Sense which pleases the Lord

Yesterday, Ginny and I spent a fair amount of time editing a new post for today.  We had wanted to make sure that we got the wording just right, trimmed it down enough to not be overwhelming (I do have a tendency to go on and on…), and were almost done….

What I almost did

So, firefox crashed.  The crash message was there so briefly before the window disappeared that I don’t know the nature of the crash, but crash it did.  “No problem,” I thought.  “WordPress saved most of the work, and it’s fresh in my mind.”  But no.  The work was gone, irretrievable, dead. I had never seen firefox crash in this way before, and that it happened right then was extremely irritating, as if some intelligent force were at work.

I was angry.  Ginny came back into the room and was annoyed too.  I considered re-writing the post, but I was too frustrated, tired, and didn’t have the heart for it.

That was the problem, I didn’t have the heart….

So Ginny came over to me and held me and we grieved together briefly and then, well, something else happened.  This time this new thing happened to both of us, in apparent unison.  A feeling of assurance and understanding washed over both of us and looked at each other in coterminous understanding.

It occurred to both of us that perhaps that strange crash, at that moment, was not mere accident.  Why would it happen then, as we worked on a post together for the first time (sort of like a preamble to our coming wedding vows), rather than any other time? What was the significance?

What if some power, some force, or even some intelligence saw this as the right opportunity to reach out to us.  I have been saying for some time that if a god existed, I’d want to know.  Also, I have said that this god would know how to make itself known to me.  Apparently, god was waiting for the right time.  He surely does work in mysterious ways.

What happened next was too sudden, too intense to record.  Most of it was a blur.  There were tears, prayers, and we had to go out to get what we needed in order to complete the right ritual.  We didn’t have time to call a priest or consult the book, we had to get moving before God smited us.  Of course, finding a goat so late at night would be hard, especially without a car.

We totes have to get one of these...makes great BBQ!

But eventually we found a supermarket that had some goat meat which was open all night, and proceeded to acquire it.  It was not much of a “sacrifice,” but it was all we could do under such short notice.  The meat department were nice enough to supply some goat blood too, as that would be necessary.

We burnt it on an altar to the Lord, as is demanded by Him, and left it for the high priests.

Of course, not having our own altar, we had to go to the local Jewish temple.  But their altar was probably inside, and the door was really hard to get through, so we stopped trying and instead used the front steps and left it there for them.  They will be so happy to know that people are returning to the old ways.

Our offering, before the burnt part

I know, I know…I’m new to this, OK? I have not read Leviticus in so long that I just sort of winged it.  It came from the heart.  That’s all the Host of Hosts demands, right? Later today I will re-read the chapters and do it right, but I thought that the attempt was enough to please the nose of the Lord at the time.

It did smell pretty good.  That YHWH sure loves BBQ.

In any case, we then walked home and prayed loudly in the streets for all to hear and enjoy, sharing our new-found relationship with the true god, the King of Kings, with all who were out sinning in the Babylon which is downtown Philadelphia on a Saturday night.  By this time, the bars were near to closing and we were getting nowhere with the people coming out of the bars drunk on their own dirty sin.  So we just had to try and go in and spread some more good news.

This guy asked for some "help" with these 3. I told him I already had the 3 I needed...

Most people were friendly, but they were not in the mood for helping us find an unblemished male goat for a morning ritual.  Plus, the blood all over us from earlier was apparently off-putting.

If these unforgiven Sodomites and Gomorrah-dwellers would only read Leviticus, they would understand that we hadn’t just slaughtered a room full of children, but in fact had been trying to please the God they were ignoring.

But they were too busy ignoring His Throne in their drunken orgy of Baal or whatever.  Hey, I read the gosh-darned book years ago, it’s not exactly fresh in my memory!If not Baal, it was one of those false idols, like Vishnu or something.  That false god loves drunk people.

So, after getting a few hours of sleep (I slept on the couch, not being married to Ginny yet and all), we woke up for an early church service at the local Baptist church, where we tried to show them all how to properly sacrifice a dove (OK, pigeon.  We were short on time, again).  But they were not interested and asked us to leave.  So we left them to their luke-warmness and proceeded down the street.

These guys followed us all the way back to our house, yelling at us. Sinners!

We were lucky enough to catch the start of a Presbyterian service, and since they were already started we quietly sacrificed the pigeon in the back rows, which seemed to offend a few people.  Perhaps they were upset because we did it at the wrong time? I’m not sure, but I don’t remember where the scripture tells you precisely when to do these things, so perhaps they were yelling at us for no reason except that they preferred to sacrifice birds after the communion.

Apparently, our timing was really bad, because they kicked us out too, a few of them following us down the street.  Something about returning a “collection” plate, whatever that is.

