Monday, February 9, 2015

Deconstructing Evangelical theology: Do the Pharisees get a bad rap?

Some Evangelicals believe that when God says or does something in the Old Testament, that means that Jesus said or did that thing.

Let’s take a look at this belief in light of Jesus’ treatment of the Pharisees. Jesus is the protagonist of the Gospels, and he has no shortage of villains to confront - the scribes, the chief priests, even the devil himself. But for me, the best villains of the Gospels were always the Pharisees. So legalistic. So proud. Always looking to make Jesus stumble, and always getting shut down.

But do they get a bad rap?

Well, the Pharisees are known for their legalism, but the most common complaint I’ve heard leveled against them is that they were too legalistic about doing no work on the Sabbath. They made all kinds of regulations about what constituted work. I’ve heard it said that they even made rules about whether one could put on a wig or false teeth on the Sabbath.

What jerks!

But who made the law about not working on the Sabbath? God. (Exodus 35:1) Remember, that means Jesus made the law, according to some.

Ok, but he never said to make ridiculous rules about it, right? It's not his fault!

But what, pray tell, was the penalty that God set for breaking this law?

Death. (Exodus 35:2)

So let's follow the chain of events, assuming that anything God did, Jesus did.

  • Jesus creates a law saying no work is to be done in the Sabbath. He provides no parameters on what constitutes work other than saying that fires should not be lit in people’s homes on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:3).
  • He says that if the law is broken, he will fucking smoke your ass. He drives the point home by ordering the execution of a man for picking up sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36)
  • When a group of his followers creating legalistic rules about what constitutes work, he's pissed.

It gets even weirder in light of some of Jesus' actions. For instance, he saves the life of a woman who is about to be stoned to death for committing adultery, saying "let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

What about the poor bastard who was picking up sticks?

God ordered that he be stoned to death.

How does that make sense?

Friday, August 29, 2014

One Hour in Hell: My Brush with Suicide

[Trigger warning: suicide, suicidal thoughts]

I was suicidal once. For about an hour.

Let me back up (pun intended).

I've had a bad back since my early twenties. People ask me, "How did you hurt your back?", expecting, perhaps, a tale of me lifting a car off of a litter of puppies, or BASE jumping off a skyscraper in order to tackle some jewel thieves. In reality, it was caused by ignoring my doctor's advice (because hey, I was going to be young forever), and a career as a software engineer in which I sit all day. The last straw was a picnic bench.

I was at a birthday party, and sat down on a picnic bench, as I had done hundreds of time before. As I sat down,  I felt my back go out. Oh well, looks like I'll be spending a couple of days on the couch again I thought.

I got home, lay down on the couch and screamed.

I had to lay flat on my back on the floor to alleviate the pain. My wife and I realized something was seriously wrong when I couldn't stand up. It was the weekend, so we contacted an on call nurse, who told me to call an ambulance.

"An ambulance?" I said, thinking Thirty one year olds simply do not call ambulances, my good woman.

"Well, we can't leave you on the floor, honey." she replied. Hmm, a sound argument.

I had back surgery to remove half of my L5-S1 disc, and had to take lots of Percoset. I was staying within the prescribed dose, but I wanted to get off of it as quickly as possible.

I went from ten pills a day to two. I was already in a funk because of the surgery. It was my first, and I was thinking about my mortality and how I was getting old, that kind of thing. Within forty eight hours of dropping the dose, I went from funk to full blown depression.

Not the depression I'm used to. The kind that's maybe not even depression at all, just a terrible, awful mood. This was evil. It's the only word for it. I didn't even notice it coming on. It was just there. The word depression doesn’t do it justice. A pothole is a depression. This was a bottomless pit.

I don't know how to describe it any better than that, because the feelings were so alien. Actually, that's a good word. If you've ever watched or read any story where someone gets possessed by aliens or demons or whatever, when they're rescued they usually say some variation of the same thing:

"It was like I was a prisoner in my own mind, and all I could do was watch what was happening and scream."

Except I couldn't even scream. It was more like a whisper. It was something like this:

Me: Umm, that seems harsh...
Me: But I have a family.

These things didn't sound like something I'd say, but who was I to argue with myself? Except it wasn't me. Except it had to be me, because who else would it be?

Cue ominous music.

Luckily, I was raised to believe that married couples make decisions together. Maybe I'd mosey on down to the kitchen and bounce this plan off my better half.

