Religion, Again

As I have alluded to in previous posts, I grew up in church.  First the Church of God, then the Assemblies of God.  Not the old-timey, backwoods, snake-handling variety.  The in town, dressed up nice, fiery sermons and healing services type.

I was recently asked by a friend of mine to critique and attempt to poke holes in a sermon delivered by his father.  In this sermon his father claims to have found the key that makes it all make sense, and validates the authority of scripture.  I gave a brief rebuttal on my Facebook page.  It is not my intention here to rehash that.  I intend rather, to address the larger topic as a whole.  Not as an a-hole, hopefully.

I believe it all starts with man’s search for significance.

I watched a documentary last night on the life of Carl Panzram.  He was a serial killer that was executed in the 1930’s for killing a civilian laundry room supervisor inside a federal prison.  He wrote his autobiography on notebook paper while sitting in prison, and the narration of the film was essentially the reading of those words.  One of the last things he wrote, while awaiting his hanging was that before he left this world he would like to know why he was who he was, and why he did the things he did.

This is a man that claimed to have murdered 21 people.  He claimed to have committed hundreds of burglaries and robberies.  Amongst his crimes he listed “having sodomized well over 1000 male human beings”.  And he claimed he felt no remorse.  In fact, he only apologized for two things.  1) the various animals he had harmed.  2) That he was unable to extinguish the entire human race.  He claimed to feel nothing but hatred towards all men, including himself.  He literally drug his jailers to the hangman’s noose, and while they put the hood over his head he said to the hangman, “Hurry up you Hoosier bastard, I could hang 12 men in the time you’ve been fooling around!”

This man.  This depraved individual.  This product of a broken home and an inhumane justice system.  This thief, rapist and murderer.  This man with nothing but hate in his heart…wanted one thing.  To know who he was, and why.

And so it has been since the dawn of time.  Since man first gazed at the moon and stars and saw gods in the constellations.  Since lightning struck and men supposed Zeus was angry.  Since tidal waves destroyed coastal cities and men prostrated themselves before Poseidon.  Throughout the entirety of time we have pondered the notion that we live, we die…and then what?

And since a man must take a piece of metal and heat it, and shape it, and pound it in to a sword…we see all the wonder around us and conclude that a being, interestingly a being who looks very much like us, made it all.  Because we lacked the capacity to understand how natural processes worked.  And so we discovered God, or gods.  And we formed religions.  And we determined that our fellow men, practicing other religions, were an affront to our Gods…and so we killed them.

There have been many saviors.  There have been many “holy” books.  There have been wars, and genocides, and all manner of atrocities committed in the name of various deities, including Christ.  The Catholic Church being one of the worst oppressors in history.  To this day the practitioners of various religions are still killing in the name of their god, though they claim (as do all) that the practice a religion of peace.

But now we have come to understand how elements are made in the hearts of stars.  We understand how supernovas blast those elements out in to the universe.  We understand how planets are formed.  And we find those particles of star dust in everything around us, including ourselves.

I will grant that I am not well versed enough in astrophysics to fully understand how “the big bang” worked.  But I recognize a con game when I see it.  Preachers, playing on the ignorance of their congregations, make arguments like, “The Big Bang says that first there was nothing, and then it exploded.”  Well yes, to the common man (including me) that’s what it says.  But if your mind works at all you are aware that there is more to it than that.

I will also grant that I am stuck on the idea of life arising where there was no life.  One of the basic concepts of biology is that life begets life.  And so, at this juncture of my life, I believe in intelligent design because I cannot fully comprehend anything else.  But I remain open to new ideas and a further refining of my position.

I am even open to the possibility that the Bible is true, that Jesus was the Son of God, and that every word written in that book is the infallible word of an all-powerful being.  But I doubt it.

We have put behind us the notions of the Greek and Norse deities.  We have cast aside the Roman gods and those of the Egyptians.  We have written them all off as fairy tales and fables.  We now celebrate them in mythology, movies, literature and music.  But we accept that Charon is not waiting for us at the Styx with hand outstretched.

Yet, for some reason, we remain fixated on the Hebrew God in western culture.  Still stranger, though the Jews, Christians and Muslims are all “people of the book”, we make war against each other, and underlying much of that conflict is religion.

