Never Trust God to Do a Man’s Job

One of the most damning realizations of my deconversion was that, despite my years of prayer, of studying scripture, of earnestly seeking to draw closer to God, I was no closer at all. I had never heard the voice of God like some claimed to have heard. I had no miraculous experiences, no unbelievable coincidences, nothing that seemed out of course for a workaday life. I prayed for things, and sometimes I got what I asked for, sometimes I didn’t. It was as if the act of praying had no influence on the results of the prayers. Sure, I gave God credit for a lot of things, but stepping back I wondered where exactly God was acting in these situations.

For example, when my wife and I bought a house, our friends and family praised God for his favor in providing us with this wonderful house. Even as a Christian at the time, I wondered where God fit into the process. Did God save our money for us? Did God contact the realtor for us? Did God sort through dozens of listings, visit house after house, make the phone calls, fill out the paperwork? Why is God being given the credit for our hard work?

How many Christians go to the doctor when sick? Why don’t they do as James says:

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. [James 5:14-15]

That’s the Bible’s prescription for your ills. You may as well throw away your antibiotics, your insulin, your heart medication, your Viagra. Take off your casts, your splints, your hearing aids, your glasses, and stumble blind and deaf, guided by your faith alone!

But what if you do this and you don’t get better. Is that God’s fault? He’s in control here. He could heal you in a second if he wanted to – wouldn’t even break a sweat. Will you blame God for your ills? Or will you assume God has a bigger plan in play, that somehow your suffering, even if it leads to your death, will somehow result in a greater good?

Christians tend to “see God moving” in retrospect through the rosy filter of confirmation bias. They assume that any trifling benefit came directly from God while completely ignoring the times when God has failed to move, either in their own lives or the lives of others. The situations where Christians find comfort believing that “God is in control” are the same situations that would be avoided if God was actually controlling things. Why does God help people find their car keys but not a route to work that will avoid that horrific accident?

Christians regularly pray for the sick to be healed. If the person gets better, hooray! God (not modern medicine or highly- trained doctors or the body’s own immune system) has healed them. But what if they don’t get better? What if they suffer a horrible, painful, unnecessary death? This might be looked at as “God taking them home” or “God’s higher purpose,” but it is rarely looked at as “God choosing for unknown reasons not to expend the tiniest bit of his supposedly limitless power.”

Seemingly, God chooses to bless people but never chooses to curse them. This does not hold up to reality. He may not directly cause suffering, but he consistently causes suffering indirectly by not using his unlimited power and foreknowledge to prevent harm.

Would we graciously thank a doctor who didn’t use every tool in his arsenal to cure our loved ones? If a sick man could be cured by a simple penicillin shot, what would we think of a doctor who refused to administer it? To paraphrase the Simpsons, God is the cause of and solution to all life’s problems.

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Pop Quiz, Hot Shot

1. Which creation story sounds the most plausible?

  1. The gods fashion man unsuccessfully first from mud, then from wood, and finally succeed with corn and corn meal
  2. A god fashions the first humans from clay mixed with the flesh and blood of a deceased god
  3. A god fashions the first human from clay, and another god breathes life into it
  4. A god fashions the first man from the dust of the earth, and then fashions the first woman from a rib of the man

2. Which flood story sounds most likely?

  1. A great flood lasting generations is abated with the assistance of various supernatural creatures
  2. A great flood lasting several years is survived by one man on a giant boat containing all animals and plants
  3. A great flood lasting several days is survived by one man, one woman, and a multitude of babies on a massive canoe
  4. A great flood lasting forty days is survived by one family on a boat containing sets of every animal

3. Which miracle most likely occurred?

  1. A man multiplies the yield of date trees to help someone pay off their father’s debts
  2. A man produces fire from one side of his body and water from the other
  3. A man cures his immobilized leg and arm by sprinkling them with water
  4. A man feeds a crowd of thousands using only five loaves of bread and two fish

