Religion

The Cruel Message of Calvinism

Guest post by Linda

One of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor in a church nursery, rolling a big ball to a little boy who would then roll it back to me. I was delighted with this simple game. An equally delighted adult was watching us. I can’t remember who she was, but I am sure she was smiling and encouraging us in our ball rolling. We were probably three or four years old. I felt safe, happy, and comfortable.

My family went to church every Sunday. I didn’t understand why of course, but it was always fun because there were other kids to play with. Eventually I outgrew the nursery and began attending Sunday school. In Sunday school the teachers were always ladies and they were always sweet. They taught us all sorts of Bible stories. It wasn’t quite as fun as the nursery had been, but it was pleasant and sometimes we got to color. We soon began learning about Jesus. We would sing “Jesus Loves Me” or the song about the wise man who built his house upon a rock, smacking our fists into our palms to show how good and solid the rock was. There was an important message in these songs, though I wasn’t sure what it was.

After a while, Sunday school took a more serious turn. Our teacher taught us about lepers. Lepers were people who had a terrible disease that caused their body parts to rot and fall off. Other people hated them and made them live far away. Only Jesus was kind to lepers. Jesus was better than other people. Like the Sunday school songs, there was an important message in this story. I still didn’t fully understand it, but so far, I liked Jesus a lot. I was glad he was nice to the sick people and he even helped one of them get well. I don’t remember the first time we heard about Jesus dying on the cross to save us, but the teacher started bringing it up every week. She told us it was very important for us to believe that Jesus died to save us from our sins. It had never occurred to me not to believe something an adult said, especially a teacher, so it seemed kind of strange that she thought we might not believe her story.

Around this time, I started learning to read. Thanks to TV, I even learned that all people did not use the same words as we Americans did. Some people spoke and wrote a language called Spanish. It had different words for things like “water” and “friend.” This was amazing. The subject of language came up one week in Sunday school when our teacher taught us about the Tower of Babel. In this story, God punished some men who tried to build a giant tower they could use to climb into Heaven. He did this by switching everyone’s words around. It all made sense now! That must have been where Spanish had come from, plus a whole bunch of other languages I had never even heard of. I found myself smugly wondering why God had written the Bible in English. I decided it must be because English was the best language.

It was the 1970s. Hippies were everywhere. Stores carried posters and signs with slogans like: “Keep On Truckin’,” “Peace,” and “Smile God Loves You.” One week our sweet Sunday school teacher had a warning for us kids. She told us not to believe the signs that said “Smile God Loves You” because they weren’t true. God did not love everybody. I didn’t think much about this warning at the time. I was already learning not to question the things I heard in church. As the years went by and I transitioned from a curious child into a quiet teenager, I grew frustrated with church. Those early lessons about kind and helpful Jesus didn’t mesh with the grown-up sermons about a righteous, angry God. The punishment doled out by God at the Tower of Babel seemed like a prank compared to burning unbelievers in Hell forever. I didn’t understand what we were supposed to do for Jesus. I knew that He had died for us wicked humans, but there was something crucial I was missing. Why did all these people spend every Sunday listening to the preacher talk about it? What was the point? Our preacher spent a lot of time and energy ranting about all these other preachers who had everything wrong. There was a long list of these false preachers. He also had a long list of behaviors that would not help you get into Heaven: praying, tithing, getting baptized, helping the poor, caring for the sick, winning souls, going to church, volunteering in church, building the church, studying the Bible, serving your community, and on and on and on. I got tense just listening to him talk about all the ways you could waste your time trying to be a good person. It was like listening to a song with an overly long introduction. I kept waiting for the tension to break and for him to finally say what we should do to get into Heaven, but he never did.

It occurred to me that church was vastly different from school. In school, you learned about a new subject, studied it, took tests on it, then you moved on to the next level. You repeated this process from first grade to second grade to third grade and so on. By the time you got to middle school, you didn’t keep going over the same topics you learned in grade school; you were expected to have them memorized so they could form the foundation of more advanced subjects. Not so in church. In church you went every Sunday, year after year, to hear the same lecture about how horrible you are and how you deserve to burn in Hell and how Jesus would save you from Hell if only . . . something. What that something was, I couldn’t quite grasp. I wondered if I was dumb. Obviously, every other person in church understood it, so why didn’t I? Confusion morphed into anger and I started to hate going to church. I was closing in on adulthood and longing for independence. It felt like church was keeping me trapped in childhood. My escape finally began when I left home for college at the age of eighteen. I was still a Christian, though I could not have described my actual beliefs to anyone who might have asked. I knew what I was supposed to say, but those Christian-approved words didn’t match up with the thoughts and emotions I kept inside. In college I made the shocking discovery that other people sometimes questioned the origins of the Bible. They talked about it as if it were any other book written by men. Even more shocking was the fact that college instructors now encouraged us students to think about these things. They wanted us to think! I couldn’t handle it. I decided they were all evil. Though I had problems with Christianity myself, it felt like an attack to hear others criticize the faith — my faith! Even so, I did begin allowing myself to think, just a little bit at first. This was the beginning of the end of my faith. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally left Christianity for good. It took a long time to get rid of the fear that I might accidentally come to the wrong conclusion and burn forever because of it. And it wasn’t until the advent of the internet, decades later, that I finally understood what our preacher was really saying all along. I had started reading online articles about Christianity in its various forms. When I came across a description of Calvinism, I realized that there was a good reason our preacher never told us what to do to get into Heaven. He did not believe it mattered one bit what we did, because God had already decided who was in and who was out.

