Thursday, September 30, 2010

What is a relationship?

I was recently reading a blog, and the issue was dealing with why God is hidden. This was in relation to many agnostics/atheists saying that they had looked quite hard for evidence, and had found none. God has to remain hidden so that the ability people have to make moral decisions isn't coerced in any way. Furthermore, if God did make Himself so easily visible, it would interfere with the free will and autonomy of humanity. They would respond to God due to self-preservation and fear of punishment, as opposed to wanting to get to know God just for the sake of knowing Him.

I've seen this argument a few times, but it was only this past month that I realized I was confused over portions of it.

Any time we have a person point out the less than ethical Christians throughout history as to why some people don't view Christianity in a positive light, or why they might feel religion is harmful, one of the responses is inevitably the idea that many will claim to follow Jesus, but that at the day of judgment, Jesus will say something along the lines of how they are to depart, for they never knew him. Even though these people claimed to preach about him, do good works in his name, expel demons -- didn't matter. Jesus didn't know them.

So, obviously, the departed people didn't truly know God or have a relationship with Him. They had knowledge of God (presumably, given what they claimed to have done). But that knowledge of God, and that claim or belief to follow God, wasn't enough to ensure salvation.

So, if it wasn't enough in this case, wouldn't the same principle apply if God made Himself so completely obvious to everyone? If it's not enough to simply believe in God and try to follow Him, then how is any sort of revelation an issue? Why remain hidden? Surely, since God would know the inner workings of people, that if someone was only not robbing others out of punishment, but very much wanted to rob others and wasn't "convicted" of that sin or anything, such a desire would be factored into the equation.

Another issue I have with this argument is the assumption built into the answer. There are plenty of people who genuinely wish God was real, only don't see any evidence for the case. They do want a relationship with God because they want the unconditional love, or they want a purpose in life, or they want to be a better person. They've prayed, they've read the books, they've searched ... and they feel that the only honest solution is to be an agnostic or atheist, due to what they see as the lack of evidence.

So if God ceased to remain hidden in their cases, they would respond to Him, but not out of a fear of punishment. Except the argument contains the implication that those who claim God is too hidden would only respond to a revelation out of a fear of punishment.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Empathy could very well drive me to Hell.

I was reading a blog a few days back, and there was one comment from a conservative Christian that really stuck with me. Essentially, he made the claim that while he was an atheist, nothing prevented him from doing whatever he wanted. If he wanted to hit an innocent person, he did. If he wanted to hurt an innocent person, he did.

Now that he was a Christian and thus aware of the eternal consequences, he no longer acted as he might want to, but rather as God did. In his words, since atheists didn't think they faced those same consequences, there was nothing stopping them from doing whatever they wanted, nor was there any reason for them to stop.

The thing that really struck me about both of these scenarios is that the commenter doesn't demonstrate a sense of empathy in either case. He doesn't care who he's hurting, the pain they might feel or the humiliation.

And in the case when he's a Christian, the thing that's stopping him? Again, not empathy. Not the recognition that this is a fellow human being. What stops him is the threat of Hell. He doesn't want to suffer, and so he won't do whatever he wants.

(And, on an interesting note, if God truly had changed his heart, then shouldn't he no longer want to do the desires of the flesh/old man?)

If that's what prevents him from hurting others, then I'm all for it. But this isn't someone I'd want to maintain a connection with, nor be alone in the same room. Because the inference I'm getting from this is that he's not restrained by his lack of desire to cause me harm. He's restrained by his desire to not go to hell. He's restrained by a selfish desire, in terms of how the outcome would impact him.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Empericism vs. emotion.

A well-known Christian recently announced she was pregnant. She also explained how surprising that was, given that she and her husband were told it was unlikely they could ever conceive naturally. The reason why they have their first two children is because of fertility treatments.

I think it's thrilling that someone who wants kids and is told they're pretty much incapable of doing so finds themselves pregnant through no scientific intervention. But that was quickly overshadowed by my, for lack of a better word, "logical" nature. I'd like to think that if I ever engaged with this person face-to-face, I wouldn't be so quick to critique. However, I'd be somewhat lying to myself, because it's a lot easier for me to latch onto the logical implications of a statement than the emotional ones.

For instance, when she was describing the infertility of her and her husband, she said that it was a costly process that involved lots of shots. But, thanks to God, it worked and He gave them two miracles.

My first reaction? "No, it was the fertility treatments that allowed you to have your first two children. It was scientific knowledge of how the reproductive system works that allowed you to have your first two children."

Granted, my reaction is countered with the fact that this pregnancy did occur through natural means. In this case, I understand why it's referred to as a miracle, because it was highly unlikely.

But she went on to mention that the reason why the pregnancy occurred was because "with God, all things are possible." And then used the pregnancy to encourage others in trusting God, because God is the one in control, and can make anything happen. Only that doesn't necessarily mean that God will give someone the miracle they want, for His ways are higher than our ways. But God is still great.

I think what's bothering me about this (other than my inability to just be happy for someone in this situation and my mind's inability to shut off the "analysis" mode) is a) assigning God all the credit for the first pregnancy when it wouldn't have occurred without human intervention, period. Given how powerful God is, and what God can overcome, why was human intervention necessary? Why were fertility treatments needed in order for God to bless the parents?

and b) using the second pregnancy as a way of demonstrating how powerful God is, and how He can overcome anything, and we can rest in this. Only this doesn't mean that God will do everything we pray for Him to do, as "His ways our higher than our ways." It's pretty much a contradiction. She obviously wanted children, she's obviously thrilled, she's obviously using this situation to demonstrate that anything is possible with God, no matter what physical constraints one has, and that He always has "the last word in our lives."

But then goes on to say that this doesn't mean we'll always get what we're praying for. Then why use a scenario where God essentially did provide a prayed-for miracle, to show that all things are possible with Him, only to turn around and say that this doesn't mean that God will, in fact, do everything? How does one rest in the fact that God will have the last word in your lives, based on a prayer that God answered, when one is also told that the very example that proves all things are possible with God doesn't mean that God will, in fact, granted someone the impossible with each prayer?

