Christianity is under attack!

by K.W. Leslie, 14 September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inconsistent? Problematic? Downright devilish? Of course.

Reason. And how faith interacts with it.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alcohol and Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 September

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scribes: Ancient Israel’s scholars.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Men and women, equal in Jesus’s church.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 September

Ephesians 5.21-33.

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

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

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

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

Well let’s get to those scriptures.

Homecoming 2008.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 September

About my anticlimactic 10-year college reunion.

The year is 2018. Meaning it’s been 30 years since I graduated from high school, and 20 since graduating from Bethany College, later Bethany University.

Do I feel old? Sure. I’ve felt old for years. Being old is fun. Especially since I don’t look it, still have all my hair, and none of it gray. I regularly startle the people at work when they find I’m not just a little older than them, but old enough to be their dad. (It’s the genes; my parents look young too.) But I don’t have any hangups about being old. Just the opposite: Bring on the senior discounts!

So is it a big year for class reunions? Not in the slightest.

Ten years ago, in 2008, there was a huge push for the high school reunion, organized by two people from my high school; one from my class, and one from the year before. I had no interest in attending, ’cause I didn’t like high school and had very few friends there. (Most of my friends were from church, and went to other schools.) The organizers spent months pestering the rest of us about registration. Especially when the down payments became due, and they quickly realized their grandiose three-day festival was gonna have to be seriously downscaled—that, or they’d have to personally be on the hook for everything. So their banquet, dance, and follow-up brunch had to be downscaled to a barbecue. Man were they bitter about that. Followed it up with some of the most hostile, passive-aggressive invitations I’d ever read. It was moderately attended, largely by people I don’t care about, or really remember. Very glad I didn’t bother.

So that’s likely why I’ve heard nothing at all from them about the 30-year reunion. Nor the 25-year in 2013; the wounds would’ve still been too sore.

As for college, some plans are fomenting from my CSU Sacramento journalism school friends, and that might come to something. But nothing from the Bethany alumni. The school closed its doors in 2011. Now all that’s left of it is a giant debt left over from years of financial mismanagement, a hostile alumni page on Facebook where people are still bitter about the school closing, and a campus that’s been since bought by hippies and turned into 1440 Multiversity. Bethany class reunions were organized by the school and held during Homecoming, but with no more school, I don’t expect anybody to put together any 20-year reunion. My class president, whom I’m still in touch with, hasn’t brought it up that I know of. She has a life, y’see.

I attended the 10-year reunion during Homecoming 2008. It was kinda pathetic. I was living in the area, and had Saturday free, so I went to it. Well, parts of it. May as well write about it.

The bible is a way different book.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 September

Christian apologists—especially when they kinda lean towards biblolatry—make a great big deal about how unique the bible is. To them, it’s a powerful argument why people ought not dismiss it as just another ancient book by dead white brown guys. The bible’s a distinctly, profoundly different book. It’s very unique. Only the most ignorant of skeptics would claim otherwise.

And then they go listing all the ways it’s totally unique. I’ll list a few in this article. But the big pile of ways the bible’s different, is meant to really impress someone that the bible is important and valid.

Which is a basic logical flaw: Unique doesn’t automatically mean important and valid.

Fr’instance let’s say a space alien came to earth, and presented us with his book of the best recipes for blergsperken. What’s blergsperken? I dunno. And none of the ingredients match anything we know about; what on earth is “raw sperkburf?” For all we know, the alien could be its planet‘s very worst cook. But his cookbook is definitely unique.

So the bible’s uniqueness doesn’t make it valid. Doesn’t make it invalid either! Uniqueness just happens to be one of the bible’s characteristics.

Popular apologist Josh McDowell confessed as much in the conclusion of Evidence That Demands a Verdict’s chapter on the bible’s uniqueness. Maybe as a disclaimer, or maybe because somebody pointed out the logical inconsistency—but he didn’t wanna throw out an entire heavily-sourced chapter.

The above does not prove the Bible is the Word of God, but to me it proves that it is unique (“different from all others; having no like or equal”). McDowell 1.24

And then McDowell went right back to dropping interesting trivia about the bible’s uniqueness.

