20 November 2023

Thanksgiving. The prayer, not the day.

In the United States, on November’s fourth Thursday, we celebrate a national day of thanksgiving. Today I’m not talking about the day itself though. I’m talking about the act.

Americans don’t always remember there’s such a thing as an act of thanksgiving. Our fixation is usually on the food, football, maybe the parade, maybe the dog show. If you’re pagan, you seldom even think to thank God… or anyone. Instead you conjure up some feeling of gratitude. You have a nice life, a decent job, good health, some loved ones, and got some stuff you’ve always wanted. Or you don’t have these things, but you’re grateful for the few things you do have. Or you’re not grateful at all, and bitter… and in a few minutes, drunk.

But this feeling of gratitude isn’t directed anywhere. Shouldn’t you be grateful to someone or something? Shouldn’t there be some being to thank?

And that’s a question many a pagan never asks themselves. I know of one family who thanks one other. Civic idolaters might be grateful to America or the president, as if they consciously gave ’em anythng. Those who love their jobs might be grateful to their bosses and customers. But pagans generally suppress the question by drowning it with food and drink. (And maybe thanking the person who prepared the food. But just as often, not.)

Even among the Christians who remember, “Oh yeah—we’re thanking God,” a lot of the thanking is limited to saying grace before the meal: “Good bread, good meat, good God let’s eat.” Although every once in a while somebody in the family might say, “And now let’s go round the table, and everybody say one thing you’re thankful for.” A game nobody enjoys but them… although I myself have come up with a lot of outrageous answers to that question, which amuse me at least.

But enough about Thanksgiving Day and its not-so-religious customs and behavior. The practice of thanksgiving isn’t limited to just this one day. If you wanna practice more actual, authentic thanksgiving in your relationship with God, great! I’m all for that. So’s God. But it means way more than thanking God only once a year, on the government-approved day set aside for it.

17 November 2023

Trusting God… versus trusting doctrine.

I’ve posted before about the “doctrines of grace,” as Calvinists call ’em—the things they believe about God and how he saves us. The doctrine they focus on most is God’s sovereignty, which they believe is so absolute, it overrides everything else: Everything in the universe happens because God decreed it.

Not merely allowed it to happen, even though he could totally intervene if he wants, ’cause he’s almighty and unlimited. Determined it would happen. Everything happens because God has a singular plan for the universe, meticulously decided what’d happen and what wouldn’t, and it’s playing out right now. It’s all part of the plan. Trust the plan. Trust God.

Calvinists call this “the doctrine of sovereignty”—doctrine being one of Christianity’s formal fixed beliefs. It’s something they insist Christians must believe. Not should believe; not can believe, ’cause it’s optional. To them, it’s not. You must believe it, if you call yourself Christian. If you don’t—if in fact you teach otherwise—you’ve gone wrong. You’re heretic. Or worse, you’re not even Christian.

So since I dare to say the “doctrine of sovereignty” is fatalistic rubbish which comes more from Platonism than the scriptures, certain Calvinists are convinced I’m heretic. Or, again, not even Christian.

One of ’em put it to me thisaway recently: “I trust God. You don’t.”

No, you trust your doctrine. Which isn’t God. Although you might not recognize the difference. There is one, y’know.

14 November 2023

The word became flesh.

John 1.14-18.

Historically we Christians have had the darnedest time translating and explaining this passage. While it’s written in really simple Greek, it’s deep. It’s profound. It tells us the word of the LORD, the Son of the Father, God of God, God from the Father’s womb (usually translated “bosom” like the KJV, because human fathers don’t have wombs, and any language which gives God feminine qualities tends to creep out certain preachers), the one-who-comes-after-me who’s really the one-who-came-before-me, grace and truth personified, the visible image of the invisible God Cl 1.15became flesh.

Flesh. Meat. Blood and bone and muscle and tissue and nerves and fluids. An animal. Yet God.

People still find this idea alarming. Even blasphemous. I keep coming across pagans who insist God cannot be mortal. God can’t bleed. God can’t die. God can’t suffer from the same limitations as humans; he’s gotta be mightier, if not almighty, or he’s not really God. Or no longer God; he got banished from heaven like Thor from Asgard in his first movie, and lost his powers till he gets ’em back with good karma. (Wait, didn’t Satan get banished from heaven? Meh; nevermind.)