If such a concrete example can be used as proof of God's last word, then shouldn't a lack of an example be used as proof of God lacking the last word in one's life? It's like saying that person A proves her parents loved her because they fed, clothed, and sheltered her. Those physical examples are the proof of love. But if person B's parents didn't do any of those things, that actually can't be used as proof. It just means that person B's parents ways are higher than the ways of person B. The standards of proof aren't consistent. Rather, they're relative to what occurs in each situation. And that's why this bothers me.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

They want to be my friend, but think they're ugly.

I was listening to an interview of a Christian recently, and she said this particular line that stuck with me: "Apart from him, I have no good thing to offer." The quote was in the context of making sure that all Christians point to and glorify Jesus, for he liberates all things.

But I wonder if she considered the implication behind that statement, in terms of approaching non-Christians, especially if that statement is to be taken literally. Let's say a Christian wants to be a friend with a non-Christian. What, exactly, is that Christian offering the non-Christian in terms of friendship if the Christian has no good thing to offer aside from Jesus? After all, the non-Christian can easily have a Jesus of his/her own.

Or a Christian deciding to marry another Christian. If they have no good thing to offer apart from Jesus, then what exactly are they giving to each other? It can't be Jesus, because both Christians already have Jesus.

Or a Christian trying to parent his/her child. Again, the same thing: what good thing does the parent have to offer?

I just listen to statements like that and go "Seriously? You think you don't offer any good thing? Just one? You don't offer a sense of compassion, or love?"

In any other context, statements like that would be a huge indication of radically low self-esteem. We'd be horrified if people felt that way about themselves. Yet, in a religious context, it can be uttered without batting an eye.

And that's just in the context of a Christian considering him/herself. Given that this would be a universal idea -- that no one can offer any good thing apart from Jesus -- then, technically speaking, then that means any Christian considering me or any non-Christian would think we'd have nothing good to offer them in any sort of relationship.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

So I may have done something stupid this weekend.

Who wants to hear about it!!!

I don't remember where the blog post is, and I'm too lazy to go look it up, but I had posted a while ago about struggling with how to be friends with a Christian, and what it means. Well, I hung out with one of the Christians I referenced in that post, and somehow, we got into a theological discussion. For two hours. I still don't know how we got on that topic, after so fervently avoiding it (well, fervent on my part. She was no doubt hopeful, as it may plant seeds or something).

The highlights:

1) We talked about abortion, and her pro-life position seemed to come down to the idea of authority. The embryo/fetus was innocent in the sense of it hadn't broken any of society's laws, and so didn't deserve to die. But it wasn't innocent in the eyes of God, thanks to original sin. But it was also a soul from the moment of conception, which is why even birth control was wrong in her eyes, because it could possibly interfere with that. I pointed out that, from what I understand, birth control actually prevents the death of less fertilized eggs than a regular cycle, because a lot of fertilized eggs naturally fail to implant. Whereas birth control suppresses ovulation, and thus leads to no fertilized eggs being created. She said that would still be wrong, because birth control wasn't a natural function, and thus it wasn't up to God. Which sounded like her argument wasn't really about the sanctity of life, but about refusing to follow the will of God.

2) We talked about the nature of free will. Always a doozy. We got to this point after I pointed out that if the souls of all those fertilized eggs were in heaven, I had a hard time seeing how free will was such a gift and all, given that only a fraction of fertilized eggs were ever even able to make the choice, period.

2b) To which lead me to ask her why God couldn't simply create people that He'd know would freely choose Him, and not create anyone who would choose Hell. She said that would violate free will, because the people would only exist so long as they choose God. But I pointed out that God isn't forcing them to choose Him -- He's merely only creating those people who would freely choose Him. Why create people that you know aren't going to choose you, and thus condemn them to an eternity of suffering? She had to think on that one and may or may not come back to me with an answer.

2c) We also discussed the idea of how free will also meant that you'd have to want to choose to sin -- and thus have to be created with the ability to be attracted to sin in the first place. Ergo, created less than perfect, as since God is not attracted to sin and does not want to sin, that is part of what makes Him perfect.

3) We talked about Jesus and God and the Trinity. I pointed out that for such a core Christian doctrine, it certainly required a lot of interpretation of the texts and someone reading the Synoptic Gospels with no knowledge of Christianity whatsoever would have a hard time walking away with the idea that there was a Trinity. And that Jesus was God.

4) We talked about the penal substitution atonement theory. Always a fun topic, and always one that sends us in circles. To me, the theory violates the very nature of justice. You do not have a just character if you create people who are imperfect to begin with, and thus incapable of living up to a perfect standard, and then get angry and punish them for it. That's not justice. To her, it wasn't an issue because God took on the punishment Himself, and so the issue was now whether or not you accepted the sacrifice of Jesus. That still doesn't explain the original problem -- that there's a punishment in place for people created to be incapable of following the standards. Plus, her argument seemed to be that it would've only been unjust if Jesus *hadn't* taken the punishment, because then we would be held accountable to standards we couldn't live up to, and that was not just. Ergo, if we all had to pay our own way out this, then God wouldn't be a just God. Except I've also seen her argue that we all deserve Hell, and because God was just, He couldn't just gloss over that. That, and I pointed out to her except the Bible says that Jesus satisfied the wrath of God, which again comes down to God wrathful towards imperfect people who were created that way.

