Monday, June 30, 2008

A Visit to Harvard

I just got back from a medical conference in Boston. I've been there 3-4 times before but I had never visited Harvard. It is in the western edge of Cambridge, MA . . . I would guess about 7-8 miles from downtown. But the subway, the red line, has a stop right in Harvard Square.

Because my daughter Amy was with me on this trip, I decided to take her to Harvard.

This school, in my Evangelical days, had always represented evil. I mean, some of the greatest proponents of evolutionary theory were Harvard professors. Timothy Leary, the psychologist who advocated drug taking, was a Harvard professor. So, we were always led to believe that it was a liberal, rich-kid, anti-Christian Mecca.

My impressions, just as a tourist, was very different. Besides being a beautiful campus, other things struck me in a very positive way.

One of my moving moments on campus was standing beneath the large cloth banners with the Harvard shield (pictured above). There motto is Veritas. In Roman mythology, Veritas was the goddess of truth and the mother of virtue. Of course, Harvard's motto is simply the pursuit of truth.

The school, Harvard, is named after John Harvard. He was a Puritan minister and a lover of truth and education. He came to Cambridge, MA from England and only lived one year before dying from tuberculosis. So, Rev. Harvard didn't have the chance to teach at Harvard . . . but he did leave his huge library to the school's foundation and gave half of his estate. He saw the great importance, as a Christian living in the real, wonderful world, of seeking truth at all cost.

Of course pursuit of truth can lead you astray at times, as I believe was the case of Timothy Leary. But the pursuit itself is a noble pursuit and godly in itself.

Evangelicals are often distracted from truth by dogma or sub-culture conformity. This is a tragedy. We should not fear truth nor the pursuit of it. The "liberal boogie man" is not going to grab you the very second you question your dogma.

So I left with a positive feeling having seen Harvard first hand and reflecting on its great history (just think of the number of presidents, Supreme Court justices that graduated from that relatively small school). I would find it an honor for one of my kids to go there.

The last thing that gave me some satisfaction was seeing a poster on campus by a philosophy group. The group was advertising a meeting about Plato's great role in the Renaissance. I have been teaching a course at church based on Francis Schaeffer's film series.

I've spent the past two years studying the Renaissance and had become very convinced that it was entirely based on the purposeful (via the Medici family) base of Platonic teaching. Schaeffer had accidentally (I say accidentally because I really think he knew better) that the Renaissance was based on Aristotelian humanism . . . it was not. People didn't seem to believe me, but I was happy to see that others, experts at that, agree with this simple fact.

I think I'm going to do a posting on George Carlin. With his death last week, I read a Christian blog in his honor as well as two of my professional (medical blogs). It started me thinking. I knew very little of him or his work. I was led to believe that he was the human incarnation of pure evil during my evangelical days, so I never listened to him. But last night I listened to abut 2 hours of Carlin including his "Religion is Bull Shit" piece. But, there is some truth to Carlin's observations on human life. He does hold a lot of logic, between the "F" word and some wrong conclusions. It should be interesting.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Gone to Boston for a Week

Out of town for a week. See you later.

In Search of the Holy Grail (Real Miracles)

To even question the existence of miracles is a sacrilege in the eyes of many Christians. Woven into the very fabric of Christendom over the ages (but not every where and all the time) is the concept that not only do miracles occur, but they are quite common.

When I was with The Navigators and in many of the Evangelical churches that I attended, it was assumed, even anticipated that miracles would occur every day . . . well, at least once a month. When I was involved with charismatics, we believed that miracles occurred in every minute of every day. To even question whether or not something was a miracle was to appear as a very “unspiritual” person or a “babe in Christ” and questioning God himself.

First I must define what I mean by miracles. Miracles are where God works directly outside His laws of physics.

Next, I want to define my perspective. I am not questioning whether or not COULD God do a miracle. Evangelicals often mistake me for a “liberal” or “materialist.” I am not at all. The materialist (speaking philosophically here) does not believe that there is even a spiritual realm, and certainly not in a divine creator. Therefore, according to them, nothing can ever happen outside the laws of physics.

Did God do miracles? Of course! Scripture documents clearly that miracles occurred in both the old and new testaments. I have no doubt about that. If I had lived at the time of Christ and observed my friend, Lazarus, raised from the dead, I would have observed a real miracle in time and space (verses my imagination or wishful thinking).

My simple question is do miracles occur now and if so how often? It is not a theological question. I’m not stating, that from scripture, somehow I’ve concluded that God was very clear that miracles would cease at a certain time in history. My question is a pragmatic and honest question about observations in real life.

I do know that we are all deeply fallen and selfish. Our hearts (emotions and psychological make up) is flawed and deceitful. I know from scripture and personal experience that people believe very strongly things that are not true, including Christians. Our reason, as well as our emotions and will are fallen. Self-delusion is very, very common because of the effect of the fall on us.

I also know, and Evangelicals should not be in disagreement with this, that while Satan is the lord of lies, God is the God of truth. It IS our responsibility to “test the spirits” if they are true or not. It is NOT unspiritual (unless you are a Dualist) to raise your eyebrows when someone speaks of a miracles happening. In this way, I am more of a fundamentalist than even the most fundamentalists because I believe that we should be very strict with truth . . . not shading it, even not shading it to “honor God.”

