Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Good Friday

April 14, 2017

Today is Good Friday, the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. It may seem strange to call it “Good” Friday since being crucified wouldn’t normally be considered as part of a good day but the word good is used in an obsolete sense meaning holy. Good Friday is generally celebrated with fasts and vigils. In the Roman Catholic church no mass is held on this day.

Once again, I will be using the Gospel of Mark to tell the story.

Mark 15

Jesus Before Pilate

1Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

13Crucify him!” they shouted.

14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:1-15)

It would seem that this meeting of the Sanhedrin at night and before Passover was highly irregular and some have questioned the historicity of the Gospel accounts on that basis. I think that if the elders and priests of the Sanhedrin believe Jesus to be on the point of declaring himself the Messiah and leading a rebellion, they might not have been too concerned with fine points of legality in the face of a national emergency. Little is known of Pontius Pilate but in the historical accounts of Josephus and others, he does not seem to be the sort of man who had any scruples about putting a trouble maker to death even if he wasn’t certain of the man’s guilt. It is possible that he was impressed by Jesus’s force of personality. On the other hand, Josephus makes it clear that Pilate was a tactless man who did not like the Jews much. He was eventually recalled because his actions seemed likely to cause rebellions. Perhaps Pilate resented having the High Priest and others, who he might have considered semi-barbarians, insist on his crucifying a man. He might have refused just to be obstinate.

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28][a]29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.(Mark 15:16-32)

Luke has one of the thieves taking Jesus’s side.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Crucifixion is probably the most painful method method of execution ever devised. The victim is slowly asphyxiated as he hangs on the cross. It was not uncommon for a man to linger for days writhing in pain the whole time. In addition to the pain, crucifixion was meant to be a humiliating, shameful punishment. Only the lowest of the low were crucified, which might have been a stumbling block to early Christian proselytizing.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[c] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph,[d] and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

Those words were the first verse of Psalm 22. Matthew’s account parallels Mark’s but Luke and John report different last words.

46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[e] When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:46)

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.(John 19:28-30)

John adds another detail.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”[c]37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37)

Strange as it may seem, the breaking of their legs was an act of mercy since they would die sooner. It was surprising that Jesus had died after only being about six hours on the cross.

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:42-47)

To anyone on the scene, this must have seemed the end of the matter. Jesus of Nazareth was dead and his followers scattered. It would seem that, at best, he would only be a minor footnote in history.

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Holy Thursday

April 13, 2017

Today is Holy or Maundy Thursday, when many Christians celebrate the Last Supper.

The Lord’s Supper

12On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”

16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”

19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?”

20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.

24 “This is my blood of the[b] covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.”

26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

27“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’[c]

28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

30 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice[d] you yourself will disown me three times.”

31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. (Mark 14:12-31)

All About Mormons

September 13, 2016

The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have a curious relationship towards religion. They are not religious and enjoy mocking religion in their show, yet they deny being atheists and have been just as quick to make fun of the pretensions of Atheism and the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, and they have admitted to having  a certain curiosity and respect for religious belief. In fact, a closer look at the South Park episodes which ridicule religion shows that they are really opposed to hypocrisy or bad actions justified by religious belief.

Parker and Stone have a particular liking for Mormonism. Growing up in Colorado, right next to the Mormon promised land of Utah, they knew many Mormons and have expressed an appreciation for their politeness and niceness, even while regarding the story of Joseph Smith and Mormon beliefs as ridiculous. Their feelings about Mormonism and religion in general are expressed in the seventh season episode, “All About Mormons“.

In this episode, a Mormon family, the Harrisons, moves to South Park and one of the boys, named Gary, is in the same class as the series regulars.  The Harrisons are nice and polite and eager to befriend everyone in South Park, particularly the Marshes and while they do not want to force their religious beliefs on anyone, they are more than willing to tell their neighbors the history and beliefs of the Mormon religion and it’s prophet Joseph Smith.

The Harrisons

The Harrisons

This history is told through a series of musical flashbacks.

Stan is not impressed with their account of Joseph Smith and points out the inconsistencies and logical fallacies that suggest that Joseph Smith was simply making up his stories about the golden plates and the Angel Moroni.

"All you've got are a bunch of stories about some asswipe who read plates nobody ever saw out of a hat and then couldn't do it again when the translations were hidden!"

“All you’ve got are a bunch of stories about some asswipe who read plates nobody ever saw out of a hat and then couldn’t do it again when the translations were hidden!”

The next day Gary confronts Stan at the bus stop and explains why he is a Mormon even if the stories are a little silly.

Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life, and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you’re so high and mighty you couldn’t look past my religion and just be my friend back. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.

The sentiment expressed by Gary, and presumably shared by Parker and Stone is one that I would hope if widely adopted, might promote greater tolerance and civility between persons of different faiths, and with those with no faith. Still, it doesn’t satisfy me because it ignores the question that is most important to me. It is good if the religion you follow makes you a better person, but the question I think more important is, is the religion true? Can the assertions and claims made by this particular religion be shown to be true or false?

I do not mean the metaphysical claims made by nearly all religions concerning deities or the afterlife or anything of that sort. These matters cannot be shown to be true or false this side of eternity and properly matters of faith Nor do I expect that every word of the Book of Mormon or spoken by Joseph Smith to be literally and completely true. That is a burden that even my own mainstream Christianity couldn’t bear. I do think it is fair to ask whether, in a broad sense, the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith are what they claim to be. Is the Book of Mormon really a historical record of Jewish refugees who settled in the New World? Is Joseph Smith really a prophet of the Lord who translated this account?

The answer to both questions would seem to be no. Studies of the DNA of the Native Americans show that their ancestry is almost entirely from Northern Asia or Siberia. There is no indication of any ancestors of Semitic or Middle Eastern origin. There is no archeological evidence that any of the events described in the Book of Mormon ever took place Not a single city or country named in the Book of Mormon has ever been positively located or identified, nor do any individuals named in the Book of Mormon appear in any historical record outside the Book of Mormon. In contrast, many places in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, can be located on a map and many people named in the Bible can be attested in other sources. It may well be that some of the accounts in the Bible are slanted, or even fictitious, but there is no question that there really were places like Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, or Babylon and that people like the kings and prophets of Israel, Jesus and his apostles really did exist.

As for Joseph Smith, he had something of a reputation as a con artist who practiced folk magic, specializing in money digging, or searching for lost treasure by occult means. It is possible that Smith reformed after the visions he claimed to have had, but Smith’s actions even after he founded the Mormon religion do not seem to be those of an honest man, still less a prophet.

Does it matter it there is any truth to the Book of Mormon or the story of Joseph Smith, so long as it improves people’s lives? Perhaps not, but it seems to me that a faith built on untruths is a faith built on sand rather than solid rock. I do not believe that such a faith can endure.

For my part, if it were shown that the claims of Christianity were false, I would be obliged to change religions. I could not take comfort in the idea that it does not matter whether the stories the gospels tell about Jesus are true so long as I follow the teachings in the gospels because Christianity is not based on the teachings of Jesus, or Paul, or anyone else. Buddhism could still exist even if it were shown that there was no such person as Gautama because his teachings about life and suffering stand on their own regardless whether he existed or not. The same could be true of Confucius or Socrates or many other sages. The teachings of Christ are not much different from the teachings of other sages and express the same truths common to the whole human race. The central message of Christianity is a historical one, that the man Jesus of Nazareth was God in human form who was crucified for our sins, who died and was resurrected, defeating sin and death. If Jesus were shown to have never existed or were shown to have been just an ordinary man, than I, and every other Christian, have been wasting our time. As Paul put it,

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1Cor 15:12-19)

Is this true of Mormonism? I don’t know. The family values taught by the contemporary Mormon faith certainly have little to do with the polygamous Joseph Smith. It may be that the faith is better than its founder. And yet, the family values that Mormonism teaches are, or used to be, the mainstream within the Judeo-Christian tradition. If one can have the family values without the silly stories about Joseph Smith, why bother with the silly stories? If the Mormon religion gives life meaning but is shown to be based on falsehoods, than then meaning one derives from the faith is also based upon falsehoods. I think I would rather have a faith based on truth.

Good Friday

March 25, 2016

Today is Good Friday, the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. It may seem strange to call it “Good” Friday since being crucified wouldn’t normally be considered as part of a good day but the word good is used in an obsolete sense meaning holy. Good Friday is generally celebrated with fasts and vigils. In the Roman Catholic church no mass is held on this day.

I will be using the Gospel of Mark to tell the story.

Mark 15

Jesus Before Pilate

1Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

13Crucify him!” they shouted.

