Archive for the ‘church’ tag
J. Spencer Fluhman, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University, has a piece up on the New York Times website about the backlash from both the evangelical right and the “secular left,” as he terms it, against Mormonism. He said that despite years of persecution, the church has continued to grow in numbers and influence. He claims that
Making Mormons look bad helps others feel good. And because it’s so easy. By imagining Mormons as intolerant rubes, or as heretical deviants, Americans from left and right can imagine they are, by contrast, tolerant, rational and truly Christian. Mitt Romney’s candidacy is only the latest opportunity for such stereotypes to be aired.
In the article, Fluhman, who is a Mormon, described the nature of the various criticisms that have been leveled at the religion. I can’t speak for the evangelic right’s position on Mormonism, but I will address what he has to say about the critiques coming from the secular left. I can only assume he means progressive, non-believers.
Here’s what he had to say, with my comments in red:
For the left, Mormonism often functions as a stand-in for discomfort over religion generally. Discomfort? This religion was invented in the early-1800s in upstate New York by a semiliterate opportunist who wanted to be the next Muhammad for god’s sake. I think “discomfort” is putting it mildly and is not really accurate to begin with. “Distrust” and “contempt” are better words. It doesn’t serve so much as a “stand-in” for the critique of religion in general so much as it simply offers another example of what happens when the imagination is mixed with meaningless ritual, power and man’s seeming unending capacity and willingness to believe anything at all (i.e. Scientology). Mormon religious practice offers a lot of really, well, religious religion: ritual underclothing, baptism for the dead, secret temple rites and “clannishness” (a term invoked in the past in attacks on Catholics and Jews). Any religion looks weird from the outside, but the image of Mormonism seems caught somewhere between perpetual strangeness and strait-laced blandness. Not “weird.” An unnecessary and gross misappropriation of human time and energy.
When a perceived oddity is backed by Mormon money or growing political clout, the left gets jumpy Again, there’s nothing odd about it. What is odd is that people supposedly as intelligent as Mitt Romney and Fluhman could really — I mean really — believe that the end of the world is actually going to take place specifically in Independence, Mo., or that Smith can be trusted in the first place. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell and HBO’s Bill Maher have resorted to caricature, stereotyping and hyperbole in their anti-Mormon attacks. Because the ridiculous deserves just that. Ridicule. Liberals were outraged by Mormon financing of Proposition 8, the 2008 ban on same-sex marriage in California. They scoff at Mormonism’s all-male priesthood. I didn’t really know that, but there’s another strike against it. and ask why church leaders have yet to fully repudiate the racist teachings of previous authorities. And why haven’t they?
The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church.
God and “his” church have had kind of a rough-and-tumble relationship, don’t you think, especially if we consider the Israelites’ disobedience and flirtations with rival gods through most of the Old Testament, and the god of the universe, almost comically, looking as if he is at his wits end and about to pull his proverbial hair out?
Loftus makes the compelling case that
If a human husband said that to his wife, we would classify it as domestic violence. And rightly so. It reflects a view of the wife as property, and the husband as her lord and owner with sovereign rights to inflict punishment on one who has “stolen” from him his exclusive right to “sow his seed” in a “field” that is his property. …
And verbal abuse is considered domestic violence, so Loftus is dead-on.
His comments on the wife and property also hit center, for that is the very message of Christianity, that we are and should be happy serving as slaves to the big brother in the sky, and if we dare look at another slave driver (maybe a more benevolent one, if that’s possible) with a covetous eye, we will be smashed to bits. And yes, I am comfortable calling Christianity both spiritual and physical slavery because the New Testament itself admits it: in a right relationship to Christ, we are, and no doubt must be, totally void of self-thought or action. Thus, to be “sold out” for Christ, as I have heard the phrase turned so many times, is to be a slave to a guy for which there is not a single contemporary source that confirms his existence, much less his benevolence or grace. Not one. Nonsensically, then, evangelicals will openly admit that they are slaves to Christ, although they have somehow convinced themselves, with the false security of bliss waiting for them all the while, that this is actually a desirable thing.
I posted this on Facebook earlier. One of the most powerful versions of “I Alone” from the band +Live+ I have ever heard. It’s as if the band and audience were in church on that night. For all practical purposes, they were in church. A congregation of believers in truth and beauty.
