Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Comments, Questions, and A Lot of Criticism

My apologies for not posting lately. The book has taken a great deal of time from what I'm used to doing on this site, along with some articles I've been working on for publication. That said, I will be posting my next blog for this site within the week as it's almost done. What is it concerning? Let's just say I'm a little frustrated over the response to Halloween by many people in the church, and our position on holidays in general. It's time we step back and look at what we've created the past thirty years or so.

For now, I thought I'd post some of the comments I received from the latest blog, The Origin of Christian Arrogance. As some of you are aware, I will generally post a piece on a variety of sites aside from this one. The last blog upset some of you, and I appreciated your thoughtful opinions of dissent.

A couple of things very quickly:

  1. I like it when people disagree, and especially when they take the time to produce a thoughtful dialogue. Yes, I believe in right and wrong, but much of that is situational and cultural. I know we don't like to hear that (the Pharisees certainly didn't when Jesus was around) but when we externalize evil in the form of people groups or cultures we become antithetical to the Gospel.
  2. The only comments I do not publish are personal attacks (of which there have been a few) or those which cross the boundary of appropriateness. (My blog, my discretion) I rarely have to worry about this because those of you who stop by here tend to be quite thoughtful.
  3. On the last comment, instead of writing back, I simply inserted my response into the text itself using <my thoughts> brackets. I don't like to do that, but the comment is a long one and I want everyone who takes the time to write me to get full attention. In this case, I was simply afraid I would not be able to address everything that was brought up in the comment.

Okay, on to the comments. I hope you all are enjoying the late fall sunshine.


From SH, Calgary, AB
You know Steve, I think we make it difficult for ourselves when we continually focus on the rules and struggle with the decision of following them or ignoring them and trying something new.

A suggestion? Stop focusing so much on what we've done wrong.

To SH,
I appreciate your comment. :) The problem I have with not paying attention to the rules is that many of these 'rules' have nothing to do with God, and impart nothing but heartache. It's easy, I think, to ignore these so-called rules, but look at who suffers. I think of the slaves, of the women who have tried to be leaders, at the ... Read More homosexuals who are told they are worthless and the poor who are ignored simply because they're not important. And then I think about who Jesus would stand for, and it pushes me to do the same.

From AG, Ottawa, ONT

Dear Steve... and I say this in a respectful way because I know you guys desperately believe in god, but... I don't have to deal with these issues, and I feel my particular view of the world has become more rich than all the excuses cited above could give. I may live in a godless world, but it is full of passion, understanding, love, empathy, compassion... compassion... Read More, caring, inquisitiveness, desire, ambition, and hope! I really feel sorry and sad when I read stories like this, and my heart is moved with compassion for her and how she clings to an unfulfilled life and simple tenants. I know to many Christians living a life without god is very much looked down on, but for those of us who aren't Christians and embrace learning on another level, with an open mind, we learn more about ourselves than the bible can offer and enrich what we can offer in this life with that.

Just a thought from the light side.

To AG,
It's nice to hear from you. :) My fear of those who live in a 'godless' world, as you say, is that there is little room for humility. I cite Sam Harris, who would like to bomb the entire Muslim world, or Richard Dawkins, a hyper atheist fundamentalist who is so arrogant he believes himself to be superior to everyone around him. It is not so much that I desperately believe in God, but that He believes in me. To let go, simply because it's easy, makes no spiritual or intellectual sense for me. In fact, it would be intellectually lazy for me to do so in an attempt to divine our purpose here. I fear the idea of learning on "another level" as you say, because I think that learns implies condescension. That is, it implies some have reached a higher spiritual plane than others. That sounds like too many religious people I know, and not at all like Jesus, who "though he was God, became one of us, and considered others better than Himself." It's hard, but I think it's worth it.

From AG, Ottawa, ON
Hey Steve... I know most Christians have very little tolerance for those two but I find they make a lot of sense. I have read Dawkins, own his movies... thought about what he had to say. He's pretty staunch, it's true, however he is a genuine man utterly frustrated with the senseless acts he sees around him and I agree with him there but certainly not so arrogant as you think. It's senseless as you put it how many fundamentalist Christians treat gays, women, and I might add the climate, our environment, animals, science, war etc. So many are repulsed by the notion in America to have a health care system but was not Jesus in essence a socialist?

To us, we can't understand statements like "he (God) believes in me"... leaves us somewhat baffled. To take "another level" to mean a higher level is entirely your perception if you want it that way. I might suggest that it would be the position of a man in a defensive position to automatically conclude such a thing. I would probably have given it a separate branch of a birthing root and a conclusion we came to parallel to yours, it's simply a decision to decide for or against the evidence of there being a god. And I'm leaving spiritual notions entirely out of it, such things have no place in my world so it's rather impossible for me to claim a higher spiritual level....

