Showing posts with label #Pagans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Pagans. Show all posts

Why do pagans celebrate a Christian holiday?

by K.W. Leslie, 17 December

Every year, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, my city has a Christmas festival. (Well, not in 2020 nor 2021, ’cause pandemic.) The local newspaper started it and sponsors it.

I like to joke the festival begins with the pagan stuff. Once the sun is mostly down (and this time of year, this latitude, it sets around 4:45 PM) about 2,000 people gather round the 60-foot tree. The local Air Force band plays a few songs, the mayor says a few things, the people are led in a few secular carols about silver jingle bells, snowmen (even though we’re well below the snowline), reindeer (even though we’re on the wrong continent), and Santa Claus. Who makes an appearance, and the tree gets lit.

That done, the city’s Christians take over. Downtown fills with tent-canopied booths, nearly all of ’em set up by local churches. We give out cookies, cocoa, cider, and other treats. Our choirs sing. Open-air Christmas pageants are performed. One megachurch in particular handles crowd control and cleanup.

“What’s with all the Christians?” a friend commented years ago.

“Well it is our holiday,” I reminded him.

I find it a drastic contrast. My family does too. I’m usually there early to set up and work my church’s booth, so I see everything. My family, most years, skips the newspaper’s opening festivities, ’cause all they care about are the church booths. Because I’m manning the booth, I kinda ignore the pagan tree-lighting stuff at the beginning. And the few times I’m not in a booth, I go to Starbucks and get something egg-nog-flavored, then go check out the sister churches in town.

Whereas the non-Christians who only wanna hear the Santa and reindeer songs? They clear out early. Things get way too Christian for them. They might go to the downtown bars; otherwise they’re done.

And many of us Christians are fine with Santa songs, but the opening festivities are too crowded and impersonal, and we’d rather check out church booths and say hi to our fellow Christians.

I’ve lived elsewhere, and visited their local Christmas celebrations. Those celebrations weren’t adopted by the local churches. As a result they were mostly about Santa and snowmen and reindeer… and I found ’em pretty dreary and empty, and didn’t go back.

Some years ago I bought an edition of C.S. Lewis’s letters, and among them is a bit about the oddness of pagans who celebrate Christmas. Imagine, Lewis wrote his brother, if some non-Buddhists decided to enthusiastically celebrate a Buddhist holiday. (I imagine them celebrating it American-style, with tacky decorations, songs, sales, movies, and festive coffee drinks.) Now imagine, since these non-Buddhists aren’t big on the Buddha, they remove all the elements of him from the celebration. Even insert some mascot, whom they celebrate more than the Buddha. Then celebrate anyway.

Lewis later developed this idea into a satire, “Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus.” In it, the people of Niatirb (get it?) vigorously celebrate a holiday called Exmas, while the religious folks celebrate an alternate contemporaneous holiday called Crissmas.

I agree with Lewis: It’s super weird to celebrate some other religion’s holiday, yet push that religion clean out of it. It’s exactly as if pagans took over Hanukkah—and instead of remembering the Maccabees, they invented some guy named Hanukkah Harry who flies round the world and delivers socks.

But weird or not, I don’t wonder why people do it. They do it for the same reason they have sex though they’re not in love; the same reason they take heroin instead of seek true joy. It’s fun. Christmas is fun, whether Christ has anything to do with it.

True, it’s meaningless without Christ. But it’s still fun, and fun’s all people care about.

Pagan and proud.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 August

Whenever I share Jesus with pagans—same as when I talk to anybody about any topic—I run into two types: The open-minded and the closed-minded.

The open-minded are fun. They’re curious. They have tons of questions. I may not get ’em to believe, or convince ’em to set foot in church, but that’s okay. There’s still lots of room for the Holy Spirit to work on them, because they’re open.

The closed-minded wanna tell me about Jesus, ’cause they’re entirely sure they already know it all. (They usually share some version of Historical Jesus, who sounds either like a nice guy but horribly misunderstood, or no fun at all. And either way, dead.) They suck all the fun out of the conversation, dismiss or mock anything we consider important, treat all our God-experiences as irrelevant or delusional, and don’t care how insulting and condescending they come across. Jesus compares them to swine, and you can see why this analogy is so popular.

Yeah, they’re depressing. Why do they get like that? Pride.

Like I said, they already know it all. They think they have God all figured out. Or at least they have God figured out better than we Christians do. Sometimes they grew up Christian, so they actually do know a few things. Sometimes they didn’t, but they heard about Historical Jesus from a friendly antichrist, so that’s what they believe now: They figure they know who Jesus really is, whereas we Christians just swallow all our religion’s myths whole, and believe whatever our pastors and priests tell us. They’re woke; we’re not.

And sometimes they didn’t just dabble in “facts” which confirm their biases, like an antivaxxer finding new favorite sites. They studied a bunch. They took a religion class. They visited churches and temples and mosques. They still read every religion book on the bestseller lists. They follow some guru, or a variety of gurus, who purports to tell ’em how religion really works. Sometimes they’re actually in a congregation or fellowship of some sort. More often I find they constructed their own religion; they have the corner on the truth, whereas Christians and everyone else are just sheeple. “I don’t believe in just one guy; every one of them is a little right and a little wrong. I make up my own mind.” Isn’t that clever of them.

After all their research, they figure they’re an authority on religion and Christianity. They’re the experts. They’re right and we’re wrong.

And if you’re one of those Christians who doesn’t realize we too are wrong, such closed-minded pagans are gonna be particularly distressing, ’cause your pride is gonna butt heads with their pride. I’ve been there. The discussions can get mighty ugly. Humility is always the way to go. But even when we are humble, or strive for it, the know-it-all pagan will still get mighty annoying. And too often pleased we find them annoying: Some of ’em wanna bug Christians. It’s evil fun for them.

How do we deal with ’em?

Does God listen to pagans when they pray?

by K.W. Leslie, 06 May

I’ll answer the question in the title right away: Yes. God listens to pagans when they pray.

And, well, duh. Of course he listens to them! He listens to everyone. He knows what everyone’s saying, what everyone’s thinking, and whether what we’re saying and what we’re thinking line up. (And when they aren’t, he knows we’re being hypocrites.)

He knows what our needs are; he hears us express ’em to him; he knows whether we’re sincere. True of everybody. Not just Christians.

Why’s this even a question? Because of course there are Christians who claim he doesn’t. Only we get access to the Almighty; only true believers.

(And maybe Jews… depending on whether they like Jews. If they like Jews, they always manage to find an exception to the “no pagans” rule; they’re God’s chosen people so he has to listen to them, doesn’t he? And if they’re antisemites, either Jews are simply another type of pagan he dismisses; or God’s rejected the Jews ’cause of the sins antisemites claim are unique to Jews, so he can’t abide them. Nope, these views aren’t based on reasoned-out theology. They’re always, always based on personal biases. Notice how often antisemites also figure God won’t listen to Roman Catholics, Muslims, or anybody they hate.)

Okay. Where do the Christians who claim God ignores pagans and sinners, get their ideas? Well, bible.

Isaiah 1.15 KJV
And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
 
Micah 3.4 KJV
Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings.

Okay. When you read these verses in proper context, both Isaiah and Micah were referring to people who should already be in conversation with God, but for whatever reason—they don’t believe in him, they don’t care to follow his commands, hot pagan sex—they’ve chosen sin. And when they suffer the consequences of those sins, God’s gonna let ’em. He warned them; he just had his prophets warn them; they’re not listening, so when they ultimately need his help, he won’t be listening.

No, it doesn’t sound very gracious of God, which is why a number of Christians who like to preach grace, like to skip these verses altogether. Or pretend they don’t exist; or pretend they can’t possibly mean what they mean; or straight-up say the prophets were wrong. I don’t care to go there: I believe the prophets are accurately relaying what God told ’em. God has infinite grace, and offers us infinite chances. But he also sets deadlines, and if we resist his grace all the way up to the deadline and beyond, he’s gotta follow through with his entirely fair judgments. And when they beg him to not follow through… what’s he gonna do, cave in like the parents of a spoiled child, and let people go right back to doing evil? Nope. He’s gotta ignore their shrieks of indignation, and stop the evil.

That’s what the verses mean when they state God sometimes won’t hear people.

The rest of the time, of course he will.

Psalm 145.18-19 KWL
18 The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. 19 He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them.
 
Romans 10.12-13 KWL
12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Jl 2.32

If God didn’t heed the prayers of pagans, it’d be impossible for pagans to call upon him to save them! Even the most hardcore cases of people who claim “God doesn’t hear pagans” have to admit this is so. And they do. It’s just they claim every other prayer these pagans make, every other thing they request, God ignores… ’cause he’s waiting for the sinner’s prayer, and only after he hears that will he move his hand.

