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I was linked in another forum to a roundtable discussion on God and Government. For American viewers, go here. For non-Americans, here it is. You'll need to watch one piece at a time. I watched only the roundtable discussion, so my comments are only for that.
My response )
velvetpage: (chalice)
I've loved this melody since I first came across it at the age of eleven. That first time, I was visiting my aunt's Anglican church in Crystal Beach, Ontario, and the words that spoke to me so deeply were the traditional words of the Anglican hymnal:

Lord of All Hopefulness )
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This article posits that the religion of the Jews as laid out in Deuteronomy was actually the second, bastardized version of the faith, and that the older one survived in a few isolated pockets and contributed a great deal to the apocalyptic pre-Christian tradition.
velvetpage: (Default)
Gabriel's Revelation suggests that the idea of a messiah dying and being resurrected after three days was already an established concept at the time of Christ, a part of the apocalyptic writings in the tradition of Daniel. An interesting article.
velvetpage: (the point)
Last Saturday, as soon as my friends collected me from the airport, we all drove over to Wild Oats, an organic/health food supermarket with a nice deli and eating area. While there, Q picked up a tract to show me. I snagged it to blog about, and briefly considered going back and snagging all the tracts on the rack so as to limit their exposure for a bit, but I didn't.

On to the snark!

The tract starts out with an imposing title: "ARE YOU LIKE MOST PEOPLE?"

The answer is presumably supposed to be yes, but since I have a pathological aversion to being considered normal, my immediate response was, "Of course not." Thus I was quite relieved upon reading the next line: "If so, you're going to HELL."

But my chortle of relief was stopped in its tracts (pun intended) by the next line: "Don't laugh, it's not a joke." Oh, okay. I stopped laughing and started reading with an eye to refutation. Exactly what arguments were they going to try to use to convince me that most people living in the Bible Belt of Tennessee (we were in Memphis at the time) under the shadow of a church my friends had dubbed "Fort God," were in fact going to HELL?

The first argument is known to debaters as an appeal to authority - in this case, the authority of the Bible, specifically the King James. (More on that later.) The tract reads, "You've heard that Jesus said "wide is the gate; and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat;" but, "narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Mt:7:13 & 14). In modern English, what that says is, "The road to Hell is like a major freeway that is packed with cars; but the road to Heaven is like a little side road that hardly anyone takes." Ah, so that's how it works. Most people are taking the freeway, because, well, it's faster and less inclined to leave chips in the paint of your car, and there are fewer water-filled ditches. (This is the Mississippi valley. Ditches are always full.) Leaving aside the fact that they used an archaic translation and then translated it for a modern audience, I noticed that they didn't bother to give a reason why we should believe this particular authority. After all, that's what an appeal to authority usually entails: "This person is so smart, and so knowledgeable about his topic, that we should believe everything he says. He clearly knows better than we do." But the tract didn't say that. I read on, looking for it. I didn't have to read far.

The next paragraph reads, "In Luke chapter 13, when He was asked, "Lord, are there few that be saved?" Jesus answered, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in and shall not be able." In other words, "Yes, very few will be saved, most people will try to get to Heaven but won't make it."" This is just another section of the appeal to authority above, no new information, except that it directs the tract towards people who already consider themselves Christians. I find it intriguing that the people writing the tract clearly consider themselves to be authorities, and by extension, to be among the saved, and I have to wonder where that surety comes from if their mostly-Christian audience can't also be sure of their salvation.

But now we get to the real kicker: the reason why you should trust the authority they're offering. The next line reads, "If you don't believe that, you're not alone. Most people don't!" I would love to see their stats on that, especially for Bible-Belt Memphis, but they didn't offer any stats so I can't comment on them, except to say that I think they're wrong; I suspect most people, that is, more than fifty percent, of the population of Memphis are in fact churchgoing Christians. But when your worldview requires you to see the depraved around every corner, and to try to save them, of course you're going to have to convince people that they're more depraved than they think they are. Otherwise you're going to have to go to a place that actually needs preachers, and that involves an awful lot of work. Directing tracts at nominal Christians in a grocery store in your own city is much easier, and provides that nice glow of having done something good for the Lord.

