Category Archives: Religious

Carry on with your religion

Speaking of good religion vs. bad religion:

Does it help you cope with the fact that you are a bag of meat sitting on a rock in outer space and that someday you will DIE and you are completely powerless, helpless, and insignificant in the wake of this beautiful cosmic shitstorm we call existence?

Does it help with that? Yes? EXCELLENT! Carry on with your religion! Just keep it to your f–ing self.

How to suck at your religion – The Oatmeal.

The idea of the Bible

These texts weren’t reading material; they functioned atropaically—as amulets, talismans, good luck pieces. These Bibles were owned, touched, tucked away, treasured. But not read. The idea of the Bible mattered more than its content.

From my vantage point, that attitude toward the Bible is ubiquitous, even for folks whose Bibles are big. A lot of verbage gets thrown around about the Bible (its perfection, its authority, its goodness) that makes sense only if you don’t read it—or read it seriously.

Julia O’Brien writing about an exhibition of small bibles she saw at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore

Narrative History?

First, on what basis do people determine that Genesis 1 & 2 must be narrative history? I am regularly asked to prove that it is something else, as though by default it must be considered narrative history. But the way one usually identifies a literary genre, especially in the ancient world where things didn’t come labeled “mythology,” “history,” or “fiction,” is to build an acquaintance with related literature. Ever since I became acquainted with a much broader range of ancient near eastern literature, it has always seemed to me that this process should be reversed. Why should something that looks so very much like other ancient near eastern creation myths be regarded as narrative history?

Henry Neufeld talking about Genesis in light of theistic evolution

Reflect Seriously

According to the Bible, God gave great and undoubtable signs — parting seas, fire from heaven, and so on. Yet Sagan asks the pertinent question: “why should God be so clear in the Bible and so obscure in the world?” (p.167). Unless Christians and other religious believers are to abandon reason altogether or compartimentalize the Bible out from the world we live in today, then such questions must be reflected on seriously and not dismissed.

James McGrath reflects upon Carl Sagan at Exploring our Matrix

The Good Samaritan

When the priest and Levite saw the body on the ground, they chose to pass him by. When the Samaritan saw the body, he took the pains to help the man.

If your goal is being right, you can wash your hands of a person; if your goal is love, you can’t.

A reflection on the good Samaritan from the blog Jesus Creed

Plug up their ears

…The doctrine of biblical inerrancy has the effect of inspiring its adherents to pay more attention to a text than to the neighbors they are called upon to love. Sometimes it even inspires them to plug up their ears with Bible verses, so that they can no longer hear the anguished cries of neighbors…

Quote from Eric Reitan at Religion Dispatches in an article about same sex marriage equality.

Holiness, not Grace

A quote from Fred Stoeker in the book Every Man’s Battle:

I was asking, “How far can I go and still be considered a Christian?” What I should have been asking is, “How holy can I be?”

Wow, that comment just lit up inside my head. That describes me to a tee. I once even made the comment to some friends in a Bible study that I wanted to be seen as the Christian who knew the most about binge drinking. I was trying to walk the line…to be as far on the outside of the Christian mainstream as I could get. I told myself it was because I was embracing the doctrine of Grace. I told myself that my mainstream Christian friends with all of their rules they try to live by were like the Pharasees in Jesus’ time: trying to legislate holiness so that by following rules they could try to earn God’s love. I saw my drinking, swearing, irreverent lifestyle as the thing Jesus was trying to teach people: don’t follow the rules, just love God and He’ll be gracious enough to forgive your sins.

But that’s not true. The law-abiders wheren’t being Pharasees: I was. The point of the Pharasee’s rules wasn’t to help them to be righteous but to allow them to have the appearance of righteousness while their hearts stayed cold and unloving and far from God. That’s what I was doing with the concept of grace: using it to justify staying as far from God as I possibly could. I had no desire to do what God wanted; I just created a doctrine that let me do whatever I wanted.