There is intense peer pressure in Evangelical groups, especially the really “hard-core” ones like The Navigators, or charismatic groups to see miracles in everything. The reason is that they are Dualistic. They believe that the laws of physics, (which, by the way, God created and said was very good), are inferior to God working outside His laws. So to them, miracles are superior to God’s natural laws of cause and effect. “Joe got better from his cancer because God cured him,” sounds much more spiritual than, “Joe got better because the chemotherapy worked.”

The peer pressure is to look like a strong Christian, to feel good about your faith, to feel that you are doing things for God and He is blessing you . . . so there is a very strong psychological pressure to see miracles.

But, a true Christian wants truth above all else (because we serve a God of truth). It is much more honorable to say that something came from the laws of physics, if they indeed come from the natural laws, than to lie and say that it was a miracle.

Does God do miracles now? I’m honestly not sure. Again, this is not a theological position but an observation of real life. I’ve been a Christian for 38 years. I’ve been around thousands of Christians during this time. I’ve witnessed many, many claims of miracles . . . but ALL OF THEM WERE WIMPY MIRACLES. They were so anemic, that it was in the arena of bending spoons or sawing a woman in half with a trick box. How silly. I mean to relegate the God whom created the 14 billion light-year plus universe with a spoken word to doing silly card tricks? Give me a break!

What do I mean about wimpy miracles? I mean, sitting in on a Full Gospel Business Men’s meeting in 1978 where the leader was “stretching legs” as a miracle. That’s an outrage and insulting to the God of Heaven. Surely if God was going to do a miracle he would not be in the business of stretching legs (which any magician can do with a slight of hand.)

It reminds me of the old movie “Oh God” staring George Burns and John Denver. When God (played by George) appeared in court, the judge asked him to prove that he was God. The fist thing he did was a card trick. He did move on to a disappearing act. But this is how silly this whole pretense is. Is God, the creator of the cosmos, just a circus performer? Does he put people in a box and tries to saw them in half? That’s the idea of the TV faith healer-performers and most of the miracles that we hear about every day.

Does God still do miracles? I do believe that 99.99% of what we call miracles are not. They are wishful thinking, imagination or someone being slight of hand. But lying is not innocent. Lying is sin, even if you are “lying for Jesus.” Then that’s even a worse sin in my book.

This is what a real miracle would look like. Someone died and is buried in the ground for three days (starting to decay) and God brings them back to life, restores them to good health. Someone is missing a leg (from the hip) for 50 years. God causes that limb to immediately re-grow to full condition. That is a far cry than “stretching legs” or being touched on the forehead and falling backwards and now your migraines seem less severe.

What about this. Someone who has never, ever studied Mandarin Chinese, immediately starts speaking fluent Mandarin . . . in the Chengdu dialect. Now that’s really speaking in tongues, not some emotionally induced gibberish.

I know that to even suggest that speaking in tongues is not a real miracle makes many Christians mad as hell. But I’ve spoken in tongues before (in 1976). I can honestly say that it is an emotional fraud. Am I a bad guy for pointing that out? It seems like it. Show me one real miracle and I will say, “Hum. God really still does do miracles.”

“Who are you to judge if I’m speaking in tongues?” A well-meaning Christian would ask me. Who am I to judge? I am a Christian and we Christians are in the business of selling truth and only truth. We MUST speak truth at all times. Start speaking Mandarin (having never studied) and I will shout for joy over your miracle. But I can not glory in your pretending. Lying is sin and to shout for joy over sin is not healthy. Pretending is NOT HEALTHY. Pretending does not draw people to the true Christ!

When I say I’m not sure if God still does miracles, it has nothing to do with His abilities. Every time I enter this discussion with other Christians, they start saying things like, “You are trying to dethrone God!” or “My God is tremendous, your God is impotent.” They are totally missing my point. My point is, because God is tremendous and because God is a God of truth . . . then I desire truth over appearance.

Someone could say that I don’t wear skirts. That doesn’t mean that I CAN”T wear skirts or I don’t have the power to wear skirts. I simply mean that I don’t. I think there is a very good reason that God doesn’t do what we call miracles. It is really simple. God created a wonderful universe. The Newton’s Laws are all God breathed. They are wonderful. All the rules of probability, friction, gravity, biochemistry . . . all ARE GOD’s STUFF. So how ridicules it is that we expect God to do something outside what he has done already to prove that he his great. Do you understand?

It is like you build this huge playground (playground=universe) for your son . . . but you son says, “Dad, if you really love me, you will do something different than what you’ve made for me.” HUH?

This whole problem (of favoring pretend miracles over natural events) has its foundation in Platonic Dualism. When you believe that this wonderful world, which God has created, is evil or inferior, then you want things outside of this world to prove that God is great or loves you (miracles in other words).

Does God still do things outside of His wonderful laws? I don’t know. You’ll be the first to know if I ever see a real miracle, but I am really, really happy with the universe which God has made.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Miracles & Magic: Part IV Have We Lost Our Way?