The title under the unsupported assertion that most people don't believe they're going to hell even if they're trying not to, reads, "Noah's Ark." Then the paragraph: "Most people didn't believe they were going to die in a flood but they did! (I'd add a couple of commas to that sentence if I were the editor, but that's nitpicky so it's my last grammar comment. Really.) Noah warned them but it just seemed too far out for most people to believe back in Noah's time either. Only eight people boarded Noah's Ark and were saved from the destruction of the flood. What happened to the several billion other people who were on the earth at that time? God drowned every one of them!" First, we've got an appeal to the same authority as before - the Bible - without any reason why we should trust the Bible as an authority. That says to me that their target audience is people who already accept the authority of the Bible - or people who aren't educated/smart enough to see through an appeal to authority without support of that authority's credentials. Second, we've got some very Old Testament theology there, though the tract is theoretically Christian and Christianity is supposed to supplant the Old Testament. The God of Christianity doesn't smite whole peoples. He sends his Son to save them. They've missed a key evolution in Christian theology. Their version, unfortunately, is central to Fundamentalist teachings, and very, very wrong.

There's a paragraph about how no one draws pictures about the terrified people and bloated bodies during the flood. Can we say hyperbole? How about scare tactic? Following that is another Old Testament story, this time about Sodom and Gomorrah, with a reference to how homosexuality is just another form of love, but they were wrong about that. Apparently you can still smell the fire and brimstone in the air at the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Really? I didn't think archaeologists had found Sodom and Gomorrah! *checks Wikipedia* Nope, no consensus as to where they were or what happened to them. I doubt you'd be able to smell anything some four thousand years after the event, unless of course the two infamous cities happened to be sitting on top of an active volcano. Actually, that would explain a lot. Bottom line: more unsupported assertions, graphic readings of disputed texts, and appeals to an unsupported authority.

We finally get to the reason after that - we're at the middle panel of the fold-out tract now, by the way. Apparently, most people are going to Hell simply because they don't believe it will happen to them. Further down, under the heading, "Hell", the tract says that the reason Jesus talked about Hell more than anyone else was because he created it. And here I thought it was because Jesus was schooled in the apolcalyptic traditions of Daniel and a few other prophets that didn't make it into our Bible, and was teaching their view of things. It's the same viewpoint that saturates Revelation, depending on how you interpret that book. But I digress. The next bit is interesting: "That's why He came to save us from Hell. You've probably heard of John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Perish means "spend eternity in Hell!"" That seems like an extrapolation to me - last I checked, "perish" simply meant "die."

We get into another debate technique next - the personal appeal. It says, "Friend, I didn't write the Bible, I'm just telling you what it says. You will have to make up your own mind about whether or not you want to believe it, but just remember that your beliefs will not change reality." Oh, so he's not going to bother to support his authority. It is what it is, and if you don't believe it, it's your funeral. In fact, that's almost verbatim from the next section, which talks about funerals all over the world happening right now for people whose souls are crying out for mercy in Hell. It's too late for them, but not for us! Then there's the appeal to accept Jesus' free gift of Salvation, which he's waiting on baited breath to give you.

The next part is the fun part. It's titled, "No Accident." It reads, "This literature (that word in this context made me wince) did not come into your hands by accident. Jesus knew when and where you would receive it. He had it brought to you now because He is calling you now." Apparently, God directs the lives of believers and unbelievers alike to the point where it is HIS will, not our own, that has us glancing towards a rack of tracts and picking one up. Isn't this directly contradicted by the idea that God's will doesn't control us - our will controls us - as stated two paragraphs later? It's magical thinking at its absolute best.

There's a bit about not delaying, and then there's a prayer that you can pray to make yourself right with God. It has far too few commas. (Sorry. I said I wouldn't do that. But it really does.) The section after that is about taking up the cross, and includes a lot of imagery about spiritual warfare that always made me a little uncomfortable. (Yes, I grew up in the Salvation Army. That means I heard it a lot. That means I was uncomfortable a lot.)

It's the last section, however, that is the absolute gem of the whole tract. It is titled, "The Best Bible," and reads, "The King James Version of the Bible is the most accurate English translation. All of the others, although they claim to be easier to read and understand, have watered down God's Word to one degree or another. Most of these modern versions were translated by unbelievers and sinners and should not be trusted." Let's see, here. The modern translations have watered down God's word? What was the author of this tract doing when he quoted the King James and then reinterpreted it for a modern audience? Do I sense some hypocrisy? Furthermore, the modern translations were translated by unbelievers and sinners. Isn't everyone a sinner? Or just the people who believe differently from the author? He quoted the correct verse himself: "all have sinned," and "the wages of sin is death." (The comma that should be after the "and" is missing because the tract left it out, and I would not presume to interpret their meaning by putting it back in. Oh, wait.)

