A Religious State: What I fear

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May 20, 325 – 1st Christian ecumenical council opens at Nicaea, Asia Minor. This was the first major marriage of Christianity and state. The Emperor Constantine the (not so) Great called the church together to figure out what they believed. All those who disagreed with the Nicene Creed were kicked out of the church. Within 60 years (380 Edict of Thessalonica) all other Christian beliefs and ideas were deemed heretical and the “church” proceeded to eradicate them. This kind of thing is why we have separation of church and state. So we can have freedom of religion.

The same kind of thing had been happening in England for quite some time. When the Church of England broke from Catholicism in the 1500’s the King (or queen) became the head of the church. Whatever the king or queen was (protestant or Catholic) the other was persecuted. There was a revolution in which Oliver Cromwell and the far right Protestants took over and then were over thrown. For six years (1653-1659) the Commonwealth of England controlled the nation’s religion. People were jailed, killed or exiled for speaking their minds. Cromwell did have some people exiled instead of killing them to show his tolerance for religions. (Yeah, right, as I roll my eyes)

Many of the colonists that came to America were running from the wars and religious oppression from the government. They often settled in the Virginia area and in New England. This is where many of our founding fathers were from. Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, Madison, and Patrick Henry were born in Virginia. Hancock, Franklin, John Adams, and Samuel Adams were all born in New England. They were born into areas filled with people who did not like the government and religion being married as one. I find it interesting that the bigger leaders and the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution all came from these areas, as well as our first six presidents.

The conservative Christians in America want a “Christian government” like our founding fathers but our founding fathers didn’t want religion in government. They had seen its affects on the people around them. I question how many of them were really Christians. John Adams said the Bible was full of myths. Jefferson took out all the miracles in the Bible when he printed the Jeffersonian Bible. That includes the resurrection. Washington seldom spoke about Jesus, only about the almighty God.   Franklin was a womanizer and Madison said “The establishment of the chaplainship in Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights as well as of Constitutional principles” Not exactly what you would call Christian ideas.

Madison also stated that “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”

The end of that is really what scares me if this country becomes a government run on religion. Our government would start persecuting based on the bigotry of whatever religion was in power. We don’t need that. We need freedom. The freedom that the founding fathers wanted us to have.  The freedom to worship without being persecuted. And when I say persecuted I mean beaten, thrown in jail and killed.  That would actually be persecution.

As John Adams once said, “Government has no right to hurt a hair on the head of an Atheist for his Opinions. Let him have a care of his Practices.” Nor should it hurt the hairs on any head of a Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jehovah Witness, Mormon or any other religion. Let’s allow all people to worship as they like, no matter if we disagree with them.  Keep religion out of the government and we can all have true freedom.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Thessalonica

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Council_of_Nicaea

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Puritans_from_1649

http://www.usconstitution.net/constframedata.html

 

 

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Questioning our beliefs makes us grow.

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“Religious belief, like history itself, is a story that is always unfolding, always subject to inquiry and ripe for questioning. For without doubt there is no faith.”

Jon Meacham.

 

A decade or so ago, I read a book called “20 Hot Potatoes Christians are Afraid to Ask”. I was reminded of this book this past week in part because of Jars of Clay’s lead singer Dan Haseltine’s question. All he asked was “Not meaning to stir things up BUT… Is there a non-speculative or non “slippery slope” reason why gays shouldn’t marry? I don’t hear one.” And then followed it with “I’m trying to make sense of the conservative argument. But it doesn’t hold up to basic scrutiny. Feels akin to women’s suffrage.”

All he did was ask a question and then was berated for okaying LBGT people, gay rights etc… Why attack someone for asking a question?

Then a day or two later a friend of mine posted a meme that asked a question of Christians. It was a conversation between an Eskimo and a Christian. Eskimo: ‘If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?’ Priest: ‘No, not if you did not know.’ Eskimo: ‘Then why did you tell me?’ I found that to be a legitimate question and luckily no one jumped his case.

At my last church it was impossible to really ask questions. They were either ignored or ignored. It was either a roll of the eyes and “anyone else have anything to add?” question or you were given the “this is what the denomination’s beliefs are” speech. No answers, only frustration.

