Religion

The Origin of Yahweh by Dr. Christine Hayes

christine hayes yale university

A regular reader by the name of Diana, sent me links to several videos by Dr. Christine Hayes, professor of religious studies in Classical Judaica at Yale University. Dr. Hayes does a great job explaining where and how Yaweh originated. The first video is five minutes in length, the second is 45 minutes long.

Enjoy!

Video Link

Video Link

You Better Pray for Your Food or God Will Choke You!

praying for our food

Cartoon by Mark Lynch

I grew up in a dysfunctional Evangelical home. We attended church every time the doors were open, read our Bibles, invited our friends and neighbors to church, and practiced the Christian art of praying. I want to focus on the art of praying in this post. I hope what I write will resonate with readers, and provoke their own thoughts about their past prayer experiences.

As a child, I was taught to pray every night before I went to bed. The first prayer I remember praying went like this:

Dear God,

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my Soul to keep,
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my Soul to take.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

As I grew older, my prayers became more extemporaneous. I would confess my sins, thank God for saving me from my sin, thank God for my parents, family, pastor, church, pray for the missionaries and lost sinners, and finish off my prayers with a few personal requests. Still waiting for that new Schwinn 3-speed bike with a banana seat and sissy bar, Lord. As a teenager, my prayers became more elaborate, often taking minutes to recite. I wanted God to know I was serious about my faith; that I was serious about making my petitions and requests known to God. In my late teens, as I became more involved with girls, I would ask God to keep me morally pure. Two serious relationships, one at age 18 and the other with the woman who is now my wife, brought frequent prayers for moral strength. I was a virgin when I married, but I suspect had Polly and I waited much longer, we would have rounded third and slid into home. I can remember to this day, kneeling before God, still sexually aroused, and thanking him for keeping me from fornication. I know now, of course, that what kept me from sexual sin was religious indoctrination, threats of judgment and Hell, and fear.

I was also taught the importance of praying before every meal. As a child, I prayed:

Dear God,

God is great,God is good.
Let us thank him for our food.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

On more than a few occasions growing up, I started eating before the prescribed prayer was uttered. This would usually elicit a stern warning from my mom:

Mom: Did you pray for your food?

Bruce: Uh — mouth filled with food — I forgot.

Mom: You better pray right now lest God chokes you.

Bruce: (Who had never seen a non-prayer choked by God) bows his head and silently mouths a prayer of thankfulness to God.

I had drilled into my head by my mom and pastors that God gave me food to eat, and that if I wanted to continue eating beans and wieners or chipped chopped ham/gravy over toast, I better thank God for meeting my sustenance needs. This training stuck with me, and I continued to pray over meals until I was almost fifty years old.

Over the weekend, we visited Polly’s Fundamentalist Christian parents. Polly’s dad is a retired Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor. Mom is an excellent cake maker, and she had made a double-chocolate cake for us and my oldest son and his children, and my youngest son and his fiancée, who accompanied us. As we were preparing to eat the cake, my father-in-law said to my oldest son, “Are you going to pray for the cake?” We all sat there stunned, not knowing what to do. You see, desserts were never prayed over. Never made sense to me why we prayed for the pot roast, carrots, and potatoes, but never for dessert. My son quickly avoided the prayer question, and Dad decided to go ahead without out it. Crisis averted. When Polly and I left Christianity, Dad would frequently ask me or one of my oldest two sons to pray for the food. Such requests were quietly and respectfully rebuffed with a “Why don’t you pray, Dad/Papaw?” To this day, I am not sure he truly knows and understands that his daughter and son-in-law, along with their children, are not Christians — or, at the very least, not his kind of Christian. Certainly, Polly and I don’t prevent anyone from praying at our table as long as they do it silently. God hears silent prayers, does he not? Yeah, I know, not really, but from an Evangelical perspective, he does. Want to pray for your food at atheist Nana and Grandpa’s table? Bow your head and silently shoot a prayer to Jesus. That’s all that matters right? If not, it would seem, at least to me, that meal prayers — especially in public settings — are meant to be statements instead of acts of piety and devotion.

These days, I am with Jimmy Stewart when it comes to praying for our food:

Video Link

What were your praying experiences as a child? Did you pray over your food? Always or did you make exceptions? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: U.S. Supreme Court Errs on Bladensburg Cross Decision

bladensburg-cross

In The American Legion vs. American Humanist Association, the Supreme Court considered whether the establishment clause barred a government-sponsored display of a 40-foot cross, known as the Bladensburg Cross, on public land, as a memorial to men of Prince George’s County, Maryland, who had died in World War I. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, applying the well-known and long-derided three-part test from Lemon v. Kurtzman, had held in 2017 that the display unconstitutionally endorsed Christianity and ordered its removal from public land. Seven justices voted to reverse, so the Bladensburg Cross will remain in place. But the case produced six separate opinions, and demonstrated that the court remains starkly divided on fundamental questions about the meaning of the establishment clause.  Some aspects of the legal discourse of non-establishment will change, but the standards that will emerge to govern particular questions remain up for grabs.

….

The Bladensburg Cross opinion appears to be sheer rationalization, in the worst meaning of that word. Those five Justices quite transparently looked for a way to reverse the Fourth Circuit, while rejecting the previous “no endorsement” test. Instead, the court opinion engages in its own form of lawyers’ history and social psychology associated with that test. The court determines that, over time, the predominant Christian meaning of the Bladensburg Cross has been replaced by one that focuses on the “sacrifice” of American soldiers in World War I.

