible to the dustbin of human history. Once free of the Bible, people can then embrace their humanity without fearing God or Satan is going to get them.

Did your parents or church practice the replacement doctrine? Did you as a Christian parent do so? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    My preacher dad tried to replace us with an IFB-armed Christian drone version of ourselves. Step one is to convince a child that they are evil, that they are loved and evil. It is not really the child’s fault because all humans are born broken, fallen, apt to do evil. The human heart is evil without God. (This is all biblical bullshit we are well aware of…) Every child loves their parents and every child will adopt Christian self-hatred because that is love, that IS their parents and their life. So it begins. Sweet Jesus must be invited in to take over and then you have the perfect replacement, and you have a truly fucked paradigm for your entire life.
    No sports on Sunday was a big one in our family for years in the late-fifties and into the sixties. Dad eventually relented when it appeared clear that God didn’t mind sports on Sunday if it was after church and did not interfere with devotions.
    The idea is to replace yourself with sweet Jesus by hating the sin that is you. You try to stop thinking bad words but fuck, it’s hard and fuck, the mind proves over and over that you are indeed a filthy shit and undeserving because fuck… Simple huh?
    When you begin to have sensual feelings as a young person you are royally fucked because every sexy thought comes from you-know-who!
    On it goes as the offering plate comes round again and you pay your tithe to the church as it helps you ruin your own humanity.
    As I remember the lyrics to “What a friend we have in Jesus,” I have to laugh at the true meaning for me. When you have friends like this, you don’t need enemies.
    Jesus has always walked arm and arm with the devil, you know, both of them characters in the human psyche, both of them serving our unconscious (or not so unconscious) needs. Both of them have lackeys nearby with offering plates held out.
    I wish my parents would have replaced Jesus with themselves and just been with me, not given me over to God. I wish they had simply stayed and not made Christian drones of themselves so that they were no longer there for me. I wish we could have failed together, had some wins too and not hated ourselves.
    What a glory it is to be free of that constriction, that horrible hatred of self! I am grateful the Vatican has a high wall around it. I wish the gates had locks on the outside…. What a wonderful opportunity human beings could have if we could dispense with popes and preachers, Christian drill-sargeants and the Pearls! I ss grateful for Bruce Gerencser too, that I can speak freely here and just say it.
    Don’t misunderstand me, please. My dear parents loved me with all their hearts but they were broken people, crushed by Christian beliefs and they gave their lives. I loved them then and still do.

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      amy b

      “The idea is to replace yourself with sweet Jesus by hating the sin that is you. You try to stop thinking bad words but fuck, it’s hard and fuck, the mind proves over and over that you are indeed a filthy shit and undeserving because fuck…”

      Yeah, I have OCD and have struggled with intrusive thoughts all my life. I used to think I was being possessed by Satan. Wow, dealing with mental illness (and life in general) is sooo much easier without theist bullshit tripping you up.

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        MJ Lisbeth

        Brian, I re-read your comment a few times because I was stunned: I could hardly come up with a better illustration of Stockholm Syndrome. Indeed, too many of us identify with things that damage us because they come from people who are supposed to be our champions, our protectors. And, sadly, such people often think they’re doing what’s best for their children, or whomever depends on them, by filling their minds with such stuff.

        And you beautifully described what happens when we try to expunge the “evil” thoughts and words from our minds and speech–the ones that God put there, if indeed he exists. (I don’t believe he does.) It’s as if, when you’re hungry, you’re told not to think about food as you’re brought to a restaurant.

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    It may be quite different in the States, but here in the rural part of Canada where I live, it’s difficult to pick out the Christians from the heathens. The Christians who comment in the blogosphere (most of the fundamentalists, that is) seem to feel that they’ve got some sort of ‘aura’ which readily identifies them to the masses and gives them some sort of moral superiority. . . nope. Now, I can probably tell you which of my neighbours/friends are humanitarians but that has not one thing to do with belief in a deity. As I have pointed out to a few people, the fact that they are a nice person has little to do with which deity they believe in – it just means they are a nice person.

