Mere Churchianity*

I know people who go to church regularly.  I do not.

But with the people I do know who go to church; we have nothing to talk about.  Why?  Because they go to church for the entertainment, the socializing, the activities, the children, the personalities involved, their own personal edification, then it’s over.  Church and them go their separate ways till next time.

They don’t study their own scriptures and much less anyone else’s in order to be able to speak intelligently about the writings.  I have been studying scriptures for  a long time, Biblical, Eastern, Psychological, Common Sense, Philosophical.  I’m happy to discuss anything spiritual and metaphysical.

Discuss objectively and not necessarily argue.  I am not a defender of any faith, I am a seeker on a journey.  Writings can give us tentative directions, and we can recalibrate according to the detours of changing experiences.  I highly respect people who do study their scriptures, even more if they’re fearless enough to go beyond “their own” and look at others.  But most Christians I know out here don’t study their writings as they should – as it says to in their writings.

Since they do not read and study, all we can do is state  an opinion not based on anything objective such as the scriptures, and entrench ourselves in it.

No dialog possible there.  Shame.

They don’t think they have to study  because they heard a sermon from their celebrity pastor.  A sermon that waters down the scriptures that they taut as perfect and infallible, with jokes, anecdotes, hooping call and response, and all other manner of theatrics.  There’s no seriousness to the church experience.  Sure, they slow the music down to a whisper, people close their eyes for a few moments, out loud say “yes Lord!” and wave their arms to give the impression they’re having a real moment with god, then WHOOPIE!  Back to the party!

What a cop out from studying the sacred, infallible, words of god for yourself.  You see, you can blow off the pastor once you leave his presence.  Be holy in church and around him, but away from him use language you wouldn’t use in his presence cause, well, he ain’t there now!  But, if you read “god’s word” and believe you are accountable to him who sees you all the time, and knows that you  know what his required do’s and don’ts are; it makes you really work on changing your behavior, full time, not just Sunday morning and on activity days.

Quadruple combination opened to the Book of Is...

Quadruple combination opened to the Book of Isaiah – note the cross references between Biblical and Latter-day Saint scripture in the footnotes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a conversation with someone recently about that.  They were a participating member of a local mega church and they asked me why I didn’t like their church. I told them that I knew they did a lot of activities and had lots of programs.  But I felt it was all show business, because a lot of people who I know and go to that church don’t improve their behavior or grow in knowledge.  Behavior isn’t taught enough.  Nobody is trying to be holy, someone even outright said so to me once, with pride!

This person said “Jesus is coming back real soon you know!”  All you have to do is believe that we are saved by grace.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I think that subconsciously all of us, believer and unbeliever alike, really understand what a friend of mine who is a solid, studious, mindful Christian says: “A grace that cannot change you, cannot save you.”  Knowing the bible he’ll back that up with scripture.  But that won’t matter to people who don’t care enough to follow their scriptures.

Behavioral change is evident.  You don’t declare it, talk is cheap.  Behavioral change is witnessed.  It is what separates you from your old friends and family.  That you don’t talk or act like them anymore.  That you don’t enjoy the same things anymore.  That you choose to think differently about things.  That you study and train in order to support your change.

I don’t see that local church having that effect on people I know.

Theologically I disagree with them on the existence of a personified god, heaven and hell, angels and demons, blessings based on being a club member, the infallibility of their writings, and more.

But those things are moot points in relation to developing a higher character and being a continually better person.  Godless unbelievers become transformed people without those things.  Yet, the people who say theirs is an awesome powerful god, have a god that cannot transform gossipy, gluttonous, mocking, violent, selfish or lustful personality from his followers, although that’s what he wants from them.

Church just ain’t doing it.

*I use as a title the title of a book I’d recommend, click on it for the Amazon link:

Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality

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Easter event at a church.

An amusing experience I had recently.

It’s no secret I am an Atheist/Agnostic/Hindu/Buddhist/Humanist whatever.  Just not a “Christian” because I’ve been there done that, found better, and maybe I can spare someone the pain and waste of time and mind that involves.

