Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Atheist Church - - - Another Delusion

I came across two stories recently about the "atheist church movement."  One was in the US media and it spotlighted such a "church" in Cambridge, MA and this one (linked here) is in the UK.  I can't find the US media piece, but due to time limitations, I don't have a lot of time to search.

I am often critical of evangelicals and their delusions about life.  I'm sitting in East Tennessee right now and I would be tempted to go in that direction based on things I've heard in the past few days. But instead I will focus on this third-person issue.

It is totally illogical that you can find any meaning or make any sense in a spontaneous universe, which atheism requires. To rescue orphan babies and give them a healthy and emotionally supportive life, within that paradigm, is no different than collecting them and chopping them up to make soup for your gluttonous consumption.  Both are equal.

In the US-media article they mentioned that one of the "meaningful" aspects of the atheist church movement to so promote the positive aspects of community. But, once again there can be no difference in that spontaneous universe between community and total isolation for all of eternity, or even worse, mutual extermination from hatred. There is actually no difference between "meaningful" and total meaningless.

It shocks me that often very intelligent people are attacked to these groups. But they should know better. It is that endless attempt to fill that void (desiring meaning) where it is impossible to do so.  You must pay the piper. If you choose a universe that is random in origins, then you must be an adult about it and live consistency within that paradigm. All is meaningless. Nihilism is the ONLY option.  I don't care if you have a PhD in philosophy or anthropology . . . it is still impossible and to instill meaning is to think like a kindergartener.

But, and I say this for equality, that if you choose to believe that the universe is created by a personal God, which I do, then you still have some great challenges, but finding meaning isn't one of those.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Paradox of Fate and an American Tragedy Part II

Sorry that it has taken a long time to get back.

Of course I agree with the commenters on the last post as I think many of us here are on the same page. One may ask, "So what's the big deal if we all agree on this?"  The deal is, we are the aberration. I challenge you to walk into any evangelical church (and I've done this) and use the word "luck" as, "Poor thing . . . they have had a lot of bad luck lately."  You will get looks of horror on the faces of people. "Luck? No . . . I serve a mighty God and He is in control of everything!"

I've told the story here before about a 4 year old toddler in a previous church, who's father accidentally backed over him in the riding lawnmower and decapitated him. We were all in a state of shock and grief when one of my fellow elders took the podium (three days after the accident) and proclaimed, "What are we so down about?  I serve the God of the universe and not one hair of Joey's head could have moved without God ordaining it. We must accept what God has done because He has a purpose that only He can understand!"  The whole church broke out in Amen's. Joey's parents stopped coming to church in the subsequent months. They divorced (blamed each other for the accident . . . she left the door unlatch . . . he wasn't looking where he was going).  I assume neither ever darkened the door of a church again.

I heard an interview with Kushner (When Bad Things Happen to Good People) and he said that he had to choose between a benevolent God or a omnipotent God as you can not have both. He said he preferred an benevolent one and had to re-think God in, what I would call, this-side-of-fate, terms.  That God didn't have control of fate.

But I think you can have it both ways.  A loving God, who is in control, but under who's watch nature (fallen nature) plays itself out along lines of cause and effect and probability. Bad things can happen to Good people as good things can happen to bad people without any superstitious connections to a higher purpose.

A good friend of mine is an example of another story. It is not so severe. I will summarize it.

Craig is an extremely nice guy, one of the nicest I've ever known. His wife had a dream of creating her own business. He supported her 100%.  He liquidated his retirement (he is about 52 years old) and invested in the business.  It completely failed within six months and he lost everything.  He had no hard feelings. She, on the surface, was not troubled . . .  with "Jesus is in control" thinking. But one morning she pulled up in front of the Church (where she was very active) and he could not get her out of the car. She started a downward spiral of anger directed at him (I think from her self-doubt and anger).  She walked out of his life after 25 years of marriage. She left the church, her children and her friends and moved into a lonely apartment in another city.