    P.S. Bruce – I am still not getting your posts automatically; I linked to this from Zoe’s blog. I have tried subscribing (and will do so again today) but that’s the reason you don’t get any comments from me. .

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    Luckily my parents werent too crazy on the world being a problem. Dont get me wrong we still had plenty of focus on the family radio programs to listen to, but they also got cable or satellite and actually listened to good secular music. I think they understood in some sense that we still had to interact with the world and should know about it). The worst i had to deal with was the occasional would you be watching that with jesus next you when family guy was on. Considering that they believe god is everywhere then yes i was in a sense. Shocker though, my mom wanted to watch deadpool just to see how far the world has degraded( now only if she could see what the romans put on their walls and pottery, definitely xxx). That being said most of the crap that christians put out as wholesome is crap. If some movie or book comes with discussion questions on the cover or after each chapter i usually try to avoid it because the message is probably now the most important thing besides things like plot, story, character, acting/writing etc.

    On a side note i learned what sex was from one of james dobson’s books. Needless to say the book was trash and completely unrealistic about several things as unfortunately it treated puberty as a one size fits all kind of thing

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    dale m.

    Even Hitler was a “baby” Christian. But the Vatican [not evangelical protestants] were backing him at that time. He borrowed the swastika from the Church’s Brandenburg gates. What a Baby ! What a Christian !

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    This ghetto mentality is common among various Christian denominations. I remember going to our Christian (SDA) college and lived in a town where there were 2 churches, the college, and thousands off Adventist. As I got to know some other people I found out that there were more Adventists living there who did not attend church anymore. Some even called themselves Adventist, which I find weird: if you aren’t actually practicing the religion why? So for them it was cultural.

    Obviously where there are major institutions in a denomination I’m sure the ghetto is more complete. I’ve heard Utah is beautiful but can you imagine living there as a non-Mormon?

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    Thankfully, I have a lot of “unwashed heathens” and “Christians of the wrong flavour” (i.e. Mary-worshipping Catholics) in my extended family. This definitely had prevented my parents from completely isolating themselves in the Evangelical ghetto. After all, my dad loves the Beatles and my mom used to read romance novels (with hot sex in it).

    Funny thing is, at one point in my life, I was the zealot of the family. I would refuse to listen to anything apart from Christian worship songs whilst my Christian churchmates would listen to love songs – and watch porn (yes, good Christian dads, it’s not only you, your teenaged sons also like porn).
    I used to feel hurt and betrayed when my parents or family would laugh at “dirty jokes” or listen to “worldly music”. Sometimes I resent myself from being that uptight in my youth. I feel that the experience has robbed me of my humanity.

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      MJ Lisbeth

      Kel—Anyone who can make as self-aware a comment as yours was not robbed of your humanity. Or, if your were, you’ve gotten back in spades!

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Hey Kel, good to hear from you! I wanted to post this inkling that came to me while reading your post. It came directly on the heels of the “… I feel that the experience has robbed me of my humanity.”
    This phrase reminded me that being robbed had an upside too: Me. I finally got to be alone, here and now with me. That comes about by a crime, as I see it, a robbery of the innocence of a child, the lie of Jesus as the One, the lie of humanity having fallen from grace. After the lie, there is finally me, just me and for the first time that I can remember in my whole life, I have the chance to decide to be, just be and that is all and everything. In therapy/therapies I can/did trace the roads that have lead me to where I am and I can bemoan and rejoice, laugh and weep. I can feel, feel just being me. When that happened in my life, happens in my life, the robbery is in the past and I choose to focus on today, on being, on the one breath of right the hell now! I fill my lungs slowly till fullness and then let it be in a relaxed exhalation. I fucking made it out alive! I’m alive and I’m free. I got robbed once, yep, at least once.
    Best wishes, Kel and thanks for this…

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      Dear Brian,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to reply to my comment. I always enjoy your take on things and could definitely relate to some of the things you encountered in your fundie upbringing (for instance, the fear of Hell).