5) The best topic of all -- she mentioned her church and how they discussed those who reject God. I asked her, smiling in a non-passive aggressive way, if that included me. She got a little flustered, and did say that she still prayed for me. I don't know what came over me, but I then pointed out to her that there's a discrepancy between praying that I become a Christian, and saying that she accepts me as I am. Because if I become a Christian, everything about me changes. She disagreed. And we didn't go into more detail than that. She did look like she was uncomfortable with the discussion, and to indulge my ego for a moment, I'm thinking the discomfort was because I'm right and she can't acknowledge it. Converting to Christianity is life-changing. You go from being dead to sin to alive in Christ. You go from the old man to the new man. It's a radical change, and it's meant to influence all areas of your life. A lot of what I believe -- a lot of my core beliefs -- are either sins or heresies. You change those core beliefs, you change me. To say that that I won't in fact be changed all that much makes it sound like Jesus is merely a piece of one's life, rather than one's whole life.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

They judge me, they judge me not.

A question for my ex-fundamentalist readers for when you were a fundamentalist: if you happened to have a really good friend who was a non-Christian, what did you think any time that non-Christian was less than perfect? Aka, simply human?

I'm lately wondering that any time I'm simply human around fundamentalist friends -- you know, those moments where you're petty, or mean, or jealous, or hateful. I wonder if the fundamentalist friend sympathizes with me or if a part of the friend is screaming, "God hates that behavior! How can you NOT see how imperfect you are, and thus how much you need Jesus?"

I'm now awaiting a comment that tells me this pondering is really because the Holy Spirit is convicting me of my sins and showing me my need for a Savior.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Calling Pontius Pilate ...

I've pondering Christianity and it's relation to truth. Pulling from memory, there are quite a few Bible verses dealing with truth.

"I am the way, the truth, and the life."

"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth."

"God be true, even if every man is a liar."

"I have come into this world to bear witness to the truth -- Everyone who is of the truth shall listen to my voice."

Or that Satan is a deceiver, seeking to lure people away from God with lies and so forth.

Ergo, Christianity is very concerned with the nature of truth. So how far does this concern go? Is is a universal truth, or is just truth in terms of the Christian tenants? How well are Christians able to discern truth, compared to non-Christians? Overall, I would say they're no better, and no worse.

I'm thinking of stories I've read about de-converting Christians, who said that they spent years in the church as an atheist, in order to preserve the peace in their family, or because they couldn't confess that they were atheists. And not one Christian noticed at all. There wasn't any special discernment of the truth here.

I'm thinking of me personally, and how if I told my evangelical friends that I had confessed Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and started going to church and essentially acting the way a Christian should -- if I came across as sincere enough, they'd never know the truth. There would be no special discernment.

I'm thinking of really renowned Christian leaders, who rant against certain lifestyles, and then it turns out that the same Christian leaders in fact participate in those lifestyles. Christians found out about that the same way everyone else did -- through the lifestyle partners coming forward. There was no special discernment.

I'm thinking of the Catholic church and the child rapes, and how when the victims first starting coming forward, the Catholic congregations rushed to defend the priests against such "lies." Again, the truth wasn't uncovered until the victims came forward, and papers started appearing about how the Church was complicate in covering up the rapes. There was no special discernment.

In each of these situations, the truth came out because someone came forward, or someone confessed to something. There was no special nudging from the Holy Spirit, no special access to the one source of Truth, or anything like that. Christians discover what the truth is the same way other people did.

Now, perhaps a counterargument to this could be that in terms of God and Truth, that only deals with the nature of personal salvation, or the nature of God, or something like that. But if God is a God of Truth, why wouldn't He be concerned with all Truth, period? Why wouldn't He give His followers some sort of special insight that non-Christians lack? If God is that focused on the truth ... why are Christians discovering the truth through the same methods that non-Christians must employ?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Keep your eyes on Jesus ...

I met with a group of people last night, discussing what Roman Catholics believed and why. There was some segues, that included the aspect of Jesus walking on the water, and Peter coming out to meet him. Peter's doing fine, until he realizes how strong the waves are, and then starts to sink. He calls for Jesus to save him. Jesus does, while telling Peter that he was of little faith, and asking why he doubted (Matthew 14:22-33)

The discussion then went into the area where "keep your eyes on Jesus" has sparked song after song after song, about how things are fine so long as you keep your eyes on Jesus. As soon as your gaze goes elsewhere, you start to sink.

The discussion swirled in my head for a while, and now I'm wondering ... if Peter had a physical Jesus in front of him, physically violating the laws of nature, physically calling out to Peter to join him ... and Peter still took his eyes off Jesus, what hope do Christians have 2,000 years later when they just have the spiritual aspect? When keeping one's eyes on Jesus is essentially a mental effort, because there is no physical Jesus to look at and to hear? When keeping one's eyes on Jesus is dependent upon what reads in a book, as opposed to Peter, who had daily encounters with Jesus and the works Jesus performed?

That, and Jesus wasn't kind to Peter at this loss of confidence. The more I read the Gospel, the more Jesus comes across as unsympathetic to human frailties.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Even 0.0000000001% of sin hellbounds you.

By now, I'm sure everyone is aware of all Catholic Church scandals, in terms of some priests raping children, and then the church hierarchy essentially covering it up.

The defenses used by the Church have infuriated me. One is that other organizations also have their problems, and yet the Church is singled out due to anti-Catholicism. Well, other organizations don't claim that the head of their organization is the "Vicar of Christ," or that their organization is infallible or has a direct connection to God, or is the light of the world.

The other defense I see in some circles is that we also have to take all the good the Church has done into consideration. While these crimes are evil, it doesn't make the entire Church evil.

I don't know enough about Catholic theology, but from what I've read in standard evangelism, God can't stand even a micro spot of sin in His presence. It doesn't matter how many good works you do, those good works don't cancel out the sin/s. The sin is enough to taint all the good works. So if, in evangelical theology, the Church was an individual standing before God, asking God to take into consideration all the good works, even though said individual had either raped children or participated in a cover-up ... the Evangelical Theology would say the good works were essentially meaningless, as the crime tainted everything.