Then, out of the blue, Craig's employer announced that they were shutting down the US operations and he was being laid off.  At age 52 he was unemployed.  He gave up his house and began couch surfing.

So he went from a stable, happy family with a good job and good retirement to alone, broke and no job, all in about six months. And Craig had done NOTHING wrong.

If math is the language of nature, which it is, then fate follows probabilities. On the bell-curve there are those who are born into rich families and with IQs of 150.  They grow to be 6'4", dark, extremely handsome, state all stars in multiple sports without even trying hard. They live to 105 years old, having never had a major illness.  Because they are rich they spend their lives exploring caves in New Guinea and drinking wine in France. They write books for fun, and the books are accidentally discovered and become best sellers.  Some of these people are Christians, most are not.

On the other end are the Brendas. Or I think of the babies born with terminal cancer and live a few, very torturous months.

We do have to divorce God from fate and luck or we will have the tendency to re-invent Him as the weak but loving God or the strong but cruel one.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Paradox of Fate and an American Tragedy Part I

 It is Father’s Day, so I will allow myself the luxury of typing over some coffee for an hour or so.  I miss these times as they are rare anymore and were so dear to me at one time.

Firsts, there is an item of old business that I want to address.  I have no clue what is happening but I’m continuing to get thousands, if not tens of thousands, of “visits” to this blog daily from Germany.  It corresponds to the time of the German work day.  Even within my greatest narcissistic tendencies, I doubt if these people are coming here to read posts.  I suspect it is either a computer glitch where Google is reporting the traffic but the traffic is not real. The other possibility is a deliberate cyber-attack (as some bored nerds are known to do just for entertainment).  But the reason I don’t think the visits could be real is that no one is commenting and that would be impossible with so many real hits. But if anyone has a clue what this is happening . . . I’m all ears.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the issue of fate . . . or chance. I know I’ve written about it many times. But the philosophical concept of fate has been one of the greatest paradoxes for both philosophers and theologians.

I’m certain you could feel your way along the slippery veins of this debate back to the invention of language. However, I will start with the Greeks.  They struggled immensely with this problem. It always comes down to the problem of positioning of their God or gods.

If the Greeks placed their gods behind fate, where fate stood between them and their gods, then they would have to define the personalities and characters of the gods as ambivalent at best, and cruel at the worst.  But man cannot live contently with a cruel god because there is nothing but labels that would separate him/her from the devil.

So they tried to move their gods to this side of fate, where the gods stood on the same side of fate as men (meaning “mankind” of course).  But like something that stands between you and a distant object, for that distant object to continuing influencing you, you have to beat down on the near object until it is small enough to see around.

This is exactly what the Greeks did.  Their gods had to be beaten down to the same size as the Marvel Superman.  Their gods were of incredible power, but to be benevolent they were never in the full control of fate.

The Christians have fared no better with the debate than the Greeks.  They would like to think so.  I’ve heard many pastors and Christian teachers claim that the Christian God is unique in solving these problems.  But He has not . . . or at least not in the way we present Him.

The Christian God has been presented as being far behind fate . . . being totally sovereign over even the most minor detail. They try to answer God’s then problem of justice by weaving in mystery.  Mystery is fine.  We will never fully understand God, so mystery must fill in the gaps.  But in this case, I see this mystery as a Styrofoam filling to hold things up.

In our Christian circles we say things like, “God is in control.”  When we are at the small things, this reasoning works fine. But when we get to the big things, such as tornados drowning little children, we apply mystery. But the problem is that we apply mystery in the wrong place. We say that God did cause the tornado, He did direct it towards the School, He did cause the horrible deaths of the little children, but the mystery is in his motives.  He did this for some good reason and that good reason is beyond our comprehension.

But while we say those on the surface, our sub-consciousness never can believe it because it defiles reason, the reason that God has given us. From that point forward, our relationship with God changes forever (a deep emotional change).  We may still smile and say that God is in control, but we no longer trust Him. While we say intellectually that He is control, emotionally (which can be tied to reason on the subconscious level) we believe that He is cruel.