This is a narrative purposely divorced from historical awareness. The Court claims ignorance of any religious purpose behind the choice of a cross as the memorial to soldiers who died in World War I. But commentators in the decades before and after 1920 regularly claimed that the United States was a “Christian nation.” In that cultural and political milieu, choosing a cross as a war memorial directly reinforced the concept of religious nationhood. As the court recites, the dedication ceremony’s keynote speaker proclaimed the cross as “symbolic of Calvary” and fitting tribute to those who gave their lives in a “righteous cause.”

When Jewish soldiers died in World War I, their gravestones were marked with Stars of David. But each such gravestone represented only the person buried beneath it. No one would have thought to use a Star of David as a generic memorial for all in a military cemetery. In contrast, the use of a Cross as a memorial seemed a natural default option.

The Court’s opinion admits to the Christian origin of the Bladensburg Cross, but asserts that some new public meaning has sufficiently muted the uniquely Christian character of the Latin Cross. By some magic of history and tradition, the sacrifice symbolized by the Cross has ceased to be specifically Christian and become far more inclusive. The Court never provides any evidence to support the judgment that the cross is now an historical monument with indefinite religious properties. We strongly suspect that majority preferences and ethno-centrism, not an objective social psychology of symbols, drive such choices.

For years, critics lambasted Justice O’Connor’s invocation of the “reasonable observer” as a way of measuring government endorsement of religious symbols. But the Court’s approach differs only in that it has adopted unreflectively the perspective of Christians in a political majority, without regard to the perspective of others.

The Bladensburg Cross opinion is even worse as a matter of theology. The Court invokes the image of fields of crosses for soldiers who died in the war. For Christians, a cross marking a grave signifies the unique event of Jesus’ death on Calvary and subsequent resurrection by the Father, with a promise of eternal life. The Court declares, however, that the Bladensburg Cross is fundamentally the same as the individual grave markers.

In doing so, the opinion attempts to transform the cross into a more generalized symbol of sacrifice in pursuit of noble causes. The Latin Cross, as a war memorial, symbolizes those lives given in service of our national ideals. This is heresy for Christians, because it suggests that the cross symbolizes all lives given to achieve the goals of a particular nation-state, rather than a unique, redemptive intervention by God in human history.

The Bladensburg Cross opinion thus manages to offend thoughtful Christians without ameliorating the offense to non-Christians, whose memory is supposedly included in any general war memorial. Some Christians may celebrate this decision, but it should instead be mourned as a political misappropriation of the faith’s central symbol.

— Robert W. Tuttle and Ira C. Lupu, Take Care, The Bladensburg Cross Decision – A Twisted Cross and the Remaking of Establishment Clause Standards, June 24, 2019

Quote of the Day: The United States is the Most Warlike Nation on Earth

jimmy carter

We’re supposed to be a ‘Christian’ nation are we not? But we are known throughout the world as the most warlike country on Earth. And I would say almost all the wars in which we’ve been involved, have been unnecessary.

So if God’s kingdom was on Earth, we would live totally at peace with each other. Maybe that’s an individual choice too. Not just between nations not being at war, but with a friendly attitude, or a loving attitude to other people that are different than us.

— Jimmy Carter, June 23, 2019

Good Omens: Dear Fundamentalist Christians, Don’t Like a TV Program? Don’t Watch It

good omens

Frequently, it seems that Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics are outraged over a program on network TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or many of the other media streaming services. We live in a day when the choices of what to watch are endless. As someone who loves watching television, I am thrilled that I have so many excellent programs to choose from. Of course, there are some channels that I don’t watch. One in particular is the Hallmark ChannelGag me with a spoon! Fundamentalists, of course, love the Hallmark Channel. Its programming regularly reinforces their moralistic religious worldview. Fundamentalists watch the Hallmark Channel, I don’t. See how easy that is? It’s all about choice. We all choose to view what we want. No one is forcing Fundamentalists to watch programming that they deem sinful, offensive, or contrary to their version of Christian decency. For the life of me, I don’t understand why Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics, if they are so offended by what is on the screen, don’t turn off their televisions, or better yet get rid of them altogether. (Please see The Preacher and His TV.) Psalm 101:3 says: I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. If what is on the TV is so wicked, why do Fundamentalists continue to own televisions? Perhaps, it is time for them to become Amish and throw their hellivisions into the trash. Of course, most Fundamentalists won’t do this. Why? Because they like watching TV just like most of us. Remember, Fundamentalists scream long and hard (no I am not talking about their sex lives) about the moral failures of our society, yet they, all too often, imbibe in the very “sins” they condemn.

Earlier this week, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (ASDTFP) — a Roman Catholic organization — put up an online petition that called on Netflix to immediately cancel Good Omens — a television series adapted from the late Terry Pratchett’s (an atheist) and Neil Gaiman’s (view of God: “I think we can say that God exists in the DC Universe. I would not stand up and beat the drum for the existence of God in this universe. I don’t know, I think there’s probably a 50/50 chance. It doesn’t really matter to me.”) 1990 fantasy novel, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. Never mind the fact that Good Omens is not on Netflix, it’s on Amazon Prime. Damn, if you are going to protest a TV program, at least you can do is make sure you have your facts straights. After several days of being roundly mocked in news stories and on social media, ASDTFP corrected their petition. Thanks be to Loki, their faux outrage is now directed at the right streaming company. So far, 20,621 offended souls have signed the petition.