14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:1-15)

It would seem that this meeting of the Sanhedrin at night and before Passover was highly irregular and some have questioned the historicity of the Gospel accounts on that basis. I think that if the elders and priests of the Sanhedrin believe Jesus to be on the point of declaring himself the Messiah and leading a rebellion, they might not have been too concerned with fine points of legality in the face of a national emergency. Little is known of Pontius Pilate but in the historical accounts of Josephus and others, he does not seem to be the sort of man who had any scruples about putting a trouble maker to death even if he wasn’t certain of the man’s guilt. It is possible that he was impressed by Jesus’s force of personality. On the other hand, Josephus makes it clear that Pilate was a tactless man who did not like the Jews much. He was eventually recalled because his actions seemed likely to cause rebellions. Perhaps Pilate resented having the High Priest and others, who he might have considered semi-barbarians, insist on his crucifying a man. He might have refused just to be obstinate.

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.(Mark 15:16-32)

Luke has one of the thieves taking Jesus’s side.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Crucifixion is probably the most painful method method of execution ever devised. The victim is slowly asphyxiated as he hangs on the cross. It was not uncommon for a man to linger for days writhing in pain the whole time. In addition to the pain, crucifixion was meant to be a humiliating, shameful punishment. Only the lowest of the low were crucified, which might have been a stumbling block to early Christian proselytizing.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

crucifxion

Those words were the first verse of Psalm 22. Matthew’s account parallels Mark’s but Luke and John report different last words.

46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:46)

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.(John 19:28-30)

John adds another detail.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”[c]37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37)

Strange as it may seem, the breaking of their legs was an act of mercy since they would die sooner. It was surprising that Jesus had died after only being about six hours on the cross.

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:42-47)

To anyone on the scene, this must have seemed the end of the matter. Jesus of Nazareth was dead and his followers scattered. It would seem that, at best, he would only be a minor footnote in history.

The end?

The end?

 

Bless This Abortion Clinic

December 15, 2015

I wish that I could say that this news story from Breitbart.com surprised me, but the liberal, mainline protestant churches have drifted so far from anything that might be considered traditional Christian teachings that nothing representatives of the more liberal denominations is truly surprising.

Some ordained ministers are throwing their support behind abortion providers. Last week, for example, clergy for Episcopal and Methodist churches were among religious leaders who gathered in Cleveland to bless an abortion clinic.
“I’m here today standing alongside my fellow clergymen and clergywomen to say: thank God for abortion providers,” said Rev. Harry Knox, president and CEO of Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) which supports abortion rights and what it refers to as “abortion care.”

Knox, who is in a same-sex marriage, was the founding director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program, the first program director at Freedom to Marry, and executive director of Georgia Equality.

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, blessed the abortion clinic, saying, “Bless this building. May its walls stand strong against the onslaught of shame thrown at it. May it be a beacon of hope for those who need its services.”

The blessing event outside the Preterm abortion clinic was arranged by Rev. Laura Young, a United Methodist minister who is executive director of RCRC’s Ohio chapter, reports theColumbus Dispatch. Young calls herself a “progressive theological thinker and a feminist,” and says her goals include urging more clergy members to advocate for organizations that provide abortions and contraception.

At the abortion clinic, clergy members held up signs that read, “Pro-Faith, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice.”

Chrisse France, executive director of Preterm said, “At a time when abortion care providers are under attack, we are so thankful to be surrounded by the faith community as they share their powerful voices in saying no to the shame and stigma.”

I can understand praying for the safety of the people who work in abortion clinics considering that there is a lunatic fringe that does not quite understand the concept of being pro-life, but how can anyone who considers themselves a Christian possibly ask God to bless a an institution that exists for the sole purpose of murdering innocent human beings? Isn’t this more than a little like clergy blessing a Nazi concentration camp? Ought they not rather pray that the people in the abortion clinic see the error of their way and repent of the evil they are doing? Why shouldn’t abortion providers feel shame and stigma? They are doing something truly detestable. Even if one takes the position that abortion is a sad necessity because of adverse conditions, surely it is blasphemous to ask the Lord of Life to bless an abortion clinic. Executions may also be necessary, but no priest or minister would bless a gallows or electric chair.

It comes as no surprise that one of the clergymen involved in this event is in a same-sex marriage. I have long held the position that any church or denomination that permits or endorses same-sex marriage is in a state of apostasy and cannot be considered to be Christian. It is not so much that the issue of same-sex marriage is important in itself, although it is, or that the issue alone determines whether a church is truly Christian, it does not, but rather, I believe that if a church rejects Biblical Christian teachings on marriage and sexuality, they are very likely to reject other Biblical Christian teachings such as the death and resurrection of the Son of God, or the supreme value of human life and dignity.

These Episcopal and Methodist clergy men and women seem to have rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ and replaced it with the gospel of leftism. They have ceased to follow the standards of Christ in favor the standards of the world and have decided to bow down to the golden calf of political correctness. They have chosen to worship Baal and to sacrifice infants in the fire rather than the Living God. May God have mercy on them for leading their flocks astray. It would be better for them to have had millstones hung around their necks.