But nope, God hears pagans when they pray. Even if their prayers are weird, ridiculous, warped, selfish, or evil. Same as our prayers, when we get weird, ridiculous, warped, selfish, and evil. God hears everyone.

Hearing versus answering.

Part of the problematic idea God doesn’t hear pagans, is the problematic way we talk about prayer. Too many Christians don’t describe it as talking with God, which is all it really is. They try to make it sound more Christian. Throw a lot of Christianese lingo on it. Make it sound extra-holy and sacred. Shout, and pray in tongues, and use a lot of bible quotes and metaphors and poetry, because we somehow got the idea it’s okay to get weird when we’re addressing God. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care for our melodrama; all he wants to do is talk. Maybe help out a bit.

So when Christians talk about God hearing our prayers, sometimes we don’t just mean to perceive the sounds we’re making as we talk to him about stuff. Usually we mean God answering our prayers—fulfilling our requests especially.

Hence when certain Christians claim, “God doesn’t listen to pagans,” what they more accurately mean is God doesn’t answer pagans’ prayers.

Which is an idea that’s also easily debunked.

Acts 10.1-4 KJV
1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, 2 a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. 3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. 4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.

Yeah, people will argue Cornelius wasn’t pagan, ’cause he was a devout worshiper of God. But he was. He didn’t worship the Greco-Roman gods, but the LORD, which is most definitely a step in the right direction. But he wasn’t a convert to Pharisaism; Jews still called him uncircumcised, Ac 11.3 which was one of their requirements for conversion. He’d follow the LORD only to a point, and otherwise do what he felt was best—which is exactly what makes any “Christian” actually pagan.

But God is gracious, and sent Cornelius an angel to set him straight by having him get and listen to Simon Peter. And as the angel pointed out, God was not unfamiliar with Cornelius’s prayers. True, some naysayers point out the angel didn’t say “God’s been hearing your prayers,” but αἱ προσευχαί σουἀνέβησαν εἰς μνημόσυνον ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ/e prosevhé su… anévisan eis nimósynon émprosthen tu Theú, “Your prayers… go up to a memorial before God.” As if he’s noticed them, but not heard them. It’s ridiculous nitpicking, and creates an equally ridiculous scenario where God’s telling himself, “Y’know, because he’s pagan, I’m not gonna listen to him. But since he seems so earnest, I’ll send an angel his way.” It makes God sound petty; really it’s the fact the interpreters are petty, and projecting their bad attitudes upon God.

God rewards those who earnestly seek him, He 11.6 Christian or pagan. If they’re making an effort, same as any Christian who makes an effort, God meets ’em where they are, and tries to bring them along even further. He’s trying to save them too. Jesus died for their sins same as ours, 1Jn 2.2 and there’s nothing but their own resistance getting in God’s way. So if they’re making any small, pathetic efforts in his direction, of course he’s gonna try to encourage more of that. He’s gracious, not petty.

So yes, he hears pagan prayers. And yes, he even answers pagan prayers. Not just the sinner’s prayer; if a pagan asks to be cured of some illness, God’s definitely been known to cure pagans. Many a Christian chaplain can tell you of pagans who’ve asked them to pray for stuff, and many chaplains can tell you God’s granted stuff—and no, that’s not because God listens to the chaplain and not the pagan.

It’s because, as usual, sometimes our will syncs up with God’s, so he grants those requests. And of course sometimes it doesn’t sync at all, and even Christians get such requests refused.

James 4.3 KJV
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

When pagans make selfless requests of God, same as we Christians should be making selfless requests of God, it stands to reason God is likely to respond positively to them. Hence sometimes pagans get what they ask for, and Christians don’t. God knows best.

And yeah, some of those pagan prayers definitely won’t work for us. Like when they’re throwing wishes out into the universe, hoping some cosmic law of attraction will give them what they want. We wouldn’t care to honor such poorly-expressed “prayers”; we’d want to straighten the pagans out first, and explain there’s a lot more humility involved. But y’know, when the LORD answers such requests anyway, we’ve got to remember he knows what he’s doing. He’s trying to bring them along, gently and kindly; certainly more kindly than we can be. No, pagans don’t rightly understand how God works. But isn’t this just as true of so many of us Christians?

So if pagans wanna pray, let’s encourage the practice. Let’s point them to way better prayer resources than the usual mumbo-jumbo they find in the spirituality section of the bookstores. Let’s encourage them to talk with God, and try to hear him, and confirm it really is him before acting upon what we think we’ve heard him say.

And don’t be surprised when God uses their newly-evolving prayer life to point ’em to Jesus.

Why are people nontheist? No, it’s not bad Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 October

Nontheists are people who live their lives with zero concern for God. They don’t believe he even exists, or doubt his existence enough to act as if he’s not. They won’t always call themselves atheists or agnostics, ’cause those guys tend to be antichrists and jerks: They’re not anti-religious. They’re simply not religious.

Why are people nontheist? Simple: It’s how they were raised. They had nontheist parents. Like my dad: My grandparents never outright said they didn’t believe in God, but nothing they did ever indicated any belief, and that’s what they passed along to their kids. My aunts and uncle went other routes, but Dad decided upon atheism.

Now what about people who weren’t raised nontheist? Well, Brennan Manning, a former Franciscan priest who became a popular author and public speaker, had a theory that’s become very widely accepted among Evangelical Christians.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door, and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

Kevin Max reads the quote before the song “What If I Stumble?” off DC Talk’s bestselling 1995 album Jesus Freak. A lot of Evangelicals listened to that album, heard the idea, thought it brilliant, and spread it far and wide. We still claim it’s true: People become nontheist because Christians suck. So stop sucking! Quit being such jerks and love your neighbor! Be compassionate, be loving, be kind, and win people to Jesus by actually being like Jesus!

And yeah, I’ve known various ex-Christians who quit Christianity because their fellow Christians were awful to them. Like gay kids whose parents drove them away (and called it “tough love”—like they’re gonna shun the gayness out of them). Like kids who dared question their legalistic parents, and the parents decided it made ’em apostate, and the kids actually became apostate. Such ex-Christians aren’t necessarily nontheist: Many do believe in God, but they no longer identify as Christian, so they’re pagan. But they might not be pagan had they experienced God’s love through God’s supposed people.

So yeah, maybe the greatest single cause of paganism today, is Christians who don’t properly demonstrate Jesus’s love. Like all humans, pagans are looking for love and acceptance, and if they don’t get it from Christians, they’ll seek and find it elsewhere.

But nontheists?—people who don’t believe in God altogether?—meh.

I’d recommend we stop swallowing Manning and DC Talk’s idea whole, and actually talk to some nontheists. You’ll find out really quickly their objection actually isn’t Christians behaving badly. (Though it certainly doesn’t help!) They don’t believe in God because they don’t find the God-idea reasonable.

When pagans believe they’re Christian.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 October

In the United States, roughly seven out of 10 people believe they’re Christian. I live in California, where it’s six of 10. (I’m not just pulling these numbers out of my bum; the national stats and state stats are from the 2019 Pew Forum study.)

Which matches my experience. Whenever I share Jesus with strangers, about two out of three tell me they’re Christian already. They don’t necessarily go to church; that’s another issue. But they do figure they’re Christian. For all sorts of reasons:

  • Personal experiences with Jesus. Even personal appearances.
  • Said the sinner’s prayer once.
  • They’re a regular at their church. (How regular varies. Many figure twice a year counts.)
  • Got baptized.
  • Raised Christian, or their family’s Christian.
  • They consider themselves spiritual. And when they contemplate spiritual matters, Jesus is in the mix somewhere.

Now, let’s explode that last definition: They’re “spiritual,” by which they nearly always mean they believe in the supernatural, and have happy thoughts about it. And Jesus is included in their spirituality. But once we analyze their spiritual beliefs, we’ll find what they really believe looks more like this:

  • There’s a God. Jesus is his son (but not God though, nor God’s only son) and the holy spirit (note the lowercase) is God’s power (but not God though).
  • God loves everybody and wants us to be nice to one another.
  • Death means we go to heaven, and probably watch over the living somehow.
  • Organized religion is unnecessary, and just confuses things.

Basically it’s what pagans typically believe. Of course there are exceptions, but generally that’s it. It’s the belief system of popular culture. It’s not Christianity. These folks aren’t Christians; they’re Christianists.

They’re a subcategory I call incognito pagans. They honestly think they’re Christian, because that’s how popular culture loosely defines Christianity. They believe Jesus is a good guy; they like him; they have their weddings and funerals at churches; if you deny Jesus it’ll actually offend them. If their kids decide to become Muslim or Hindu (or tell ’em they’re gay) suddenly they get super Christian—usually to the surprise of their kids.

