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My most recent posts have hit Evangelical Christianity pretty hard. While I certainly believe that my observations were warranted by the fac...

Saturday, September 24, 2016

God and Money

In several of my previous posts, I have discussed various aspects of how economics has impacted our views on God, religion and all things relative to morality. I've talked about how God is not a Capitalist, Socialist or Communist. I've also talked a great deal about the so-called "Prosperity Gospel" and its theological, intellectual and emotional shortcomings. Unfortunately, the influence of money is so pervasive and insidious that most of us aren't even aware of its pernicious effects. It is my contention that one of the most insightful statements that Jesus Christ ever made was his reference to the relative incompatibility of possessing wealth with the potential for inheriting his kingdom (Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25).

It is very human to think in terms of different classes of people, and we can all readily affirm that this phenomenon is most often linked to economics. Along these lines, I recently discovered an interesting post that attacked a British politician (Joseph Muscat, Labour Party) for believing "the only thing which separates different social classes of people is money." ( http://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2016/08/speaks-though-money-separates-different-classes-people/)
According to the author (Daphne Caruana Galizia), culture is the most important factor in defining class ("values, beliefs, attitudes, manners and mores, and behavioural traits").

My question is:  In our world, isn't culture largely defined by money? After all, doesn't the amount of education and the number of opportunities which are available to a person almost always depend on how much money they have or can acquire? And, doesn't education shape values, beliefs, attitudes, manners, etc.?

We like to think that there are better/upper and meaner/lower classes of people, and we like to think of them in terms of culture (we also like to think of ourselves as being part of the better crowd). However, if we are truly honest with ourselves, isn't money the only thing that really separates us from each other? After all, there are many wealthy Democrats in the United States (they don't all belong to the Republican Party). Likewise, we all know many moral people who are very poor, and wealthy individuals who are unscrupulous or amoral. We can probably all point to people of modest means who have exquisite taste in art, music and decorating; and wealthy folks who are garish, boorish and wouldn't recognize class if it bit them in the ass.

For many of us, this is a scary prospect: The notion that money could be the only thing that really separates us from each other. Are you saying that I would be exactly the same as a peasant in Bangladesh if I didn't have money? Are you saying that most of the things that we think of as defining class are really superficial differences that are largely shaped by the presence/absence of wealth? So, take away the money and we're all the same? That is our reality.

Jesus Christ's perspective, however, was radically different. For him, the values were not superficial, they were/are the only things that truly separate us from each other. For him, wealth only made it more difficult to achieve a truly better plane of existence. For Jesus Christ, there were only people. He wasn't concerned with how much wealth and power they had accumulated.

What socioeconomic class do you belong to? Are you upper, middle or lower class? What makes you a member of that class?

We like to say that you can't take it with you when you go, but we've all seen some pretty elaborate tombs and mausoleums at the local cemeteries. Likewise, we've all seen pauper graves - a simple stake, pile of stones or no visible marker. I ask again:  What class do you identify with? What makes you better than the peasant working in a sweat shop in Bangladesh?

Friday, September 16, 2016

What does the Bible say about Trump supporters?

Hillary Clinton recently faced a firestorm over characterizing some Trump supporters as "deplorables." According to her, this moniker was justified by the racism, sexism, homophobia or xenophobia apparent in some of The Donald's statements.

Of course, the unstated premise of this characterization is that anyone who supports Donald Trump must endorse most or all of the statements he makes. The reasoning goes something like this:  "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" - Amos 3:3

Just to be clear, the Bible doesn't say anything about Donald Trump or his supporters. We are talking about principles found in Scripture that may or may not apply to them.

In Scripture, we also read:  "A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue." - Proverbs 17:4 This brings us to some of the things that have slipped past Donald's lips and rolled off the end of his tongue.

Consider the following:

“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud."

“Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.” (Admittedly, this one is a bit subjective, but there's no debating the fact that it smacks of sexism)

“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”

“All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”

 “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”

"Look at those hands, are they small hands? And, [Republican rival Marco Rubio] referred to my hands: 'If they're small, something else must be small.' I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee."

“I was down there, and I watched our police and our firemen, down on 7-Eleven, down at the World Trade Center, right after it came down”

"The only card [Hillary Clinton] has is the woman's card. She's got nothing else to offer and frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she's got going is the woman's card, and the beautiful thing is, women don't like her."