4. Which is the most believable afterlife destination?

  1. Islands of fertile soil, bountiful produce, and fair winds
  2. A massive hall with a roof made from golden shields and an endless supply of mead
  3. A paradise of palaces filled with sensual delights, including delicious food and drink
  4. A city with golden streets, gates of pearl, jasper walls, and jeweled foundations

Why should we believe the Jewish/Christian account of creation and not the Mayan, Babylonian, or Greek versions? Why should we believe the Jewish/Christian flood narrative and not the Chinese, Hindu, or Squamish accounts? Why should we accept the miracles of Jesus and not those of Muhammad, Buddha, or Sathya Sai Baba? Why aim for the Christian heaven and not the Greek, Norse, or Muslim variants?

Growing up Christian, I was raised hearing certain stories in church and naively accepting them. This stores didn’t seem strange until I stepped back and viewed Christianity in the context of other world religions. When you realize your faith has its fanciful tales, and other faiths have their fanciful tales, you start wondering which is actually true – or if none are true.
Continue reading “Pop Quiz, Hot Shot”

Sometimes a Flag is Just a Flag

Photo: Joshua Nathanson

The recent furor over NFL players kneeling for the National Anthem has become increasingly distressing. I’d fully expect Trump to go the fascist route and show hostility towards dissent, but I can’t believe that so many of the American people would go along with him. Fully half of Americans believe NFL players are in the wrong by engaging in peaceful protests, and half also believe that the league should force its players to stand.

What’s the problem? Do you not want to get politics mixed up in your sports? Perhaps you shouldn’t let four minutes of kneeling overshadow the several hours of football you’re about to enjoy!

Do you feel the flag is being disrespected? The flag is an inanimate object – it will be fine. No one fights and dies for a flag. A flag is a symbol, and our soldiers have fought for the freedoms the flag represents. Do you really want to make the case that NFL players should simultaneously be thankful to live in a country with freedom of expression and not exercise that freedom? Are you more concerned with the mistreatment of a piece of cloth than the mistreatment of American citizens?

Do you think the protesters are disrespecting America? It’s possible to be glad to be American and grateful to be American without being proud to be American. You can love America and recognize its imperfections – in fact, that’s the only way to truly make America great again!

As usual, it’s a good rule of thumb that Trump is on the wrong side of an issue. Part of being president is recognizing that individuals are free to disagree with you, and to use more dignified language that “son of a bitch” to talk about them. Part of being president is realizing that America is not a “love it or leave it” arrangement; someone like Colin Kaepernick can work to change the country he has, rather than “find a country that works better for him“.

Protect Yer Johnson! Why Churches Should Support the Johnson Amendment

The Republican party’s hegemony in American Christianity never ceases to astound and befuddle me. Jesus had tons to say about eschewing wealth and providing for the poor, yet the GOP, the de facto Christian party, consistently rewards the rich while turning its back on the needy and destitute. Conversely, Jesus never broaches the subjects of abortion or homosexuality, yet somehow these are among the most pressing issues in Christian political circles.

The fact is, neither of our two major political parties is 100% representative of Christ’s teachings. Politics is a nasty, sinful business, and the church cannot ally itself with one or the other without getting blood on its hands. That said, the GOP is so cartoonishly opposed to Christian values that the church would do well to speak out against them, rather than support them unthinkingly.

You can’t “Love thy neighbor” when your party’s president emboldens white supremacists. You can’t really support “the least of these brothers” when your party consistently cuts programs that benefit the poor and destitute. You can’t preach that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” when your party of choice is entirely in the service of their wealthy benefactors.

This is why I think churches should support the Johnson Amendment, even though recent legislation proposes an exemption for churches. I see no reason why the church shouldn’t elucidate the Christian view on issues of the day (even though I question which issues they emphasize), but when you enter the realm of specific candidates and parties, you are now inextricably associated with their actions, Biblical or not. The church is losing enough members these days without formalizing their involvement in our political quagmire.