I’m involved with several other blogs, forums etc. On one of the forums, it is a secular, medical forum; I raised this story of Neil Beagley as a medical-ethical discussion. It was interesting. The non-Christian medical providers all agreed that this whole situation was outrageous. A family letting a boy, suffer and die, from a very easy to treat medical condition.

But there was one dissenting voice, an out-spoken Evangelical Christian on that forum. His point, both on the public forum and to me in private was, “Who are you to say that God was not behind this. That the boy’s physical death may be pale in comparison to some spiritual lesson that God wanted to teach the group.”

Have evangelicals lost their moral compass? Only the Evangelical on that forum thought this behavior was okay. Have they lost their freaken minds? Really, so their God is the kind of God that would intentionally created a boy with a small urethra, then allow it to close up, then allow him to spends weeks suffering (from a problem that even I could fix in 5 minutes with a catheter) until he died from uremic poisoning? That this was God’s will to reach someone something like patience?

Have evangelicals lost their moral compass (or minds) to the point that they don’t see Benny Hinn and the many others like him (just watch Daystar for an afternoon) as an incredible, evil, manipulative con-man? Non-Christians sure do. Can we not oppose the evil done “in the name of Christ” because we have this deep fear of, “What if it really is Christ behind it?” If we think that there is even a 1% chance that God is behind Benny Hinn or the Oregan church that allowed this poor boy to suffer, then we really don’t know God at all. We know some Dualistic – Platonic created god, but not the God of the Old Testament.

If you look at these things closely, you would realize the great harm in Dualism. How this world becomes so insignificant, that only that which you can label as “spiritual” has merit.

More to come.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Miracles & Magic: Part III Murder by Dualism

This is a breaking story. This is INSANE! The parents, the whole freaking church should go to prison. Do you realize how easy it would have been to fix this simple medical problem and saved this poor boy's life? Very, very easy. Yet, these idiots allowed him to suffer and die because they believe so much in Dualistic concepts (this world, including smart doctors are evil while the spiritual, supernatural healing is good). I hope people are starting to understand how very destructive Dualism has been to the Christian faith.

GLADSTONE, Ore. — Authorities say a teenager from a faith-healing family died from an illness that could have been easily treated, just a few months after a toddler cousin of his died in a case that has led to criminal charges.

Tuesday's death of 16-year-old Neil Beagley, however, may not be a crime because Oregon law allows minors 14 and older to decide for themselves whether to accept medical treatment.
"All of the interviews from last night are that he did in fact refuse treatment," police Sgt. Lynne Benton said Wednesday. "Unless we can disprove that, charges probably won't be filed in this case."

An autopsy Wednesday showed Beagley died of heart failure caused by a urinary tract blockage.
He likely had a congenital condition that constricted his urinary tract where the bladder empties into the urethra, and the condition of his organs indicates he had multiple blockages during his life, said Dr. Clifford Nelson, deputy state medical examiner for Clackamas County.
"You just build up so much urea in your bloodstream that it begins to poison your organs, and the heart is particularly susceptible," Nelson said.

Nelson said a catheter would have saved the boy's life. If the condition had been dealt with earlier, a urologist could easily have removed the blockage and avoided the kidney damage that came with the repeated illnesses, Nelson said.
Parents Indicted in Child's Death After Alleged Faith-Healing
Oregon Couple Charged in Daughter's Faith-Healing Death

Benton said a board member of the Followers of Christ church contacted the authorities after Beagley died at his family's home. The teen had been sick about a week, and church members and his family had gathered to pray Sunday when his condition worsened, Benton said.
In March, the boy's 15-month-old cousin Ava Worthington died at home from bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection.
Her parents, Carl and Raylene Worthington, also belong to the church. They have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and criminal mistreatment, and their defense attorneys have indicated they will use a religious freedom defense.
After earlier deaths involving children of Followers of Christ believers, a 1999 Oregon law struck down religious shields for parents who treat their children solely with prayer. No one had been prosecuted under it until the Worthingtons' case.
Members and former members of the church in Oregon City have told The Oregonian newspaper in previous interviews that the congregation has 1,200 people. It has no apparent ties to other congregations or any mainstream denomination.

Miracles & Magic: Part II The Christian Con Man (woman)

So this brings me back to the question/issue that is raised in Pete Gall's book. Can we have it both ways? Can we watch a faith-healer, TV evangelist and say, "It's a con, but who am I to judge another Christian?"

To me, that is really moral-relativism. If someone is a "con-man for Jesus" I see it as the worst of sins and we can't just look the other way and say, "Maybe someone will be blessed by it." These are the people (like Jesus in the temple) whom Jesus loathed. He didn't loath the prostitutes or tax collectors, but the religious con man, he treated like dirty pigs.

I really believe that we do have a responsibility to oppose these people at all costs The religious networks are full of these con artist. While Christians have protested at abortion clinics, gay marriages, etc. it is really the Christian con man that needs our loudest voice.

