Tag Archive: Evangelicalism

Let’s Talk About Sin, Guilt, and Human Behavior

original sin

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Ewan asks:

Do you have a philosophical view of the word ‘sin” anymore?

How is homosexuality defined in your worldview? What of extramarital sexual relationships? or premarital? Are they ‘sin’?

What is an atheistic view of sin? Does it really matter? If there is no sinful behaviour, where does guilt come from?

The power of sin in a xian worldview is guilt. If I were to have an extramarital built on love, is this sinful? What the heck is ‘sin’?

I do not use the word sin to define my understanding of human behavior. Sin is inherently a religious term, and since I am not a religious person, I have no need for the word sin and its theological consequences. Based on cultural and societal norms, humans act in ways that are considered good, indifferent, or bad. What we consider good, bad, or indifferent behavior changes with time, circumstance, and place. Currently, these things are still deeply influenced by religion, yet religion is losing its primacy and this is why we see religious zealots raging against perceived sins and slights of God and his timeless moral code.

Homosexuality is a science term, a word used to describe same-sex attraction. It has no inherent moral quality. Once we remove religion from discussion, there is less need to concern ourselves with sexual attraction or whom someone marries.

Marriage is a contractual agreement between two people. If this contract includes a commitment to monogamy, then I would consider it bad behavior to commitment adultery. However, many people marry for reasons other than sex. I pastored a few couples who had sexless marriages. One woman thought sex was for having children. Once her children were born she was done with having sex and she had no problem with her husband seeking sexual gratification elsewhere.

When it comes to premarital sex, I see no reason to consider it bad behavior. We have laws that govern the age of consent, and as long as the sex is consensual I see no reason to demonize teenagers and young adults for acting on their biological needs and urges. Our goal should be to make sure every person receives state-mandated education about human sexuality and birth control. The overwhelming majority of teenagers engage in premarital sexual activity, so it is in everyone’s best interest to make sure teens are sexually educated and on birth control until they are ready to have children. Doing so would greatly reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, a goal all of us support.

There is no atheist position on sin. Atheism is a belief about the existence of deities, not a statement about ethics or morality. It is humanism that gives many atheists, including myself, a moral and ethical framework. The Humanist Manifesto III states:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

(If I have a “religion” it is secular humanism. My religion’s code is summarized in the Humanist Manifesto.)

The question of guilt is a good one, one that I am not sure I can adequately answer. Some guilt is driven by the pervasiveness of religion and its sin-punishment-reward system. However, I think guilt also flows from being a part of a particular culture and tribe. I am sure there are some behaviors that elicit guilt among the Gerencser children that might not cause guilt in a different family’s children.

jesus spanking sinners

The more absolute one’s moral beliefs are, the more likely they are to cause guilt. As I have stated many times before, my sin (bad behavior) list now fits on a 3×5 card, and I suspect by the time I die it will fit on a post-it note. Once the church, the Bible and sin-loving, yet sin-hating preachers, are removed from the equation, guilt often assuages.

I grew up believing drinking alcohol was a sin. I was fifty years old before I took my first drink. Now that God and the Bible no longer factor into my moral and ethical beliefs, I am free to drink alcohol, as much or as little as I want. Last Saturday, I spent some time with friends who love to drink. While I didn’t drink as much alcohol as they did, I did drink some and I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did my wife. At no time did I have a twinge of guilt over drinking the devil’s brew. I drank responsibly and acted in a way that did not harm others; no sin, no guilt.

What atheism and humanism have given me is personal autonomy and freedom. And a very small sin list.

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A Few Thoughts on Abortion and the Planned Parenthood Videos

planned parenthood

I’ve been asked to give my take on the Planned Parenthood videos.

When it comes to Planned Parenthood’s mission, to provide healthcare to women, I am 100% in their corner. Providing abortions is a small part of Planned Parenthood’s services, and defunding Planned Parenthood would have a deleterious effect on the health of poor women. Attempts to defund Planned Parenthood are driven by religious belief and bad science. We live in a secular state, one that supposedly separates church and state and one that values science; yet, when it comes to abortion, the debate is framed by religious claims that result in skewed interpretations of science.

Strident pro-lifers, based on their religious beliefs, say that abortion is murder. I have written about this before in a post titled 25 Questions for Those Who Say Abortion is Murder. The abortion-is-murder view is irrational and is a denial of what science tells about fetal development and life. Just last week, Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher and a candidate for President, said he supports personhood for zygotes (see Personhood USA). That’s right, Huckabee wants constitutional protection conveyed the moment a man’s sperm unites with a woman’s egg. This means that Mike Huckabee, along with those who support personhood for fetuses and believe abortion is murder, think that the following should be considered a person protected by the constitution and those aborting them are murderers:

3 day old human embyro

Three Day Old Human Embryo.

4 week old fetus

Fetus at 28 days

human fetus

Fetus at 56 days, 1/2 inch long

Fact: 63% of abortion take place within eight weeks of pregnancy.

This is what a fetus looks like at 12 weeks:

12 week fetus

Fetus at 12 week

Fact: 89% of abortions take place within 12 weeks (first trimester) of pregnancy.

When I look at the science along with the aforementioned photographs, I see potential life. I don’t see a person, one deserving constitutional protection. (Please see Abortion Facts, Lies, and Contractions.) All the religious posturing and moralizing in the world won’t change my view on this matter. Why? Because it is rooted in scientific fact and reason.

As the fetus continues to grow it moves from being potential life to actual life. Usually this is around weeks 20-24. Fetuses can and do survive when born prematurely, and it is for this reason I support greater protection for them under the law. The state has a vested interest in protecting human life, not potential life. I do not agree that abortion after viability should be a decision made between a woman and her doctor without any regard to the fetus. Once viability is reached there is a third party — the baby — who should have rights. Not absolute rights, mind you. There are times, due to health concerns or fetal abnormality, that is it medically prudent to terminate a pregnancy after viability. Since the overwhelming majority of abortions occur before viability (98.8%) or post viability as a result of health concerns or fetal abnormality, I see no reason to oppose abortion.

Why is it that pro-life groups rarely use the aforementioned photographs to make their case? Why do they always graphically display fetuses aborted late in a pregnancy? Shock value. I wonder if some who say abortion is murder would think differently if they were presented with a picture of a zygote and not a picture of a full term fetus?