And to let go does in no way imply that it's an easier route, it's a different route. You chose your path, I choose mine, both have personally rewarding ends, but for some I fear, they had a path picked for them that they aren't as well adjusted to, and perhaps the alternative might offer more comfort. , caring, inquisitiveness, desire, ambition, and hope! I really feel sorry and sad when i read stories like this, and my heart is moved with compassion for her and how she clings to an unfulfilled life and simple tenants. I know to many Christians living a life without god is very much looked down on, but for those of us who aren't Christians and embrace learning on another level, with an open mind, we learn more about ourselves than the bible can offer and enrich what we can offer in this life with that.

Just a thought from the light side.

To AG,
Thanks again for the comment! Honestly, do not see the difference between Dawkins and religious fundamentalists, and I'm not the only one. Have you read Christopher Hedges? He's a Pulitzer Prize winning author who spent two years studying the Christian Right in the US, and wrote a book about it, and called their form of Christianity 'fascism'. He sees the same thing in the "New Atheists". Their fundamental view of the world is black and white, just like a Christian or Muslim fundamentalist. They see no nuance, no colour. Dawkins is a brilliant science writer, but when he writes about theology he's an amateur, and he spends more time defending the 'cult of science' than sticking to the essence of science. He's the most religious sounding scientist I've ever heard! (Two of my friends ARE scientists, and he confuses them)
Fundamentally, Dawkins and the others externalize evil, which is exactly what fundamentalists do. They see evil as something outside of themselves and believe that with reason and education we can move to some sort of human utopia. That we (because we are educated atheists or dedicated Christians) are better and have the "right" of things. The fundamentalist always turns the world into two sides. Us vs. Them. This is exactly what Dawkins does. (I can't believe you call him 'staunch', he's an ass towards people who don't agree with him, just like American fundamentalist preacher types -- condescending and patronizing) For Dawkins, the problem is religion. But the problem isn't religion; the problem is that we are all immoral. Humankind will use all sort of things to create terror, and sometimes its religion. Sometimes its communism, sometimes its fascism or government. These are not the reflections of a religious mind, but the natural immorality of humanity. When we make the assumption, like the Germans did, that we can educate and rationalize and that we're moving towards a smarter, more evolved humanity, we end up with Bureaucrats taking notes while millions are slaughtered in concentration camps.
Dawkins cannot accept the basic principle of human immorality, and that we are not "getting better" or morally evolving. No amount of reason will change that. -Steve

From MJ, California

The problem that I see here, Steve, is that if anyone sees God and the world differently than you then they are either simple, immature, or not as experienced as you and thus THAT is why they don't agree with you, and that in and of itself is arrogance.

Your friend has faith in God. She has settled the issue in her heart, and it's obvious you haven't. Not yet, at least. Despite the pain and the tragedy in this world God is still in control and we must trust in Him. It may not make a whole lot of sense to our finite minds, where we inevitably ask "Why?", but ultimately we must accept, and settle the issue, that if our God is who He says He is, He does all things for our best interests and for His ultimate glory. Near the end of Job, God and Job have a little discussion. Read that again before you start diminishing your friends perspective, and mine.

You refer to Jesus and the Gospels. Good. Doesn't He repeatedly make the point that we are to come to Him as little children, with simple faith? To me, perhaps, simple faith is real faith. Your friend was right. She has peace. You do not. She has settled the issue. You need to. Do I trust in God or do I trust in the world? You can't have both, and perhaps that's the dilemma, why your spiritual walk is full of strife and grief. You're trying to meld the two, and the two are, unfortunately, diametrically opposed.

If I am wrong, then let me ask you a question. With the attitude you have, what is it about God that is appealing to a hurting and lonely world? What do you have to offer that someone else can't? What is so great about God? You may make people feel good about themselves, but ultimately do you bring them any closer to Jesus, the master healer? And more to the point, why not? Could it be that perhaps, deep down, you don't trust that God will heal hurting hearts? That God will give comfort? You have to settle this issue, because if you're not pointing people to Jesus you're pointing people to you, and no MA degree or PhD can change that. In fact, it probably makes things worse.