But no they’re not. They have no Holy Spirit within them. That’s why they produce none of his fruit. As far as their knowledge about Christ is concerned, they couldn’t tell a Jesus quote from a Benjamin Franklin proverb. They’re saved, they reckon; so why bother to learn about their Savior? That’s for clergy to worry about. Theologians. Academics and experts. Meanwhile they have bigger things to worry about.

Well speaking as one of these experts, no they’re not Christian. Our religion has to have a living and active relationship with Christ Jesus at its core, and they don’t have that. At all. So they’re pagan.

Which they don’t realize—and totally object to, when you call ’em on it. (It’s the one area of knowledge they refuse to concede to the clergy and experts.) Tell ’em they’re not Christian, and they’ll loudly insist they are so: “Who are you to tell me I’m no Christian?” Doesn’t matter if you’re a pastor, professor, bishop, or pope: Suddenly they get to define what “Christian” means. And it’s not based on fruit, nor orthodoxy, nor even Christ Jesus and the scriptures. It’s based on their best judgment.

Which is simply more proof they’re pagans. Christians recognize we don’t define what a Christian is: Jesus does. That’s why we look for fruit and orthodoxy. Simple combo. Heretics let the orthodoxy slide, and hypocrites and cultists let the fruit slide. The rest of us realize we can’t just claim the title without the faith and works: We gotta actually follow Jesus. Pagans don’t realize this, and think all it takes to be Christian, is they gotta name it and claim it.

As a result, there are a lot of the people showing up on surveys as “Christian” who aren’t really. It’s only how they self-identify. Not how Christ identifies those who are truly his.

Nontheism: When pagans don’t believe in God.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 September
NONTHEIST 'nɑn.θi.ɪst adjective. Believes no such thing as God, gods, a universal spirit, a universal intelligence, nor a supernatural higher power, exists. (A catchall term for atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and others who are skeptical of God and religion.)
[Nontheism 'nɑn.θi.ɪz.əm noun.]

Y’know, for the first couple centuries of Christianity, we Christians were called atheist.

See, Greco-Roman pagans believed in gods. Lots of gods. Not just their own gods—and the titans, demigods, and daemons in the Greco-Roman pantheon. They also accepted the existence of the gods of other pantheons. They didn’t presume they knew them all. So whenever they encountered an unfamiliar god, they accepted it. Even added it to their pantheon, which is why they had multiple gods of the sun (Apollo, Helios, Hyperion) and war (Ares, Athena, Enyo, Polemos).

Sometimes they figured it was just one of their gods with a different name: The Latins worshiped a Deo Pater/“Father God” (which later got contracted to Jupiter), and the Greeks presumed this was just Zeus with a Latin alias… and over time this became what the Latins believed too. The Greeks did the same with the Egyptians’ Amun-Ra; they figured he was just what Egyptians called Helios. (The Seleucids tried to pull this with our LORD, claimed he was just the Jewish version of Zeus, and tried to put a Zeus statue in the temple. The Maccabees objected rather vigorously to that idea.)

So the Greco-Romans believed there were gods everywhere. Whereas Christians and Jews have only the One, and believe the beings pagans consider “gods” aren’t gods at all. Either they’re devils pretending to be divine, or they’re the made-up gods of scam-artist priests. You know, like atheists nowadays claim about our God. (But without devils in their explanations, ’cause they don’t believe in any spirits, including evil ones.) To the ancient pagans, rejecting all their gods felt kinda like Christians didn’t believe in any god.

So if you imagine Christians and nontheists are opposites: Not really. Because both Christians and nontheists don’t believe in Zeus, Odin, and Amun-Ra. We likewise reject the divinity of Krishna, Olodumare, the Horned God, and any other pagan deities. We think it’s wrong, unhealthy, silly, or dangerous, to follow and worship such beings—same as nontheists! In that, we’re on the same side.

Where we differ is we do worship YHWH/“Jehovah”/“the LORD,” the one true God and father of Christ Jesus. Nontheists simply lump him together with all the other gods, and reject him too.

Antichrists: When pagans wanna see Christianity gone.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 June

1 John 2.18-23.

There are four definitions of antichrist we find in our culture:

  1. Someone who’s anti-Christ: They object to Christ Jesus and his authority, refuse to recognize him, and counter those who do.
  2. Someone who rejects the orthodox Christian view that Jesus the Nazarene is Christ. They insist he’s not, or that he’s not human, not divine, not historical.
  3. Someone who claims they, not Jesus the Nazarene, is Christ.
  4. The Beast, Rv 13.7 or lawless one, 2Ti 2.3 an End Times figure who attempts to deceive and conquer the world. Christ Jesus overthrows him.

Most of the time when people, Christians and pagans alike, refer to an antichrist, they mean the Beast. And it may surprise you to learn the Beast is never called an antichrist in the scriptures. Seriously. Oh, it’s definitely anti-Christ, so medieval Christians got into the habit of calling it Antichrist, and it stuck. But in the bible it’s just the θηρίον/thiríon, “wild animal,” KJV “beast.”

The apostles reserved the word ἀντίχριστος/antíhristos, “antichrist,” for what I’m writing about today, and what John discussed in today’s passage: Pagans who oppose Jesus the Nazarene. People who are literally anti Christ.

You know the type. They’re not just unbelievers, like the two-thirds of the people on this planet who don’t acknowledge, or very casually acknowledge but don’t mean it, that Jesus is Lord. Unbelief doesn’t make you an antichrist. To become an antichrist you gotta actively be against Christ. Antichrists aren’t passive nonbelievers: They wanna fight Jesus.

Sometimes they do believe Jesus exists, that he’s really in heaven, that he’s really God; and they’re pissed at him, so they’re having a tantrum. A lot of Christian apologists assume all antichrists are like this: “If you don’t believe he’s real, why’re you so angry with him? Means you actually do believe he’s real.” No it doesn’t. It’s exactly like when anti-Muslims get angry at Allah and attack him: They don’t believe he’s real either. (They definitely don’t believe he’s God.) They might be angry at other things, and are misplacing or redirecting their anger, but no it doesn’t necessarily have belief and disappointment at its core. But yes, sometimes it does. If Jesus were standing right in front of these particular antichrists, they’d wanna knock him out.

In recent decades Christians—with a certain level of worry—have pointed to what they fear is an upsurge of “New Atheism”: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, Michael Newdow, and various vocal antichrists. They’re nontheists who bash religion in general, but they really go after Christianity with hammer and tongs. These Christians fear the militant nontheists may convince more people to reject and fight Christianity, and maybe even try to get it banned in our homelands. First in the public square, then in private.

I have a longer memory than these fearful people. There have always been militant nontheists. Back during the Cold War, when the God-fearing United States was battling the godless Communists, nontheists were looked on with suspicion. They were considered radicals, possibly treasonous, ’cause they were undermining good ol’ fashioned American values and society. The more outspoken an nontheist got, the more backlash they got. But they were definitely around. Noam Chomsky, H.L. Mencken, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Linus Pauling, Ayn Rand, Gene Roddenberry, Gore Vidal, and others were very outspoken against religion and Christianity. Ask any nontheist nowadays about their forebears, and they’ll kindly point ’em out to you.

Now that the Red Menace is no longer so menacing (especially with all the Christians in Russia, China, and Cuba, and hopefully underground in North Korea), militant nontheism has gone mainstream in the west. These “New Atheists” feel free to be openly critical of Christianity. They get away with it ’cause nobody doubts their patriotism anymore (even though it’s rare a nontheist will get elected to public office). Plus God hasn’t struck these guys down with lightning. True, that’s mixing up Jehovah and Zeus… as if nontheists care, ’cause all gods are the same to them.

Nontheists are the most obvious antichrists, but they’re far from the only ones. Don’t forget other religions. Judaism doesn’t recognize Jesus as Messiah either, and sometimes its practitioners attack Jesus lest anyone get the idea Jews can become Christian (you know, like the first apostles). Certain Hindus are outraged at the way Christianity levels their caste system, so they fight it vigorously. Certain Muslims get offended when anyone (including a growing number of Muslims!) ranks Prophet Jesus higher than Prophet Muhammad, and likewise fight Christian beliefs, and even get downright antichristian. But there remains a big difference between religious and irreligious antichrists: Religious ones often remember to behave with some degree of goodness. Irreligious ones don’t feel any such restriction whatsoever.

John, and first-century antichrists.

In John’s day, in John’s church, antichrists cropped up. They got mixed up in his church… then objected to what he taught about Jesus, left, and shared their heretic ideas with anyone who’d listen. Whether they were influenced by gnostics, or started their own gnostic groups, I dunno.