I cannot explain why we cannot cast off two thousand-year old tales of water walkers and faith healers, though no one in our time is capable of these things (except Chris Angel).  Jesus said, “Why do you marvel at these things?  Greater things than these shall you do in my name.”  Yet no one actually CAN do any of those things.  No one is raising the dead.  No one is walking on water.  No one is turning water to wine or curing leprosy.  Yet we believe.

And we stretch credibility as science continues to advance.  As the “God of the gaps” finds fewer and fewer gaps in which to exist, eloquent men come up with ever increasingly more convoluted explanations for the things we can see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears.

We were told for decades that evolution is a lie.  Then we were told that it is the tool by which God brought things in to being.  We pay pastors to read to us what we can read for ourselves, and interpret it in such a manner as to silence that nagging voice in the back of our minds.

We are encouraged to “let go and let God”.  We are told that, “I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken, or their seed begging bread”.  Well… I have.

We are told, “I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds tomorrow”.  Yes, so do I.  I hold tomorrow, in the decisions I make today.

The list of clichés goes on and on.  But the simple fact is, much of Christianity in America is a cliché based, feel good, social experience.  It is about being in the company of like-minded individuals, and reinforcing each others’ beliefs.  And as stories are retold, the details slip away.  A pimple behind your ear turns in to a brain tumor, and you were miraculously healed…praise the Lord.

Music is used in church in the exact same manner as it is used “in the world”.

I have long contended that music is the most powerful force in existence.  It is able to manipulate the moods of men.  It can inspire or depress.  It can raise your spirits, affect your body chemistry and fill your mind with thoughts and visions.

In church it is used to open a service, and usually to end it.  The purpose being to open the mind and “spirit” of the attendees, to create an emotional experience, to in grain the message.  Much like the backward masking and subliminal programming that the church was so up in arms about 20 years ago.  But it is okay if you are being brainwashed, so long as the message is approved.

I am the person that ministers hate to run in to.  Why?  Because I read, and I listen…and I think.

I have seen the Bible used, and verses quoted to support diametrically opposed principles.  One example of that is the pre-trib/post-trib rapture debate.  And each side believes they have some divine revelation, and the other side is full of heretics.

In the end I think it all boils down to this.  We’re scared.

Man looks around and he sees the world.  And he fears leaving it.  If there is no life after death, then we are just another animal on the planet for a few years before we’re gone.  There is no “purpose”, no meaning.  Or as Rush put it, “Why are we here?  Because we’re here.  Roll the bones.”

We face a world full of undeniably harsh conditions, and arguably evil men.  We try to navigate our way through poverty, unemployment, the birth and death of children and parents, crime, corruption, and a whole host of other things…and we’re scared.

How can we, living in this moment, possibly lead ourselves to a better moment tomorrow?  Surely we are in need of guidance…from an all-powerful God who declares the end from the beginning.  The God who holds tomorrow.

When bad things happen to good people we’re told that we are being tried and tested, or “refined”  We’re told that “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord” (but they always leave out “and are called according to his purpose”).

When good things happen to bad people… “He maketh the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

When a child dies…”he’s in a better place”.  So…why are you crying?

The bottom line for me is this.  I am not afraid.

If God is out there then I want to know him because I want to know the truth.  And if he wishes to make himself known to me, I presume he knows how to find me.

I will be told that if he proved it, it wouldn’t require faith.  Tell that to Moses, to whom God revealed himself; or Joshua who asked for multiple signs and got them.  Tell it to Thomas, or the fisherman on the boat when Jesus went out to them on the water.

I do not desire to have “faith”.  Not blind faith.  Not foolish faith.  My daughter has faith in me because I told her I would do something and I did it.  I told her to jump, and I caught her.  Not because she read a letter from me, written 2,000 years ago, and though she had never met me she decided to have faith in me anyway.

David Koresh used scripture to lead a group of people.  So did Jim Jones.  So have countless other people who the mainstream church refers to as cultists.  Yet in the end, what is the difference?

Do we not give time and money to both groups?  Do we not sit under the tutelage of some appointed (usually self-appointed in the case of cults) leader?

Do we not sing and dance, praise the Lord, congregate with other believers in both instances?  I submit to you that a “church” is just a “cult” that has reached a respectable attendance mark.  And I for one am not interested in joining.

And so I say this.  When I witness with my eyes something that cannot be explained; when an angel stands before me; when the audible voice of God is heard; when God himself appears to me; when something supernatural in nature happens…. I will believe.

