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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fornication, tattoos, long hair and REAL Christians

In the latest offering from the Church of God International, Bill Watson and Wayne Hendrix discuss what is and isn't good Christian behavior for folks living in the 21st Century. If you're interested, you can listen to the complete conversation at this address:
http://cgi.org/armor-of-god-web-chat/2016/11/13/christian-living-in-the-21st-century

Mr. Watson and Mr. Hendrix open the segment by asserting that the Bible must be the standard and foundation for all Christian conduct. For them, the Bible IS God's Word. Hence, the Bible = truth (John 17:17) as opposed to whatever God says (whether it's found in the Bible or not) being truth (same scripture). In other words, the Bible is the only way that God has communicated "His" will/standards to mankind. They see the Judeo-Christian Scriptures as absolute and unchangeable. Moreover, they go on to assert that our world is in such sad shape because people don't read their Bibles.

Having established the Bible as their standard, they proceed to address whether or not the cohabitation of folks without benefit of clergy is an acceptable way for Christians to live. Without quoting a single scripture, they define fornication as a man and woman living together who are not married. Nevertheless, they go on to assure us that "God's Word" is very clear on this subject. To be fair, they do make a passing reference to God performing the first marriage ceremony in Genesis (you will look in vain to find it there) and do talk at some length about the covenant between a man and woman being modeled after the relationship which exists between God/Christ and the Church.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the Adam and Eve in the Genesis account of creation were real/literal people and not just representative of the beginnings of human life on this planet. We are told there that God created men and women in "His" own image (Genesis 1:26-27), and that "He" instructed them to "be fruitful and multiply" (verse 28). Later, we are told that God created Eve as a helper and suitable partner/companion for Adam (Genesis 2:18).

The second chapter of Genesis concludes with two statements which are pertinent to our subject. The first is the oft cited passage:  "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (verse 24). Isn't that interesting? This scripture seems to imply that the act of leaving the parental household and cohabitating with a woman makes one husband and wife - there is no mention here of any ceremony, formal or informal. We could argue that it is implied (where's the proof?), but we must acknowledge that nothing of the kind is explicitly stated here.

The final verse of this chapter is even more interesting with regard to the subject of human sexuality from the perspective of Scripture. We are told this about the first couple:  "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:25). WOW, that certainly seems to fly in the face of traditional Christian attitudes toward sex and body image! Where did our shame/modesty originate? In the following chapter (Genesis 3), we are told that this awareness originated in their sin of eating the fruit from the forbidden tree (verses 6-7). Does that mean that Traditional Christianity's prudery originated in the mind of the Serpent?

As for the imagery of the relationship between Christ and the Church, has that marriage ceremony actually happened yet? What about the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)? When does the marriage supper of the Lamb actually occur (Revelation 19)? Does that mean that the Church is currently fornicating with Christ? For that matter, where does it state in Scripture that all sexual relationships outside of marriage are sinful?

If you are going to make statements like:  If you want to have God's blessing, He wants you to be married; You shouldn't be having sexual relations without a covenant; OR The Bible is clear that any sex outside of marriage is sin, AND you claim the Bible as your standard, then you should present scriptures to back up those assertions! It is fine and dandy to talk about statistics and the pressure to conform, but wouldn't you accuse me of human reasoning if I chose to talk about those things?

Once again, to be fair, Mr. Watson and Mr. Hendrix do quote numerous scriptures about conforming to the standards of this world in a generic sense (Romans 12:2-3, II Corinthians 5:15-20); but they fail to make the case that their interpretation of fornication fits into that model. If we were truly interested in following God's standard as outlined in the Bible, wouldn't we be talking instead about fidelity? Isn't the commandment against adultery (Exodus 20:14)? Didn't Christ say that it was wrong to lust after someone sexually AFTER you have made a commitment to ONE person (Matthew 5:25)? In other words, he couldn't have been making a blanket condemnation of all sexual desire when he said that. After all, he is supposedly the one who placed that desire within us for purposes of establishing relationships/covenants and procreating!

There is a brief interlude in the discussion of the main topic (human sexuality) after Mr. Watson and Mr. Hendrix finish with fornication. They briefly address tattoos (Leviticus 19:28) and long hair (I Corinthians 11:14-16). For me, it is silly to talk about the intrusion of cultural norms extant thousands of years ago into these writings as if they are representative of eternal spiritual principles handed down by God Almighty. Would Mr. Watson or Mr. Hendrix consider First Century attire appropriate for Sabbath services in a 2016 congregation of the Church of God International? Forget the interlude, they end up relating all of this to the modern practice of masculinizing women and emasculating men.

They go on to appeal to Paul's allusion to us as the "temple of God" to further justify the prohibition of these and other human behaviors which they find to be distasteful (I Corinthians 3:16-17). Be careful men, other folks have used this principle to exclude the consumption of alcohol! I don't think that one would go over too well in the CGI culture.

