Saturday, November 15, 2008

Godless God-lovers

I'm getting so jaded about organized religion.

It's not that I don't like church, or think that it's not important. Corporal worship is still a great experience and gathering with other believers is key to any relationship with God.

It's just, man, God-lovers seem to be getting more stupid and close-minded by the day.

I wonder if it's always been this way.

I grew up in the church. Sunday school, bible study, Sunday worship, communion service, Women's Day, Usher's Day, I attended them all many times. Church and church people were a central part of my early development, and my faith has been a bedrock in my life for as long as I can remember. Sure, I resented attending worship when I was younger, but when the travails of life descended upon me, I appreciated the religious foundation my parents had established.

Now, I'm looking back over that time and wondering how much hateful stuff I was indoctrinated with while I was learning to serve the Lord.

Check out this story and this one. Now both of them involve the Catholic church, which has some crazy rules that are different from most other churches, but they are still indicative of a general attitude among church people.

That attitude can be summed up simply: get with the program or get the fuck out.

That makes me sad.

Like many traditional Christians I am troubled by what I see as a lack of morality and faith in the world today. Contrary to what some liberals fear, religious people are not staging a takeover, and the world is in fact moving further and further away from the traditional forms of most faiths. Truthfully, I do not see this as a good move because I believe the basic tenets of most religions promote goodwill and love towards your fellow man, and I shudder to think what the world would be like if we all lived by our own definitions of what is right and wrong.

Yet, I understand why these changes are occurring.

Many faiths, particularly my own Christianity, have become more and more dogmatic and political while also becoming less concerned with the primary concerns outlined for Christians in the Bible. This doesn't mean all church people aren't active in their communities, as a Katrina survivor I saw first hand the amount of good religious people can do, but it does mean that too often we don't do the right stuff when it comes to those that don't share our beliefs.

There is no excuse for the backlash among many white evangelicals towards other believers who supported Barack Obama. There is no biblical justification for the obscene amount of energy the church spends on discussing gay marriage and abortion, while topics like divorce and fornication are ignored. We are not loving our neighbors as we love ourselves and it shows. I'm tired of Christians hiding behind the trite explanation that we are a "peculiar people" and that the world "hated Jesus too."

Jesus was hated because he spoke against injustice and sought substantive moral change. Church people in America are hated because we seem to be patterning our lives after the Pharisees, a strict adherence to the letter of the law, but not to its Spirit.

I brought up my early childhood because when I look back these days I realize that often church people encouraged a casual disregard for those with different viewpoints and celebrated a stifling of intellectual curiosity.

I remember sitting in Sunday School one day and having an argument with my teacher about how God could give humans free will, but still know what we were going to do all the time. I had to be between 10 and 12 at the time, but I had already honed my logical debate skills to a fine edge. I argued that if God knew I was going steal some candy before I was born, how did I have free will when it came to stealing the candy? If my life was already laid out, wasn't I just following his plan?

You would have thought I had asked them to explain the mystery of the Trinity. Three or four teachers tried to deflate my argument, failed and then the Sunday School superintendent took an L. He basically brushed aside the question and said we shouldn't spend too much time pondering those types of things and we should just accept that God is all powerful and all-knowing while we have free will. And that was it.

(Later, I would think about this question some more. I decided that God may be aware of my future plans, but I am not. Consequently, when I make decisions, I make them in the moment and devoid of any control by God. Therefore, I can have free will even though my path in life is already set. It worked for me.)

That experience taught me something about church; it doesn't pay to be too different in the House of God. Don't ask too many questions, don't challenge too many accepted dogmas. Given my nature, I've always struggled with these guidelines, but that doesn't change the fact that they are real. And even more real is the truth that if a believer keeps on challenging the status quo, he or she might just be told their faith is fake and they are on their way to hell.

This mindset is crippling the church. I'm not in favor of the wholesale acceptance that characterizes many liberal churches, (I still believe fornication, adultery, lying and homosexuality are sins) but I do think the church has to encourage its members to really think about how the Bible works in the real world. We cannot continue to cling to banal biblical sayings, while we condemn everyone who disagrees with us.

We cannot win souls if we're concentrating all our efforts on stamping out any hint of non-conformity. We truly express God's will when we recognize the reality of free will, and encourage people to live according to God's will through a mixture of love and discipline. Our choice is not between liberalism gone wild and rigid conservatism. Our choice is between being beacons of pragmatic, realistic acceptance or being unthinking, hateful bastards.