Until then, all the cliches and stories, eloquent sermons, and impassioned testimonies in the world will fall on deaf ears.  Because you are appealing to me on behalf of a being that you cannot demonstrate conclusively is even in existence.  And I must first believe that he is there before I will believe you have a message for me from him.

I do want to congratulate the Pastor in question however.  He put up this sermon on the internet and invited feedback.  Few men of faith are willing to do so.  Primarily because if someone were to dispute their beliefs in an irrefutable manner, it would destroy their faith and thus their lives.  So it takes incredible courage, and an unshakeable belief to do that.

I respect those things.

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7 responses to “Religion, Again

  1. I find myslef agreeing with you more than disagreeing… I too have found experience is what informs my faith far more than words. As you know, I have experienced an “evolution” of my own… through various denominations, a winding path that has led me to….. well, I do not know exactly where I am right now. I am convinced of a higher consciousness that is inherently good, but of little else with regard to a “God”. I believe Jesus existed has been a tremendous influence in/on the world– but I do not believe in the need for atonement by blood sacrifice and I do not believe he “had” to die in order for people to be “saved”.

    Unlike you, because of experiences I have had I do believe our energy exists beyond the barriers of this life when our heart stops beating and we stop breathing this air. Beyond that, I do not know what happens. I have a few theories—but they are merely ideas. As I have moved further from Christianity I find myself less and less concerned with what happens after this life and far more concerned with what I am doing IN this life. I am less frightened. I am more willing to consider all possibilities. I am more curious. And I would like to think I am more loving –less rigid, less demanding, seeking to focus on the good in each person instead of unconsciously determining if I and they measure up to some “spritual yardstick” based on a book that was never intended to be an idol, but merely a guide.

    So, as I have often said to you- keep searching, keep asking, keep listening. It is a good way to go.

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    • I would love to discuss the exact details of these transitions. For example, I know the day and the circumstances that first led me to start questioning things. I know the questions, and the answers. I am aware of milestones in my thought process, and my evolving belief system. I can tell you logically why I did what I did, and thought what I thought. If you can do the same, that would be an interesting conversation to me.

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      • Oh my… that discussion would take quite awhile…. and is certainly more than I could write here. I have had fewer milestones and more a winding, gradual, shifting type of experience as I meandered my way through things spiritual. I doubt it would be as precise as your path.

        The condensed soup version? I grew up Baptist– where I learned about the basics of Protestant Christianity. Not extremely legalistic and gave me a lot of exposure to Protestant interpretations of the Bible and to the Bible itself.

        A of G- where Biblical literalism and the “spiritual gifts” (speaking in tongues, prophecy, etc) and a little mysticism thrown in for flavor were a part of my journey. The literalism and narrow-mindedness became a problem when I began asking hard questions after Kim died (things like, why bother praying? There were literally hundreds if not thousands of people praying for her healing an cancer killed her anyway?)). Questions most people ask when they lose someone they love. My A of G peers called me a heretic and a sinner for asking such things and for daring to question God.

        I moved on to a non-denominational church. The doctrine was watered down, but the people were very friendly and sweet– it was a wonderful place to lick my wounds and rest.

        After a time, I attended Mass with a friend on a lark and was so moved by the experience I decided to become Catholic. I cannot tell you why logically I made that decision. It made sense to me at the time– I desired authority and tradition. I was tired of one guy (the pastor) telling me what he thought the Bible said on any given Sunday. I wanted 2000 years of history and tradition. It was lovely. Having a spiritual mother (Mary) did a great deal to help heal the wounds of my childhood and filled in the many “holes” my actual mother had left me with.

        Many Catholics are also mystics— they experience God in ways other Christians may not consider– in nature, in art, in music, in meditation (not petitionary prayer, but meditative silence). I found myself drawn more and more to contemplative practice— to finding the quiet. Not asking for anything, but instead trusting all is well and all will be as it should be –whether or not the physical experience is something I would characterize as “good”. Finding a path to a lack of attachment to outcomes– letting go instead of holding on so tightly.

        Lately, I have been reading a lot about Progressive Christianity— and other views of Jesus, less as “savior” and more as “teacher”– much like the Buddha, Mohammed, etc.

        So that has been my path… like i said… much more messy than yours.. less structure…more wandering.