A Confederacy of Dunces, or Robert E. Leave Me Alone

Photo: Flickr user jypsygen

I’ll just say this out front as a disclaimer: I live in Texas, but I was born and raised a dirty Yankee. It’s entirely possible that there are fundamental aspects to Southern culture that I don’t fully understand since I wasn’t brought up here.

That said, I can’t imagine why there would ever be statues of Confederate figures still up in The Year of Our Lord 2017. The city of Dallas recently removed a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park that bears his name, and the resulting backlash was full of more knee-jerk ignorance and hypocrisy than I’ve seen in quite some time. Let’s see what the people have to say about it!

Snowflakes,want to change history😡😡Dallas ,wake up!Spend$$ on education, hurricane victims…Something that matters…This is stupid😡😡😡

It’s not the Dallas that is changing history. Glorifying a traitor to America as if he were a war hero would be changing history!

What’s happened to standing up and defending and preserving history. The statues represent a time in this country of war, independence, rights yo freedom, where some received their Sir names from the slave owners yes.

We have surpassed that time in this country. We should all stand together not apart. That dream that MLK talked about was coming together were all are equal, standing together as brothers and sisters.

Sad, sad, state of affairs.

Can’t link the profile picture, but this is a white lady invoking Martin Luther King to defend a man who fought to keep slaves.

It’s a travesty. Ask people why it wasn’t offensive until recently! It’s merely a political tool by the Dallas mayor to garner more votes!

Of course, the mayor of Dallas thinks this massively unpopular endeavor will somehow gain him votes (for an election that is two years away).

Now tomorrow I expect the City of Dallas to be cured of all racist beings and Love, Love Love. I think it is pure insanity. 81+ years and now it bothers some folks whom were not even alive then. . How a statue is going to make the races get along is beyond me.I suppose a statue of Hitler in it’s place would be acceptable. Tomorrow it will be Obama and MLK statues under fire. 🤔

This may looking like a run-of-the-mill Godwinning, but Bob actually brings up a pretty good point. I’m German, so what if I wanted to put up a statue of Hitler in honor of my German culture? Would Bob have my back?

 I also think that this wouldn’t even be happening if the media didn’t put BLM, AntiFa and the statues in the spotlight. America has never been more divided in my lifetime, and much of that division is caused by the media for advertising money and ratings.

Oh yes, it’s anti-fascists who put the spotlight on Confederate statues, not the Nazis who rallied around one and ended up killing a lady.

And now I have heartburn. I’d be willing to bet that, on any other issue, many of these people would be stereotypical flag-fellating, military-worshipping über-patriots, and yet they remain fixated on a traitor who oversaw the killing of American soldiers. Maybe I’m better off not understanding.

Meta-Question: Why a Book?

Photo: John Snyder

Every discussion we might ever have about Christianity comes back to the Bible. It is the ultimate source of Christian doctrine, and as such Christians cling to it tenaciously. We can, and do, argue endlessly about interpreting the Bible literally or metaphorically, about it’s historical accuracy, and about it’s original authorship, but there’s a bigger question here that overshadows all of these.

Why would a God, with the most important message of all time, with the power to communicate it any way he choose, choose to transmit this message via the printed word? A book is relatively slow to transmit, easy to cherry-pick and misinterpret, and every translation into another language runs the risk of losing the nuance of the original. A book may appear to be “just another magic book” when compared to the Quran, the Vedas, the Agamas, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Avesta, the Book of Mormon, Dianetics, the Tao Te Ching, and on and on.

This is God we’re talking about here! If he wants to set himself apart from all the impostor gods out there, he should do something no other god could do! He could appear to everyone, personally, under no uncertain terms – speaking to them directly in their own language, so clearly that his message could not be misunderstood. I’ve heard it argued that it would be a violation of free will for God to appear in person, because how could you not choose God once you’ve basked in his glory?

Well, a skeptic could easily remain hard-hearted and dismiss the appearance as a dream or hallucination. Furthermore, we know Lucifer and his rebel angels were once in God’s presence, and yet they still chose to turn against him. God’s personal appearance would do no more to take away our free will than Jesus appearing to his disciples took away their free will.