I've been reading your blogs for several years and I've noticed you've become more and more cynical, and far less tolerant of others and their walk with Jesus. It seems, with but few exceptions, everyone is arrogant, immature, inexperienced, or flat out wrong. You diminish the work that God is faithfully doing in everyone's life when it doesn't track with yours. How dare we have joy? How dare we trust in God? Instead of growth I see a hardened heart, and before God will allow you to minister to anyone you have to get back to the way you used to be, Steve, when everything was simple. Sometimes thinking too much can cause our hearts to grow cold.

To MJ,
Thanks for your comment. I want you to know that we often disagree, I appreciate you taking the time to comment and I do consider carefully before responding. There are several points here. I found it interesting that when I first posted this blog (which went as a note to facebook) the two people to respond immediately were a Christian evangelical friend, and an atheist, both of whom disagreed with me. There's a link there, because fundamentalism is way of seeing the world, and both John Hagee and Richard Dawkins see it the same way. I won't repeat my comments there, but I will try to address the points you made. When I was a conservative, I used the argument you make here, that anyone who sees the world other than I do is intolerant, therefore, really, everyone is intolerant. The problem with that thought process is that it allows everything.

Patriarchy, misogyny and racism are dangerous, in that they cause a great deal of suffering, so to that, I AM intolerant of it. I have seen great hurt and damage done by those of "simple faith", who have used the Bible to beat down those not in power. What I don't understand is how Christians can call that acceptable. Wasn't Jesus chastised for doing that very thing? My wife grew up in Ethiopia as the daughter of missionaries. Her parents are kind, loving people. But for most of her life, because of the missionary organization she belonged to, she was taught that her opinions didn't matter. Do you know why? Because she was a woman. As to my friend, perhaps my portrait was not clear enough. She was a beaten woman. Through the years, I've seen what abused women look like and so while she was quoting Scripture, she was beaten. She had no life in her, Matt. Do you know how sad that is to see? She didn't have joy. She was despondent and lifeless. I've seen that before, as I said, and it is very, very sad. In this case, the church did not stick up for her, because she was a woman. She wasn't quoting Scripture out of joy. "Simple faith" works well if you are a man, especially a white, straight man. Not so much if you are part of the population with power. I'm afraid I see this as antithetical to a God who goes after one lost sheep.

As for me, you're right when you say, what do YOU have to offer. My answer would be... nothing. I wish I didn't see the pain I see, and I wish I could simply write about what a great life I have and how God loves me. I don't write articles to necessarily make people feel better, and I'm not interested in writing about that which I do not feel, which I consider to be Christian propaganda. It would be hypocritical for me to do so. You point out Job, which is probably an apt comparison to the way many people feel. I find it difficult to simply say "God has a plan". He does? When does this plan go into effect? And yet, I have devoted the vast majority of my life both seeking and worshipping the One who created us. I have no doubt that God exists, or that Jesus is the Incarnation. It doesn't lessen the pain I feel for the hurt I see around me. And it certainly won't stop me from asking questions like "where are you, God?" The prophets were commended for their faith in the OT, and when you read their words, or the psalms, much of what they are doing is asking the same questions I ask, that many people ask. The church has become too interested in marketing Jesus... "Why would someone come to church after listening to you?" and less interested in being authentic. So while people may come to church because of our sunny smiles, there are many who want to know that you, like them, do not have all the answers. We have somewhere gotten this idea that church is something WE need to expand. I disagree. God grows the church. It's His church after all. I am not interested in Christian pamphlets or fake smiles or tired clichés.

Have I become more cynical? Maybe. That is not a result of school, but exposure. The myth of human progress, the atheistic 18th century idea, seems prevalent in the church these days, as if it were a Christian idea. Certainly, I do not want to be one who 'steals the joy' from other Christians. If I tell you I wish I had more of that, what would you say? Different people have different callings and different struggles. As you've read my work, you know that I have always tried to be honest about my own. About three or four years ago, when I came back to the church, I made a simple promise to God. I promised that I would no longer hide. I wouldn't hide my questions or doubts. That I would write honestly, from the heart, without trying to 'make things nice.' Today, that promise holds. I will never convince someone else that Jesus is God Incarnate. Nor will I try. That is God's doing. I am not a salesperson nor a marketer nor a politician, and it is my firm belief that when we attempt to 'evangelize', that often (in our methods) we are degrading God. I'm sure you disagree, and that's okay, it's just where I'm at.

Thanks again for your comment. Know that your words are prayerfully considered.


From MJ, California
I suppose what I was getting at was that you often lump evangelicals and charismatics as being harmful, and I am both. I suppose I'm not a typical Christian in that I often challenge and question church doctrine that is not backed up with scripture.