If the church does not allow questions how can it grow? Jesus was always asking questions of the religious leaders of the day. “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied (Matt 22:41). The religious leaders also questioned Jesus many times. Jesus never told them to stop asking, but he hoped by hearing his answers they would learn something.

Questions are to help us think. To help us try to understand what the teacher is trying to teach. Most people aren’t trying to trick the teacher or pastor. They really want to know, to learn. However, many church leaders discourage questions. They want people to just take their word, because they are the teacher or pastor. Obviously they know what they are talking about.

I feel that if a pastor or teacher does not allow questions, they are a lecturer, not a teacher. A teacher encourages others to think for themselves, a pastor leads people to the answer but doesn’t give it to them. He allows people to find the answer for themselves. Many churches and their leaders today, find these questions dangerous. It was only dangerous because they feel their power slipping away.

As I write this it is the anniversary of the day that John Wycliffe and Jon Hus were condemned at the council of Constance. Two people who merely asked why. Why do we pay indulgences? Why can’t the people read the Bible? Does not seem like the church or its people have changed much does it?

It seems like anyone who questions the teachings of the church gets ridiculed by those who have to hold on to that belief. It often seems to be when we question our beliefs that it is an attack of Satan or “how can you question God?” types of responses. There does not seem to be a path of meaningful dialogue. It’s “Why?” and in response, “You’re going to Hell.” Not “Why?” and in response “Why do you feel that way?”

The thing is people believe that if you ask a question you are questioning God, but really it questions the human theology. Humans make mistakes, so our theology should not be set in stone and yet we hold on so tightly to our man made ways of thinking.   If your theology can never be wrong then maybe, just maybe, deep inside you are questioning it too, but are afraid to let it out. If not, then at least be open to listening instead of berating those who question something. They are thinking and learning and growing. Something we all should be doing.  Theology has changed over and over in the 1900 years of Christianity and if Christianity wants to continue it must continue to change.  But it will only change if we are allowed to ask questions.

So, I encourage you to go ahead and ask. Keep asking until you understand, even if that is 50 years from now.   “The key to wisdom is this- constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth.” Peter Abelard.

 

http://www.thewire.com/politics/2014/04/jars-of-clays-christian-fans-lash-out-after-the-lead-singer-tweets-for-same-sex-marriage/361256/

http://www.glaad.org/blog/jars-clay-frontman-posts-apology-stands-support-lgbt-equality

The meme http://www.whyistheresomething.com/answer/going-to-hell

Crazy Life, Crazy Love

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People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing,
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin,
When I say that I’m o.k. they look at me kind of strange,
Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game,

John Lennon

 

Nope, I no longer play the game. I don’t want to play the game. The rules suck and I want no part of it. If I could overturn some tables I would. I’m not crazy; I’m just not going to follow traditions to make everyone happy. Just like someone I admire and most of you do to.

Mark 3:21 and 22 When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him home with them. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.”

These verses make me think about what some family and many religious people think of me. That I’m crazy or out of my mind that I have changed my beliefs from what I grew up with. According to Mark, I’m in good company. Even the family of Jesus thought that he was a lunatic and we follow what he taught 2000 years later. Now that’s crazy! Those that knew the law (their holy words) thought he was possessed and yet now the words of Jesus are the holy words. Maybe that is crazier!   Guess the religious know it alls didn’t quite know it all.

I think often it is a lot of misunderstanding. I’m misunderstood because my family lives so far away and don’t know me like they think they do. They see through a cloudy window filled with visions of what they remember me as. But that window has been fading for 20 years.

You see today, all I want is to stand up for the helpless, hurting, oppressed, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, help the homeless, clothe the naked, help the prisoner etc.. What I got from religious people is “they are sinning”,” they want to be like that”, “they live in a scary part of town”,” and they are the wrong color”, etc.. etc… I guess my question to them would be “what is Christianity?”

Is it a set of beliefs and like thinking and looking people or is it how we treat one another? When I look at Jesus and his teachings, he doesn’t discriminate against the Samaritans. Those people who married the wrong person and worship at that other place of worship is basically how they were seen in Jesus’ day. They were hated much like an illegal alien who was homosexual would be hated by religious people today. Samaritans were not welcomed in the homeland and they loved the wrong person.

