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

03 July 2018

Pagans and theology.

When pagans wanna do theology, they’re gonna do it wrong.

People who aren’t Christian regularly critique Christianity: What we believe, what our churches teach, how we practice. I regularly lump ’em into three categories:

  1. Antichrists who offer no constructive criticism, and don’t care whether their complaints are valid or not: They just wanna bash Christians.
  2. The clueless, who overheard the antichrists’ complaints and think they’re valid. They honestly don’t know any better.
  3. Those with valid complaints, who take us to task when we truly are inconsistent or hypocritical.

There’s not a lot we can do with the antichrists, much as Christian apologists might foolishly try. (Pearls before pigs, guys. Mt 7.6) The clueless can be reasoned with, but when they’re not merely clueless but downright anti-Christianity, shake the dust off and leave them be.

But the valid critics must be taken seriously. Because they’re right. We Christians do teach one thing and do another. We preach forgiveness and grace and mercy when it comes to evangelism… then we turn round and preach eye-for-eye karma when it comes to our criminal justice system. We preach we’re to love everyone, including enemies, but as soon as a person in our churches commits a sin we consider beyond the pale (like vote for the opposition party) we ostracize them like they’re leprous. We preach against nonmarital sexual activity, but our stats on cohabitation, unwed pregnancy, and abortion are the same or greater than the national average. We’re all kinds of inconsistent—and I haven’t even touched on hypocrisy yet. Probably don’t need to; we know better.

When the valid critics are right, don’t defend our bad behavior. Agree with them. We’re sinners too. But please don’t use that rubbish line, “We’re not perfect; just forgiven.” We’re supposed to work on being perfect. We’re expected to stop sinning, stop being hypocrites, stop taking God’s grace for granted, and be good. We don’t; we aren’t; we suck. Admit it and repent.

However. Sometimes we’re gonna come across the complaint, “Y’know what your real problem is: Your religion needs to be updated. You need to get with the times and get rid of those out-of-date beliefs.” They suggest we stop believing certain things are sins, or quit believing in miracles, or stop believing in mysterious hard-to-fathom stuff. They want us to change our theology—and can’t understand why it’s not as easy as all that.

It’s a particular sort of cluelessness.

03 May 2018

Secret Christians.

When people try to keep their Christianity a secret.

Most of the time, this particular teaching of Jesus has the effect of getting Christians to quit waffling and publicly declare themselves Christian. ’Cause Jesus doesn’t want secret followers.

Matthew 10.32-33 KWL
32 “So everyone who agrees with me before people: I’ll also agree with them before my heavenly Father.
33 But those who disown me before people: I’ll also disown them before my heavenly Father.”

Though y’might notice there were secret Christians in Jesus’s day. Nicodemus of Jerusalem and Joseph of Arimathea were two rather obvious followers… but give ’em credit; they did out themselves by entombing Jesus. Jn 19.38-42 We don’t have Jesus’s comments about them, but since they rather publicly got involved “before people” when push came to shove, I seriously doubt Jesus is gonna disown either of them at the End.

Thing is, there are a number of people who secretly, privately, personally believe in Jesus. But they don’t have the balls to step forward and publicly say so. Maybe they’ll say so in private… but sometimes not even then. “My religion is none of your business,” is their usual cop-out. “Religion is private.”

True, some religious practices are private, or certainly should be. Like prayer. But identifying with Jesus of Nazareth? Not so much other fellow Christians; we can be awful, so I get that. Still, denying Jesus? You realize Simon Peter still gets crap for doing exactly that. And rightly so; it was a dick move. As it is when anybody pretends they don’t know him when they do.

Which is precisely why Jesus makes this kind of deal about it. If you love him, you’re gonna acknowledge him. You’re gonna defend him to people who don’t think so much of him, or don’t think so much of anyone who puts their trust in him. You’re gonna stand up when it counts. Even when it might mean you’ll suffer consequences. Especially then; it’s hardly a significant gesture when there aren’t any consequences.

And yet we still have such creatures as incognito Christians. Who sometimes show up when we really need ’em, like Joseph and Nicodemus; but who more often cave under pressure, like Peter that one time. And to Peter’s credit, it’s a mistake he never made again.

23 March 2018

Pagan and proud.

What to do with a know-it-all pagan.

Whenever I share Jesus with pagans, I run into two types: The open-minded and the closed-minded. Either pagans who are curious and have tons of questions; or pagans who wanna tell me about Jesus, ’cause they already know it all.

The open-minded are fun. I may not get them to believe, or convince them to set foot in a church, but that’s okay: There’s still room for the Holy Spirit to work on ’em. There’s still hope. Whereas the closed-minded are depressing. They suck all the fun out of the conversation. They dismiss or mock what we consider important, and don’t care how insulting and condescending they come across. When Jesus compared them to swine, Mt 7.6 you can see why that analogy has become so popular.

Why are they 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 read a book or two about Historical Jesus, and imagine they know who he 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.