The recent videos concerning Planned Parenthood are disturbing. The group behind the videos are using highly edited footage, releasing them over a long period of time in hopes of maximizing the damage, inflaming passion, and bolstering the campaigns of pro-life candidates for President. (Please see People of the American Way post  The Activists and the Ideology Behind the Latest Attack on Planned Parenthood.)

Despite my opposition to the group behind the videos, I do find the videos troubling. Is Planned Parenthood selling fetus parts? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that they are selling at cost various fetus parts to researchers, but no in the sense that it isn’t a huge revenue stream for Planned Parenthood. What Planned Parenthood is doing is legal, no different from harvesting organs for transplant.

I am sure someone is going to say, but Bruce, look at how nonchalant the Planned Parenthood people were on the videos. I agree, this is troubling, but is their crassness any reason for the government to defund Planned Parenthood or for abortion to be outlawed or criminalized? Of course not. Again, I go back to the science. Like it or not, in most cases, the aborted fetus is a blob of developing cells. Since these developing cells are potential life, not human life, why shouldn’t researchers be permitted to use these cells and developing organs to find cures or treatments for diseases that are afflicting and killing humans?

I think the crassness displayed on the videos is troubling, but explainable. Take doctors. Doctors are around sickness and death every day. Imagine a group of doctors sitting around a table talking shop. How do you think the discussion would go? A bit of morbidity, humor, and deflection? This is their way of coping with the work they have been called to do (and yes, I think many of the people who work in abortion clinics have a sense of calling, a deep desire to help women in a time of great need). The same could be said for coroners, morticians, homicide detectives, crime scene investigators, CDC investigators, and crime scene cleaners. As someone who lives with the ugly specter of death lurking in the shadows, I have a gallows sense of humor about death. Some family members and friends are appalled by my humor, yet it is how I cope with the reality that death is stalking me and will ultimately seize me as its prey. People who are around death often use humor to cope and often seem detached from their work, and I think that is exactly what is shown on the Planned Parenthood videos.

What Planned Parenthood has is an optic problem. They allowed themselves to be snookered by ideologically driven religious nut jobs who want to make abortion, along with birth control, illegal. Planned Parenthood needs to do a better job of vetting whom they are talking to. They also need to put some of their workers and executives through sensitivity training. We say that getting an abortion is a monumental decision for a women. If this is true, then our behavior and demeanor should reflect this, not unlike our response to someone who is dying and has decided to stop medical treatment.

I am sure those on either side of this issue will disagree with me and that’s why I have been hesitant to write about it. My position on abortion is informed and quite developed, so I don’t waste my time arguing about it. I recently had several dust-ups on Facebook with people who think anyone who is pro-choice or supports Planned Parenthood is a sick, vile, evil, murderer. Rather than continue to read such drivel, I unfriended 30 or so people, including family members (and yes, I tried to educate them before I unfriended them).

I find it interesting that the same people who are so ardently pro-life are very same people who are pro-war, pro capital punishment, anti-homosexual, anti-same sex marriage, anti-immigration, and anti virtually anything that has to do with care and compassion post-birth. It seems the only life they care about is the one in the womb. These same people say they are anti-abortion, yet they oppose free birth control and standardized sex education, two things that we know reduce the need for an abortion. There’s one word for people who think like this: hypocrite.

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How Fundamentalist Preachers Take the Fun Out of Everything

women causing men to stumble

Those of us raised in the Evangelical church know a quite a bit about sin. Sin is the problem and Jesus is the solution. Ruined by the fall, redeemed by the blood. Sin will take you farther than you want to go and cost you more than you want to pay. Sin is the disease, Christ is the cure. Timeless messages preached from every Evangelical pulpit.

For those of us who grew up in churches on the extreme right of the Evangelical spectrum, we heard weekly preaching against sin, with each sin categorized and illustrated. Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers are known for having a detailed list of every possible sin. And as they get older they add new sins to the list, so by the time they retire there is no human behavior that is not, in the right circumstance, a sin. I once heard an IFB preacher at a pastor’s fellowship preach from the verse that says, neither give place to the devil. After reading the text, he spent the next 45 minutes detailing every behavior he thought was giving place to the devil. His sin penis was way bigger than mine.

The late Cecil Hodges, pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia for 41 years, said one time that preachers beat church members over the head with the sin stick so often that they automatically duck when the preacher starts preaching. Hard preaching, stepping on toes — Baptist preachers are noted for verbally assaulting parishioners in hope of getting them to stop sinning. Yet, no matter how hard they preach against sin, people keep on sinning. Let’s face it, sin is good for the preaching business.

Bob Harrington, the chaplain of Bourbon Street, preached a sermon years ago titled, It’s Fun Being Saved. Harrington later committed adultery, so salvation was a lot of fun for him, but at uncounted Evangelical churches preachers do their best every Sunday to suck the fun out of everything. (See An Independent Baptist Hate List.)

Not only are there specific behaviors that are sinful, there are also behaviors that are sinful only in certain circumstances. These are called don’t cause your brother to stumble sins. Recently, Nathan Rouse, lead pastor of Radiant Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, wrote a blog post titled A Caution For Every Christian That Drinks Alcohol:

Something disturbing has crept into the american church and it’s not pretty.

Many Christians have allowed themselves to take drinking alcohol lightly.

Now before you start throwing the legalistic stones at me, let me first make the following clear:

I don’t believe drinking alcohol is a sin…

…But, there’s another problem:

The often overlooked sin that is rearing its ugly head are Christians displaying their love and consumption of alcohol to those around them in public and on social media, when there are many around them that struggle with this temptation and addiction.

The Apostle Paul addressed a similar situation when dealing with those in the church arguing over whether they could eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul declared that even though they had the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, they should love those that struggled with this practice enough to not do it front of them.

1 Cor. 8:9-13

But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

We sin against other Christians and “wound their conscience” (as well as sin against Christ) when we openly act in a way that would cause them to stumble.

Now, before you say you only do this with others that are like-minded or with your spouse, let me ask the following questions:

Do you highlight or joke about your drinking in person or on social media (posting pictures of your margarita, wine or bottles of beer)?

Do you drink in public when there’s a good chance you might meet someone struggling with alcohol?

Like it or not, people hold Christians to a higher standard (as they should). Do you love alcohol so much that you’re willing to let your witness be tarnished? Do you love your “freedom” so much that you could care less how it affects another brother or sister?…

stumbling block

I’ve heard and preached sermons many times that echoed the words of Rouse’s post. Not only must the Christian not do any of the sins on the preacher’s sin list, they must also avoid any behavior that would or could cause an infantile, helpless church member to stumble, a euphemism for falling into sin.