Other programs ASDTFP objects to include the Cartoon Network promoting “gay pride,”  Fleabag on Amazon PrimeArthur on PBS, and  Miracle Workers on TBS. The man behind the Good Omens petition is none other than Fundamentalist Catholic apologist John Horvat II.  What is it about Good Omens that so offends Horvat II and the fine Catholics at ASDTFP?  Their petition states:

The Amazon series “Good Omens,” based on a book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, portrays the agents of Good and Evil as fighters in an arbitrary struggle devoid of meaning and truth. This series presents devils and Satanists as normal and even good, where they merely have a different way of being, and mocks God’s wisdom in the following ways:

• An angel and demon are good friends, and are meant to be earth’s ambassadors for Good and Evil respectively.

• This pair tries to stop the coming of the Antichrist because they are comfortable and like the earth so much.

• God is voiced by a woman.

• The Antichrist, who will oppose the Kingdom of God, is portrayed as a normal kid that has special powers and a mission to destroy the world which he doesn’t really want to do.

• There are groups of Satanic “nuns” that are chosen to raise the Antichrist.

• The four riders of the Apocalypse, God’s means of punishing sinful earth, are portrayed as a group of bikers.

In the end, this is a denial of Good and Evil: morality and natural law do not exist, just humanitarianism and an ultimately useless creed. This is another step to make Satanism appear normal, light and acceptable. We must show our rejection. Please sign our petition, telling Amazon that we will not stand silent as they destroy the barriers of horror we still have for evil.

So, let me get this straight: Horvat II and his merry band of God/Jesus/Mary worshippers is all bent out of shape over how fictional Bible characters are portrayed in Good Omens? Okay then . . .

Neil Gaiman tweeted the following after hearing about the petition drive:

“I love that they are going to write to Netflix to try and get #GoodOmens cancelled. Says it all really. This is so beautiful … Promise me you won’t tell them?”

Gaiman later tweeted:

“Says it all.” They are asking Netflix, a company who does not broadcast #GoodOmens to “cancel” Good Omens, a show broadcast on another network, and already complete and out. I find it difficult to respond to them with anything other than flippancy. No, not difficult. Impossible.

A tweet by Evangelical Christian Isaac Peterson perhaps explains best the sentiment behind the outrage over Good Omens:

isaac peterson tweet

In Peterson’s mind, the Bible belongs to Christians and it is “cultural appropriation” for Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman to take and use what doesn’t belong to them — damn heathens that they are. First, Good Omens is based on the book Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, and not the Bible. Not that it would matter. The Bible is a work of fiction too, so what’s the harm in adapting its stories and themes into TV programs and movies? According to Wikipedia, the plot of the book goes something like this:

It is the coming of the End Times: the Apocalypse is near, and Final Judgement will soon descend upon the human species. This comes as a bit of bad news to the angel Aziraphale (who was the guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden) and the demon Crowley (who, when he was originally named Crawly, was the serpent who tempted Eve to eat the apple), respectively the representatives of Heaven and Hell on Earth, as they have become used to living their cosy, comfortable lives and have, in a perverse way, taken a liking to humanity. As such, since they are good friends (despite ostensibly representing the polar opposites of Good and Evil), they decide to work together and keep an eye on the Antichrist, destined to be the son of a prominent American diplomat stationed in Britain, and thus ensure he grows up in a way that means he can never decide between Good and Evil, thereby postponing the end of the world.

In fact, Warlock, the child who everyone thinks is the Anti-Christ, is a normal eleven-year-old boy. Due to the mishandling of several infants in the hospital, the real Anti-Christ is Adam Young, a charismatic and slightly otherworldly eleven-year-old living in Lower Tadfield, Oxfordshire, an idyllic town in Britain. Despite being the harbinger of the Apocalypse, he has lived a perfectly normal life as the son of typical English parents, and as a result has no idea of his true powers. He has three close friends – Pepper, Wensleydale and Brian – who collectively form a gang that is simply referred to as “Them” by the adults.

As the end of the world nears, Adam blissfully and naively uses his powers, changing the world to fit things he reads in a conspiracy theory magazine, such as raising the lost continent of Atlantis and causing Little Green Men to land on earth and deliver a message of goodwill and peace. In the meantime, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse assemble: War (a war correspondent), Death (a biker), Famine (a dietician and fast-food tycoon), and Pollution (the youngest–Pestilence having retired after the discovery of penicillin). The incredibly accurate (yet so highly specific as to be useless) prophecies of Agnes Nutter, 17th-century prophetess, are rapidly coming to pass.

Agnes Nutter was a witch in the 17th century and the only truly accurate prophet to have ever lived. She wrote a book called The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, a collection of prophecies that did not sell very well because they were unspectacular, cryptic and all true. She, in fact, decided to publish it only so she could receive a free author’s copy. This copy is passed down to her descendants, and is currently owned by her multi-great granddaughter Anathema Device. Agnes was burned at the stake by a mob; however, because she had foreseen her fiery end and had packed 80 pounds of gunpowder and 40 pounds of roofing nails into her petticoats, everyone who participated in the burning was killed instantly.

