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Destination Truth: The Road Goes Ever On

Yes, I borrowed the title of this post from a television show and my favorite author (J.R.R. Tolkien). The topic of this post has been on m...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Why is it so hard for an Armstrongite to return to the fold?

An interesting discussion was launched by a post over at Banned by HWA! The post was entitled "Are the problems in the COG the result of bad leaders or its theology?" It was, of course, no surprise that many of the commentators laid the blame for the problems within the Armstrong Churches of God at the feet of their former/current leadership. For many current and former Armstrongites, it has to be about the flawed individuals who were/are in charge (it couldn't possibly have anything to do with the theology/teachings). As one would expect with such a post, prominent among the commentators was Ian Boyne of the Church of God International.

Mr. Boyne maintains that most of the critics of Armstrongism have focused their attention on the failed leadership within the various groups (he acknowledges that failure) and have ignored what he sees as the fact that Armstrongism provides "the best Christian option" available to believers. In fact, he goes on to say:  "I think after Armstrongism, my philosophical destination is likely to be agnosticism or some form of generic theistic existentialism." In other words, if someone were able to discredit Armstrongism, Ian sees himself as abandoning Christianity.

In fairness to Mr. Boyne, such a conclusion does not appear to be rare among former and current Armstrongites (Dennis Diehl, Gerald Bronkar and others have professed their rejection of Christianity). Moreover, one only has to look at the history of the Worldwide Church of God to see that this type of reasoning is not uncommon among Armstrongites. When faced with a return to the more traditional form of Christianity offered by Joseph Tkach Jr, many of the folks within the WCOG jumped ship. Some went to another Armstrong Church of God, but many decided to abandon religion altogether. In other words, for so many of these folks, it was either Armstrongism or NOTHING!

Why? Why is it that many of these folks will not even entertain the possibility of adopting some other form of Christianity?

The answer lies in the way that they were originally indoctrinated into Armstrongism. It wasn't simply a matter of learning a set of doctrines. A large part of Herbert's and Garner Ted's appeal was their focus on discrediting "traditional" Christianity. They talked at great length about the pagan influences on that religion, and the deleterious effect which that had on Christian theology (things like the immortality of the soul, trinity, Sunday observance, holiday observance and idol worship). They focused on just how unfair and unreasonable the teachings on heaven and hell really were, and only introduced their alternative after they had thoroughly discredited the old model.

The reasoning went something like this:  If we can discredit everything else and demonstrate that we have discovered the only legitimate way to put all of the pieces together, then we have to be the one and only possibility! Hence, for many of these folks, when the Worldwide Church of God crumbled, there were only two alternatives:  find another Armstrong Church of God or abandon Christianity entirely. After all, if Armstrongism was ever truly discredited, why would you return to the other forms which you had previously discredited?

Does this begin to sound a little like circular reasoning? Since we have already concluded that traditional Christianity is a worthless pile of $#&!, why would we ever revisit that conclusion?

HWA was also fond of the all or nothing approach. Believe it all, or you have to reject it all. There was no room for discernment or nuance in his theology. Everything was a package deal. It was all truth or all error. Catholics and Methodists were wrong - period. They couldn't possibly be right about some things. We disproved that system - time to move on! We certainly don't want to be like the dog that returns to its vomit!

Armstongism is a mental straitjacket. It was designed by its founder to be a self-reinforcing/self-perpetuating system. It is, therefore, no wonder that so many of its victims find it almost impossible to find their way back to the fold.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

God, Christians and the Jewish Bible

In numerous posts, this blog has explored the question of whether or not the Christian Bible has any value in our quest to understand the Divine. Longtime readers of this blog know that the author has commented on the authorship, writing processes, editing, inspiration, reliability and internal consistency of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.
In that tradition, I found a Roman Catholic study of the relationship between Jewish Scripture (the Old Testament to Christians) and the New Testament (writings of the early Christian era) to be very interesting. Hence, I am including a quote from the preface to the results of that study which was written by the man who eventually became Pope Benedict XVI:

"From this viewpoint, the Fathers of the Church created nothing new when they gave a Christological interpretation to the Old Testament; they only developed and systematised what they themselves had already discovered in the New Testament. This fundamental synthesis for the Christian faith would become problematic when historical consciousness developed rules of interpretation that made Patristic exegesis appear non-historical and so objectively indefensible. In the context of humanism, with its new-found historical awareness, but especially in the context of his doctrine of justification, Luther invented a new formula relating the two parts of the Christian Bible, one no longer based on the internal harmony of the Old and New Testaments, but on their essential dialectic linkage within an existential history of salvation, the antithesis between Law and Gospel. Bultmann modernised this approach when he said that the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ by foundering. More radical is the proposition of Harnack mentioned above; as far as I can see, it was not generally accepted, but it was completely logical for an exegesis for which texts from the past could have no meaning other than that intended by the authors in their historical context. That the biblical authors in the centuries before Christ, writing in the Old Testament, intended to refer in advance to Christ and New Testament faith, looks to the modern historical consciousness as highly unlikely.
As a result, the triumph of historical-critical exegesis seemed to sound the death-knell for the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament initiated by the New Testament itself. It is not a question here of historical details, as we have seen, it is the very foundations of Christianity that are being questioned. It is understandable then that nobody has since embraced Harnack's position and made the definitive break with the Old Testament that Marcion prematurely wished to accomplish. What would have remained, our New Testament, would itself be devoid of meaning. The Document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission introduced by this Preface declares: “Without the Old Testament, the New Testament would be an unintelligible book, a plant deprived of its roots and destined to dry up and wither” (no. 84)."

-- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 2001, from the preface to The Pontifical Biblical Commision's The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/pcb_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20020212_popolo-ebraico_en.html#INTRODUCTION

What do you think? Did the Jews introduce God to the rest of the world? Can Christianity's appropriation and interpretation(s) of their Scriptures be justified?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Is God responsible for this shit?

Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (NKJV)

Isaiah 45:7 - " I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things." (KJV), "I make peace and create calamity" (NKJV), "I bring prosperity and create disaster" (NIV), "I send good times and bad times" (NLT)
The English word "evil" was translated from the Hebrew "ra" meaning bad, evil, wickedness, misery, calamity, adversity, etc. (https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=H7451&t=KJV)

Proverbs 16:4 - "The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil." (KJV)

John 1:3 - "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." (KJV), "God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him." (NLT)

I Corinthians 8:6 - "But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him." (KJV), "But for us, There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live." (NLT)

Ephesians 3:9 - "God, who created all things by Jesus Christ" (KJV)

Colossians 1:16 - " For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible..." (KJV)

Revelation 4:11 - "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." (KJV)

In the light of this impressive list of scriptures, a few questions come to mind:

Does all things/everything really mean all things/everything?

How did bacteria and viruses originate?

How do genetic mutations arise?

How did cancer and disease originate?

Did God create hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis?

Did God design humans, lions, bears, alligators and sharks to eat other animals?

Is God the author of war?

Is God the author of death?

How do birth defects arise?

What is the origin of neuroses, psychoses, other pathological behaviors and insanity?

And, if we allow that humans and angels have the ability/potential to pervert or corrupt that which is good and whole, who gave them that ability/potential?

And, if we answer that question in the affirmative, does that have any implications for how we define evil?

Is it possible that many of the things which we consider to be evil might not be characterized as such by Almighty God?

In other words, is it possible that we cannot discern the ultimate purpose of some things?

And, if we are living in a hologram (as some cosmologists, philosophers and theologians have suggested), doesn't that imply that someone/something has placed/programmed the "bad/evil" stuff into the equation/system/projector?

In other words, if God truly is the First Cause/Creator/Master Programmer, doesn't everything that is exist at "His" pleasure?

In the light of these questions, we have to ask:  Did God really create all things/everything?

And, if we answer that question in the negative, what does that imply about the reliability of the scriptures quoted above?

What do you think?

Monday, February 27, 2017

Is My God Your God?

There was an interesting editorial yesterday in The Charlotte Observer. Isaac J. Bailey's viewpoint is summarized in the title of the article:  "Franklin Graham's God isn't mine; is he yours?" -- http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article134819004.html In that editorial, Mr. Bailey points out that "There’s a long tradition of conservative Christian leaders making it plain that Christians don’t serve the God Muslims serve, because there is only one God, and you can’t get to him by following Muhammad, only Jesus." However, instead of excoriating the premise, Mr. Bailey accepts it and declares "I don't serve the God Graham serves."

But, if there is only one God, doesn't that make "him" the God of everyone? Isn't Franklin Graham (and his conservative allies) really arguing against alternative conceptions/perceptions of God? Likewise, Mr. Bailey points out the unloving, petty and spiteful nature of the God whom Graham and his associates worship. Don't atheists often make the same argument about the God of the Judeo-Christian Bible? In the final analysis, does our conception/perception of God change the reality of who and what God is?