But John figured they were an obvious sign the end was coming soon. ’Cause Jesus had warned him (and us) there’d be antichrists. Mk 13.6

1 John 2.18-23 KWL
18 Children, it’s the last hour, and just as you heard “Antichrist is coming!”
so many antichrists already came—o you know it’s the last hour.
19 They came from us. But they aren’t from us:
If they were from us, they’d have remained with us,
but they left so everyone could have it revealed they aren’t from us.
20 You have an anointing from the Holy Spirit and know all these things.
21 I don’t write you because you don’t know the truth already,
but because you know it, and that every lie doesn’t come from truth.
22 What’s the lie, if not the denial, “Jesus isn’t Christ”?
This, who denies the Father and the Son, is an antichrist.
23 Everyone who denies the Son, doesn’t have the Father.
One who confesses the Son, has the Father as well.

And we still have this phenomenon in our churches. People who dabble in Christianity, or who grow up Christian, but who don’t really believe Jesus is Lord and God, and are just going through the motions for now. Some of them can suspend disbelief forever, but for many the Holy Spirit’s gonna force them to deal with their doubts and pick a side: Believe in Jesus, or not.

So antichrists are Christianists who grew weary of their façade, left church, quit Jesus, went nontheist, and began mocking their old phony lifestyle. They learned how to fake the Spirit’s fruit, how to fake supernatural acts, how to fake prophecy, how to pretend to feel God’s presence… and they presume everybody in Christendom is faking it like they did.

Blaming bad Christians.

There’s been a trend among Christians for the past four decades: We claim people turn antichrist (or turn pagan, or stray from Christianity) because of Christians behaving badly. Just like Father Brennan Manning’s spoken-word intro to the 1995 DC Talk song, “What If I Stumble?”:

”The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today are Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

All due respect to Manning, but that’s rubbish. “I’d follow Jesus if it weren’t for all the a--holes who call themselves Christian”? I follow him regardless. Loads of Christians do. This excuse is the same crap the Judeans tried to pull when they told Jesus, “Show us a miracle and we’ll believe.” Jn 6.30, Mt 12.38 No they wouldn’t.

The real cause, as usual, is good ol’ human depravity. People wanna do as we will. If we believe in Jesus, but don’t really wanna follow him, we’ll invent loopholes and do as we will. If we don’t believe in Jesus, we won’t need loopholes; we’ll just be pagan or nontheist, and do as we will. But sometimes these folks run into Christians who wanna evangelize ’em, and in order to get these Christians off their back, the guilt card works great: “If you Christians were only more like Christ, I’d believe.” Again, no they wouldn’t.

Bad Christians are an easy target. They make it easy for antichrists to point to them, and paint all Christians as the rotten fruit of a rotten religion. I gotta agree with the antichrists about hypocrisy and bad religion; they’re not wrong. But that’s not the reason they’re antichrists. Here are the real reasons:

  • They were raised pagan. Had no beliefs one way or another about Christ. Till they met militant nontheists who insisted religion is stupid, religious people are fools, and religious leaders (who’d include Jesus, I suppose) are con artists. They fell in, and now proclaim the same thing. But they’re not speaking from any experience. Just regurgitating stuff they’ve heard. Makes ’em feel good to imagine they haven’t been brainwashed by overzealous hypocrites who unquestioningly follow the teachings of a few charismatic preachers… hey, waitaminnit.
  • They were raised or influenced by bad Christians who seriously botched their representation of Jesus. The bad Christians were jerks, who claimed Jesus authorized their awful, control-freak behavior, and was kind of a jerk too. The antichrists feel they’re quite right to object to a bad founder of a bad religion. Like the jerklike Christians, they found a few verses they could quote out of context which make Jesus sound overzealous, crazy, or violent, and that’s how they choose to reinterpret him. Or they adopted some of the weirder ideas about Historical Jesus, and are attacking that guy.
  • They knew Christians who made really outlandish claims about Jesus. Made him sound like a genie who’d grant every wish. Turns out he’s not that way at all, and once he told them no, they felt betrayed, blamed him… and figured they’d get him back by quitting him. Like I said, many apologists naïvely think every antichrist is bitter at Jesus. Nope. It’s a percentage, but ’tain’t that big.
  • Actually they don’t think Christ is awful. But they’ve found when they bash him a little, it really freaks Christians out… and that’s kinda fun. Besides, they figure Jesus is long dead, so who’s it hurting?… other than Christians.
  • They joined a religion who sees Christ as competition. I already mentioned a few. They wanna neutralize Jesus’s influence. So they reinterpret him, or even slander him, through that religion’s lenses.

Basically comes down to ignorance, willful or not; or intellectual dishonesty.

Dishonesty’s a pretty common behavior among antichrists. They’ll claim they were raised Christian, but our hypocrisy made ’em quit. The dishonest part is whose hypocrisy made ’em quit: Their own. They never wanted to know Christ, so they never did. I grant they might’ve held some beliefs, or even had personal experiences. But like the Hebrews in the Exodus, none of these experiences sunk in. If they really knew God, they’d leave his bad followers for a better church; nontheism would never be an option. Neither would going antichrist.

Identifying antichrists.

John’s definition of antichrist was very simple:

1 John 2.22 KWL
What’s the lie, if not the denial, “Jesus isn’t Christ”?
This, who denies the Father and the Son, is an antichrist.

Outside our churches, it’s really easy to identify antichrists. They’re the ones boldly bashing Christianity and Christ. But within our churches, they’re a little harder to detect because they’re not overtly being hostile. If they don’t believe Jesus is Lord and Christ, if they reject what the scriptures tell us about Jesus’s relationship to his Father, John calls ’em antichrists.

And if you don’t know how they feel about Jesus… well there’s always fruit. If they lack the Spirit’s fruit, if they act like they’re still in darkness instead of the light, they should stand out clearly.

We need to identify the antichrists among us. For two reasons.

First we want ’em to meet, get to know, and follow Jesus! We never want ’em to become those apostates who claim they went to church for years but never authentically encountered Jesus: Make sure that yes, they did indeed. Sometimes it’ll stop their apostasy dead in its tracks. Hate to tell you, though: Sometimes they’ll leave anyway, and ruin themselves all the more by denying what they truly saw. Either way, we did our job of actually introducing them to Jesus.

Second, we need to make really sure they never ever slip into leadership positions. ’Cause they can. And do. All the time. A nice guy becomes the music pastor, or youth pastor, or small group leader, or Sunday school teacher… and he has doubts, or she has heretic ideas, or he’s fruitless and graceless and backbiting and unkind (but talented!), or she’s checking out which boys in the youth group she could get away with nailing (but she’s the pastor’s daughter!). It’s every church’s worst-case scenario, and it happens way too often. These folks get found out, kicked out, and spend the rest of their lives bitterly denouncing Christianity and Christ. How’d they slip past us? Because we were looking at their façade, not their fruit.

Watch out, John reminded us. Don’t fall for any good-looking, impressive-sounding Christian. Test ’em. 1Jn 4.1-6 Check for humility. Make sure they actually do know Jesus. Look for fruit. When in doubt, nudge ’em towards God-encounters. Make it impossible for them to stagger in any antichrist direction, ’cause they know Christ. Make sure of that for yourself, while you’re at it.

A religion that’s a little of this, a little of that.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 May
ECLECTIC ə'klɛk.tɪk adjective. Belongs to no recognized school of thought or organized religion. Selects such doctrines and beliefs as they wish, from various religions and schools.
[Eclecticism i'klek.ti.siz.əm noun.]

One of the more popular platitudes you’ll hear among conservative Evangelicals is “I don’t have a religion; I have a relationship.” By which they don’t actually mean they’re irreligious… although many are. For the most part they do to to church, read their bibles, pray, and try to be good. What they mean is they reject dead religion—namely rituals which mean nothing to them. My point is they do so have a religion; there are plenty of things they do which reveal they devoted themselves to Jesus. Any pagan can see it—and they should, ’cause if there are no such signs, any “relationship” we claim to have is gonna suck, if it’s even there at all.

In comparison, your average pagan insists they truly have no religion. They don’t pray regularly, if at all. They read no holy books regularly, if at all. They never set foot in a church, temple, or mosque—except to attend weddings, funerals, recitals, 12-step meetings, christenings, go to the polls (’cause in the United States sometimes places of worship are used in elections) and to watch the rare Christmas pageant. They don’t do religion, period. You do—’cause you adhere to a particular pastor, church, denomination, or creed; and you pray and read and do Christian things.

But John Lennon songs notwithstanding, plenty of pagans do so have a religion. They do pray, read holy books, go to places of worship (or places where they worship), and base their behavior and good deeds on their spiritual beliefs.