As the world descends into chaos, Adam attempts to split up the world between his gang. After realizing that by embracing absolute power, he will not be able to continue to grow up as a child in Lower Tadfield, Adam decides to stop the apocalypse.

Anathema, Newton Pulsifer, Sergeant Shadwell (the two last members of the Witchfinder Army), Madame Tracey (a medium and Shadwell’s neighbour), Adam and his gang, Aziraphale and Crowley gather at a military base near Lower Tadfield to stop the Horsemen from causing a nuclear war and ending the world. Adam’s friends capture War, Pollution, and Famine. Just as Adam’s real father, the devil, seems set to come and force the end of the world, Adam twists everything so his human father shows up instead, and everything is restored.

In the aftermath of the prevented Apocalypse, Crowley and Aziraphale discuss their restored property and the possibility of a second Apocalypse between humanity and the combined forces of Heaven and Hell; Shadwell and Madame Tracey decide to get married and move into a bungalow together; Anathema receives a sequel to Agnes Nutter’s prophecies but does not read it so as to not be bound by them; and Adam evades his grounding to go scrumping.

Sure, I see some similarities between Good Omens and the Bible, but Good Omens is hardly Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments. Peterson doth protest too much.

Second, since when in a free society is the Bible or religion in general off limits? Sorry, but religious books, beliefs, and ideas are fair game for critique, criticism, and ridicule. Third, is Peterson really arguing that Good Omens “hurt” his feelings and those of people who treat Christianity with the “proper” modicum of reverence and respect it deserves? Behind Peterson’s feigned offense is the idea that if religious beliefs are “sincere” then they should not be criticized. I wonder if people such as Peterson have really thought about how stupid this kind of thinking really is? We humans “sincerely” believe all sorts of bat-shit crazy stuff. Smart, educated people can and do believe things that defy reason and common sense; you know, beliefs such as a virgin having a baby, dead people coming back to life, walking on water, turning water into wine, walking through walls, and healing blindness with mud and spit, to name a few. Many of these same people believe the earth is 6,023 years old, a universal flood destroyed the world a few thousand years ago, a man named Moses led millions of people on foot across the desert from Egypt to Canaan, and God lives inside of them, talking to them each and every day. Think about all the anti-scientific woo people believe: you know like vaccines cause autism and essential oils cure a plethora of diseases. The world is awash in nonsense. Should we not combat bad thinking and ideas, especially if they cause psychological and physical harm? Pray tell, why should religion be exempt from similar treatment?

What Horvat II and ASDTFP, along with the American Family AssociationOne Million Moms, and Parents Television Council — whom all have articles and petitions on their websites expressing outrage over TV programming — need to do to quell their outrage is this: DON’T WATCH TV!  Don’t like Good Omens? Don’t watch it. Exercise your free will and change the channel. Better yet, get rid of your TVs. You see, the real issue here is that these groups want to control what the rest of us watch. If they can’t watch Good Omens, by golly we can’t watch it either. And therein is the core of Fundamentalist thinking: controlling others. Think about the current culture war these very same people are waging against LGBTQ people, same-sex marriage, fornication, masturbation, birth control, abortion, Democrats, socialism, liberal Christians, and a host of other “sins.”  Their goal is to legislate and ban any behavior or group they deem “sinful” and an affront to the Christian God.  Bound by their religion’s moral strictures and chains, Fundamentalists demand all of us submit to the same bondage. Sorry, but that ain’t going to happen. Those of us who have escaped the pernicious claws of Fundamentalist Christianity, along with our unwashed, uncircumcised Philistine brethren in the “world,” have no intentions of letting Fundamentalists have their way.

Time to binge watch Good Omens this weekend.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Teach Them to Read and They Won’t Have Kids — Or Go to Church

learning to read

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

1979: Marla, a college classmate of mine, had just returned from a stint as a Peace Corps community health educator in Ethiopia. Her work entailed, among other things, teaching health and “life skills” to school children. She interpreted “life skills” in her own way, she told me. That meant she was “encouraging young women and girls to have agency over their own bodies” in a country where, even today, women’s and girls’ access to resources and community participation is restricted, even though they do most of the agricultural labor. (An Ethiopian co-worker has told me as much.) Among other things, she tried to teach those young women that they had a right to gynecological and reproductive health care—and to decide whether or not they were going to reproduce.

One day, Marla said, she had an “epiphany”: She realized what would do more than anything else to promote women’s health care, and cut the birth rate “in half.” It’s something that she found herself doing, even though “it wasn’t part of the job description.”

What was the most helpful thing Marla, with her degree in microbiology, did for the women and girls she met in Ethiopia? She taught them how to read. Most of them didn’t know how, in any language, when she arrived. Her literacy sessions, she said, were more effective than all of the lessons she gave in hygiene or contraceptive usage.

What Marla’s experience taught her has been borne out, not only in Ethiopia, but in other parts of the world. To put it simply, the more educated women become, the fewer children they have. And, the fewer children people have, the healthier those children are likely to be.

I found myself thinking about Marla’s experience after writing about how the Roman Catholic Church is rapidly losing followers in the US, western Europe and Australia. So are other traditional mainstream Christian churches. Even the children of Evangelicals are starting to drift away.