*** All of the above quotes taken from http://www.marieclaire.co.uk/blogs/550112/donald-trump-quotes.html

Speaking of fellow Republican candidate Ted Cruz, Trump said:  "Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: 'Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?' That'd be a big problem. It'd be a very precarious one for Republicans because he'd be running and the courts may take a long time to make a decision. You don't want to be running and have that kind of thing over your head." -- https://mic.com/articles/131952/10-of-donald-trump-s-most-ridiculous-birther-statements#.r8k5OiDzP

Speaking of Judge Gonzalo Curiel and the case against 'Trump University, Donald said: "He is a member of a club or society, very strongly pro-Mexican, which is all fine. But I say he's got bias. I want to build a wall. I'm going to build a wall. I'm doing very well with the Latinos, with the Hispanics, with the Mexicans, I'm doing very well with them, in my opinion. And we're going to see, you're going to see, because you know what, I'm providing jobs. Nobody else is giving jobs. But just so you understand, this judge has treated me very unfairly, he's treated me in a hostile manner. And there's something going on." -- http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/article/2016/jun/08/donald-trumps-racial-comments-about-judge-trump-un/

What do you think? Do these statements reflect on the people who support Donald Trump?


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Armstrongism without Herbert or Garner Ted?

Several of the Armstrong related blogs have speculated about the long term viability and survival of the descendants of the Worldwide Church of God. Although I do not consider this blog to be one of those, as a former member, I do feel entitled to wade into the debate and offer my own observations/opinions.

RationalWiki defines a personality cult as "a system in which a leader is able to control a group of people through the sheer force of his or her personality and is often portrayed as a god-like figure." It is the opinion of this blogger that this describes the former Worldwide Church of God perfectly, and it goes a long way toward explaining the phenomena that we have observed playing out within the various offshoots since the deaths of Herbert and Garner Ted.

After all, Herbert continually pointed to himself as God's Apostle. He was the ONE whom God was working through in the end time. God had used HIM (and him ALONE) to restore TRUTH to His Church. Herbert was God's representative on earth. He was the human head of God's government in the Church. Whatever he said was the LAW. It was his prerogative to make all of the decisions and dictate what everyone else believed. It was the job of the lay membership to support him and his work. Likewise, when Garner Ted came of age (and after the death of his brother), he was the heir apparent. What an orator! All of the ministers looked to him as the ideal of public speaking.

For those groups who have embraced Herbert and his teachings (Philadelphia, Restored, Continuing, Living, etc.), we see that no one has emerged with the personality and talent to replace him/them. Moreover, any "new" folks who express an interest in their teachings are quickly put off by their obsession with Herbert Armstrong. When these folks read their material (books, booklets, magazines, etc.) and listen to their sermons, most of them are wondering: "Who in the hell is Herbert Armstrong?" "Why do these folks keep talking about an old dead guy?" or "I don't remember seeing his name anywhere in the Bible!"

For those groups who have sought to put some distance between themselves and their founder (United, International, Big Sandy, etc.), like their sister groups, no one has emerged who has been able to garner the support, devotion and loyalty of everyone within them. They are consumed by trying to satisfy everyone, or at least refrain from offending very many. Moreover, when outsiders express some interest in the groups, they are often met with explanations of how they differ from their parent organization. "What are they talking about?" the newbie wonders. OR They are presented with teachings that can easily be shown to be false (like Anglo-Israelism) and appear to them to have little relevance to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Their left wondering: "Where did they get this stuff from?"

Either way, it just doesn't work! A personality cult doesn't work without the personality who inspired it all. What do you think?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Cognitive Distortion: Black and White Thinking

Dennis Diehl's post on "Cognitive Dissonance" (http://armstrongismlibrary.blogspot.com/2016/08/cognitive-dissonance.html) over at Banned by HWA got me thinking about the way that most of us approach most subjects. Let's face it: Many of us have adopted some form of dualism in the way we think about things. Don't we tend to choose one of two extremes (or at least we tell ourselves that)?

In the United States, we have long standing traditions in this regard. Historically, one was either a Federalist or an Anti-Federalist, an abolitionist or a supporter of the institution of slavery, a Democrat or a Republican, a Conservative or a Liberal, a Capitalist or a Socialist/Communist (many on the Right see the two as being essentially the same), etc.

Moreover, when the subject of God or religion is introduced, this phenomenon tends to become even more pronounced. You're either a Theist or an Atheist. If your a Christian, you're most likely to identify as Protestant or Catholic. And, if you're a Christian, you definitely want to be hot (the preferred position) or cold - You DON'T want to be lukewarm! In short, many of us seem to shun the middle ground.

