Is Allah the same as God?

by K.W. Leslie, 30 April

Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Read the article.

Back when I was growing up Fundamentalist, I went to a Sunday school class on “cults”—by which they meant heretic churches. They use that word ’cause of Walter Martin’s book The Kingdom of the Cults, in which he discussed various heretic churches, their history, and how they depart from orthodox Christianity. He used the word “cult” to describe these churches—’cause a number of them did try to curtail their members’ free will and free speech, in their early days. (Frankly, a lot of Fundies are pretty darn cultlike themselves, so it stands to reason they’d be happy to have “cult” mean anyone but them. But I digress.)

Anyway, in the “cults” class, the teacher was in the practice of referring to the heretic churches’ beliefs about God as “their God,” and beliefs about Jesus as “their Jesus.” So there was a Mormon God, a Jehovah’s Witness God, a Christian Science God, a Unitarian God, and so forth. Using this kind of language gave you the idea each of these groups had their very own god. Who certainly wasn’t our God, the LORD, the God of Abraham and Moses, the Father of Christ Jesus. These’d be other gods.

Oh, the teachers totally meant to give us that idea. Because that’s how they believed. They didn’t simply believe these heretics were wrong about God: They believed these heretics were worshiping a whole other god. A devil who was pretending to be God, who borrowed God’s title, but wasn’t really God. And if these heretics believed in Jesus, it wasn’t our Jesus whom they followed but—again—a devil pretending to be Jesus. And so on.

Where’d they come up with this idea? They loosely got it from the bible.

1 Corinthians 10.19-20 KWL
19 Then what am I implying?—that idol-sacrifice is real, or that idols are real? No.
20 Instead that they sacrifice to lesser gods. They don’t sacrifice to God.
I don’t want you to enter a relationship with lesser gods.
21 You can’t drink from the Master’s cup and from lesser gods’ cup.
You can’t eat at the Master’s table and from lesser gods’ table.
22 Or do we want the Master to be jealous?—we’re not stronger than him.

Pagans don’t worship real gods, but lesser gods, creatures which are in charge of various things in God’s creation, but obviously aren’t the God, the one true God. Daimónion, as they’re called in Greek—a word we’ve translated demons, and think of devils. Which they aren’t necessarily. Because we’re lesser gods. Ps 82.6, Jn 10.34 (God put us in charge of the planet, remember?) Lesser gods were never meant to be worshiped; that’s where we humans go wrong. And a lot of the things the pagan Greeks identified as “gods” were actual beings, actual lesser gods; but the Greeks worshiped them, and shouldn’t’ve.

Anyway, what the Fundies are doing is claiming, first of all, that heretic Christians aren’t actually Christian—they’re pagan. And as pagans, the God they believe in and worship can’t possibly be the real God. It’s gotta be some other god—one of those lesser gods, like Paul and Sosthenes pointed out in 1 Corinthians. A demon. They’re worshiping a demon.


Now let’s get to where the scriptures indicate that belief is entirely wrong.

Slavery: How God mitigated and abolished it.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 April

Back in bible times, people had slaves. Slavery was legal.

This is a weird and troubling idea for a lot of Christians. In the United States, slavery is illegal, and we consider it immoral. So it’s troubling to read about slavery in the bible as if it’s normal or okay.

Especially considering our history with slavery. We fought a whole war over it, y’know. Many southerners are in denial about that, and claim the War Between the States was really about states’ rights and local sovereignty… but history doesn’t bear ’em out at all. Confederate politicians and generals proudly declared they were fighting to retain their peculiar institution of slavery—because unlike southerners today, they didn’t consider slavery to be immoral. Hey, it’s in the bible!

Thing is, American slavery wasn’t at all like biblical slavery. What Americans practiced was chattel slavery, in which slaves were considered cattle—a word which evolved from chattel. What the folks in the bible practiced, for the most part, was penal slavery, in which people were enslaved because they broke the law, got themselves deep into debt, or lost a war. What Americans did was try to find excuses to claim what we were doing, was what they had done—then claim the bible permitted, even endorsed, their behavior. They pretended there was no huge difference.

But there was, and Americans were in fact guilty of violating a biblical command:

Exodus 21.16 KWL
“Anyone who steals a man and sells him, anyone found with the victim in their hands:
They’re dead. Put them to death.”

Slave traders, slave buyers, slave owners, their descendants, and every northerner who looked the other way and permitted the southerners to do their thing: All of them were complicit in the divinely-condemned capital crime of kidnapping. As Abraham Lincoln speculated time and again, our Civil War was likely God’s judgment upon us. Southerners who pretend the war wasn’t about slavery and racism, who claim it was really about heritage and self-governance and a noble lost cause: Their pride and willful blindness is just risking more judgment upon them and their people.