I will pause with the discussion points to tell two real stories. But now it is getting late and this is getting long, I think I will tell just one story and come back with a part II.  Then at the end, I want to give a new way of solving this ageless problem.

Brenda has been on my heart this entire week.  She is a fine woman and has never made any major errors in her planning that I know of.

She was married to a “godly man.” This godly man was also the associate pastor of a small charismatic church.  Brenda discovered that both he had been sexually molesting their two small children, but that he had a sexual addiction. Not only was it in his imagination with porn, but in reality by having sexual relations with the church secretary.  Like most manipulative men do in these situations, he convinced the secretary that she was really special.  He accused his wife, and children, of lying about the abuse. It was some demonic plot to destroy him . . . his words, not mine.  He eventually persuaded this young secretary to marry him and he divorced his demonically-influenced wife (because she had “made up” the stories about him molesting the children).

He and his new wife move to another city where he helped to start and pastor a new church. Since he never paid child support, Brenda had to work two low-paying jobs to make ends meet. By the time her two children were in high school, both of them started having serious mental health problems.  They would admit that their problems were stemmed in a full frontal hatred for their father . . . a very “godly man.”

To move this story on quickly, the son eventually finished high school, became addicted and homeless. The daughter wrestled with serious (life-threatening) anorexia.  Brenda was deeply involved with both children in a loving way.  She was devoted to them.  Brenda was a stellar parent despite the hardships and working long hours.

Brenda, suddenly became ill. She was diagnoses with terminal ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  She is slowing losing her ability to walk and move well.  She is near the poverty line.  Both of her children live in other cities now.

Her daughter seemed to having turned the corner in her life from a mental health stand point.  She was in a relationship with a good man. Her mother was excited that despite her son still struggling with his demons, living in the streets, that her long hours with her daughter and unyielding love and acceptance, not to mention her unceasing prayers were paying off. Her daughter became pregnant and was so excited about becoming a mother and getting her life on the right track.

Brenda seemed more excited than I have seen her in years about the thoughts of her daughter getting her life together, and a grandchild on the way.

Brenda’s daughter suddenly became gravely ill and was hospitalized. A therapeutic abortion was done to help save the mother’s life. It seemed to have worked as she was discharged from the hospital doing much better.  Brenda was deeply shaken up by the event but she was hopeful.

Brenda’s daughter killed herself this week.

How do you look at Brenda and tell her that this was God’s intended will?  All of it? IS there a temptation to make theological sense by blaming Brenda or her kids?

In my opinion, Brenda deserves sainthood.  I think her kids did the best that they could with what they had been dealt.  I was mentor to her son for a short period of time and I know that he wanted to Know God . . . in an honest way. But he was thrown in the river by life and the baggage of his father’s sin was pulling him under.

I will finish this story next time and raise the question, what role did God have?  Did He really do all of this to teach them patience? May God have mercy on those who think this perverted way.

Friday, June 14, 2013

German Friends . . . Some Insight Please

Okay, I don't know what is going on but I'm having about 6-7 Thousand visitors per hour from Germany today. Normally a great day, with an Imonk comment, I'm having 3-4 hundred. So, please let me know what is going on in Germany to stir up such visits?

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Lost Art of Hatred

Somewhere in the Victorian age, I think we lost our (good) sense of hatred.  I read an article on BBC this morning about the Taliban cutting the heads off of two children because they caught them digging in the garbage outside their camp, looking for food.  So, from the gut, I posted the following, which was linked to the article.

It is interesting that the word "Taliban" is the Arabic word for "students." It stems from the same word, which is in Greek "Liber" which means to peel the bark (like birch bark) from a tree, which was used as paper (also the root to the word "library"). So Taliban means the stud-iers of books. However, what it really means in this setting is a group of the most stupid people on the planet, most of who can't read, and who narcissist leaders tell them what the books "say." So in their stupidity they somehow see justice in beheading little children because they were digging in their garbage cans looking for food. May this planet soon be rid of the scourge of the Taliban. May the next great viral epidemic of suffering and death only effect the Taliban for the great evil they have brought to the world (especially women), and especially to the wonderful people of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the region. I may sound like Dante, but may they join the Natzis, the Khmer Rouge and others who inhabit the lower parts of the bowels of hell.

