Christians + Rules = WTF?

A few days ago, a reader asked, “where  [did] the church decided to adopt a code of ethics of its own, and for what?”

I was stumped a bit, because there should be a simple answer… but there’s not.

From the outside, Christianity can look like it’s dominated by rules, especially by a long list of don’ts. Shoot, from the inside, many people feel oppressed by all the restrictions. Some people rebel and do whatever they think is right without any deference to authority, while others remain tied to a long list of shoulds. How did it come to this?

Commandments have always been part of faith in the God of Abraham. In the beginning, God gave humans a very short list (one item!) of what not do to, knowing that, as long as they obeyed that one thing, they would be responsible in living in the best possible way in everything else. Well, they screwed up, so God took things up a notch.

God gave Abraham any number of commandments throughout his life, but all of them were preceded by God’s promises — and all of them were for Abraham’s ultimate good, even if they didn’t make sense at the time (sacrifice Isaac!). Those promises were in the context of a trusting relationship.  Commandments without faith are dead. Obedience to commandments is part of a healthy faith, but it is not the be all and end all.

Jesus came to set people free from themselves, from each other, and from the deceptions that can weigh each of us down. With this comes great freedom, but in this life, there are some things that God – and responsible religious leaders – will warn us against because they will harm us or others spiritually, physically, etc.

If people claim to be Christians, but demonstrate their faith through rules more than through love, other people have the right to question their faith. But, on the flip side, if people claim to be Christians but demonstrate no self-control or concern for living out their faith in purity and responsibility, ditto. If you don’t feel like you have a cross to bear…. Faith is joyful, liberating, healing, and many wonderful things, but no one ever said it was supposed to be easy.

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The Quest for the Historical Jesus

The “Quest for the Historical Jesus” is neither historical nor a quest.  Discuss.

Published in: on August 14, 2008 at 4:28 pm  Comments (2)  

Who is saved?

God only knows.

If you don’t believe that Jesus is God, why not Tom Cruise? Or FM-2030?

If you’re not sure Tom Cruise is crazy, check out his interview expressing his hope to “create a new reality… with enough love, compassion, and toughness.”  I miss Jesus already.  (Helpful explanations of his jargon here.)

Yet Scientology is part of the larger movement of transhumanism, and they’re not even the craziest ones in the movement.  Not to be confused with transsexuality, which this is not the place to discuss, transhumanists hope to incorporate advances in technology and “spirituality” to become immortal, post-human entities (and sometimes cyborgs).

I originally entitled this post “Science Fiction + religion – God = 😦 ” but changed when I realized that some might infer atheist non-cult-members, many of whose views I greatly respect, as being lumped along with self-theist psychos. I value dialog with people of other beliefs, but even I have my limits and and some point have to cry, “Dude, that’s loco!”

Worship someone, please, but not your future self.

God’s Facebook

In contemporary terms, this is what religious — and especially theological — folks tell you when they want to tell you about God: come see God’s facebook page!

We can describe Him.  What He likes.  Or She, depending on who’s describing.  What He doesn’t like.  What movies He approves of.  What political issues.  Whether He’s pro-zombies or pro-pirates.  Etc.

We can describe Him, but these different versions don’t match.  There’s one hundred variations what God is like.  Who are you going to believe?  On what basis?

I can describe Him, tell all about Him.  But knowledge about is head knowledge.  Knowledge of, true experiential relational knowledge is of the heart.

 I can describe my mother.  But the older I get, the less certain I am that I truly know her.

Maybe you know about God.  But do you know God?  Have you seen Him face-to-face, and not just facebook-to-facebook?  I will someday.

“Tell me all your thoughts on god, ’cause I’m on my way to see her….”  — Dishwalla

Why Straight, Christian Men Should Listen to Lesbian, Agnostic Songwriters

When I bought the Indigo Girls’ Retrospective, I endured some awkward questions from the cashier. 

“Is this a gift?” she asked. 

“No, it’s for me.” 

“I thought most of their fans were… you know….” 

I shrugged.  “They’re amazing lyricists and musicians.” 

And it’s true.  Whatever criticism one might have of their views, one cannot deny that Amy Ray and Emily Saliers speak with great clarity and beauty.  To be sure, in their protest songs they may shout at you.  But, in their love songs and life songs, they warmly invite you to walk in their shoes.