For Easter I decided to check out what seemed like a liberal thinking new style Christian group and attend their Easter event.  It was going to be in the outdoor space of a cool bar restaurant, with music, bar-b-q food, minimal sermon, and some good vibes maybe?

We buy our tickets and go.  When we get there we get our wristbands and find a table near the front so that we can see the stage well, rather than sit off to the sides or back so as to just observe and not be bothered.  But hey, this is a communal event, their biggest after Christmas, and I figured the point was to get to know them and they get to know us, so let’s be present and visible.

The long and short of it is we were ignored.  No one greeted us, asked if we were first time visitors, or shared anything with us, even though we were right smack dab in the middle of everyone.  Lots of people wore dark glasses and when we did make the occasional eye contact it was quickly averted to someone else they knew.  We were obviously unknown to the leaders and regulars, yet treated with disregard.

They are loosely “Christian.”  They use the Bible.  They speak of Jesus.  They were celebrating Easter which is a Christian thing.

They were also pretty self absorbed.

I’ll describe it as a white hipster neo-christian social club.  They want to believe that they’re some radically different type of Christian.   Better than the old and traditional types.  But they were into their little cliques and family groups, looking to relate only to those they were familiar with.  Occasionally looking our way, then off.  Kind of like the “cool kids” that are exclusive, and pick and choose who they want.

We stayed a while, even sang along to some songs, ate our food, had our coffee, and left, just as apparently invisibly and anonymously as we arrived.

Knowing a thing or two about Christianity, the Bible, and its core customs and teachings; I had the expectation of being greeted and welcomed.  Of being shown some love and concern even though we were strangers and outsiders, especially because we were strangers and outsiders.  Of being shared their beliefs with.  Maybe a semblance of hospitality.  If not from the laity cause they’re unlearned and uninstructed, certainly from the various leadership and staff.

Well, we got zilch, zero, nada!  Some ministry, huh?

I came home and wrote them about it.  Told them how we were ignored and made to feel like we didn’t belong or shouldn’t have come.  Where was Christ in this group?  Actually, he was with me checking them out…Now it gets good!

You see the Christian and Biblical thing to do would be to apologize, ask forgiveness, extend an invitation to come again and demonstrate that they care, as Jesus would have them too.

A few days later I saw their reply.  Basically; too bad, fuck you, we’re the bomb.

They make excuses for themselves of being busy managing the event, having to entertain their own friends and family, and flip the script by saying I “judged” them after only a few hours of being among them.

Also from their reply: “some of us are snobs, some are unfriendly, some are not Christian, religious, spiritual or interested in imagemaking  friends…” Well, well, well!  Welcome to our spiritual community!

And some people wonder why I don’t want to be associated with being a Christian.  It’s cause I’ve known junkies, thieves, prostitutes, bums, godless all of them, that were a hundred times more loving, caring, and generous than 99% of “Christians” I come across day to day.  They were friendly, Christ like, religious, spiritual, and interested in making friends.  Unlike previously said “Christian” church.

Since dissociating myself from Christianity I have met some of the most wonderfully Christian people in the world, most of them also not “Christian.”  I know Atheists, Unitarians, Buddhists, Free Thinkers, who truly understand and look to live 24/7, the principal of “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  People for whom the experience and presence of the divine is all in all, and not something to claim when you’re in church, around the pastor, or around others you think want to hear that kind of shpiel.

So, amusing as this Easter experience was, I realize I’m not missing anything worthwhile on their holidays.

I have a little more to say on religion based on another experience I had recently, and maybe it’s not as critical…

Death and Funerals

Português: São Paulo - O presidente Luís Ináci...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At a recent passing, someone said “why is it we only get together when someone dies?”  Good question.

I have some thoughts on it.  In my community friends and family feel a great obligation to be present at someone’s funeral. There’s also this judgment that if someone doesn’t show up, they didn’t love that person enough, or love those present enough  to come share this occasion with them. No excuse is made for finances or different point of view.

I’ve missed a few funerals in my time, mostly due to money and distance issues.  I know I’ve been judged by some religious people for that.  However, I’ve never felt the disdain or disapproval of the dead, only the living.

