Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Grace

January 7, 2013

One aspect of Christianity we are reminded of quite often is Grace, that ultimate act of forgiveness by the Almighty for whatever indiscretions in which we may have been involved. So many preachers tell us we do not have to be perfect to approach the Heavenly Father, Grace is extended even to the most egregious of sinners.

Grace. The Gift to Us All from the Father who art in Heaven.

What a pleasant thought.

But then, usually in the next breath, many will say “but you must first take Jesus as personal Savior and Redeemer.”

And some even go further and say you must also tithe, refrain from working on Sunday, partake of communion, not walk under ladders, step on sidewalk cracks, or sneezing without covering your mouth.

So, which is it?

Is Grace something given freely by the Almighty to everyone or does He have a team of lawyers to nit-pick the fine points of your adherence to a bunch of details?

Actually, it is unconditional and applies to people of any race, nation, age, or religion.

It is freely given so that we might, in turn, give forgiveness unconditionally to everyone by whom we might feel slighted or maligned. Forgiveness is not conditional or it is not true forgiveness.

And Grace is not really Grace with any conditions. Especially not something as minor as deciding which idol you want to interpose between yourself and God.

Jesus said repeatedly that you can easily keep in touch with God, the Father. He did not mention using any mouthpiece, go-between, or secret password.

That little notion was thought up by the early Christian lawyers.

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a Little Clarity

May 10, 2012

Today, the newswires are abuzz with Obama’s changed stance on “gay marriage”. Mitt Romney is feeling pretty good about it and is confident that the die-hard religious right will now put him in the White House.

Oh, yes, let’s give it up for the religious fundamentalists in this country. Just like the religious fundamentalists of another major religion (i.e. Muslim, in case you did not make the connection), our home grown version would like to create a theocracy in America based on their narrow interpretations of Holy Writ.

They proclaim loudly that such abomination is spurned by the Almighty!

Sure, but didn’t He also say that He was the final judge and jury, not us. And didn’t someone else in scripture talk about casting the first stone? And wasn’t there a little message somewhere about not killing anyone? Sorry, I must be a little confused because I know how ardently the “religious right” supports our troops and reveled in the judicial murder of Osama Bin Laden.

Funny. I don’t see any form of Christian-ness in that mix.

This morning, I heard a couple of comments on the radio by Pastor Chuck Swindoll. He was talking about legalisms and how many people bandied such things about to somehow salve their own wounded egos. Legalities are a way to enforce our beliefs on others – quite the wrong venue for such things – and force them into what we expect people should be like.

Only in such a supposedly “Christian” nation would such a vast number of people try to force conformity on what God hath wrought.

Yes, He made each of us different.

And it was not so half the population could force the other half to conform to their concept of normality. Perhaps if we dig a little deeper we might begin to understand why we are each so very different.

And through such understanding we might actually learn to grow a little closer to the Creator.

Yes, just like Jesus told us to do.

Whose Opinion is Correct?

February 6, 2012

In all things involving religion and philosophy, people have the either/or mind-set. Either something is right and everything else is wrong… or it is wrong itself.

I have a completely different view of the matter. Buddha himself found nirvana and told his followers that they could not get there using his path. Whereupon two millennia of Buddhist monks have sat in the lotus position meditating on the path, just as Buddha had done, each hoping to achieve nirvana.

Funny, they seem to have disregarded his instructions…

I believe that Jesus said much the same thing about us each coming to the Father in a different way.

Whatever faith works for you is correct, for you. I do not intend trying to change anyone’s mind to my way of thinking. I rejoice in the different points of view – and what we can learn from them.

If not everyone thinks that way, that’s okay.

I figure if God really wanted everyone to have the same thoughts He would have made us alike. And because He made us so unlike, there must be a fundamental reason: for both Him as well as us to delight in the variety, not by trying to homogenize our thinking.

There is no right or wrong in this matter. Whatever path takes you closer to God is the path you need to embrace. But don’t expect everyone else to trod the same track. Or expect anyone to consciously move along the track to the Almighty.

For a society, people think laws should be enacted to keep “others” in line, but where do you draw the line? How much control should others have over your life? You would probably think it was great place if all the laws reflected your own lifestyle, but if those laws forced you to change your beliefs, you’d probably leave.

So many in this “Christian society” feel comforted by the Christian-based laws passed here, but what if the nation were taken over by a theocracy you did not personally believe? Either a more conservative branch of Christianity or one far more liberal that the one you embrace. Any theocratic form of government cannot work for everyone.

There is no right or wrong, just opinion.

And this is mine.