I have a lot of respect for James Randi, who has made it his job to expose cons. He spent a while focusing on Christian con artist. Thank you Mr. Randi! I don't think he is a Christian, and like many non-Christians, he is probably turned off by Christianity because of all the cons. But I suggest you watch this You-tube interview with Mr. Randi:

Monday, June 16, 2008

Miracles & Magic: Part I Faith-Healers

I see myself standing at a door, considering if I dare to enter. The reason is, I've entered that door before and it has become like a Pandora's Box. But here I go again.

Why I come to this subject of miracle-workers and faith-healers is because of book I am now reading, My Beautiful Idol, by Pete Gall. I'm not done with the book so I really don't know the direction that the author will take me in. But he did just go through an experience (BTW, it is an autobiography) that brings back to my mind, a personal experience, a long time ago.

First I will start with Pete's experience. He's left his high-paying Chicago advertising job and is seeking what he should do for Christ (in a nut-shell). He is in Utah, working in a Christian re-hab. He meets a hot young girl that he wants to get to know better. He goes to a local charismatic church with her and they have a healing service. In the service, the evangelist is touching people and they are falling down and they are lengthening legs (or at least he refers to leg-lengthening healings). He was called up front, they touched his head, and he fell down. In summary, his conclusion was that he felt bad . . . conned. He felt like the experience was bogus . . . yet, seemed to say that Jesus was there, in the experience. So it makes me wonder . . . how can it be both ways, a con job and a work of Jesus?

I hear too often Christians speaking in those terms. They usually say, irrational things, like, "Well it's not my cup of tea . . . and the guy is a con man, but who am I say that the people participating aren't being reached for Jesus."

When I entered college as a freshman, I jumped right into the center of The Navigators (Christian para-church ministry). I actually lived in the main ministry house, off campus, and with the main two leaders who were discipling my friend Bill and I.

The Navigators is not a charismatic group per se, although you could and can find some Navigators who are. Tom, our campus leader favored a charismatic perspective. He is the one, I mentioned much earlier, who God spoke directly too, in a mystical way, telling him to marry this new (hot blond haired-blue eyed) gal that came into the ministry. Since it was “God telling him to do it” the gal, Julie, had no choice but to obey God . . . right?

It was when I was a Sophomore that our ministry took a very charismatic turn. There was an ecumenical environment on campus anyway. Baptist students (although we looked down up on them for being “unspiritual”), hung out with us as well a Campus Crusade, Presbyterians, Methodist and Church of God. But oddly the charismatic revival that swept through campus came from the Episcopalian and Catholic churches. While the main Churches did not practice charismatic beliefs in their services or masses, there was an “underground” charismatic movement spawned by one of the Episcopalian priest in combination with a group called, “The Full Gospel Business Men.”

So, our entire Navigator ministry follow suit and we all became charismatic that second year. I remember Tom telling me that a higher spiritual plane that we should seek was being “Baptized in the Holy Spirit.” The outward sign of that event was speaking in tongues. I remember one by one members of the group would share, in tears and excited voices, that the “spirit had slain them” and they were now “Baptized by the Holy Spirit.”

The social pressure to do the same was tremendous! A non-Baptized by the Holy Spirit person was quickly becoming an inferior outcast. I prayed earnestly for the gift so I would be part of my social group again.

I can remember walking and praying, begging God to “bless me” with such an event. I tried over and over to work myself up into an emotional tizzy, rolling my eyes in the back of my head, foaming at the mouth, grunting until finally the grunts became the “speaking in tongues” that I had wanted so badly. Now, I know beyond a question of doubt that I personally conjured up the emotional event under such social pressure. I knew in my deepest heart of hearts that it was all fake . . . but I closed the closet door on that knowledge because so much was at stake. I too wanted to be spiritual! I am confident, that everyone in the entire group did the same thing as I had done, faked it.

But suddenly everything changed . . . in the direction of extreme Dualism. Nothing in our physical lives mattered anymore, but everything (if it had any value at all) was “spiritual.” Then “miracles” started happening left and right. Engines lights that been on (warning of an problem) suddenly went out! (But the car owner never mentioned that they also had put oil in the car).

Psychosomatic illnesses left and right started to be healed. One of our fellow students, born with cerebral palsy was being prayed for. We were going to throw away her wheelchair. But when it didn’t happened, a “word from God” came to us that she had secret sin in her life that was blocking the healing. Retrospectively, this was very cruel, and even a form of emotional abuse!

We were throwing away our text books for school because God would "give us the knowledge--straight into our brains, without the worldly philosophies attached" or so we thought (btw, my grade-point average plummeted that year).

In summary, this became the most emotional dishonest and dysfunctional time of my life. If you hated some guy because a cute girl (which you liked) gave him more attention, you could say that "God has spoken to you that this man had demonic oppression and every one should be weary of him." You couldn't say the truth, I hate the jerk out of jealously because he's better-looking than me and the girls like him more. So there were all these crazy, manipulative games going on all the time, being covered by this super-spiritual facade.

I think I mentioned once before about a Navigator leader, named David, that sexually pursued me like crazy. It creeped me out. But he was also a master of this spiritual manipulation. He could say things like, "God spoke to me from the word today that I need a special baptism, by water, down at the river and in a pure, unclothed way. God also showed me that he wanted a brother who loved me to go with me." In other words, he was hot for me and wanted me to go skinny dipping with him. I always refused and then he would be "deeply hurt and his spirit grieved." So do you see this horrible nightmare that this time of "miracles and magic" created for us.