I had heard this long ago, this doctrine of predestination. It hadn’t upset me too much back then, because I was so deep in fundamentalist brain fog that I couldn’t process the horror. It just didn’t sink in. Now I thought about all the convoluted, pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook I had heard masqueraded as wisdom. And I realized that the particular message of our peculiar brand of Calvinism did not require years of lectures to understand. It was as simple as it was cruel: God created some people to damn and some people to save. There is nothing any human being can do to change this situation so it is foolish to even try. I cannot describe the way this realization made me feel. I was astonished at how ridiculous it was, and at how many otherwise intelligent adults really believed that this was the sort of thing a righteous creator would do. It still gives me a strange feeling to think about how that church, which I first knew as a safe and happy place, was never anything more than a shrine to violence and injustice.

D-Day in New York – It’s About Time

guest post

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

On August 15, Catholics will celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. That is, supposedly, the date on which the Virgin Mary was bodily hoisted into Heaven, thus ending her earthly life.

The day before, the 14th, just might be D-Day, at least in New York State. That day will mark the beginning of a one-year window in which survivors of child sexual abuse can file civil suits against their abusers, under terms of the Child Victims Act (CVA) passed earlier this year.

Nearly everyone expects a flood of suits to be filed that day. Some will have waited years, even decades for this opportunity: previously, if a child was molested in New York State, he or she could file a lawsuit or seek criminal charges until he or she was 23. Given what we’ve seen, it’s easy to see how this works against victims: it often takes decades for someone (as it did for me) who was molested or abused as a child to speak about it.

After the one-year window provided in the CVA has passed, victims can still file civil suits until age 55 and seek criminal charges until age 28. While these provisions are an improvement on previous statutes — which were among the most victim-unfriendly in the nation — the Empire State will still lag behind its heavily-Catholic neighbor Massachusetts, which gives victims 35 years to sue their abusers.

What galls people such as I, though, is that it took sixteen years for the state legislature to pass the CVA. Although I rarely have kind words for politicians, I must say that some members of the State Legislature–among them Assembly members Brad Hoylman and Linda Rosenthal, both Democrats from Manhattan — should be commended for their efforts. That it took so long is mainly a testament to how hard some organizations fought against them.

Will it surprise any of you to know that two of the main opponents of this Act–and its “window” in particular — are the Boy Scouts of America and — wait for it — the Roman Catholic Church? Although New York is one of the “bluest” states in the country, the Church still wields a fair amount of influence in the politics of both the state and New York City. Church leaders howled that the “window” will result in a flood of lawsuits that could impose “financial hardship” on the state’s dioceses and archdioceses. They have a point: California passed similar legislation in 2003, and within a few years, the dioceses of San Diego and Stockton filed for bankruptcy.

Still, the protestations of Church leaders in New York are at least somewhat disingenuous, if not entirely hypocritical. In claiming that the “window” could lead to thousands of lawsuits, the Church in New York is tacitly conceding that many children (and adults), over many years, have indeed been sexually exploited by priests, nuns and other authority figures such as deacons. But what is less-widely known is that, in a way, the dioceses of the state have implemented some version or another of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), which allows victims to file claims for past sexual abuse. There can be little doubt that this program was implemented because Church leaders knew that passage of the CVA (and similar laws in other states) was all but inevitable, and that by giving victims nominal compensation on the condition of confidentiality, they could forestall a number of lawsuits.

And, while some victims might reap substantial payouts for lawsuits filed under the CVA, it will probably take years to settle and collect. The IRCP process, in contrast, takes months, and therefore may appeal to older victims who don’t want to spend significant portions of their remaining years in a court case. I have little doubt that Church leaders knew this, too.