If Catholic Theology operates differently in terms of good works somewhat compensating for sins, then my question is meaningless. But if it doesn't, then I have to ask ... if your own theology, your own God Himself, cannot use good works to overlook sin ... why in turn are your defenders requesting that the world at large do something that goes against God's character? That goes against your very theology?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Jennifer Knapp and a closet ...

... so apparently,Jennifer Knapp has announced that she's a lesbian, and has been in a same-sex relationship for eight years.

The results from her Christian fanbase are what one would expect in this situation. So far, I think my favorite comment -- not in the link above -- has been someone advising fellow Christians to refrain from bashing her, but to also not support her, instead. This includes refraining from purchasing her upcoming album, as well as her prior albums. This commenter also said that all Christians were to remember that only God can judge, and they have no place telling her she's a sinner, and thus don't pass earthly judgment on her.

Now, where I come from, advising people to not purchase an artist's material because the artists lifestyle or belief system is immoral is passing judgment on that artist. I am judging that artist to be incapable with my system of morality, and so refraining from associating with said artist. But that's just me.

Or another one about how Christians don't judge people, they judge actions. I'm uncertain how the two are separated -- there would be no actions to judge unless the people were committing the actions. It's like calling someone a liar, and then saying, "I'm not judging you, I'm judging your action." The two can't be distinguished. Or in a murder trial -- you are judging what the person has done, and then holding that person accountable for the action.

There's also the standard "We just have to pray that God will help her/use someone to show her the truth." So far, my favorite pray comment is "We have to pray that God would help her to pray to Him ... " I was hoping for a comment along the lines, "God is using this to tell us to pray to Him that Jennifer will come to God and be healed."

I do admire Jennifer's courage in confessing this, and I'm glad that she's reached a point where she can be honest about who she is. And that she had the courage to do this, even though she had to know the backlash that would result.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The poor will be with you, always.

Only I can't help but hear that title in Obi-Wan Kenobi's voice where he says, "The force will be with you. Always."

I've been reading some non-fiction lately. One is The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government and the other is Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

The first one did deal mostly with the rise of lobbyism, but one of the other areas it explored was when Newt Gingrich did his whole Contract with America back in the 1980s, and how Tom Delay really worked to cement Republican control of Congress. Part of the tactics used to gain that control, in terms of getting the Republicans voted in, was the use of negative ads. Before, many of the ads focused on the positive traits of the candidates running: what they stood for, what they would do, what they had accomplished. Now, the ads shifted towards negative aids involving the opponents -- and these ads weren't always truthful.

I started thinking about this in terms of the conservative Christian movement, and how drawn they were to the Republicans. I try and put that pull in context of verses such as these:

And now, my friends, all that is true, all that is noble, all that is just and pure, all that is lovable and gracious, whatever is excellent and admirable -- fill all your thoughts with these things. Philippians 4: 8-9

Live like men who are at home in the daylight, for where light is, there all goodness springs up, all justice and truth. Try to find out what would please the Lord; take no part in the barren deeds of darkness, but show them up for what they are Ephesians 5: 8-12

Then put to death those parts of you which belong to the earth -- fornication, indecency, lust, foul cravings, and the ruthless greed which is nothing less than idolatry ... but now you must yourselves lay aside all anger, passion, malice, cursing, filthy talk -- have done with them! ... Then put on the garments that suit God's chosen people, his own, his beloved: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience ... Portions of Colossians 2: 5-13.

And, of course, the ever famous fruits of the Spirit passage: Anyone can see the kind of behavior that belongs to the lower nature: fornication, impurity, and indecency; idolatry and sorcery; quarrels, a contentious temper, envy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, party intrigues, and jealousies; drinking bouts, orgies, and the like ... but the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control Galations 5: 19-21, 22-23

Based on those passages alone, I would expect that conservative Christians would've been the last to have been drawn in by the party that first used the negative ads and the lies. Especially as the use of both demonstrates a less than stellar character. Instead, the conservative Christians come across as almost attracted to the very thing that should repel them.

Now, I know there were a lot of complexities behind the marriage of Republicans and conservative Christians. I simply found the correlation interesting, as it doesn't match what -- per the Bible -- one is expected to see.

In the case of the latter book, the author mentioned in the afterward how at one college, the conservative students and state legislatures protested her book in the college curriculum, as they felt it promoted "Marxism." I'm wondering how many of those conservative protesters would claim to be devout followers of the One who inspired their Holy Book -- the same Book that emphasizes, over and over again, how exploited the poor are and how much they need help. And the Nickel and Dimed book operates on the same vein: how exploited the poor are, and the help they need to lead better lives.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Maybe I just need to stop thinking.

This is somewhat tied into my "See Who I Am" post and how a nonbeliever is viewed by evangelicals.

For a long time, Hell was presented -- or came across -- as a place where people would be tormented for all eternity. And it was a place where God sent you.

In recent years, that view appears to have been softened somewhat. It's no longer a place of torture, it's a place where there's simply no love, mercy, compassion, light, peace, all those good things. It's the absence of God, so it would be a place of darkness, despair, hatred, envy, rage, lust ... and God no longer sends you there. Rather, you send yourself there through your choice to not accept Him, and God loves you enough to respect your choice.

Okay. But when I start making the connections in this viewpoint, what it's saying, then, is everyone who goes there is someone who prefers hatred over love. Lust/greed over charity. Despair over hope. Envy over gratitude. The people in Hell prefer these negative things 100%.

My question to the evangelical would be thus: if your nonbelieving friend were to die tomorrow, s/he is only going to one place. Hell. And if you believe your friend is going to hell, then you believe your friend choose to go there because your friend wanted to go there. Thus, you believe that your friend 100% prefered hatred over love, lust/greed over charity, despair over hope, and envy over gratitude. Your friend wasn't attracted to anything good at all. In fact, your friend was a pretty ugly person.

A) Is this truly what you believe about your friend? After all, they choose to go to this ugly place, and since this was the place that attracted them the most, then obviously, there wasn't a lot of good in their life and B) why would you want to be friends with someone this ugly?