Anyway I wanted to begin with this disclaimer, ’cause I want it clear the bible’s uniqueness only proves the bible is unique. Doesn’t prove anything more. But because Christian apologists insist it totally does imply something, you oughta be aware that’s just their biases talking: They love the bible, and isn’t it just the best book in the world? It must be inspired!

Well anyway. Let’s get into the ways the bible is different.

Faith, works, and faith righteousness.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 September

If you believe in faith righteousness, you’ve misdefined faith as orthodoxy. Which is a work. Yet faith isn’t a work… right?

Yesterday I brought up faith righteousness, the idea we’re saved by having all the correct doctrines and beliefs. I’ve found it to be a pretty widespread belief among new believers, who haven’t yet learned better; and Fundamentalists, who should’ve learned better, but those Fundamentals are just so darned important to them. Anyway they’re wrong; God saves us by his grace.

Orthodoxy is a good work, so by all means pursue the right beliefs about God. By all means do good works. But we’re not saved by works. We’re saved first, by grace, so that God can empower us to do such works. Doing the works first, and trying to achieve salvation by merit, doesn’t work either. Not that plenty of people, including plenty of confused Christians, don’t try. Karma is a mighty ingrained idea in humanity, and it’s hard to wean us off it.

But one common and odd little side effect of believing we’re saved by “faith,” is this insistence you’ll find among the faith-righteous folks: Faith isn’t a work!

’Cause it’s not. Says so in the bible.

Ephesians 2.8-9 KWL
8 You’re all saved by his grace, through your faith.
This, God’s gift, isn’t from you, 9 isn’t from works; none can boast of it.

Salvation isn’t from us. Isn’t from works. It’s from God, from his grace. It’s typically God’s response to our faith, though of course God reserves the right to save various people regardless. And since Paul said it’s not from works, but is through faith, he indicates faith isn’t a work. My trust in God isn’t something I do; it’s something I have. And if I really do have it, I’ll wind up producing good fruit and good works, Jm 2.22 because faith which produces no good works isn’t actually there, i.e. is dead. But the faith ain’t the works. It’s a whole different thing.

Well, when faith-righteous people are talking about faith, they don’t mean trust; they mean beliefs. And they try to shoehorn their new definition into the discussion about faith and works. Their doctrines, they claim, aren’t works! They aren’t things they do, but things they have. Also a whole different thing.

Except they’re not.

Christians believe what we do because we put our faith in Jesus. We trust that he’s right; we trust he doesn’t steer us wrong; we take his word for it that his teachings apply to our lives and accurately reflect God’s character. Again, trust in Jesus isn’t something we do, but something we have. Unless we don’t; then we don’t bother with his teachings, for we don’t believe him, for we lack faith.

The teachings—the stuff we believe about God—aren’t the same thing as faith. Yeah, we can have these beliefs, kinda like we have faith. But the basis of having these beliefs would be faith in Jesus. No faith in Jesus; no beliefs. (No real beliefs, anyway. Empty beliefs, or hypocrisy, ’cause without Jesus what good are they?)

So beliefs are based on faith. They’re the product of faith. The fruit of faith. The works of faith. They’re works. Works might prove that faith is real, Jm 2.18 and depending on the belief, they may do a really good job of conclusively demonstrating one’s faith. But they still aren’t faith.

“Faith-righteousness”: Saved by what you believe.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 September
FAITH RIGHTEOUSNESS /'feɪθ raɪ.tʃəs.nəs/ n. A right standing (with God or others) achieved through orthodox beliefs.

I coined the term “faith righteousness” some years ago. It’s a common American belief, based on several false ideas.

