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14 September 2018

Christianity is under attack!

Well duh. But in its defense, let’s not abandon every principle Jesus teaches, shall we?

An acquaintance pointed me to a pro-Christianity group on Facebook. Four hundred members strong, ready to fight to the teeth for Jesus.

…Well, more accurately, they intend to fight for Calvinism. Jesus is in there somewhere. Though you’d never know it from their cage-stage rage, which is pretty far from Christlike. But don’t get the wrong idea; I’m not trying to single out Calvinists. Lots of Christians get this way. Doesn’t matter which -ism they’re promoting.

As I regularly gotta remind Christian apologists, one of the common pitfalls of kicking ass for Jesus, is it’s way more about ass than Jesus. It’s about fighting. Jesus is the excuse. We want a “righteous” justification for anger, for tearing people a new sphincter (metaphorically, I hope!), and what could be more righteous and noble a cause than Jesus?

Plus Jesus is under attack! Christianity is under attack! People wanna get rid of Christians, ban religion, drive us out of the workplace and government and everywhere. Push us underground so our moralizing and sermonizing never, ever comes up. (Particularly anything which condemns their favorite activities.) They want us gone.

So we’re in the fight of our spiritual lives. And you know how desperate, cornered animals get?—willing to fight with everything they have, rather than give up and die? Humans share that very same instinct. We’re willing to do anything it takes to defend Jesus. Anything.

Even if it dips into the human depravity we’re supposed to resist ever since we first started following Jesus. That is, assuming we ever bothered to resist it; assuming we haven’t put new Christianese labels on all our fleshly behavior, which is way easier than repenting and following the Holy Spirit. But because defending Jesus is so important, supposedly we gotta suspend all our efforts towards becoming more like him: Somebody has to get their hands dirty, and defending Jesus and his kingdom is far more important than obeying Jesus and living in his kingdom.

This is precisely why so many Christians go dark—or stay as dark as they were when pagan, and even get a little darker. Why so many Christians are so unlike Christ. It’s a neat little trick which permits us to be evil “for good reason,” because the ends justifies the means.

To these culture warriors, our battle is entirely against flesh and blood. (Scripture to the contrary. Ep 6.12) That’s why they take the fight everywhere they go. To the internet, the street corners, the coffeehouses, the office break rooms, the state legislatures, everywhere. Fight for Jesus. Meanwhile start stocking our End Times bunkers with jerky and rifles. Yeah rifles; in defending the Prince of Peace, certain dark Christians claim we might even need to shoot a few cops in the head.

Inconsistent? Problematic? Downright devilish? Of course.

13 September 2018

Reason. And how faith interacts with it.

Faith and reason are only contradictions when you’re doing faith wrong.

Faith is complete trust and confidence in something or someone. When Christians talk about faith, we usually mean our complete trust and confidence in Jesus. (That or we’re using “my faith” to mean “my religion”; that or we’re using the word wrong. Which happens.) We put our faith in Jesus; we believe what he tells us about God; we trust his teachings, obey his instructions, and otherwise follow him.

Of course when I talk about faith with pagans, I don’t always remember to clear up their misunderstandings about what faith is. Darned near all of them think faith is the magical ability to believe nonsense. As Mark Twain put it, faith is “believing what you know ain’t so.” If I have faith, as they define faith, I have the power to believe in Santa Claus—even as an adult, who should know better! If I have faith, I have the ability to believe completely unreasonable things. Indeed they should expect I believe completely unreasonable things.

This is why loads of articles, essays, and books have been written about faith versus reason. Because pagans firmly believe the ideas contradict one another. And y’know, a fair number of Christians agree the ideas contradict one another. “I know you think I should believe as you do,” I once heard one of us tell a pagan, “but y’see, I have faith.” Thus adding fuel to the pagans’ belief that faith isn’t reasonable.

I can say the very same thing as that other Christian: There are things I would believe if I were a pagan, but I don’t, ’cause I have faith. I do not mean by this that I have differing views because I have the magic ability to believe other things. Nor because I’m wishing otherwise so hard, I think I can make my wishes come true. The reason I believe otherwise is I trust Jesus. I trust him more’n I trust you. Way more than I trust your favorite authors, teachers, experts, politicians, and authority figures. If he said it, I take it to the bank. (Or try to; I’m still growing my faith. That’s a lifelong process, y’see.)

Trusting Jesus is the reason I believe otherwise. I don’t believe otherwise for no reason at all. If faith did mean the power to believe as I wish, it’d definitely mean I believe things for no reason at all; with no solid basis whatsoever. But that’s not the definition of faith I’m going with. I’m going with the one from Hebrews:

Hebrews 11.1 KWL
Faith is the solid basis of hope, the proof of actions we’ve not seen.

You may not believe faith is a solid idea, ’cause you don’t believe Jesus is a solid guy. But you believe your favorite authorities are solid guys, and trust them. Well it’s the same deal with me. We simply trust different people. We put faith in different people. Because in the end we’re all practicing faith—and it’s the reason we all believe as we do.

Well, unless you are trying to wish things into being. Don’t do that.

12 September 2018

Alcohol and Christians.

Alcohol isn’t forbidden in the scriptures. So why do some Christians act like it’s an egregious sin?

On an internet debate club discussion group, I got into it with some fella who was insistent Jesus didn’t drink wine. He’d read my piece, “Jesus provides six kegs for a drunken party,” and was outraged, outraged, that I dare suggest Jesus drank wine. ’Cause no he didn’t.