I’ll post unedited responses from believers or nonbelievers on any or all of these questions if anyone cares to chime in.
Without further adieu:
- What kind of god gives humans reasoning power and then sets up a system in which millions will be punished forever for using their supposedly god-given reasoning power?
- How can God be both merciful and just? How can God be both all-loving and omnipotent?
- How could an all-loving god have created humans knowing about the centuries of misery they would endure because of their “choice” to disobey him in the desert? How could an all-loving god have created humans knowing that millions would not accept him based on lack of evidence and a poorly constructed holy book?
- Why did an omniscient and all-powerful god allow Satan into the Garden? Was this to test man by placing a tree in the Garden and then saying, “Don’t touch?” How can an all-loving god be that cruel? How could an all-loving god do all of that to Job and still live with himself? How can an all-loving god ask anyone to sacrifice their son to prove their devotion?
- What kind of loving father demands you love him or face the fire if you don’t? What kind of loving father demands you pass spiritual tests (Job, Abraham) to show your devotion?
- What kind of loving father says you have free will but gives you only two options on which to exercise that free will? Is free will really free will when the only two options are belief (heaven) and nonbelief (hell)? Isn’t that the definition of blackmail?
- What kind of loving father sends his son on a mission of martydom, when, presumably, if he was all-powerful and all-knowing, he could have come up with a more humane way? Or, couldn’t he simply say that all sins are forgiven outright? Why is God obsessed with blood sacrifice? What’s so special about blood sacrifice for the atonement of sin? If he’s all-loving, can’t he just forgive people? If he has this limitation, can he still be all-powerful?
- How could an omniscient and all-powerful god let an obviously cobbled together work like the Bible be passed down to us as his authoritative word to humans? Couldn’t he have used his power to make sure that the Bible was non-contradictory, free from scientific and mathematical errors and not used to advance slavery, witch burning, the Crusades and the denial of condoms to impoverished people in Africa? Does God feel guilt that many innocent people were killed in his name or because their supposed actions were condoned in the Bible?
- How could a god of love exist alongside Satan and his minions? Why doesn’t God use his power to crush Satan and his minions right now? What’s the hold up? Why didn’t he take care of matters immediately when Lucifer supposedly tried to seize power? Presumably, couldn’t he have crushed Satan then and there rather than cast him into hell, thus saving a lot of time and trouble of creating man, then watching man be tempted, then watching man suffer thousands of years of famine and wars, then coming up with a new covenant, then watching his son die a horrible death for our sins, sins that God knew we would commit before creating us, the whole bloody scenario also being fully in the mind of God before he created the first man? Is that logical or moral?
- How moral is the notion of vicarious redemption?
Or, at least for some.
Here is an interesting tidbit related to Halloween that I thought I would bring to light before the month turns over in about an hour.
On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther pinned his famous 95 theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, to protest, among other Catholic practices, the sale of indulgences, which allowed believers to be absolved of their sins via payment. Of course, in Luther’s day, there was nothing quite like the modern Halloween, but elements of it, including costumes and bonfires, were probably already part of the national conscious in parts of Europe.
The roots of Halloween as we know it likely began with the Celtic festival known as Samhain, which finds its origin in the Old Irish word meaning the end of summer. As lore goes, the Celts believed that on Samhain, which was presumably held between Oct. 31-Nov. 1, the border that separates the physical world from the “otherworld” — I take this to mean “spiritual world” — became permeable, thus spirits could more readily slip into this one. Apparently, the wearing of costumes fended off the “bad” spirits from bleeding through and affecting things in this world or the costumes made people appear to be bad spirits, as if the spirits couldn’t see through the guise.
Regardless, “Halloween” was thought to have been used first in the 16th century as a variation of All Hallows Eve, which was the day before All Hallows Day or All Saints Day, which, in contrast to the lore behind Halloween, was meant to be a celebration of all saints, both living and not. And it’s here that we come back to Luther.