      I’m glad that you have finally found and made peace with the “real you”, with all its very human qualities. I used to feel very guilty for not being Christian enough, not being sacrificial enough. I remember once telling my parents that I started feeling a bit over-burdened by my “responsibility” to help my course mates in their studies ( I was quite good at explaining things). But I couldn’t stop since God gave me this ability. After all, I am trash – I used this exact word – without Him, so I might as well utilise all I’ve got for His glory.

      Due to personal circumstances, I am not in a place to seek therapy at the moment. But I’ll definitely go when the time comes. I need help in unpacking all the overly negative views about self that I’ve internalised all these years (yes, “self-esteem” is apparently a sinful worldly concept, too). I’m not even sure if the scars can ever go away.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    The first time I went to Rome, I was shocked to see that the Vatican had a wall around it. At that time, the Berlin Wall was still standing, creating an enclave of the West within the Soviet Empire. I couldn’t help but to wonder whether the Vatican wall had the same purpose as the one in Germany: to “protect “ who and whatever was inside or to keep the world at bay.

    I also couldn’t help but to notice the terrible irony that the city’s Jewish ghetto was walled. That barricade was built with the ostensible purpose of protecting residents of the Ghetto, but it really corralled them and cut them off from life in a city that continued to wield power and influence even after its eponymous empire fell. That, inevitably, is what all ghettos—whether they’re delineated by religion, race, social and economic class, sexual and gender identity and expression or anything else—and whatever walls, states of mind or anything else that sets their boundaries—do.

    When I saw the Vatican wall for the first time, my Evangelical Christian days weren’t far in the rear view mirror, and I bore (and still bear) the scars of the Catholicism in which I was raised. At least now I am more conscious of the ghettos that were imposed on me, and that I imposed on myself, as a result of both systems of faith.

    Well, in at least one way my attempts to create a Christian ghetto in my mind didn’t work: Even when I believed most fervently, I knew that nearly all Christian literature and music really, really sucked!

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    Barbara L. Jackson

    This whole ghetto mentality seems to come from the fear of the other. I am a danger to christian people especially children because I have epilepsy and I am a humanist. Luckily for me my parents at least looked at different religions and I was not trapped in a christian ghetto.

    What I especially get angry about is when members of ghettos try to extend their rules to everyone else. Like the recent state legislatures passing anti-trans youth legislation. i cannot keep people in Christianity from having anti-epilepsy, anti-gay, anti-trans views, but quit trying to force your views on me.

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    There’s an interesting conversation occurring on the Facebook page for people who went to the fundamentalist Christian school I attended. Someone asked if we remembered if we learned about the Civil Rights Movement or read certain books or learned the truth about slavery at our school or somewhere else. She was asking in light of recent attempts to ban books or exclude certain topics from curriculum. She stated that when she went to college she found bug gaping holes in her education. What’s interesting is that some people are chiming in, agreeing that a lot was excluded. One guy said he had known the man who donated land on which the school was built, and the man donated it with the caveat that no black children would ever attend the school. And apparently the school founders agreed!

    But with regard to replacement doctrine, yes, our school definitely pushed replacements, and stressed excluding “worldly” media. The teachers were not allowed to go to movie theaters (though most if them had a Blockbuster card lol). Secular music was verboten – even contemporary Christian music was verboten!

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    We weren’t supposed to do non-Christian things at our private Christian college. And again, there were some differences in opinion between college teachers and local pastors. And we young people thought the older ones were stodgy. For example, I married Bob while there, and we lived in a college apartment, but it was technically off-campus (barely). One rare hot Massachusetts summer, we married and off-campus students heard that we were supposed to stop wearing shorts! Really? I don’t even remember what was enforced, as they really couldn’t make us stop as legal adults not living on campus. But weird.