Between being church people or Christians.



Deacon Blue said...

And the Deacon said, "AMEN!"

Wow, you summed that up well. Too bad I can't simply steal damn near your whole post as the explanation for why I even started my blog.

Truly, as you noted just yesterday, we're in mind meld again lately.

Imhotep said...

Before I ask my question, I should disclose that I don't go to church, have been maybe twice in the last 10 years. I'm a christian when my ass is in trouble, but for the most part I'm agnostic.

When you say homosexuality is a sin, is that an example of you making your own decision "devoid of any control by God"? Or are you reciting a programed response?

WNG said...

Good one Big Man.

Unintended consequence of this post: I was going to post today, but now I feel like I have something to live up can be annoying sometimes, brother.

notthatoften said...

Big Man,

I'm an atheist. I was raised baptist. Church and faith provided me with a lot of security back in my younger days but one day it just stopped. Anyway, i take issue with your statement about how the world would be scary with everyone deciding what is right and wrong on their own. Morality is a thing that exists separate from faith. I don't need to believe Mohamed flew to heaven on horse, or a lady gave birth without, unfortunately for her, never having gotten laid, to know that stealing, murder, rape, &c. is wrong. Humans come with a moral compass, a conscience, and guilt standard. No god required.


des said...

Big Man,

Thank You. You know, I truly love the Lord, but right now, I can't stand church. I've been singing in church since the age of five, been a choir director since I was 17, and a Minister of Music for three years. I served in the biggest church in Baltimore for nine years and watched it become a business first, church second. That, and a job offer, is why I left. Church folk can be some of the nastiest people to work with, so if you have a pollyanna view of the House of God, I suggest you not work in a church. At this point of my life, I had enough of working in church, being treated like a chess piece, unable to enjoy service because I was too busy making sure services were running on time, so I just walked away. When you add the actions of Focus on the Family(ex: urging members to pray for rain in Denver on the night of Obama's nomination acceptance speech)to your two stories, it's not hard to understand why some people won't go near a church. And the hardest thing for some church folk to do is see themselves as they really are. I don't like being away from the house of God, and I know there is no such thing as a perfect church, but until we as christians get naked (a term my Discipleship teacher gave to us, telling us to be truthful), how can we talk about God's love if we only show His wrath?

Christina Springer said...

I was raised Catholic. But, I haven't been back to church in years. My soul could never reconcile the history and reality of the church with what I knew to be true about Jesus.

I'm not Christian either. I'm more of a multi- path person. One of these folks that serves as a witness to good and then strives to adapt myself to that model.

I often find myself pushing my feet back from entering the circle of judgement. It is so easy to point a finger at a priest, preacher, rabbi, imam or other holy person skewing reality to their twisted agenda. And then to point the finger and say, "Bad! Awful! Wrong!"

In these times, I have to invite myself to recognize their fragile humanity. To understand that they are in a place where they can not see the true teaching of so many prophets and wise men/women. Because - they are human.

We are so much smaller than divinity. Try as we may to understand the Power/s That Be is not what we were made for. We were made to exercise our free will in conjunction with the gift of knowledge about right action. We were given the ability to discern.

The other day my son said, "Do you ever think that God has us all on puppet strings and moves us around like toys?" And I answered, "That's an idea. It sure feels like that sometimes. But, God made some rules. And he told us what they are. Then, he asked us to choose. That's called free will."

And he said, "But not everybody follows the rules."


"Because sometimes, the rules don't agree with the other rules."


"But there ARE rules."


"Like be nice, share, cooperate, solve problems nicely."


"And sometimes that's hard to do."


"So, we can always walk away when people aren;t really doing the real rules."


"That's what God wants. We gotta follow the real rules."

"At least the way we understand them best."

"Does that mean people who don't follow the rules don't go to heaven?"

"Some people say heaven is being close to God. If you don't follow most of the rules most of the time you go farther from God. And to be near God feels sooooo good."


End of conversation. Children are very wise. I hope my interpretation of the rules gets me closer to God.

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

I rarely go to church for the reasons you talk about, and when I do, it's generally for the music since sermons are hit or miss from one Sunday to the next.