One reason why young people are disengaging from the Church is, of course, the clerical sex-abuse scandals. One need not be a victim of such exploitation to lose one’s trust, not only in priests and other “representatives of God,” but in the institutions they uphold. But even if people were not coming forward (as I did nearly two years ago) with accounts of long-ago molestation, the “shepherds” would have a hard time keeping the young in their fold and, needless to say, in their influence.

Church officials could blame the Internet, video games or any number of other things for the loss of young congregants. But if those leaders really want to know why they’re “losing Europe” and other places, they should pay attention to what Marla and others have observed.

Actually, they may have. Why else would they insist, even at this late date, upon female subservience? Why do they still teach that abortion is wrong, even if it saves the life of the mother?

I can’t help but to think that such doctrines are a tacit admission that churches need high birth rates—which, of course, means restricting the rights of women—in order to continue in their present forms. The vast majority of any church’s followers didn’t consciously choose to be members: Either their parents raised them to be congregants, or they made a “profession” or “admission” of faith under duress, or at a least without a true understanding of what they were pledging. The surest way to ensure growth in the church is, therefore, to have more children. And it’s in those areas where women are less educated and more oppressed—and thus give birth to more children– where the church is growing.

Of course, there are a number of reasons why educated women have fewer children. One is that the more time they spend getting an education, the later in life they’ll have children—which means fewer children. Another is that education shows women (and men) that whatever the rewards of having children, there are other ways to find fulfillment in life. They are less likely to “be fruitful and multiply” – as well as other Biblical dictums—literally, if at all.

Thus a cycle begins. Smaller families tend to be less religious, or at least less religiously orthodox, than larger families. While religiosity often leads to large families, it can’t be said that a lack of religion is a cause of smaller families. Still, the inverse correlation between piety and family size cannot be denied. And kids raised with less religious indoctrination are less likely to see the need for it or, for that matter, for having lots of kids when they grow up.

Oh, and if a girl in a small family grows up with an educated secular mother, she is also as likely to see the value of education as she is to not see the value of religion in her life. So, for that matter, is a boy: Moreover, he is less likely to believe that a woman can’t, or shouldn’t, do whatever a man can. If his mother can head a corporation or university, why not a religious institution? He, not to mention his sister, can’t be blamed for wondering why women aren’t allowed to say mass, let alone take on any other prominent role in the church. If that boy or girl has children, he or she is less likely to bring them to such a church.

Many observers are now talking about ways in which the church needs to do to “reform” itself. While the current Pope may be sincere in his intention to root out predatory priests and to re-focus the church’s mission on helping the poor, I am not holding my breath when it comes to the church’s position on abortion or female subservience. Call me a cynic, but I can’t help but to think if the Church is indeed “giving up” on Europe, it still finds hope in the Global South of high birth rates and other forms of gender inequality. There, the Church will continue to grow—until, of course, the women get educated and stop having babies. Marla was right, and Church leaders know it, whether or not they know Marla.

Quote of the Day: “Please Will You Tell Me How God Began?”

aa milne

Elizabeth Ann

Said to her Nan:

“Please will you tell me how God began?

Somebody must have made Him. So

Who could it be, ‘cos I want to know?”

And Nurse said, “Well!”

And Ann said, “Well?

I know you know, and I wish you’d tell.”

And Nurse took pins from her mouth, and said,

“Now then, darling, it’s time for bed.”

Elizabeth Ann

Had a wonderful plan:

She would run round the world till she found a man

Who knew exactly how God began.

She got up early, she dressed, and ran

Trying to find an Important Man.

She ran to London and knocked at the door

Of the Lord High Doodleum’s coach-and-four.

“Please, sir (if there’s anyone in),

However-and-ever did God begin?”

But out of the window, large and red,

Came the Lord High Coachman’s face instead.

And the Lord High Coachman laughed and said:

“Well, what put that in your quaint little head?”

Elizabeth Ann went home again

And took from the ottoman Jennifer Jane.

“Jenniferjane,” said Elizabeth Ann,

“Tell me at once how God began.”

And Jane, who didn’t much care for speaking,

Replied in her usual way by squeaking.

What did it mean? Well, to be quite candid,

I don’t know, but Elizabeth Ann did.

Elizabeth Ann said softly, “Oh!

Thank you Jennifer. Now I know.”

— A.A. Milne, Now We Are Six, Explained

Was Milne an atheist?

My father waited until I was twenty-four. The war was on. I was in Italy. From time to time he used to send me parcels of books to read. In one of them were two in the Thinker’s Library series: Renan’s The Life of Jesus and Winwood Reade’s The Martyrdom of Man. I started with The Life of Jesus and found it quite interesting; I turned to The Martyrdom and found it enthralling. . . One Man! Mankind! There was no God. God had not created Man in His own image. It was the other way round: Man had created God. And Man was all there was. But it was enough. It was the answer, and it was both totally convincing and totally satisfying. It convinced and satisfied me as I lay in my tent somewhere on the narrow strip of sand that divides Lake Comacchio from the Adriatic; and it has convinced and satisfied me ever since.

I wrote at once to my father to tell him so and he at once wrote back. And it was then that I learned for the first time that these were his beliefs, too, and that he had always hoped that one day I would come to share them.