But before trying to catch the noon Mass at the Catholic church, we decided that we should share our good news.  Also, sorry Gina and Wes, but we can no longer take part in your sinning lifestyle.  I guess we can still hang out and stuff, so long as you see the light.  You do have a good back yard for burnt offerings, after all.  However, if you don’t see the truth, we don’t want to be associated with people who will burn for eternity.  And no, it’s not classism, whatever kind of Commie talk that is!

We will also have to take the website down soon, or at least change it to (if that’s available!).  But right now we have to get to Mass!

They’ll be so glad we brought our own sheep!

The Christian Story: class redux

Well, so I have now attended the first two classes at a local church entitled The Christian Story: How Christian Theology Affects Everyday Life.

I have not written much, so far, about the class itself, although I have talked a little about the book we are using (John Frame’s Salvation Belogs to the Lord) and will continue to quote and comment soon.  I have not commented on the class because there has not been much to comment on.

In my opinion the class runs too short.  For any real discussion more time is necessary.  The problem is that the class tends to thin out as people leave to go to the 10:45 service.  I do not attend the service, because I feel no need to do so and because I have already seen it once at this church.  The sermons are not sufficiently enticing to sit through the singing to Jesus and so forth.

Really, nothing is worse than Christianed-up rock chords put to words of praise to super-Jew.

The first class drew around 20, the second about 15.  Mostly people in their 20’s-30’s, some married (with or without their partners), and  few single people.  Don’t worry, I’m not planning on currupting any nice young Christian women with my wily ways.  Although there is a certain appeal to the idea.

Really, I’m not evil.

3 classes remain.  I’m hoping that we will have a chance to dig into this stuff more, because while some interesting questions have been raised, and then subsequently glossed over, I feel like there is potential for actual discussion to get going.  Likely, it will get going as the class nears its end.  And I don’t want to give myself away and distract the purpose of the class by asking too many questions myself.


But the book’s view is so conservative, so absurdly literalistic, that it really does seem (as one other class member stated) that the Bible says it, and then it’s rigfht because the Bible says it “30 times.”  You know, argument by assertion.

He still made sure that, in saying this, he was clear that he still believed, despite bringing up the issue of justification for belief.  No, not Justification (wherein God decalres us righteous, in a legal sense–see, I’m learning!), but epistemological justification of why to accept points of theology at all.  That is hardly brought up at all, except to say that the Bible is God’s Word.

Sorry, I need more than that.

3 more weeks….

An atheist in the pews (part 1?)

I have not been to church in many years, at least outside of weddings and such.  I often think about dropping in for a sermon to see what people are hearing from the pulpit. But a few days ago my girlfriend, who has just recently become rather distant from the Christian message and theology from which she was raised, suggested that we go to the church at which she is still a member in order to get a closer look.  So, while I prefer to do other things of Sunday mornings. I agreed and we planned to attend the 11:00 service at a church in downtown Philadelphia.

I must say it was rather odd to walk into the building with the organ playing and people singing (we got there just a few minutes after the service started–parking issues).  I felt a bit like an ethnologist trying to blend in and not be noticed.  This necessitated no identifying atheist clothing as well as using her car to get there, as mine has a few bumper stickers that would give me away.

My goal was to observe quietly and not to draw attention to myself or disrupt their services.  I won’t name the church, but I will say that it is a Presbyterian church, a denomination which I had never previously attended services for.  Calvinists.  In other words had I talked to some of the people, they might have concluded that I was not one of the predestined to be saved.  Poor me.  Created to be absent from God in Hell for eternity.

I didn’t want to stand out, but I couldn’t exactly participate either.  I sat, quietly, while others stood and sang (nobody wants to hear me sing anyway) and watched as others bowed their heads in prayer.  I ended up making eye contact with a few people who were doing something similar, even if they very quickly snapped back to praying at being caught looking around.  There was a little girl next to me whom was playing the whole time, and she gave me a curious look once or twice as I sat and took notes.

JephthahMeetsHisDaughterThe sermon finally came.  The reading was from Hebrews, chapter 11:32-38.  The subject; strength through weakness; strength through faith.  Now, these verses mention such luminaries of faith and weakness as David and Jephthah.  The David of mass murdering, rape, and destruction and the Jephthah whom killed his own daughter, as attested to in Judges chapter 11.  These were given, among other similar characters, as people who found strength in weakness.

I’m must disagree. These were not men who knew weakness as much as they knew power and destruction, except the kind of weakness which allows one to commit mass murder.  This is usually the weakness of insecurity and fear that one uses to fuel the need to inflict their will upon the powerless.  The kind of insecurity that religion has often used for millennia to conquer its enemies.