Because chattel slavery is kidnapping. It’s entirely immoral. God said so. Had American slaveowners properly interpreted their bibles, they’d discover every last one of them deserved to die. The Civil War is still the bloodiest, deadliest war in American history—and we got off light.

So yeah, keep in mind American slavery isn’t at all what the bible’s depicted. It’s far closer to what we do with our prisons—’cause convicts aren’t free either, and sentenced to various forms of forced labor. Well, in bible times they didn’t have anything close to our prison system. How did convicts serve their time after they committed a crime? Slavery.

The meaningless virtue of literal bible versions.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 April

Only monolingual people think a literal translation of the bible is valuable. The rest of us know better.

There’s a discussion group I belong to. Every so often, one of the newer members of the group will ask us our favorite bible translations. Happens every other month. Y’see, the newbies don’t know we already had this discussion, so they bring it up again. And again and again and again.

Predictably some of us are ESV fans, NIV fans, NKJV fans, NASB fans, and so forth. I like to announce I’m a KJV fan, ’cause KJV fans should represent—but I feel obligated to include the disclaimer I’m not a KJV-only kind of fan. ’Cause those people are awful. And every so often one of the KJV-only folks see this, object, and wind up proving my point about them being awful.

Oh, speaking of awful: We also get a few people who wanna mock the bible versions they don’t like. Somebody’ll disparage The Message, loudly denounce The Voice, or mock the NLT. Won’t just be the KJV-only folks either.

My advocacy for the KJV aside, the new members who bring up the what’s-your-favorite-translation question don’t really care about, nor care to use, the KJV. They’re only interested in recent translations. They wanna know which of them the group considers good and reliable. Especially if they already have a favorite translation, and many of ’em totally do, and are hoping we’ll justify their selection.

Plenty of the group’s members don’t just state their favorites, but defend and advocate for their favorites as the best bible translation. I run into this behavior particularly among NASB fans. They love the NASB. Because it’s so literal.

How do they know it’s so literal? Did they learn Greek and Hebrew in seminary, compare the original languages to the NASB, and come away impressed by its literalness? Not even close. Somebody told ’em the NASB was the most literal. Usually that “somebody” is the person at Thomas Nelson Publishers who wrote that on the book jacket. And hey, the NASB is frequently so wooden and stiff, it has to be because it’s a literal translation, right?—it can’t simply be because the translators at the Lockman Foundation, the NASB’s sponsors, suck at English.

In any case they’ve swallowed the marketing spiel whole, and love to burp it up for anyone who’ll listen.

And for those of us who know multiple languages, it makes ’em sound naive and ridiculous.

“I just feel in my spirit…”

by K.W. Leslie, 18 April
MY SPIRIT maɪ 'spɪr.ɪt noun. Me. (Usually said to make one, or one’s opinion or issues, sound particularly spiritual.)

Certain Christianese terms don’t come from scripture, theology, or the ordinary practical course of religious behavior. They come from hypocrisy.

“My spirit” is a pretty common example. It does originate from the bible, ’cause various poets and psalmists refer to themselves as “my spirit” or “my soul.” It’s a poetic synonym for oneself.

It’s just certain Christians insist on using “my spirit” for everything. Instead of simply referring to themselves as “me” or “mine” or “myself,” they gotta keep referring to their spirit. Sometimes because they’re around fellow Christians, and figure we oughta speak in Christianese around one another. The rest of the time it’s because they’re deliberately trying to sound extra-spiritual, or super-Christian.

“I think [but can’t articulate why]…”“I feel in my spirit…”
“I don’t think so.”“I feel a check in my spirit.”
“I feel really strongly…”“I feel impressed in my spirit…”
“I feel certain…”“I feel convicted in my spirit…”
“I agree.”“I bear witness in my spirit.”
“I love that!”“I rejoice in my spirit.”
“I’m really sure…”“I know in my spirit…”
“I changed my mind.”“I feel a shift in my spirit.”
“I want to…”“It was put in my spirit that we should…”
“I don’t want to.”“I feel hesitation in my spirit.”
“I got the idea…”“I sensed in my spirit…”
“I got emotional.”“I felt moved in my spirit.”
“I was sad.”“I was grieved in my spirit.”
“I was happy.”“I rejoiced in my spirit.”
“I’m worked up.”“I feel oppressed in my spirit.”
“That excites me.”“I feel a quickening in my spirit.”
“I agree.”“That really speaks to my spirit.”
“I feel free.”“I feel freedom in my spirit.”
“I feel strong.”“I feel strong in my spirit.”