However, we should all be able to recognize and acknowledge that the real world doesn't work this way. There are certainly extremes like hot and cold, but aren't most of us somewhere in between? What about tepid and all of the variations in between that middle and the two extremes? How many of us are true Atheists or Theists? Aren't most of us somewhere on the Agnostic continuum? We tell ourselves that there are only two alternatives, but aren't there many many more?

I've always believed that one of the most ingenious features of the American political system is its institutionalization of the principle of equilibrium between the two extremes. However, it seems that many Americans have lost sight of this important feature of their system. Most folks seem truly oblivious to the fact that if either side's program/platform was adopted wholesale that it would mean disaster for our republic. Traditionally, the best legislation to emerge from the Congress of the United States have been the bills where folks on both sides of the aisle have had to hold their noses and vote for a compromise piece of legislation that didn't fully satisfy either party.

I think that these considerations should be instructive for all of us in formulating our viewpoints - especially in the spiritual or religious realm. Is acceptance or rejection of the Judeo-Christian canon the only two options that are available to us? Does it really have to be Genesis or Evolution? Does it have to be myth or reality? Is it really Magical vs Scientific? Come on folks! Who are we kidding? Let's get real!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

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 my mind for several days. It was inspired by two seemingly unrelated posts on two of the blogs which I follow: Ambassador Watch and Banned by HWA!

On Thursday of last week, Gavin posted two pieces that broke a two week drought. As he noted in the first post, one of the side benefits of the dearth of posts was the conversation that unfolded over his last post. He concluded, "maybe the journey really is more important than the destination."

On Friday, Dennis Diehl took Dave Pack (RCOG) "to the wood shed" by posting a video where Aron Ra refutes Pack's statements about God and evolution. As usual, Ra was very matter of fact and devastating. And, although I enjoyed his take down of Mr. Pack, I found myself cringing at some of his statements about God and the Bible.

For the Worldwide Church of God (and almost all of its descendants), the TRUTH is a neat little package of doctrines/teachings based on a Fundamentalist and Literalist approach to interpreting Scripture (with a healthy dose of circular reasoning thrown in). In short, one learned the TRUTH and either accepted or rejected it. And, if you accepted the TRUTH, it was mission accomplished. There was effectively nothing more to consider or learn. Indeed, according to HWA and his minions, if one continued to do research and ask questions, that individual would be sure to lose the TRUTH which they had received. For them, the journey had ended.

It struck me that some of Aron Ra's statements were in much the same vein. In both of the YouTube videos that Dennis included, Ra stated several times that EVERYTHING that Dave Pack believes and teaches is basically bullshit. He also stated that there wasn't ANY truth or ANYTHING of value in the Bible. Like the objects of his attention (Dave Pack and Believers), it appears that Aron Ra has reached destination TRUTH. Sure, Aron says that everything he believes is subject to the further development of the evidence at hand, but his many sweeping statements about God, religion and the Bible seem to undermine his assertion.

You can't find ANY truth in Scripture? Really? I can - ask me about it sometime (it's not that hard). And, just for the record, I'm not talking about TRUTH in the WCOG sense (that Scripture is literally correct in all particulars).

Aron doesn't like religion because he believes it to be the antithesis of reason. He doesn't like the fact that it is so emotional - that it is based on feelings. I wonder what Aron thinks about instinct. I wonder if he believes that instincts are of any value - that nature equipped us with various instincts for a reason(s).

Does any of the old stuff have any value? Must we discard all of mankind's beliefs and experiences that predate the application of the scientific method as rubbish? Where does this need for a god or supernatural things come from? Is it a primitive relic that should be discarded? If for no other reason, is it useful in measuring the progress that mankind has made? And, if so, doesn't that alone make it useful?

I believe that Something or Someone put us on this road. I'm all for exploring and being open to wherever it takes us, and I'm very suspicious of anyone who thinks they've reached their destination (or claims that we must follow precisely in their footsteps). What do you think?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

No finessing this contradiction!