It’s just they may not recognize they have a religion, ’cause it’s not an organized religion. They’re not a member of any organization which tells ’em what “the proper beliefs” are: They figured ’em out on their own, and now believe various things about God and spirits and the afterlife. True, their beliefs aren’t always consistent, and don’t always come from one particular source: Some of their ideas were borrowed from Christianity (i.e. God is love, Jesus was nice to everybody), and some from Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Beatles albums, Oprah videos, inspirational quotes, internet memes. Some even invented their own ideas, all by themselves, ’cause they’re such deep spiritual people.

Properly, they’re practicing eclecticism. They just don’t know the word for it.

Organized-yet-disorganized religion.

The human brain is designed to recognize patterns. Even when there’s nothing actually there. Hence really sloppy “logic” and conspiracy theorists.

This is why structures appeal to us so easily. Even the messiest people have some kind of structure to their chaos. They love it when one belief fits neatly with another. It’s why theology is so popular with certain Christians: They love when all their God-ideas connect like a divine jigsaw puzzle. They’re quite sure God, ’cause he’s perfect and true, should inspire a perfect and true belief system. That’s why they struggle so greatly with Christianity’s paradoxes, like the trinity. Makes ’em bonkers.

It’s also why a lot of humans prefer eclecticism. To them, Christianity is too paradoxical: They can’t wrap their brains around Jesus being God, yet totally human. So they decide to ditch one idea or the other: Jesus isn’t really divine, or “divinity” gets reinterpreted as something we can achieve by being really, really good. Or Jesus isn’t really human; he’s an avatar. Whatever simplifies things in their minds: They like a belief system which which doesn’t make taxing, inconvenient demands on their brains and lives.

And if they don’t wanna change any (or much), and wanna feel good about themselves, preferably their belief system is something which is already consistent with their existing behavior.

I’ve listened to pagans describe their belief systems. They’re quite detailed. Some are pretty clever! Often they’re more consistent with historical Christianity than they realize. (Or even wanna recognize. They much prefer to imagine they’re unique.) They often admit they’re not as good as they wanna be, or oughta be. And maybe it’s not even be possible. But they figure God makes up the difference—because grace ain’t that foreign a concept, y’know.

So they won’t join a church, follow a specific guru, or try to be a guru themselves. They just believe what they believe. They’re quite proud of the fact they put together their own system. They feel it works for them; it’s why they’ve no interest in becoming anything else. They don’t wanna be Christian, Hindu, Scientologist, Bahai, or anything—they’re fine as-is. Try to fix ’em, and you’ll alienate them.

Yeah, it’s a pride thing.

I once had an algebra student who invented his own shortcut for solving polynomial equations. Used it all the time. Used it even though I told him, more than once, to stop it… because it doesn’t work. It never got him the correct answer.

Why’d he insist on using it regardless? Because it was his.

It might’ve worked once, so he assumed it’d work every time. I never saw it work though, and couldn’t convince him of it. Even though he kept flunking papers and exams… and eventually the class. But he didn’t care that it didn’t work. Just like any inventor whose beloved gadget keeps breaking down, but he won’t stop tinkering with it, and keep using it anyway. Unlike this hypothetical inventor, my student never fixed his formula, nor swapped it with one from the book or the internet or anywhere.

No, the boy wasn’t rational. But since when are humans rational?

And when it comes to religion, people can be even less rational. Because to them, religion isn’t about what’s true: It’s about what feels good. They confuse “spiritual” with emotional, so if it makes ’em feel something, especially something good, it must be spiritual. Reason and logic and truth doesn’t make ’em feel good, so they ditch those things in favor of feel-good religion.

This is why eclecticism is so popular. An eclectic’s religion (even though they hate calling it religion) feels great. Because it’s all their favorite beliefs, makes ’em feel good about themselves, and it’s theirs. It’s their possession, their baby. Doesn’t matter if it’s utter bulls---: They make excuses for all its inconsistencies, justify anything immoral in it, and fights anyone who dares tell ’em they’re wrong.

So if I dare tell them, “Well according to Jesus…” they object. Jesus, as they’ve reimagined him, teaches no such thing. He believes as they do. Christianity is wrong; Christians are hypocrites; the bible is neither historically accurate nor infallible; they know Jesus better than any Christian. Don’t you touch their baby.

So before you share Jesus with ’em, you gotta wait till they finally give up on their beloved system. Which may not happen for a mighty long time. They gotta have a crisis of faith first. The Holy Spirit has to shake ’em hard enough to leave a crack wide enough to climb in. Till then they’re the walls of Jericho. Keep marching.

We Christians need to be careful lest we turn into eclectics. We don’t get to make up our own beliefs. We gotta follow Jesus. He determines our beliefs; he’s right and we’re not. I regularly butt heads with Christians who come up with ideas they’re sure is better than anything 20 centuries of Christian thinkers ever came up with. (As if the Holy Spirit never inspired anyone but them… least of all me.) Simply put, they’re an eclectic disguised as a Christian, and they’re following their own path instead of Christ’s. Watch out for such people.

“Spiritual… but not religious.”

by K.W. Leslie, 09 March
SPIRITUAL 'spɪ.rɪtʃ(.əw).əl adjective. Dealing with immaterial things in the human spirit or soul.
2. Dealing with religion.
[Spirituality 'spɪr.ɪt.ʃəw.æl.ə.di noun.]

Many pagans like to describe themselves as spiritual. ’Cause they are: They believe in immaterial things, like the soul. Might even believe in other spirits; or God, whom they correctly recognize is spirit; Jn 4.24 or a spiritual afterlife. Or not: They only believe in spiritual forces, like good vibes or positivity, bad vibes or negativity, which can affect not just ourselves, but everyone around us.

Christians call ourselves spiritual too, ’cause we are. We have the Holy Spirit, who’s hopefully working on us—if we let him. We’re taught to pursue spirit, not flesh. Ro 8.5-6 We believe in God and angels and unclean spirits (like the devil) and that we’re part spirit. For the most part, we believe in the supernatural too.

Now, you can tell a pagan all this: “You’re spiritual? So’m I.” But there’s still a dividing line which they insist they won’t cross: They’re spiritual. But not religious. We Christians are religious, and they don’t wanna go there.

This’ll confuse many an Evangelical. ’Cause over the past six decades, many have got it into our heads we’re not religious. (And we might not be, but that’s another article.) When Evangelicals say “religion,” most of us mean dead religion, and we’re not that; we have a living relationship with Jesus, right?

I used to believe this rubbish too, so I’d tell pagans, same as most Evangelicals, “Oh, I don’t have a religion. I have a relationship.”

Which confused ’em. To a pagan, if you go to church—and we should!—you’re in an organized religion. You don’t get to determine, on your own, by yourself, what you do and don’t believe: Your church does. Your bishop, pastors, and elders do. They tell you what to think and believe and do. There are rules. There are mandatory rituals. You’re threatened with hell if you don’t do them.

Obviously they’ve never been to church (or if they have, it was kind of a cult), ’cause it doesn’t work that way at all. Yeah, the church has official doctrines, and if you wanna get into church leadership you gotta agree with the doctrines. But the regular members believe what they want, do as they want, and answer to nobody but the Holy Spirit; and they won’t even follow him half the time. Or most of the time. And there’s grace, or at least there had better be; we do have a proper understanding that good works don’t save us; nobody should be using hellfire to threaten one another.

Even so: Whenever we Evangelicals claim, “Oh I’m not religious,” pagans believe either we’re lying, and trying to trick ’em into joining our religion; or we’ve been brainwashed, and don’t realize just how far our religious leaders have their tentacles in us.

Likewise, “No, my church doesn’t work like that.” Pagans won’t believe this either: They’ve heard the horror stories… or, sadly, might’ve lived them. They “know better.”

The religion they prefer is one which permits them perfect freedom. Nobody tells them what to think, how to do things, how to be, where to go. Maybe God gets to; maybe their angels. Maybe they listen to their favorite gurus with fervent devotion, and do everything they’re told, same as any cult member. But to their minds, they can walk away whenever they like; they’re in control. They’re not sure they can maintain this level of control if they set foot in your church building. So no thank you. Organized religion isn’t for them.

Not all disorganized religion is the same.

I’ve heard Christians describe the “spiritual but not religious” as if they’re all the same—as if these pagans only dabble in religion, but have no strong beliefs. Or if they totally do have an organized religion, but like Evangelicals they’re in denial, because they redefined their vocabulary words.

As I explained in my article on eclecticism, humans don’t monolithically all believe the same things. We can lump people into categories, and even then they don’t all believe likewise. You gotta ask ’em on an individual basis.