Pick any adjective you like, and you can totally feel it in your spirit. Pick any verb, and you can easily do it in your spirit. It’s just that easy.

The instigator?

by K.W. Leslie, 16 April

Why I keep winding up in conversations with strangers about Jesus.

I have a lot of stories in which I’m talking with strangers about Jesus, Christianity, the church, and so forth.

Because of this, y’might get the wrong idea about me—that I’m the one initiating these conversations. That I’m one of those evangelists on the prowl. You know the type of person: If they’re not selling Jesus, they’re selling something, be it cars or timeshares or herbal supplements. In their case they just happen to be pitching salvation.

You’ve met ’em when you were minding your own business at the coffeehouse, nursing a mocha and trying to get a grip on the day. Suddenly one of these yahoos nudges into your “me time” and tries to talk about the eternal destination of your immortal soul. Like you’re ready for deep stuff at that point in your day.

But nope, this isn’t me.

You can probably tell I don’t care for that type of evangelist. I don’t care for that type of salesperson either. Likely neither do you. I’m fine with them on the street corners or outside the grocery stores, asking permission to pitch their ideas, sign their petitions, or buy their Girl Scout cookies. I expect ’em there; I’m fine with them there; sometimes I look for them there when I’m in the mood for Thin Mints.

I’m not fine with them when they’re trying to sell me Jesus in the coffeehouse. And I don’t do that to people either. Ten times out of ten I’m also minding my own business.

Since I’m not a sociopath, I’ll be friendly and accommodating to others: No I’m not in line; yes you can take that extra chair; let me step aside so you can reach the half and half; yes that is a 20-year-old iBook I’m typing on and no it doesn’t get wifi anymore; yes you have seen me somewhere around town before; excuse me but your phone is catching fire.

They strike up the conversations. And since Jesus takes up a significant chunk of my life, if they ask about my life they’re gonna hear about Jesus.

That’s all I do. That’s all anyone need do.

“Dead to the world” includes being dead to Christianism.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 April
Colossians 3.1-4 KWL
1 So if you’re raised up with Christ, seek higher things—where Christ is, sitting at the Father’s right.
2 Think about higher things, not things on the earth:
3 You died. Your life is cloaked with Christ, in God.
4 When Christ—our life—appears, then you’ll appear with him in glory.

Christians, like Paul and Timothy said in Colossians, are meant to identify with Christ. We’re not to let other people lead us astray through useless philosophies, traditions, and tricks; we’re to let Christ Jesus lead us, and him alone. Cl 2.8

The apostles’ argument was that we’re to identify with Christ Jesus so closely, we effectively died to sin through his death. We were raised to new life with his new life. So as far as this world and age are concerned, we’re dead.

No, they weren’t trying to teach Christians that it’s perfectly okay for us to violate the laws of the land, because we’re supposedly dead to our governments as well. Plenty of Christians have tried that interpretation, and used it as a license to be jerks towards pagans, or to justify our libertarian or anarchic politics (and our conspiracy-theory fears of how they might crack down on us for being contrary). Or to simply sin ourselves raw and call it “freedom in Christ”—but really we’re taking God’s grace for granted. Christians can be just as wicked as anyone, and Christianists are notorious for using the trappings of Christianity to get away with all sorts of evil.

Nope; once you read the context of Colossians you’ll realize the apostles were writing about the legalistic expectations of religious people. Certain ancient Christians, same as today, had a very narrow view of how “good Christians” were meant to live, or which of the Pharisee traditions oughta be carried forward into Christianity. And they were penalizing their fellow Christians for not being “Christian” enough for them—as they defined Christianity, not as Jesus, the apostles, and their bible define it.

So when the apostles wrote about being dead to the world, yeah they were writing about being dead to the secular world… but they were just as much writing about being dead to the religious world. To the “good Christians” who were trying to add commands and rules to Jesus’s teachings. Who were trying to enforce their interpretations instead of leaving conviction to the Holy Spirit, to whom it properly belongs.

You’re not gonna find a lot of preachers who point out that fact. Sometimes because they don’t realize it applies to them too… and sometimes because they don’t want it to apply to them too. They want us to “follow me as I follow Christ,” 1Co 11.1 MEV and sometimes really do have the best of intentions.

But we’re to follow Christ. Not them. Not fellow Christians. We’re all fallible; we’re all wrong. Jesus is not. Follow Jesus with us—but don’t follow us. Follow him.

Evil’s existence, and God’s existence.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 April

The belief God and evil can’t coexist in the same universe is based on some bad logic.