It’s why heresies keep cropping up to claim Jesus isn’t really flesh. He only appeared to be human, but peel off his human mask (eww) and you’ll find a God under it. He only looked like meat and bone, but he’s really an immortal spirit. He only looked real and physical, but he’s really a mass hallucination which confused the whole world, or at least his parents, siblings, those 12 guys who kept following him around, the Romans who killed him, and the senators who put him in a tomb. He only looked like a man, but was a superman, demigod, alien, hybrid, or new superior species. You know, the usual new-agey bulls--t.

But nope, he’s human. Fully, permanently human. And God.

John 1.14-18 KWL
14 The word becomes flesh and encamps with us,
and we get a good look at his significance—
significance like we’d see in the only begotten son of a father,
full of grace and truth.
15 John witnesses about the word,
and has called out, saying,
“This is the one of whom I say,
The one coming after me has got in front of me,’
because he’s before me.”
16 For all of us receive things out of the word’s fullness.
Grace after grace:
17 The Law, which Moses gave;
grace and truth, which Christ Jesus comes to be.
18 Nobody’s ever seen God.
The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb
this one explains God.

13 November 2023

Once we accept the light.

John 1.9-13.

The apostle John described Jesus as the light of life, and says in 1.9 that he’s coming into the world. Not everybody accepts him—even his own people, the Israelis, don’t—but in today’s passage he states those who do accept him, Israelis included, become God’s children.

John 1.9-13 KWL
9 The actual light, who lights up every person,
is coming into the world.
10 He’s in the world, and the world comes to be through him,
and the world doesn’t know him.
11 He comes to his own people,
and his own people don’t accept him.
12 Whichever of them do accept him,
he gives to them, to those who believe in his name,
the power to become God’s children.
13 These people aren’t children by blood,
nor by carnal desire, nor by a man’s desire,
but are begotten by God.

Which was a mind-blowing idea for Pharisees of the first century, who figured they already were God’s children. They figured God had made them his children by befriending Abraham, rescuing Israel from Egypt, giving them his Law, shepherding them through history… Israelis still think they’re God’s children just because they defied the odds and established the state of Israel 75 years ago.

But nope; John states it here pretty clearly. Everybody has the potential to become God’s children; Jews and gentiles alike. But only those who trust the light—trust Jesus, in case you forgot who this “light” metaphor represents—are granted the power to truly become God’s children.

Because we’re not automatically his children just because we’re human. That’s a common idea which plenty of pagans will insist upon: God’s the creator and we’re the creation, so God’s our father and we’re his daughters and sons. Automatically. We automatically have a relationship with him; we’ll automatically go to heaven because of it. Even if we spend our entire lives wanting nothing to do with him, refusing to believe in him, worshiping any and every other god there is, inventing our own gods for fun and profit, even deliberately defying him and being as evil as we can just to show off our autonomy. Pagans might make an exception for truly evil people… but then again they might not, because they believe so very strongly that God’ll save everybody, regardless.

Nope. God wants to save everybody, 1Ti 2.4 but like John the apostle said, it’s whichever of us who do accept the light—again Jesus.

And lemme reiterate: Light, in this passage, means Jesus. Yes, elsewhere in the bible light means other things. Like truth and wisdom. And yes, Jesus is truth, Jn 14.6 and Jesus is wisdom. 1Co 1.24 But don’t mix the metaphors. In accepting the light, we accept Jesus.

Yes, we oughta accept truth and wisdom too, ’cause there are way too many brain-dead Christians out there who believe all the dirty lies and stupid beliefs their favorite preachers and pundits tell them, and won’t even practice basic discernment because they think they’re saved by orthodoxy, not God’s grace. They think they’re saved by trusting all the proper beliefs about Jesus, instead of trusting Jesus. They think all that other stuff is the light because they’ve mixed their metaphors. And y’notice, in so doing, they stop trusting Jesus, and trust their own wisdom, and made-up “truths,” instead. You can tell by their fruits; they get bad because they lose sight of whom they’re meant to be following. That’d be Jesus.

Not for nothing does John point out Jesus’s own people didn’t accept him. Because they figured they had truth and wisdom already; because they figured they were God’s children already. Christians today tend to get the very same attitude. We think, like first-century Judeans, we have the light; we know so much, and we said the sinner’s prayer and were baptized, and we’ve memorized tons of bible verses and Christian pop songs, and “once saved always saved.” We trust all that crap—’cause without Jesus, it’s all crap. We leave the Sermon on the Mount undone, because we trust that crap instead of Jesus.

Pretty dark stuff.

08 November 2023

When Abraham didn’t yet know God’s name. (Or did he?)

Genesis 12.8, Exodus 6.2-3.