But generally I find the “spiritual but not religious” fall into six groups.

FAKE CHRISTIANS. By all outside appearances, these appear to be Christians… but they just won’t affiliate themselves with any church. They’re going it alone. They call themselves Christian; they know Christian terms, and have Christian trappings. But in fact they’re incognito pagans—they only think they’re Christian. They have no Holy Spirit within them, and produce none of his fruit.

Nope; they’re not hypocrites; they’re not faking anything. They honestly do think they’re Christian. They have no idea they’re not, or have some idea but suppress those doubts as much as they can. They like Jesus; they just don’t follow him. They like the bible; they just never read it, don’t know it, and are easily tripped up with fake bible quotes. They don’t pray, or they assume their positive attitudes count as a form of prayer. And they certainly don’t go to church, ’cause they never wanna be told they’re wrong.

There’s more than one type of fake Christian. I just mentioned the positive sort, whose idea of Christianity is happy and uplifting and heavenly and friendly. Then there’s the negative sort. All the fears and paranoia of dark Christianity—and the reason they won’t go to church is they don’t trust any church, and think they’ve all been corrupted by Satan. Yours included. They might read the bible, but only to find proof texts for their conspiracy theories. They might pray, but largely they’re imprecatory prayers—“God, smite my foes” and all that. They’re more obviously fruitless than the positive Christianist: No grace, no love, lots of anger.

DEVOTEES. These folks have a religion. But they’re like Evangelicals who’re in denial about how their consistent practices are so a religion. They figure because they’re in no organized religion, they’re not religious. But of course they’re religious: Whatever beliefs they have, they believe in ’em devoutly. They’ll even try to convert you.

’Cause many pagans, though they refuse to join any particular church or religion, really wanna know the truth about the universe, the afterlife, God, and so forth. So they explore, study, learn… and believe. They find things to believe in, and are entirely sure they’re true. They’ll bet their lives (and afterlife) on it.

In any event, their minds are made up, and you’re not gonna convert them till they shake their beloved beliefs.

SEEKERS. And here’s the polar opposite of the devotees: These folks are totally open-minded. They don’t currently adhere to any religion. But if we present ’em with a good one, they’ll join.

These are just the sort of pagans we Christians love to work with. ’Cause their minds are open. They’ll visit our churches. They’ll listen to what we have to say. They may not agree with everything, but that’s okay: If they hang out with us long enough, they’ll meet Jesus, and he’ll cinch the deal and make ’em Christian.

DIVORCÉS. They’re a form of seeker: They just left another religion. They used to be devotees—sometimes of their own ideas—but they realized it was all bogus, or it stopped working for them. so they quit. In some cases their gurus and leaders drove ’em away. Regardless, they’re still open to God and spirituality. They just haven’t found a new religion yet.

Like seekers, these are also the sort of pagans we Christians love to work with. Although if they just left one branch of Christianity, they’re gonna come with a lot of baggage—a lot of hurts we have to minister to. And they’ll still have a lot of misconceptions about God, held over from their previous religion—some of which they might be really fond of. Gotta be patient with them.

ANTICHRISTS. Regardless of their beliefs, when it comes to Christianity, they want nothing to do with it, and that’s firm. They had a terrible experience with it, or encountered really awful representatives of it. Frankly, they’d like to see it done away with.

Since I’m writing about the “spiritual but not religious,” I don’t mean the non-spiritual: I don’t mean nontheists and agnostics. They tend to be antichrists too; they often want to see all religion eliminated. But when a pagan is spiritual yet antichrist, it means they do believe in God or gods or spirits… just not Jesus of Nazareth, nor his followers. They don’t consider us valid. Antichrists will claim Jesus’s followers made everything up, and even that Jesus himself never existed. They’ll be open to everything but Christianity. Their minds are open to everything else, but not us. They’ll try anything else, so long as it’s not Christian.

APATHETIC. They sorta believe in God, gods, or spirits. But really, they figure there are way more important things in their life than religious beliefs. They don’t wanna explore these ideas any deeper. They figure they’re just fine as-is.

True, sometimes an apathetic pagan evolves into a seeker. When life gets rough or unmanageable, people might point ’em to religion, so they’ll dabble, and see whether it can help ’em any. And maybe nothing more than that: They’ll use meditation to relieve stress, but they won’t examine meditation to see whether it reveals anything more about God. They’ll believe in a higher power ’cause it helps them through their 12-step program, but they won’t try to get to know their higher power, ’cause the important thing is breaking their addiction. The goal is their own well-being. Nothing more.

Help them find their way.

As you can tell, some of the “spiritual but not religious” folks are open to what we have to say… and some not so much. Seekers and divorcés might listen. Devotees and fake Christians will try to instruct us. Antichrists will fight us. And apathetic folks won’t care. So if you wanna share Jesus with pagans, first figure out what stripe of pagan they are.

No, I’m not saying to skip resistant pagans, like the antichrists. God wants to save them too. I’m just warning you: They’re gonna fight us. It’s way harder to share Jesus with someone who hates Jesus. In many ways it’s even harder to share Jesus with the apathetic: They don’t care whether he loves them. And Jesus tells us we ordinarily shouldn’t waste our time and theirs: Once you tried, shake the dust off your feet against ’em. Mk 6.11

But sometimes pagans change camps. Fake Christians repent and become real Christians. Antichrists like Saul of Tarsus run into the living Christ and switch teams in a blink. Devotees realize they’re totally wrong and become divorcés. I don’t care what determinists tell you: Don’t ever write someone off. You never know what the Holy Spirit is doing to ’em.

So as you wait for the Spirit’s next instructions, be available. They may have no questions for you right now, and not even care to hear a thing you have to say. So make sure they know you’re a non-judgmental Christian, whom they can come to once they ever get curious. When the Spirit’s about to crack that walnut, he often turns to the people who made themselves available like that.

And by non-judgmental I really do mean non-judgmental. Don’t judge them! Don’t debate ’em. Don’t rebuke ’em. Don’t correct ’em. They’re not Christians; you have no business holding non-Christians to God’s standards. Not even God does that. Ro 2.14-16 You’re there to be Jesus to them, and Jesus didn’t come to condemn but save. Jn 3.17 When they wanna turn to Jesus, you’re there to point the way. Till then… well, point the way.

Pagans and heathens and nonchristians; oh my!

by K.W. Leslie, 02 March
PAGAN 'peɪ.gən adjective. Holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions. A non-Christian.
2. A neopagan: Adherent of a recent religious movement which incorporates beliefs or rituals from pre-Christian Europe and North America.
[Paganism 'peɪ.gən.ɪz.əm noun.]
 
HEATHEN 'hi.ðən adjective. Pagan.
2. Uncultured, inappropriate.

Pagan is a Christian word, from the Latin paganus, meaning one who lives in the country, as opposed to one who lives in the city. Ancient Christians figured we live in the “city of God,” his kingdom… and pagans live outside, so let’s invite them in. It was their shorthand way of saying nonchristian. It’s mine too.

I know; a number of people have appropriated the word to mean their religions. The neopagan movement started in the mid-1800s, when British and American mystics started to revive occult religion; and once again in the 1960s and ’70s, when nature religions did likewise. These would be the maguses, practitioners of magick (with a -k), Wiccans, druids, shamans, nonchristian faith healers, followers of various nature gods, and folks who brought back worship of the ancient Egyptian or Norse or Greco-Roman gods. Largely it’s a backlash to Christianity: They felt we suppressed the pre-Christian nature religions of their ancestors, and wanted to dabble in that, have a little fun, and really bug their parents. Certainly some of ’em take these religions way more seriously than that, ’cause they found something there which was seriously lacking in their lives. But neopagan religions don’t look as much like the ancient pagan religions as neopagans imagine—and ancient pagans never called themselves pagans, ’cause like I said, it’s a Christian word. And when they get annoyed with us for using “pagan” generically, it’s because they forget they swiped our word.

Christians use “pagan” to refer to nonchristians in general. Technically it refers to people with no organized religion. Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and even neopagans, are organized religions—even though their organizational structure might be extremely messy. Whereas a true pagan isn’t affiliated with any religious group at all, and has no intention of joining any. They’re not religious.

This is not to say pagans have no religious beliefs. Most of ’em totally do; I’ll get to that. But they don’t believe in organized religion: They might visit a church for a wedding or funeral, or because it’s a neat-looking building, but otherwise won’t go to any religious gathering, ’cause they don’t wanna join anything. They wanna be in charge of what they believe, and how they practice it—whether they pray or not, whether they read scriptures or not, what they think about the universe, gods, or the One God. Or what they don’t think: Some of ’em are comfortable with the idea of not knowing anything, and are happy to let it remain a great mystery.