Every so often I bump into a nontheist who complains God can’t be real, can’t exist… because there’s such a thing as evil in the universe.

Here’s how they’re figuring: If God’s real, God’s almighty, and God’s good like we Christians claim, he should’ve done something to get rid of evil, right? After all they would, if they were God. They’d have wiped out evil long ago, like with a great purging flood or something.

They can’t fathom a God who’d be gracious enough to grant his wayward kids any leeway, any second chances to repent and return to the fold. He’d shut that s--- down on sight. So since God isn’t their kind of God, he must not exist.

This is hardly a new idea. It’s been around since Epicurus of Athens first pitched it in the 300s BC. Or at least we think Epicurus pitched it. That’s what Christian author Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius claimed in his anti-Epicurean book De ira Dei/“On God’s Wrath.” The way Lactantius described Epicurus’s argument, breaks down into four views about how God and evil work, sorta like yea:

  1. God wants to eliminate evil, but he can’t. (’Cause he’s not really almighty.)
  2. God doesn’t wanna. (’Cause he’s not really good.)
  3. God’s neither willing nor able. (’Cause he’s not really God.)
  4. God’s both willing and able. So… why does evil still exist then?

This, folks, is what Christian philosophers call “the problem of evil.” We’ve been knocking it around ever since Lactantius.

Nontheists have obviously taken the third view: God’s neither willing nor able. But their explanation is a little different from Epicurius’s: It’s because he’s not really there. Evil exists because there’s no God to stop it.

For the most part Christians have taken the fourth view, then pitch various explanations for why evil nonetheless exists. Most of them have to do with free will: In order for free will to truly exist, evil has to be a possible freewill option—so that’s the risk God chose to take in granting his creatures free will. Of course that’s not the only explanation we’ve come up with, but it’s the most common.

“God will never give you more than you can handle.”

by K.W. Leslie, 02 April

1 Corinthians 10.13.

This verse gets misused often. And just as often, underused and ignored.

1 Corinthians 10.13 KJV
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

Since this is part of a series on context, let’s first deal with the out-of-context way Christians quote it: They use it to proof-text the old platitude, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

You can kinda see how it devolved into that. “God… will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able” somehow lost the word “tempted,” which is the entire point of this verse. It’s about temptation. God doesn’t allow us to be overcome by temptation. God always provides a way out of temptation. Anybody who claims, “I had no choice but to give in”—that’s rubbish, because God always provides a way out, and they simply didn’t wanna take it.

Without “tempted,” it’s simply, “God won’t give you above that ye are able,” or “what you can handle,” or however we care to phrase it: Times may be tough, but relax! You can do this. God may challenge you, but he’ll never, ever push you beyond your breaking point.

That’s where the misinterpretation goes all wrong. ’Cause every Christian gets pushed past our respective breaking points. It’s called “the crisis of faith,” and if you’ve been avoiding yours, you’ve been avoiding God. Some of us, he’s gotta break like a piñata. ’Cause the stuff in us, which he’s trying to get out of us? It ain’t candy.

There is a time to build up, and a time to break down. Ec 3.3 And sometimes God’s behind the breakdown.

Falling down—and other false memories of Jesus’s passion.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 March

One of the odd things you’ll notice about the traditional 14 stations of the cross, is how often Jesus falls down. He does it thrice.

  1. Gets condemned, is given his cross, falls down.
  2. Encounters his mom, Simon of Cyrene, and St. Veronica; falls down.
  3. Encounters the daughters of Jerusalem, falls down.

Then he’s stripped and nailed to the cross, so he’s not gonna fall down anymore—unless we count when he’s taken down from the cross, and likely they didn’t drop him in so doing. Still: Three of the stations of the cross involve Jesus falling down. And in St. Francis of Assisi’s original list of seven stations, Jesus falls in the second and fifth stations, so when Christians expanded it to 14, they added a fall.

Yet in the gospels, he doesn’t fall down. Although we can certainly imagine he did, what with being weak from sleep deprivation and blood loss, and the fact he clearly wasn’t up to carrying his own cross. But the gospels don’t say he fell down. He might’ve, but the authors never said so.

So what’s with all the falling down?

Simple: A popular medieval tradition borrowed this verse from Proverbs, and claimed it was a prophecy about Jesus:

Proverbs 24.15-16 KWL
15 Don’t plan a wicked ambush at the home of a righteous person. Don’t ruin his resting place.
16 A righteous person might fall and rise seven times. A wicked person falls into evil.