I loved Catholic school, but rejected the Church in early adulthood. Too much hypocrisy and weird rules about priests and nuns not being able to marry and having to remain celibate. These rules evolved to keep the wealth in the Church so that it would not be passed on to heirs, although the official reason was that sex and relationships distracted from the mission.

I tried other churches and tired of the pettiness there. For awhile, I liked and went to one Baptist church a great deal. That minister retired and the next one was a pompous jerk who wasn't about reaching out to the blacks left behind in the community, ie drug addicts, gays, the incarcerated. I stopped going.

My religion: Christian in a loose sense of the word. I don't believe Revelations is an authentic chapter that belongs in the Bible; reads like a psychotic mental patient wrote it and was written by a cat name John 200 years after Jesus had died. Why the Church decided God had really spoken to him is beyond me. Humanity has been suffering from that lunatic's "vision" ever since.

Big Man said...


Two things about homosexuality.

1. My main objection has to be God's word. I believe it's a sin like all of the other sins in the Bible. And it's basically because it's been outlined as such by the Bible which I pledged to follow as part of my faith. There are some rules I wonder about in the Bible, I'm not positive about why they are needed, but I also trust that the Bible accurately relates God's wishes for mankind.

However, I have thought about why homosexuality might be a problem besides just "God says so." One, it conflicts with his primary reason for sexual intercourse, which is to produce childre. Now, I know lots of people have sex without trying to have children. Sometimes that's voluntary, sometimes it's not. But, I think that the fact that homosexual sex has no chance of ever producing offspring brings it into question.

But, mainly, my problems with stem from the Bible clearly stating that it is against God's will. My personal moral code has been developed based on what the Bible says.


I've found that human beings have an amazing ability to rationalize any action to make it acceptable in their minds. This goes for believers and non-believers. From observation, I do not have confidence in the majority of humanity's ability to do the right thing most of the time. I do not have confidence that the strong will protect that weak, or that the majority will take the feelings of the minority into account when making decisions. That just has not been the history of mankind. We seem to be constantly scheming to gain and advantage and move ourselves forward. Most of us seem very willing to abandon any moral code when we feel like that code is interfering with our goals. That's just been my observation. It doesn't mean that all mankind is bad, it just that I think when people make decision based solely on self interest, which is what seems to be a logical choice outside of religion, then things can go horribly wrong.

Also, although many people are not religious, religious tenets guide much of the world. Concepts like charity and forgiveness are wedded to relgions across the world. I think most people don't realize how many religious ideas are part of their worldview.

Des and KIT

Keep the faith.


Your son sounds like an exceptionally wise and well-educateed child. Thank you for that beautiful post. You really are a walking advertisement for home schooling.


Thanks for the kind words. I often seem to have overlapping ideas with the both of you.

older_not_wiser said...

[A] strict adherence to the letter of the law, but not to its Spirit.

That's as succinct an indictment of organized religion as I've ever seen.

I shudder to think what the world would be like if we all lived by our own definitions of what is right and wrong.

Ah, Big Man, but we do. Why do you think their are so many religions? And come to think of it, the results have been pretty shudder-inducing.

As an atheist I am not burdened with the need to reconcile the many confusions and contradictions of religious teaching, and it saddens me to see a thoughtful and intelligent man burning brain cells on what is to me a pointless exercise. But rather than argue against your belief (another pointless exercise) I'll offer you some advice. The best thing about Christianity is the teaching of Jesus. The worst is its obsession with the "next life" as an excuse for tolerating and excusing horrors in this one. Pay attention to what Jesus said and apply it to "this life", the only one that we all can agree we have. You could do a lot worse.

Imhotep said...

"But, I think that the fact that homosexual sex has no chance of ever producing offspring brings it into question."

Big Man, what does that have to do with anything? I don't see how someone enjoying a homosexual lifestyle, how they will influence you or any heterosexual's decision to have children. By your defination, sex should be limited to heteros of child bearing age.

"There are some rules I wonder about in the Bible, I'm not positive about why they are needed, but I also trust that the Bible accurately relates God's wishes for mankind. "

Quite a bit of trust you got there my man. It's hard for me to trust anything (put up as univeral truth) that was written during a time when the best and the brightest "believed" that the earth was flat.

It's equally hard for me to understand why God would be displeased at something he/she created.

Raving Black Lunatic