Handwritten King James Bible Proves the Bible Not Inspired

December 7, 2015

That is the claim made by this article from the website addicting info. Judging from the content I’ve seen, addicting info seems to be the sort of website with a pronounced leftwing bias that thrives on sensationalistic headlines, so it is probably a waste of my time to pay much attention to any article there, but this particular article is interesting.

The earliest known version of The King James Bible, perhaps one of the most influential and widely read books in history, has been discovered mislabeled inside an archive at the University of Cambridge. The find is being called one of the most significant revelations in decades. It shows that writing is a process of revising, cutting, and then more rewriting. The Bible is no different in this regard, even though some conservative Christians claim it is the divine word of God himself. Perhaps God, then, is a revisionist. This find certainly seems to suggest that.

The notebook containing the draft was found by American scholar, Jeffrey Alan Miller, an assistant professor of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey, who announced his research in an article in The Times Literary Supplement. The New York Times didn’t take long to pick up the story. They ran an article about it, HERE. Mr. Miller was researching an essay about Samuel Ward, one of the King James translators, and was hoping to find an unknown letter at the archives. While you can say he certainly accomplished that end, he definitely wasn’t expecting to find the earliest draft of the King James Bible — which is now giving new insights into how the Bible was constructed

He first came across the plain notebook not knowing what it was — it was incorrectly labeled. That’s why no one has found it until now. It had been cataloged in the 1980s as a “verse-by-verse” Biblical commentary with “Greek word studies, and some Hebrew notes.” When he tried in vain to figure out which passages of the Bible the commentary was referring to, he realized that it was no commentary at all — it was an early draft of part of the King James Version of the Bible.

Ward’s draft seems to indicate the people were assigned individual sections of the Bible and then worked on them almost entirely by themselves — a massive undertaking with little guesswork. You would think this would cause people to become more error prone. In fact, quite hilariously, Professor Miller noticed that the draft suggests that Ward was picking up the slack for another translator. This really shows how human the entire job was, according to him.

“Some of them, being typical academics, either fell down on the job or just decided not to do it. It really testifies to the human element of this kind of great undertaking.”

This is sure to piss off a lot of religious conservatives who claim that the Bible is the “actual word of God.” While this finding certainly doesn’t disprove God, it does show that the translators of the Bible didn’t get a finalized product the first go around — it wasn’t a walk in the park with an angel over their shoulder telling them what to write. It took many different individuals, working separately — and they often suffered from man-made struggles, like meeting deadlines. You know, now that we think of it, doesn’t sound that much different from the writers of today’s workforce.

To begin with, no one believes that the King James Version of the Bible is anything but a translation made by fallible men, with the exception of a small fringe of people. The original manuscripts of the Bible in Hebrew and Greek were inspired but the copies and translations were not. We do not have these original manuscripts. They were lost centuries ago. We do have copies of the original manuscripts. Because these copies were made by fallible men, they contain errors, such as words out of place, words misspelled or ungrammatical sentences, variant wordings etc. The scholars who translate the Bible into modern languages take great pains to find the oldest copies available and compare the many copies in order to determine the precise wording of the original manuscripts. This is difficult but not impossible, since the sort of errors made by copyists are well known and can be analysed. It is no great surprise that the King James translators had trouble with their work, especially considering the difficulty of translation from a language no longer spoken from a quite different culture.

KJV

The word “inspiration” is taken from the Latin ” inspiratio”, literally “breathed in”, which is a translation of the Greek word θεοπνευστος (theopneustos) meaning God breathed. The idea behind the word inspiration is that God breathed His word into the Biblical writers, or as it is written in 2 Timothy 3:16:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

There is a range of opinions of just what inspired or God breathed actually means, particularly among Protestants. At the more conservative or literalist end of the spectrum is the Dictation Theory, which is that God dictated the contents of the biblical manuscripts word for word with the human authors acting as recorders or stenographers. This is not a theory which has much appeal. The books of the Bible are written in different styles and genres. If every word were dictated by a single intelligence then you might expect a greater uniformity of style. Verbal dictation is really more of an Islamic idea, with the angel Gabriel dictating every word of the Koran to Mohammed, than a Christian one.

Verbal plenary inspiration is the view that the words written in the Bible are those of the human authors, with their various cultural backgrounds, personalities, and literary styles, but that God had arranged matters so that these authors would be His tools and their words would be His words. In other words, they may have chosen the words to write, but their choices had be foreseen and predestined to be the ones God wanted to use. This isn’t really very far from actual dictation, but it does a better job of explaining the different writing styles of the Bible.