It will be interesting, to say the least, to see what happens to the individual dioceses as well as the church as a whole as a result of New York’s CVA. For years, individual parishes and Catholic schools (including the one I attended) have been closing, mainly in the five boroughs of New York City, but also in other parts of the state. While few people expect the Archdiocese of New York or the Diocese of Brooklyn to go belly-up, mainly because they still own lots of valuable real estate and other assets, it’s not hard to imagine some of the less-affluent dioceses upstate filing for protection.

I realize that I have focused on the effect the CVA will have on the Catholic Church. So have most of the media. As I mentioned, the Boy Scouts will also be affected. Although the Catholic church is the largest denomination in the State and City (though many claimed members have long since stopped practicing the religion, or even renounced it altogether), there are a number of other religious organizations that could be affected. Chief among them, I believe, are the Hasidic and Ultra-Orthodox communities. (In Orange County, there is a village, Kiryas Joel, which is essentially governed by Satmar Hasidic interpretations of Halakhic law, and most of whose residents speak Yiddish.) In addition, there are a number of insular religious communities ensconced in upstate enclaves and some outer-borough New York City neighborhoods. It’s hard not to believe that some current or former members of such communities will come forward as a result of the CVA.

Whatever happens, I am glad that some people who suffered sexual abuse from priests and other religious leaders will have an opportunity, however brief, to break the hold of their abusers and hold them to account.

Quote of the Day: Bart Ehrman Asks, “Why am I an Enemy?’

bart ehrman

And so the personal question that I struggle with a good deal.  OK, this is really highly personal, it’s just me.   But I often feel sad about being seen as an “enemy” of the Christian faith.   People tell me I am all the time – both people who despise me and people who are rooting me on.   Yet the views I put out there for public scrutiny are almost NEVER things that I’ve come up with myself, that I’ve dreamt up, that I’m trying to push on others with no evidence or argument – just crazy liberal ideas I’ve come up with to lead people away from the faith.

So why am I an enemy?

Of course I know why, and my views were given additional support last week, at the international meeting of New Testament scholars I attended in Marburg.  I was talking with a German scholar about advanced training in biblical studies in Germany these days, and he told me that in German theological schools (in his experience), students simply are not as a rule very interested in the historical study of the New Testament per.  The kinds of historical issues we deal with on the blog are simply not pressing matters for them.  These are not why they are in theological training, either to teach or to minister in churches.

Instead, he indicated, the ONE question / issue that most of these students have is:  “How can I be Christian in this increasingly secular world?”

Of course they are interested in historical knowledge – but it’s not what’s driving them.  Instead it is an existential question about faith.  That makes so much sense.  It is what was driving me at that stage too.   But when this fellow scholar told me that, I realized even more clearly why I get so much opposition, even in some learned circles.

Most of the people who are in the business of studying the Bible are committed to faith.  That’s what generates their interest.  And these days it is very hard.  Christians are under attack.   From science, from philosophy, from the neo-atheists, from a society/culture that increasingly doesn’t care.   And the problem with someone like me is that I’m not helping the cause.  On the contrary, I’m not just someone from the outside taking potshots at this faith.  I’m someone who came from within it, and left it, with good reasons, and who argues views that are taken by people in the wider culture to be “evidence” that the faith has no good rational basis.  Even though I disagree with that assessment (since I know full well that people can be devout believers but still agree with everything I say) (not that anyone agrees with everything I say) (sometimes *I* don’t agree with everything I say…) – even though I disagree with that assessment, I get it.

Christians – even Christian scholars – want to cling on to their faith, to cherish it, and promote it, and what they see as negative assaults on the basis of their faith is threatening, especially – this is the key point – if it comes from someone who is *outside* the community of faith but who used to be inside it and understands the views of those who are still inside it extremely well, but who now rejects these views.  And says things that can lead others to reject them as well.

— Dr. Bart Ehrman, Who is the Enemy?, August 9, 2019

Quote of the Day: Baptist Preachers Instrumental in Turning the South Red

Crediting the Nixon campaign with the flight of Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party dismisses the role Southerners themselves played in that transformation. In fact, Republicans had very little organizational infrastructure on the ground in the South before 1980, and never quite figured out how to build a persuasive appeal to voters there. Every cynical strategy cooked up in a Washington boardroom withered under local conditions. The flight of the Dixiecrats was ultimately conceived, planned, and executed by Southerners themselves, largely independent of, and sometimes at odds with, existing Republican leadership. It was a move that had less to do with politicos than with pastors.