Monday, March 15, 2010

See Who I Am

When I was younger, I thought that my evangelical friends and I could just get along. That our differences didn't matter that much, that we could still find lots in common, and since we each used the Bible in our religions, we'd have common ground. I thought that accepting their invitations to church weren't that big of a deal, that it was nice to go along and learn about this huge part of their lives.

Let me just say that I was naive and had that youthful arrogance when I was younger. My mother did try to warn me, but she was an adult and old and stuff, so what did she know?

The realization of how different we were has been building for a while, and there was an incident that about a year and a half ago, that made me understand how much Evangelical Christianity can operate with ulterior motives. I thought we were entering a conversation under one pretense, and the conversation was instead used to try and "convert" me. Not only that, but my portion of the conversation had been revealed to someone who was raised in my religion, and now was an evangelical. That ex-member gave "pointers" as to how to crack through my brainwashing (for my religion is considered a cult by evangelical standards).

The biggest realization I had as a result of this incident is just how much they'll never accept me for who I am. They're always going to pray for my salvation, they're always going to pray that God reveals an opening for me to see the truth, and they'll always be ready. They're always going to want me to change. They're always going to judge my experiences based on those who've left my religion for evangelicalism, rather than asking me themselves about my experiences.

I can't even begin to explain how much that severed something inside of me. I felt like I had been slapped in the face, almost. And how, even a year and a half later, I haven't recovered. There is something very dead inside of me, in terms of this relationship. I don't feel like I can confide in this person at all, because who knows how my life will get used? My experiences aren't her prayer tools to try and convert me.

That incident has only been reinforced by something that happened a few weeks ago. She posted a response on facebook in someone else's notes, and I'm 99% sure she didn't realize the note was public. It was in discussion about postmodernism, and she was explaining her reaction when someone quoted Rob Bell.

Essentially, her reaction arose because one of her closest friends in the world (that would be me) is in a cult. So when she hears too much "Popular postmodern speaker instead of Christ says," what she's hearing is "founder of my religion says" and that somewhat freaks her out.

I haven't been a member of my religion for a few years (which I haven't told her, as I don't want to deal with the questions or her joy at feeling that God is slowly leading me towards the truth. First step -- remove me from my old religion). If I must label myself, I'd go with "hopeful agnostic." But my parents still are devout members (who have no problem with my beliefs, as they raised me to think for myself), and thus their belief set influenced how I was raised. It shaped me. It made into the person I am today, with all the good qualities that supposedly make her feel I'm a good friend.

Maybe she's able to separate the two, but I don't have that ability. The way I see it, the factors that defined me kind of freak her out. If I go back to the incident from a year and a half ago, the factors that defined me aren't elements that should be explored in an effort to know me better, but should be approached with "How can I use this to get what I want out of it?"

And I know that while I'm angry over this, she's simply being who she is. Her belief structure can't allow her to operate any differently. She has no other way of viewing me, and so to be angry with her is unfair.

But I'm also angry because I know just how much it would damage me to become an evangelical Christian. There would be parts of me that I'd have to suffocate just to survive in that world, both intellectually and emotionally. I'd become a colder person, and I'd become a meaner person. And I'd no longer be the person writing this post, because my whole personality would have to shift. She is actively praying for something that I know on every level would harm me.

I'm angry because she's not allowing me to define my past. No matter what I would explain to her about how I felt I encountered God, she gets to define it. It wasn't God, because I'm spiritually blind. She gets to own my experiences, not me.

Perhaps most of all, though, I'm really angry with myself, because what am I doing to resolve this, other than writing this blog post? I hate conflict, but I'm not sure I have a choice in this matter. Not anymore.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sensitive nature

**Note -- I had hesitations in making this commentary, given the subject nature of rape. I believe I would have refrained, had it not been for the idea presented of wanting everyone to come to know and believe in the God who had not abandoned the victim.

I read a story recently about a woman who was raped, and later explained the situation, thanking God for providing her with grace. She also thanked for giving her a sort of protection against feeling rage or bitterness about what happened, and part of this protection included a sense of God sheltering her unmarred soul despite the rape on her body.

Now -- I truly do find that incredible, because if I was in that situation, I don't think I'd be able to stop myself from descending into that rage and bitterness. I'd want justice -- lots and lots of justice, and I'd definitely my definition of justice twisting to include vengeance.

However, in reading commentary on the story, one of the things that I'm getting confused over is the idea people want other people to know of this same God who loves and never abandoned the woman who was raped.

And I don't know what "never abandoned" means in this case. That's the part that I'm tripping over. If this woman's ability to resist bitterness and respond with grace is tied to her belief in God, I'm happy for her. As it sounds like her belief in God and His grace will aid in her healing, I'm happy that she has something to rely on and help her.

But basically, how this is read is that "Before the rape, during the rape, and after the rape, God will not abandon you." The only way for the word "abandon" to still function as a "to leave completely and finally; forsake utterly; desert; to give up; withdraw;" in this context is for the "you" to be defined as something other than a body. Something apart from your body. For the lack of abandonment is now directly associated with the feeling the woman had with God protecting her soul, and how it felt undamaged, compared to the attack on her body.

Yet, if this were reversed, and for some reason the guy had been about to rape her and then suddenly stopped, saying that God had convinced him of the error of his ways, and in fact the would-be rapist had now converted to Christianity ... wouldn't this also be seen as God not abandoning the woman? Only this time, the lack of abandonment would include a prevention of rape on her body?

And, if there is this clear line between the body and the soul, and we extend that definition of a person into other cases ... then when someone's murdered, they aren't really murdered, it's just the body that's killed. When someone's starving to death, they aren't really starving, it's just the body that's denied food.

Which we clearly don't see. Not in our sense of justice, not in our laws, and not even in good outcomes that are attributed to God. Those outcomes where believers thank God for preventing a plane crash, or thanking God for sparing a loved one in a war.