Dynamic inspiration gives more credit to the human writers. The words of the Bible were theirs but the thoughts and basic ideas are inspired. So, when the Apostle Paul wrote one of his letters, the Holy Spirit gave him the theological ideas but the but the words used were his own.

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches also believe that the Bible was inspired, though not dictated word for word, however, they also believe in the continuing work of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in sacred traditions and the teaching authority of the Church. Scripture is important to Catholicism and Orthodoxy as the primary source of doctrine, but not the only source as it does in Protestantism with its solo scriptura doctrine.

More liberal Christians tend to downplay the role of inspiration in the writing of scripture, tending to view the Bible as a primarily, if not entirely, human creation. They may reject the role of scripture entirely or attempt to separate out the truly divine elements from the human elements derived from the culture and background. This is a convenient approach for those who would like to support the latest progressive, politically correct causes, like gay marriage, but don’t want to be bothered by inconvenient passages in scripture.

So, despite what the writer might believe, the discovery of an early draft of the King James Bible with corrections does not, in the least, show that the Bible is not the Word of God. He is attacking an idea that no one actually holds, which is the definition of a strawman argument.

If I only had a brain.

If I only had a brain.

 

It seems to me that it would be better to learn something about a religion or ideology because trying to portray its adherents as being ignorant, rather than show one’s own ignorance about the matter.

Kim Davis

September 14, 2015

I am still not too sure what to think of the whole Kim Davis affair down in Kentucky. If she were the owner and proprietor of her own business, it would be a simple matter, at least for me. I would say that she ought not to be required to take part in any occasion or transaction that contradicts her religious conscience. The difficulty is that she is not acting on her own, but as a county clerk she is acting as a representative of the state of Kentucky and it is not clear that she has the authority either legal or moral to put her own religious beliefs ahead of the laws of the state she is representing. It seems that she is in the position of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant.

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matt 8:5-9)

Surely, Kim Davis is a woman under authority who is obliged to come and do when she is ordered.

Yet, I find it very odd to see so many progressives insisting that no one is above the law and the law must be obeyed whatever personal reservations one may have about it. They didn’t express such sentiments when the mayor of San Francisco was illegally issuing licenses for same-sex marriages. They had no such reservations when then California Attorney General and later Governor Jerry Brown decided to refuse to enforce Proposition 8, despite the fact that as an elected official it was his duty to enforce the laws, even ones he disliked, just like Kim Davis. The progressives have never had a problem with encouraging young men to dodge the draft during times of war, encouraging soldiers to desert, giving aid and comfort to their country’s enemies, celebrating domestic terrorists and murderers, and generally doing everything they can to upset the rule of law. Now, suddenly, they are for law and order.

It seems there is a pattern here. When they are out of power, the progressives preach that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. When they are in power it changes to dissent is racist, sexist, homophobic, fascist, bigoted. Any trace of dissent, however minor and ineffectual must be crushed. Why should the rest of us play a game that is rigged to be heads, I win, tails you lose? If following the law is optional for the progressives, why not for conservatives?

Another factor that leads me to want to support Kim Davis, almost against my better judgment, is the sheer magnitude of the hatred that is being directed at this woman. People who know nothing about her have been calling her every nasty name imaginable on every internet forum around. They have mocked her religious beliefs and her personal appearance in ways that would provoke shame in any decent person. Why? What has she actually done to deserve such treatment? One would think from all the abuse that she is some sort of mass murderer who drowns puppies and kittens in her spare time. The people in the Middle East who actually stone gay people do not get the kind of hazing she has gotten for merely inconveniencing some gays. What I find remarkable about this abuse is that none of her opponents seems to be the least bit willing to concede that she is simply trying to do what she believes is right in God’s eyes. In their minds, someone like her can only be motivated by hatred and bigotry. Only the enlightened and progressive ones among us seem to have any real consciences. The rest of us are hateful troglodytes. I cannot help but consider that anyone who attracts such hatred from the enlightened and tolerant supporters of diversity must be on the side of the angels.

I am still not certain if I can really support what Kim Davis has been doing. It is not a simple matter. She has been stirring people up and presenting opportunities for the left to once again show their hypocrisy. I think I feel the same way about her antics as I do Donald Trump‘s. Both may end up doing damage to causes I believe in, but they are both doing a needed service by providing turbulence to shake up people and institutions that badly need shaking up.