Every once in a while they didn’t merely read a book or two: They took a religion class. They read several books. They follow some guru who purports to tell them how religion really works. They got involved in some other religion, whether eclectic or organized, which claims they have the corner on the truth, whereas Christians are just sheeple. Sometimes they imagine they’re their own guru: “No, I don’t follow 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.

So after all their research, 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 actually are wrong, and figure no, you’re right and they’re wrong: It’s gonna be particularly frustrating, ’cause your pride is gonna butt heads with their pride. I’ve been there. The discussions can get mighty ugly. Humility’s the way to go. But even when we are humble, the know-it-all pagan is still pretty annoying. And often quite pleased we find them annoying: Some of ’em wanna bug Christians. It’s evil fun for them.

How do we deal with ’em?

28 November 2017

Why do pagans celebrate a Christian holiday?

’Cause it’s fun.

Every year, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, my city has a Christmas festival. The local newspaper started it and sponsors it.

I like to joke it begins with the pagan stuff. Once the sun is mostly down (and this time of year it sets around 4:45 PM) the community gathers 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 jingle bells and silver bells and reindeer, “Santa Claus” makes an appearance, and the tree gets lit.

That done, the city’s Christians take over. Downtown is full of booths, most of ’em set up by local churches, giving out cookies, cocoa, cider, and other treats. Church choirs sing. Open-air Christmas pageants are performed. The churches handle cleanup too. It is our holiday, after all.

I find it a pretty drastic contrast. My family does too: Most years they skip the newspaper’s opening festivities, ’cause all they care about are the church booths. I only show up early when I’m working at one of the booths; otherwise I agree with them, and either go with them, or meet ’em there after hanging out at Starbucks drinking egg-nog-flavored coffee. Many in the crowd who love the Santa and reindeer songs clear out early, ’cause it gets way too Christian for them. And many of the Christians are fine with Santa songs, but the opening festivities are too crowded and impersonal, and they’d rather wander the booths and say hi to their fellow Christians.

I’ve lived elsewhere, and visited their local Christmas celebrations. Those celebrations weren’t adoped by the local churches. As a result, I found ’em pretty dreary and empty.

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—but since they weren’t big on the Buddhia, they removed any elements of him from their celebration, and celebrated anyway.

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

I agree with Lewis: It’s super weird to celebrate some other religion’s holiday, yet push the religion out of it. It’s like taking over Hanukkah but instead of remembering the Maccabees, we 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 is in it or not.

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

12 October 2017

Pantheism: God is everything, and everything is God.

On those who believe God is the universe.

Pantheist /'pæn.θi.ɪst/ adj. Identifies God as the universe, or recognizes the universe as a manifestation of God.
2. Identifies all gods as forms, manifestations, avatars, or persons of the One God.
[Pantheism /'pæn.θi.ɪz.əm/ n.]

Popular culture believes Hinduism to consist of the worship of thousands of gods. That’s not quite accurate. Hindus themselves tell me that they tend to worship maybe one or two gods themselves… but the “thousands of gods,” as westerners call ’em, are really just different faces of the One God.

So they’re monotheist? Still not quite accurate. It’s not that there’s one God with thousands of faces. It’s that God consists of every face. Everything is God. God is the universe.

Whenever you meet a pagan who talks about “the universe,” and speaks of the universe as if it has an intelligence—“The universe wants me to do such-and-so,” or “The universe is sending me a message”—that’s the mindset we’re talking about. “The universe” is the sum total of everything and everyone, and collectively that’s God. And all of us are part of him.

Nope, not even close to monotheism. But when people don’t know any better, that’s what they assume Hindus or Hinduism-based spiritual teachers are talking about. When they say “God,” they mean the universe. Everything, collectively. Which may or may not be conscious, know what it’s doing, have a plan for us, or offer us guidance—it kinda depends on the teacher.

It’s what we call pantheism. And under this idea, of course Jesus is God. Pantheists have no problem with that idea. The catch is, they figure everyone else is God too, and Jesus just happened to be more connected to his godhood than anyone else. And Jesus isn’t the only avatar, or incarnation, of God, either. There’ve been others, like Krishna. Some of them are alive today. (Some of these spiritual teachers wouldn’t much mind if we thought of them that way either. It’d sure help their book sales.)

So if you come across any of these eastern-style teachers who have some really interesting things to say about God, bear in mind this is how they imagine God to be. He’s not a being who fills the universe; he is the universe.

Why’s that a problematic idea? Well you do recall there’s a lot of evil in the universe. But if God is everything, that evil would also be a part of God. And God doesn’t do evil. 1Jn 1.5

03 October 2017

These godless kids these days.

Little bit of griping about the younger generation… and now it’s in the bible.

Psalm 14

Amár navál belibó/“The fool said at heart” (Latin Dixit insipiens) is by David, and we number it at 14.