All in all, an entertaining read. I charge you, my loyal readers, with this task: every time you stumble across a tract written and published by "Oil For Your Lamp" Ministries (the quotation marks are theirs, not mine) please grab them all, take them home, and shred them. Or use them to fertilize your garden. They're worth a little less than their weight in cow manure for that purpose, but I'm sure they'd be better off there than in some poor unthinking sod's hands.
velvetpage: (church)
I got this link from RealLivePreacher, for whose blog I have an RS feed. It's disturbing to say the least. I've talked about this particular heresy before. It's the Calvinist principle taken to its ultimate extreme: if you are a real Christian, God WILL prosper you, and if he doesn't, it's because you're not doing it right. Now that massive distortion of Christianity has taken root in Africa, and I have no doubt it is causing great harm there.

http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=3494
velvetpage: (ferret)
Elizabeth: Mommy, why does God want us to wear pretty clothes?

QotD

Jun. 24th, 2007 04:11 pm
velvetpage: (church)
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

C.S. Lewis, i think, but if anyone can be more specific than that I'd appreciate it.
velvetpage: (church)
A couple of days ago, I was browsing my bookshelf for reading material and discovered there a copy of "God in the Dock," a collection of essays by the greatest of the Christian apologists and thinkers of the twentieth century, C.S. Lewis. The first essay in it is about miracles, and it has clarified my thinking somewhat. I find Lewis often does that for me, though on rare occasions I find I disagree with him - usually not his conclusions so much as the applications of them. But I digress.

I have railed before against the popular use of the word "miracle" in our society. A twelve-car pileup kills nine people and injures five more, but leaves the infant in his seat totally unharmed - it's a miracle. A patient comes through a difficult surgery and survives - it's a miracle. Someone gets hit by lightning, but his friend standing right next to him is fine - it's a miracle. These examples and similar ones make me cringe, but I was never able to coherently explain why.

Now I can.

A miracle, in order to be a miracle, must go against the natural laws as we know them, or in the case of Christ, must speed up those natural laws, doing in a moment what usually takes much longer, or doing now what will be possible when our natural laws have come to an end. (More on these in a different post.) The examples above don't fit those definitions. They are examples of probability. The infant's survival is dependent on the technology of the car and his seat, and the interaction of those with the physics involved in the crash. It's possible that a little more spin on the car, or a little less, might have had a very different outcome for him. He beat the odds, but the odds themselves are a function of natural laws and are therefore, if not predictable, at least comprehensible. The patient who comes through a difficult surgery, again, was given long odds - perhaps forty percent survival, perhaps less. But the outcome fell within the range of probability. If it didn't, the surgeon wouldn't have operated to begin with, because there would have been no point.

To call such events "miracles" is first of all to misunderstand the nature of miracles. Second, it's to misunderstand the nature of probability and mathematics, and the science of the events in question. Third, and this is the one I rant about, it's to trivialize the events that resulted from not beating the odds. That miracle baby who survived the car crash is now an orphan because his parents died in it. The boy whose friend was hit by lightning may have survived - but the friend didn't. How many patients died during a similar operation to the one the patient survived? And why, exactly, would God have made an exception to the rules of nature and protected those particular people and not the others affected by the same event? The answer is, he didn't - it wasn't a miracle. He let nature take its course, and the results, though not predicted, still resulted from that.
velvetpage: (mawwaige)
The Bible says (arguably, but let's leave that aside for the moment) that homosexuality is a sin. It also says that God will not test people beyond what they can endure. That means that homosexuality must be a lifestyle choice, because if it isn't, then you're left with two choices: either God is an abusive parent, holding His children responsible for behaviours that are out of their control, or homosexuality is not a sin after all.

Many Christians start with "homosexuality is a sin," arrive at the logical conclusion - it must therefore be a lifestyle choice - and look for science to back them up in that belief, thereby proving that it is, in fact, a sin. When something comes out in research that backs up the opposite hypothesis (which happens frequently) Christians must deny it, or face the choices above, neither of which is palatable.