I read this recently: “More than a ritual for the deceased (who is not necessarily affected by what rites we perform once he or she has passed on), funerals help those left behind make the necessary changes to adjust to being separated from loved ones.”  I think that’s a good and just reason for getting together when someone dies.  Though it probably should be ongoing help, not necessarily a one day activity.

Your presence at the physical remains of someone dead is of no merit to you, or them.  They are no longer there, so the notion that they “see” how much you loved them because you are present there is preposterous.  The show is for the living, those others that are present at the funeral.  I believe your love for them is not represented by your presence there, since love is largely an immeasurable idea.  It is the same love at 3 feet of distance as it is a 1,000 miles.  So don’t judge love by distance or money.  Don’t judge someones else’s priorities of life negatively in relation to a death.

Someone’s death is often a last minute and unexpected event. Not everybody is “ready” to go at a moments notice.  We get together at funerals to support the survivors of the deceased and that’s cool.  I like that.  If it’s no hardship to you to do so.  Last minute unexpected events like this can cause the living extended harm.  Yet, some judge your unwillingness to undergo hardship at that time more harshly than at any other time.  If you don’t want to spend time, loose money, take off from work to attend a graduation, or someone’s promotion, that’s OK.  But don’t dare miss a funeral!

I have a few words for them.  Let’s go to the bible.  Jesus said “let the dead bury the dead.”  Jesus said that in regard to someone claiming it was such an important obligation to fulfill, to be at someone’s funeral, that you should pass up the things of life, or the living, for the sake of a funeral. Look it up.

If you can and want to, do it.  If it is profoundly meaningful to you, do it.  If it is out of peer pressure compulsion, stay home.  If  the expenditure to attend a funeral is a hardship, if it will take money from your living properly, like your groceries, or tomorrow’s necessities don’t do it.

I understand grief. Grief is a personal thing.  I have grieved up close and from far away. I have also grieved for those who are alive and in suffering.  I have not grieved competitively, or for approval.  My deepest grief has been in isolation, privately, and when resolved, I have moved on. Because I have grieved in solitude I have been judged as unfeeling, and I have felt that, then laughed it off.

My final words on this are don’t stress and strain about having to attend a funeral.  Honor or grieve in your heart, that’s where it matters, not with attendance at the funeral.

Only those who are there out of a shallow sense of propriety will judge you unkindly for  it. They are the dead burying the dead.

Sunday morning sermon

Religious people figure that anything they say or post is oh so awe inspiring and valuable to everyone, as long as it say’s “Jesus,” “God,” or “Bible” in it.

It’s not.

With this arrogance they post some of the weakest, lamest, least inspiring  stuff on the internet.  I have seen some awful singing, but since the girl said Jesus somewhere in there, it was posted with “Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!”  and it was painful to the ears.

There’s lots of postings of church performances that reduce the Christian life to a third rate stage show.  They post framed sayings or bible verses saying “Jesus died for you” and ask you to click “like,” never mind that normally “liking” that someone died is bizarre and questionable.

Even worse is the call to pray for someone’s something that’s not gonna happen with a big guilt trip in it if you don’t participate, similar to the old chain letter thing.  They never post “yesterday, we got 1,000 people to click like on this prayer to cure Mike’s cancer and today he is verifiably healed.”  How about the command “If you love Jesus you’ll post this within 5 seconds for an hour and get a blessing.”  Oops it took 8 seconds, oh well, you blew it.

What would Jesus really do?  Would he be posting this mindless self indulgent crap?  Do you really think it’s making him happy that you trivialize his teachings (you do) and display a lack holy spirit insight and widom?

Please Stop!  It’s not “saving” anyone. It’s insulting to the true spirit of transformation, and even to average intelligence.  Share an applicable life insight, without presumption, which itself is a sin.  Demonstrate some depth, or results of deep study and contemplation, that everyone can appreciate.

You are entitled to live out your devotion in a closed relationship to your diety.