Church women are asked to cover their cleavage and legs and wear clothing that mutes their comeliness lest they cause weak men to stumble. Want to go see a certain movie or have a glass of wine at a restaurant? Make sure weak church members can’t see what you are doing. Don’t say anything about what you did in front of a weak church member lest your words cause them to stumble.

This kind of thinking sucks the life out of a person. Every behavior has the potential of being a sin. Wouldn’t the better approach be to expect church members to be responsible for their own behavior?  If Deacon Bob gets a boner during Sister Mary’s special because she is wearing a top that accentuates her bosom, is this Sister Mary’s problem? Perhaps Deacon Bob needs to grow up and own his sexuality. The same goes for any behavior that would fall under the causing-a-brother-to-stumble category.

Sin is not the problem, irresponsibility is. While my sin list now fits on a post-it note, I do accept responsibility for any behavior that might harm or negatively affect others. If Polly and I get in a fight and I say something that is hurtful, whose fault is it? Should she be blamed for provoking me to anger? Dammit, she knows I have a temper! I’m a redhead, and everyone knows redheads are temperamental. If she wouldn’t do or say _________, then I wouldn’t get angry. It’s her f…. No, it’s not. I am responsible for what I say and do.

Do you have a story to tell about the preaching on sin in the church you grew up in? Did your pastor preach sermons on not causing a brother/sister to stumble? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

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Got the Holy Ghost?

As we were driving through Defiance, Polly pointed out a church sign that said:

got the holy ghost

This sign belongs to First Apostolic Church, a Defiance, Ohio congregation affiliated with United Pentecostal Church International.

The girl mentioned on the sign is in elementary school. (name blanked out/face cropped due to her age) She received:

holy ghost certificate

Just another normal day in Evangelical Land.

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Bruce, the Atheist Talks to James, the Pastor About the Bible

bible made me an atheist

Comic by my friend Mike Stanfill.

Recently, a fundamentalist Christian by the name of James commented on several of my posts on this site and on Facebook. James, a seminary trained Baptist, is convinced I hate God, hate Christians, hate the Bible, and live for the opportunity to mock and ridicule Christianity.

James describes himself this way:

I am a man “of the book.” I am a man of faith. My entire life is governed by my faith in an unseen God. Hebrews 11: 6 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” My entire life falls under the authority of the Word of God. No surprise there! And because my life is governed by God’s Word, I live a holy and godly life.

According to James, his entire life is under the authority of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. God said it, and that settles it and the real problem with atheists like me is that we refuse to bow before the power and authority of the Bible. One day, James warned, “there will be a day of reckoning and judgment by that man whom God hath appointed to be judge. And on that day, you WILL bow the knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!”

I’m sure James really believes what he is saying. However, does James really govern his life by the word of God? Does he really believe every word in the Bible is pure and true? I’m sure if James reads this post he will shout from the roof tops, I BELIEVE EVERY WORD IN THE BIBLE…STRAIGHT FROM GOD’S MOUTH TO MY EAR  AND HEART!!!

What follows is how a conversation between Bruce, the atheist and James, the pastor might have gone….

Bruce: Every book, every chapter, every verse, every word?

James: Yes, all 66 books, 1,189 chapters, 31,102 verse, and 788, 258 words. (King James Bible Statistics)

Bruce: Do you think homosexuality is a sin?

James: Yes, the Bible says in Leviticus 18:22 that homosexuality is an abomination.

Bruce: So, you support the execution of homosexuals? Leviticus 20:14 says homosexuals should be put to death. And Leviticus 20:10 says adulterers should be put to death. Do you support the execution of homosexuals and adulterers?

James: Well, you see…that’s in the Old Testament, so those verses are under the Old Covenant. We are under the New Covenant now. Praise God for his grace and mercy!

Bruce: What about the Ten Commandments?

James: Yes, I think the Ten Commandments are the inviolable law of God and are valid today!

Bruce: But, they are in the Old Testament.

James: Well, you see, the Ten Commandments are the moral law of God and God’s moral law is in force today.

Bruce: All ten commandments?

James: Well, you see, the command to remember the sabbath day and keep it holy is no longer in force.

Bruce: Where does the Bible say it is no longer in force?

James: Well, you see, it doesn’t, but if you take this verse, that verse, and put them together with these verses, and then interpret it though the proper theological grid…viola! the command to remember the sabbath day and keep it holy is no longer in force.

Bruce: Hmm. I thought the Bible says, I am the Lord thy God and I change not. Doesn’t the Bible says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever? If God is unchanging, why do his laws change?

James: Well, you see…

Bruce: Didn’t Jesus say 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. It seems to me that Jesus is saying the law of God is in force (valid, authoritative) until heaven and earth pass away. I just went outside and checked…heaven and earth are still here.

James: Well, you see, the Scripture must be rightly interpreted. You are interpreting it incorrectly and that’s why your beliefs are wrong. I interpret it correctly and that’s why my beliefs are right.

Bruce: I thought you were a man of the book, that you stand upon the B-I-B-L-E!

James: I do.

Bruce: Not really. If you were a man of the book, why would you need to interpret it? Aren’t you really saying that you are a man of a certain interpretation and that your interpretation of the Bible is the authority?

James: Pfft. You are putting words in my mouth.

Bruce: Let’s move on to the New Testament.

James: (under breath) Thank you, Jesus!

Bruce: So, you consider all the commands in the New Testament to be true and authoritative?

James: Absolutely!

Bruce: According to the Christian Assemblies International website, there are 1,050 commands in the 27 books of the New Testament. According to what you said previously, do you consider all 1,050 commands and authoritative?

James: Yes, they are the Word of God.

Bruce: Do the women in the church you attend speak during the service?

James: That’s a silly question. Of course they do.

Bruce: I Corinthians 14:34 says, Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. This verse says women are not permitted to speak in the church.

James: Well, you see, you need to understand the historical and cultural context to properly interpret this verse.

Bruce: So, we are back to interpreting again. I thought you were a man of the book? Shouldn’t someone be able to pick up the Bible, read it, and understand it? If people wanted to be saved, could they just pick up the Bible, read it and understand what they need to do to be saved?

James: Absolutely! I hand out tracts with Bible verses on them. If a person reads these verses they will know all they need to know about being saved.

Bruce: Hmm…OK. Does a person need to be baptized to be saved?

James: Absolutely not! That’s works salvation. Salvation is by faith through grace, not of works, lest any man should boast. Praise Jesus!