Smeagol

June 30, 2015

When I wrote my review of the Two Towers, I neglected to mention what I consider to be the best part the book. As Frodo and Sam make their way into Mirror they stop to rest and fall asleep while Gollum leaves them. Gollum returns and almost repents of his plan to betray them to Shelob.

Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate. Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee –but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing. But at that touch Frodo stirred and cried out softly in his sleep, and immediately Sam was wide awake. The first thing he saw was Gollum –‘pawing at master,’as he thought. ‘Hey you!’he said roughly. ‘What are you up to?’‘Nothing, nothing,’said Gollum softly. ‘Nice Master!’‘I daresay,’said Sam. ‘But where have you been to –sneaking off and sneaking back, you old villain?’

Gollum withdrew himself, and a green glint flickered under his heavy lids. Almost spider-like he looked now, crouched back on his bent limbs, with his protruding eyes. The fleeting moment had passed, beyond recall. ‘Sneaking, sneaking!’ he hissed. ‘Hobbits always so polite, yes. O nice hobbits! Sméagol brings them up secret ways that nobody else could find. Tired he is, thirsty he is, yes thirsty; and he guides them and he searches for paths, and they say sneak, sneak. Very nice friends, O yes my precious, very nice.”

If Sam had spoken kindly to Gollum when he awoke, Gollum’s good side, Smeagol, might have come out on top and the plot of the would have been very different. Smeagol might have warned the hobbits about Shelob and helped them to avoid her trap. Frodo wouldn’t have been captured by the enemy and the trip to Mount Doom would have been quicker and easier.

Gollum

 

 

I have been thinking of this over the past week with the Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage. I am afraid that many Christians, myself included, have acted much like Sam in our relations with the Gay community. We have been more interested in condemning sin then in loving the sinner and perhaps have turned many of them away from from the love of God. Certainly Christians have, in the past, and all too often even now have acted in a way that has caused homosexuals to hate Christianity and Christians. We must remember that our mission is not to win debates or legislate morality but to bring souls to Heaven.

I do not mean, of course, that we should endorse the homosexual lifestyle or accept same-sex marriage. Christians must hold true to Biblical teachings concerning marriage and sexuality. Those churches which have hung up rainbow banners and celebrated the Supreme Court ruling may believe that they are doing the loving, compassionate thing, but they are making a mistake and putting themselves in grave danger of apostasy. Indeed, many of those more liberal denominations have become almost entirely apostate and can be regarded as Christians in name only. Churches which abandon the standards of scripture do not flourish. Rudderless, they sway back and forth with the wind in no set direction save momentary ideas of political correctness.

But, churches must support all the Biblical teachings regarding marriage and sexuality. A church that accepts pre-marital sex (fornication), secular ideas about divorce and remarriage, or adultery is in no position to lecture the homosexual about sexual morality. The same goes for Biblical teachings on other subjects. A church can be made up of the most upright prudes imaginable, but if they lack a spirit of love and compassion, they are no better than the pagans. Remember what Paul had to say about this.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror;then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:1-13)

Let us not, then, become clanging cymbals. We must preach the truth, but it must be done with love understanding. And we should keep in mind that sexual sins are not the only sins we can commit. There are worse sins, excessive pride and hatred are worse. Also, I think it would be helpful if more Christians understood why God’s rules about sex and marriage are what they are. These are not arbitrary rules from the Bronze Age. God wants us to be happy and to join Him in Heaven. He understands better than any of us that an excessive or misplaced devotion to sex, like an excessive or misplaced devotion to anything other than Him will not, ultimately, make us happy or bring us to him. God does not hate “fags”. He hates that which takes them, and us, away from Him.

First World Christianity

June 13, 2015

Joel Osteen is a televangelist, the pastor of the largest mega church in America, and a best selling Christian author. I don’t much care for him. Why not? Because he is a televangelist,  the pastor of the largest mega church in America, and a best selling Christian author who, to my mind, is not really preaching a message that has anything to do with the Christian faith. Here are some of his books.

Of course I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover so here are the publisher’s descriptions of some of  these books, beginning with Every Day a Friday.

The title comes from research that shows people are happiest on Fridays. Pastor Joel Osteen writes how we can generate this level of contentment and joy every day of the week.
Known as a man who maintains a constant positive outlook in spite of circumstances, Osteen has described this message as a core theme of his ministry. Combining his personal experiences with scriptural insights and principles for true happiness, he shows readers how every day can hold the same promise and opportunities for pure joy that they experience at five o’clock on Friday.

Here is Break Out!