I have excepts from a book I'm working on pasted at the very end of this page. I didn't want to post it here because it is so long. I will see if I can figure out how to link to it from here, but just scroll down or use the "ctrl F" and type in From Butterflies and it will take you there.

There will be more discussion on this topic coming in Parts II, III etc.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Observations from Around the Dinner Table

So the game playing brings me back to the dinner table last night. I had rare opportunity to have almost all my kids (minus my oldest son and his wife) at our dinner table and two Evangelical guests.

I think I have nurtured, and I'm proud of this, the feeling of sanctuary around the dinner table, that my kids feel that they can say anything and not be condemned, as long as they are being honest. I mean, if one said, "I hate God," I would not scorn those comments, if he/she were being honest. Words like that don't offend me. I think that God is big enough that those words don't offend Him either, but dishonestly does.

My son Daniel (22) made the comment, “Success in life is really determined by your insincerity.” Knowing Daniel, he is a deep thinker and does not say things that are flippant nor just to get a response. He has never been one that craves the limelight. But he did get a reaction nonetheless by our two Evangelical guests . . . and his mom.

So the response that Daniel got was negative by the two Evangelical guests and I would guess a little embarrassment by his mother (who would have been much happier if Daniel had said, “Man I really love Jesus” even if she knew that he didn’t mean it). But that would have made her “proud” . . . even if she knew that he didn’t mean it.

I on the other hand, was quite pleased that Dan spoke from his heart, regardless what he was saying. I always feel honored, especially when we are alone, one on one, and he says something . . . even if it is provocative. If I know what he is saying is true to what he thinks, (it doesn’t matter if what he says is good or bad in itself), I feel honored that he said honest thoughts it to me. Why? Because I love Dan and I want to have windows into his soul and such candid comments are wonderful windows.

Also, as a peer, I take his words for their value, an intellectual claim, which can be discussed and debated. It is a place to start . . . just as if he had said, “I hate God,” is a starting point of a wonderful discussion. I can never have him consider loving God, if we don’t have the discussion. We can’t have the discussion if he doesn’t feel safe to speak what he really thinks (without any rejection from me).

So I started to engage Daniel about this profound observation of his opinion on insincerity (respecting his discernment). I made statements like, “Hum . . . Dan, I think you’re right . . . at least in most situations. I mean, I know that I could be much more successful if I was better at insincerity.

For example, I got out of the Air Force (15 years ago), because I knew that I could never make rank fast enough to stay in (I would have to be a full Colonel by retirement). The reason is, you have to be very insincere to advance in the military. You have to tell the base commander how great he is (even if you really think he’s a selfish jerk). You have to praise your commanding officer’s golf game. You have to tell his wife how beautiful she is (when she puts on makeup with a caulk gun).

So my point is Dan’s comments has merit, enough merit that it was worth discussing even if it did not sound “Christian.” It is also worth discussing, even if I don’t think it is accurate, because he said it and believes it.

Have you ever been in the situation where you were having a conversation with someone and someone else or a group of people are have a very different conversation with the same person simultaneously? This was what it was like around the dinner table.

I was making the comments (like I mentioned above) and the Evangelical sector were saying something very different. Rather than trying to quote their very words, they were saying, in summary: “You shouldn’t say things like that. That’s very wrong. People, especially Christians are very sincere and successful. The more sincere that you are the more successful you are.” But really overriding what they were saying was, “You should not say things like that, such comments are not very Christian.”

Now this observation was another eureka moment, but not one I haven’t had before. But to the mainstream, the lovely 99.99% of Evangelicals, appearance is more important than content. I will say it again, APPEARANCE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN CONTENT!

I am sure if I said the above in my Church’s Sunday school class, Charlie (the chief elder) or someone else will say something (with a hateful look on their face) “You shouldn’t say things like that.”

Those are some of the most empty words in Christendom or anywhere and I loath them. I’m talking about words like “Shouldn’t” or “ought not.” This is especially true when it comes to things you say. There is nothing more lame that the phrase, “You shouldn’t say things like that.” The real issue is; are you speaking truth (what you really think) or are you pretending? Speaking truth is far better than pretending (even if the pretending looks much better on the surface).

My re-writing is; “You shouldn’t say things that you don’t believe! You should say things, whatever they are, if you really believe them. That doesn’t authenticate the statements, it doesn’t make what you say to be true, but it does authenticate you, the person who thinks this way. Does that make sense?

So how can we reach the non-Christian, or even our own families when we have a very long list of thing they ought not say and things that they ought to say (regardless of what they really think).

I Don't Mean to Irritate People

I get myself in trouble a lot, socially at least and it's not about how to hold my fork, it's my words.

I’m often left scratching my head thinking, “How did my innocent comment stir up so much anger?” Am I a social klutz? I mean I really am surprised by the responses I get sometimes.

I spent the first part of this week in hot water on a (non-Christian) medical forum. A colleague was arrested when he (45 years old) attacked a 13 year-old boy, choking him and holding a kitchen knife to his throat. Why did he do this? He said he did it because the boy had rung his doorbell as a prank and then ran and hid in the bushes.