I've long since decided, of course, that the Bible doesn't in fact condemn the modern version of homosexuality - that is, two equal partners in a loving, committed relationship akin to marriage. By accepting this, I leave myself open to the probability that homosexuality is, in fact, inborn - either genetic, or a result of hormonal influences in the womb, and most likely both.
velvetpage: (Default)
The service today was run by the teens and pre-teens of the church. One of them, an older boy, perhaps fifteen or sixteen, did the children's story.

He had his brother hold up an egg. "This egg is like us. We're humans, and we're sinful." The brother held up a hammer. "God says that the wages of sin is death. Death today is represented by the hammer. This is God's Hammer of Death." At this point, I'm having visions of D&D and St. Cuthbert, while most of the adults in the sanctuary are having visions of these two teens smashing an egg in the middle of church. "God's hammer is going to smash the egg," he said, and the brother raised the hammer.

Just before the brother started to swing it, the kid put a coffee can upside-down over the egg. The hammer dented it, but that was all. "Jesus is the can," he said, as the adults breathed a sigh of relief and I convulsed in silent mirth. "He protects us from God's wrath. See? The egg is perfectly safe." He lifted up the can.

The brother was just fast enough to catch the egg before it rolled off the table.

It was far and away the most effective children's story I've seen in a long time. But I'm having trouble getting the image of Jesus as a tin man, or worse, out of my head.
velvetpage: (church)
An interesting read about the choice of writings to be included in the New Testament. I find it most intriguing that the father of the Reformation questioned the book of Revelation, among others. Anyway, of interest to those of you who are into Church history.

Taken from [livejournal.com profile] roseross at [livejournal.com profile] dark_christian, and cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] xtian_trackback
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Is the Christian Right really interpreting the Bible as literally as they claim?

I haven't had a chance to read the whole thing yet - it's somewhat dense - but it does support my long-held, but poorly-referenced, view that the Literalists aren't reading their Bibles as thoroughly as they ought.

Um, well.

Jan. 2nd, 2007 10:51 am
velvetpage: (snow angel)
I can think of a few people on my list who will think this is the best thing to happen to Christianity in a long, long time. There are probably others who will be very disturbed by it.

This link is not particularly work-appropriate, though there isn't much that's actually unsafe about it.

http://www.sexinchrist.com/pornography.html
velvetpage: (studious)
http://www.christianpost.com/article/20061028/25636.htm

Here are the things I noticed:

1) The study doesn't recognize bisexuality at all. This is a major flaw, since there are at least half a dozen people on my friends list who identify as bi and are married/in heterosexual long-term relationships. Behaviour is only one indication of sexual preference, and it is not necessarily the definitive one.

2) There's an underlying equivalence here between "social" and "environmental" that needs to be challenged. Environmental factors could include physical things like pollution that are not controllable on an individual level but could have an effect (to the best of my knowledge, that has not been ruled out as a scientific factor - someone correct me if I'm wrong, please.)

3) The conclusion - "Taken together, the study’s findings suggest that intact parents bearing multiple children and living in rural areas increase the probability of heterosexual pairings in their children." Really. I thought it showed a connection - but I didn't see any evidence of causality. It seems to me that the more insular and religious your family life, the less likely you are to be open about your sexuality if it doesn't match expected norms, leading to fewer homosexual marriages. Thus, social expectations increase repression rather than decreasing homosexuality.

All in all, I dislike the tone that parents can avoid that most horrible of outcomes, a homosexual child, if they just obey the teachings of their church regarding their own marriages. Of course, it's what I would expect from this source, but still - it grates.
velvetpage: (Default)
It would appear that there is exactly one Christian Left community on livejournal, and it has very, very few members and only three or four posts, all by the same guy. The last one was posted just before Terry Schiavo died. I admit I didn't look at the comments. (Oh, I just found another, about liberal Christianity. Also not very active.)

There are half a dozen, at least, Christians on my list whom I would describe as liberal to varying degrees, and who describe themselves as such. So, tell me: if I started such a community, would you join it? This question is by no means limited to Christians, btw. I would set it up so I approved membership, thereby giving myself the right to kick people out if necessary, but I'd let in everyone who went to the trouble of asking, and the rule would be the same as the rule here: reasoned, friendly debate.

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