Here’s a bible difficulty which tends to stymie a number of biblical literalists. Not all of ’em; most of them realize there’s a really simple solution to it. But some of ’em are in serious denial.

Genesis 12.8 ESV
From there [Avram] moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.
Exodus 6.2-3 ESV
2 God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.”

God, the Creator, is identified as the LORD in the very second chapter of the bible—

Genesis 2.4 ESV
These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

Throughout that book, the author of Genesis calls God “the LORD” or “the LORD God,” because he’s identifying which god he means. It’s not just אֵ֣ל/El, the generic Canaanite word for “god”; it’s not the Hebrew plural form of that word, אֱלֹהִ֑ים/Elohíym, which usually means the God, although of course it can sometimes mean “gods,” plural. The author is indicating this is the specific God who identified himself as יְהוָ֥ה/YHWH to Moses ben Amram—the God who rescued Israel from Egypt, who’s also the God who called their ancestor Avram ben Terah out of Sumer and renamed him Abraham, who’s also the God who created the sky and land. He’s not just one of the chief gods of a pagan pantheon; he’s the God, the only god they worship, ’cause he’s the only one who actually actively does stuff. He’s the living God.

But in Exodus, this specific God tells Moses that Abraham, and all the Hebrews since, didn’t know him by that name YHWH, which we traditionally translate “the LORD.” They knew him as אֵ֣ל שַׁדָּ֑י/El Šaddáy. Properly it means “Sovereign God,” but for the longest time people didn’t wholly know what šaddáy means (and it didn’t help that the Septuagint regularly translated it ὁ θεός μου/o Theós mu, “my God,” or ὁ θεός σου/o Theós su, “your God”). Most figured it means “high” or “mountainous.” Since sovereignty implies almightiness, “almighty” is fine; we needn’t nitpick the traditional translation. Anywho, God says they knew him as El Šaddáy, not YHWH.

Despite all the many, many instances of YHWH in Genesis—128 times in my copy of the Biblia Hebraica. That’s a lot of times they identify God by a name he’s not yet revealed!

But biblical literalists insist, on the contrary, it was revealed. It’s in Genesis, after all. People called the LORD by name!

Genesis 4.26 ESV
To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.

Seth was the son of Adam, the very first human; so all the way back then it looks like people identified the name of their Creator as YHWH, the LORD, and were using that name to invoke him. So… we got a difficulty here. What’s the way out of it?

Yes of course literalists have an answer. It’s that the LORD doesn’t really mean to say his name was unknown to the people before Moses.

07 November 2023


John 1.4-9.

I brought up the apostle John’s use of “word” in John 1, and of course the other metaphor he uses a whole bunch in this passage is light.

John 1.4-9 KWL
4 What came to be through the word, is life.
Life’s the light of humanity.
5 Light shines in darkness,
and darkness can’t get hold of it.
6 A person came who’d been sent by God;
his name is John.
7 This person came as a witness,
so he might witness about the light,
so through him, everyone might believe.
8 This person isn’t the light,
but he came so he might witness about the light.
9 The actual light, who lights up every person,
is coming into the world.

The word of God—i.e. the second person of the trinity, whom we know as Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ—created life in verse 4, and John immediately started calling this life “light.” Then said Jesus is the actual light coming into the world in verse 9. As Jesus himself claimed later in this gospel, twice: “I’m the light of the world.” Jn 8.12, 9.5 He comes to give us life. Abundant life in this age; eternal life in the next.

Now lemme remind you the bible is not a series of codes for clever Christians to crack. “Light” is a metaphor for life in this passage. It doesn’t mean life in every passage. When other writers of the bible refer to light, they mean other things. Even when the apostle John refers to light in his first letter, and says God is light, 1Jn 1.5 he’s not using this metaphor anymore. He’s using a different one; in that passage light means truth. And yet various Christians will insist the “truth” of 1 John isn’t simply a metaphor; it’s a definition of the secret bible codeword φῶς/fos, “light”—and so is “life,” so let’s blend the two concepts together to create some freakish gnostic chimera and claim it’s bible knowledge. And turn the light into darkness.

06 November 2023


John 1.1-5.

I’ve written previously about when God became human. Now let’s look at God before he became human. Beginning with the beginning of the Gospel of John.

John 1.1-5 KWL
1 In the beginning is the word.
The word’s with God,
and the word is God.
2 This word is in the beginning with God.
3 Everything comes to be through the word,
and not one thing, nothing, comes to be without him.
4 What came to be though the word, is life.
Life’s the light of humanity.
5 Light shines in darkness,
and darkness can’t get hold of it.