Me: Wait, if you're me, why are you calling me, 'you'?
Depression: UMM...crap

Ok, the last two lines didn't happen, but I have to lighten the mood a bit.

I briefed my wife. I don't remember if I used the word suicidal or not. She looked up from the stove where she was cooking and said that I should probably take a Percocet and see if I felt better.  

I wasn't sure. I hemmed and hawed. I mean, gosh, what if something bad happened? She repeated herself, with an implied "before I slap you with the business end of this spatula, you silly son of a bitch".

I took the pill, and sat down at the kitchen table. Within fifteen minutes, I was fine. Not "top of the world" fine but "hey maybe I'll give this living thing another whirl, it seems pretty cool" fine. Whatever force that had invaded my brain was gone, leaving no trace.

At one point during this ordeal, I wondered if I would feel the same way tomorrow. I knew without a doubt there was no way I could handle that. What I was experiencing was Hell, in the Evangelical sense of the word. It was conscious torment. It wasn't eternal, but it felt that way, and perception, in this case, was reality.

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, I won’t insult you by saying that I now understand your struggle. I only got the briefest glimpse of what it's like. That would be like saying you understand the plot of The Godfather after watching the first five minutes dubbed into Esperanto.

I did learn this: suicide isn’t the act of a coward. Anyone who deals on a regular basis with anything like what I was feeling is brave. Even if they choose to end their life.

But what about the people that a suicide victim leaves behind? Isn’t it cowardly and selfish for them to end their own pain, leaving loved ones to pick up the pieces?

Again, I can only speak based on my limited experience, but I would say it’s not. For that brief time, I truly believed that I would be doing my wife and three young daughters a favor by choosing to end my life. My view of reality had become so twisted that ending my life seemed like a noble sacrifice, no different than throwing myself in front of a bullet.

I don’t know what it's like to deal with thoughts like this on a regular basis, but I experienced enough that I will never pass judgement on someone who does. Like lung cancer, it’s a medical condition. You wouldn't say that someone who died of lung cancer "decided to stop breathing". That would be absurd - they died because they were robbed of the ability to breathe. Depression robs you of your ability to view reality correctly, and your ability to make decisions - including the decision to seek help. It was a tremendous effort for me just to walk downstairs and talk to my wife.

Some people think depression is a character flaw or a spiritual issue. It shames me to admit that I once believed this too.

If my wife had believed that, I might not be alive today.

Monday, February 10, 2014

5 Awesome Reasons to Leave Your Church

Recently, Relevant Magazine an article entitled 5 Really Bad Reasons to Leave Your Church. As someone who has experience leaving a church, I felt compelled to respond. 

There are five reasons in the article, but they all boil down to this one:

"My needs aren't being met"

Hooooo boy, American Evangelical churches hate when their members have needs. This is because they view themselves as locked in an eternal battle with the forces of Satan. The pastor is the general and his flock are soldiers. Soldiers obey. They don't complain, and they certainly don't have needs.

But the church also needs to put non-Christian asses in seats so that people hear The Gospel. So they have to provide whizz-bang worship services, engaging sermons, and comfortable seating. 

But here's the catch: these frills are not really intended for members. Once you become a soldier in God's army, you are expected to serve until it hurts . You are expected to surrender your comfortable seat if a potential recruit needs it. 
This is a bait and switch. 

Let's use my former church as an example.

One of the the pastors there bragged that when someone told him they didn't like one of the songs , he had replied, "Well, we weren't singing it to you."

A good soldier doesn't complain about their countries national anthem, you see.

Once they showed a video that compared a good church to a battleship and a bad church to a cruise ship. This means that in their mind, a bad church is keeps it's members safe, and if people get hurt, they apologize and make amends. A bad church recharges people instead of draining them.

On the other hand, a good church is one where people obey orders and people's comfort and safety aren't important. It's a place that you can't leave.

This is how the church was run. They pushed for people to become members as soon as possible. Small group leaders were strongly encouraged to have members sign covenants promising to attend the group so that, as one pastor put it, "if they don't live up to their end of the agreement you can hold it in their face and call them out" (paraphrase). 

People who practically lived at the church (because they were in so many ministries) were held up as shining examples that others should aspire to be.
Young couples expecting their first child were told not to just "check out" because they were parents now. And we were constantly reminded that it wasn't about us and our needs. 