(Christopher Milne, The Enchanted Places, p. 144)

Quote of the Day: Old Testament Responsible for More Unbelief Than Any Book Ever Written

winnie-the-pooh

The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief — call it what you will — than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.

A. A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh

Bitcoin For The Church: The Young Won’t Be Fooled

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Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

According to Pew Research and other polls, the Catholic Church in the U.S. is losing six congregants for every person who joins. The Church is also hemorrhaging members in other countries, even in such former bastions of Catholicism as Ireland and Spain. Moreover, for every person who formally leaves the church, others simply drift away. While the Vatican doesn’t seem overly concerned, as membership has grown exponentially over recent decades in Sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions, Church leaders in the U.S. and Western Europe (which, a century ago, was home to two-thirds of the world’s Catholics) are deeply worried. Those leaders, clerical and lay alike, are trying all sorts of things to keep members, particularly the young, in the fold.

If generals are always fighting the last war, leaders of institutions are always trying to woo the young with equally outdated notions of what appeals to them. During my childhood and early adolescence, churches—including the one in which I was an altar boy—started to offer “folk masses.” They were, apparently, a piece of the Church’s attempt to “meet people where they are,” which included the shift from Latin to vernacular languages in the liturgy. I can’t help but wonder whether offering masses said in English that included songs by Peter Paul and Mary actually enticed any young people to stay in the flock, but I recall feeling condescended to with the choice of music. After all, most adults’ ideas about what kinds of music their kids like are off by at least five years, if not more. As an example, I think of the relative who gave me a Monkees album for my fourteenth birthday, in 1972. (OK, you can do the math. But I’m a lady and won’t tell you my age! 😉

At least that relative understood other, far more important, things about me. That is why, even after that misguided gift, I never felt patronized. That relative, in short, was sensitive and sensible.

The same cannot be said for a group of folks who are trying to bring the Catholic Church into the 21st Century. At least, that’s what they seem to think they are trying to do. Cathio consists of “a team of well-established experts and leaders with deep roots in the Catholic Church.” Founded last year, the “Catholic enterprise” has just launched a platform “designed to enable all sectors of the Catholic community to benefit from lower costs and transparent payments,” says Cathio CEO Matthew Marcolini. Cathio advisor Jim Nicholson, formerly an ambassador to the Holy See, explains that in addition to the benefits Marcolini mentions, the Cathio platform will also facilitate “the connectivity of people of good will with good works.”

In other words, this Cathio platform is a sort of Bitcoin for the Catholic Church, which supposedly will make it easier for people to give money and harder for the church to hide its financial dealings. Call me a cynic, but I have my doubts as to whether either of those goals will be accomplished. The Cathio platform will almost certainly make it easier to move large sums of money, but from whom and to whom?

At least Marcolini and Nicholson are, at worst, misinformed about the good intentions of the flock and its herders. Another Cathio board member, however, shows that he is, at best, delusional. Then again, he’s merely confirming some of us have known for a long time.

That Board member once ran for President of the United States and has served as a US Senator from a state in which all of its Roman Catholic dioceses are part of a class-action lawsuit from—who else?—priest sex-abuse survivors. Rick Santorum says that, in addition to making financial transactions more efficient, the Cathio platform also offers the Church the opportunity to better engage young people. “Millennials don’t carry cash, they date on apps and watch on-demand entertainment. We have to be there, we have to learn from successful tech companies, and we have to make it easier for younger generations to engage with the Church.”

Now, I don’t know he defines “young people” and “younger generations.” Does he think they are synonymous with “millennials, who are generally defined as those born between 1981 and 1999? Well, I admit, at my age, 38-year-olds seem young, but I still wouldn’t call them “young people” or part of “younger generations.” Also, while millennials might conduct their lives on their electronic devices, they are using them to do things people of their age have always done: date, make travel arrangements, buy concert tickets and the like. Technology doesn’t seem to bring them back to practices or institutions they might have left behind. And, if anything, the “younger generations”—at least those younger than the millennials—won’t be as enraptured by technologies as millennials because they will have grown up with them.

But where Santorum really misses the boat, so to speak, is in his perception of who isn’t going to church anymore and why. Perhaps earlier generations stopped attending masses or services because they’d rather sleep in or go mountain biking on Sunday morning, or simply because they found those masses or services boring or irrelevant. But today’s young, and even middle-aged and older people, are more likely to be fed up with the church. In part because so much information is available to them so readily on their devices, they are less likely to accept the authority of religious leaders or the validity (let alone inerrancy) of the Bible. Even more important, they are more likely to have friends, relatives or co-workers who are LGBTQ or of a different religion or cultural heritage from what they grew up with. And young men know women who are doing the same work as they are, and possibly doing it even better.

Oh, and they’ve heard all about the sex abuse scandals. Perhaps they were victims themselves and were fortunate enough to get help at a relatively young age and be spared a lifetime of shame, self-loathing, substance abuse and unfulfilled and unfulfilling relationships and jobs.

In brief, if the Church has any hope of re-engaging the “younger generations” Santorum and others want to woo, it has to get rid of the predatory priests and everyone who covered up for and enabled them, for starters. (Actually, it would help even more if those priests, deacons and others didn’t molest kids at all, but that might be asking for too much too soon.) Then, it has to finally start respecting women’s bodies and minds. That means, among other things, supporting birth control and contraception and not punishing women when they come forward as rape victims. Finally, for once and for all, it has to end any and all bigotry, whether against LGBTQ people or anyone else.