It’s probably no accident that Luther chose All Hallows Eve to post his treatise on the door of All Saints Church, and we can outline the rest of the story. Luther’s actions laid the foundation for what came to be known as the Protestant Reformation, which, of course, paved the way for the Presbyterians, Wesleyans, Baptists, Quakers, Calvinists and all the rest to found their own separate doctrines. Looking back, it’s quite necessary to note that in Protestant circles today, from Methodists to Baptists to Presbyterians, almost all of those believers now seem to assume that Protestantism was the original and major religion that took root following the supposed proselytizing recounted in Acts.
Catholicism, however, was the church that eventually evolved and legalized in 313 A.D., and it’s only because of Luther, and John Calvin, that Protestantism came to be. Carried to the end, it’s no stretch to suggest that without figures like Luther, Calvin or similar figures, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists and others might now be Catholic Christians because that’s really the only Christian establishment that existed prior to the 16th century. Current Protestant thinking is peculiar indeed, since many of the more fervent evangelicals today suggest, and even teach, that Catholicism is misguided or outright in error and that Protestantism is the true and right religion, when in fact, for about 1,280 years, Catholicism was the only path to Christianity.
And so, thankfully, we hear that Terry Jones, the much-condemned pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., will not, at least in the immediate future, oversee a Koran book-burning party that would have, according to any person with a functioning brain, and also to senior officials in the U.S. Military, sparked widespread protest and possibly widespread harm to American soldiers and even other Americans.
As is The New York Times‘ typical style, the newspaper is out ahead of any other potential angles related to this story. Surrounding this foray is a sense that Dove World Outreach Center is attempting, in a quite macabre and dangerous way, to gain some notoriety for itself. As we have already seen (see my related post) the congregation numbers about 50 people. Most very active but humble congregations range from 100-1,000 members, some more. But in this case, we are talking about a 50-person congregation. That’s a small number.
As the Times notes, “Mr. Jones was able to put himself at the center of those issues by using the news lull of summer and the demands of a 24-hour news cycle to promote his anti-Islam cause. He said he consented to more than 150 interview requests in July and August … By the middle of this week, the planned Koran burning was the lead story on some network newscasts, and topic No. 1 on cable news – an extraordinary amount of attention for a marginal figure with a very small following.”
Thus, correctly, the Times notes that a very, very – and I would add another “very” – small congregation that matters not in any substantial way has, for some reason, garnered the attention of not only the leader of the free world, but of the international community.
Since Jones’ plan of Koran-burning is problematic on so many levels, to the extent that it could have put his congregation and many Americans in jeopardy, it leads me to believe that it was, at least on some level, a subversive and also a very dumb and selfish attempt to gain attention for his very small church as much as anything else.
The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan today asked what he considers some poignant questions for believers on the problem of finding ways to make the language of faith, particularly the Christian one, fresh for the modern mind.
As Sullivan, a believer, said:
I think of the term “incarnation” – a word that has come to seem like tired dogma. But what can it possibly mean that God became man? How is that different from God infusing all of us with love and hope and sometimes such overwhelming power that we lose all sense of ourselves? What made Jesus so different, so more remarkable than all the rest of us sons and daughters of God? To non-believers I know this must seem just insane; for those of us trying to get past the staleness of our faith, it’s a pressing challenge.
The revival in religion will be a rhetorical problem — new persuasive words for defaced or degraded ones.
So let me understand this correctly. The problem is not the message delivered but how the message is delivered? And who do we think could have possibly been responsible for these defaced and degraded words? Certainly not the unbelievers. It could have only been the people who use such words the most: righteousness, redemption, sin, sacrifice, incarnation, repentance, and the like. I’m not sure what words we could bring to bear to replace or improve on these tried and true truisms.
I don’t think Sullivan’s questions sound insane, and I have often thought about this topic, both as a believer and as a nonbeliever. I think the problem probably goes beyond rhetoric. (Or not, since those who will be taken to belief will believe so long as the language, whatever that may be, and the message inspires or compels them to do so.) For the rest of us, the issue goes beyond mere words because religion, whichever of the big three we choose, has not moved on in hundreds, or at least two cases, thousands of years. While science, astronomy, medicine, biology, physics and astrophysics offers us new wonders on a daily basis, and nature every second if we care to observe it, religion has just the one, for, as the Bible says, the message is the same yesterday, now and forever. I don’t think one has to be very imaginative to realize how that could, indeed, get quite worn out after these 2,000 years of preaching on it with no new information or revelation whatsoever, especially since the information that is allegedly divined appears cobbled together and contradictory by semi-literate folks milling around in the desert, not in China or other areas where people could read. And for those of us (I guess Sullivan isn’t in this category) who haven’t experienced God
infusing all of us with love and hope and sometimes such overwhelming power that we lose all sense of ourselves …
the crisis of faith isn’t just a rhetorical or semantical problem. It’s a real problem.