But I want to be like Jesus, so I welcome these people. I make them know that Jesus is for them and that they are loved. Is that crazy or what? I bet that is what the Samaritan woman at the well thought. Crazy that someone like him actually talks to me. That just doesn’t happen. The woman caught in adultery probably thought,” thank God, someone actually cares.”

A few verses after this Jesus asks, Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he looked at those around him and said, “These are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (33-35) So get this. The real Christian family is the ones who follow God’s will of loving, self sacrifice, acceptance, kindness etc… are the real family members. They are the ones the religious leaders and those that follow the religious leaders think are crazy.

I like this quote by R.C.Sproul . He said “Was Luther crazy? Perhaps. But if he was, our prayer is that God would send to this earth an epidemic of such insanity.”  Like Jesus and like many reformers Luther had to be different (crazy) to change the world.

So let’s get crazy and make a difference. Drop traditions, drop the my way or the hellway, drop your stones and learn to accept and love people unconditionally as Jesus did. Let’s go CRAZY!

Bearing Arms, A Right

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I don’t know how many people have actually looked up to see what it says.  Most people seem to believe that it says that the average American should be able to own a gun without any regulations.  That anyone should be able to go into a gun shop and walk out with whatever they are able to afford.  No questions asked.   I am a gun owner.  I have owned a gun for most of my life, but I find it odd that good people would not want some kind of regulations on who might be able to buy a lethal weapon.

The following is the entire second amendment.

Amendment II

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

First note is that it states “A well regulated Militia”.  To me “well regulated” means that there are laws controlling it from getting out of hand.  I don’t see how we can have”well regulated” guns without laws to manage them.   The definition of regulate is to “control or maintain the rate or speed of (a machine or process) so that it operates properly.”  I personally have no problem with regulating guns based on this definition.  I don’t see that the government is doing anything differently than this either.  What I have seen is that it’s OK when a Republican congress or president regulates, but when a democrat does it, it is not OK.

I remember Reagan trying to regulate guns back in the 1980’s but I didn’t hear people yelling back then.  But they did when Clinton tried to pass regulations (that started under Reagan) and now there is complaining as President Obama wants to.  I don’t remember either Bush trying to regulate anything with guns.

Secondly the amendment says it is for the “security of a free state.”  This statement means keeping America free from outside attacks.  I don’t know how someone having a gun without regulations is going to keep America free.  If Russia, China, or whoever attacks we have the military to defend us.  When this amendment was written we did not have a large military.  Local militias were our main defense, so we needed people to own guns in case the British attacked like they did in 1812.

Today only China has more people in the military than the United States. In the late 1700’s when this amendment was put into place we didn’t have much of anything.  By the war of 1812 the British had nearly 1/4 of a million troops compared to 7,000 in the U.S. military so we needed people to have guns.  When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 he had over half a million troops.  We were tiny and insignificant.  We needed anything and everything we could get to defend ourselves.  We did eventually get up to the mid 40,000 during the war, but there was still a big disparity.

With the invention of planes, rockets, tanks and so much more, the idea of a militia has become obsolete, like maybe this amendment has.  We have no need today for an active militia because we have such a large military.  Militias in the way that the amendment was written no longer exist and haven’t for a century.

Thirdly, what is wrong with background checks on people who want to own guns?  Do you want criminals to go buy guns?  If you take away regulations then they will be able to walk into a store and buy one just like anyone.  No questions asked.  Of course they may go steal one, but it would be less risky to simply buy one without questions so that they can go rob that gas station or shoot their neighbor, spouse, or whomever they are ticked off at at that moment.

Is there something wrong with banning assault weapons?  Who needs one?  You can’t hunt with one.  I can defend my family easier with a handgun than I could an assault weapon, especially at close range.

Another thing the Obama administration would like is to limit ammunition magazines to a 10-round capacity.  I don’t understand why you’d want more rounds than that.  Realistically if you haven’t hit your target in two shots, it’s gone.  So what would you need a gun with so many rounds for?

I have never been given a good reason as to why someone wants these types of weapons or that much fire power.  I have never been given a good reason for why a person should not have patience and wait a couple days to be approved for a gun.  I find the reasons given to be selfish and impatient.  I want it and I want it NOW!  No one should be able to tell me what to do, what I can have or what I can do with it.  That is how those who fight against gun control sound to me.  Maybe they need a good time out.