But nothing could change the fact that members weren't actually soldiers and could therefore leave whenever they felt like it. So other tactics had to be employed. We would be frequently reminded that we were one of only a handful of "bible believing churches" in our corner of the state. The phenomenon of "church shopping" was roundly decried. The membership covenant with the church was likened to a marriage (and we all know how Evangelicals feel about divorce). 

So what? I hear some people say. Anecdotal evidence, that's all you've got!

Then why did Relevant feel the need to write the article?

Because what Relevant (and churches like MFC) want you to forget is that you have agency. You have choice.

You can leave if it's too big or too small or too far away. You can leave because the sermons are boring or because you don't like the style of worship. It's up to you. Just as you can choose to trade in your car, move to a different city, or start a new job.

They want you to forget that the best reason for leaving a church is the one that you pick.

They want you to forget that sometimes, it is about you and your needs, and that's OK. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Don't Care If It Rains Or Freezes, As Long As I've Got My Magic Jesus

My former pastor once preached a sermon about another pastor who had invited a man to live in his home after that man was released from prison. The charge? Child molestation. The reason for the pastor's decision?

I'll give you three guesses. Actually, you don't get any guesses, you should have already figured it out.

Yep, the child molester had found Jesus while in prison. The pastor's decision made quite a stir, and he was interviewed by a local media outlet. He said that if Jesus was real and could change a person's heart, he had to put his money where his mouth is and invite this man into his home.

Anyone want to guess what Bible verse he referenced? Anyone? Bueller?
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)
But if you've spent any amount of time in Evangelical churches, you already knew that. You see, Evangelical Jesus isn't just the Son of God. He doesn't just forgive your sins. He's also a bloody wizard.

Not a magician who does crude parlor tricks. No, friends, the Evangelical Jesus performs actual magic. You see, when a person becomes a Christian by "asking Jesus into his heart", that person becomes a new person! It says so, right in the Bible! Avada Kedavra! I mean abracadabra!

Now, I don't know the end of this story. Maybe the molester in question had a genuine change of heart and the story ended happily (I certainly hope so). And don't think I'm bashing Jesus. I think Evangelicals are putting words in his mouth.

Because you see, at some point after a rookie Evangelical asks Jesus into his heart, they will experience their first Struggle With Sin. Perhaps they've even heard the above verse and can't understand why this is happening. They'll go to a trusted friend or their pastor for an explanation. They'll probably be told that Magic Jesus doesn't just wave a magic wand and change us all at once - it's a process. This process is called sanctification.

Phew! So Christians will change in small increments over time as they gain life experience and knowledge. The only problem is, this sounds an awful like how non-Christians change. It's called "growing up" and it does not, in fact, end when you turn eighteen (a fact which continues to surprise me despite having passed that mark some time age). 

The example I gave is not an isolated one. Abusers within the church are frequently reinstated into positions of authority (or never removed) because they've repented. After all, Jesus has forgiven them, so why shouldn't their victims? They have, after all said the magic words - "I'm sorry". Sometimes with actual tears. 

I don't sympathize with abusers. I save my sympathy for their victims.
However, I will say that abusive Christians and I have one thing in common: we were sold a bill of goods by a church that promised radical change that never came. I wanted to be released from anxiety; this didn't happen until I got on medication. Fortunately for everyone involved, I never committed a crime due to my anxiety.

Telling people they have changed when they haven't is irresponsible. In some cases, it's dangerous. The unnamed pastor in my story held his beliefs so firmly, he invited a convicted child molester into the home where his children lived. In doing this, he sided with an abuser over his children.

Let's let that sink in for a moment. 

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. How many victims of abuse have been forced to forgive their abuser? Face to face, no less? How many families have had a member commit horrible abuse, only to demand forgiveness and refuse to go to counselling because of this theology?

Don't think I'm letting abusers off the hook - far from it. They are the ones ultimately responsible for their actions. However, it is possible to be an enabler of abuse. I defy you to show me an example of Jesus doing this. When he saved the woman about to be stoned for adultery, he didn't make her forgive the people about to throw said stones. He didn't make the other disciples forgive Peter for his betrayal. 

It is true that the early church made Paul, a man who murdered Christians like it was his job (actually it was his job) one of their chief missionaries. 

But could it be that they sent him on trips all over the world so the families of the people he killed wouldn't have to be around him?  

Of course there's no way to know. But there's certainly no account of those families being forced to forgive him.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Web Developer's Thoughts on Coke's Anti-Gay Marketing Disaster

Recently, the Coca-Cola company came under fire for being anti-gay. The company had launched a marketing campaign in which customers could personalize a virtual can of Coke with whatever words they wanted. The site disallowed profanity, but included the words "gay" and "homo" in it's list of banned words. 

