Take me to Church

*A fair warning to me dear readers.  This is not a finished piece but more of a work in progress.  I will continue to edit it, perhaps add to it, certainly refine it.  I will also link to my sources as time goes on.*

So, regarding my post the other day. The State of the Church. I brought forth some criticisms, but I didn’t spend a lot of time going into them, and I’d like to do that a bit more, now.  It is also important to me that I relay to the reader that I am not against religion, faith or God.  I still very much believe, but the truth of the matter is that I have a complex relationship with my faith.  I don’t actively advertise myself as a Christian any more.  I don’t belong to a particular denomination, either, but when I did, it was of the decidedly fundamentalist background.  The education I received in the early years of my faith was excellent and grounded in the tenants of a literal Bible believing doctrine.  The inspired Word of God, whole and 100% correct, despite being a translation into the King’s English.  You can be sure it colors my view.  But there were holes.  Cracks and gaps in both action and doctrine that I could not accept.  So I have kept my faith, but have slowly come to renounce religion.  Any good doctrinal student would tear that statement apart, but allow me to expand on things as I see them now.  You are welcome to disagree, I’d love to hear your rational response.  But please, I write this not as a rebuttal to faith, but a sincere desire to see a renewed and restored faith that goes forth and works for the betterment of humanity, not political or economic causes.

  1. The criticism on the distillation and expansion of the doctrine.

If you are passingly familiar with the Christian religion, especially its Catholic variant, you know that it has been around awhile.  Seen its share of changes.  If you are a bit of student, you know that the Bible took awhile to put together.  Centuries, in fact.  And no doubt, you probably read it in English.  Most likely translated from the Vulgate.  If you’re of Protestant background you have probably heard of, and likely read from, the King James Bible or a variation thereof.  Unless you were a serious student, you probably were never told about, or knew of, the Vulgate, Tyndale or Coverdale.  You may have heard of the Apocrypha – usually in the context of how the Catholic Church has strayed from the path of good doctrine.  You probably also received a lot assurances or flat out statements that this Bible is the literal Word of God.  The translation, itself usually a translation of another translation, is inerrant and complete.  Mind you, this is true mostly of the Catholic Church and Fundamentalists.  Those denominations that view the Bible as a collection of stories, morality tales and allegories do not have as firm a ground to debate on and are barely tolerated by those denominations that believe in a literal interpretation.

From that background, we have a group of scholars and preachers that throughout the centuries analyzed and extrapolated from the pages of this translated work.  They take a sentence, a verse, a collection of versus.  They cross reference, they apply and view them through classifications and rules such as Covenants, dispensations and first mentions.  They weave their lesson, their moral or viewpoint around the framework of this analysis in order to make everything appear both relevant and doctrinally correct.   As I mentioned in my previous post, entire sermons, books, songs, etc, have been based around as little as a sentence.  They have performed the modern miracle of loaves and fishes – distilling the essence of just one tiny thing into something much larger and greater.  In truth, using the word distill is a bit of a misnomer for me, but it provides the starting point by which the doctrine is distorted and grown to fit whatever narrative is being given.  This narrative is then used as the accepted proper interpretation.

Ostensibly, all of this is being done at the leading of the Holy Spirit, using only the approved methods of Bible study and Scriptural interpretation.  The flaw with this premise, if you’re a natural skeptic like myself, is that more than one religious leader, institution or group, has come to wildly varying, or even opposing, conclusions built from the same verse or series of verses.  Even if you’re willing to accept the inerrant nature of the modern (ish) Bible, how do you overlook the disparities in its divinely inspired interpretations?

2. The criticism on ecumenical activities. The endorsement of wrong, or potentially wrong, beliefs.

Not all churches are created equal.  Not all Truths are true.  Not all Doctrine is profitable for instruction in righteousness.  This would appear to be a common tenant among both Catholic and Protestant denominations.  The schism is such, that it isn’t merely Christians against various sects like the Mormons or 7th Day Adventists.  We’re talking the Lighthouse Baptist Church against the First Baptist Church against the Southern Baptists, all of whom find Four Square Churches very suspicious and anyone speaking in tongues downright abominable.  That the major tenets of their various doctrines would all read virtually the same, line item by line item, is completely irrelevant.  There are fundamental differences in the doctrine, don’t you know?  If you really want to have some fun, bring up the baptism by sprinkling vs immersion and infant baptism.  Bring coffee, chips and a spray bottle full of water – you’ll need it.