There's also the issue that "never abandoned" also means that a person is not abandoned even though there's an entity fully aware of the rape and does nothing to stop it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I may love you, I just don't love anything that you do.

I think we've all heard the saying "Love the sinner, hate the sin." I hear it most frequently applied to homosexuals, but it's used in even the less mouth-frothing sins: greed, lust, adultery, murder, negative emotions.

Now, the comparison I'm about to make works best when just looking at homosexuality, because of the issue of identity. Essentially, what's said is "Love the person, hate who/what the person is."

What if that was reversed? What if people started saying, "Love the Christian, hate the theology/religion?" Can the two really be separated so easily then? Isn't it like telling the Christian, "While I say I love you, I actually hate everything that makes you the person you are." You're saying you hate the concept of God, you hate their view of humanity, you hate how they use the religion to define themselves. And since Christianity is supposed to be everything, and is supposed to shape everything about the person, aren't you hating the person themselves?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Let's be frenimies!

For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His son, how much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life! Romans 5:10

For he is destined to reign until God has put all enemies under his feet; and the last enemy to be abolished is death 1 Corinthians 15:25

I thought there was another New Testament verse referencing humanity as God's enemy, but I'm not able to locate it through Google.

I was struck by the first verse a couple days ago. I came across it in another location, and starting ruminating. Now, humanity as a whole, if born into a state of sin thanks to Original Sin, is born as God's enemy. To me, "enemy" isn't a casual word. This is someone who has the potential to cause serious harm to one's opponent, and also greatly dislikes the other person.

I can see where the Christian would say that all unsaved people meet the second criteria, as they'd (the conservative one, at any rate) say that all people are hostile to God by default, and it's only by accepting Jesus that one changes to a non-hostile state.

But the potential to cause serious harm? God's omnipotent. I can't even get my perfect-candidate-for-the-Darwin-Award cat to stop using my stairs as a scratching post. We simply don't have the power to cause any damage to an omnipotent being. Especially once the omniscience is thrown in, because not only is God all-powerful, He can foresee any futile attack in the first place.

Not only that, but this enemy list includes death. Any unsaved person is on the same list as death (though I would hope not on the same level). This is a serious enemy list.

Yet I also constantly come across the idea of humanity's level of importance compared to God. We are jars of clay, and jars of clay don't talk back to the Potter. God can do whatever He wants with us, just like an artist can with a painting he creates. We should be grateful, period, that God even deigns to notice us, given how more more superior He is to humanity, and how better. We should be flattered that God even wants us, as He doesn't need anything.

If humanity's that low on the totem pole, how can it possibly be a credible enemy? If it's that "nothing" compared to God, how can it be a viable threat? How can God even feel threatened in the first place? Especially if both humanity and death are enemies of God? Jars of clay aren't the Potter's enemies. If we have no power whatsoever, how can we be any sort of enemy, period?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Future, future, burning bright.

I was feeling pretty optimistic about the future of society last week. I fixed that by reading Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement by Lauren Sandler.

I'm just going to type out some overall impressions.

One of the things she described was Mark Driscoll's church, and part of the doctrine where the woman marries, stays at home, and raises the children. Preferably lots of children, so that the culture can shift to a conservative Christian one in the next twenty years or so. It's like a subdued version of the Quiverfull movement.

Women can choose whatever path they want. They can work and have children. They can stay at home and have children. They can have no children whatsoever. The path they take depends on their dreams, their desires, what they want in life. Their individuality. In Mark Driscoll's doctrine, that individuality is stripped from them. Biology is destiny. If you're born a woman, than you have one path and one path alone in life. The woman herself doesn't matter. Her individuality doesn't matter. In that movement, all women are alike because all women -- if they want to be "Biblical" -- must have lots of children and stay home with them. The only value they have is their biology, whereas the men are allowed to have more dreams than simply procreation.

And yet, he says he constantly preaches that people can "come as they are."

Uh-huh. I am more than my uterus, and yet this doctrine can't see past that one organ in my body.

The book also went into how many evangelicals are changing to the culture. Not in terms of the pre-marital sex or anything, but in terms of what kids like. They'll discuss tattoos, they'll discuss skateboarding, they'll discuss video games or wrestling. Evangelicals plug into the culture that the youth follow, and then from there, are able to sway young people into becoming evangelicals themselves. This even extends to concerts, where they'd send out fliers, and then when non-Christians attended, they'd be so emotionally overwhelmed that they'd convert to Christianity.

All of these are excellent marketing techniques. They're also incredibly manipulative, as all marketing techniques are. It uses the kids interests or emotional vulnerabilities against them, in order to have them change to what the Christians want.

The last section of the book was dedicated to the "End Times" craze, and how since so many Christians are convinced that Jesus will return any second now, it's pointless to try and help those who are homeless, suffering, end wars, work on the environment -- basically, there's no point in trying to make sure anyone has a future as that future will be gone when Jesus comes back in the next second or so. Rather, all the time should be spent saving souls (and ignoring any state of suffering said soul might be in).

I could spend blog post after blog post about how angry that viewpoint makes me. Perhaps even try and reverse Pascal Wager it: since there have been a lot of discredited "End Time" claims, why not at least work on stabilizing the future in case Jesus doesn't come back?

One of the reviews of this book at amazon said that it was "alarmist." I'm very much hoping the reviewer is wrong.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Throw me a party, I've succeeded at being a failure at life.

I read a comment at another blog about how Christian fundamentalists love failure. And I'm thinking that's an incredibly true statement.

I can't say that they love failure across the board. After all, success for God is a good thing, though even that in that case, the success is entirely attributed to God, and they as people had nothing to do with it. But the success would still glorify God, and glorifying God is good.

But I've often come across ex-fundamentalists describing how they'd pray for something awful to happen to a non-Christian, so that the non-Christian would realize his/her need for salvation. In essence, the fundamentalists are praying for failure.