Personally, my own perception of God is much closer to Mr. Bailey's view; but I don't believe that implies/means that Mr. Graham worships a different god. On the other hand, it does suggest to me that Graham and his associates have a distorted/flawed view of God. Nevertheless, isn't it a wee bit arrogant and self-righteous to suggest that someone isn't worshiping the TRUE God because their conception/perception of "him" isn't perfect? If perfection is truly the standard, aren't we all in trouble?

Mr. Bailey quotes Franklin Graham as saying:  "Jesus wasn’t real loving sometimes. He called the Pharisees vipers, snakes, white-washed tombs.” Mr. Bailey goes on to point out that the Pharisees were the religious conservatives of that age and that they "didn't notice the Messiah in their midst." He concludes his editorial by pondering what Christ might call Graham if he were walking the Earth today.

Once again, while I agree with Mr. Bailey's implication that Jesus may have some choice words for the good reverend, I do not agree with the underlying premise that "Jesus wasn't real loving sometimes." Scripture tells us that Christ had great compassion and love for the people who killed him. He was, after all, still willing to die for them (despite all of their misconceptions, ignorance and maliciousness. Shouldn't that give all of us some pause about suggesting/making statements that people who hold alternative viewpoints about the nature of God are not worshiping THE ONE AND ONLY GOD? What do you think?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

God, Earth and Those Pesky Exoplanets

We earthlings have harbored an exalted/distorted image of ourselves and our place in the cosmos for a long time. Our ignorance in this regard is underscored by our history and the current pace of exploration and discovery. The discovery of 3,453 exoplanets (planets outside of our solar system) in the last twenty-five years underscores the fact that we are just beginning to truly understand our place in the cosmos. -- https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/ And, to place our comprehension of the cosmos in the proper perspective, we still don't know for sure how many planets/planetoids are orbiting our own sun!

Many ancient cultures pictured the earth as being flat and existing under a great dome (or "firmament" in biblical language. In this view, the sun, moon and stars were positioned in the firmament exclusively for the benefit of us folks here on earth. The account of creation in the book of Genesis is a classic example of this view:  "And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so...And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years. And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:6-9 and 14-18 -- https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=KJV)

Eventually, man came to understand that the earth was a sphere - that it wasn't flat. Even so, the ancients still saw mankind and earth as being at the center of everything. In this view, the sun, moon and stars revolved around the earth. Later still, we realized that this Geocentric Model was also incorrect.

On this 25th day of February in the year 2017, we understand that our solar system is not unique - that there are other planets orbiting other stars. In other words, we now know that those stars do not exist just to help us distinguish between night and day, serve as signs, demarcate seasons/times or provide light here on earth. Moreover, the very existence of those 3,453 planets beyond our solar system suggests that we have much more to learn:  There are bound to be more of them out there. And, as we find more of them, it becomes more likely that some of them will be able to harbor life.

This possibility (probability?) was underscored earlier this week when NASA announced the discovery of seven "Earth-sized" planets orbiting Trappist-1. According to NASA, "Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water." -- https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/news/1419/nasa-telescope-reveals-largest-batch-of-earth-size-habitable-zone-planets-around-single-star/ To be clear, we don't know yet that these planets have liquid water on their surface (and we don't know whether or not they harbor life). However, once again, the very existence of these worlds makes these things a possibility. We may still be engaging in speculation, but don't these discoveries necessarily make our ability to speculate more intelligent?

All of this brings to mind a few questions about the subject of this blog:  Does your concept of God depend on outdated understandings of the cosmos? Could God have other children elsewhere in the universe? Does it matter that we may not be as unique as we formerly understood ourselves to be? Does God have the ability to care for and sustain more than one world at a time? If there is life on other planets, is any of it intelligent? If so, do they have the same spiritual potential that we do? What do you think? 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Implications of Extreme Life

Yesterday (17 February 2017), Victoria Jaggard published a piece for National Geographic entitled "Weird Life Found Trapped in Underground Crystals." (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/02/crystal-caves-mine-microbes-mexico-boston-aaas-aliens-science/) As related in that article, scientists have apparently discovered microbial life within fluid that has been trapped inside of giant crystals for millennia. The crystals were found inside of caves which lie deep beneath the Naica Mine in Mexico. Scientists have also noted the extreme environment in which the microbes were discovered (the caves are so hot that explorers have to wear special insulated ice suits that permit them to stay in the caves for only minutes at a time). Moreover, after successfully extracting the microbes and culturing them, scientists discovered that they were genetically distinct from any other life on earth.

As the article points out, these microbes suggest once again that life on earth can exist in extreme conditions/environments and can remain dormant for long expanses of time. Think about the implications of that for the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, and the likelihood that our own exploration could contaminate other worlds!