Fate, Karma, and the Ever After

February 3, 2012

I have always thought that the most powerful tool the priest had in their arsenal was the knowledge of the after-life, or the hereafter, or the ever-after or whatever you want to call it.

Priests in ancient Egypt carried the secret as a talisman that kept them in favored status to the Pharaohs. In Babylon, portents of the present were important but the all-encompassing degree of safety in the hereafter took precedence.

And it was true in early Christianity as well. The very idea that the fires of purgatory would be doled out to the unbelievers alone, and the true believers of Jesus would bask in the sunlight of everlasting glory forever. This was a great selling point for the religion, a comfort to the grieving, as well as a weapon to be aimed at anyone standing in the way of the growth of the Church.

I’m not being radical or cynical, this is just what history has shown to me.

But even within the modern variant churches I find a lot of variations on this theme.

Most the Christian faiths shun the idea of reincarnation even though there are several mentions in the Bible of Jesus acknowledging its existence. So, most the followers of Christ do not believe in “karma” as a sequential event. Though they do believe in the evil being punished and given their just desserts… as in going to an eternity in the pits of Purgatory.

But most of the Christian faiths I have been associated believe in fate. That what will be was meant to be and was written since the beginning of time.

They sincerely believe that God knew all about us long before there was even an Earth for us to dwell on.

As a stand-up once remarked, then it doesn’t matter what I do in my life, because that was what was already going to happen in my life.

With fate, one loses the sense of responsible choice. Regardless of your choices, “it was meant to be”. Usually this phrase is used when things do not turn out well, but it applies in all situations.

If fate rules the universe, everything on a course already pre-set by the Almighty… What is the point of us being here at all?

Isn’t the whole point of redemption and salvation the choosing to be redeemed or saved?

Should all choice be removed from the equation, what – I ask again – is the point of us being here? If we’re playing some pre-scripted parts, some of us already doomed to the pits of Hell, what is the point of having anything resembling the choice of salvation?

It is one of the things that I have never understood about most churches I have visited. They believe everything is fated but them rail against people who make the wrong choices.

Hey! From your own teachings, what else would you expect them to do?

If anyone else can make a little more sense of this than I, I welcome their comments.

Of the Essence

February 1, 2012

Years ago, there was a mighty schism in the Christian Church. Actually there was not one church at that time but many differing sects called Christianity. There was a Council at the city of Nicea to try and resolve the matter. From this conclave was born the “universal” church, the Catholic Church.

The main sticking point between the various branches of Christianity was whether Jesus was a man or God. There was a line that caused the problem: “Jesus was of the essence of God”. The Catholic-minded among the bishops wanted the first “of” removed, to change it to “Jesus was the essence of God”. This seems such a minor difference but it meant everything at the core of the matter.

Jesus either was created by God or He was God in the flesh. Essentially, the Catholic view was that God fathered Himself, but in the flesh.

Although the Council of Nicea took a vote (though there is much written about the vote, the legality thereof, and such but it was 1700 years ago – water under the bridge) and decided in favor of the Catholic view, most of the other bishops would not bow to that formula and continued to preach what the Catholics now termed “heresy”.

Yes, these were Christian, worshiping God and His son, Jesus, but they were declared blasphemers and put to the sword. An awful scene that was to be repeated time and again for the next dozen centuries.

Though it was outlawed, this heresy kept raising its ugly head for centuries. Pelagianism, Catharists, and many more groups were attacked by the Catholics and murdered in the name of the Prince of Peace. All this because of one word and the meaning behind it.

It seems to me that the real essence of this stupidity was the one thing Jesus was teaching us to avoid: ego, and its attendant pride. As well as quite a bit of greed.

If Martin Luther, and he wasn’t any saint, had not posted his complaints on the door at the Council of Worms, we would probably still be under the fearful heel of the “Universal” Church and being hunted by their Inquisitors and Torquemada-like zealots keeping the population growth at manageable levels.

Fortunately, the world was ready for a change. Luther led to Zwengli, Calvin, Huss, and their like until today we have plenty of choice.

It is not to say that the Catholic Church is bad or evil (see my early entry about the number of the beast, “Conundrum III”), it is just that the old saying is probably true: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Church has done wonderful work over the centuries – and keeping alive during the Roman purges was not an easy task – but their absolute rule over Europe for centuries perverted their ruling hierarchy. The local parish priest, for the most part, were doing God’s work as best they could and tending to the needs of their flock.

It matters not to the message of Jesus whether he was “the essence” or “of the essence”. The Church leaders seem to have forgotten that it was His message that held the most importance and not the status of the messenger. Perhaps being God gives more forcefulness to the message…

But the manner of delivery by the Catholic Church was one of the greatest sins doled out to humanity for many years.