Commentators figure it’s a lament: David, or Wisdom (i.e. the Holy Spirit) mourns the fact kids these days don’t follow God anymore. Not like “our righteous group,” Ps 14.5 the dor/“age group” (KJV “generation”) David’s in, which he deems more devout than the younger set. Back in his day people followed God, took his side, knew where their help came from, and expected God to rescue ’em yet again. In comparison, this generation is hopeless, nihilistic, cynical, faithless, and godless.

Basically, the same lament every generation has about the next one. Well, with one exception: The people from this generation, who gang up with the previous generation about their peers and successors. That’s a phenomena I’ve seen quite often lately. My parents are “baby boomers,” I’m in what marketers call “generation X,” and those coming of age right now are called “millennials”—and way too many of the preachers my age are wringing their hands over the younger generation. They’ve believed the myth that things used to be better when they were kids. Used to be better in their parents’ day.

Nope, they haven’t read Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes 7.10 KWL
Don’t say, “Why were the old days better than these days?”
You don’t ask this question out of wisdom.

It’s a really good book for deflating know-it-alls.

Anyway, Psalm 14 kinda wanders in the direction of this false nostalgia. I remind you the psalms don’t actually rhyme. Just the same, let’s put a little iambic tetrameter on it.

Psalm 14 KWL
0 To the director. By David.
1 The foolish think God isn’t here.
They wreck. They do no good. They sneer.
2 From heaven, the LORD looks to see
if any child of Adam be
astute enough to seek God out.
3 But all of them are turned about.
They’re twisted. They do nothing good.
Not one of them 4 knows what they should.
Their every act is sin; when all
eat bread, it’s not the LORD they call.
5 There’s no respect; no holy dread.
God’s with our righteous group instead.
6 Ashamed to help the poor, are you?
Because the LORD’s their refuge, true?
7 Was rescue sent from Zion’s hill?
Who got this aid for Israel?
The LORD will set his people free.
May Jacob—Israel—have glee.

17 August 2017

Losing your faith when you go to school.

More accurately, being the pagans you always secretly were.

In my town, today’s the first day of school. I have friends in other parts of the United States who say, “You start school in August? You’re nuts.” I look at it from an educator’s point of view: The shorter the summer vacation, the less chance there is for the kids to forget everything before we get ’em back in the classrooms. Plus most of the parents do not mind at all.

Colleges and universities are also starting up this time of year. Along with that comes a common worry Christians have: They worry their good Christian kids will go away to school, and gradually ditch their Christianity.

It’s hardly a new worry. It’s been around since the very first Christians sent their kids to the ancient version of university, the academy. It’s been around since the first universities slid away from the goals of their Christian founders, and became secular.

Since I grew up Fundamentalist, I got to hear their version of that worry. Fundies suspect their salvation depends on clinging to all the correct beliefs, and since any good school challenges us to question everything, that’s the very last thing they want their kids doing. It’s why they created Fundamentalist colleges, where they question everything but their fundamentals. (Though frequently these schools have way too many fundamentals, but that’s another debate for another day.)

Hence in high school my youth pastors told me, time and again, the only schools worthy of consideration are the Christian ones. Their goal was to shelter us from the cold cruel world out there, lest it corrupt us and turn us pagan.

A lot of us Christians bought into this mentality. It’s why, as soon as possible, Christians put their kids in Christian preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools; then transition ’em to four-year Christian universities. Others don’t trust any Christian schools—somehow they’re all corrupt—so they educate their kids at home as long as possible. Heck, instead of going away to university, some of ’em take long-distance classes from home, lest the shelter the schools are meant to be, just isn’t strong enough.

In this way, parents figure the kids will never be drawn away from Jesus by the subtle, foundation-shattering perils of atheistic humanism in the classroom. Nor the drug-fueled hedonism in the dorms. Nor the distractions of popular culture everywhere else.

All the classroom subjects will be carefully based on a bible-centered worldview. And ideally so will all the extracurricular activities and dorm life. The kids’ll be totally immersed in Jesus. They’ll never fall away.

They never bother to consider: What kind of anemic, pathetic faith are we talking about, where we have to encase kids in a plastic Christian bubble lest any microbe from the outside destroy this faith?

See, that’s the real problem. These kids who abandon their faith? They don’t have faith. Their parents bungled the job of passing it down. The kids don’t love Jesus, if they even know him at all; they’ve been chafing under all the Christianity, and the instant they leave for school—even a Christian school!—there goes their religion. Cast off as fast as they can shed it.

Happened to me too: I didn’t ditch Christianity, but I totally ditched Fundamentalism. Plus various other annoying beliefs. Lemme tell you about it.

01 June 2017

When pagans die.

Have they no hope? Well, let’s not rule that out.

Yeah, this is gonna be a bummer of an article. Sorry. It needs saying.

When Christians die, it’s sad. ’Cause we’re never gonna see those people again in this lifetime. We often say, “We’ll see ’em in heaven,” and that’s true—though not quite as pop-culture Christianity imagines it. We’ll see them in the kingdom of heaven. Once Jesus returns to establish that kingdom, we Christians are all getting resurrected, and they’ll be back, better than before. As will we. That’s our hope.