However, as I thought about it, I know that such harsh words will offend many of my evangelical friends whom I am friends with on Facebook.  So, I think we have lost the will and the art of hatred. Christians hate all the time (like gays and etc.) but they just don't express it verbally or in written words like I tried to do here.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Searching for an Authentic Godliness

What I'm about to post is a continuation, although tangentially, of my previous one on the gift and perils of culture and conformity.

What does it really  mean to be godly? Being so was the objective of my life for at least 15, if not 20 years.  I, like all my associates, were consumed with being godly.  Yet, I think we seriously contaminated the concept through our evangelical culture.

We considered the simple definition as being like God, or being the way that God wanted us to be.  But we defined the particulars of godliness as some of the following:

a) Not sinning as defined by the Bible as sin, adultery, drunkenness, stealing and others.

b) On top of the obvious sins, we including not using curse words (a list of words that the evangelical culture had determined to be ungodly and you know what those are), not drinking alcohol at all, not thinking about sex and not having "bad attitudes."  These bad attitudes were feelings of hurt, anger, sadness, frustration . . . you know, all emotions besides happiness.

But besides this list of things we couldn't do and still be godly, were a long unspoken (but well known) list of positive behaviors such as, to borrow a line from Monty Python, "Always looking on the bright side of life."

But speaking in epistemological terms, to be godly, also meant that we sought "truth."  But this is the pivotal point, which I want to make (and to mesh it with my previous post) and that is to define this truth godly people must seek.

For 25 years, at least, I was taught and believed that truth and doctrine were synonymous. So, if the news reported there was more evidence that the universe was about 13 billion years old, we would oppose the thought out of our godliness. But our doctrines also included views about the role of women, homosexuality, the "truth" that you ought to go to church every Sunday and Jesus was coming back soon.

So our "truth" was to real, philosophical (or what Francis Schaeffer called "true-truth") truth as "wood grain" contact paper (in cause you don't know is a printed image of using ink in plastic) is to real wood.  The two are unrelated.