If the Church is willing and able to do those things, it just might stanch the outflow of young people. Best of all, for the Church, such actions don’t require technology and wouldn’t cost the church anything. But I don’t expect the church to adopt such ideas: Even if the American and European churches become relics like Stonehenge, the church still has the Global South—at least until its young get smartphones and make gay friends.

Is Religion a Powerful Narcotic?

getting high on Jesus

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

— Karl Marx

One need only study world religions to understand that religion is a powerful force in our world — for good and evil. Marx rightly compared religion to opium — a powerful narcotic used to relieve pain, both physically and psychologically. Religion, in all its forms, is used by humans to find purpose, meaning, peace, and happiness. Ultimately, people worship deities because doing so benefits them in some way or the other. A good way to look at religion is from an economic perspective. Every religion has a cost attached to it. Sometimes those costs are clear: time, money, commitment. Other times, religion extracts psychological or emotional costs. Some religions, such as Evangelical Christianity, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, require an abandonment of self and total commitment to God and the church. I spent 50 years in the Christian church. Twenty-five of those years were spent pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I can’t even begin to calculate the cost of my devotion to the Evangelical Jesus. Much of my time and money were spent in devotion to a deity whom I believed was the one true God, the creator and ruler over all. I abandoned self as I “followed the Lamb of God.” I willingly sacrificed my marriage and family, living in poverty and doing without for my God’s sake. Why would anyone live as I did?

Yes, serving Jesus was costly, but the benefits far outweighed the costs — or so I thought at the time, anyway. Through my religious beliefs, experiences, and practices, I found happiness, peace, and meaning. I had the privilege of preaching the gospel and teaching others the “truths” of the Christian Bible. I was loved and respected, and there never was a day when I didn’t feel God’s presence in my life. Oh, sometimes it seemed God was distant, but more often than not, the Christian deity was an ever-present reality.

It matters not whether Christianity is true; that its core beliefs are rational and reasonable. All that mattered, as a Christian, is that I thought these beliefs were true. Countless people believe all sorts of things that are untrue, but they believe them to be true, so in their minds, they are. While believing in the Christian God extracted from me a high cost, one I am paying to this day, for most of my life I believed the benefits of religious faith outweighed its costs.

Marx thought religion gave people false happiness. That said, he never underestimated its power, its ability to meet the deep needs of the human psyche. Atheists often wrongly believe that the solution to the ills of the world is for people to abandon their superstitions and embrace rationality rooted in reason, science, and intellectual inquiry. What atheists forget is that what humans want more than anything else is happiness. Until rationalists, freethinkers, and humanists show that their godless way of life leads to purpose, meaning, and happiness, we can’t expect religious people to buy what we are selling. We know that people don’t need to toke religious crack to feel happy and fulfilled, but we will never argue people into understanding this. Like it or not, feelings play a big part in the human experience. Life is short, and then we die. Religion offers a powerful drug that lessens the pain of that reality. We secularists must offer the same.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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Quote of the Day: 50% of Catholics 30 years Old and Younger have Left the Church

good news

This is a top priority for our church, said Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, who is known for his website, “Word on Fire,” and for hosting the documentary series “Catholicism.”

In a June 11 presentation, the bishop said a group of experts who’ve examined why young people are leaving the faith in increasing numbers recently spoke with his committee about this and will share their findings during a lunch presentation at the bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore.

“How many are leaving? The short answer is: a lot,” the bishop said, noting the sobering statistic he said many in the room probably were aware of — that 50% of Catholics 30 years old and younger have left the church.

“Half the kids that we baptized and confirmed in the last 30 years are now ex-Catholics or unaffiliated,” he said, and “one out of six millennials in the U.S. is now a former Catholic.”

Another statistic that particularly affects him is this: “For every one person joining our church today, 6.45 are leaving” and most are leaving at young ages, primarily before age 23. The median age of those who leave is 13.

“Where are they going?” he asked, and in response to his own question, he again gave a short answer: They’re “becoming nones” although some, in much smaller percentages, join other mainstream religions or evangelical churches.

— Carol Zimmerman, Catholic News Service, June 13, 2019

Should Christians Keep the Old Testament Law?

keep-gods-commandmentsWarning, snark ahead!

I have long argued — even from my Christian days — that Christians are obligated to keep Old Testament law. Christian apologists and theologians use all sorts of hocus pocus and hermenuetical wrangling to make such a demand go away, but the Bible is clear: the Old Testament law is valid, in force, and binding on all Christians today. Jesus is quoted as saying in Matthew 5:17-18:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

See Bruce, Jesus came to fulfill the law. Now that Jesus has died and resurrected from the dead, the Old Testament law is no longer in force. Not the Ten Commandments? Not the prohibitions against homosexuality? Well, uh, you see, well, uh, anyway, how about them Cowboys? 