English: A Service at Lancaster Baptist Church

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pray, read, convince yourself you believe something, light candles or incense, that’s cool. You are entitled to self deception.

You are not entitled to force others to live out your same devotion, or self deception, or to live hypocritically.  That merits opposition and confrontation.

When challenged on proof  of your claims by atheists and non believers, put up or shut up.  Say you don’t know and are studying up on it, or admit it doesn’t work and there might be better options.  Don’t think that hooping and hollering, bible waving, jumping up and down and calling us angry, changes the fact that simple god given rationality disproves your arguments.

Here’s a verse for you:

“…What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  It’s there, look it up.

Try walking humbly with your god, instead of the arrogant pettiness you put out all the time.  We’ll all be better off for it. Amen?

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Belief and Self Defense

Bible

Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

“When I’m away in college, I’ll know how to defend myself from bullies, cause I’ll have learned stuff from Rick.”  “Son, it’s the Lord you have to trust as your shield and protection.”

Some devout fundamentalist friends and I were having dinner together, and the young man was speaking about going to college, and how he’d handle the challenges he expected to face, including jocks and BMOC’s (Big Man On Campus).  His father, a serious believer for whom “Lean not on your own understanding and trust in the Lord” & “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” are widely pervading principals, jumped to make sure that the young man was not believing in anything less or secondary to that.

Is wanting to learn and practice self defense incompatible with religion, or belief in a supernatural entity (Jehova, Christ, Vishnu, etc), and how explicit in the various religions scriptures are the injunctions against it?

As to explicit and singular injunctions, none.  The Bible, just to use the most common denominator; is loaded with contradictory statements.  So much so that I hear there are 30,000 “christian” denominations worldwide, most basing their doctrines on scriptures that other denominations contradict.

In this context “no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper” is offset by “He trains my hands for battle, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze,” “Turn the other cheek” is contradicted by “buy a sword,” which is offset by “he who lives by the sword will die by the sword,” and on and on.    A quick search will often place promises of protection scriptures alongside instructions to protect yourself.

The weight then becomes about which scriptures you have more faith in, the protection promises, or the active in your defense ones.  Put another way, of believing god will defend you, or he doesn’t mind you protecting yourself.

Sadly, we often see that belief is not enough.  Historically, there are numerous examples of death and harm by violence, in spite of belief.

Rachel's Tears: The Spiritual Journey of Colum...

Rachel’s Tears: The Spiritual Journey of Columbine Martyr Rachel Scott (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently and explicitly, there is the episode of the Columbine shooting. There is some argument about the truth of this rumor, but that it arose immediately after the incident among those involved makes it worth noting anyway.  It’s the rumor related to the murder of Rachel Scott that claimed that the shooters had first asked Scott if she believed in God, and killed her after she said yes.

It’s a saddening thought to even reference.  It continues to ask the question, is belief or faith in the supernatural enough to protect you from violence, or should you act on your own behalf.  Further realize some will call it you attempting to use your own strength and knowledge an act of faithlessness.

Some religions forbid blood transfusions, and people have died, who might have otherwise survived, recovered, and lived full lives. Children have died because parents believed only prayer and fasting should be used to bring god’s healing.

On the other hand, I too, have heard the stories, “testimonies” of people who called on god when faced with immediate danger, and were spared.  They are way too few and far between to earn my “faith.”

I believe in some things, and not others. I have no conflict with the potential for supernatural occurrences, like divine protection, and welcome it, as would anyone else, believer or non believer.  But if it doesn’t deliver 99 percent of the time for say at least 80 percent of the people, to “believe” in it at a time of duress is recklessness, not faith.

I hope that the young man at the beginning of this story never gets bullied or unjustly beat up.  I hope he goes through life without any conflict ever, and that his upbringing of faith in god mocks my perception of supernatural protection for believers or anyone else.

I teach martial arts and self defense.  I believe that everyone should have basic knowledge of personal protection methodologies, whether you are a believer in any religion/god, or not.

PS.  All scripture references are off the top of my head, I’m pretty sure they are there, in about the same wording, feel free to use a conrcordance to verify if you like.