Bruce: Doesn’t Mark 16 say he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved?

James: Well, you see…

Bruce: Does a person receive the Holy Spirit when they are saved?

James: Yes, they do. The Holy Spirit lives in every Christian. He is their teacher and guide! He is the third part of the Godhead.

Bruce: So there are three G…(stop, Bruce, stay on point) Sorry about that. If someone is saved but not baptized, do they have the Holy Spirit living inside of them?

James: Yes, but they should be baptized as soon as possible. Baptism is an outward sign of what God has done on the inside.

Bruce: Doesn’t Acts 2:38 say: Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost? This seems to say a person must be baptized before they receive the Holy Spirit.

James: Well, you see, the word “for” in the Greek is “eis” and it means “because of.” In other words, a person is baptized because their sins have been remitted, not in order to have their sins remitted.

Bruce: So, to understand the Bible you need to know Greek?

James: (silence)

Bruce: I thought a person could just read the English Bible and understand how to be saved? Now you are saying they need to understand Greek?

James: Well Greek is the original language of the New Testament.

Bruce: Wait a minute. There’s a Greek New Testament that came before the English New Testament?

James: Yes, and the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew.

Bruce: So, which words are the pure and perfect Word of God? The English or the Hebrew and Greek?

James: (launches into long explanation about the original languages and translations)

Bruce: OK, where I can I read these original manuscripts?

James: They don’t exist.

Bruce: What do you mean they don’t exist? Doesn’t this mean your faith is in a translation written by men and not the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God?

James: Absolutely not! We can KNOW that the English Bible is the pure and perfect Word of God. God preserves his Word down through the ages.

Bruce: And you know this HOW?

James: The Bible says…

I could go on and on and on in endless directions with this fictitious dialog between James and me. As I have easily shown, James’ belief in the Bible requires him  to interpret the text, so what is really pure and perfect is not the Bible but his interpretation. Whatever translation James uses has the fingerprints of man all over it. Since the original manuscripts no longer exist, James can’t be certain that the extant manuscripts contain the exact words of God, and he can’t be certain the translation he uses contains in perfect form the exact words of God. Instead of saying THUS SAITH THE LORD, James should say, THUS SAITH THE IMPERFECT BIBLE, AS INTERPRETED BY JAMES, THE PASTOR.

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Charles Attempts to Understand the Fundamentalist Mind

god and knowledge

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Charles asked:

I know you are probably going to slam me for asking this, but it really is something I have noticed time and time and time again across my nearly 63 years of life—and I am at a bit of a loss to understand it. So, here goes:

Why do Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals believe that the sole purpose of communications media (books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television shows, blogs, etc.) is to “teach me how I should live my life” in this world. All of my semi-fundie aunts are dead now, but they grew up in rural Tennessee in the period 1910-1930. In later years, (1930s onward), they would scrape up enough money to go to a movie, and they would go with the apparent notion that Joan Crawford will today on the movie screen “teach me how I should live my life if I move to the city.”

Whenever a fundie wants to banish a book from the public library, ban a movie, or whatever, the excuse is always something along the lines of: “Well, I’m afraid this book (or this movie) is going to teach people wrong things about…”

I gotta be honest with you Bruce. I think these people are just plain nuts. For example, I saw a DVD of the movie “Lucy” recently. At no time did I insert it into the DVD player, kick back in my easy chair, and say, “Scarlett is gonna teach me how I should live my life with this movie.” If I pick up the newest Superman comic book, I never say, “Superman is going to teach me a lesson on how I should live my life.”

I am a professional anthropologist. Human culture and society are my business, but this one is a little hard to understand. On occasion, I have wondered if this is a uniquely American disease of the mind with religious roots. For example, when the first pioneers pushed westward across the Appalachian Mountains into Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, the Bible was often the only book they owned. It was viewed as a book whose primary purpose was to “teach them how they should live their lives.” Historically, is it possible that they uncritically transferred this notion to every form of communications media that arrived on the scene?

Even nowadays, you can here fundies say, “I don’t like that short story because it does not teach a good moral lesson.” I just want to say back, “Well, maybe the author did not want to teach you a good moral lesson because he was just writing a story that he wanted to tell.”

What goes on in the minds of these people?

Here’s what I know for sure, the Christian fundamentalist operates from six presuppositions:

  • Their God, as revealed through the Bible, creation, and conscience,  is the one true God
  • The Bible is God’s divine revelation to humanity and contains everything necessary for life and godliness
  • Every person is a sinner in need of salvation
  • There is eternal life beyond the grave
  • Heaven/eternal kingdom of God is where Christians will spend eternity and hell/lake of fire is where non-Christians will spend eternity
  • This life is preparation for eternal life after death

Because Evangelicals believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, it becomes the foundation for how they view the world and live their lives (in theory anyway). This thinking permeates every aspect of their lives. It is not uncommon for Evangelicals to label themselves as “people of the book.” The Bible becomes a written oracle that speaks infallibly pertaining to life and godliness. It becomes THE truth above all others. Throw in the notion that the Holy Spirit lives inside Evangelicals as their teacher and guide, and is it any surprise that Evangelicals think the way they do?

Everything in the Evangelicals’ lives is filtered through the pages of the Bible. When they see something in the media that lines up with their beliefs, this is viewed as God giving them a life lesson or reinforcing their beliefs. Since most Evangelicals think homosexuality is a sin, they can turn to Romans 1, 2 and see that their view of the world is going to hell in a hand basket is affirmed by the Bible and recent events such as the legalization of same-sex marriage and the persecution of Christian wedding cake bakers.

Evangelicals often equate the smallest of things to God. From finding their keys to discovering a $20 bill in a pair of pants, every unexpected “blessing” is a sure sign of the truthfulness of the Bible. These “God sightings” are proof that they are on the right track and that their beliefs are true. So, when a Tim Tebow or some other sports star praises Jesus, they see the star’s words as an affirmation of their beliefs. Same goes for utterances about God at the Grammy Awards, Country Music Awards, and other show-biz award shows. Never mind that many of the singers are praising God for songs that promote debauchery and sin. All that matters is that they thanked God or their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Woo Hoo! Another God sighting!!