My commentary about the event was simply, as a medical profession, our public behavior is under more scrutiny than the average person and I would consider that an over-reacton. We medical practitioners have to practice more restraint, especially if we are angry. While a construction worker might recover professionally (in otherwise keep his job) after such an event, it would hard for a doctor, nurse or PA to keep their job. This story was the headliner on the person’s local paper. I was really surprised (taken back in other words) when three or four people on the forum became very angry at me and continue sending me hate-mail, even though I apologized for even mentioning the event. I have not responded to their very personal attacks. I haven’t tried to defend myself on that very public forum, but several of my colleagues have spoken up to defend me.

But the point I want to make, is that I did not see that response coming at all. As a sociologist (pretending to be as I am not) I wanted to try and understand what had I said that pushed their buttons. I really thought there would be great agreement that this was an inappropriate response to a silly prank. I think they misinterpreted my words as me condemning the person from some kind of a higher moral ground. A few of them know that I’m a Christian, but I try not to wear that fact on my sleeves because I don't want to be quickly pigeon-holed as the typical obnoxious Evangelical.

But if these people knew my heart, how I have been severely humbled by my own failures, they would understand that I would never look down my nose at other people. It is not like I think I have been spared from such bad behavior because of my great integrity (eyes rolling here). But I was speaking as an objective observer of our profession. I also walk this fine line, and have gotten myself equally misunderstood on Christian forums/Blogs, including this one. I seemed to come across as highly critical of Evangelicalism, and maybe I am. But I am not critical in the way that I think I’m on some higher spiritual plane with all the answers.

I do think that Evangelicalism has lost its way. I haven’t completely found my way, but I think I see things more honestly than I use to. The reason isn’t due to some great spiritual attributes of my own. I got to this point by being a total failure . . . a failure as an Evangelical, a failure as a missionary and a failure in many other ways. In the same way that Luther (not making any personal comparisons here, but acknowledging that there have been thousands if not millions of people like Luther) came to his spiritual awareness through his spiritual failures, so have I.

Some Evangelicals, especially the Joel Osteen -positive thinking, perpetual smiling types, see me as negative or critical. But I don’t feel that way. I do feel like Alice in the Land of Wonder at times (as I try to live within the Evangelical world). But I have tremendous hope and positive attitude because we are all, completely cleansed by the blood of Christ and we don’t have to play the games anymore.

Friday, June 6, 2008

How Did We Christians Get to be so Gullible?

It is a rhetorical question that could take a couple of books to explore. But, before I talk about the how I wanted to explain, by way of examples, of what I’m talking about.

Case # 1. Benny Henn. Should I say more? But the point I want to make about him (and if you don’t know him, I suggest you watch an entire Benny Henn broadcast and you will know what I’m talking about) is how many Evangelicals ARE Benny Henn admirers.

Case # 2. I work in medicine, so many of my examples will come from my sphere of experience. I can say with some confidence, that my Christian patients are some of my most difficult to treat. The reason is that they, more than others, have bought into bizarre explanations of what ails them. They can read one ad on the Internet about a bogus claim to cure anything, from cancer to pimples and they send off their money. On every visit, they are on a new tangent of cures; magnets, bowel cleansing, supplements (which have not been proven to be effective nor safe).

Case # 4. I’m going to connect this posting to my previous ones about “Behind the Looking Glass.” In that last posting, I described how I put together a forum of old college Navigators which was to lead to a reunion. One of the folks on the forum was John. John is a PCA pastor, seminary graduate and was considered the most “intellectual” guy in our campus ministry.

One day John comes on to the forum to announce something new and exciting that “God is doing in his life.” He went on to explain that it was about health care. He first reminded people that he was a pre-med major (briefly) in college. I guess this was suppose to give what he was going to say next some credibility. But before I move on I will add that I was a premed major in college and what I later learned in medical school was light years away from the basic chemistry, anatomy etc. I was studying as an undergraduate.

Pastor John went on to “share” that “God had shown him a couple of things about health care.” One of those things was that glyconutrients were literally God’s given cure to almost every disease known to man. He clearly implied that included things such as arthritis, cancer and HIV aids. Then he encouraged people to contact him for more information. From the response, it sounds like several did contact him for "more information."

I smelled a rat. I did some investigation and found out that a MLM company, Mannatech had supplement made of glyconutrients and the focus of their marketing was Evangelical Christians. I also learned that the founder of this company had a jaded past with two indictments for business fraud, before “God reveled to him glyconutrients.”

Now I would let this slide except for two things. One, John, using his bully pulpit (or authority as a PCA pastor) said that scripture says that everyone who prescribes medication (including myself) are “sorcerers” or practicing witchcraft. I found that not only very offensive, but dangerous. The second thing, related to the first, was that he was encouraging a person on the forum to have her girlfriend (with breast cancer) to stop her chemotherapy and only use glyonutrients sold my Mannatech.

I came onto the forum and asked John two questions. First, was he a sales person in the multi-level-marketing scheme and two, can he share any scientific proof that Mannatec products work for anything? I thought this would a reasonable request because, after all, he was asking people to stop their chemotherapy and start these supplements.