For me the whole issue is about safety. Safety for you, your kids, your family, your neighborhood.  If you have not done anything wrong then there is no reason to not want regulations.  You will still be able to get your gun.  I don’t think any of us wants a gun in the hands of someone who is unstable or has a history of violence.  Those people will be denied.  The less available guns are to people like that, the better and safer society will be.  Yes, I know that criminals will just go out and steal a gun or buy one illegally, but the harder we make it for them the better and safer we will be.

Hope this helps you better understand the the second amendment.

http://www.infoplease.com/spot/guntime1.html

Christians Left and Right Walking together

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Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.  Colossians 3:15

This past week I discussed or more correctly asked some questions of those who were more on the religious left.  A few weeks ago I talked about the problems with the religious right. What I see as the biggest problem is how each side read the Bible.  Funny how what is supposed to be God’s word can be so divisive and read in so many ways.

How we choose to read the Bible tells a lot about what our beliefs will be.  Literalists will discuss the rapture, anti-Christ, tribulation, Hell, Heaven, pro marriage, anti homosexual right, pro-life, Republican politics.  The left will discuss unity of all people, the spirit of Christ’s return, who wrote this section of the Bible?  Was it J, E, D, P, or A, or sometimes R?   They won’t talk about the tribulation and anti-Christ because it isn’t going to happen.  Those issues were for the writer’s time and not for today.  I’m taking a guess but I’d think most would vote Democrat but I also think they wouldn’t put a lot of stock in who was in office.  Most literalist would have no idea what those letters mean.

So there are a lot of things that could pull us apart, but it shouldn’t.  Instead it should bring us together to discuss our views.  That’s discussing the issue, not argue about why you are right.  I say that because that is often what it turns into.  Some heated argument about why we are right.  We often debate and not discuss our differences.  Debating means that I have to win.  Discussing means people taking the opportunity to learn from each other.   Don’t we serve the same God?

I believe that we have differences because that same God that we all serve has shown us what we need in our lives.  I have moved from the right towards the middle as God has shown me the hurts that living the ways of the right was missing.  Others I’m sure have moved from left towards the right for the same reasons.  If we do not move back and forth we probably aren’t learning anything and maybe we just simply become a Pharisee who seemed to think they knew what God really wanted.  After all that is what we’ve grown up with.  That must be right.  Tradition is always right.  Ok that last bit was sarcastic, but I hope you get what I mean.  The more we talk to one another the more that we can open each other up to those things we may be missing. Don’t ever think you or your beliefs are perfectly in line with God’s views.  That is dangerous.  Just ask those in Jonestown, Waco, the KKK, or Nazi Germany.  All thought or think they knew God’s will.  And yes, the Nazi’s did believe strongly in their idea of Christianity.  They even had a group searching for Christian Relics because it would bring them the power that they wanted.

Yes, they may be extremists, but the more we believe we have the only way the more it leads to hate for those not like you, bigotry, self-importance and explosions at abortion clinics.  If you feel that you know it all then anyone who disagrees with you must be a sinner and therefore bound for some kind of punishment, but not the reward that a person who is right in the eyes of God, whatever that right means.  Often these people come off as very judgmental, because they seem to think that because they are right with God they can tell anyone all their sins and what God will do to them.  This can be people in or out of the church.  It doesn’t seem to matter to them, who they put down.

Jesus prayed for unity in John 17 and Paul likened the believers to one body in 1 Corinthians 12.  It seems that we are having the same problems that Paul addressed.  Our eyes are saying to our feet, “I know the right way to go” Our hands are saying to our mouth, “you don’t speak for me.”  The head says to the ears, “why don’t you listen to God.” And Jesus says to the heart “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me”, because we leave him out when we fight amongst ourselves.

Then Jesus turned to us all and said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 12:25 “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” Not in theology, but in love.  Paul follows his thoughts on the part of one body with the love chapter.  And what remains is Faith, Hope and Love,” but the greatest of these is Love.”