Now I will pause and look at scripture about truth.  This is from the beginning of Titus and it is coming from Paul, who probably was educated in traditional Socratesian logic. So, try to remove your cultural bias as you read this:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,
So listen to the above verses and think about it philosophically. Paul states that the knowledge of truth leads to godliness.  He didn't say the knowledge of doctrine or a particular complex social behavior of a particular subculture . . . but simply truth.
So I will redefine truth as I think it relates to godliness. Imagine that truth is simply that which is real. So, if I look up and don't see a cloud in the sky, as I'm now doing, I can say it is truth that, according to the metrological definition of the word "fair," the skies are presently fair.
But apply this thought to everything.  So seeking truth about the universe isn't promoting a particular doctrine about the age of the universe, but honestly, and humbling seeking the real number of how old the universe really is.  Now apply this thinking to the more personal parts of life such as psychological truth.  Rather than disguising the psychological source of behaviors as spiritual, we seek the honest and true motivations, warts and all.
So, I think a better sense of godliness is the act of seeking truth at all cost.  I mean real, deep down honest truth.  Many of us are so use to pretending and following the cultural leads that we forget what truth really is.
I can remember so many times when I was an evangelical that I would get a glimpse of the true truth, far below the surface, and just think to myself, "if God wants us to pretend, what does that imply about God?"  But, to fit into our Christian subculture we had to pretend all the time.
I knew why the full time Christian worker guy loved to give pretty girls with large bosoms, firm, frontal hugs . . . and say, "I love your sister."  I knew why my co-disciple lied to the leader about how many hours he had spent in Bible study and lied by not mentioning the reason he didn't finish his Bible study because he talked for hours on the phone to the "worldly," but pretty, girl who wanted him to sleep with her.  He didn't mention it so he would get the praise of the spiritual leader and possibly get promoted himself. We all crave praise from our spiritual leaders  . . actually from everyone we know, but especially our spiritual leaders.
But before long, you and your entire world are living below the rabbit hole.
But true godliness is the unadulterated pursuit of truth  . .  . at all cost.  It means being brutally honest about ourselves, our motives and even the motives of others (as far as we can guess what they really are).
With godliness defined in this way, I would say that some of the most godly people I've every known are some of the humble, but hungry for truth, scientists that I've had the privileged to know.  Many of the scientists I've know want to know the truth at all cost and they don't care where that truth leads them. Now, I'm not going as far to say they are Christians, especially those who totally reject Christianity.  But I am saying they are doing God's work by seeking truth and are reflecting God's own passion for truth.  If God is there, which I think He is, then by definition He is engrossed in truth . . . true truth not doctrinal truth.
By the same thought, some of the most ungodly people I've ever known are the evangelicals who have no desire for true truth but promoting their doctrine without question or any thinking at all. Likewise some of the most ungodly are the scientists who have no desire for truth either, because these scientists are just as bad. They seek truth as defined by their personal doctrines or belief system and, like the evangelicals, substitute doctrine for truth. In many of those cases, their belief system starts with the premise that there is no God.  Any good scientist would be consumed with the curiosity about whether God is there or not.
I'm being told that I'm taking too much time to write on my blog so I must go once again without proof-reading.  I hope some day I have the time to write what I want and to write with care and not haste.  But life is so busy these days that I hardly have time to think at all.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Culture Part II

I said, "No thanks. I don't want to be an elder."

The silence was deafening . . . or was the disappointment shown towards me just my imagination?  Certainly it could have been.

But in the evangelical world I was living in, you would almost never say the truth . . . "I don't want to." That would typical unleash all kinds of negative reinforcement towards you.  That disappointment would be expressed in spiritual lingo, "I don't know why you don't want to . . . I consider it a privilege to serve my savior."  I won't even attempt to deconstruct that here.

I know that I may not be making a lot of sense. I do want to add that the straight jacket is beautiful.  I mean, all art is a product of culture.  But the mores can be stifling.

When I read the New Testament I see Christians being exalted to be nonconformists.  After all nonconformity got Jesus killed.  But Christians became like the proverbial frog jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.  They resisted conformity to the Judo-Roman world but eventually created their old culture with a conformity ruled by an iron fist.  Think about it, the inquisition was about conformity.

So now, Christians are the most conformed. They are terrified to make waves, to look bad, but to live up to some ideal of American, good-citizen, righteous person . . .which no one can really ascribe to.

So, ask any evangelical in town who knows me and they will speak of me being odd, strange, queer (in the pre-1960 definition).

But we know the script. We know what we suppose to say.  I will drop this thought here before it becomes even more tangential.  But I will say that non-conformity is a great virtue, although it produces lonely people.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Culture . . . The Beautiful Straight Jacket Part I

You can no more divorce culture from humans than you can remove all traces of DNA where humans have been.  Even if a human was alone on the proverbial deserted island . . . culture would grow up around them. As an individual, it would simply be expressed as personal habits. That person would choose to wake up a certain time every morning, have a ritual about eating habits. For example they may eat coconuts for breakfast and fish or crabs later in the day.  It could be based on some superstition or maybe a previous cultural experience. On the other hand, if they were Scandinavian they might feel very comfortable eating fish for breakfast. But when humans are in families, tribes, villages, cities, countries and religions, the cultural rules, or what I would call mores, become much more profound, complex and inflexible.