Evangelicals are also obsessed with eschatology. Always on the lookout for Jesus coming to rapture them away, they look for signs of his soon return (even though they are commanded not to do so). Again, this kind of thinking leads them to “see” God and signs everywhere they look. From RFID chips being the mark of the beast to mathematical formulas that predict the exact date of the rapture, Evangelicals seek out “evidence” for their eschatological beliefs. In doing so, they overlook the obvious; first century Christian expected the second coming of Jesus in their lifetime, yet here we are 2,000 years later, no Jesus. Perhaps Jesus likes his digs in heaven and is not coming back or his body lies silent in an unmarked grave outside of Jerusalem.

Evangelicals also believe God speaks to them, either through the Bible or through the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. When a person has God speaking directly to him, it is possible to see almost anything as a lesson or message from God. Spend some time on the CHARISMA website and you will come away thinking that Evangelicalism is actually an insane asylum. No belief is so far-fetched that it cannot be attributed to God. Years ago, a woman stood up in one of the churches I pastored and told a story about God appearing to her. A devout Evangelical Christian, she said God came in the night and spoke to her. Wanting to make sure it was God and not the devil, she asked for a sign. All of a sudden, she saw a blue light and she knew it was God. I thought then, as I do now, that she was confusing a blue light special at K-Mart with a visitation from God. (Note also the number of Republican candidates for President who say the Christian God TOLD them to run.)

Throw all these things in a bag and shake them up and what you end up with is a Christian version of McCarthyism. Everywhere Evangelicals look they see their God. When they pray for Grandma and she gets better they think God did it. When God doesn’t answer their prayer and Grandma dies? It’s God’s will. Either way, everything traces back to God. He is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

god said it

Understanding this explains why their thinking drives you nuts. As a man of science, you value evidence and facts. While you are still a believer, you do not check your brain at the door and ignorantly view the world as the Evangelical does. Evangelicals will likely say that they too value evidence and facts, but their evidence is the Bible, not what can be understood through reason, healthy skepticism, and the scientific method. When confronted with a challenge to their beliefs, the Bible and faith always win.

This is why I do not get into arguments and lengthy discussions with Evangelicals. The path always leads back to faith and THE BIBLE SAYS!  Once the Evangelical appeals to faith, there is no hope of a meaningful discussion. Just today, an Evangelical preacher “proved” to me that Jesus resurrected from the dead. How?  He quoted the Bible. In his mind, God said it and that settles it.

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The Resurrection of Jesus From the Dead: Fact or Fiction?

resurrection of jesus

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Wefo asked:

What do you make of 1 Corinthians 15, which is an early christian creed held by majority of biblical scholars (with a few exceptions like Robert Price) to be written no more than five years after Jesus’ death and it being held as proof of a belief in the resurrection?

Also what changed your mind on the resurrection?

While the majority of biblical scholars think Paul was quoting an oral tradition in 1 Corinthians 15, it is not all clear who Paul actually received this tradition from or whether it was some sort of vision. I certainly understand the importance of the gospel creed in 1 Corinthians 15 to those who base their entire worldview on the death and resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but this singular record is not enough to convince me that the claims the Bible makes for Jesus are true.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 states:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Paul says that the death and resurrection of Jesus were “according to the Scriptures.” What Scriptures is Paul referring to? There is no record of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Old Testament and 1 Corinthians was likely written several decades before the gospel of Mark. (biblical scholars generally think Mark was the first gospel and Matthew and Luke use Mark as a source) In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul states he received the gospel, not from any man, but by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. Which is it?

In his latest book, How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman details what we can historically know about the resurrection of Jesus:

In the previous chapter I argued that there are some things, given our current evidence, that we can not know about the resurrection traditions (in addition to the big issue itself—whether God raised Jesus from the dead): we cannot know whether Jesus was given a decent burial, and we cannot know, therefore whether his tomb was discovered empty.  But what can we know?

We can know three very important things: (1) some of Jesus’s followers believed that he had been raised from the dead; (2) they believed this because some of them had visions of him after his crucifixion; and (3) this belief led them to reevaluate who Jesus was, so that the Jewish apocalyptic preacher from rural Galilee came to be considered, in some sense, God. [page 174]

While some of Jesus’ follower believed he had been raised from the dead, this doesn’t mean he actually was. Belief does not equal fact. People believe many things that are untrue. Did they believe his resurrection was bodily? Spiritual? Since Gnosticism deeply influenced the early church, perhaps Paul thought Jesus’s resurrection was spiritual. There is no way for us to know.

It’s been a long time since I looked at the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. As I read various articles and blogs, I came away thinking that there’s no possible way to know, from history, if Jesus resurrected from the dead. If a person presupposes there is a God and that the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity, then they are likely to believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead. For those of us who are not Christian, we are left with determining whether the Bible accounts of the resurrection should be considered factual.

According to the Bible, Jesus was buried in a grave belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. There is no evidence for a man named Joseph or a place called Arimathea. Since Jesus was executed as a criminal, it is unlikely he was given a proper burial.  The Godless Skeptic writes:

More interesting are the two things Dr. Ehrman says he has changed his mind on regarding what we cannot know about the resurrection. Like his colleague John Dominic Crossan, Professor Ehrman now believes that the tradition of an honorable burial of Jesus is doubtful. He makes note of the suspicious backstory of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the same Jewish council that condemned Jesus to death, absent from the early Christian creeds, and a figure who is progressively portrayed across the four gospels as more and more of a sympathizer to the Christian cause. Citing a handful of ancient examples, he observes that Roman crucifixion victims were not usually given proper burials because humiliation was an important part of the practice, intending to deter potential criminals from committing acts of rebellion against Rome. Those who were crucified were often laid in common graves or left to decay and be eaten by scavenging animals.

It is sometimes remarked that Jesus was buried by Joseph in accordance with Jewish law, since the Sabbath was close at hand. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 gives instruction in this vein, but as Dr. Ehrman points out, it’s an open question of whether or not the Romans, particularly Pilate, would have respected such a rule. Though the Pharisees and the Jewish Sanhedrin had accused Jesus of blasphemy, the charges brought against him in front of Pilate were more political – inciting crowds, forbidding payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming to be king (Luke 23:1-3). If Jesus was executed as an insurgent, under certain circumstances perhaps he would have been left unburied. If, however, he was executed in accordance with Jewish law, it’s not so obvious where he was buried. In a chapter of the anthology The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave,  Peter Kirby writes that there is some evidence for a dishonorable burial tradition in passages like Mark 12:8 and Acts 13:27-29, which allude to Jesus being buried by his enemies rather than by his followers.

While I find all the back-and-forth debate over what the Bible does or doesn’t say about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead quite informative and entertaining, the reasons for why I reject the resurrection of Jesus are quite simple.