As for the word heathen: It’s always been a more derogatory word for uncivilized people (“What have you little heathens done to my kitchen?” after the kids leave behind a giant mess) and true, some pagans totally are heathens. But I generally don’t use it. Let’s be nice.

What pagans believe.

True, some pagans hold no religious beliefs; they’re nontheist. Ironically, some of ’em get mighty religious about their nontheism, and feel they simply have to bash God and organized religion at every opportunity. Others are agnostic, and functionally act as though they’re atheist… till they’re in a jam and have to pray to some higher power to get ’em out of this.

The rest have generic beliefs about God which are derived from their wider culture. If you’re surrounded by Christians, your pagan beliefs are gonna resemble Christian ones. If you’re surrounded by Hindus, you’re gonna sound more like a Hindu; if Buddhists, more Buddhist; if Jews, more Jewish; and so forth. Stands to reason.

In the United States, pagans tend to look like irreligious Evangelicals. So much so, many of ’em even think they are Christian, but of course they’re not: They won’t go to church, won’t believe what the churches teach anyway, won’t read or believe the bible, and see no reason to change their beliefs or behavior.

Back in 2002, I spelled out pagan beliefs for my theology students like so.

  • THERE’S A GOD. They might believe all sorts of things about him, and certainly a lot of it will be projection. Depending on how they like to imagine him (and how many ideas they’re borrowed from either Christians or Hindus), he might be the unconscious sum of everything in the universe, or a heavenly Mother; whatever floats their boat.
  • JESUS IS GOD’S SON. A great moral teacher. A nice guy. Gives great advice. Not God though. Buddha is also God’s son; as is Muhammad, Confucius, Mohandas Gandhi, and pretty much every significant religious leader. (So long that pagans like them. If they don’t like L. Ron Hubbard, he’s not God’s son.)
  • THE HOLY SPIRIT IS GOD’S POWER. The holy spirit, lowercase, isn’t a person but a force, like the Force in Star Wars, but without a dark side. An “it,” not a “he.”
  • GOD LOVES EVERYBODY. Unless we’re mean. Mean people suck.
  • GOD WANTS PEOPLE TO BE NICE. Pagans believe all religions essentially teach this, so it’s all anyone need do: Be nice. (Unless you’re dealing with mean people. Then you can be mean right back to them. Help karma out.)
  • DEATH MEANS WE GO TO HEAVEN. And become angels! Again, exceptions are made for mean people. Fr’instance Adolf Hitler definitely went somewhere bad. But if we’re nice, or if enough people love us (or at least the majority doesn’t hate us), we’re probably off to heaven. Of course, many pagans believe in reincarnation, so for them death means we’re reborn as something nice.
  • ORGANIZED RELIGION IS UNNECESSARY. Disorganized, eclectic religion will do them just fine. All that matters is the pagan holds a few spiritual beliefs which make ’em feel good, and do things from time to time which make ’em feel spiritual (i.e. good). It’ll all work out in the end. ’Cause God loves everybody!

You might notice, and I gotta emphasize, pagans are particularly self-centered about their beliefs: God wants them to be happy and fulfilled. God only involves himself in their lives when they seek happiness and fulfillment. But to be fair, a whole lot of Christians are mighty self-centered too.

Christianist pagans.

As I said, some pagans think they’re Christian. ’Cause they like Jesus. They’ll quote bible—not consistently, but when it suits them. Some of ’em will even attend church, and may even get involved—although they certainly don’t feel obligated to believe anything the church teaches, or follow their interpretations of Jesus. You know, like when politicians go to a church hoping to recruit helpers or voters.

I call any belief system which prefers the trappings of Christianity, over Christ Jesus himself, Christianism. But sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton, in their book Soul Searching, call this belief system moralistic therapeutic deism. (MTD for short.) It’s moral ’cause it defines good and evil for itself, and emphasizes good. Therapeutic ’cause it feels good. And deist, ’cause it believes in a God who’s impersonal and not all that involved in humanity. Smith and Denton sum up MTD’s beliefs thus.

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Smith and Denton were the principal investigators in the 2003-05 National Study of Youth and Religion. They concluded

a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that it is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten stepcousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Smith and Denton 262

No, they’re not claiming all irreligious Christians are pagans, not Christians. Neither am I about Christianists. Smith and Denton’s rather valid concern is that, rather than Christianity, a lot of Christian churches are instead teaching MTD. As a result, the kids they raise aren’t always gonna be Christian.

I know from personal experience they’re quite right. A lot of kids in my high school youth group weren’t raised Christian. Their parents expected our youth pastors to take care of the religion parts. As if two hours of Christian instruction a week is gonna put a dent in an unconvicted, irreligious lifestyle. Consequently as soon as we moved out of the house, a lot of us threw away our Christian masks and became the pagans we always secretly were.

And y’know, some parents honestly don’t care. Just so long that we’re good people. ’Cause they’re pagans too, and everybody goes to heaven.

Prechristians?

At one church I went to, a new fad began where we called pagans “prechristians.” We decided we were gonna be optimistic: These people will become Christian someday! They’re not lost; they’re pre-found.

There’s a fine line between optimistic and delusional, and I don’t feel like crossing it today. I hope these people get found; always do. Till then, they’re pagans.

The dividing line between Christian and pagan is simple. We Christians do follow Jesus as our Lord, do expect God to save us from death despite our sin, and do recognize God expects a level of obedience, devotion, worship, and prayer from his people. (Even though we might suck at it.) We aren’t in charge of fashioning our own religions from scratch, and cherry-picking our beliefs to suit and appease ourselves. We follow Jesus, and let his Holy Spirit show each individual how to follow him best.

Tons of Americans firmly believe the central goal of life is the pursuit of happiness. Christians included. They’re wrong, and believing so will only distort our Christianity and turn us into the same selfish jerks we find everywhere. It makes our Christianity impotent. It bears less, or no, fruit. But it’s not necessarily paganism. It’s only paganism when we no longer follow Jesus because our warm fuzzy feelings tell us different.

Following Jesus makes all the difference.

Nontheists and prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 November

Whenever you talk prayer with a nontheist or antichrist, they’re gonna scoff at you because they’re entirely sure you’re praying to no one.

You only imagine you’re praying to someone, they insist. You only think God answered your prayers, but it’s just coincidence; or you’re selectively reinterpreting “signs” from nature and claiming they’re God-things. You’re only pretending that’s God’s voice in your head talking back to you; it’s really your own. You want so bad for God to be real, for prayer to be valid, for Christianity to be true, you’ve psyched yourself into everything. But it’s pure self-delusion.

Yeah, sometimes I talk with some people, so I’ve heard their condescending explanations before. They’d probably work on me… if there was no such thing as confirmation. Test the bloody spirits! 1Jn 4.1

See, when I think God’s told me something, I don’t just run with it. I’m patient. I double-check. ’Cause we’re supposed to double-check. Not double-checking is how Christians wind up doing some dumb stuff, insisting God’s behind it, and wondering why on earth none of the things they think God told them actually come to anything. Duh; it wasn’t actually God! Remember all that stuff our hypothetical nontheists said about about prayer? Totally true in these presumptuous Christians’ cases: They psyched themselves into thinking God spoke to them, but they never confirmed it’s really him. Turns out it’s really not.

It’s why there are a lot of Christians stumbling around, claiming God told ’em this or that, and no he didn’t. It’s also why the nontheists and antichrists mock them: It totally confirms them, and their godless beliefs.

So we Christians gotta wise up. God does talk to us, and regularly answers prayer, but if you wanna know it’s truly him, you gotta prove it.

And once you can prove it, you can answer these nontheists: “I know it’s God ’cause I spoke with a fellow Christian, and God told him the very same thing he told me, and there’s no way we could coincidentally guess the same thing.” Or “I know it’s God ’cause I asked him for something ridiculously specific, and he came through; there’s no way I coincidentally got what I wished for.”

Oh, I’m not saying it’ll convince them they’re wrong. It won’t. Their minds are closed. But it’ll make ’em fumble a bit, ’cause they never ever expected you to point to objective, concrete evidence. They weren’t taught to expect such things when they learned atheist apologetics. (Yes, there’s totally such a thing as atheist apologetics. Why do you think they all use the same uninspired arguments? For the very same reason we wind up using all the same uninspired arguments.) Nontheists presume, since most Christians don’t do objective evidence, none of us do. Show ’em otherwise.

Pagans and prayer.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 August

Back in my teenage years I attended a government meeting. Which, as is customary in the United States, they opened with prayer. Bible Belt residents presume people only do this in their states, but I live in California; we do it here too.