Yeah, we have differences and that’s OK.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t get along.  If Jesus wanted us to have unity then we can, but it’s up to each one of us to put down our guard, our predispositions, our traditions, our theologies, and give it a chance.  Are you willing to let go of those things that make you angry at other believers?  Can you let go of those things that you hold as absolutes that may not be and to listen, truly listen, and learn from one another? I think we need to try, it sure can’t hurt.

Questions for the Left

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Several weeks ago, I wrote about some problems with the religious right and a friend of mine asked me to be fair and write about the problems with the left.  I kind of feel a little inadequate about that, since I have not lived that kind of life.  I’ve spent my 45 years of life in churches that lean right.  I have only read their views in books and discussed ideas with friends who have lived their lives understanding life from the lefts views.  I have also spent the last few months attending a more progressive church.  You would never notice a difference in the worship service unless you spent several weeks or months attending services.  However that is only one church.  Maybe others are different.   I will say that I have personally moved from the right more towards a middle ground.  I don’t feel that I am on the far right or left.  Some people I know might disagree with that though.

Let me explain that I believe that all religious extremist (either left or right) are problematic.  The farther to the right a person gets the more demanding that they are correct in all their views and no one other than those who believe like they do will get to heaven.  The farther left a person goes the more it seems that rules don’t matter.  Doesn’t matter how you live, eventually you will get to heaven if there is indeed a heaven.

The left does not read the Bible literally as I did growing up. Many read it from the historical critical point of view.  That is that they try to find out who the author is, who they are writing to, and what time period they are writing in.  Then they can figure out what the author meant in that time period and see if it has any meaning for today.  This is similar to what you might do with Shakespeare or Homer. It is not an inerrant work created by God.

There were not seven days of creation.  Science has proven that to be false.  I remember discussing this possibility with a fundamentalist ten or so years ago and they were sure I was simply playing devil’s advocate.  Nope, both creation stories are there to show us something about God; after all in the story vegetation is created before the sun.  They lean less and less towards miracles.  They look for natural or scientific ways to say this is how God did it, or they believe that the writers embellished the stories to get their point across.  Jesus never walked on water.  It’s simply a story about Peter’s faith and willingness to follow Jesus anywhere.  Maybe Thomas Jefferson was on that left.  After all, his Bible eliminated every miracle.

Hopefully I am getting this right. You lefties let me know.

Along with miracles come questions about Jesus.  After all, wasn’t his life and death filled with miracles?  There was no virgin birth.  That was an interpretation by the writer of Matthew of the Isaiah verse.  There was nothing really special about the birth of Jesus.  He was probably not well known.  Many historians of the era write about Messiahs but not one has been found to mention Jesus clearly.  The left would look at the stories and ask “If Jesus had done so many miracles wouldn’t people know about him?”  “Write about him?”

If there are no miracles during his life, then what about his death and resurrection?  The farther left you go the less there is belief in a resurrection.  The Spirit of Christ was revealed and sent out.  Paul does talk about Christ living within us (Rom. 8:9-11) and that is the kingdom of heaven.  There may not even be an afterlife.  At least, they say, not for your body.  The soul or spirit that inhabits your flesh will go, but not the flesh that is you.  My biggest questions for this are why should I do any good?  Why shouldn’t I just eat drink and be merry for tomorrow I die?  Did Jesus just die, or die for our sins?

Other beliefs hold that there is no eternal hell.  This has actually been taught since the early church fathers.  Origen was one of the loudest.  He even believed Satan would be reconciled.  Truthfully, I like that idea.  I like the idea that at some point all souls will be reconciled to God through his great mercy. But how are those verses about hell then interpreted?  And to say they are not crazy they will say, C.S. Lewis even believed in this chance.  Read “The Great Divorce” or Narnia where other people besides Narnians go to their heaven.

If all go to heaven, what word is it that we are supposed to spread?  That everyone is saved?  And if that is it, what is the purpose of the church?  What of the Bible?  Is it the word of God?  Certainly from the left it is not without error or contradiction, so what is it?  How is it used?

These are questions I can’t quite answer yet.  I am still struggling to understand it all.  I need more reading and discussing these issues.  Maybe I’ll get it in another 45 years.

I’d like to continue this conversation Sunday.  Please come back.

 

Ok found this link a few weeks after posting this blog.  It may help conservatives understand progressives a little more.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2014/01/16-ways-progressive-christians-interpret-the-bible/