Southern churches, warped by generations of theological evolution necessary to accommodate slavery and segregation, were all too willing to offer their political assistance to a white nationalist program. Southern religious institutions would lead a wave of political activism that helped keep white nationalism alive inside an increasingly unfriendly national climate. Forget about Goldwater, Nixon or Reagan. No one played as much of a role in turning the South red as the leaders of the Southern Baptist Church. …

It was religious leaders in the South who solved the puzzle on Republicans’ behalf, converting white angst over lost cultural supremacy into a fresh language of piety and “religious liberty.” Southern conservatives discovered that they could preserve white nationalism through a proxy fight for Christian Nationalism. They came to recognize that a weak, largely empty Republican grassroots structure in the South was ripe for takeover and colonization.

— Chris Ladd, Forbes, Pastors, Not Politicians, Turned Dixie Republican, March 27, 2017

Quote of the Day: What Atheists Want

bertrand russell quote 2

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world – its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is, and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence, and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it.

— Bertrand Russell, Why I am Not a Christian

Purchase Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion

Quote of the Day: The Material Basis of Religious Belief

If you investigate the material basis of religious belief, you immediately confront a phenomenon that operates on many different levels. In particular circumstances and particular settings a faith may function as a guide to morality, or an aesthetic, or a social network, or a collection of cultural practices, or a political identity, or a historical tradition, or some combination of any or all of those things.

You don’t have to be a believer to see that religion genuinely offers something to its adherents (often when nothing else is available) and that what it provides is neither inconsequential nor silly.

— Jeff Sparrow, The Guardian, We can save atheism from the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, November 29, 2015

Evangelicals “Want to Believe”

fox mulder

Guest post by ObstacleChick

From 1993 to 2002, a unique show called “The X-Files” ran for a total of 9 seasons on Fox. Fans were excited in 1998 when “The X-Files” and in 2008 “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” movies were released in theaters. In 2016 and 2018, two additional seasons of “The X-Files” were released to enthusiastic fans of a certain age who had followed the series. The basic premise is that FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are teamed up to investigate unusual cases that defy conventional solutions. Agent Mulder has an open mind regarding the paranormal and is up to date on mythology across cultures. Agent Scully is a trained medical doctor whose goal is to find scientific answers to the cases to which they are assigned. The conflict of believer and skeptic, along with a good dose of sexual tension, combined with stand-alone cases and overarching story arcs created a cult following that eventually became a pop cultural icon. One of the props designed for the show, Agent Mulder’s poster of a typical 1960s rendition of a UFO ship with the caption “I Want to Believe,” is a well-known image that sums up who Agent Mulder is and who Agent Scully is not.

I know a lot of Evangelical Christians who profess to “know” that their rendition of God is the One True Rendition of the supernatural. In short, they believe that their deity is omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient. Many believe that gods from other religions are either nonexistent or are demons or Satan trying to pass themselves off as deities in order to deceive followers from adhering to the One True God of Evangelical Christianity. Not unlike Tigger from the Winnie-the-Pooh series who states that “the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is I’m the only one,” many Evangelicals feel the same way about their deity. Yet when I have asked any Evangelical Christian what evidence they have of their One True God’s existence, they always fall back on “heart” evidence; they felt it in their “heart” so it must be true. Additionally, they may comment that human knowledge is inferior to God’s knowledge, or that we cannot rely on our own understanding as we are flawed, inadequate creatures (Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 55:8-9). Some may say that their deity reveals himself in nature and in His Holy Word, the Bible. Like Fox Mulder, they want to believe.

I know Christians who say they cannot contemplate facing a day without knowing they have God overseeing and protecting them throughout the day. They derive comfort from thinking that their powerful deity is protecting them in their day-to-day lives, helping them find the closest parking spot at the supermarket, revealing the lost $20 in their jacket pocket, or protecting them from being in a car accident. Of course, when things do not go well, these folks attribute unfavorable circumstances to “Satan,” or to “sin,” or that “God has other plans” for them. There’s always a reason other than that their god doesn’t exist or that he is not a benevolent, all-powerful god who is striving to protect them. Like Fox Mulder, they want to believe.

My grandmother loved a song by William J. and Gloria Gaither called “Because He Lives.” I think it sums up how a lot of Christians feel about their God and their own attitude about their lives. That “life is worth the living, just because He lives.”

God sent His son, they called Him Jesus
He came to love, heal and forgive
He lived and died to buy my pardon
An empty grave is there to prove my savior lives

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives

How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy He gives
But greater still the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain day, because He lives

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives

And then one day, I’ll cross the river
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain
And then, as death gives way to victory
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He reigns

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives

Why I am Still in the Ministry — a Guest Post by John Calvin

guest post

In response to my request for guest posts from liberal/progressive Christians, a reader I’ll call John Calvin submitted a thoughtful post detailing why he still, to some degree, “believes.” John is currently a minister in a  mainline Calvinistic denomination. John feared his words would be seen as blatant hypocrisy, but I hope readers will listen carefully to what John is trying to say, and consider the deep emotional and psychological struggles he faces every day. I know more than a few liberal/progressive ministers read this blog, including some who are atheists/agnostics and still preaching on Sundays.  I appreciate John’s willingness to be honest about where he is in his life, and how he struggles with the existence of God. May his words be instructive and helpful.