I'm a web developer. My company is tiny compared to Coke, of course, but I couldn't help but envision how this might play out if I were asked to design such a site for my company, because profanity is something that developers run into from time to time. At my previous job, we shipped our product on CDs and required the customer to input a randomly generate product key. A customer called in to inform us that their key included the letters 'FUCK', and one of our engineers had to scramble to change the key generator to filter profanities.

I can't help but feel that I would have done a better job.

Most developers would probably choose to use a software library called a wordfilter to perform the profanity scan. Think of a software library as being like an app for your phone. You just download it and use it - you don't need to know how it works. In this case, think of an app that lets you input some text. You then press 'Done' and an alert pops up if there's profanity in the text.

Most of these libraries would come with a built in library of profanity, including multiple languages and alternate spellings, possibly even more devious entries (like 'f.u.c.k' instead of fuck) that wily users might enter to circumvent the filter.

Of course no software is perfect, and a wordfilter is no exception. It can only split words into two categories - non-offensive and offensive. That's good enough for a smaller company such as mine. But a company as massive as Coke should have at least attempted to define a tertiary set - words that could be offensive. Entries with words in that set would have to be approved by an actual human before being allowed.

Let's take a non-controversial example: suck.

"I love sucking down an ice cold Coke!"

Clearly only one of those examples represents the Coke company in a positive light. 'Homo' and 'Gay' could easily be plugged into the second example, and would be caught by a human, though missed by a software library.

If someone entered a word that could be offensive, just display a message like this:

Your message contains word(s) that could, in some cases, be used in a derogatory manner. It will be manually reviewed and, if the message is not offensive, you will be allowed to use it.

It's not a perfect solution. Some might still take offense. And a *cough* unenlightened employee might refuse the word 'gay' if it's NOT used in a derogatory manner. 

Y'know...hmm...this entire idea sounds like a PR disaster waiting to happen, and probably should have been nipped in the bud. Perhaps they should have talked to someone from Nike

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Biblical Truth of Reincarnation

For nearly two thousand years, the debate has raged among Christians: what must I do to be saved? Some say it is by faith alone. Others say it is by good works. Others, both. Friends, I've spent an exhaustive afternoon doing research on Google, and I'm pleased to say that I have solved this dilemna.

The answer? Well, really, we've been asking the wrong question. The concept of 'salvation' is nothing more than a heretical fiction straight from the demented, maggot infested mind of the Father of Lies himself. You see friends, salvation is irrelevant, because when we die, our souls are reborn. Reincarnated. Recycled, if you will, as if they were so many aluminum cans. You may laugh. You may call me a heretic. That's because you're deceived by Satan. Those who have ears, hear me. 

It all started with this unsuspecting verse from Ecclesiastes:

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.                       
                            Ecclesiastes 1:9

Do you see it? I didn't at first. I read that verse so many times, but only now has God revealed the truth to me. "There is nothing new under the sun.". Nothing. NOTHING. Beloved, this includes your soul.

Due to my own sinful nature, I resisted the truth at first. So I searched the Scriptures.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 
                       2 Corinthians 5:17

How had I not seen it before! Those who are in Christ will be a new creation when they die! Their soul will be raised up in a new body!

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
                         John 3:3

THIS MAKES SO MUCH MORE SENSE NOW! How can someone be born again without dying first? Nicodemus was half right when he said "how can a man enter his mother again." We will not enter our mother again, but exit from another mother! We will be our own "brother from another mother", as the kids say.

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
                        John 6:40

How could it be any more clear? If you believe in Christ, you will have eternal life. You will not die, your soul will raised up on the last day of your life and put into a new body, like a AA battery moved from the smoke alarm to the remote control.

Of course, there are verses that refer to the judgement we will receive from God when we pass on. It is this judgement that will determine the quality of body we receive in the next life. Will our body be the equivalent of a Ferrari or a Ford Pinto? The choices we make in this body will determine that.

I shared this with my pastor and he threw me out of his office. No matter. This, of course, just shows that I'm on the right track:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.
                         John 15:18

What can I say - the life of a prophet is difficult. I am hoping that this mighty work the Lord is doing through me will qualify me for a body that is not quite so gassy the next time around. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Guest Post: Everything I know about Evangelicals, I learned from this blog.