The minister who gave the sermon said that faith is “not thinking you can” but rather “believing God can.”   He continued by saying that “this is not a gathering of strong people,” but of the weak and needy, those suffering in hard times and who need God.  When I heard this, I felt despair rise inside me.  I imagine I was not the only one.  But my dispair was one of feeling sickened at seeing open (if unconscious) emotional manipulation in front of me.

Marketing 101: Make your audience feel a lack of something in their lives.  Then present something to fill that gap. This will lead you to sell your product better.

He continued by saying that “this is not all that there is.”  Heaven.  This life is but a small step before eternity.  It does not matter as much, “now is a preparation,” so suffer through this struggle of life in faith and heaven awaits you.

But that wasn’t the worst.  The worst was when he pulled out the “enemy.”  This enemy was not named, but the enemy asks questions like “what has your faith gotten you?” and “why believe in God?” I’m sure that many in the congregation have a family member, a co-worker, or even a neighbor who is skeptical, an atheist, etc.  This part of the sermon is supposed to address the doubts that people have, the temptation of the enemy to become skeptical.  Those questioners are the enemy.  I am the enemy.

He went on to criticize the “despicable heroes of Western culture” who are interested in material things, money, and this life.  These are the “anti-heroes” not worthy of the respect we give them.  Instead, this minister holds up the aforementioned David and Jephthah as the heroes of faith we should look up to.  What a reversal! Nietzsche would have smiled before he scrawled something beautiful and corrosive in response.

Now, I’m not all about material wealth and status.  I agree, as I have discussed elsewhere, that there is a problem with our culture that needs addressing.  However this sermon creates a false dichotomy between faith and materialism.  This sermon overlooks people like myself who abhors faith and yet is critical of the petty materialism of our culture as well.  From the minister’s point of view, if one lacks faith one becomes subject to the fashions and tides of the world, it seems.

Faith and struggle.  These times, for many (including myself), are times of struggle.  And I will give credit for the sermon addressing and condemning the so-called prosperity gospels (there was an article about this in the New York Times a couple of days ago), as they only seek to feed off of people for the church’s prosperity.  But I think that the message of this church I attended is not that much better.  It tells people to not be too concerned with this life, because there is something better coming.  Slave mentality. Instead of robbing the congregation of its money (although they did ask for donations with the trays being passed around), the sermon robbed the people of their confidence, self-worth, and enjoyment of the now.

There was a teasing that came next.  “What does faith guarantee you?” he asked, pausing and making commentary before answering.  The anticipation mounted, the mind reeled in trying to anticipate an answer (heaven, happiness, love, what?), and for it to lead to the answer of “God” was akin to absurdities my mind could not be so self-destructive to think up without imploding in a fit of paradox.

“Faith guarantees you God.” guarantees? How? This is one of the most absurd things I could think of, although I should not have been surprised.  There is a sort of moment in the mind at the presentation of absurdities where the mind reaches a sort of impasse that can be beautiful.  I imagine that for many people this is not unlike the presence of God, lost in the mystery of the end of ones mind and seeking the abyss that lies beyond.  Yes, there is a certain beauty in paradox and absurdities, but this beauty is manipulated for the needs of a God-message here.

Now, the good minister was not kind enough to define faith, so I can only refer to the same book and chapter from which he drew his sermon (Hebrews 11, in case the absurdities above have wiped your memory):

1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for.

So, belief in God which we hope for but cannot see gives us God? This is a very good example of epistemologically immature thinking.  This is what I addressed earlier in talking about the false hope of faith.  This faith does not guarantee anyone God, but it might guarantee the delusion of God.  Hope, “because God is.”  Faith attaches us to God.  This is the message that was left at the end of the sermon.  The hope of faith gives you God because faith guarantees you God.

This is what is wrong with much of the Christian community; circular thinking.  As a non-believer in the pews, all I could do was look around me with my figurative jaw gaping with disbelief as to how people can hear this message and not have fallacy-alarms blaring in their heads. Instead, many nodded, I heard a few amens, and there were hopeful smiles.

It is only a message of slave morality, of slave mentality, that could orient oneself to the unseen as the gift of believing in it.  It is philosophically no different than me believing I can fly like Superman because I believe that I can.  I simply cannot understand how this sermon does not cause people to walk out and never return.

But they will return, getting up on Sunday to come back for more.  I don’t know if I will, but I might.  I am perpetually fascinated by this thing called faith and what behavior it causes.  I find it despicable, pathetic, and sad overall, but fascinating nonetheless.

This was supposed to be a congregation of more educated and intelligent people.  And yet I find sophomoric platitudes that a freshman taking philosophy should be able to flatten. I find nothing challenging or inspiring.  I find nothing even beautiful in this (although the hymns are closer to this).  I find only ugliness called hope, as if the faith that this message is hopeful and beautiful makes it so.

It doesn’t.