The medievals claimed Jesus was this righteous person who fell seven times, and he did it in the course of his passion. So only falling three times in the stations of the cross was actually underdoing it. He should’ve been keeling over more often than a Pentecostal during a revival. Every other station should’ve been another fall.

Of course you know actors in the passion plays will fall down every chance they’re given. It’s an easy way to show weakness and suffering. So it stands to reason Francis and the Christians thereafter would make sure it got into the stations of the cross. But nope, doesn’t happen in the gospels.

I know; it regularly surprises Roman Catholics when they look for the falls in the gospels, and find nothing. But it doesn’t come from the gospels. Comes from Proverbs.

Filling in “blanks” with Old Testament “prophecies.”

This is hardly the only time the traditional sufferings of Jesus don’t actually come from the gospels. Here’s another: Ever hear about people pulling out bits of Jesus’s beard? I’ve seen it happen more than once in a Jesus movie. I’ve also heard Christians use this story to argue Jesus had a beard, in case anyone speculates he might’ve been too young to grow one, or might’ve been uncharacteristically clean-shaven: “No, Jesus totally had a beard. ’Cause when they were beating him, they pulled out some of his beard, remember?”

Yeah, I remember the movies, but when I went looking for that bit in the gospels, ’tain’t there. Because it doesn’t come from the gospels either. Comes from Isaiah.

Isaiah 50.6-7 KWL
6 I gave my body to those who hit me, my cheeks to those who shaved my face.
I didn’t cower from shame and from their spitting.
7 My master LORD will help me, so I’m not ashamed,
so I steady my face like a flint, knowing I will not be embarrassed.

Traditionally “shaved my face” (Hebrew u-lekhayey l’mirtim/“and my cheeks to the scrapers”) gets translated “plucked off the hair.” Is 50.6 KJV But yep, it’s about Isaiah suffering, not Jesus. Yet plenty of Christians assume all these parts of Isaiah are messianic prophecies, and borrow this verse, among others, and claim they’re specifics about Jesus’s suffering. Provided a few centuries in advance, but hey, we want details.

Likewise the bit about Jesus being beaten till unrecognizable: Also from Isaiah.

Isaiah 52.14 KWL
Many were horrified by you: His appearance was ruined more than any man;
his shape more ruined than any of Adam’s children.

The bit about Jesus not crying out while he was flogged? Again Isaiah.

Isaiah 53.7 KWL
He was abused and humiliated, and didn’t open his mouth,
like a sheep to slaughter, or an ewe to her shearers, is silent, he didn’t open his mouth.

Okay, he didn’t open his mouth to defend himself in trial, Mk 14.61 and maybe he decided to be a badass when he was getting beaten, and made no sound as they wailed on him. But the Isaiah passage doesn’t necessarily refer to making no sound when he was beaten. There’s no shame in crying in pain, and it’s neither unrealistic nor unbiblical for an actor portraying Jesus to make such sounds. In fact, making no sound implies it didn’t hurt—that Jesus didn’t truly suffer—which creates all sorts of theological problems that it’s best to steer clear of.

The gospels and history provide us a whole lot of details about what Jesus went through. But this simply wasn’t enough for us Christians, who had to pull stuff out of the Old Testament, whether it was suitable or not, and tack it into the passion stories. All the more reason, when we talk about Jesus’s suffering, we need to crack open that bible and see for ourselves whether stuff went down that way. Because, as you can see, there are a few things we’re misremembering.

“The mainline”: America’s older churches.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 March

Mainline is a bit of Christianese in the United States. The adjective refers to the Protestant churches in the United States who were around since the 1700s—since before our constitutional freedom of religion made it possible for all sorts of new churches to crop up, and add to the thousands of Protestant denominations.

Some of these churches, like the Baptists, Congregationalists, and Unitarians, got their start here. Others, like the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches, got their start in England and Scotland—but when the colonies declared independence from the UK in 1776, the churches reorganized their leadership to become distinct from their UK governing bodies.

So being “mainline” or a “mainliner” doesn’t refer to a belief system. They’re not mainliners by philosophy: Other than Jesus’s teachings and Protestant traditions, they don’t necessarily have a lot in common. (In the case of Unitarians, the rest of us figure they’re heretic.) They’re mainline because they’re older. They have a longer history. They were here when the United States began.

But for many politically and theologically conservative Christians, “mainliner” has become their shorthand for a politically progressive or theologically liberal Christian. Because a number of mainline churches are liberal in their beliefs. Not all of ’em, but just enough for “mainliner” to pick up another definition.

So when you hear Christians refer to certain churches as “mainline churches,” sometimes you gotta ask them: Do you mean old, or liberal? (Maybe both.)