Today's guest post comes to you from my real life friend Amy Kosh. She's a life coach and you can view her website here: Amy and I frequent the same coffee shop and one day I heard her talking about how she enjoyed The Bloggess. The rest is history.

It wasn't intentional. I didn't realize what I was learning about until it was too late. Too late being months into reading this blog and the comments to each posting. That’s where my real education has come, in the comments.

Let me backtrack a bit to how I got here. It all started in a coffee-shop with a stray comment about The Bloggess and her site and humour.  I read that blog a lot and I also read the comments. She is funny and they are sometimes funnier. One day there was a very funny comment from HereticHusband. That led me to his blog, which I admit I got totally sucked in by in the first five minutes of reading. Here was someone from a background completely different from my own, writing in a way that made his experiences and ideas compelling. I read a post, and then another and before I knew what had happened six months had gone by and I was hooked. I was also learning.

So here’s the interesting part for me: I really didn't expect to get so interested, but something about the passion with which people were commenting on the posts made me read and then re-read them to see why some comments were so heated.  If I was going to learn about a religion, this seemed to be a great way to do it - from the insider’s view and through the eyes of an avowed, (and smart) heretic who had the morals of a Buddhist, (meaning do no harm in the world).

So what have I learned from reading this thing for months?  Well here’s the short list:

1. John Piper and Mark Driscoll are scary and I had never even heard of them! How many more are out there?  Granted, there are people like this in every religion but these guys take the cake!  Somehow the misuse and abuse of power seems more egregious to me when we are talking about groups who have banded together because of what they believe about things other than politics, but hey, that’s just me. In the past year I have seen the yoga community torn apart by people who are just as divisive as John Piper and Mark Driscoll. Where we have "gurus" who trademark thousand year-old ideas for their own "schools of yoga", these religious leaders/speakers are trying to hoodwink the populace into following a school of thinking that holds them above and apart from other human beings. How is this what god, or even GOD would have wanted or meant? Even if I don’t believe in god, I do believe that division can’t be a good thing for humanity in general.

2. People who comment on religious topics are often very close-minded, (and then…some aren't). What really struck me was how many people who commented really could not get past their own ideas and beliefs to step inside of new ideas about their religion. I guess this isn’t new in any way but it makes me sad...and worried. 

The great thing about reading comments is that I can follow them to the source, and often that source is another blog. So I got a chance to see more than a single comment from many of these people. That’s also the bad part. When people are posting how strongly they think that I should believe what they believe…I feel a bit pressured. 

What worries me is that generally speaking these people are the same kinds of people who make broad statements on T.V. and radio about how we are "living in a Christian nation". As openly non-Christian, that frankly scares me. On bad days I start to wonder whether I need to look over my shoulder when I don’t pledge to god, or whether I will be asked to leave if I sing in a choir that performs in a christian church. After reading many of these blogs - I would not be surprised if much worse happened in the name of an organized, "Christian" religion.

3. Fundamentalists are even more dangerous than I thought. I was pretty naive when I started as a reader here. Though I understood that Radical Islam was a danger to just about everyone else on the planet, including the vast majority of Muslims who abhor violence as much as the rest of the peace-loving population; I was unaware of just how dangerous fundamentalists of any stripe were. Intolerance, screaming one’s beliefs at the top of one’s voice (so to speak), berating all who fail to heed their words, these Fundamentalists and Evangelicals in the Christian world are just as bad. Secondly I wonder that there seem to be more men than women yelling at what people should do and believe…but perhaps that’s merely my lack of experience in the world of the "preacher".

4. There are a few voices of reason in the world. Whew! This is what saves me at the end of the day. That I can find, amongst all the yelling and pushiness, some calm voices who can talk me down the path of tolerance and moderation and let me see that there are spaces in the world, on the web, wherever, that sanity reigns and introspection and consideration of ideas are values.

Unorthodox as it may have been, I actually would recommend learning about religious groups, (or any other groups who are really foreign to you), through a blog. People are heated, They are honest and ideas get poked, prodded and with luck, dented and bent and examined.

The path I traveled while reading started with humor and delight in someone willing to examine the ideas he grew up with. I moved through commiseration and booster-ism to really thinking the leaders of these religions were nuts and should be shot. I read on and my feelings shifted again as I started to see the wide variety of people who wrote in on guest posts and comments. It’s been an education and I think, a good one.  I've come not quite full circle. My thinking has been changed and my eyes are wider open to the messages flitting across the airwaves. At the end of the day, I thank all of you for the education.