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    Brian Vanderlip

    Hi BJW, My mom (daughter of a Baptist preacher) married my dad (a Baptist preacher) and they conjured little Baptist babies. I was a middle child. In the IFBish world we lived in, all things worldly were far more acceptable if a ‘Christian’ version was adopted. Sports was not a sin itself but it was on Sunday, so if we played sports on every day but God’s own day, then we still could be assured of heaven when we died. Rules were rules were rules until time wore the edges off and they were dulled. Eventually my preacher dad allowed himself to watch sports on TV on Sundays. My mom read Harlequin Romances.
    I recalled, when you mentioned the shorts-rule, that my mom used to complain about the sharp edges of Baptist rules sometimes. Her tone was one of lamenting but chased with a considerable offence and annoyance at being controlled in so many ways, how you live, drink, eat, dress, you-name-it. Her humanity boiled up sometimes with the ludicrous nature of stupid Baptist controls, especially for women. She was a Registered Nurse and the primary breadwinner in our family. (Dad never achieved decent pay in his preaching career.) Mom grumbled about her subservient role without ever insisting that things change! She just protested the rules like she was a young adolescent who had no choice at all about the house rules. She was definitely pre-feminist.
    My point is that being inside the bubble of faith/church, rules as laid out by the preacher/Bible/God were the beginning and end of personal freedom: Give up your sinful life and be free in Jesus. Never wear shorts to make men burn with lust. Never speak or challenge formal power….. just grumble and complain.
    After mom retired from nursing, he took a little trip that inolved a jet ride and she giggled with delight for years after that she had accepted a tiny glass of wine from the stewardess. She felt dangerous doing such a thing, courting sin perhaps. We all lived in that sick and panty-twisted world. I feel so sorry for children who still face that great ‘love’, for women who get sucked into role-playing and for men too, men who are expected to give their all to God. Jesus is a family-wrecker, you know, a real prick of an evangelical.

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      I’m lucky, Brian. I converted as a young adult. So I wasn’t raised in a strict religious home, and that’s a good thing. I didn’t have the same indoctrination, and thought the rules I followed as an adult were necessary. Still, I had to stop going to church to win over my (heheh) demons, so to speak. Strictness of rules only worked against my psyche and made my mental health worse. I thought I would go back to church after I “got better,” well, I did get better and then had no desire to go back. I should’ve realized that was a big, red flag!

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      MJ Lisbeth

      Brian–Your story about your parents made me think of what a recent co-worker told me about her family and the rural West Virginia area in which she grew up. Since the coal industry’s decline, women have become the primary breadwinners in many households. (Many of those women were nurses or worked in other healthcare jobs.) But, because they were “Fundamentalist” Christians (She didn’t specify the church, but it sounded a lot like what you and Bruce describe), the women deferred to the men.

      Your comment shows how strict religious rules make some people, especially kids, sneaky and duplicitous. I mean, if they grow up looking for ways to “Christian-wash” anything that brings them pleasure, why should that surprise us?

      I find myself thinking, again, about the Orthodox Jewish school in which I taught–and about which I wrote in two of my early guest posts. Those kids weren’t allowed to go to the movies, read comic books or do many things adolescents did in those days before the Internet. So they, naturally, found ways to “tweak” the rules without openly flouting them–which, they believed, kept them in good standing with Ha’shem–or their rabbis, at any rate.

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    I was raised within those walls you describe so well. The ironic part of my story is I only escaped them after I started reading what the Bible actually says, without the filter of “godly” men. Only after I gave up on the doctrines of infallibility and inerrancy did I actually see truth.
    Scripture was never meant to be a roadmap to heaven. It is a reflection of who we are as humans. We see evil in it, look within, and if we see that same evil we address it. We see virtue in it, we look within, and if we see a lack of virtue, we address it. If we see virtue (and there is virtue in humanity) we strengthen it.
    The irony I speak of is how scripture speaks directly and clearly, many times, about tearing down walls and how they shouldn’t be built, but humans like walls so we make every excuse to build them. We build them for control because we would rather be a god than Godly.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      So, you have made up your own religion, complete with its own interpretive rules? That fine. If it “works” for you, who am I to object. However, I find your religion to be intellectually lacking, a denial of 2,000 years of Christian church history and interpretation. Again, believe what you will, but I have a hard time believing you can rationally sustain your beliefs. I too read the Bible (numerous times). How do we determine which of us has the right beliefs?

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Bruce Gerencser