We know that there has been much speculation in the genre of science fiction (literary and film) over the years about how life on earth began. Did life on earth get its start from microbes that originated on other worlds? Did a meteorite or asteroid crash into this planet and seed life here? Did aliens either intentionally or unintentionally seed our planet with life in the distant past? Could our own exploration of the universe unintentionally seed other worlds with earth life? What would happen to these microbes if the earth exploded one day and hurled debris into space? If the microbes survived on a piece of debris or some man-made spacecraft, could they seed life on some distant planet or moon that provided an environment which was hospitable enough for its survival? Over millions and billions of years, would such life evolve into more complex forms (maybe even humanoids like us)?

And, finally, if the discovery of these microbes makes all of these scenarios seem a little less far-fetched, does that suggest anything about the purpose of life itself? If so, does that imply some design or designer? At any rate, I believe that the existence of these microbes on this little orb we call home gives us a few more things to think about and possibilities to consider. After all, why is life so tenacious? Does the impetus toward self-perpetuation suggest any answers to some of the most profound questions that we have? What do you think?  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Godly perspective on REVENGE?

It has been widely reported in the press that Donald Trump recently offered to destroy a Texas Senator's career for opposing certain policies which he supports. (http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2017/02/07/trump-offers-destroy-texas-senator-help-rockwall-sheriff) By now, most of us have also heard about his reaction to the judges who ruled against his so-called "Muslim Ban." This brings to mind many past Trump statements and actions which have been focused on attack and revenge.

Just before the election last year, David Corn of Mother Jones reminded all of us that "Donald Trump Is Completely Obsessed With Revenge." (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/donald-trump-obsessed-with-revenge) In his article, he pointed out that:  "Following the first presidential debate, he spent days of valuable campaign time (and hours of valuable sleep time) slamming Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe. At other times during this contest, he could not let go of his feud with Rosie O'Donnell. He tried to smear Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the American-born federal judge hearing a fraud case against Trump University, as a "Mexican" unqualified to preside over this litigation. For days, he derided Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq, after Khizr criticized him during a speech at the Democratic convention. He launched misogynistic attacks against Carly Fiorina and Megyn Kelly. Rather than attempt to unify his party after a divisive primary fight, he threatened to finance future campaigns against GOP rivals, most notably Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies. And there were the mean and nasty nicknames: Lyin' Ted, Little Marco."

Corn went on to point out that these incidents were not random or isolated events, but that they represent an integral part of the man's philosophy and modus operandi. Indeed, Corn used Trump's own words to make his point. At the National Achievers Congress in Sydney (2011), he said:  "Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it." The following year, Trump said:  "One of the things you should do in terms of success: If somebody hits you, you've got to hit 'em back five times harder than they ever thought possible. You've got to get even. Get even. And the reason, the reason you do, is so important…The reason you do, you have to do it, because if they do that to you, you have to leave a telltale sign that they just can't take advantage of you." In 2013, Trump tweeted:  "Always get even. When you are in business, you need to get even with people who screw you. – Think Big." In 2014, he referenced a famous quote by Alfred Hitchcock:  "Revenge is sweet and not fattening."

So we know what Donald Trump thinks about revenge, but we would do well to ask:  What does the Godly perspective on revenge look like." Throughout history, there have been a good many statements on the subject that most of us would characterize as inspired. Here are just a few examples:
“The ultimate revenge is living well and being happy. Hateful people can’t stand happy people. Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”-- Confucius
"The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury." -- Marcus Aurelius
"Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love." -- Martin Luther King Jr.
"Revenge... is like a rolling stone, which, when a man hath forced up a hill, will return upon him with a greater violence, and break those bones whose sinews gave it motion." -- Jeremy Taylor
(https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes)
"When another person wrongs you, your typical first thought is one of revenge. We think that by inflicting similar pain onto this person, we’ll make ourselves feel better. While that may make our sick-minded selves feel better for a little while, it most likely will not in the long run. Seeking revenge doesn't cancel out the behaviors that hurt you. It just perpetuates the cycle of pain." -- Ashley Fern (http://elitedaily.com/life/why-we-need-to-stop-seeking-revenge/)

And then there is this one attributed to Jesus Christ:  "You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles...You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:38-45, NLT)

A little later, in that same Gospel, we read:  "Then Peter came to him and asked, 'Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?' 'No, not seven times,' Jesus replied, 'but seventy times seven!'" (Matthew 18:21-22, NLT)

Hmmm, sure seems like God is not in agreement with Mr. Trump on this one. What do you think?