I mention all of this just to point out how very similar Christian denominations often view each other.  Virtually the same message, all the same commandments and Commissions, but they are rarely willing to work together to spread the message of their faith, to do good works in the name of Christ, or display the agape love and fellowship that Christians are commanded to do.  Publicly they often smile at each other, but behind closed doors, not so much.  They don’t realize how much is noticed by those that are watching, however.  They don’t see how badly their infighting prevents the spread of their message.

Their argument is that some aspect of “X” denomination’s doctrine is wrong.  Loss of Salvation, baptism by immersion or sprinkling, etc.  If your fundamental belief is that it is faith in Christ that is your salvation, then does it matter whether somebody else believes that they can “lose” their salvation?  Does it matter to God that a person believes they can lose their salvation even though they cannot?  Does it matter to anyone but the lost if a church cannot agree on doctrine and therefor never makes the combined effort to spread the Gospel to more people than they can by their individual efforts?  Hundreds of years have been spent by religious scholars, debating which interpretation makes their view the “right one” versus the other interpretations.  All this time and effort spent not getting along.  And yet you wonder why it is so hard to reach modern day people?  To keep the flock that you do have?  The problem isn’t that we’re in the end times.  It’s not that we have(had) a black Democrat as the President.  It’s not the mind controlling Fluoride or Chem-trails.  Show me the love of the Church for its People.  Show me a Body of Christ more interested in the Great Commission than in fighting over their doctrinal differences and I will show you a growing church.

3.  The slippery slope of the fundamentals of the faith. If you cannot believe the Bible, how can you believe the promises of the Faith?

I get it, I honestly do.  If the entire premise of your salvation, indeed if your very religion(the one true religion, 3000 different denominations aside), is based on a book first begun thousands of years ago, and finished sometime early 400 AD, then it had better be perfect.  It had better be free from error in every way because otherwise it could be wrong.  Not all of it, just the wrong parts, of course.  But what if that wrong part is something fundamental?  What if Christians really aren’t allowed to eat Bacon?  What if their salvation is clear but we misinterpreted God’s plan for Revelation?  What’s worse, if the Bible is completely whole and completely true, people might start picking and choosing what parts to believe in or follow!

Whoops, that last one is a really doozy.  Because people haven’t been doing that for 2000 years already, or anything.  Picking and choosing is a time honored tradition among Christians and has been used to justify anything from Slavery to denying women the vote, to child rape and marriage.  If your basis for insisting on a literal interpretation of a perfect Bible is selective reading, well, you’re in far more trouble than just worrying about your Bible.

Yes, it is a slippery slope.  Doubt becomes a possibility.  The story of how things were done, God’s creation of the Universe, all of it.  Suddenly science and natural philosophy have a crack, a wedge into which they can pour all this doubt and disbelief into you, causing doubt and disbelief.

Or.  Not.

“For by grace are ye saved, through Faith.  It is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”

The Bible speaks of faith in many places.  God demands faith and obedience throughout the Old Testament.  It is possible that the translation got it wrong, but I doubt it.  The whole point of it, indeed, what we often refer to our relationship with God as, is faith.

Faith, not facts.  Belief, not doctrine, science or religion.  “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.  …Believest thou this?”

Whether the Bible should be interpreted literally, or not, is honestly not relevant to the central message it conveys.  Whether a translation of a translation is perfect and without error is not relevant to your faith in Him.  Honestly, what I find very alarming in the practice of modern day fundamentalist Christianity is the insistence that the Bible must be literal in order for your faith to be justified.  What’s more, in attempting to prove the literal interpretation of the Bible, many fundamentalists have taken to attempting to use “science” to rebut science.

You know, like using false equivalency to equate doubt regarding climate science to casting doubt on everything from the length of a day to vaccination schedules or basic physics.  Or to use a loose interpretation of a line in the Bible as a basis for proving that dinosaurs somehow lived at the same time as humans, they just didn’t survive the Flood.  That the Ark somehow held all the animals.  I would go so far as to say that Ken Ham, and others like him, have done more to drive potential believers and younger people away from the faith than any other movement with the possible exception of aggressive policies on same sex couples.  Our modern world is built upon the scientific minds, many of them Christian, that have come before us.  The scientific method is not new, and while individual conclusions may be false, or in need of revision, we cannot deny that science and scientific thinking works.  I’m sitting in a house, on a chair, using a computer connected to the Internet that were all built and continually improved by the application of science.