I grew up in fundamentalism, the holiness variety, and was caught by all the claws of its well-designed trap. In my culturally deprived southern working-class environment, the church was essentially all I had. There was music — bad music, but it was music. There was poetry — bad poetry, but it was poetry. There was literature — bad literature, but it was literature. There was community, and it wasn’t bad. In a childhood of some moving around, the church became my hometown. It seemed full of warm, loving people. Now, though, after all these years, I greatly resent the fact that my spiritual life was entrusted to them. They should not have been in charge of it. Was the warmth and loving just one more tooth in the trap?

I’m sure I thought it was God’s will that I attend a denominational college; that I take a degree in Biblical Literature. I also married into the family of a pastor who used his fundamentalist conservatism as a weapon. Marriage among undergraduates in that school, especially for ministerial students, was almost expected. If you didn’t get married, you would probably end up having pre-marital sex, and there was nothing God hated more than that. After college, I went to the denominational seminary.

I never remember wanting or planning to be a pastor. You might say I didn’t take career planning nearly seriously enough. What I wanted was to understand the religion I found myself struggling to swim in. Being more of a seeker than was warmly welcomed at that seminary — where the truth, having once been delivered unto the saints, was already fully known, I transferred to an old, Eastern establishment seminary. The intellectual freedom I felt there was a wonderful breath of fresh air. By the time I graduated with my M.Div. I had departed my holiness denomination and become a pastor in a large, so-called “mainline” denomination. Frankly, I was worn out, had a family, was in debt, and didn’t know what else to do. (I was twenty-nine years old. I had started school at age four. I had taken a year off, twice, at different times, but essentially I had been going to school for twenty-five years. My diploma was written in Latin. I couldn’t read it. I still have no idea what the damn thing says. But it had better be good.)

A lot happened in subsequent decades. That large denomination I joined is a lot smaller now, partially, I’m sure, because of my feeble efforts. That cute little holiness preacher’s daughter I married, who could play the piano and sing like a bird (good one, not some crow or red-winged blackbird), told me she was embarrassed to tell people she was married to a minister, had a string of affairs, and finally left my sorry ass flopping in the dust.

I got out of the ministry for a while. Then I remarried, this time to a woman with no apparent pride and who didn’t mind being married to a minister, so I got back in. Now I am supposed to be retired, but I am still a part-time pastor, having the best time I ever had in the ministry. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. Most of the time I found being a pastor a painful and uncomfortable experience. (Hey, I never wanted to do it anyway, but the hooks were well set.)

Now, as to why I am still doing what I do. I guess I fit the definition of a progressive, liberal Christian, I prefer the term “cultural Christian,” which to me is analogous to someone being a cultural Jew rather than being a religious Jew. Some people might call me an atheist. I have called myself that on occasion, but only to myself. Whatever is left of my Christianity is bereft of any supernatural elements.

I understand the Bible to be the product of human beings, at its best a record of peoples’ interpretations of how God had worked among them. The Bible is clearly full of errors, contradictions, and outrageous mythological constructions. The idea of a perfect, inerrant Bible delivered by the hand of God is ludicrous.

While I believe it is possible that Jesus of Nazareth was not a historical person, I also believe it is possible that he was. If the things the New Testament says happened, it is amazing that none of Jesus’ contemporaries felt them important enough to mention, not even the matter of Jewish saints coming out of their tombs on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Seriously? No one thought to jot that down? “Hey! Guess what happened!” Still, it seems to me probable that there was a guy back there somewhere to build the legends around. Much of the New Testament is no doubt fiction, designed to present him as a divine prophesy-fulfilling miracle worker. Even so, I find the core of his teachings to be inspiring and, even if they are not totally original, potentially revolutionary. I think his teachings of love and compassion are especially needed in a world that is increasingly violent and hateful, most especially when so many of those who call themselves Christ-followers are enabling the hatred and violence. (“Christians have to keep telling people they’re Christians, otherwise no one would notice.”)

The Church that says it follows him is a humiliation and an embarrassment. It has done some good in the world, but it has done some horrendous things too. I am not convinced that Christianity is a net positive force in the world. If nothing else it is guilty of diverting peoples’ attention from important issues such as living with love and compassion, to minor ones. What the church most demonstrates is that humans are institution-building animals.