But it’s not pagans’ hope.

The Latin word paganus meant someone from the country, and therefore not from the city. Christians adopted it to refer to people who don’t live in the city of God, or civilians who aren’t in the Lord’s army. By definition a pagan isn’t in the kingdom. Not going to heaven. They’re outside—and outside isn’t good.

So when pagans die, it’s a profound loss. Not only are we not seeing them again, we’re likely not seeing them in the age to come. Because they resisted a relationship with Christ Jesus, they don’t inherit his kingdom. They don’t come back with us Christians. They don’t get resurrected till Judgment Day, Rv 20.5, 12-13 and things don’t turn out so well for them: They go into the fire. Rv 20.15

I know; it’s awful. I don’t wish it on anyone. But it’s the path they chose.

Pagans are fond of denouncing us Christians for “concocting” this story, as if we invented it as some sick ’n twisted revenge fantasy. Which stands to reason: If you don’t believe in Jesus, of course you’re gonna think Christians invented this scenario. And it’d say all sorts of things about our lack of compassion, graciousness, and love—especially as your typical pagan believes in universalism, where everybody goes to heaven, whether they want to or not. So how dare we deny them a pleasant afterlife.

But this is no mere story. And we Christians didn’t concoct it. If pop culture ideas about hell are any indication, our ideas would be way worse. Popular depictions of hell don’t involve dark fire; they involve torture. Devils with pitchforks, jabbing people as if being burnt weren’t torment enough. Or ironic psychological horrors. Stuff that increases the suffering. Sick stuff.

True, some of those warped ideas were invented by Christians who wish all manner of hateful, painful stuff on pagans. And these people have serious problems with unforgiveness, and need to repent. We’re supposed to love our enemies, Lk 6.27 not devise brave punishments for them.

But again: The fire wasn’t our idea. And no, it’s not God’s idea either. He wants everybody to be saved! 1Ti 2.4

Then why’s it there? Because if people don’t wanna be anywhere where God is—if they wanna get so far away from him, nothing he created will be around to remind them of his very existence—there’d be nothing left but chaos. Darkness. Fire. Plus all the other people who likewise wanna be apart from God, so they’ll be serious downers. Hence all the weeping and gnashing. It’ll be awful.

It’s why Jesus described it as fire, and warns us away from that. Nobody has to go there! Don’t go there! Save yourselves. Ac 2.40 Turn to God.

12 April 2017

Theists and deists: The ways people believe in God.

Most pagans do believe in God, y’know.

THEIST /'θi.ɪst/ adj. Believes in the existence of God or gods.
2. Believes in one God, a personal being, the universe’s creator, who interacts with its creation.
[Theistic /θi'ɪst.ɪk/ adj., theism /'θi.ɪz.əm/ n.]
Deist /'di.ɪst/ adj., n. Believes God exists, specifically as a creator who doesn’t supernaturally intervene in his universe.
[Deistic /'di.ɪs.tɪk/ adj., deism /'di.ɪz.əm/ n.]

If you believe in gods, you’re a theist. People tend to bunch theists into different classifications, depending on how many gods they believe in, and how. Both religious and irreligious people (and the Christian term for the non-religious is “pagan”) alike fall into these slots:

  • MONOTHEIST: Just the One God, thanks.
  • POLYTHEIST: Multiple gods. Sometimes two, a good and bad god, in a dualistic system. Sometimes three, among heretic Christians who really misunderstand the trinity. Sometimes a whole pantheon.
  • HENOTHEIST: Multiple gods, but they only deal with the one, so functionally they’re more monotheist than polytheist. The other gods are off limits, bad, or have their own realms which don’t involve us any.
  • PANTHEIST: The universe is God. (People often assume Hindus are polytheist, ’cause of all their gods, but really they’re pantheist.)
  • NONTHEIST: No god.

There’s a certain category of theist called deist, a person who believes in God… but believes this God largely leaves us humans alone, so in return we largely leave him (or her, or it, or them if you’re polytheist) alone.

This God created the cosmos. Made the Big Bang go bang. Maybe directed evolution so humans would arise; maybe didn’t. Probably provided us some form of afterlife, so when we die we don’t simply cease to exist. May expect us humans to be good… or maybe he doesn’t care. See, pagans don’t believe in organized religion, so they don’t accept anyone else’s views—not Christian, nor Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, nor anyone—as to what God’s like. Nor do they believe we can deduce what he’s like from nature, either. Their conclusion: God’s unknowable.

Deism insists God’s too foreign, too transcendent, too far beyond figuring out… other than assuming he’s good. Generally deists agree God’s good. (Won’t always agree what they mean by “good,” but still.) Since God’s good, we should be good. Concentrate on that. Be selfless and noble and rational and generous, and strive for all those other humanist ideals.

But as for what God’s like: Don’t know, so don’t fret. He’s too different. Probably not at all interested in what we’re going through, ’cause we’re too puny and petty to be worth his worry. If he cares about us at all (and maybe he does) he’ll sort us out somehow. If he doesn’t… well, what can we really do about it? Best to just live our lives. Be good. But otherwise don’t worry about God.