First, there is no record outside of the Bible for the resurrection of Jesus. I find it astounding that no historian recorded anything about the life, execution, and resurrection of Jesus. We are left with the Bible and its accounts of the life of Jesus, accounts that contradict one another. The fact that they contradict one another is not proof that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, but the contradictions do cause me to wonder if I should put much stock in what the Bible says.

Since history is silent on many of the “historical” events and figures in the Bible, why should I accept as factual what it says about the resurrection of Jesus?  For me, accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead requires faith, a faith I do not have.

Second, accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead requires believing in miracles. According to John 14:12, Jesus said

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

According to the Bible, Jesus worked many miracles, including turning water into wine, walking on water, walking through walls, healing the sick, and raising the dead. Jesus told his followers that they would do greater works than he did. Yet, everywhere we look we see a lack of the miraculous. In fact, many Christians argue that the miracles of the Bible were only for a certain time, and once the canon of Scripture was completed, there was no longer a need for the miraculous. However, this isn’t what Jesus said. He clearly stated his followers would do greater works than he did, yet we have no historical evidence that his followers were in any way miracle workers. Where can I find a modern-day miracle worker? Where I can I go to see the dead raised back to life?

Third, if there is one thing I know it is that living people die and do not come back to life. Every time I drive by a cemetery, I see the evidence for once dead, always dead.  This alone is sufficient evidence for me to say that Jesus lived and died, end of story.

But, Bruce it is possible that a miracle of some sort could happen. Sure, anything is possible, but now we are talking about probabilities. Based on the evidence, is it probable that humans can die and come back to life? No. Once dead, always dead. Is it more likely Jesus lived and died or Jesus lived, died, resurrected from the dead, and is currently alive sitting at the right hand of God, the Father? The latter requires a suspension of reason and the exercise of faith. I am not willing to do this. I know what I see with my eyes and what history tells me; once someone dies they stay dead. Since, outside of the Bible, we have no record of someone dying and miraculously resurrecting from the dead, it is safe for me to say that the resurrection of Jesus is improbable.

If you would like to read more on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus, I recommend reading:

(if readers have other book titles they think will be helpful, please leave their name in the comment section and I will add them to this list)

In the last part of Romans 14:15, Paul stated “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”  After looking at the evidence, I am persuaded that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead. Whatever he may or may not have been, he was a man who lived and died. Everything else Christians say about him requires faith, a faith I do not have. When new evidence becomes available, say the actual tomb where Jesus was supposedly buried, I will look at it, but, for now, count me one who does not believe.

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Songs of Sacrilege: 2153 by Eliza Gilkyson

This is the forty-fourth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is 2153 by Eliza Gilkyson, an an Austin, Texas-based folk musician.

Video Link

Lyrics

Well their brains were quite large for their bodies
And it lulled them into thinking they weren’t dumb
They did guns, extreme sports, special hobbies
And cool tricks with their fingers and thumbs.

And they thought they would be guarantee delivered
To some guy in Roman sandals and a beard
So they bought and they fought and they Twittered
By 2153 they disappeared.

Ah, they waited for their god in vain
Yeah they waited for their god in vain
In the last big play of the final game
They waited for their god in vain.

Oh, they went for the literal translation
Of every text and symbol sacred work and screed
They obsessed over minor variations
Misconstrued the truth to justify their deeds.

And they thought that all the others were afflicted
And those who knew the secret handshake would be saved
And they thought in the end they’d all be lifted
Now they’re lying in the beds that they made.

Ah, they waited for their god in vain
Yeah, they waited for their god in vain
Standing with their luggage waiting for the transport plane
They waited for their god in vain.

Ah, they waited for their god in vain
Yeah, they waited for their god in vain
When they called out for their god each one used a different name
They waited for their god in vain.

This is all we can conclude from what’s left of their remains
They waited for their god in vain.

Who Was Jesus?

jesus

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Tony asked

I’d like to hear your thoughts on Jesus: who exactly do you think he was? I’ve read back through your archives to see if you covered it before, and found some thoughts, but would love to hear your take on specifically what you think Jesus was about. I sat in church last week and heard the old “JESUS CHRIST WAS EITHER A LIAR, A LUNATIC, OR LORD!!” sermon. Yeah, whatever… I find those options to be extremely limiting and I don’t see what authority anyone has to demand we choose only one of those. I also realize we are confined by getting much of our historicity of Jesus from the scriptures that were written decades after his death, and surely seem to be agenda-driven. But still, would like to hear your thoughts. Thanks for your great work on this blog, Bruce! Always enjoy reading.

Tony asks a question that tends to stir up all kinds of controversy. Some atheists now think Jesus was a myth, that everything the Bible says about Jesus is fiction. I am not one of them. I think Bart Ehrman’s arguments in Did Jesus Exist: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth and How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee provide ample evidence for Jesus being a real person (and I have no desire to debate this issue).

Christians answer this question with all sorts of faith claims based on their interpretation of the Bible. As a non-Christian, I look to history, including the history found in the Bible, to determine who Jesus was. The Christian says, you mean who Jesus IS, right? No, that would be a faith claim. I know of no compelling evidence for the belief that Jesus, the son of God, resurrected from the dead and is now in heaven interceding on behalf of his followers. What the evidence does tell us is that a man by the name of Jesus lived in Galilee, was some sort of religious or political figure, and was likely executed. He lived, he died, end of story.

Some atheists think the Bible is a complete work of fiction. Again, I don’t agree with this position. I think within the Bible we can find historical facts. Granted, these facts are mixed in with distortions and fabrications, so I can understand why someone might say the Bible is historically unreliable. That said, I think most of what Christians say about Jesus has no proof outside of the Bible. Believing requires suspending reason and exercising faith. While the Christian is free to do so, I am not willing to accept that Jesus is who Christians claim he is based on the Bible says so.

Outside of the New Testament — a collection of books written by unknown authors 20 to 100 years after the death of Jesus — there is very little historical proof for the existence of Jesus. I can easily understand, if someone rejects the history found in the Bible and relies on secular sources alone, they might conclude that Jesus was a mythical being. Each of us must determine for ourselves if the evidence is sufficient to warrant thinking Jesus was a real person.