“The word” which the author of John wrote of, exists at the beginning of creation. Is with God. Is God. And is the means by which everything is created.

And round 7BC, this word became a human we know as Jesus of Nazareth. Christians recognize him as the Christ.

Why’d the author of John (and for convenience we’ll just assume he’s John bar Zebedee; he probably is) use “word” to describe the pre-incarnate Jesus? You realize this passage is the reason so many Christians are hugely fascinated by the word “word” (and its Greek equivalent λόγος/lóyos, which they mistransliterate logos and pronounce all sorts of ways; and sometimes its Aramaic equivalent ܡܐܡܪܐ/memrá), and have written endless things about the Word of God. Some of it is extremely profound and useful… and some of it is sour horsepiss. I grew up hearing a lot of both.

This John passage tends to get translated in past tense. The KJV famously renders it, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Which is fine; the beginning of time and creation of the cosmos did happen in our past. But most of this passage was written in the aorist tense, a verb tense which is neither past, present, nor future. It has no time connected to it. You have to figure its time from other verbs in the passage, or from context. Well, there is a verb in this passage with a time-based tense; the present-tense ἦν/in from καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος/ke Theós in o lóyos, “and the word is God.” He is God, present tense. God at creation, and never stopped being God.

Okay, now to the concept of λόγος/lóyos. It literally means “word.” Why’d John use it?

For centuries, Christians presumed lóyos comes from ancient Greek philosophy. Blame ancient gentile Christians. As non-Jews, they had no idea what Pharisees taught about the lóyos of God—or as the Aramaic-speaking Pharisees called it in Jesus’s day, the memrá of God. They usually figured whatever the Pharisees taught was wrong, hypocritical, and heresy, so they ignored it altogether.

Instead they interpreted bible through the lens of their own culture. Which was wrong then, and is wrong now. Yet Christians still do it. But that’s a whole other rant; let’s get back to criticizing ancient Christian gentiles.

Ancient Greek philosophers had written a whole bunch of navel-gazing gibberish about the word lóyos. ’Cause they were exploring the nature of truth: What is it, how do we find it, how do we prove it, how do we recognize logical fallacies, and what’s the deal with words which can mean more than one thing? For that matter, what’s a “word” anyway? Is it just a label for a thing, or is it a substantial thing on its own? Maybe that’s why God can create things by merely saying a word. Ge 1.3 And so on.

Follow the Greek philosophers’ intellectual rabbit trails, and you’ll go all sorts of weird, gnostic directions. Which is exactly what gentile Christians did.

Now let’s practice some actual logic. John wasn’t a gentile; he was a Galilean Jew who grew up attending, and getting the equivalent of a middle-school education in, Pharisee synagogues. So let’s look at that culture: What’d Pharisees teach about what a memrá is and means?

Turns out Pharisees had a lot of interesting ideas attached to it.

02 November 2023

Day of the Dead. Or “All Souls Day,” for traditionalists.

Once you become Christian you receive the Holy Spirit: He comes to live within you, to confirm your salvation, and lead and teach you, and hopefully grow good fruit in you. Many Christians confuse this with being baptized in the Spirit, but that’s a different thing. Regardless, he lives in you, and makes you holy. You’re a saint now.

Yes, you are.

Yes, an actual saint, same as all the other famous Christian saints. Same as the first apostles and Jesus’s parents. Same as St. Augustine, St. Francis, St. Nicholas, St. Joan of Arc, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. John Paul; same as those non-Orthodox and non-Catholic saints who don’t always go by the title, like Jonathan Edwards and D.L. Moody and C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham. The only difference between your sainthood and theirs, is degree. They did more for Jesus, or at least had better publicists. That’s not to say you can’t do just as much for Jesus—because you too have the very same Holy Spirit in you as they did.

I know; not every Christian believes this. Many believe you’re not a saint till you’re definitely in heaven. Till then, you’re on earth, or dead and in purgatory. You may yet become a saint, but not yet.

For those people there’s All Souls Day, which in the west is observed on 2 November. In the United States it’s usually called the Day of the Dead—or if you speak Spanish, Dia de los Muertos.

Day of the Dead is huge in Mexico, where Roman Catholic customs have largely been ditched, ’cause Mexicans way prefer partying to mourning. A lot of Aztec and indigenous customs got mixed in, much like Halloween swiped British and German folklore, and evolved in the United States into something which doesn’t look at all like All Saints Day. But no, Day of the Dead isn’t Mexican Halloween; the holidays don’t practice the very same things. Fr’instance if you’re dressing up, or eating candy, you’re always gonna go with a skull motif. Skulls everywhere. (Hey, everybody has one.)