Thank God that theocracy is over.

Let’s keep it that way.

the Word of God

January 29, 2012

The Bible has always been held up by Christian leaders as being the “unerring word of God”.

Oh, really?

Then either God is schizo, very confused, contradicts himself repeatedly, or is more than a single deity.

The God of the Old Testament is big on retribution and people bowing low before his majesty.

The God of the New Testament is very big on love and forgiveness.

I have read some interesting treatises that attempt to bring the two parts into some sort of agreement but they have to stretch a few (or more than a few) points to make it work. And it does not work too well even then.

I think even the most devout would have to agree that there seem to be some differences that even the ablest orator would stumble over.

So, why this problem?

First, God did not take pen in hand and write any of the books. He did, however, carve some rather important passages for Moses in stone, but that’s about the extent of His authorship in any literal sense. All of Creation is His opus and we really need to learn to read from that litany a little better.

Most the books in the Bible were written by people. They were divinely inspired, perhaps, but that does not necessarily mean they all got the message exactly right from the Almighty. Since we are all different, it is possible they Divinely interpreted some things different than a later writer would have.

It is far better an interpretation than that the book is 100% verifiable truth… which it most definitely is NOT unless part of these people were living in some weird parallel dimension.

Perhaps God changed over time. Or perhaps the interpretation of Him changed. Or perhaps the thing in Genesis that talked about a group of gods was really the truth and one god was in charge back then and a kinder, more gentle god took over by the time of the New Testament.

Of course, that last explanation is the route least chosen by all Christian scholars – and for very obvious reasons. They want the Bible to seem more like a religious text than a science fiction adventure.

I have spoken with quite a few people who tell me that the Bible has no contradictions.

Then they usually admit that they have not read it from cover to cover. Well, take care of that little chore first and then come back and tell me your impression. I have read the entire thing cover to cover several times and can tell you that a lot of holy writ is extremely boring, very technical and legalistic. Most of the Old Testament is the foundation for Judaism. Why the early church fathers decided to attach it to the New Testament I will never understand.

Sure it does offer up all the predictions of the coming of the Messiah, but the rest of the trappings do not seem to have any place in the whole of Christianity.

But then, maybe the early church fathers never expected people to actually read the whole text. I know the Catholic Church was opposed to Gutenberg publishing to thing or later attempts of others to translate it into other languages. What we they afraid of? Read it and weep, as the saying goes.

Especially reading it several times, and in several differing translations, and try to make sense of it.

Unerring? Not hardly! At least not to me.

Perhaps it will seem different to you.

What’s Wrong With Religion?

January 25, 2012

I have often heard people – believers as well as atheists – moan about what is wrong with religion, whether one specific one or merely religion in general. Having spent a lot of time involved in a wide variety of religions I think I have the answer to that question.

There is nothing wrong with religion.

Each religion, each cult, each philosophy answers a need in someone. And as we were all created different, we have different needs. Hence the plethora of religions. Many people have converted from the religion they were raised in to join another that more closely answers their individual needs. Thank goodness we have religious freedom!

The only difficulty arises when one person belonging to one of them thinks it is so wonderful that everyone should get involved. Starry-eyed evangelism can be very annoying to many.

Still, we should take it in the spirit it is given. People love to share the joy they found with others. They want others to find the same joy. That the joy they have found will not resonate the same with everyone else does not occur to them. Many people don’t seem to know this, fully expecting it to mean as much to everyone. Their exuberance can rub people the wrong way.

Still that does not mean there is anything wrong with the religion. Or the adherents.

So rather than get annoyed and try to change or shut up the person spouting their faith at us perhaps we could simply alter our own feelings of annoyance. It is far easier to change yourself than others, after all. Allow them to proselytize without lashing out at them, revel with them in their joy, and move on with your life.

I believe that is the sort of thing Jesus was teaching.

Bless His Soul

January 7, 2012

Atheism is probably the fastest growing segment in the religious groups in America.

This could be because of the growth of technology or it could be the greater concentration of people in cities. Either way, it has many proponents in many walks of life.

Christopher Hitchens was one of those and quite vocal about his proud atheism until his death last week at age 62 of cancer. Many of his critics thought he would “find religion” before the end but he remained in the same mental framework to the end.

One has to commend him for his perseverance.

But, what about his atheism? He summed it all quite humorously in his volume God is Not Great. It is a stinging diatribe against practically all religions in the world, throughout history. Though many scholars can point out the errors in his arguments and his conclusions, I think everyone involved – including the late Mister Hitchens, as well – missed a rather vital point in his argument.