<I do tend to lump them together, which is sometimes problematic, I admit. I do it because I was a Pentecostal pastor (and they are all evangelicals) As to the second point about checking with Scripture, it is something I always used to say as well, but it's simply not possible. Evangelicals use that term a lot and yet know the least about the history of the church and understanding Scripture in context, which is why it gets abused so consistently. This is problematic in that it checks Scripture literally when it wants to, as in regards to women and spiritual leadership rules and homosexuality, but then becomes loving your enemy, cutting off the body part that causes you to sin, and all sorts of verses. We are all selective! And Scripture is ancient text, and can not be read as a 21st Century letter to Western Europeans and their descendants.

But what I take offense to is your generalizations about conservative Christians. I don't walk in lock step with the church. I don't just accept what is taught without analyzing it and praying about it (and getting additional counsel from others about it), just as Paul encouraged the Boreans to do. And mostly, I don't claim to have all the answers. <Me neither, MJ. >It wasn't until my father passed away when I realized I don't HAVE to have the answers, and I'm okay with it...finally. And what bothers me is the reverse chauvinism that is being displayed here. My opinions are dismissible because I am a white male. How can I possibly understand? Never mind the fact that it is a misconception that men are the only ones who are abusive, because I myself was abused by my first wife, and no one believed me. No one came to my defense, not the church and not my friends. However, I didn't let that dishearten me.

<I think that your situation is terrible, MJ. You are the rarest of cases, however. As to being a white, straight male, I used to complain about 'reverse discrimination' as well. Then I started working in a multi-cultural environment and started to really talk and listen to my female friends. As a rule, white, straight males still have the power in our society. Based on ability alone, there are no limitations on where we can go and what we can achieve. That's not true for any other group in our society.>

I still trust in God, and although I don't see how He orchestrates things while I'm in hard times, so very often once I've come out on the other side I've seen how He actually did. I find that is often the case. How can a loving God let so much misery continue? There are no easy answers, and that's okay. We live in a sinful world where <Humans>man are so often too selfish to be like Jesus. Should the church have been there to protect your wife? You're damn right they should have and they will be held accountable to it by God (if not in this life then the next). But you see, that's why we need Jesus, because on our own we will always fall short of Christ's character and not be merciful to those who need mercy, and don't love people that need to be loved, and don't help those that need help. That is the biggest sin of fallen man, that we come in Christ's name but not in His CHARACTER.


We tell people all the time ABOUT Jesus but rarely reflect Him through our lives.

<Exactly. I agree. So maybe its time we stopped talking about it. Maybe its time we stopped worrying about evangelism.>

That's what a hurting world is sees, and is the real reason people have stopped going to church; the hypocrisy.

<I disagree. It isn't the hypocrisy, it's the surety. Every evangelical is taught that they know they are Christians. How? Because they just know it in their knower. It's dishonest and dumb and inauthentic. You DON'T KNOW! I DON'T KNOW! How can you rationally KNOW about God? Unless you are Him or Her? I think the churches would fill up if the people inside them just started saying "I don't know", all the time. Can you think of a more welcoming place than the Church of the I Don't Know. Instead, we do our marketing reports that tell us we need more parking and nursery spaces and better music. Maybe we just need a bunch of people who can I Don't Know together about Jesus and go help someone.>

But in that we must understand that the church is made up of people who suffer from the same problems as those that don't go to church. We are just as fallible, just as selfish, and just as wounded, while the world looks to us for answers to their pain and suffering.

<No, it doesn't look to us for answers. That's the point. It doesn't look at us at all. We're just another stupid organization where people are trying to fit in together. Maybe if we stopped thinking we were "the answer" we'd be a little more humble, and people would ask for our help.>

They want easy answers, and there are none, as most honest Christians have come to understand. But in that failing, I see those that genuinely love God cannot help <but> love others, and in so doing try perhaps too hard to give answers they are not skilled to give out of the earnest desire to lead them to Jesus.

