Posts tagged ‘beliefs’
To early humans, the sun rose from its hollow in the ground, passed over their head, before submerging in the other direction into the earth. The wind and rain randomly gathered then passed. Flowers and vegetables magically emerged from the soil every spring bringing with it nurturing life and sustenance. All of this was tempered by the random terror of earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes.
Not only were there unknown unknowns like nuclear physics, but there were lots of known unknowns such as basic anatomy, circulation and respiratory functions. In fact, the ins and outs of animal and human reproduction, the miracle of life itself, was a great mystery.
A few years ago, I read a book by the anthropologist Pascal Boyer entitled ‘Religion Explained.’ I don’t think it would be too much of a hyperbole to say that this was a turning point in my life. My intent on reading the book was to learn more how ‘other’ religions emerged. However, as a result of reading this book, the can of worms which was probably open before I started, spilled out all over the floor…
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Romans 12:2 -
Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by renewing the mind…
One of the major patterns of thinking humanity has created and cultivated is religion. This, in most cases, includes a deity who is to be feared unless a long list of unattainable demands are met. Failure typically means spending eternity being relentlessly tortured.
Judaism follows this pattern. An ancient nomadic Middle Eastern tribe created a god who demanded blood and a long list of rituals in order that they would be forgiven of their transgressions. The description of the ritualistic slaughter of innocent animals and the amount of blood which flowed in the temple as a result of these sacrifices would make any modern day bloody thriller seem like a children’s movie. This god also gave divine direction to their conquests as he demanded the extermination of entire nations of people including babies, children, and animals. A Christian will tell you that this was required in order to somehow bring to an end to evil pagan practices such as sacrificing babies to idols. I think it’s a bit ironic that babies are killed in order to stop the killing of babies. How does that make sense?
Christianity continues to build on this pattern as God ended up having to sacrifice himself to himself as the ultimate penalty for man’s sin…
One of the things that often comes up in my conversation with religious believers (mostly Christians, per circumstance) is that even if there is no God, to dissuade someone from faith is still somehow morally reprehensible. Most often, they run down a laundry list of ways in which the institution of religion—independent of the veracity of its truth claims—makes a positive impact on the world.
A derivative of a common example used is that of an elderly woman on her deathbed. Perhaps she has been a non-believer her entire life, but she finds that as her life comes to a close she is fearful of its end. She decides to suspend her skepticism about religion and posit belief in some God. Wouldn’t it be wrong to convince her otherwise? “No Grandma, there is no God, when you die your mind will cease to function and your body will rot!” I’m no counselor, but this doesn’t seem to be comforting.
What about the social function churches (and other religious institutions) serve in our culture? Churches can provide a sense of belonging, a safety net, and very basically friendship shared over common interest. Furthermore, an exorbitant number of homeless shelters, food pantries, soup kitchens, free medical clinics, rehab programs, etc. are operated by religious institutions around the world…
I have been reflecting for some time on the idea of “separateness” that is so often espoused by Wesleyan theology. John Wesley built an entire tradition of Christianity on the notion of holiness. As a Christian, I believed Wesleyan theology to be superior to Calvinism and other options because Wesleyanism seemed to take the idea of holiness seriously. In a very poetic sense, Wesleyan theology is desirable because it purports a fallen creation that can be redeemed in this life.
Considering that I attend a Wesleyan-holiness Christian college, it is a safe assumption that the faculty and students of this institution should be an adequate case study in what it means to be “set apart.”
First, let’s establish the foundation of what Wesleyan theology claims of holiness. It references such passages as Hebrews 6:1, Philippians 3:15 and 1 Corinthians 2:6 which all call Christians to be “perfect.” There is a particular fondness for 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless.” Now, I have to give Wesleyan theologians credit where it is due. I am glad that they at least take their own Scriptures seriously. Instead of rationalizing “be holy as I am holy,” they embrace the notion…
Anyone who has struggled through leaving Christianity cannot help but be aware that those still in the faith often have trouble categorizing us. Regarding their belief system as overwhelmingly desirable and, moreover, obviously true, they seem compelled to try to explain this anomaly that we represent, apostasy. And we all know the answers: generally, either we weren’t really Christians in the first place or, the minority view, that it is somehow impossible to de-convert (“once saved always saved”), so we’re still Christians despite ourselves.
Or, sometimes we see them declare that we never really understood Christianity – again, obviously, because if we had, we wouldn’t have left! No amount of elegant theological exposition on our part will convince them that we really did, in fact, understand it – and freely, knowingly reject it – because there are an endless number of hairs that can be split to prove we got this or that wrong.
So I, like most former Christians, have had to think a lot about this issue. Who, really, is a Christian? Was I really one? How do I respond to this criticism? After some study, and some thought, I will here suggest an answer…
Earlier this month, one of the elements of the church service I attended was the confirmation of Chloe, a seven-year-old girl, as a junior member of the congregation. This is the first of two confirmations that my denomination typically holds: the first for youngsters, the second for adolescents no younger than fourteen.
The guest pastor who was conducting the ceremony noted that, prior to the service, the girl’s mother had asked, several times, “Are you sure that you’ve repented of your sins and asked Jesus to forgive you?” The child answered affirmatively, and her mother and the pastor were satisfied that she was indeed ready to be confirmed.
As the pastor recounted that story, I had to suppress a shudder. I could not help thinking, “The child is seven years old! What sins could she possibly have committed that would require repentance and divine forgiveness?” I also realized, to my horror, that in order to have learned something about the doctrines of repentance, forgiveness and salvation, Chloe may also have learned something about the corollary doctrines of human depravity and hell…
Among people who have left any belief system there is very often a tendency to demonize that which they formerly adhered to. We see it all the time.
- Former Catholics seem all too happy to point at the abuse scandals and say that’s what they’d expect from the old “whore of Babylon”.
- Former atheists become Christians and then set about declaiming atheists as the spawn of Satan.
- In the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC) I often heard former Protestants berating Protestantism as stupid, evil, dead, not even Christian, and so on.
- Former political liberals/conservatives will begin to rant about how dumb/evil/wrong/damaging conservatives/liberals are.
Among former Christians the tendency exists too. Christianity, the Church, Christians, religion in general, all too often come to be viewed as the greatest earthly source of evil. Just look around this, or any other, atheist/agnostic/decon forum and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
I think this tendency may arise from anger at abuses seen or suffered in the Church, or from a bit of a personal backlash for feeling like one was duped, and I’m sure there are other sources for it as well. However, regardless of why it happens, I’d like to go on record as saying, “I’m not buying it.”…