Wow. I need to work on this.

Have a Good Friday

A Stranger To My Brothers

On a recent work-day at my church, where I was helping clean up the grounds, we found 13 empty scotch bottles around the property. They were all the same brand, and some of them were still in their weathered paper bag wrappers.

I have to think that the person who obliterated himself 13 times outside of our church selected that spot for a reason. I can’t help but imagine what he was thinking as he delved into drunkenness just outside of the building where God’s love and grace and help-in-time-of-need are preached.

Inside the church we say that God is good and he loves you. Outside the church men are evil and do terrible things to one another. On the edge of the parking lot is one who wants to believe what he was taught as a child but has seen or experienced too much evil in this world to accept God’s goodness as an uncomplicated truth. He stands outside the circle of believers and asks why his belief doesn’t come so easy. Psalm 69 speaks his mind:

I am a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my own mother’s sons.
I sink in the miry depths
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail
looking for my God.

Cloud of Probability

Christians believe in right and wrong, and that God determines which is which. If you are at variance with what God says, you are wrong. I have no problem with this thinking. Murder? Wrong. (Exodus 20:13) Stealing? Wrong. (Exodus 20:15) Lusting? Wrong. (Matthew 5:27-28

However, this attention to the existence of right and wrong seems to cause many Christians to think that there is a single morally correct (i.e., right) answer to every question; even to questions that the Bible doesn’t directly address.

For instance, to choose two “Christian morality” issues that have been in the news this year: does God want to be mentioned in the American Pledge of Allegiance, and does He want His commandments displayed on the walls of American courthouses?

In an attempt to try to solve this problem of having no direct answer from the Bible, some Christians have grabbed onto the idea of asking WWJD — What Would Jesus Do? This is a good attempt. If the Bible doesn’t directly address a situation, then let’s try to imagine what Jesus might have done in this situation. This question is worth while in that it gets us thinking: if God hasn’t given me a rule for what to do here, what do I think He might want me to do?

The problem, of course, is that we may come up with as many different ideas for what Jesus might have done as we have people trying to imagine them. Further, a better phrasing of the question might be WWJWMTD: What Would Jesus Want Me To Do? But this wouldn’t look nearly as nice on a bracelet. (I’ve also seen WTFWJD — by far the funniest collision of pop culture from within and without the church that I’ve seen in a while.)

In these cases where there is no clear teaching on what God says about an issue — that is, where variance from God’s will is impossible to determine — then variance from the opinions of others in the church seems to take its place as the test for right and wrong. That is, when Christians start asking the question “What would Jesus do,” they seem to start looking for an answer in what other Christians are doing. The positions of Christian church people on many political and moral issues are very cohesive. This is why the news media can report the “fundamentalist Christian reaction” to stories about same-sex marriage or taking the words “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Whole wings of the Christian church resonate together, claiming the rightness of a particular side of each issue.

What if, instead of taking the average of what everyone thinks God’s will is, we imagined a system like that in quantum physics where particles exist at each location in a cloud of probability? In quantum physics, the particle can most confidently be claimed to likely exist at the center of the cloud of probability. The further from the center you get, the less likely it is that the particle is there. But it could be…there is a recognized probability that it might be.

So we can experiment with a notion of quantum morality: every moral choice exists in a cloud of probability that it’s what God would want us to do. For lots of things, what God wants from us can be found right at the center of that cloud. For other moral choices, however, we must recognize at least the possibility that God’s will exists to the left or right of the location we’ve pinpointed as being the center of moral goodness.

This systen doesn’t tell us who’s right when it comes to determining God’s will; in fact it’s designed not to tell us who’s right, but who’s probably right. And, of course, being probably right is exactly the same as being possibly wrong. I think that American Christian culture would benefit from a substantial realization of possible wrongness. I don’t want Christians to wander around in the dark, I just want them to admit that things outside of their flashlight beam do still exist.