<Bah. Okay, I guess I'm getting a bit grumpy here. They're not simply 'trying too hard', they've been taught that 'leading someone to Jesus' is like taking someone to the washroom. That anyone can do it if you know the way. Really? So we serve a mystical, omnipotent God, but if we follow four easy steps that person is now 'saved'. Bah! Do you think God cares so little for his children that YOU are the answer. We may be part of it, but evangelicals can't even see the ridiculous amount of pride in their position. I know I didn't. Listen, we all want to feel important. And no doubt, 'leading someone to the Lord', may make you feel that way. Unfortunately, it isn't just about you, and that's the problem with evangelicals and especially charismatics, who see your salvation as their personal problem to be solved. While its true that many are sincere in trying to help, too often charismatics attract personality types who seek attention, and act in a manner that is offensive and belies their own insecurity. Which begs the point. If they are so sure of their own salvation, why are they always trying to convince others that they're right 'about the Lord'?>

In Him I have hope, that despite all that I've been through, I can still have peace. God gave me joy (not what most people interpret as being happiness, but joy, an entirely different thing altogether) and want others who have come to walk in Christ have it as well, instead of clinging to their pain. Cuz, you see, I too have suffered great loss, great pain, great abuse, great neglect, and deep depression. When I gave my life to Him he flipped all that on its head and for the first time in my life I knew what joy actually is. Now, that's not say my life has been all rosy since. In fact, some of the most painful times I've ever had has happened since I've become a Christian, however I've come to have that intimacy with God where he comforts me and strengthens me through those hard and difficult (and sometimes lonely) times. THAT is what we as Christians have to offer a lost and hurting world. I can't help anyone. I can't rescue anyone. I can only point them to the One who can.

It's up to them to make that decision: "Will I put my trust in God, or keep doing things the way I've always done?" And sometimes, their choice can grieve us as they choose to do their own thing and thus continue on in their pain alone. Some even, as was the case with my second wife, are more comfortable with pain and sorrow than the freedom that a life in Christ offers. People like me are an anathema to them. It forces them to step outside of their comfort zone and patterns of behavior embedded in their psyche so deep after decades of practice. If one is a true follower of Jesus you should be going somewhere with your walk. You cannot be a disciple of Christ and remain the same.

You know this. Christ offers peace, rest, and comfort, but at the same time challenges us to embrace a life we are completely foreign to, to be better than who we think we can be, and takes us out of our comfort zone.

<There's another paradox in there. God offers us peace and then takes us out of our comfort zone? I think I understand what you're saying, but it comes across as more clichéd talking points from a church bulletin.>

Having joy joy joy is not a delusion, nor is it a sign of an immature faith. I've been slugging it out in the trenches for over 14 years now, so I'm not exactly inexperienced nor am I unread (nor am I a mindless sheep of church doctrine). Faith CAN be real and simple.

<Considering the paradoxes you've lined up… I'm not sure how you can call faith 'simple'. They seem clear when you're in the church, because we're given weekly driving lessons down those winding trails each week, but step outside the church for a while and you get gobbly gook.>

Faith is a matter of trust that, despite what my eyes can see and what my finite mind can comprehend, I know God is watching my back and loves me enough that whatever I may have gone through He can redeem for His glory and my benefit (even though it may hurt like hell at the time). Christ said "I came to give life and life more abundantly" and it's my goal in life that Christians understand this. His love heals...but only if we let Him. I see the pain in people's lives and if I didn't care I'd keep it to myself and not do anything about it, but I also see the solution.

<What is the solution? What is it? Go to church more? Ask Jesus to forgive us for our sins? What IS THE SOLUTION? I'm not just talking to MJ here, but unfortunately, his letter catches the blow. Christians always like to say that they have the solution! I don't think so. I think that Christians have a greater insight into the mystery of life. I think that as we grow we understand that we know less. When I see people who are absolutely sure about what they know about God, I immediately back up. They are either salespeople, wing nuts, shallow, not too smart, and have some other motive for wanting me to be part of their church.>

However, not very many people (including those who claim to be Christians) want the solution. "It's too easy." Yes, it is. It is also that HARD.

<It's your conscience that's speaking when you repress your questions. This is exactly what cults say to their cult members.>

In fact, trusting God enough to let Him inside and heal you is quite possibly the most terrifying thing a Christian has to do, and is often a life long process of surrendering those things (attitudes, beliefs, habits, loves, hates, dreams, fears, people, and possessions) to Him who wants the best for us.

<Again, none of that seems as simple as seem to believe it is, MJ. I think we are in more agreement than you realize.>

My special thanks to those who wrote in, and to MJ, who always writes thoughtful and considered comments on one of my sites. I appreciate his readership, and if today I seemed harsh, please understand it is not personal, but he expresses clichés that the church refuses to acknowledge and need to be addressed.

By the way, this idea that the church has the answer has filtered down to the individual level, where there are a number of people in churches who occupy positions of power – board members, pastors, prayer leaders – who insist that they know everything there is to know about God. They're called bullies, and Jesus addressed them, 2000 years ago.

To quote the Son of God then… "Sons of bitches and polly-glam empty asses" Matt 23: 33, New Stephen Burns Revised Edition)