We were not created to just get by with average, unrewarding or unfulfilling lives. God created us to leave our marks on our generations. Every person has seeds of greatness planted within by the Creator. When life weighs upon us, pushing us down, limiting our thinking, labeling us in negative ways, we have what it takes to overcome and rise above into the fullness of our destinies. In his dynamic, inspiring and faith-building new book, BREAK OUT: Five Ways To Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life, best-selling author Joel Osteen provides practical steps and encouragement for creating a life without limitations. This book will help readers break out and break free so they can believe bigger, increase their productivity, improve their relationships and accomplish their dreams. Osteen’s uplifting message focuses on moving beyond barriers by:

  • Daring to believe that the best will happen for us
  • Adopting an irrepressible “break out” attitude
  • Making room for increase
  • Praying bold prayers
  • Following God’s plan beyond our circumstances

Filled with faith and inspiration, BREAK OUT challenges readers to have a new perspective, to let nothing hold them back, and to reject any labels that might limit them. Osteen inspires and encourages with the message that our first break outs must occur within our own minds: “When you break though in your mind, believing you can rise higher and overcome obstacles, then God will unleash the power within that will enable you to go beyond the ordinary into the extraordinary life you were designed to live.”

And Become a Better You.

In the #1 New York Times bestseller Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day, Joel Osteen, pastor of America’s largest church, will inspire and motivate you to live with more joy, hope, and peace. Joel’s practical insights will help you become a better spouse and parent, a bet­ter boss or employee, a better community leader, a better friend—in short, a better person! In his signature easy-to-understand style, Osteen explains key biblical values and offers personal testimonies that will enlighten and uplift you. Each of the seven keys has its own section, complete with a set of practical action points. Become a Better You will encourage you to reach your unique God-given potential and will help you to enjoy every day of your life, despite your circumstances. As you incorporate Joel’s easy-to-grasp principles into your life, you will be thrilled at how much more God has in store for you and how quickly you become a better you!

Joel Osteen reaches a huge audience in the United States and across the globe. Tens of millions of people in more than a hundred nations worldwide are inspired through his weekly television broadcasts, his New York Times bestselling books, his sold-out international speaking tours, and his weekly top-ten podcasts.

Such is the message of Joel Osteen. What about the message of Jesus Christ?

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3-10)

He forgot to add anything about making every day a Friday. Jesus does not seem to be interested giving practical life advice in living an extraordinary life.

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

(Mark 8:24-37)

One might almost suppose that Christianity isn’t really about personal success and happiness. It is, of course, about becoming a better person, but not at all in the way that Mr. Osteen means. Osteen seems to teach that God wants you to be a better you. Christ teaches that you must give up being concerned about you and follow Him.

But I ought not to be too hard on Joel Osteen. He is only really preaching the message his congregation wants to hear, and he is not as bad as some. At any rate, he has not requested that every member of his congregation donate three hundred dollars so he can buy a new private jet. His message is not necessarily bad in itself. He probably does have some useful advice to impart. The trouble is that his message is not really Christianity. He would do better, perhaps, to retire from the ministry and become some sort of self-help guru.

The real problem is not Joel Osteen. The real problem is what might be called the prosperity gospel or first world Christianity. Perhaps you are familiar with the phrase “first world problem”.

Most people in the developed parts of the world are sufficiently prosperous that they no longer have to worry about basic problems of survival such as getting enough food to avoid starvation or finding shelter to avoid death by exposure. Indeed, many people in America and Europe live lives of material abundance greater that that of the greatest kings and emperors of antiquity. Since people in the first world do not have basic issues of life and death to worry about, they worry about matters that seem trivial to those not so fortunate to be born into a life of affluence.

You might think that since this is the case, the people in the first world would be utterly content with their lives, but it is not so. It is a peculiarity of human nature that people focus more on what they do not have than on what they do have and that the more most people have, the more they want. The prosperity gospel would never have appealed to the early Christians. These people did not aspire to prosperity, that was beyond their reach. This was a world where you stayed at the level you were born into and in which most people struggled to survive. They prayed for their daily bread, not to make every day a Friday. Having little in the material world, they wanted little and were ready to go into the next world. There is still much of this spirit in undeveloped countries in Africa and elsewhere.

We in the first world, by contrast, have much in the material world and want more. We are not ready to seek the next world. Why should we? We have it good here and now. Thus, we in the first world do not want to hear about taking up our cross. We want to hear about becoming a better you. We practice First World Christianity because we do not want to follow real Christianity. After all, Jesus may not have really approved of people like us.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:24-26)

He is talking about us. Remember we are the rich man in that story (Luke 16:19-31) not Lazarus.