So, again, why do I keep doing what I do, and why would I have any hope of being anything other than a blatant hypocrite?

It does not take much to reach the realization that there is no big man in the sky, that the earth and its creatures were not zapped into existence 6,000 years ago. Still, almost every human culture has tried in some way to grasp something beyond itself. Some have called it “God.” That “something beyond” has had a powerful impact on humans and their histories. As it happens, more humans identify with Christianity than any other single religion, as they have been doing for 2,000 years. I think that’s significant. Even if it is an amazing shared delusion, is it not something that can be honored for what good it does contain, for what good it has done? Are we right when we say, “Well, all those people were idiots?” “Thank God, our intellect is so much better than theirs that we have it all figured out and can toss it all aside like ideas of a flat Earth or the belief that some chickens have lips.” Does not the tradition, if nothing else, deserve some honor?

Maybe none of that works. Honestly, I was at least a little uncomfortable writing it. But, as I said, I am a cultural Christian. This is where I was born. This is where my people are. We share history and ritual and community. I sit with them as they die. I pray with them then and there. Not because I am challenging God to alter the laws of the universe, but because I hope and think the prayer might help them. It is not about me. It is an act of service on my part, because the whole thing is so much bigger than me, and I am willing to accept the reality of mystery. I see no benefit in standing by a bed in a hospice and saying, “Well, I’m sorry you’re dying, but don’t expect God to hold your hand through this. You’re just gonna slip back into the darkness forever, so get over it.” I expect to slip back into the darkness forever, sooner rather than later, and I’m fine with that, but I don’t think I have a right to impose that on them, at least at that point. That work needed to be done a long time before that.

I do strive for authenticity in my preaching. I do not lie to people. I do not present the Bible as a magic book, but as a book written by real flesh and blood human beings. I do not pretend that Adam and Eve were real people. I straightforwardly acknowledge that evolution is true. At the same time, even though my cultural Christianity has lost its supernatural elements, I will never stand up on Easter morning and say, “Look folks, we know this never happened. Dead people don’t come back to life. If this was true we could at least expect the Gospels to get their stories straight.” I think of it as being respectful of people.

I do not encourage peoples’ belief in their mythological Father-God “up there” somewhere, and that the instant they die they’ll be reunited with their dead loved ones at Jesus’ feet by the crystal sea. Maybe I leave people to assume that I believe much of that just like they do, and maybe that all by itself makes me that blatant hypocrite. On the other hand, maybe that is what gives me the opportunity to move them along, little by little.

I genuinely care for the people in my parish. I embrace them with love. I try to educate them to have a better understanding of the Bible and what it means to be a Christian in these days, and I know that to some extent I succeed. I try, as gently as I can, to challenge their assumptions and presuppositions. I try to lead them to what I would like to believe is a more mature faith.

Sometimes, I think I must sound like a broken record, saying over and over, “Come on! Let’s live as Jesus said! With love and compassion.” I also feel like the voice of one crying in the wilderness when the vast majority of American Christians seem to be saying, “Screw that!”

I do not care about maintaining the institution of the church, which is too bad, because ultimately I believe that’s what parish ministry is all about.

I admit to being conflicted. Sometimes I think I would like to turn in my resignation and run out the door yelling, “Freedom!” I haven’t yet, and it is not because I’m getting paid. I do take the money, but if I stopped getting those big church bucks it wouldn’t change my life one bit. I guess I do it because for whatever reason it still matters to me. I’ve never been able to get those hooks out of me. I once asked a friend who seemed to have the same ambivalence about ministry that I had, after he had been fired as president of a seminary, “Would you do it again?” He said, “I would have to. It’s my curse.” I understood completely.

One thing for sure has happened. Here in my Calvinistic denomination, I have finally proved the truth of Arminianism. I have definitely lost my salvation. But, hey, heaven for the climate and hell for the company. Am I right?

Quote of the Day: Why the Phrase “Separation of Church and State” is Not in the Constitution

separation of church and state 2

What these persons fail to understand is that it would have been redundant to include such a phrase [separation of church and state] in the Constitution. The document as a whole embodies the view that government is not to meddle in religious matters. The federal government is given very specific, limited powers only over various secular matters. It has no powers relating to religion. The government is secular both in its origin (the consent of the governed) and its function. The government and religious institutions are completely separate and have nothing to do with each other. To insist that the Constitution doesn’t mandate separation of church and state because it doesn’t contain that phrase is more preposterous than a person who is not named as a beneficiary in a will insisting he has a claim on the estate because the will does not specifically exclude him by name.