They assert that:  If you're a truly committed Christian, you will want to conform to God's standard. Of course, as we have already explored, we would have to establish what God's standard is first. They ask:  What would Christ do? Isn't that human reasoning? I thought that they began by stating that the standard must be found in the Bible. Are they now saying that we can deduce our standard from what we are explicitly told in the Bible? How do they know that Christ wouldn't wear a speedo, or that he wouldn't appreciate seeing his wife in a bikini?

Finally, I find their suggestion that "sexually provocative" dress invites certain behaviors in men (especially young ones) to be reprehensible! They warn young women that there are consequences associated with such dress. I too believe in consequences. Young men should face consequences when they force themselves on women who have not invited their attention (dress is not necessarily an invitation).

Mr. Watson concludes with an offer of the booklet entitled How to be a Real Christian, and a warning about relationships with folks outside of the church. If this obsession with superficial behaviors and appearances is any indication of what's inside the booklet, I don't think I'll bother ordering a copy. You can be a REAL Christian by exhibiting love, compassion, empathy, mercy, kindness and tolerance for other folks. And, as for the warning about relationships outside of the church, we may want to disregard that one too. I think that Mr. Watson might need more relationships outside of the church. What do you think?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Franklin Graham gives God the credit for Trump's victory!

Just for the record, Armstrongites aren't the only ones who buy into this flawed theology about God's intervention in choosing our leaders. The following quote was extracted from Reverend Franklin Graham's Facebook page:

"Did God show up? In watching the news after the election, the secular media keep asking 'How did this happen?' 'What went wrong?' 'How did we miss this?' Some are in shock. Political pundits are stunned. Many thought the Trump/Pence ticket didn’t have a chance. None of them understand the God-factor.
Hundreds of thousands of Christians from across the United States have been praying. This year they came out to every state capitol to pray for this election and for the future of America. Prayer groups were started. Families prayed. Churches prayed. Then Christians went to the polls, and God showed up.
While the media scratches their heads and tries to understand how this happened, I believe that God’s hand intervened Tuesday night to stop the godless, atheistic progressive agenda from taking control of our country."

https://www.facebook.com/FranklinGraham/

That explains it all - Graham has answered the secular media's questions about how Donald Trump was elected President. I guess we should all be thankful that God saved us from Hillary's "godless, atheistic progressive agenda." Still, some of us can't help but wish that "He" had saved us from Trump's godly, theistic retrograde agenda!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Did God want Donald Trump to be President of the United States?

Some theists have argued that God chooses who will rule over the nations - that "He" has placed certain individuals in positions of authority for "His" own purposes. Some of these folks (like HWA and his devoted followers) have taken this logic a step further and concluded that this "truism" argues against Christ's followers participating in elections. So, according to this line of reasoning, God wanted Donald Trump to be President of the United States; and anyone who voted against him was resisting the will of God. Is that the case? Did God make Donald Trump President? OR Somehow move others to elect him as their leader?

Much of this reasoning is based on a dubious interpretation of a few scriptures. Chief among these are two passages found in the fourth chapter of the book of Daniel:  There we are told that Nebuchadnezzar issued a proclamation to the world about a vision he had been given by God - "to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men (was he talking about Trump here?)" Daniel 4:17; and, a little later, we are told that Daniel explained the vision to the king and told him that he'd lose his mind and wouldn't recover his sanity - "till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will." Daniel 4:25 Among the other scriptures which are often cited to support these notions, are two from the Psalms:  "For the kingdom is the Lord's: and he is the governor among the nations." Psalm 22:28 and "For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding. God reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness." Psalm 47:7-8 Finally, another oft cited passage is lifted from Paul's epistle to the saints at Rome:  "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers (state authorities). For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God." Romans 13:1

For those who are interested in understanding these scriptures, a few questions come to mind:  Do these passages imply that God actually places human leaders in office? Does that mean that God placed Hitler at the helm of Germany? Wouldn't that place at least part of the responsibility for the evil which these people unleash in the world in God's lap? Is this God's world after all? Is mankind learning the lesson of life without God? OR  Is God at the controls? Is he directing and micromanaging the affairs of mankind? AND, if "He" is, what does that imply about free will? Is it possible that these scriptures suggest that God has ultimate control, but that "He" has allowed mankind to choose his own rulers and go his own way for the time being? Is it possible that these scriptures imply that God permits/allows humans to govern themselves at the present time? Does it make sense that God would choose a bully, a racist, a misogynist and serial adulterer to rule over a people who mostly eschew such values? Would the broader understanding of these scriptures which the above questions imply preclude God from intervening directly in the affairs of mankind to keep "His" plan/purposes on track?