His premise was that God is not great but all he was able to show is that Man is not great, religion is confusing – to say the least – and that many throughout history have gone quite wide of the mark in the name of the Almighty.

What he failed to show in any of it was that God lacks greatness. It is easy to show that Man is flawed – an historically simple no-brainer – or that religion, any religion, is built on falsehoods perpetrated by Man, again, or interpretations that can be shown to be slightly shoddy in construction.

However, none of that reflects on God.

Mister Hitchens seems to have plenty of bile stored up from the interactions he has had during his life with various religious folk but he seemed to have somehow forgotten that they – like himself – were simply people with their own particular hang-pus and outlooks and interpretations for what they see going on around them. We each have our own interpretations of the universe and, though from inside our own head, it may seem like THE correct view, we should always remember that the view from another’s eyes may be completely different.

So Hitchens was able to show that religions built by Man are not great – but what built by Man can possibly stand beside any of the truly awe-inspiring Divine grandeur around us? – and are flawed in fashions typical of humans.

Naturally, critics found it rather easy to rip apart Hitchens arguments. One not familiar with the scholarly debates going on in religious circles would not understand the finer points. What Hitchens considered a slam-dunk was more of a rim shot that fell outside the net.

But he at least did it with a lot of humor.

the Shape of Forgiveness

September 11, 2011

9/11

Ten years on and we still prefer to wallow in the pain than to move past it.

Bumper stickers and license plates proclaim “We Will Never Forget”, annual media coverage of the memorial services at ground zero keep the memory alive, and the building of a monument to herald our pain to the world keeps the incident fresh.

A Christian Nation would not behave in such a manner. A Christian Nation would, in fact, forgive and forget as instructed in scripture. Yet the most highly “Christian” of our people rabidly support the military adventures in the Middle East and prayed for the day when the evil mastermind behind the event could be brought to pay some retribution for his crime.

Well, he has paid the price. Our leaders, acting as judge, jury, and executioner, have waged a war against this one man and his associates, and it continues still.

The vivid recreation of the Old Testament adage of an eye for an eye, the murder of Osama bin Laden, should have been the salve to bring healing to the wound at last. But the killing continues, the revisiting the pain continues, and the hatred – yes, even throughout this supposedly Christian Nation – continues still.

Is there none who understand what forgiveness is?

Fortunately, there are some who do. The Amish schoolhouse massacre showed us what compassion and forgiveness really look like.

Had the incident been answered by the Federal Government, there would have been investigations, suspicions, fear and trembling, annual marches to the monument set up over the schoolhouse to keep the horror alive.

The Amish, quiet conscientious objectors to all violence, razed the school and turned the area into productive farmland. There is no marker commemorating the tragedy.

Even the wife of the killer was welcomed into the community, knowing she, too, had been a victim of the violence.

How different the Christian response from the American response.

Perhaps, one day, we can learn to forgive. And not just the terrorists who crippled our nation, but our leaders as well who have turned a tragedy into a worldwide bloodbath, in the name of the Prince of Peace.

Who taught us to turn the other cheek.

We Will Just Have to Try a Little Harder

May 3, 2011

Forgiveness and brotherly love is at the root of Christianity.

I’m just sorry I did not see much of that today from the Christian radio station I normally listen to – or any others I sampled.

“Vengeance is mine” saith the American and we seem to wallow in the righteousness of that vengeance a little too greedily. Where in scripture does it say this is the proper action?

One person I heard was quoting from scripture how it was good in the eyes of God to do such a thing.

Only problem, that was the Old Testament they were quoting and that would be fine if we were all Jewish. But we have a New Testament on which we actually base our religion… you know, that thing called Christianity.

Far be it from me to judge those who reveled in the killing, I simply wonder where their “Christian-ess” has gone.

Did Christ ever tell us to kill one another? Did He say to wreak vengeance on those who transgressed against us?

Did He happen to mention celebrating such activity?

Where in all this is the turned cheek He spoke of? Where the stone being cast by the first sinless person?

Recalling how the Amish reacted to a killer in their midst, forgiving the man, embracing his widow and helping her through what must have been a very trying time, made me think perhaps that was a more Christian reaction we could have embraced after 9/11, rather than starting a war to kill so many untold thousands more.

I earlier lamented that we tend to kill our brothers in the name of the Prince of Peace, but now we even revel in the fact.

Casting Crowns had a marvelous lyric that comes to mind: Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose.

Why are we still not learning the lessons?

Probably because we are still all too human. And to err is human, to forgive, Divine.

We really need to start stretching ourselves a little more.