You know what doesn’t benefit much from the application of the scientific method?  Faith.  You elect to believe in a being that created the universe.  You believe that your faith in this being will lead you to Heaven.  This being literally exists outside and beyond all known laws of science and physics.  His reality is not defined by ours.  He has performed miracles- walking on water, setting fire to a drenched sacrifice, parting a sea and rising from the dead.  These are things that cannot be explained by science as we understand it.  The very definition of a miracle.  What’s more, even if you never witness these miracles.  Even if you never see the direct hand of God, you are commanded to have faith.  Faith above all.

So why do you insist on attempting to “prove” the miraculous.  If you literally believe the Bible, stop picking fights with science in an effort to demonstrate that which cannot be done by anything short of a God.  The two are not mutually exclusive, they just address two different unknowns.  Or continue on as you are, constantly creating more and more cognitive dissonance in an effort not to prove your faith, but how “right” you are, and watch as more people either leave the church, or never come to it in the first place.

I wish to offer an alternative.  Spend less time on proving facts and more time on living the faith.  You don’t need to prove how Noah got everything onto the Ark when sharing how the Good News.  You don’t need to explain how God created a Universe in seven days in order to share a message of hope, grace and faith.  In the Bible God never promised us that we would understand all that He did, he merely demands that we have faith that He can.

4.  The cognitive dissonance between what the church leaders are saying and reality.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before.  Probably earlier this week, maybe even today.  “We’re living in a Godless world!”  “The problem with kids these days is the breakdown of the family.  No father to teach them right and wrong.”  “The moment we took God out of schools everything went downhill.”

Listen to the average person today and you’d think the world was going to Hell.  Right now.  Listen to the average Christian today and not only is the world going to Hell, it’s all because of premarital sex, gay marriage, dissolution of a moral society, etc.

You would think we were living in the end times.  In fact, I see that stated quite often whenever somebody talks about the state of our society.  Same sex marriage, women having the vote, abortion.  Dogs and cats, living together!  Chaos.  It’s the End Times!  Except, if it really were the end times, wouldn’t you, as a Christian, be happy?  For that matter, why would you even be here?  One of the key occurrences, and major indicator of, the End Times, is the Rapture.  Bye bye believing Christians, Hello 2nd coming!  Beware the Christian that cries wolf for he may not recognize the End Times when they really come.

Indeed, today’s Christian might not realize that many of their common criticisms about a Godless society aren’t being backed up by the numbers.  You see, there’s a few things wrong with the above complaints.

Kids are graduating schools in record numbers.  College attendance and graduation is higher among virtually all demographics.  Crime is approaching historical lows and has been declining for decades.  So have abortions and teen pregnancies.  It’s also not illegal to pray or read the Bible in school, despite so many claims to the contrary.  And all those kids of the past few generations?  You know, the ones without married parents, corporeal punishment and mandatory morning prayers/Pledge of Allegiance?  It turns out they’re doing better, being better, every generation since the 1940’s or so.

So if that is the case, why are you continuing to preach and harangue about kids having more sex, broken homes, gay sex and more?  The divorce rate among Christians is pretty much the same as it is among non-Christians, so .  Single parent homes, or mixed parent homes, have become increasingly more common, and yet, by all accounts, we’re doing better now than ever.

So if that is the case, why spend so much time preaching and lying about it?

Wait a minute!  What do I mean, lying?  Well, you know, when you say something that is demonstrably incorrect or false- that’s lying.  Sure, you might have said this false thing for the purposes of hyperbole or illustration, but if you are doing so in order to justify your message and not as an example, you’re lying.  It’s pretty simple.  You know it,  I know it, and the people watching and listening know it.  Some of them will agree with you.  Maybe they don’t know the facts, maybe they don’t care, or maybe they just think that the lie is preferable to the truth.  But others, they’re the ones that are being disparaged in that message.  They’re the ones with broken homes, are gay or have gay parents, or are having premarital sex, children, are adopted, etc.  And they’re looking around and they don’t see themselves as bad, evil or necessarily sinners.  They’re not necessarily angry at the world, or think the world is in a bad place.  And they’re right.  But they do know that you, as a Christian, think they’re part of the problem.  Tell me, what does that do to your testimony?  What does that do to spread the Good News?  Do you think you’ll be lining up all those people to join your faith?

