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.