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      • At the very beginning my journey started as yours did. A young girl, dying of cancer while the church prayed. But I am more of a black and white kind of guy, as you know. To my mind, if you profess to be a follower of Christ, then you must accept that the book is the real deal. You cannot change it to suit yourself.

        So…the Bible says, “Are there any sick among you? Let them call for the elders of the church. Let them anoint them with oil, praying over them in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick and the Lord shall raise them up.” Well…she died. Verse incorrect. And if one verse is incorrect….

        Over the years I waffled back and forth. Not because I had more or less reason to believe. But because I had the energy to take on teh challenge at times, and at others I did not.

        I became an apologist for a while. though it was more to explain to myself what was going on than it was to explain it to others.

        Eventually, one fateful day, after months of pondering I finally looked within myself for a good, long time. And I concluded that I was being that which I hate most in this world…a hypocrite. I was going through the motions, but I did not believe. And so I walked away. And in what seemed like years but was actually months, I found peace with my place in the world, and a freedom to believe what my eyes saw and my ears heard without having to filter out the parts that contradicted what my religion taught.

        I am still seeking truth, and I am still open to the possibility of God. But I no longer compartmentalize. I do not sit and watch the Discovery Channel with a sneer on my face anymore. No longer do I deny the realities of the natural world around me. And most importantly, I ask myself what my moral code dictates I do, and not “what would Jesus do”. And so I own who I am. The good and the bad, the ups and the downs. I claim the rewards of my good choices, and I face the consequences of my bad ones. And I do not blame my life or anything in it on invisible beings from other dimensions.

        I’m free.

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  2. Freedom is most excellent and that you have found it makes me smile. Christians will be quick to tell you your freedom comes at a cost– and it does– but not the cost they think. You pay a price to be free. You have to think. You have to search. You have to be willing to be more than a bleating sheep. Perhaps endure rejection? Perhaps endure betrayal? Yes– there is indeed a price to be paid for freedom.

    I think the WWJD code is not a bad one per se– but that too often people who THINK they know WJWD are very much mistaken. They do not know him at all– they seek to make the Bible literal and insist that each word must be true in the way they declare it to be so– instead of understanding context, history, mythology, etc. For example, there are several virgin birth stories throughout Middle Eastern mysticism– it is possible the whole notion of virgin birth was merely symbolic… anyway… I digress….

    It is wisdom to not blame your life or anything in it on another being. It is wisdom to know you are responsible for the choices you make. It is also wisdom to know that in your life which is beyond your control and to accept what cannot be controlled. The latter is where I am still growing. There was a time when I believed if I just worked hard enough there was little I could not control. I am learning now that acceptance is far more powerful than control will ever be (and a lot less tiring). By acceptance I do not necessarily mean complacency– I mean allowing things I cannot control to be what they are without upset. This has been a helpful course for me.

    So, continue on in your journey and i will in mine and who knows what adventures lie ahead for both of us? 😉

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    • It is a true pleasure to know you. I mean that sincerely. You are one of very few people that I can have a reasonable discussion on an important topic with. I treasure our relationship.

      Let me say that when most people use the word “control” in relation to the happenings in ones life, I believe they envision a man, sweating and straining, muscles bulging, as he tries to contain and direct the fury of a hurricane with nothing but his hands.

      I take more of the Bruce Lee approach.

      “Be like water my friend.”

      I cannot control the fact that you have thrown something at me, but I can decide not to be there when it passes through my space.

      There are, of course, things you cannot control. The IRS audits you. You daughter is in a traffic accident. Your son is born with autism… And in those situations you must accept that which you cannot change, or you will go mad. But in this area we differ too, though only slightly.

      I do allow the anger and frustration to flow (not build up, but flow) over things I cannot control. Because, though I cannot control teh fact that I am being audited, I can control how I react. And the control of that reaction requires energy. The focus to find the necessary documents, to understand the questions, to answer them precisely (and without killing anyone) all requires energy. Which I generate with anger.

      Not a boiling pot, but a smoldering ember.

      So I accept that I cannot change some things…. but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. 😉

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      • You are so kind– and the same to you— i have few friends with whom I can dialogue at this level. ❤

        "being the water"— wow– so many metaphors there— and yes, there is power in "flowing". I find energy in love, not anger but hey– whatever works. 😉 And no, acceptance does not = liking it. For myself, I would settle for a detached neutrality— but I rarely achieve it.

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