Instead, we’re left with just another magic book. How are we to ascribe divine qualities to a message presented in the most human of methods?

God Doesn’t Just Hate Gays Anymore!

Photo: Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council and signatory to the Nashville Statement (credit: Gage Skidmore)

Recently, a group of Christian leaders put forward what they call the Nashville Statement, a document which seeks to counteract the “secular spirit of our age” regarding LGBT acceptance and reinforce “God’s good design for his creatures.” It appears that, in an era where transgender issues are joining gay rights as a topic of public and political debate, the signatories felt it necessary to clarify that “Yes, the church hates exactly who you think it hates.” However, starting from the very preamble, the statement is a mish-mash of weasel words and faulty logic.

Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female.

If God is the architect of sex, I’m sure he could have come up with a way to make sexual activity or pleasure only possible between a man and a woman. That would be indicative of some “grand design.” Otherwise, we’d have to question why God would make the prostate a pleasure center when it certainly doesn’t need to be.

The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.

Unsurprisingly, this statement will not elucidate how the LGBT community “ruins” human life. Maybe it’s the hurricanes? The statement will, however, be full of “It makes baby Jesus cry!”-style nonsense. It’s probably for the best, as otherwise someone will have to tell the happy gay couples I know that they’re actually evil masterminds!

We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom.

Freedom, in this case meaning self-denial, destructive repression, and rigid conformity to exactly two roles. This will be a theme.

Article 1

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.

Christians consistently forget that infertility and menopause are things.

We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made
before God.

But it can be both! You can have marriage as a civil contract and marriage as a sparkly magical God-contract, and the sparkly one can be whatever the hell you want.

Article 2

WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.

Once again, freedom is following a very specific set of rules. I wonder what the overlap is between abstinence-only Christians and libertarians?

WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

Once again, if marriage is sparkly God-magic, he could have designed it such that sexual urges didn’t kick in until you put a ring on it.

Article 3

WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.
WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.

Men and women are equal, but we still won’t let broads preach.

Article 4

WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.
WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

In all my churchgoing years, I’ve never heard anyone claim the second point. Is that a thing now? I’m so out of the loop.

Articles 5 & 6

WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.
WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.

WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.
WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.

Here’s where we start getting into skeevy pee-pee/hoo-ha talk. If you’re going to posit some integral relationship between one’s physical genitals and one’s gender identity, you need to put up or shut up, not just twist some Jesus quote to fit your ideas.

What is so sacred about the way someone was born? When presented with a man blind from birth, did Jesus tell him, “I won’t fix your eyes, but that shouldn’t keep you from following me anyway”? How far should we run with this logic? If your were born with brown hair, is it a sin to dye it blond? Have any of the signatories ever had braces, or had a cleft palate fixed? I’m sure all the men have been circumcised, at the very least.

Article 7

WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.
WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

This is just cartoonishly self-contradictory. “You can be whoever you are, as long as it’s heterosexual and cisgendered.”

Article 8

WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.
WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.

And again, “It’s cool if you’re gay, as long as you don’t do any of that gay stuff.”

Article 10

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

The Bible only speaks of gender in binary terms, but this is not by itself indicate that these are the only two options. In Galatians 3:28, Paul notes that, in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek…there is neither male nor female…” By comparing Jew and Greek, is Paul saying that there are no Chinese? No Native Americans?

The creation account of Genesis says God created mankind “male and female.” It also posits a firmament and a self-illuminating moon, both of which we now know to be outdated models of reality. If the gender issue is in reality non-binary, all this means is that the Bible is not a science textbook!

The last few articles are basically an altar call, which is ironic since statements like this push more and more people away from the church every year. I do slightly appreciate that these leaders are not ignoring what little the Bible does say about homosexuality (as liberal, LGBT-friendly churches must). However, given that Jesus himself has nothing at all to say about gays or trans people and a ton to say about money, hypocrisy, and so on, I wish they would be half as outspoken on these issues.