I don’t think so, either.  Now, we both know the world is not all sunshine and roses.  It has some pretty hefty problems.  Social ones, economic ones, human ones.  Christians are no strangers to oppression and persecution, they’ve known their fair share over the centuries.  But if we’re being honest with ourselves, much of that “persecution”?  Yeah, not only did we bring it upon ourselves, we’re the ones doing it to each other.  Especially within the United States where we enjoy a protected status, we wield a heavy hand and influence in political and social arenas.  So instead of playing the poor me card, or the world is going to Hell card, Christians should be using their amazing support and resources within this country to reach out.  Help our people, help those fleeing from war torn nations and cities, our vets, our old, our young.  Help those suffering from real oppression, danger and persecution.  Offer hope and support and use that for correction and instruction in righteousness, rather than criticism and the washing of our hands a la Pontius Pilate.  And then watch your faith and fellowship grow.

5.  The marriage of American Christianity to the Conservative Right.

Stop me if you heard this one.  You’re told to welcome all people.  Treat them very well.  Show compassion and mercy, share your love and resources, teach others and reach out beyond your borders.  You are to fellowship, grow and not hoard away what you have been given.  Help hold each other accountable and go forth and live.  Also, render unto Caesar and stop complaining.  So you join, participate in and endorse a political group that emphasizes wealth over charity, profit over education and mercy, closing off our country to the new and different, to rigidly regulating how we help people but not preventing corporations from oppressing people and through it all, lowering direct taxes on the wealthy while indirectly increasing taxes on the poor and middle class.

Oh, you have heard this one?  The one told about churches all across United States actively supporting a political party that, by and large, does not reflect their own values?  A party that has ably demonstrated many, many times that even when they claim to support those religious and moral values, they willingly engage in activities and legislation that is fundamentally opposite?

Yeah, I use to laugh at that joke too, and then I saw that it was somebody telling me the truth.  And when I saw this, I had to ask myself, “Why?  Why would you link yourself to a party that quite clearly only pays lip service to your firmly held ideals?”

Guns?  No, that’s a personal choice that is Constitutionally protected and has no direct Biblical foundation or particular political affiliation.  God’s views on self-defense are there, along with the understanding that there is a time a place for righteous wrath, but nowhere does He single guns out, so that’s not it.  Besides, everyone knows that gun control is using two hands…

Religious persecution or freedom?  In a country that identifies itself as a majority Christian?  There’s a rabbit hole that I’ll go down another day, but suffice to say, if you honestly believe that Christians in America are being persecuted and oppressed, you need to pull your head out of its nice warm home and look around at all the benefits and privileges afforded our most popular faith.  That argument resembles the parable about the man swimming in a clean and clear mountain lake.  He’s swimming all around, crying out to anyone who will listen, “I’m thirsty!  I’m thirsty!  Please won’t somebody give me a drink!”

Family values, moral majority, good Christian Men!  Eh, see my previous comment on their repeated failures to live those particular ideals.  If the Devil comes to you and promises everything you want in return for your support, do you give it to him?  Knowing full well that he is lying and will do nothing of the sort?  Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Christianity and the GOP.  A deal with the Devil.

So what is it, then, that brings these two rather disparate groups together like this?

“Maybe it’s abortion.” says my friend Dave.  “After all, before Roe Vs Wade, American Christians weren’t nearly as tied to the Republican party as they are now.”

“Dave,” I said,  “I do believe you’re on to something!  You’re a Man among men, a brilliant observer, engaging conversationalist and a true friend.  It’s a shame you’re so short.”

So, the Devil comes to you and says, “I want you to forsake most of the major tenants of your religion and support me.  Forget about charity, building one another up and taking care of fellow brothers and sisters.  Forget about being good stewards of the land and country.  Yuppie greed is in, my friend!  I won’t support better education and resources to prevent unwanted pregnancies, I won’t support infrastructure to take care of pregnant women, abandoned children or the old and infirm, but I will actively oppose the right for women to have an abortion.  What do you say, do we have a deal?”

Interesting.  And here I thought Eve was the only one that got taken in by the that smooth (and forked!) tongued Devil.

Now, here’s the thing.  I personally detest abortion.  I hate it and despise it to no end.  I believe life begins at conception, regardless of whether that baby is ever born.  Whenever I think of an abortion, I think of a life cut short, a future snuffed out before it could begin.  And I see that as a loss to humanity as a whole.  No, not every human being becomes a great asset or benefit to our race.  No, not everybody born goes on to live a good life.  But enough of them do, enough of them go on to impact the world in a billion tiny different ways, that to cut the potential off before it begins is a tragedy.  Simple as that.