What is the nature of love, as expressed by the Indigo Girls?  With shocking Biblical imagery, Amy Ray presents it as “Strange Fire.”  This is a reference to Leviticuts 10, when two priests gave an unauthorized offering to God and were destroyed by his wrath.  But here, that fire is love, which is offered to each other, not to God, and forms a “refuge from the wrath.”  The poet then lashes out against those who oppose that love, with “haughty eyes and lying tongues and hands that shed innocent blood” (Proverbs 6:17, quoted verbatim in the song).  At the very least, the song illuminates the greatest transgression of Christians toward those experiencing homosexual desires: by stigmatizing the struggle and “casting stones,” we have committed greater sins than the sin we sought to oppose.  (“Is it a sin?” is a conversation for another day.)

It is not my place to attempt to summarize the entire body of the Indigo Girls’ work, but I would be amiss not to at least mention “Ghost.”  Emily Saliers captures the utter bitter-sweetness of unrequited love: “I burn up in your presence and I know now how it feels to be weakened like Achilles with you always at my heels….  I can’t swim free the river is too deep, though I’m baptized by your touch, I am no worse than most…. in love with your ghost.”  Is this unrequited love the same as that between a man and a woman?  How can you know if you don’t listen?

All Roads Lead to Heaven?

“We’re right and we’re the only ones!” shout the Pope, the Baptist preacher, and the cult leader in unison across the trenches.

Then, at Starbucks, in the classroom, in the locker room I hear, “All religions are equal.” Equally right, which means equally wrong, so live it up.

What if there is a third option? What if all of us are wrong, but some of us are less wrong than others?

What if only one person has ever had it 100% right: Jesus. The only human who has ever had a true understanding of reality, of God, or of anything else. Hold on, He was God. The rest of us are finite and screwed-up. But Jesus offered to bring to God any who would follow Him.

Christ saves, not any church, Roman Catholic or otherwise. For some of us, like my best philosopher friends, following Christ means becoming Roman Catholic. For others of us, it means becoming irreverent renegades. Or Baptists.

Different Christian groups, with their different emphases, offer different aspects of the truth about Christ and His teaching: love, grace, the awesomeness of God, the importance of His Word, loving the poor and the oppressed, community, tradition and history, and the reality of how messed-up we are all in this life, etc. If we only turn to our traditions, and not also to their Source, we’ll leave out important aspects of the Truth.

I see in other religions aspects of the truth about God also: the peacefulness of Buddhism; the discipline of Islam; the wild diversity of Hinduism; the restful rituals of Judaism. But I see also important differences. In every case, God is either less of a Person (Buddhism and Hinduism), or less personal (Judaism without Christ; Islam). But do other religions lead to heaven? That is the difficult question facing all Christians today.

I offer a strange possibility which should offend people on both sides of the debate. I think that we’re asking the wrong question. Does any religion lead to heaven? No.

No religion leads to heaven. God leads to heaven. He does so through Christ, but many times the -ianity (or the -ians) gets in the way. Religion — our beliefs, our practices — these are all means to an end: Him. There are many false ways, some in and some outside of Christianity, but only one Shepherd. Many who have correct beliefs, but who did not trust Christ, will be in hell (James 2:19). Is it possible that many who have incorrect beliefs, but who trust Christ, will end up in heaven? I think so, for who among us can claim a 100% understanding of God? I am saved by Who I know, not by what I know. But is it possible to trust Christ without knowing that it’s Christ? I don’t know. But I need to love, listen, speak, and pray as if every moment counts toward that end.

Atheist-Christian Dialog: On What Basis Good?

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

After two-weeks of e-mail back and forth, Skeptigator and I have posted the polished results of our conversation: On What Basis Do You Decide What is Good?  The venture is as much mine as it is his, but for sheer simplicity’s sake, the conversation is posted in full only on his site.  That way, we can both reply to one stream of comments.

However, I will give you at least the cliff note’s version here.  That should give you a flavor for what you’re in for with the full version of this conversation and with future conversations on other topics.

Introduction

Skeptigator’s original question to all of us was: Does atheism lead to humanism?”. He concluded that it had for him and that, even if “humanism” was difficult to define, it had to include emphasis on human responsibility for fixing the world’s problems via reason and science.

My question: If humanity is to solve the world’s problems, how are we to decide which problems are worth solving? And do those ends justify any means? In other words, how do you determine moral goals and the moral actions necessary to fulfill them? On what basis do you decide what good is? Or is there no basis?