Thing is, the Constitution’s first amendment forbids our Congress from recognizing an official religion, and the 14th amendment extends this to state and local governments. So any prayers can’t exclusively be Christian prayers, made in Jesus's name. Something I regularly gotta remind my conservative friends about, ’cause they talk about bringing prayer back into public schools, but have never thought about what sort of praying is gonna happen when just anybody gets to lead prayer. I guarantee you they really don’t want pagan schoolteachers demonstrating prayer for their kids! But there’s no way to legally limit school prayers to the sort of Christians they approve of… which sadly means things are best left the way they are.

This prayer I heard before the government meeting, only proves this point. It most certainly wasn’t Christian. It was made by some member of the community, who was either pagan or his “Christianity” was so watered down it doesn’t look like Jesus anymore. Undoubtedly he considered himself “spiritual”; only such people care to pray. But his prayer wasn’t addressed to God. Didn’t even mention God. Didn’t make any requests—which stands to reason; it wasn't made to God! Instead he expressed wishes. “I wish to express my hope that this meeting will be productive. That it's done with no animosity, and good will. That all parties listen to one another. I wish the best for our community.” Stuff like that. All good sentiments; I can't object to any of ’em.

Does it count as a prayer? Nah. Prayer is talking with God. Dude wasn't talking with anyone. He was just wishing aloud, in front of everyone, for nice things. Unfortunately in the meeting which followed, he didn't get any of his wishes.

And maybe that's why he didn't make requests of these wishes. If you don't believe God is listening when we pray (either because he doesn’t intervene, or because his plans are fixed), prayers change nothing. Wishes are about the only thing you can express.

So what good is prayer, then? Well—same as Christians believe about unidirectional prayer—they figure it’s about embracing a positive mental attitude. It’s about spreading this positive mental attitude. It’s about other people hearing our spiritual statements, and maybe these statements will change their minds, change the mood in the room, transform the “spiritual atmosphere.” Which ain’t nothing: People need reminders, and a little encouragement, to be kind, positive, optimistic, selfless, and generous. Especially in a government meeting.

Of course this assumes the people in the meeting are even listening to these prayers. Most pagans blow ’em off as dismissible dead religion. But some of ’em think prayer is a good way to practice the law of attraction, the popular belief that when we want stuff really bad, we gotta declare our desires to the universe, and gradually we’ll get what we want. Pagans aren’t necessarily agreed as to why this works, but most of them are mighty jazzed about the idea. After all, Oprah Winfrey believes in it, and she’s a billionaire, so it worked for her, didn’t it?

So if we declare our desires, our words change the spiritual atmosphere—whether anyone hears these words or not. Because our words continue to exist, floating round the universe, seeding it with all the elements we wished into being. (In the government meeting, that’d be kindness, positivity, optimism, etc.) Spiritual words have spiritual power, right?

Um… no they don’t. Not unless the Holy Spirit empowers them.

We’re not the only ones who do grace, y’know.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 August

Scott Hoezee told this story in his 1996 book The Riddle of Grace.

The story is told that, many years ago, a conference was convened to discuss the study of comparative religions. Theologians and experts from various fields of religious studies gathered from all over the world to tackle certain knotty questions relating to Christianity and its similarities or dissimilarities to other faiths. One particularly interesting seminary was held to determine whether there was anything unique about the Christian faith. A number of Christianity’s features were put on the table for discussion. Was it the incarnation? No; other religions also had various versions of the gods coming down in human form. Might it be the resurrection? No, various versions of the dead rising again were found in other faiths as well.

On and on the discussion went without any resolution in sight. At some point, after the debate had been underway for a time, C.S. Lewis wandered in late. Taking his seat, he asked a colleague, “What’s the rumpus about?” and was told that they were seeking to find Christianity’s unique trait among the world religions. In the straightforward, no-nonsense, commonsense approach that was to make Lewis famous, he immediately said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” As the other scholars thought about that for a moment, they concluded that Lewis was right: It is grace. No other religion had ever made the ultimate acceptance by the Almighty so absolutely unconditional. In other faiths, there is usually some notion of earning points. Whether it was karma, Buddhist-like steps among the path to serenity, or some similar system, the idea was that to receive the favor of the gods one had to earn the favor of the gods.

Not in Christianity, at least not in true Christianity. Hoezee 41-42

Philip Yancey was so impressed by it, he retold the story in his 1997 book What’s So Amazing About Grace? which is where I first heard it. Hoezee says he heard it from Peter Kreeft, in a speech Kreeft gave at Calvin College. I’ve no doubt he did.

Too bad it’s gotta be bunk though.

Told to make C.S. Lewis sound clever. Smarter than those religion experts, who somehow never read anything G.K. Chesterton wrote about the uniqueness of Christian grace. But Lewis, and any religion scholar who’s not a chauvinistic ninny, would know full well grace is found in other religions.

Grace is in Judaism, ’cause grace is all over the Old Testament. The LORD rescued the Hebrews from Egypt, not because they were a great and deserving people who merited salvation, but purely out of his love. Dt 7.7-8 The LORD gave them Palestine, not because they deserved it, but because he promised it to Abraham and their ancestors. Dt 9.5 We make the same mistake Pharisees did, and confuse the Law with the foundation of their faith. But the foundation is Abraham—who trusted the LORD, and the LORD graciously considered his faith to be righteousness. Ge 15.6

Grace is in Islam. Those whose only experiences with Islam is with its legalists, assume it’s not. They assume Muslims struggle to follow Islam’s rules because it’s how they earn heaven. It’s not. Muslims are quick to remind people we can follow the rules perfectly, yet still not know whether you attain heaven, ’cause heaven has nothing to do with the rules. Only God decrees who’s going to heaven or not, and it’s entirely based on his grace. The Quran begins, Bismi Allahi alrrahmani alrraheemi, “In God’s name—most gracious, most merciful.” Muslim prayers regularly address him this way. They’re continual reminders of his grace.

Grace is even found in Hinduism. Karma only gets people so far, y’know. But Hinduism’s gods can be appealed to, intervene, and push people ahead a little further. Apparently they can be gracious.

That’s the thing: Scratch the surface of every religion, and you’ll find despite any legalism they might have, they also have grace to grease the wheels. Otherwise their wheels can’t turn.

Nope, Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on mercy, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, and grace. In fact many’s the time Christians don’t practice these things… and other religions do, and frustrated Christians see this, quit Jesus, and go try those other religions.

Yeah, I’ve heard many a Christian apologist claim we’re the only ones who do grace. We’d sure like to think so, wouldn’t we? But we make that claim only when we don’t know squat about other religions. (Or we hope our debate opponents don’t know squat—and lying to win such debates is evil, Dt 5.20 so don’t do that.)

“The fool says there’s no God around.”

by K.W. Leslie, 25 March

Psalm 14.1, 53.1.

The New Living Translation renders Psalm 14.1 and 53.1 exactly the same:

Psalm 14.1, 53.1 NLT
Only fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
not one of them does good!

It’s because Psalms 14 and 53 are actually the same psalm. David ben Jesse wrote it five centuries before Psalms got put together—and Psalms is actually made of five different psalters. The first book Ps 1-41 had it, and so did the second Ps 42-72 —so yep, it’s in there twice. For fun, you can compare the two psalms for the differences which slipped into the psalm over time. It’s kinda like different hymnals which have alternate verses to your favorite hymns. (“Amazing Grace,” fr’instance, is a bit different from the way John Newton originally wrote it.)

Differences the NLT actually muted. ’Cause it translated two different words as “actions.” Psalm 14.1 has עֲלִילָ֗ה/alilá, “a doing,” and Psalm 53.1 has עָ֝֗וֶל/avél, “an immoral deed.” The NLT’s translators wanted to emphasize the verses’ similarities so much, they erased their differences. Which isn’t always the right route to take, but one the NLT and NIV translation committees prefer. This is why I tell people to study multiple bible translations: Y’never know what you might be missing because of the translators’ various agendas.

But I digress. Today I’m writing about the first part of the verse, which the KJV phrases thisaway:

Psalm 14.1, 53.1 KJV
1A The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.

It’s a verse I’ve heard quoted many, many times. Usually by Christians who wanna refer to nontheists as fools.

Frequently Christian apologists wanna use this verse as a proof text to argue in favor of God’s existence. As if quoting bible is how you prove God exists: “See, the bible says he’s real, so there.” That’s gonna work on a nontheist exactly the same as if I whipped out a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and said, “See, Oz is a real place!” You don‘t prove God exists with words; especially rude words. You prove he exists by giving ’em a God-experience. Anything else basically makes you the fool.

And I wanna back up even further and question whether this verse is even about nontheists at all. Y’might guess I would say it’s really not.