So, besides saying that culture is unavoidable, even if we could avoid it . . . would we want to?  I don't think so. Because culture creates for us these "shortcut icons" which makes life simple and livable. For example, if you could completely erase your culture at the end of the day, (while we are using computer metaphors call it formatting your cultural hard drive),  then the next morning, EVERYTHING, would take a tremendous amount of thought.  What time should I get up?  How much should I sleep? What should I wear . . . but more than that . . . should I wear clothes at all?  Each decision would be like re-inventing the essentials of life and that would take a huge amount of energy.

The way it is, with culture in place, my choices of what to wear are quite limited. Maybe there is a bell-cure where I would raise no eyebrows if I stay within a standard deviation.  Only on the fringes (say warping myself in aluminum foil)  would I get a second look. Then in places that allow more cultural freedom, say West Hollywood, even my metallic attire would not garner even that second look.

Then, speaking of the fringes of culture . . . that's where most artists live. While they must face the restrains, culture is also the incubator of their creativity when you look at the big picture.  How many artists are inspired by the great Renaissance talents that went before them in our western culture. Maybe they borrow from the great Asian artist such as Gu Kaizhi.  So culture is essential and gives us the energy to create without the requirement to reinvent over and over.

But culture is also the great straight-jacket. Within it we are confined and embraced with a tough canvas cloak that suffocates at times. What we think we are doing is looking through our senses at reality, then using logic to decipher and finally using morality to respond.  But actually it is a robotic cultural response that is controlled by the personal emotions which are surrogates of the culture at large. What we think is the most intelligent way to look at something, as is determined by our reasons, becomes the "correct way" to look at it as is determined by culturally charged emotions.

Each layer of culture, like the onion's concentric spheres, has tighter and tighter restraints. So we live not in one culture but buried beneath layers of  the concentric globes of existence. Maybe the inner most is the culture of the self, the same self that resides on that deserted island. Then the family and tribal spheres.

So, in our setting (if I were still an evangelical) would be my family, my church, my evangelical world outside of which would be my geographical region, American, western and so on.

I started a journey a long time ago of trying to disrobe from cultural restraints, especially when it came to my Christianity. I don't mean to rebel against all that is considered Christian, but to try and live on a logical and deeply honest evaluation of life rather than simply memorizing the lines I suppose to say.  It has been hell.  I've gone from being surrounded by a huge group of friends to being friendless.  I've gone from being a "church leader" at every church I attended, to being on the outer most edge . . . with one more step and I wouldn't be in church at all.

I will make this more practical to see if I can make more sense.

I use to sit around with Christian friends.  I felt like we were all puppeteers,  standing high above the stage working the strings.  When each person spoke their lines, and you knew exactly what they were going to say before they said it, you would be rehearsing your lines inside your head to make sure you said them according to script.  If one of the other puppets said something off script the entire group would turn their heads and start to put intense social coercion (via looks and comments) to pressure them back to the script.

You knew that the narrative on the stage was of some pretend world where things made sense according to some "ideal" paradigm of Christian life.  But that deeply honest reality, what was really going on, was up in the dark curtains, shrouded from sight, even from yourself.

I began to speak off script and the heads would all turn to scorn me, even if on a subliminal level. I hated it because I'm a man-pleaser. I want people to like me.  It isn't long before you are no longer invited to, nor want to be invited to, these performances.

I think of one recent example was where I was asked to be a church elder by someone who I think follows the script quite well.  My predetermined response would be, even if I didn't want to be an elder, to say, "I feel humbled to be asked. Of course would want to serve God in this way."

Now imagine that if you really, really didn't want to be elder and you had to find a way out, the script (at total lie) goes like this, "I would love to and I feel so honored to be asked, but God is leading me into a different sort of ministry at this time."  Even that last response would be hard to muster but when you use the trump card of saying that God did it, they at least can't argue with you.

But what I felt was hell no.  I really enjoy church right now and every time I've been an elder it is like I'm being led down into the bowels of the church with a torch and and you see all the great leaders in their most hideous and dysfunctional forms.  I don't want to go there again.

So what did I say?  I have to go but I will be back.