As textual critics and New Testament history scholars continue to punch holes in the Christian/Jesus narrative, some followers of Jesus are forced to reevaluate their beliefs. Sometimes, this leads to a loss of faith or, as in the case of the Evangelical, a move towards liberal Christianity. Sadly, the majority of American Christians could not defend their beliefs if their life depended on it. They wrongly think that the Bible narrative is true and that whatever their pastor tells them is rooted in historical fact. This is why books by Bart Ehrman and Robert M. Price are so deadly to faith. They confront the Evangelical with evidence their pastor or Sunday school teacher never mentioned. Once confronted, Evangelicals must determine how this evidence changes their view of God, Jesus, and Christianity. Some hold on to faith, others lose their faith or move on to sects that value scholarship over blind faith.

Personally, I consider Jesus’s sermon in Matthew 5-7 to be a powerful indictment of modern culture and much of American Christianity. I find great value in his teachings and the world would be well served if Christian and atheist alike embraced many of his teachings. Not all of them, of course, but I do find value in many of the things Jesus said. I can say the same thing about other moral/ethical writings, secular and religious.

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The Disconnect Between what Christians Say and How They Live

 

christian hypocrisy

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Chikerin asked:

Jesus said that if someone asks for your coat, to give them your cloak as well. Shouldn’t Christians therefore not only cater gay weddings, but cater gay birthdays as well? Why are Christians so stinting and stingy when Jesus said to give without thought of reward? Why are Christians always outraged when they are supposed to have peace and meekness?

The short version of this question is, why are many Christians hypocrites?

Evangelicals frequently demand that everyone live according to the teaching of the Bible (note recent battle over homosexuality and same-sex marriage). They think morality is derived from the Bible, that it is God’s standard for behavior. Pastors spend a significant amount of time preaching sermons on living the Christian life, reminding parishioners of what God expects of them. Despite all the preaching, videos, books, and conferences on living the Christian life, most Evangelicals are unable to live according to the teachings of the Bible.

In Galatians 5:22,23, the Bible says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

How many professing Christians do you know whose lives demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit? Supposedly, Evangelicals have the mind of Christ, and the Holy Spirit lives inside of them, teaching them everything necessary for life and godliness. Yet, there is no difference between how the Evangelical and the atheist live their lives. Why is this?

Christian apologists will likely say that many “Christians” are not true Christians; that they have a cultural form of Christianity. When pressed to give a clear statement of what a true Christian life looks like, most apologists quickly appeal to grace or suggest that every Christian is a work in progress. Sometimes, apologists say the non-believer is the hypocrite for demanding that Christians live according to the teachings of the Bible when they themselves are not willing to do so. However, it is the Christians who claim the high moral ground, and in doing so, they shouldn’t be surprised when non-Christians expect them to practice what they preach.

How many Christians do you know who live according to Galatians 5:22,23 and Matthew 5-7, the sermon on the mount? I suspect you’ll have a hard time coming up with anyone who actually lives their life according to these two passages of Scripture.

How about pastors? In 1 Timothy 3, Paul gives the qualifications for being a pastor. Note that he says a pastor (bishop/elder) then MUST be, not hope or aspire to be:

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be

  • blameless,
  • the husband of one wife,
  • vigilant,
  • sober,
  • of good behavior,
  • given to hospitality,
  • apt to teach;
  • not given to wine,
  • no striker,
  • not greedy of filthy lucre;
  • but patient,
  • not a brawler,
  • not covetous;
  • one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;  (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
  • Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
  • Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Do you know of ONE pastor who meets these qualifications? I certainly didn’t when I was a pastor, and neither did any of my fellow pastors.

Now, to answer Chikirin’s question. Christians are human like the rest of us. They are capable of doing good and bad, and on most days their lives are an admixture of good, bad, and indifferent behavior. They are not morally/ethically superior, regardless of what their pastor, church, and Bible tell them. They are, in every way, h-u-m-a-n. When the news reports stories of Christian malfeasance, infidelity and criminal behavior, we should not be surprised. Humans can, and do, fail morally and ethically. None of us is without fault and failure.

Christianity would be better served if believers dismounted the moral high horse, returned it to the barn, and joined the human race. As long as they continue to think they are morally superior and demand others live according to the moral teachings of the Bible, they should expect to be mocked and ridiculed when they fall off the horse.

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Ben Carson Refuses to Answer: Does the Bible Have Authority Over the Constitution?

flags near Fort Wayne Indiana

I saw these flags near Fort Wayne, Indiana. I wonder how many people driving by will notice the Christian flag flying above the American flag?

Seventh Day Adventist Ben Carson, a Republican candidate for President, refused to answer a question concerning his view of the Bible and the U.S. Constitution. On , Chuck Todd asked Carson, “does the Bible have authority over the Constitution?” Instead of honestly answering YESCarson attempted to dance around the question

“That is not a simple question by any stretch of the imagination. I think probably what you have to do is ask a very specific question about a specific passage of the Bible and a specific portion of the Constitution. I don’t think you can answer that question other than out of very specific contexts.”

The religious right refuses to be honest about their intent. I hope this question will be asked at the upcoming Republican debate. It will be fun to watch the candidates all turn into Rick Perry, unable to give a cogent answer. Those in the know already know the answer: of course the Bible has authority over the U.S. Constitution. Silly Chuck Todd, surely he knows GOD wrote the Bible and every Word is straight from Jehovah’s printing press. There’s no book like the Bible, and even the U.S. Constitution pales when compared to it.

I doubt that every Republican candidate is a Bible thumper, but they all know they need the votes of the religious right to get elected. Offend the loony bin wing of the party and they will abandon you quicker than Newt Gingrich abandons a sick wife. The current slate of candidates is willing to say almost anything to win over their base, so be prepared for a lot of God talk during the debates.

Some of the candidates are theocrats who think the Bible DOES have authority over the U.S. Constitution. These candidates are a direct threat to our republic and I hope Republican voters will see them for what they are. Men such as John McCain and Mitt Romney were/are pragmatists, willing to say the right things to get elected. Once nominated/elected, such men tend to move towards the center in hopes of attracting independent and swing voters. The dangerous candidates are men like Ted CruzRick Santorum, and Scott Walker; men who put God and their peculiar religion before Country.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, the joining of church and state always leads to loss of freedom and bloodshed. When I entered the ministry in the 1970s, almost every Baptist preacher believed in a strict separation of church and state. Today? It’s hard to find a Baptist who is willing to say he does. Drunk on political power, Christians now demand that Caesar recognize that there is one true God, the Christian God. Like their counterparts in the Middle East, once these zealots gain the power of the state they will use it to institute a Christian form of government. Once they gain power over all three branches of government, non-believers should expect a loss of liberty as God’s chosen ones exalt the Bible over the Constitution.