I know: This apathetic attitude towards God sounds an awful lot like a nontheist’s apathetic attitude towards no God and no religion. Both groups definitely have apathy in common. But the big difference becomes obvious once deists and nontheists drop apathy. When deists finally decide to take their beliefs about God seriously, they tend to fall into a religion. Whereas when nontheists decide to take their beliefs in no God seriously, they pick fights with theists.

09 November 2016

Antichrists: When pagans wanna see Christianity gone.

Sometimes they’re against all religion. Sometimes just us.

Antichrist /'æn.tɪ.kraɪst/ adj. Against Christ: Those who object to him or his authority, refuse to recognize him, and counter others who do.
2. Rejects the orthodox Christian view of Jesus of Nazareth: Insists Jesus isn’t Christ, isn’t divine, isn’t human, isn’t historical.
3. Claims they, not Jesus of Nazareth, are Christ. (See #4; the beast is presumed to be such a person.)
4. [uppercase] The beast Rv 13.7 or man of lawlessness; 2Ti 2.3 an End Times figure who attempts to deceive and rule the world, whom Christ Jesus defeats at his return.
[Antichristian /æn.tɪ'krɪs.tʃən/, antichristlike /æn.tɪ'kraɪst.lɪk/ adj.]

You noticed four definitions of antichrist up there. The most common usage in our culture—both popular culture and Christian culture—is the fourth, the uppercase-A Antichrist, the beast of Revelation 13.

It might surprise you to know the beast is never called an antichrist in the scriptures. Seriously. Christians just got into the habit of referring to the beast as Antichrist in the middle ages. It stuck. But in the bible it’s just “the beast.” The apostles reserved the word antíhristos/“antichrist” for what I’m writing about today: Various pagans who happen to be anti-Christ.

You know the type. They’re not just your ordinary unbeliever. Two-thirds of the people on this planet don’t figure Jesus is Lord. Doesn’t automatically make ’em antichrists. To become an antichrist, you gotta actually be anti-Christ: They’re against him. They’re not passive nonbelievers; they wanna fight him. Sometimes the idea of him. Sometimes literally him. (Although they’ll never admit this, ’cause they insist they don’t believe in him. But if he were standing right in front of them, they’d totally 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. Nontheists who bash religion in general, but 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. 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 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, militant nontheism has gone mainstream. These “New Atheists” feel free to be openly critical of Christianity—and they get away with it partly ’cause it’s easier to be an nontheist nowadays. Nobody doubts your patriotism anymore, even though nontheists still rarely get elected to public office. Plus God hasn’t struck any of these guys down with lightning. True, that’s mixing up the vast differences between the infinitely gracious Jehovah and the knee-jerk reactions of Zeus; but of course nontheists don’t care, ’cause all gods are the same to them.

I should point out nontheists tend to be the most obvious antichrists, but they’re far from the only ones. Don’t forget other religions. Judaism doesn’t recognize Jesus as Messiah, and sometimes its practitioners attack him lest anyone get the idea Jews can become Christians (which they totally can). Certain Hindus are outraged at the way Christianity tends to level their caste system, so they fight it vigorously. Certain Muslims are offended that Christians consider Jesus way more than a prophet, and likewise fight our beliefs and get downright antichristian. But there remains a big difference between religious and irreligious antichrists: The religious ones remember to behave with some degree of goodness. The irreligious ones don’t feel any such restriction whatsoever.

13 September 2016

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

Grace is not unique to Christianity. Much as we’d love to think so.

Scott Hoezee told this story in his 1996 book The Riddle of Grace. Philip Yancey was so impressed by it, he retold the story in his 1997 book What’s So Amazing About 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

Hoezee says he heard it from Peter Kreeft at a speech in Calvin College, and 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 had to have heard about the uniqueness of Christian grace from G.K. Chesterton, at least.

But Lewis, and any religion scholar who’s not a chauvinistic ninny, would know full well grace is found in other religions.

08 September 2016

Quitting Jesus.

And whether we can lose our salvation.

APOSTASY /ə'pɑs.tə.si/ n. When one leaves a religion.
[Apostate /ə'pɑ.steɪt/ adj.]

About half the pagans I meet say they used to be Christian. They grew up Christian, or at least grew up in church. Some of ’em even think they’re still Christian—though their nonchristian beliefs clearly indicate they’re pagan. Whatever their churches taught, they no longer follow. They left that behind. They went apostate.

I know; a lot of folks think “apostate” is a bad word. It’s really not. It comes from the Greek afístimi/“steps away.” Lots of us step away from things. I used to ride a bicycle everywhere; I’ve since discovered I prefer walking, and gave away my bicycle. So I’m an apostate bicyclist. (Nothing against bicyclists though. Whatever works for you.)

In the case of apostate Christians, they left Christianity. In my experience most of ’em no longer consider themselves Christians, or don’t consider Christianity to be valid. A minority quit God and went nontheist. Or joined another religion, like Islam or Wicca.