Notice what Jesus said: Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Go outside, stand in your yard, and look up to the sky. Are heaven and earth still standing? Yep, so that means that Old Testament law is still in force. Remember, when Jesus spoke these words, his “Bible” was the Old Testament. There was no New Testament, no gospels, no writings of Paul. Jesus, the good Baptist that he was, carried with him and read a leather-bound Oxford King James Old Testament.  Which is odd when you consider that Jesus was God and he, through his spirit sidekick the Holy Ghost, spoke the words of the Bible into existence. (2 Peter 1:21 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17) Or so Evangelicals say, anyway.

Oh, Bruce, you are nuts. Christians are saved by grace and live under the New Covenant. Hmm, are you saying, then, that the people in the Old Testament were saved differently; that they were saved by works; by keeping the Law of God? Well, uh, you see, well, uh, anyway, how about them Raptors? Bruce, surely you know that God’s law is broken up into three categories; Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial. Really? Where can I find such divisions in the Bible? I’ll wait. Go look. Keep looking. Can’t find anything? Come on, how hard can it be? Don’t quote John Calvin or Rousas Rushdoony. I want it straight from the inerrant Word of God. No luck?  How about admitting you are just making shit up to distance yourself from the clear implication of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: that all Christians are under and obligated to practice Old Testament Law; and that failing to do so is a sure sign that someone is not a follower of Jesus.

Evangelicals, in particular, love to call themselves “people of the Book.” Supposedly, the Bible, from Table of Contents to Concordance, is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. If this is so, why don’t Evangelicals keep the Old Testament law? Why do Evangelicals, in fact, pick and choose what they want to believe from the Old Testament? Why do Evangelicals clamor for the posting of the Ten Commandments on public classroom walls, yet don’t actually believe all ten commandments are binding and in force today? When’s the last time you’ve seen an Evangelical “remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy? Going to church for an hour or two on Sundays AIN’T keeping the Sabbath holy. Sorry Baptists, no NFL on Sundays for Sabbath keepers. Well, wait a minute, isn’t the Sabbath from Friday to Saturday?  So, NFL football is okay, but not college football. No Ohio State, Alabama, Texas or USC. Man, talk about suffering for Jesus.

Centuries ago, Christians had the opportunity to distance themselves from the Jewish Old Testament. Instead, they appropriated it for their own, and it hangs around their necks like a millstone to this day. I bet they wish they had a do-over on that one.

Bruce, you are certifiably crazy. Yes, but that’s beside the point. I am sure you are wondering if I have any proof for the assertions made in this post. Quote one theologian who believes this, you say, thinking you got me right where you want me. Well, get ready to have your hemorrhoids massaged, Buddy.

Eminent New Testament scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman recently wrote a post titled, Should the Old Testament Even be in the Bible? Here’s an excerpt:

First I must deal with the all-important prior question I have already alluded to. If, very early in their history, Christians chose to bypass precisely the laws and instructions the Bible enjoins on the people of God, why did they see any utility of having the Old Testament at all? If it was outdated, why not simply jettison it altogether?

Early Christians took a number of different approaches to that question. One view can be assigned to the historical Jesus himself and his very earliest followers – the disciples and their converts.

These were Jews dedicated to following the will of God as expressed in the Law of Moses.  The Hebrew Bible was their one and only Scripture.   It was to be kept.   Yes, it had to be interpreted – every legal code has to be.  But it was absolutely, and literally, to be followed.  All of it: circumcision; Sabbath observance; kosher food laws; festivals.

This view never completely died out.  We know of Christian groups who adhered to it for centuries.  Some still do today.  It is a view placed on Jesus’ lips in Matthew, the very first book of the New Testament, in passages typically overlooked by Christians both ancient and modern who don’t believe that Jesus could possibly urge his followers to keep the Jewish law.  But in fact he does, in no uncertain terms – nowhere more clearly than in the famous Sermon on the Mount (ironically, perhaps, revered throughout history by even the most virulent Christian opponents of Judaism):

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill…..   Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:17-20)

How many of the commandments found in the Jewish Scriptures need to be followed?  All of them.  Even the least of them.  No exceptions.   In fact, Jesus’ followers have to follow these commandments more scrupulously than the famously scrupulous scribes and Pharisees.

Jesus continues in the sermon to explain just how his followers are to be more righteous than the Jewish religious leaders of their day.   Needless to say, it will take special effort.   The law says not to murder?  You need to go a step farther: you shouldn’t even get angry with someone.  It says not to steal your neighbor’s spouse?  You shouldn’t even want to.  It says to be just in your judgment, and make the penalty fit the crime (“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”)?  You should instead show mercy (“turn the other cheek”).

Christians have tended to read these “Antitheses” as Jesus’ abrogation of the law, but that is precisely wrong.  He does not get rid of the law or absolve his followers of the responsibility of keeping it.   He does not say: “The law says you shall not murder, but I say you should.”  Instead he accepts the literal interpretation of the law and then makes it both more difficult and not simply a matter of external observation.  Literal adherence is not enough: doing the will of God as found in the law requires a heartfelt commitment that affects even attitudes, emotions, and desires.  But one still has to follow the literal law.

….

Snap, Skippy! Best be reading the Old Testament Law and putting it into practice! Your eternal destiny depends on you keeping every jot and tittle of the Law. I didn’t say this, Jesus did. To quote the plethora of apologists who have dumped loads of raw sewage on this blog, your problem is not with me, it’s with God. I’m only God’s mouthpiece.

Thus saith Bruce Almighty.

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About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.