But I also don’t believe the government, or men, have any business whatsoever telling a female whether she should have to endure pregnancy if she does not want to.  If it is a crime against God, she will answer for it, end of the Christian story.  I already see it as a loss for humanity, but childbirth is a risk.  Raising a child takes resources, and a support framework, and there are times when neither the resources nor the framework are available.  There are times when bringing a child into the world can be an unbearable cruelty to the child.  What good does it do to give birth if the child is going to starve to death, be abused due to drug or alcohol addicted parents, or forced to live in abject poverty, knowing nothing but fear, privation and the meanest life?  What morality do you speak of then, to demand the birth of a child but deny it any dignity and value afterwards?

Honestly, in today’s modern world of medicine and education, pregnancy should be almost 100% elective, regardless of sexual or economic status.  Our people should be educated on their options.  Abstinence, protection, birth control, etc should all be covered and understood by any nubile citizen.  Ignorance or lack of healthcare should never, ever, be the reason that an abortion is viewed as an alternative.  If you, as a Christian, cannot make the decision to educate our population on the nature of sex, whether it is premarital or not, for the purposes of avoiding pregnancy and abortion, then please stop calling yourself a Christian.  A Christian may wrap themselves in the trappings of chastity and moral/physical purity(especially as it pertains to females), but there is a great deal of evidence that suggests that Christian men and women of every age are engaging in premarital sex right along with the rest of humanity, so stop paying lip service to your beliefs and work to prevent a real tragedy.  God will forgive all sins, including premarital sex, but an abortion will destroy the life of at least one person before they ever come to really live.

So with all of that said, why exactly are you hitching your faith to the GOP horse?

But enough about those points.  What about being a force for positive change instead?   You would certainly be forgiven for thinking that I’m not a big fan of Christianity after reading all of that.  You’d also be thinking that I don’t like Republicans or the Republican Party, either.

And, oddly enough, you would not be exactly right.  I support the ideals of both of them, especially today.  Unfortunately, I believe they have both lost their way and are no longer what they should be.  I would suggest to Christians everywhere that it is time to unhitch yourselves from the Republican party.  It is time to stop shooting yourself in the foot by teaming up with a political power that supports only a sliver of what your faith espouses.  It is time to take back your integrity, your compassion and start focusing on the fundamentals of your faith again.  And no, that doesn’t mean I’m suggesting you side with the Democrats, though you could stand to learn a thing or two from some of them.  No, I believe it is time you demanded a new party.  Not those silly Tea types, nor the equally silly Libertarians.  I mean something a bit more moderate, certainly less extreme.  And, if you call yourselves Americans, it’s time to stop lying to yourselves and others about how bad Christianity has it here and accept that you are still the first religion among several.  Your influence, heavy handed at times, is felt throughout all of our society, culture and government.  It is time to stop demanding that we integrate the faith with more of our government and place people who embody the attributes of the faith there instead.  Courage, humility, honesty, education and compassion.    Stop trying to legislate morality and embody it, instead.  Bring leadership and respect for your fellow human beings back instead of self-righteous, and largely self-serving,  judgement.

Or don’t.  Continue to do as has been done the last couple of centuries.  Continue to wail and beat your chests as you decry the downfall of society, the shrinking attendance and failure to spread God’s word.  Be sure to blame it on others- on science, on government and and liberal leaders.  And watch as much of what you have complained about, especially the decline of Christianity in America, becomes a reality.

 

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About Dan Granot

I chose the Shorter Whitman because of his work, "Song of Myself" and because of my self-deprecating sense of humor. I am under no illusion that I can write successful essays or poetry, but I have been known to write them anyway.

One Response to Take me to Church

  1. David says:

    A golden memory:

    A church lady once told me that, ‘You must believe every word in the Bible is the true and actual word of God!’

    ‘Oh? Which translation?’
    _________________________________________________________

    I hold with the Doctrine of The Two Books:
    There is not just the scripture. There is the ‘book’ of the real world which God created. One of these books was entrusted to fallible, venal, and, sometimes, malicious men. When the scriptures contradict the Book of Reality, trust the Book of the World. It has been kept by better hands.

    Of course this pits me against the fundamentalists. I can accept that.

    Religion is like to expert advice: You buy ignorance and certainty. When you hire an expert, you are unaware of the uncertainties, compromises, and the forcing of parts into place when they don’t fit quite correctly. You feel better when you can say,’Of course my car is ready for a transcontinental trip in very hot weather far from anyone I know. I took it to my mechanic.’ Such ignorant confidence is a pearl beyond price.

    How more important is saying. ‘My child is saved. The minister baptised him!’ without coming to terms with infant baptism, or the authority of the baptist, or any of a thousand quibbles.

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