The reason you don’t see Evangelicals bother with All Souls Day, is because Evangelicals generally believe the same as I do: Every Christian is a saint. If we’re gonna remember our fellow Christians, it’s gonna be on their particular memorial day, or All Saints Day. We don’t need a second holiday to remember the Christian who aren’t saints; there is no such creature.

Still, if you wanna remember departed loved ones, and All Saints Day is a little too solemn for what you have in mind, the Day of the Dead is way less formal. And has tamales and candy! Every holiday should have tamales and candy.

01 November 2023

All Saints Day.

Sometimes, but rarely, you’ll see Halloween spelled Hallowe’en. It’s a reminder the word is actually a contraction. The e’en part of it means evening or eve—the day before, like Christmas Eve. ’Cause Halloween is the day before Hallowmas, or All Hallows… and hallow is the Saxon word for saint.

As you probably remember, the earliest Christians regularly faced persecution in the Roman Empire, ’cause the Romans wanted its occupants to prove their loyalty to Rome by either worshiping the emperor’s guardian dæmon, or in some cases straight-up worship the emperor himself. Some Christians capitulated ’cause they wanted to live; others refused, and were executed. Usually their fellow Christians would honor them on the day of their martyrdom, and these days of remembrance turned into all the saints’ days in the Christian calendar.

But there are so many martyrs. Plus popular saints who got their own day even thought they weren’t killed for Jesus; they definitely lived for Jesus, so to be fair they probably merit a day just as much as certain martyrs who happened to be killed because they were swept up in some anti-Christian purge, and not because they confessed anything.

There’s also the fact there are many people who lived and died for Jesus, and we know nothing about them. God does, but we don’t. People who did a whole lot of charity, but unlike philanthropists who want to make a name for themselves, they wanted to keep their benevolence secret. People who lived very devout lives, but went unseen… or went unappreciated and ignored. People who matter to God.

So if they don’t have their own holiday, they have All Saints Day.

Which likewise tends to go unappreciated and ignored by many Evangelicals. Sometimes because they consider it “a Catholic thing,” a religious custom which they feel contributes nothing to their Christian lives; sometimes because they’re anti-Halloween, and their distaste for that holiday spills over into the holiday which started it.

But properly, we oughta think of it as a Christian version of Memorial Day. It remembers all the people who gave their lives for Jesus. It appreciates them. Some churches, like the liturgical churches, go all out for it. Other churches don’t have to do likewise, nor even celebrate it on 1 November. But it’d be nice if we did something to honor our forebears.

31 October 2023

Reformation Day.

31 October isn’t just Halloween. For Protestants, many of us observe the day as Reformation Day.

On 31 October 1517, bible professor Dr. Martin Luther of the University of Wittenberg, Saxony, Holy Roman Empire (now Germany), nailed to the chapel door, which served as his school’s bulletin board, 95 propositions he planned to discuss with his students. Specifically, about certain church practices to which he objected.

Technically Luther’s 31 October doesn’t line up with our 31 October. Y’see, in 1517 Europeans were still using the Julian calendar, and it was out of sync with the vernal equinox by 11 days. That’s why the Catholics updated it with the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Once we correct for that, this really took place on 10 November. But whatever. Reformation Day!

Luther didn’t realize what he’d done was a big deal. Certainly not the huge deal it later became. It’s dramatically described as if Dr. Luther, enraged as if he just found out about these problems in his church, nailed a defiant manifesto on the Castle Church door. Really this was just a class he was teaching, and he may not have personally thumbtacked ’em to the door at all; he could’ve had a teaching assistant do it.

Joseph Fiennes playing Martin Luther, tacking up the theses. From the 2004 film Luther—not to be confused with the Idris Elba cop show Luther, which is… actually much better. Okay, I’m gonna watch that now.

Luther posted his propositions (or theses, as we tend to call ’em), then sent a copy to his bishop and archbishop, ’cause he still did answer to them you know. But in January 1518, Luther’s friends translated them from Latin to German and printed copies for the general public. Now they got controversial. Because instead of a controlled classroom discussion about whether Luther had a point, now you had people in pubs throughout the Holy Roman Empire (which I’m just gonna shorten to HRE) raging about how the Roman Catholic Church had no biblical basis for what they were up to. Now it wasn’t just an internal debate among clergy-in-training. It was everywhere. It was a firestorm.