First of all misdefined faith. Properly faith means trust; and Christian faith means trust in God. When we Christians talk about “justification by faith,” what this properly means is we trust God, and God considers us all right with him based on that trust. Y’know, like when Abraham trusted God, Ge 15.6 which was the foundation of their relationship. (And the foundation for Paul’s teachings on justification. Ro 4.3)

But in popular American culture, faith means one’s belief system. It’s a definition we find all over Christianity too, especially among Christians who don’t care for the word “religion,” and like to use the word “faith” instead: “I don’t have a religion; I have a faith.” Meaning—to their minds—they don’t have rituals they do, but things they believe. Proper beliefs; correct beliefs; orthodoxy. And these things comprise “my faith”—and this winds up the “faith” they’re thinking of when they talk about “justification by faith.” We believe certain things about God, and God considers us all right with him based on our beliefs.

You should be able to immediately see how this can go wrong. Thing is, if you’ve been practicing faith righteousness all your life, you’ve got some pretty heavy blinders on, and your response is gonna be, “I don’t see what the big deal is. Of course we’re all right with God because our beliefs. And heretics aren’t all right with God; they’re going to hell. What, are you suggesting they’re not going to hell?”

No; I’m pointing out if you’re correct—that God determines whether we’re destined for his kingdom or hell based on our beliefs—you’re going to hell.

Awake, sleepers!

by K.W. Leslie, 03 September

Ephesians 5.1-20.

Too many Christians have this unhealthy attitude of once we’re saved—once we’ve said the sinner’s prayer and decided we’re Christian now—there’s nothing more we need to do. The entire work of salvation was achieved by Jesus, so all we gotta do is sit back and let heaven come to us. ’Cause if we do try to act Christian… well, it’s a sign we don’t really trust that Jesus did all the work, but a sign we still think we’re saved by our own good karma. So such people won’t even bother to act Christian. Functionally they’ll have the same pagan lifestyle they always had—but the difference, they insist, is they believe in Jesus. That makes ’em Christian.

Rubbish, wrote Paul. If you’re Christian, you act like your Father. If you act like pagans, you’re clearly not God’s kids, and won’t inherit his kingdom.

Ephesians 5.1-5 KWL
1 So, like beloved children, become mimics of God.
2 Walk in love, same as Christ also loves us,
and gave himself as an offering for us, a sacrifice to God with a pleasing aroma. Lv 3.5
3 Porn, everything unclean or greedy—don’t even bring it up among you; it’s inappropriate for saints.
4 Obscenity, stupid talk, hurtful humor: They’re not for you. Thanksgiving instead.
5 If you know anything, know this:
No porn, uncleanness, nor greed—in other words idolatry—
none of these things have an inheritance in Christ and God’s kingdom.

Because Christians get nervous about these items which disqualify us from the kingdom, sometimes we define them broadly, and don’t allow ourselves to do anything which remotely sounds like them… and sometimes we define them really narrowly, and grant ourselves plenty of loopholes. Both extremes are foolish, so let’s not indulge them. Here’s how I define those words.

  • PORN (Greek porneía, KJV “fornication”). Any inappropriate sexual activity—namely promiscuity, or anything going on between you and someone you shouldn’t be having sex with. Like someone else’s spouse, someone under someone else’s authority, prostitutes and slaves (and I should mention they’re frequently the same thing), family members, and anyone the state bans you from having sex with. And since monogamy is a requirement for Christian leadership, polygamy’s also out.
  • EVERYTHING UNCLEAN (pása akatharsía, KJV “all uncleanness”). Few Christians nowadays bother to pay attention to ritual uncleanness, and many will insist Paul totally didn’t mean that in this passage; he meant sin. Wrong. If Paul meant sin, he’d’ve wrote “sin.” He meant cleanliness. Paying no attention to the cleanliness of yourself, your surroundings, nor your food, is a sign you don’t care about the sensibilities of others, including God. Christians are supposed to give a rip.
  • GREEDY (pleonexía, KJV “covetousness”). The desire to have more; frequently the desire to have more than anyone else. Anybody who won’t control their urges, especially when it’s at the expense of others.

And I should pause in this list to mention there are those Christians who interpret verse 5 to mean only greediness is idolatry. Nah. Anything we prioritize over God becomes an idol, and if you’re fixated on your sex life—even if it’s marital sex!—it can easily become an idol. As can an unclean lifestyle. Mammonism and avarice are really obvious cases of idolatry, but there are plenty others.