Why’d they leave? The usual reasons.

  • They had the crisis of faith. But nobody guided them through it, or their so-called guidance consisted of “Turn off your doubts and just believe really hard.” Well, they couldn’t, didn’t, and left.
  • When they had the crisis of faith, the Christians didn’t step up—but their nontheist friends, or friends in other religions, did. So they believed those guys, and left.
  • They never did believe. They went through the motions of Christianity because their parents, leaders, or peers pressured ’em to. Once they got away from those people, they left Christianity behind too.
  • Cheap grace: They believe God’ll let ’em into heaven no matter what they believe. So it doesn’t matter if they believe nothing. Or aren’t religious at all.
  • God didn’t come through for them in the way they expected or demanded. So they’re pissed at him, and aren’t coming back to him.
  • They’d like to be Christian. But all the Christians they know are a--holes, so they simply can’t affiliate with such people. They try to follow God in their own way. (Which isn’t easy without a support system.)

And some of ’em insist they have their own ideas about what should constitute Christianity—which of course don’t mesh with orthodoxy. But technically these folks aren’t apostate, ’cause they didn’t leave Christianity. They’re just significantly wrong about it and Jesus, so we’d call ’em heretic. Whole different category.

04 August 2016

Nontheism: When pagans don’t believe in God.

Most people believe in God. Now let’s discuss the tiny minority who don’t.

Nontheist /'nɑn.θi.ɪst/ adj., n. 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/ n.]

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

See, the Greco-Roman pagans believed in gods. Lots of gods. Not just the all the gods, titans, demigods, and demons in the Greco-Roman pantheon: They accepted the gods of other pantheons too. They didn’t presume they knew them all, so whenever they encountered an unfamiliar god, they’d accept it. Sometimes they added it to their pantheon, as we can tell by the fact they had multiple gods of war (Ares, Athena, Enyo, Polemos), the sun (Apollo, Helios, Hyperion), and the moon (Achelois, Artemis, Selene, Phoebe). Other times they figured it was one of their existing gods under a local name, like how Latin-speakers referred to Zeus as Deo Pater/“Father God” (which of course got contracted to Jupiter). When the Greeks first encountered the Egyptian god Amun-Ra, they figured he was just the local version of Helios. They also tried to pull the same stunt with our LORD, and claim he’s the Jewish version of Zeus, but the Maccabees objected rather vigorously to that idea.

Anywho, the Greco-Romans believed there were gods everywhere—whereas Christians and Jews only have the One. Those other beings the pagans considered “gods” weren’t gods at all: They were made-up deities, perpetuated by scam-artist priests with the help of devils. You know, like atheists nowadays claim about our God (but without devils in the explanation; the part about devils. To the pagans, it’s like we didn’t believe in any god—’cause we sure wouldn’t accept any of their gods.

So if you imagine Christians and nontheists are opposites: Not really. When it comes to other gods, like Zeus and Odin and Amun-Ra, we don’t believe in them either. We think it’s just as silly or wrong, unhealthy or dangerous, to follow and worship such beings, as nontheists. In that, we’re on the same side.

But obviously we really disagree about YHWH/“Jehovah”/“the LORD,” the one true God and father of Christ Jesus.

29 June 2016

Isn’t God gonna save everybody?

God definitely wants to. Therefore some Christians insist in the end, he will.

UNIVERSALIST /ju.nə'vər.səl.əst/ adj. Believing all humanity will (eventually) be saved.

I’ve mentioned before how pagans believe good people go to heaven, and bad people to hell. I should mention there’s a minority among them who believe there is no hell. Nope, not even for genocidal maniacs. Everybody goes to the same afterlife, and if you’re a westerner that’d be heaven. There might be some karmic consequences; you might find yourself in the suckier part of heaven. But considering it’s heaven, it’s not bad.

Y’see, these folks figure God is love. Don’t we Christians teach that? Why yes we do. 1Jn 4.8 And God loves everyone—“for God so loved the world” Jn 3.16 and all that. So why would a loving God throw people in hell? Especially for something as minor as not believing in him?—which most of the time is really an honest mistake. Doesn’t sound very loving of God to toss someone into hell just because they were born in some part of the world where they were never taught God properly—be it North Korea, Nepal, Mali, or Mississippi.

Now I agree God’s unlikely to smite people for honest mistakes. I just seriously doubt the bulk of humanity’s mistakes are honest ones. Lots of us embrace our God-beliefs purely out of convenience, pragmatism, or selfishness. That Iranian who’s never gonna hear the gospel: He already wouldn’t listen to it if offered. If he honestly wanted to hear the gospel, it doesn’t matter what filters his nation puts on the internet; he’d track down Christians and ask questions. Maybe Jesus would personally appear to him, just as he has throughout Christian history, beginning with Paul. (No, that wasn’t just a one-time deal.) Or that American whose parents raised her as a militant atheist: No matter how skeptical and free-thinking she claims to be, she honestly doesn’t wanna challenge her parents’ claims, and see whether there’s anything to this God stuff. If she did, the first miracle she experienced would shatter her atheism like a cinderblock through safety glass.