It was a clear case of the guy projecting his beliefs about alcohol upon Jesus. And he’s got lots of support for his beliefs. Ever since the United States’s temperance movement began in the early 1800s—the movement which got us to ban alcohol in our Constitution (seriously!), Christians in that movement have invented and spread serious distortions of the bible’s historical background so that the folks in the bible didn’t really drink wine: Either they drank unfermented grape juice, or they watered down the wine so greatly, the alcohol content by volume was similar to that of non-alcoholic beer.

These false stories have been published for so long, anti-alcohol Christians simply accept ’em as truth. They’ve heard them all their lives, y’know. “In Edgar’s Commentary on John, published in 1855, it says right there Jesus only turned the water into grape juice. The best grape juice.” And because this book’s been around for 160-plus years, it must be true. Because it’s old.

Scientists regularly prove old does not mean correct. The ancients were guessing, but people guess wrong for all sorts of reasons, so there’s no substitute for empirical double-blind scientific studies. But people are so fond of folk wisdom and our favorite traditions, we regularly reject science in favor of those traditions. We might change our minds when desperate… but we don’t always.

And when it comes to the historical record, Jesus totally drank wine. Not non-alcoholic wine, not grape juice; wine. They didn’t water it down; that was pagan Greek religious custom, not Hebrew. We know this from then-contemporary records and archaeology. We know this ’cause the bible’s statements about wine and drunkenness make no sense if people were overindulging on grape juice!

The misinformation comes from American hangups about wine, alcohol, and alcoholism. And while alcoholism and drunkenness is a valid concern, and needs to be addressed in our churches—especially to those Christians who are overindulging, or who wanna go into Christian leadership—the issue isn’t served by lying, or misrepresenting what the scriptures really say about alcohol. We need to get over our hangups long enough to understand the truth, and speak soberly about it. Pun intended, but still.

11 September 2018

Scribes: Ancient Israel’s scholars.

It wasn’t just that they knew how to write.

SCRIBE /skraɪb/ n. One who writes [for a living].
2. In ancient Israel, a bible scholar; one with expertise in the Law and theology.

In our culture, we strive for universal literacy: We want everybody to be able to read. ’Cause in a democracy, if the people are gonna run the country, they need to be educated to that level. (Of course, if nobody but private-school kids get such an education, only the wealthy will really run the country… which is a whole other rant, and one I don’t care to go into today.)

But just as democracy has only recently been widespread in human history, universal literacy is also a relatively new idea. Bounce back in time to the Roman Empire, and maybe 15 to 25 percent of the people could read. The rest could not.

Not because they were dumb. Humans are just as smart now as they were then. It’s because they didn’t have access to an education. Only those who could afford literate slaves who’d teach their kids, or those who could afford to send their kids to an academy, had access. Everybody else could’ve learned to read—but their jobs didn’t require it, and a good memory served ’em just fine. So they were illiterate.

The exception was the Hebrew culture. They did strive for universal literacy. Because they had scriptures. God ordered his people to not just learn the commands of his Law, but “write them on your house’s doorframes, and your gates.” Dt 6.9 If you’re gonna obey that command, you gotta know how to write. The culture had to be literate. A written Law required it.

So the Pharisees created synagogues, schools which’d teach Hebrew children to read and write. (I know, you thought they were the Jewish equivalent of church, right? They largely are now. They weren’t in the beginning.) The kids were taught to read, and read the Law. And maybe a little history, math, and other subjects the rabbis found appropriate.,/p>

But for those who felt called to go further in their studies—who wanted to memorize the Law, and study it to the level Pharisees believed it should be studied—these folks became sofrím/“scribes.” Or as the New Testament called ’em, grammateís/“scribes.” (Same meaning.)

10 September 2018

Men and women, equal in Jesus’s church.

Again, stop living like pagans; start living like Jesus.

Ephesians 5.21-33

At this point in Ephesians Paul gets into male/female relationships, which in ancient times were unhealthy and domineering, and—no big surprise—they’re just the same way today.

We got a lot of relationships which are structured as unequal partnerships, where the man’s bossing the woman around and thinks he’s entitled to because he’s the man; or where the woman’s bossing the man around and thinks she’s entitled to because she’s smarter. Or whatever excuse works for the domineering spouse: They make all the money, they do all the work, they’re tougher, they’re bolder, they’re stronger, they deserve to be the alpha. It’s entirely Darwinian, which means it’s entirely unChristian.

What Paul taught instead is mutual submission: If you really do love one another, you don’t boss each other around! You take one another’s needs and wants into consideration. You help each other out. You care for one another. Like when you pamper yourself at a nice restaurant or a day spa. And not in some warped passive-aggressive tough love kind of way, where you claim you’re doing what’s best for one another, but really you’re manipulating them into doing what you prefer. Their will, their wishes, don’t come into consideration.

But—again, no big surprise—centuries of Christians have taken this passage, pushed aside what Paul meant by it, and try to overlay their own domineering or sexist impulses. “Love my wife like Christ loves the church? Sure! After all, he’s the church’s boss. So I get to be her boss.” Utterly missing the point, and back we go to the same problems the Ephesians had before Paul wrote this letter. ’Cause selfishness regularly undermines the scriptures.

Well let’s get to those scriptures.