Dr. Ronald Lindsay, The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do, December 2014

Purchase The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do

Quote of the Day: Secularism and Evangelical Bigotry

separation of church and state

Cartoon by Nick Anderson

Evangelical Christians continue to represent a sizeable percentage of the current president’s base support. To those who have watched evangelicals spend “the last 40 years telling everyone how to live, who to love,” and “what to think about morality,” the continued alliance with this president makes evangelicals the “biggest phonies” in all of politics. Indeed, the behind-the-scenes details of how a “thrice-married, insult-hurling” president obtained the endorsement of the evangelical hierarchy are as lewd and hypocritical as one might expect.

As much as the hypocrisy of evangelicalism can be mocked and exposed however, there exists a kernel of truth lurking behind the claim that evangelicals are supporting this president out of fear. It is simply impossible to deny that institutionalized persecution of religious ideas by public universities has occurred. Thankfully, this persecution has been continuously challenged and overturned in the courts.

The fact that persecution of religious ideas can and has occurred in our society however, does not even remotely suggest that intolerance is a uniquely “secularist” problem. In fact, intolerance of dissent and censorship of opposing views has been a general feature in religious institutions for thousands of years. Moreover, the same intolerance and censorship evangelicals claim they hate so much when it occurs in “secular” institutions is expressly embraced at the largest Christian colleges in the United States today, such as Liberty University. Does this past and current existence of intolerance in religious institutions mean that religion is inherently intolerant? No, because human bias exists generally in all human institutions, a fact the framers of the Constitution knew all too well and the exact reason why they chose to embrace secularism.

….

For example, David French, who I would argue is a moderate evangelical, has argued recently that we should be wary of European immigration because those countries have a “secular-bias” that will “alter American culture in appreciable ways.” In answering this nonsense from French, it is important to acknowledge that such a statement amounts to nothing less than vile bigotry.

To illustrate, imagine for one second how French would react if a liberal pundit on MSNBC  said we should avoid immigrants from Christian-majority countries because America is steadily becoming more secular. Is there any doubt French would find such a statement to be a reflection of bigotry against Christians based on ridiculous notions that they are somehow incapable of assimilating into American culture? Yet he felt no issue disparaging and demeaning immigration from a whole continent based entirely on whether they held certain religious beliefs or not. Why? Because for all too many evangelicals, non-belief is simply not viewed with the same respect as religious belief, despite the fact that our Constitutional free conscience liberty makes no distinction. Put simply, it is nothing less than disgraceful the level of bigotry that evangelicals impose on the none-religious. Until and unless the religious stop lying about the nature of secularism, falsely depicting it as the ultimate evil, I fear such bigotry will continue to increase.

— Tyler Broker, Above the Law, The False Demonization Of Secularism, July 30, 2019

Steve Van Nattan Ignorantly Says Atheists Never Sing

rca music

How many Christian Fundamentalists view “secular” music. Cartoon by Royston Robertson

Evangelical apologists often say stupid, ignorant, clueless things about atheists. Sometimes, God’s chosen ones even take to lying about atheism in general and certain atheists in particular. Over the years, numerous Evangelicals have lied about me or distorted my past/present life. Evidently, “thou shalt not bear false witness” is absent from their Bibles. Then there are occasions when Evangelical zealots outdo themselves, saying things so absurd that even God says, Dude, really? One such person is Fundamentalist Baptist Steve Van Nattan.

Recently, Van Nattan wrote:

There is no music in Atheism.

They never sing. It is characteristic of all humans around the world that they make music and sing together in some way. Atheism cannot explain the zeal of song and dance. They have no idea where it came from.

….

The other thing Atheists do not have is hope. They have no forward look in their life. The vast majority of the worlds tribes and cultures believe they move on from this life to a better one. The Bible has this theme all the way through, and to this hour millions of Christians look eagerly for the day Jesus Christ returns and takes his Church out of this world and to their “heavenly home.” Atheists mock at this act of faith by Christians. not because it is unreasonable, but because these Atheists know they have no future. They have cussed God out, and they NEED to mock at anyone who believes they will see God one day.

Here is a classic example of hope. If you are an Atheist, and if this makes you mad, SO WHAT? I do not give diddle what you think about it. The fact is, you know your destiny….. HELL. Every Atheist has a deep fear down inside his soul that he may turn out to be wrong, and he can do nothing about it but scream in rage at Christians

Now, perhaps Van Nattan thinks atheism is a religion, and unlike Christianity, we don’t sing hymns and songs of praise to the atheist deity. Duh, right? Atheism isn’t a religion. Atheism is simply: disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. The American Atheists’ website states:

Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods.

Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

Older dictionaries define atheism as “a belief that there is no God.” Clearly, theistic influence taints these definitions. The fact that dictionaries define Atheism as “there is no God” betrays the (mono)theistic influence. Without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read “there are no gods.”

Atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion.

While there are some religions that are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion. To put it in a more humorous way: If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.

Despite the fact that atheism is not a religion, atheism is protected by many of the same Constitutional rights that protect religion. That, however, does not mean that atheism is itself a religion, only that our sincerely held (lack of) beliefs are protected in the same way as the religious beliefs of others. Similarly, many “interfaith” groups will include atheists. This, again, does not mean that atheism is a religious belief.

Some groups will use words like Agnostic, Humanist, Secular, Bright, Freethinker, or any number of other terms to self identify. Those words are perfectly fine as a self-identifier, but we strongly advocate using the word that people understand: Atheist. Don’t use those other terms to disguise your atheism or to shy away from a word that some think has a negative connotation. We should be using the terminology that is most accurate and that answers the question that is actually being asked. We should use the term that binds all of us together.

If you call yourself a humanist, a freethinker, a bright, or even a “cultural Catholic” and lack belief in a god, you are an atheist. Don’t shy away from the term. Embrace it.

Agnostic isn’t just a “weaker” version of being an atheist. It answers a different question. Atheism is about what you believe. Agnosticism is about what you know.

Atheism requires nothing of its adherents except an affirmation of disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. From this affirmation, atheists move in a variety of directions. Speaking of the eclectic nature of atheism, American Atheists writes:

The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods. Some of the best debates we have ever had have been with fellow atheists. This is because atheists do not have a common belief system, sacred scripture or atheist Pope. This means atheists often disagree on many issues and ideas. Atheists come in a variety of shapes, colors, beliefs, convictions, and backgrounds. We are as unique as our fingerprints.

Atheists exist across the political spectrum. We are members of every race. We are members of the LGBTQ community. There are atheists in urban, suburban, and rural communities and in every state of the nation.

Now that I have dispatched with the “atheism is a religion” canard, let’s return Van Nattan’s central claim: there’s no music in atheism.

According to Wikipedia’s woefully incomplete list titled “atheists in music,” numerous musicians, across a wide spectrum of music genres, publicly profess to be atheists. Evidently, Van Nattan has never heard of Google. Had Van Nattan done a cursory web search, he would have found the Freethought Music website, “A Website for Atheist and Humanist Musicians, Composers and Leaders,” and the Freethought Band.

Video Link

Perhaps Van Nattan is ignorant of the fact the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Dan Barker, is a musician.

Video Link

And then there’s outspoken atheist Tim Minchin.

Video Link

Video Link

Then there’s Shelley Segal.

Video Link

Video Link

And finally, let me share music from Monster on Sunday.

Video Link

Van Nattan might also want to check out the Songs of Sacrilege series. He will find plenty of atheists who love to sing.

Here’s the BIG point Van Nattan doesn’t seem to get: atheists have at their disposal all of humanity’s music. (Conservapedia misses that point too with their Atheist Music entry.) I am an avid user of Spotify.  When I am in working in my office, Spotify is playing, and it is not uncommon for me to sing along with whoever is playing at the time. Currently, I am listening to Natalie Hemby. Yesterday, I was listening to classic rock. My music tastes are wide, including, from time to time, religious music. You see, it is Van Nattan who has a paucity of music. Due to his narrow Fundamentalist view of the world, Van Nattan is forced to listen to only certain genres of music — and only if the songs have lyrics that comport with his beliefs. Let me illustrate Van Nattan’s worldview. He lives in world of 500 television channels, yet he only tunes into one channel — that which is approved by his version of the Christian God. Van Nattan loves Mayberry RFD — as do I — but that’s the only show he watches. Just think of all the awesome TV shows Van Nattan is missing. So it is with music.

I lived in Van Nattan’s world for most of my life. Imagine coming of age in the 1970s and NOT listening to rock music. Oh, I guiltily caught a few tunes on my car’s AM radio, but most of the time I listened to explicitly Christian music. I was in my 40s before I bought my first “secular” CD — The Carpenters. Today? I am free to listen to whatever tickles my fancy. I am quite eclectic when it comes to music. And that’s what Van Nattan is missing — freedom. He’s in bondage to his God, the Bible, and a lifetime of Fundamentalist dogma.

Van Nattan believes that after he dies, he will go to Heaven — a hotel in the sky for people with the right religious beliefs. Most Fundamentalists believe that they will spend hours each day singing praises to Jesus. Wouldn’t it be great if on his first day in Heaven, Van Nattan heads to praise time — ready to belt out praises to God — only to find out the service is being led by KISS. Well played, Satan, well played.

I will let atheist rockers Monster on Sunday have the final word on this matter. Enjoy!

Video Link