Honest mistakes are like Calvinism: People try to defend God’s sovereignty, go overboard, and wind up teaching God’s secretly evil. But they are still pursuing God in the meanwhile. And the Holy Spirit’s still producing love and patience and kindness in them, and still letting ’em into his kingdom. (Unless they’re only pursuing clever arguments, producing no fruit, and wind up some of those poor souls who’re mighty shocked Jesus doesn’t recognize ’em. Mt 7.23) The whole “honest mistakes” cop-out is a convenient excuse to ignore God, avoid obeying him, and dodge religion, church, and Christians.

It’s a risky little game they’re playing, for Christ Jesus said not everyone’s getting saved.

Matthew 7.21-24 KWL
21 “Not everyone who calls me, ‘Master, master!’ will enter the heavenly kingdom.
Just the one who does my heavenly Father’s will.
22 At that time, many will tell me, ‘Master, master! Didn’t we prophesy in your name?
Didn’t we throw out demons in your name? Didn’t we do many powerful things in your name?’
23 And I’ll explain to them, ‘I never knew you.
Get away from me, all you Law-breakers.’”

That’s the people who really thought they were Christian. How much chance does the “honestly mistaken” nontheist have? Well, God is gracious, so we’ll see.

Though God absolutely does wants everyone saved, 1Ti 2.4 he knows full well many people want nothing to do with him, nor his kingdom. They don’t want saving. Since God did create ’em with free will, he permits them to tell him no. He won’t force ’em into his kingdom. They don’t have to enter.

They’re really gonna hate the alternative, though.

20 June 2016

Betting on God.

Why using Pascal’s wager in apologetics is a bad bet.

PASCAL’S WAGER /pə'skølz 'weɪ.dʒər, 'pøs.kəlz 'weɪ.dʒər/ n. Argument that it’s best to presume God exists: The possibility of hell outweighs any advantage of believing otherwise.

My first exposure to Pascal was actually PASCAL. (I lived in San Jose in the late 1970s, so as you can guess, my middle school had the best computers.) I knew PASCAL was named after Blaise Pascal (1623–62), a French mathematician and statistician. I didn’t know he was also a Catholic philosopher who came up with a popular apologetic argument. Goes like yea:

Let us then examine this point, and say, “God is, or he is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”

Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that he is. Pensées, 4.233

In shorter English: Either God exists or he doesn’t; you gotta pick a side. And since you’re the most likely to win big if God exists, the best bet is God exists.

’Cause here’s all its logical outcomes:

PAGAN LIFESTYLECHRISTIAN LIFESTYLE
IF NO GODDo as you will.
Natural consequences.
Ends with death.
Have a good, moral life.
Natural consequences.
Ends with death.
IF GODDo as you will.
Divinely mitigated consequences.
Eternal hellfire afterward.
Have a good, moral life.
Divinely mitigated consequences.
Eternal bliss afterward.

Best outcome   Meh outcome   Not-great outcome   Crappy outcome

If there’s no God, there are no eternal consequences. So you could live your life however you like, and see just how much you can get away with. Since it’ll be an immoral life, there’s always the risk society will find us inconvenient, destructive, or offensive, and we’ll get caught and punished. Or do something stupid or intoxicated, and wind up with a Darwin award. But if there is a God, and he’s just, consequences are guaranteed. Some of these consequences may befall us in this life; definitely they will in the next.

Whereas if we live like Christians—real Christians, not Christianists—we’ll have been loving, kind, peaceful, virtuous, Christlike people. We’d be blessings to the world—which may not appreciate us, but still. Our lives would be good and exemplary, and worth living. If there’s no God, that’s not bad. But if there is a God, we also get the infinite reward of eternal life.

28 April 2016

“Spiritual… but not religious.”

Meaning they don’t really wanna go to your church, thank you very much.

SPIRITUAL /'spɪr.ɪtʃ(.əw).əl/ adj. Dealing with immaterial things in the human spirit or soul.
2. Dealing with religion.
[Spirituality /'spɪr.ɪtʃ.əw.æl.ə.di/ n.]

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 a 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 will 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 they’ll insist there’s still a dividing line which they don’t care to cross: They’re spiritual, but not religious. We, on the other hand, are religious… and they don’t wanna go there.

Evangelicals get confused by this. “Religious? I’m not religious. Christians don’t do religion. We do relationship.” It’s because Evangelicals have their own definition of religion. And this out-of-the-mainstream definition means they don’t understand what pagans mean… and pagans don’t understand Evangelicals either.

Okay: To a pagan, if you go to church—as we should—that’s an organized religion. It means you don’t define what it is you believe. Your church does. Your bishop and pastors and elders do. They tell you what to think and believe and do. Loads of rules, and no grace. And if you don’t do as they say, they keep you in line by threatening you with hell. Whenever you claim, “Oh, but I’m not religious”—either you’re lying, and trying to trick people into joining your religion; or you’ve been brainwashed, and don’t realize just how far your religious leaders have their tentacles in you.