And how often do we hear Christians saying that the path to salvation is to realize how broken or sinful we all are? To realize that we can't be perfect? To realize how much we fail at being perfect? In fact, failure is quite possibly the most perfect thing to experience, because it shows you just how wretched you are, and that's the first step towards salvation.

Isn't the best way to accomplish this realization ... failure?

Or how often have we heard a fundamentalist describe how wretched his/her life was before s/he found Christ? How often have we heard stories of fundamentalists who felt they lacked something because their pre-Christ story wasn't filled with all these failures?

In a lot of ways, isn't Christian fundamentalist a religion that celebrates failure and chastises success? In what other context would this be considered acceptable behavior? Can you imagine a parent telling a child who loves music "I'm really praying that you fail at your piano recital so that you realize how horrible you are." Can you imagine telling someone "I really hope that you fail at your marriage so you can realize just how not-perfect you are."

If a Christian fundamentalist was given a choice to see a non-Christian friend succeed at something that would make him/her incredibly happy and satisfied and yet remain unsaved, or see the non-Christian fail to the level of a nuclear holocaust on the off-chance that the non-Christian might be saved -- for the failure has a better chance of a salvation outcome than the success path -- wouldn't the fundamentalist hope for failure? To which I ask again -- in what other circumstance is this considered acceptable behavior?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Today I shall be a tetonic plate.

I remember a time when I could read something like this and just appreciate the insight into how theological viewpoints operated.

Now, I immediately start analyzing the content. Given the tone of the article, I'm inferring that the author is Christian.

There's a lot to pick from, so I'll just pick a couple.

The God detractors would want Him to act on every occasion we make personal choices and yet if He should do that He gets criticized as a capricious God who does not want to allow the freedom to exercise our faculties.

The article starts out addressing the issue of people asking where God was for the Haitian earthquake. It then goes into the matter of God's sovereignty and concludes ... that atheists are ridiculous for criticizing God for failing to act every time someone makes a personal choice? That we, and we alone, have the choice to become alcoholics, drug addicts, teachers? How is the matter of someone's personal choice in any way relevant to the earthquake? How can my potential ability to become an alcoholic influence the movement of tectonic plates? The author didn't address the main issue at all -- the main issue of God's intervention in terms of the earthquake. Instead, he sidesteps the issue and says that people make the choices, not God, and God isn't a packet of salt to take off the shelf.

And I'm sorry, but the freedom one may have to make choices is nowhere similar to a calamity in nature. Do tectonic plates "choose" to move the same way one might "choose" to become a teacher?

Many of the social perversions that we accuse God of can be corrected if we are willing to face ourselves and do the work that is necessary to give our lives stability and wholeness.

I agree that the world would be a much better place if humanity as a collective whole worked to improve matters. But what the author seems to imply is that the *only* way the world will improve is if humanity does the work. Not if humanity turns to God, not if humanity prays to God ... only if humanity actually does the literal work. In which case, why would God even be necessary?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Does she know how you told me you'd hold me until you died/But you're still alive.

I can feel my street cred slipping away as I admit this, but I've listened to quite a bit of Christian Contemporary Music. Rebecca St. James, Sara Groves, Nichole Nordeman, Bethany Dillon, Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys ... Yup. I'm no stranger to it.

It started because a friend gave me some CDs for Christmas: Nichole Nordeman and Sara Groves (the Nichole Nordeman CD was her last one called Brave. The second song on it was called What If, and dealt with her asking a non-Christian "What if you're wrong." To her credit, she didn't do this in a "if you're wrong you'll go to hell" way. She asked in a sense "what if you're wrong and you're missing out on this great source of love and peace?" But I didn't miss the implication behind giving me this particular CD).

I ended up discussing my impressions of the CCM (hah! I even know the abbreviation! So long, street cred!) scene, and the artists I was aware of. And I pointed out that the artists, and thus the music scene as a whole, really misses on a big part of the human existence.

Anger. Rage. Bitterness.

There are a lot of songs that contemplate the mysteries of God, or praise God for His multitude of qualities, or marvel over how God could even offer humanity salvation, or how great heaven is or how great God is. There are songs about how awful the singer is, or everyone as a whole is.

But I've yet to come across one song that just rages at the universe. Whether it be for a cheating guy, or a broken heart, or death, or any sort of social awareness.

There is no Alanis Morissette's You Oughta Know in the CCM world. If my friend's reaction to this was anything to go on, it will never be allowed. You're supposed to be a changed and forgiving person when becoming a Christian.

And that's fine. But for a group of people that hope to connect with humanity as a whole, how can you possibly do that when you don't touch on a big part of the human condition? When you don't touch on something that a lot of people experience? If everything is all happy or sorrowful (though I haven't heard any of those, other than the "Jesus suffered an agonizing death because of me" sort), and never, ever, ever goes near anger ... how are people going to fully relate? How are people going to think you can really understand them, or reach out to them?

Because that was my reaction upon the music I heard. This music doesn't encompass my human experience. Someone like Tori Amos or Bruce Springsteen does. Why? Because the latter artists are allowed to be human. They're allowed to be dark, to have the wrong thoughts and explore those. To be bitter or angry. To be angry in a justified way. In the CCM world, you're no longer allowed to be angry at any wrongs done to you. For as God has released His anger over the wrongs you did to Him (which are much, much worse than anything ever done to you), so must you release yours at the wrongs done to you.

Another great angry song? Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say) from Jesus Christ Superstar. But if there won't ever be a CCM version of You Oughta Know, there *really* won't ever be a version of Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)

But the singer in that song just nails it. It sung by Jesus, the night before the crucifixion (blogger note: no pun intended by the verb 'nail' in the earlier sentence) and he's just raging at God, over how God wants him to die. It's exactly how you'd expect someone in that situation to behave, and you can literally hear the rage in all the words. Justified rage, not whiny rage.