I want to end this post with the words of a speech given by John F Kennedy on September 12,1960 to the Houston Ministerial Association. I would love to see every candidate for public office asked if they agree with Kennedy:

…While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election: the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 90 miles off the coast of Florida; the humiliating treatment of our president and vice president by those who no longer respect our power; the hungry children I saw in West Virginia; the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills; the families forced to give up their farms; an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.

These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues — for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.

But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured — perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again not what kind of church I believe in — for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew— or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of presidency in which I believe — a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it.

I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none; who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require of him; and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.

This is the kind of America I believe in, and this is the kind I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we may have a “divided loyalty,” that we did “not believe in liberty,” or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened the “freedoms for which our forefathers died.”

And in fact ,this is the kind of America for which our forefathers died, when they fled here to escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches; when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom; and when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died McCafferty and Bailey and Carey. But no one knows whether they were Catholic or not, for there was no religious test at the Alamo.

I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition, to judge me on the basis of my record of 14 years in Congress, on my declared stands against an ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools (which I have attended myself)— instead of judging me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we all have seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and always omitting, of course, the statement of the American Bishops in 1948, which strongly endorsed church-state separation, and which more nearly reflects the views of almost every American Catholic.

I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts. Why should you? But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit, or persecute the free exercise of any other religion. And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny their presidency to Protestants, and those which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the misdeeds of those who differ, I would cite the record of the Catholic Church in such nations as Ireland and France, and the independence of such statesmen as Adenauer and De Gaulle.

But let me stress again that these are my views. For contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.

Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.

But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith, nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.

If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I had tried my best and was fairly judged. But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being president on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser — in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.

But if, on the other hand, I should win the election, then I shall devote every effort of mind and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the presidency — practically identical, I might add, to the oath I have taken for 14 years in the Congress. For without reservation, I can “solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, so help me God.

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Defiance Family Fun Fest: Local Evangelicals Use ‘Fun’ to Evangelize Children

children choosing christ tent

If there is one thing I’ve learned about Evangelicals and conservative Christians, it is hard for them to get together and just have fun. Everything is a means to an end. It’s hip now for several local churches to go out in the community and “help” others. Dressed in their matching church advertisement shirts, out in the community they go to do good works for Jesus. Why is there a need to advertise the church or hand out printed materials with the church’s name on it? If it is all about Jesus, why not do these works anonymously? Instead, these social outreach programs are used as a means to evangelize and attract church members. While they certainly do some earthly good, the grand goal is to win souls to Jesus and increase the church roll.

Years ago, the churches I pastored sponsored numerous fun events for local teenagers. From all-nighters at the YMCA to roller skating and bowling, we would design activities sure to draw local teens. During every event we would have a time when we gathered everyone together and preach the gospel. You see, fun was not the objective, salvation was. Teenagers endured the preaching and high pressure evangelism because they knew that fun awaited them just beyond saying the sinner’s prayer.

Last Saturday was the inaugural Defiance Fun Fest. According to the Defiance Crescent-News (behind a paywall):

Several Defiance area churches are partnering with Ravens Care of Defiance to present the first ever Family Fun Fest, Aug. 1 from 4-7 p.m. at Diehl Park in Defiance…

Family Fun Fest is an opportunity for families to spend time together enjoying food, fun and friends, all for free. The event has been underwritten by the Defiance Police Officers Association, First Federal Bank, General Motors Defiance Casting Operations, Johns Manville, Midwest Community Federal Credit Union and The State Bank.

The idea started when Pastor Rick Rufenacht of First Church of God in Defiance talked with other pastors about working together on an event that would minister to people in the Defiance community. His church had done a similar family event the past six years, but he was looking for a greater impact on Defiance.

“I had attempted to get some pastors together to talk about doing ministry together and what that might look like,” said Rufenacht…

…Katye Katterheinrich, director of Ravens Care, loved the idea of a family event.

“There are so many adult events in our area, but this is an event geared toward families, and it’s free,” said Katterheinrich. “There are a lot of families that don’t get to go on vacation, that don’t get to go to the pool, that don’t always have these kind of opportunities. Ravens Care is supported by area churches, so working together on a family event with the churches, is really natural fit.”

Pastor Max Begley of Second Baptist Church in Defiance, is pleased to be a part of this event and the spirit of cooperation that has grown among the churches and with Ravens Care.

“Each individual church may not be able to do a family festival by itself because it may be limited by resources, so by coming together, we can do something better together that has a greater positive impact on the community,” said Begley. “Because Rick and his church had already been doing this, we agreed to work together to build on that, and once we did, it started coming together quickly.”

Several of my grandchildren attended the event.  According to the newspaper, Fun Fest included:

…large inflatable attractions, Zorbs, hot dogs, popcorn, sno cones, cotton candy, games, crafts by Lowes of Defiance, a karate demonstration, a demonstration from Iron Faith Fitness Center of Defiance, a photo booth, Defiance firemen and fire trucks, Defiance policemen and cruisers, Defiance County Sheriff’s Office, DARE and K-9 dogs.

What’s not to like, right? Sounds like a lot of fun and the proceeds went to support Ravens Care, a “Christian Ministry dedicated to meet needs in the community that are not being met by other agencies.”  I am all for any “ministry” or program that helps the least of these, but  works of charity should not be used a means to evangelize non-Christians. While Ravens Care, as far as I know, does not evangelize those they serve, the Family Fun Fest did.

Children were able earn coupons/tickets that could be turned in for rides on the inflatables. Guess what one of ways was that children could earn tickets?  Attending a gospel presentation at the ” ‘Choosing Christ’ tent for kids, (a program) designed to allow kids to learn the gospel message.” Hey kiddies, want to earn some tickets so you can go play on the big, fun rides? Just sit here and let us tell you about Jesus. As any adult who was evangelized like this as a child will tell you, what’s a little preaching and praying when you get to play games and do fun stuff when you are done. Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I know you died on the cross to save me from my sins. Come into my heart and save me. In Jesus name, Amen. Tickets please!

I did a cursory Google search for the Children Choosing Christ tent and I found out that this tent is used to evangelize at NW Ohio fairs and special events. While I was unable to find out what group or person owned the tent, I was told that the preaching in the tent was decidedly Evangelical, geared to evangelizing and converting impressionable children. In any other context we would consider such behavior predatory and harmful.

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