Yeah, you might insist, “That’s nothing like how my church works.” I know; it’s nothing like my church either. But pagans won’t believe this. Some of them grew up in church… and unfortunately, this was their church experience. (I’d call those churches cults, but pagans just assume all churches work like that.) Other pagans have never been to church, or have only visited for holidays, weddings, funerals, and christenings; but they heard the horror stories, or watched ’em in movies, and 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.

24 February 2016

When pagans believe they’re Christian.

’Cause they like Jesus. So doesn’t that make ’em Christian?

In the United States, roughly seven out of 10 people believe they’re Christian. I live in California, where it’s six out of 10. (I’m not just pulling these numbers out of my bum; the national stats and state stats from a 2014 Pew Forum study.)

Which matches my experience. When 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:

  • Actual individual experience with Jesus.
  • Said the sinner’s prayer once.
  • They’re a regular at their church. (How regular varies. Twice a year, they figure, 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 believe. It’s popular culture. 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 they take their cues from how popular culture defines Christianity. But they have no Holy Spirit within them, so they produce none of his fruit. And as far as their knowledge about Christ is concerned, they couldn’t tell a Jesus quote from a Benjamin Franklin proverb. They’re saved, so why bother to learn about the Savior? That’s for the clergy to worry about. Theologians. Academics and experts. They have other concerns.

Well, speaking as one of these experts, they’re not Christian. And that’s the one area they won’t concede to experts. If a pastor, professor, bishop, or pope told them they’re not Christian, they’d come back with “Who are you to tell me I’m no Christian?” Y’see, they get to define what “Christian” means. Not fruit, not orthodoxy, nor even Christ Jesus and the scriptures. They. Nobody can tell them different.

22 October 2015

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

Something many pagans are most proud of: The clever little personalized religions they’ve invented.

Eclectic /ə'klɛk.tɪk/ adj. 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/ n.]

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; they do to to church and read their bibles and pray. They just don’t do dead religion—rituals which mean nothing to them. (Or so they believe. Just for fun, ask ’em sometime for the definitions of certain Christianese words. Sometimes they have no clue.) 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; if there are no such signs, that “relationship” we claim to have is gonna suck.

In comparison, your average pagan insists they really 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, except to attend weddings, funerals, recitals, AA meetings, go to the polls (yep, sometimes churches are actually used as polls in the United States) and 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. It’s just not an organized religion. They believe various things about God. They aren’t always consistent, and didn’t all come from the same source. Some were borrowed from Christianity (i.e. God is love, Jesus was nice to everybody) and some not. They saw some clever Hindu teacher on TV with some appealing teachings. Their Buddhist friends once said something neat. They read this amazing article off the Internet which really resonates with them. They love the sitar parts of Beatles albums. And some of ’em invented their own ideas, all by themselves, because they’re no sheep; they’re really deep spiritual people sometimes.

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

06 October 2015

Pagans and heathens and nonchristians; oh my!

Believe it or don’t, it’s a Christian term for unbelievers.

Pagan /'peɪ.gən/ adj. Holds religious beliefs other than those of Christians (or other major religions).
2. Neo-Pagan: Practices nature religions, magical and occult traditions, or revived ancient polytheistic religions.
Heathen /'hið.ən/ n. (chiefly derogatory) A pagan.
2. An uncultured, inappropriate person.

I tend to use the word pagan to describe nonchristians.

Yeah, I know capital-p Pagans have appropriated the word to mean their religions. It’s just another one of neo-Pagans’ many historical inaccuracies. Ancient pagans never called themselves pagans.

“Pagan” is a Christian word, from the Latin paganus, meaning rustic or country-dweller. As opposed to Christians who live in the “City of God,” his kingdom. It’s not derogatory, nor is it meant to be. It’s just a way to indicate those inside Christendom, and those outside. (Whom we wanna invite inside.)

Heathen, on the other hand, has always meant “uncivilized.” As in “What have you little heathens done to my kitchen?” when the kids have left behind a giant mess. True, some pagans totally are heathens. But let’s be nice.

Anywho, the neo-Pagans began to call themselves “pagan” 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. They insist “pagan” refers to them. It does, ’cause they’re definitely not Christian. But some of ’em get annoyed when we Christians use the word “pagan” to describe any and every nonchristian—forgetting they swiped our word.

And properly “pagan” means people with no organized religion. Buddhists, properly, aren’t pagans. Neither are Muslims, Hindus… nor even neo-Pagans, even though they’re as disorganized as any religion can be. A pagan isn’t affiliated with any group: They’re not religious. They may believe in God; in fact most of ’em totally do. But they’re the people who insist, “I’m not religious” (and not in that Evangelical way which really means “I’m not legalistic”). Or “I don’t believe in organized religion.” Meaning they don’t want us to organize ’em, thank you very much.