In fact, I'll post the best part of the song:

But if I die,
See the saga through and do the things you ask of me,
Let them hate me, hit me, hurt me, nail me to their tree.
I'd want to know, I'd want to know, My God,
I'd want to know, I'd want to know, My God,
Want to see, I'd want to see, My God,
Want to see, I'd want to see, My God,
Why I should die.
Would I be more noticed than I ever was before?
Would the things I've said and done matter any more?
I'd have to know, I'd have to know, my Lord,
Have to know, I'd have to know, my Lord,
Have to see, I'd have to see, my Lord,
Have to see, I'd have to see, my Lord,
If I die what will be my reward?
If I die what will be my reward?
Have to know, I'd have to know, my Lord,
I'd have to know, I'd have to know, my Lord,
Why should I die? Oh why should I die?
Can you show me now that I would not be killed in vain?
Show me just a little of your omnipresent brain.
Show me there's a reason for your wanting me to die.
You're far to keen and where and how, but not so hot on why.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Choose your own analogy.

When watching people use analogies to explain certain situations, I wonder if they think the analogy covers all situations, or only that particular one. If it's only one particular situation, does the situation they're analogizing then fall apart if the analogy comes into conflict with another situation?

For instance, I see a lot of atheists or agnostics say that if God does confront them after they die, they'll tell God they had no belief because they had no evidence. The Christian says balderdash! For there is plenty of evidence, and they use Intelligent Design or the complexity of life (possibly combining the two) or our morals or even a Bible quote to point to how we're drowning in evidence.

Then, when confronted with the difficulty many have in reconciling a loving, good, and powerful God with the existence of evil, I see another comparison pop up: sometimes it involves trying to help a frenzied animal stuck in a trap, but other times it involves a child. If you have to allow a painful test to be performed on your two year old child, the child could very well see the test as an "evil" act, but you know the test is for a greater good: to save the child's health or life. We should then approach God in the same way: we are the two year old child, and God is the one with the omniscient perspective. So long as there's a possibility that some greater good will come out of whatever evil we see or experience, God can still be considered loving and good.

I see a conflict between the idea of we're without excuse because of the evidence, and we should suddenly give God the benefit of the doubt because we're like the two year old child. In the first case, one is pointing to what they feel to be concrete evidence. In the second case, the only evidence the child has is the very painful test, which leads to the child disliking the parent. If the child screams at the parent, or lashes out at the parent, no one tells the child that s/he has plenty of evidence to believe the parent is right. Rather, we understand that the two year old is incapable of comprehending the purpose behind the test, and thus don't blame the child for his/her behavior. They're simply reacting according to what's happening to them -- reacting based on the evidence they have. Therefore, if we're incapable of fully seeing the grand picture, how can we then be held accountable for the inability belief in a God with attributes such as loving, good and all-powerful, based on the claim of a lack of sufficient evidence?

I realize that, in most cases, analogies are not meant to apply across the board, and are useful for describing the viewpoint in certain situations. But in the case of God, this is Someone who has consistent behavior. This is Someone who is claimed to have inspired a book that is seamlessly woven together without any contradictions. Shouldn't analogies used to elaborate on God not clash with other situations involving God?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My best friend is a [fill in the blank] ... but I wouldn't want my sibling to marry her.

Or, alternately titled, "Me and some Evangelicals, Bringing in the New Year."

I spent New Year's Eve with some friends (based on the alternate title, you may have cleverly deduced that I was the only non-Christian of the group). For the most part, it went okay. The conversation stayed away from politics and religion and all those danger areas.

There was just one area that could've been awkward, had I chosen to comment with something other than "I see." A friend mentioned that she had been having some stressful times with her younger sister, and I asked about it. Without going into too much detail, apparently the younger sister is in her first serious relationship that will lead to a wedding in the summer of 2010. In the beginning, the sister's partner was not a Christian, though he had great interest in the religion. I'm guessing he is one now, based on the past-tense of his non-Christian status.

My friend wasn't thrilled with this news, for you don't date someone in order to Win Them for Christ. You either first Win Them for Christ and then date them, or don't date them period and still try to Win Them for Christ. The reason is, per her youth group's explanation: if you have someone sitting in a chair, and another person standing, the person sitting in the chair will always drag the standing person down. The standing person cannot drag the sitting person up.

I leave it to my readers to figure out which one is the Christian in that scenario.

My internal reactions:

1) If God is supposed to be a blazing presence in a person's life, and the Holy Spirit is indwelling, and God makes a new man out of an old creation and is as powerful as Christianity claims ... how can a Christian possibly be dragged down? Why isn't God strong enough to prevent that? Why isn't God enough of an influence to prevent that? Yes, in any other situation, people of two different outlooks will no doubt change the other person if in an intense relationship. But this isn't any other situation, this is an all-powerful God. If God can't prevent the Christian from getting "dragged down," then how much of a change has He actually enacted?

2) This friend of mine -- and the other evangelical friend -- have both said that they consider me to be a best friend. And there are major differences between an intimate relationship that leads to marriage, and a best friend. But both a spouse and a friend can provide influence, and I would think introduce some changes to one's moral behavior. So, in some ways, shouldn't I also be in danger of "dragging [the evangelical friends] down?"

Not only that, but the friend also got into the living a life pleasing to God, and how certain actions of her sister's were not doing that. And if living a life pleasing to God is engaging in moral actions, then anything that displeases God is by default immoral. I know that they would consider that I don't live a life pleasing to God, as not only am I a horrible, wretched sinner, I don't even have Jesus. By default, I am an immoral person. By default, I have nowhere to drag people but down.

Why would they want to be friends with an immoral person? And how can I possibly trust someone who does consider me an immoral person? How could I confide in them? This is precisely why I have restrained myself in so many ways over the past year, in what I tell them on a personal level.

I could tell based on her conversation that she didn't realize any of the undercurrents in what she was telling me. I'll be curious to see if the other evangelical friend did.

And one last note: Win People for Christ? People are not party favors.