Maybe Joel Osteen would be well advised to give up his ten million dollar home and his followers should worry less about becoming well off in this world and begin to store up their treasure in Heaven.

 

Rise of the Nones.

June 5, 2015

There has been quite a lot already said about the results of the recent Pew poll on the religious affiliations of the American people, most of the sharp decline of the number of Americans identifying as Christians over the last decade with a corresponding increase in the number of people with no religious affiliation.

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.

To be sure, the United States remains home to more Christians than any other country in the world, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith.1 But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center finds that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. And the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths also has inched up, rising 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. Growth has been especially great among Muslims and Hindus, albeit from a very low base.

Here are the charts that came with the article

PF_15.05.05_RLS2_1_310px

PR_15.05.12_RLS-00

 

There is a lot more to the article which I cannot summarize in a way to do it justice. You really ought to read the whole thing, if you haven’t already.

So, what is going on here? In the past there has often been a large number of unaffiliated young people, nominally Christian but not attending any church or being particularly religious. Generally, as these young people grow older and start families, they join a church and become more active in religion. This does not seem to be happening now. The decline in the number of Christians affects all age groups, races, levels of education, etc.

Could it be that that large numbers of American Christians are finally seeing the light? Thanks to the Internet, information about science, history and religion is more available than ever before. Religions depend on the ignorance of their adherents and it could be that more and more former Christians have been learning the truth and converting to Reason by abandoning such archaic superstitions like belief in God. That is how many atheists might interpret these findings. I am not so sure. I think something more subtle but no less momentous is occurring.

For most of its history, the United States has been a Christian nation, despite what the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State might believe. By this, I do not say that the United States was ever a theocracy or that Christianity was ever an official state religion but rather that the great majority of Americans have been at least nominally Christians and America’s politics and culture has been shaped by Christianity. Christianity has been the default option for most Americans, even those who have been largely secular. It has required initiative and perhaps even courage for most Americans to identity as anything other than Christian, especially as an atheist, and most people at most times would prefer to go with the flow. Times are changing, however. America is a more secular and diverse nation than it has been in the past and it is becoming more acceptable to not be even a nominal Christian. What we are seeing, then, is not necessarily a large scale movement of Christians abandoning their faith, but an increasing number of people who no longer feel they have to identify themselves as Christians. Indeed, considering the way Christians are often portrayed by the entertainment industry these days, as hypocritical, hate-filled, small minded prudes and bigots, it is not clear why anyone would want to be known as a Christian, particularly as a member of one of the more conservative or fundamentalist denominations that our social elite holds in such contempt.

There is an exception to this general trend that perhaps proves the hypothesis, Evangelical Protestants, which show only a very slight decline in percentage and an actual increase in numbers. This may be because Evangelicals tend to stress personal conversion more than the Mainline Protestants and the Catholics. For the Mainline Protestants and the Catholics, religion is more a part of their cultural background. You are a Catholic or Methodist because you are born into a Catholic or Methodist family. Evangelicals stress the conversion experience. Evangelicals are saved or born again, not baptized into the faith as infants. It may be that because there is more of a feeling of a break with the past, Evangelicals are more committed to their religion.

What do these trends mean for the future? This may be good for the Church. I would rather have a small church full of people who really believe than a large church with people who are only there, going through the motions, because it is expected of them. I would prefer for people to be honest about their belief, or lack of belief than be a hypocritical believer. There will be challenges for the Christian, though. We have grown up in a country in which Christianity is considered the norm and has played a dominant role in the shaping of our culture. That will be less true in the future. Already, as I have noted, there is an increasing hostility towards all forms of “politically incorrect” Christianity in our entertainment media. That will only get worse. In the past, being a Christian has been considered a good and respectable thing to be. That is already changing. More often than not, in some places, being a Christian means being an ignorant bigot. In the not too distant future, it may well be that admitting to being a Christian will be considered the same as announcing your membership in the Ku Klux Klan. I hope people are ready for this.

No matter what happens, the Church will survive. Indeed, Christianity flourishes best when it is persecuted. The United States and the West generally may not do so well. For the last fifteen hundred years, Christianity has played the major role in making the West what it is. As the influence of Christianity declines can the principles that has distinguished the West from other civilizations survive? The more militant atheists believe that a world in which religion, by which they mean chiefly a world without Christianity, is abolished will be a world which will experience a golden age of rational behavior. History and human nature suggest otherwise. Abolishing religion will not make human beings more rational. It will only cause new superstitions and cruelties to emerge. The history of the twentieth century is largely the history of substitutes for religion in the form of ultra nationalism and militant socialism. That didn’t work out so well.


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