He first responded with very vague proof that they work, including a supposedly endorsement by Ben Carson (famous neuro surgeon at Johns Hopkins). Next he went on to speak with authority (which he didn’t have) describing how all medical research is corrupt, where pharmaceutical companies pay investigators to fudge studies to prove their drugs work, when they do not. I also found that highly offensive because I have worked in drug research throughout my 26-year career and being paid to fudge results is an outrageous claim. I had first hand experience in the industry and John was going on hearsay. But John did not answer my question if he was selling the stuff.

I next called Dr. Ben Carson. I didn’t get to speak to him directly, but his office. I voiced my question, whether Dr. Carson was endorsing the products or not. The answer was absolutely not. He had only spoken at a Mannatech convention as a paid motivational speaker (for about $50K). He speaks to a variety of groups . . . whoever wants him and will pay.

Finally Pastor John admitted that he was a salesman for the company (earning money through their MLM program)

About that time, I had a personal call from the VP of Mannatech who was very apologetic. Dr. Carson had called him expressing concern of how their salespeople were using his name in their sales pitches. He also told me that he was sorry that people like Pastor John was misrepresenting their products as cures for cancer.

In a last, desperate move, I had a strange letter from Pastor John informing me that I was in deep sin for questioning him and his company. It was the sin of gossip and slander. But I had no choice but to speak up because Pastor John was telling people to stop their chemotherapy. Also John had used many lies in his presentation (including not telling people that he was part of the sales force and that Ben Carson had endorsed the product).

Back to my original question is why are we Christians so gullible? I really think the reason is because of the Dualistic view of sanctification. Christians, like John (and myself at times), really believe that through a process of sanctification that we can quickly reach a point that our motives are pure. They loose sight of their sinful psychological dynamics that continue to haunt all of us for the rest of our lives here on earth. We play these games with ourselves and others.

Evangelical Christianity is also more vulnerable because of the mis-application of verses such as, Matt 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” It has been used as a mask, behind which Christians can get away with murder and no one questions them.

But scripture warns us to be wise as serpents but innocent as doves. Often, we are wise as doves and as innocent as serpents.

The worst example that I can think of is growing up in a Baptist Church where a guy, Jack, sexually molested boys for years, including my brother. It was a known fact, but because Jack was a wonderful gospel singer, choir director and didn't swear or drink alcohol, everyone looked the other way saying, "Judge not lest you be judged."

Christians should know about the Fall and Satan's craftiness more than anyone. We should be the most skeptical people on earth rather buying every thing said to us by Christians line . . . hook and sinker. Whatever happened to healthy skepticism? Knowing that God is the God of truth, I really believe that we are mandated to "test" every spirit or to question everything that others say . . . and that our own heart tells us. That doesn't mean that we can't believe anything, but it means that to believe something, we have the responsibility to doubt it first.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Behind the Looking Glass Part II

As I said, I wanted to make this topic more practical (than talking about people who secretly murder people).

I often get myself in trouble when I sound critical of other Christians, because readers mis-interpret my position as me saying that I stand on higher moral ground looking down on the people that I criticize. I want to make it clear that I think these principles apply to all of us Christians. I was one of the worst pretenders for 15 years, and I struggle with it even now. But the story I’m going to tell is about someone else . . . someone I will call “Kate.” It is a true story but that’s not her real name. But for the real Kate, I have the deepest respect. I also sense sadness for her as I do many within Evangelicalism, because they don’t have a safe place to speak about the reality in their lives.

About 10 years ago, I was putting together a reunion of my old ETSU Navigator ministry. I had looked up and made contact with many old Christian friends. In this process there was both a public forum (made up of the collection of old friends that I found) and of course my private e-mails.

One gal I found was Kate. She wasn’t really part of the Navigators in college but a leader in Campus Crusade. She hung out with the Navigator group so I included her in my search.

At the time I made contact with Kate, she was living close to where we went to school. She had the stereotypical “perfect” Christian family. I think she had five kids, home-schooling all of them of course. Several of her kids had won many awards for their musical and athletic abilities. Her husband was an elder of a very large church and had his own men’s ministry. On top of this, Kate was in graduate school and was the founder and leader of a large University ministry.

Once I made contact with Kate, she joined the group forum. She sent some of her “electronic” family newsletters to the whole group about the wonderful things God was doing in and through their family and ministries.

She and I had e-mailed back and forth as we were searching for other individuals, which we wanted to invite to the reunion.

Then one day, completely out of the blue, I got a very strange and disturbing e-mail. She was very emotionally distressed in the e-mail. I could sense that she was weeping as she typed. She told me (and I was still somewhat of a stranger to her as we were never that close in college) that she hated her husband with all of her heart. She wished he were dead. That he was emotionally abusive to her and the kids. That they fought about money all the time. She added that she wasn’t sure she even believed in God anymore because her life was so miserable. The letter was quite long, went into a lot of other details and ended with the emotional issue that she was dealing with . . . should she pray for her husband’s death, or her own.