I don't think that we can blame this one on God. I think that the responsibility for this one rests with the folks who voted for this man. What do you think? 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Intermission

Just a note to explain that there will be an extended break in posts and comments here. I'm working on another project that will require all of my time and energy to complete. May God bless each and every one of you until we meet here again or in that Kingdom!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The End of the World?

It appears that one of the hallmarks of Fundamentalist Christianity is a belief that the end is right around the corner (this was/is certainly the case with the Armstrong Churches of God). Their attitudes about Scripture don't just color their views about religion. They also color the way they look at science, politics, history and world events. Let's face it, for most of these groups, there is a preoccupation (one could almost call it an obsession) with prophecy.

Moreover, it should be clear by now to anyone with an ounce of objectivity, that this preoccupation/obsession is/has not (been) healthy. It leads people to do all kinds of foolish things. It causes them to fail to adequately plan and provide for their futures. It causes them to send their money to folks who are supposed to be warning the rest of the world about what's coming down the pike in the not too distant future. It perverts the way that they parent their children, and it twists the way that they look at government, politics and world events. It also causes unnecessary anxiety, fear and depression and robs many of these folks of their peace of mind.

Where does this conviction that the end of the world is near come from? Not the Bible! It stems from an ignorance of Scripture, history, science, politics, theology and philosophy. How? A literal interpretation of Scripture that does not consider things like context and the complexities of the symbolism used there leads to erroneous conclusions/interpretations. Without a good understanding of human history, much of the wars, political turmoil, famines and disease that folks observe in the world has no context - commonplace events become extraordinary and seem to have appeared suddenly on the world stage. Likewise, without a good understanding of science, things like earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes appear to take on supernatural or magical qualities (they become manifestations of God's wrath). In short, most of these folks (Fundamentalists) are susceptible to the notion that the end is near because they have no frame of reference for what happened before they arrived on the scene. They see bombings, hurricanes, rapes and murders on the nightly news and conclude that the apocalypse is at our door.

The Huffington Post just published an excellent piece entitled "The Second Coming, Prophecy and Politics in America." I encourage everyone to read it. You can view the entire post at this address:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/57f63296e4b0568704999eb7  Dr. Steve McSwain applies this phenomenon to the current election cycle in the United States. He writes:
"As the Pew Center recently pointed out, it is largely evangelical Christians who are rallying around a political candidate whom they mistakenly predict will disrupt, or “interfere” with the status quo in government, politics, and in America’s morality. As a consequence, they foretell that this will result in a spiritual revival, restore their version of an “ideal” and “spiritual” America (which is obviously not inside the real prophetic tradition of the Bible). Nor does it square up with what is the nature of historic prophetic preaching. It is as if, however, they regard this “election” year as the “final” attempt by God to return America to its favored and Divinely elected status (what some non-evangelical Republicans would describe as “American exceptionalism”) or else? And, the “or else” means the Second Coming of Jesus, the Rapture of the Church, and the end of the world.
None of this is remotely true, however. Nor is it Biblical."

He continues:  "And, it is only those who know very little of scripture or quote passages of the Bible that are not in any way predictive of the future who engage in this madness. It’s as if they want you to believe that the Bible is some kind of secret code book containing secret ingredients like a recipe to a special dish and only those who are especially endowed by God to interpret the code are capable of doing so." He completes his article by calling these folks exactly what they are:  FALSE prophets.

Are we saying that folks in the Fundamentalist fold are ignorant? Are we saying that they're intellectually lazy? No, but we are suggesting that digging just a little deeper, doing just a little more research/homework might dramatically improve their outlook on the world and their understanding of biblical prophecy in the context of past and current events.

Is the end of the world at our doorstep? I don't think so. What do you think?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Rosh Hashanah: Things you probably won't hear in an Armstrong Church of God service

I ran across a very good summary of the holiday from a Jewish perspective (after all, it was/is a Hebrew holiday  - Didn't YHWH originally instruct the Israelites to observe it?). The article appeared on the International Business Times website (You can view the entire piece at this address:  http://www.ibtimes.com/rosh-hashanah-2016-5-key-facts-about-jewish-new-year-2424752

Jason Le Miere makes the following points about the meaning of the holiday:

1. It is considered to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve.
2. It is the Jewish New Year.
3. It is a time to reflect on past behavior and think about the year ahead.
4. It marks the beginning of the Days of Awe (related to self-examination, repentance and Yom               Kippur or Atonement).
5. It is a time to consume symbolic foods.
6. It is a day for the blowing of the shofar (ram's horn).
7. The Jewish greeting is paraphrased in English as "may you be inscribed and sealed <in the Book of Life> for a good year."

Hmmm, perhaps it would be appropriate/instructive to do a little more research into Jewish attitudes and traditions regarding one of their chief holidays?

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?