"Reverend" Franklin Graham (son of Billy) apparently recently stated on Facebook (I don't have an account):  "Another first for America that we should not be proud of - the Vice President of the United States presiding over a same-sex wedding...Our country may have made same-sex marriage legal in the eyes of man, but that doesn't make it right in the eyes of God...Sadly, as a nation we have a reputation for celebrating what God defines as sin, AND THERE WILL BE A PRICE TO PAY." He then proceeds to quote Isaiah 1:4 (Woe to the sinful nation - originally intended for Israel). You can see an article on his statement here: http://cnsnews.com/blog/michael-w-chapman/rev-graham-biden-conducts-gay-marriage-there-will-be-price-pay-our-nation

For the sake of argument, let's say that the "Reverend" is right about homosexuality being a sin. The clear implication is that God is going to punish the entire nation because our leaders (Executive and Judicial Branches) have endorsed same-sex marriage. How is that fair? How is it fair for God to punish all of the people like the "Reverend" who oppose the practice - the ones on "God's side" of the issue?

We are told in Scripture that Abraham once persuaded God to spare the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if "He" could find just ten righteous individuals within them by pointing out how unfair it would be to destroy the righteous with the wicked (see Genesis 18). In Ezekiel, we are told that each person is responsible for his/her own sins - not the sins of others (Ezekiel 18:20).

Nevertheless, it would appear that Franklin Graham is also on firm ground where Scripture is concerned. There are also a number of Scriptures where we are told that God punishes an entire nation because of the sins of a few. Will the real God please stand up?

I have talked about this principle in times past. When faced with a clear contradiction in Scripture, which alternative seems to be the most consistent with a loving, just and fair God? "Reverend" Graham appears to have decided that God is ready to punish the entire country for the sins of some. Personally, I don't want any part of a God who holds me responsible/culpable for the sins of others. What about you?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What does Luca tell us about the nature of God?

It appears that the study of genetics has opened up some exciting possibilities about the origin of life on this planet. By comparing the genomes of living things from all three domains (Archea, Bacteria and Eukarya), a team of evolutionary biologists has determined a likely genetic blueprint for the "Last Universal Common Ancestor" (Luca). This is exciting because a common origin for the domains of life has heretofore eluded the scientists who study these things.

As with most other breakthroughs, however, the discovery has generated even more questions. Although they've determined that Luca probably arose about four billion years ago (when the earth was only 560 million years old), many scientists believe that the family tree stretches back further in time to even simpler organisms than this one. Moreover, the scientific community seems to still be divided into two camps about where life originated. One camp believes that pools of warm water on land were the most likely place of origin, while others speculate that deep sea vents provide the most likely scenario (Luca seems to point in that direction). You can read about all of this for yourself at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/26/science/last-universal-ancestor.html?_r=0

What does all of this tell us about God? For me, this article generated a few questions of my own and rekindled my interest in others that I've wondered about for many years:

Doesn't the nature of life suggest Someone or Something set it all in motion?
Since life began on this planet, what has its purpose been?
Hasn't life sought immortality?
Isn't the perpetuation of itself the preoccupation of life?
Isn't evolution the story of how life has adapted to changing circumstances/environments in order to assure its survival?
Is the survival of a particular organism or an entire species important to the survival of life?
On the other hand, haven't the contributions of individual organisms and species been essential to the survival of the whole (even the "failures")?
Why does life appear to be so fragile and yet has exhibited such tenaciousness?
Hasn't the evolution of certain branches of the family tree into very complex organisms (I'm thinking of things like us) made survival more probable?
Hasn't the development of consciousness and the ability to reason made survival more likely?
What happens to our ability to evolve when we are able to manipulate the genetic code?
Did Someone or Something anticipate the eventual development of these abilities?
Were we intended to accumulate knowledge and information so that life might finally achieve eternal self-perpetuation?
In other words, is life developing along a path that was anticipated by Someone or Something prior to that first spark?
Could it be that it was our destiny to ask questions and explore our world?
Isn't it interesting to think about that genetic code in terms of preserving the story of all living things - from the beginning?
And, if that's really the case, has anything ever really been lost?
Isn't it interesting to think about the fact that we are all the products of everything that has gone before us (I'm thinking literally now, not figuratively)?
Is instinct akin to collective or species memory?
Will it someday be possible to summon up the full story of our past?

The evidence doesn't present us with a picture of a hands-on God, one who is involved in the day to day operation of things (although I'm not discounting the occasional intervention). For the most part, life appears to have been on its own from the start. Meteors have crashed into the surface of the earth and obliterated vast numbers in an instant, organisms have killed and eaten each other for ages, disease and starvation have taken their toll, humans have killed each other and their co-inhabitants on this planet; but life endures. Does the story have an ending? Do we have anything to say about that ending? Just thinking out loud, but none of it seems very random to me. What about you?