So this very candid e-mail was a totally different tone than her wonderful newsletters that had gone out. I was literally stunned, not knowing what to say. But with threats of wanting her own death or her husbands . . . I felt like I could not ignore her letter.

To make a long story short, I wrote her back several times about that painful letter . . . but she never acknowledged those e-mails. I was afraid that she wasn’t getting them until I sent her a more formal e-mail about the reunion. She responded to that e-mail immediately, in her typical cheerful tone.

I wrote her another (and last) personal e-mail saying that I was concerned about her and was very willing to be a sounding board . . . and added, “Please let me know how you are doing.”

She never, ever wrote a candid letter again nor did she acknowledge my letters, which I had written in response to her cry for help. I was really puzzled. The only conclusion I could make was that one day she just vented her raw emotions . . . but then, as a Christian, felt so embarrassed about it that she wanted to pretend it had never happened.

So I wonder how many of us Christians go through life skating on the perfect veneer of who we are, while down deep in reality, we are scared, doubtful, angry or sad? But the Church must be a safe place where we can tear down the facades and live in reality without fear of social reprisals.

Kate didn’t come to the reunion and I never heard anything from her again until about a year later. We got (via snail-mail) a family newsletter . . . describing all the wonderful accomplishments of her children, her personal ministry on campus and her darling husband’s wonderful ministry. On the cover of the letter was a photo of her and her family with big, bright smiles.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Behind the Looking Glass

Poor Alice, trapped in a parallel universe . . . but was she now in reality or was her old, Victorian world reality?

One recurrent theme in this blog is dealing with the concept and issues of honesty. My premise, as it comes to modern Evangelicals, most of their lives are lived in pretense. The reason is complicated, and of course it applies to all of humanity. However, Evangelicalism has a higher stake in the charade. The reason is, modern Evangelicalism believes that, while we were scum before we became Christians, we are free of the grips of sin afterwards. Evangelicals believe that, through a fairly simple and quick, process of sanctification . . . we become quite good. It is much easier then to pretend or to orchestrate the illusion of our godliness than live it.

But in reality, we are so deeply fallen, that change comes at a snail’s pace. The reason is that the science of personality is not flippant . . . as a dynamic spirit or soul, but concrete . . . established in neurons that do not change easily.

The most recent event that had me thinking about this, is my favorite TV show, Dateline. I think it is the draw of the mystery (Dateline is usually about a murder mystery, which is sometimes solve and sometimes not). The thing that captures my attention on each episode is how really nice people, often have an amazingly dark side.

A few weeks ago an episode had a story about a girl that vanished from her job at a motel in Holland, Michigan. A couple of days later, her naked, tortured body was found outside town and the case had never been solved.

She was attending Hope Christian College at the time. You can read the entire story and a blog about the case here .

The girl, Janet, was know as a Christian girl, with great Christian friends. Well, to make a long story short, thirty years later, they found out what really happened to Janet.

First of all, Janet was a different person than she appeared on the surface, at least to her family (aren't we all?). She was partying with some older men (out of town workers) who were staying at the motel. It sounds like she was smoking, drinking and having sex with them . . . something very different than her appearance to her family, church and friends. But she certainly didn’t deserve what happened to her. And her secret life was pale in comparison to several of her Hope Christian College friends.

It turns out that her good friend and roommate was behind her death . . . because of jealously. I one pont, I think I heard that her roommate, Laurie Swank, was also a well-respected Hope College student. Laurie arranged for Janet to be abducted, then tortured for two days, being rapped repeatedly by several men . . . all while her "good Christian roommate", and a couple of other friends, took photos of the abuse and cheered the men on. She was eventually raped to death. Actually she was strangled during the rape. So the men tossed her broken little body outside of town.

Janet’s good Christian girlfriends, and the evil men, went about their lives for all this time as if Janet was a bag of garbage that they had tossed beside the road thirty years ago. They lived normal, guilt free (from the way they were acting at the trial) for all that time.

It makes you sick.

A few years ago, Dateline did another series with a hidden camera catching people who thought they were hiring hit-men to kill someone.

One lady I will never forget. She was a Gospel singer, as was her husband. With the hidden camera rolling, she sat in a pick up truck with a man (who supposedly was an ex-con and killer) and was arranging for him to murder her husband for $10K. The “killer” (actually a cop) wanted her to make herself clear on tape so that she would be convicted. Here is how the dialog went (my paraphrase).

Hitman: So what do you want me to do?

Gospel Singer: I want you to kill my husband dead. But make it look like an accident. I would love to see him suffer for a while. Can you like drive over his legs and let him lay in the road and suffer for a while, then drive back over his head and kill him?

Hitman: Why do you hate him so much?

Gospel Singer: I’m in love with Bill. He’s another singer in our group and we are having an affair.

Hitman: Why don’t just divorce your husband and marry him?

Gospel Singer (laughing): Oh, I can’t do that. We are strong Christians and we don’t belief in divorce.

The amazing thing is, this last story makes it clear that Christians often just care about their appearance. The Gospel singer couldn’t divorce her husband in private, but she could have him killed in private and she could marry her lover and continue on with her charade.

This topic will continue tomorrow with some more practical conclusions (more practical than murderers etc.).

More later.