My conclusions:

Skeptigator and I agree on four basic things: that we should alleviate human suffering; that reason should play a role in that process; that we should all be willing to work together in practical ways; and that this is a conversation worth having. I commend him for his desire to alleviate suffering everywhere, regardless of any benefit to himself.

The details of our disagreement stem from one primary source (surprise!): the existence of God. And not just any God, but a God who is engaged in human history and knows our suffering on a personal level. An intellectual solution to physical suffering is insufficient. “Every one of us is made to suffer,” Annie Lennox says. It is true, for which of us has not known our fair share of physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual woe? Our problem is bigger than we by ourselves can fix, although we are a part of the solution. The God of Jesus knows, cares, helps us now, and promises that final justice is on the way.

The second less obvious source of disagreement is human nature. Skeptigator, by his own admission [in original “Does Atheism Lead to Humanism” comments], sees no need to define it. I do. I have no business believing that we need God unless I believe that we are needy! By ourselves, we cannot do good. “If history has shown us anything, it is that you can kill anyone,” said Don Corleone. And we will kill anyone, I might add. Christians, Muslims, atheists and everyone else in power throughout history have always abused that power; and they always will, until this world ends, because we are human. We will always seek power, always abuse it in the name of the greater good, and always insist that this tendency is the problem of an isolated few.

The third significant issue is what began this whole conversation: humanism’s basis for determining good. Reason, human experience, and science are useful tools, but are not sufficient for establishing morality and purpose in life. Neither are they sufficient for establishing a consensus, even a wrong one. Disagreement is in our nature. Human reason has its limits, which we are wise to acknowledge.

In the end, we’re both skeptics: him about God, me about us. The burden of proof is on me, but I have none. Evidence and testimony, sure, but no proof. The only one who can prove His existence is God Himself. He refuses, for the time being, for our benefit. Faith will have to remain faith: “the evidence of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Skeptigator’s Conclusions:

Faithfool obviously has a religious faith and I obviously do not. Faithfool in his quest for understanding (and I dare say a budding skeptic but that’s perhaps wishful thinking) wanted me specifically to further explain where I derive my sense of morality.

The purpose of this conversation was to offer a unique way of discussing the source of morality if you do not have a religious faith (at least from my perspective). I think Faithfool and I could have gone for much longer than this however I believe we’ve each had enough space to make our cases. I do hope that this conversation will add to a growing number of conversations between people of faith and those without. As Faithfool pointed out recently to me, “we are not the only ones having this conversation”.

I do want boil down my primary answer to Faithfool’s question, “On what basis do you decide what good is?” Essentially my answer came down to “we are”. The combination of humanity’s experience, rational thinking and a scientific worldview is an extremely powerful tool or set of tools for understanding reality and the correct moral actions. I believe that this offers a better alternative to blind faith (a bit redundant I admit). I believe that moral actions have always been determined by human reason and that religion all too often captures/justifies immoral behavior at a certain point in time and that fossilizes and becomes incontrovertible dogma.

I am willing to accept uncertainty since a scientific worldview will never offer complete knowledge or certainty. I am willing to accept the possibility that we will make the wrong choices however and perhaps more importantly unlike many religious faiths we have a self-correcting mechanism in place.

Dear God, WTF?!

An Open Letter to God

Dear God,

Heard from a friend today, who reminded me of everything wrong in the world.  Children in sex slavery in Cambodia.  Where the hell are you?  And where were you when the Holocaust happened?  Or slavery?  Or the Taliban?  Or the crusades?  Where?

So I sit, waiting for you to split the sky and come down, burning to a crisp every twisted bastard among us.  I sit, weeping, rocking gently in my chair.  I breath in the air-conditioned coolness.  I look up at the white ceiling of my new house, waiting for you to tear off the roof.  I fume with anger, and then I remember: I had forgotten.

I have known for the years about the child sex trade.  A friend in college did recon and sting operations with the International Justice Mission.  But I forgot.  I became comfortable, distracted, self-centered.  I was so busy being so excited about how many hits my blog got today.  Screwed-up bastard that I am, I forgot to care.

If you’re waiting for me to be ready, God, before you come down… if that’s what’s holding you up, thanks, I guess.

If you’re waiting for me to take action, God, if that’s what these children need… help me!  Help them!  Help me help them!

We need you.  I don’t know how much longer we can wait.