I was deeply saddened this week by the story of a particular person, I will call her Mary (A name often joined with this woman’s real name), whom I corresponded with briefly on a forum I frequent. Mary, who was once, I presume, evangelical herself, is married to an equally evangelical man. Mary’s husband recently caught her perusing a book on evolution, which raised his suspicions (Heaven forbid anyone try to learn any real, non-fanciful discoveries about the world!).
Anyway, on Friday, Mary’s evangelical husband texted her asking if she was doubting (meaning, doubting God) and that if she was, in Mary’s words, “it would lower his opinion of me and that he would probably want a divorce.” He wrote this, coldy, in a text message.
Mary later wrote:
We messaged back and forth and I admitted my doubts and I sent him a letter explaining the changes in my beliefs.
My husband just called me on the phone and said basically the same thing, “If I’d have known that you weren’t going to believe I never would have married you.”
Then he said, “I love you but you’re a different person now and you’ve been lying to me about who you are. I don’t respect you anymore. I don’t feel I can trust you with the kids. What attracted me to you was your faith in God and now I’m not attracted to you anymore. You might as well have slept with somebody else because you broke my heart today.”
I’m shattered and speechless. What am I going to do?
Presumably, as a fellow reader said, something must have attracted this person to Mary other than her belief in God. Her smile. Her smarts. Her quick wits. Something. But the hurtful words: ”What attracted me to you was your faith in God and now I’m not attracted to you anymore.” fills me with despair, and filled Mary with the words “shattered and speechless.” Such is the power of religion to destroy relationships and most everything else, as one commenter noted, including, specifically:
honesty, respect, love for one’s neighbor, patience, the search for truth, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, and every other fruit of the Holy Spirit.
One sympathetic poster referenced I Corinthians 7:13-16, and it is, indeed, poignant :
13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. F18 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how F19 knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
If her faith in God truly attracted this person to Mary, then why didn’t he bypass this woman and marry God, one can’t help but ask?
In news earlier this month, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America moved to allow people to serve as pastors if they are in “faithful, committed same-gender relationships.”
The pivotal question on othis issue immediately struck me, as it apparently did the USA Today column writer of “When it comes to gays, what would Luther do?”
Mary Zeiss Stange, in the above article, generally surmised that, given how the man’s “theological mind worked,” Martin Luther would not take a negative view of homosexuality were he around today, as have other evangelics, themselves products of modernity. As Stange writes,
Like his role model Paul (presumably, the one from Tarsus), Luther was a product of the social prejudices of his time and culture: a time when the concepts of homosexuality as an “orientation” or a “lifestyle” were still unheard of. But would the man whose break from Roman Catholicism involved a revolutionary rethinking of the role of sexuality in human relationships take such a negative view of homosexuality today? Most probably, given the way his theological mind worked, he would not.
But as the referenced article, “Sodomy in Reformation Germany and Switzerland, 1400-1600″ notes,
And, from the early stages of the movement, German Reformers, like Luther, used these “polemics against sodomy” as a weapon against Rome, which in turn led to “an almost exclusively Protestant discourse” about the spiritual profit of marriage (p. 177).
Yet, I’m not convinced these “polemics against sodomy” were used as anything other than rhetorical tools against the Catholic Church and sincere arguments for loving, same-sex relationships. As Stange says, the concepts of homosexuality as some sort of “orientation” or “lifestyle” were not in public thought. But, it does seem that Luther was fairly silent on the topic, if not altogether mute. I own a 506-page book entitled, “Martin Luther: Selections from his writings edited and with an introduction” (by John Dillenberger, Doubleday, 1961) and there is not one word on sexuality or homosexuality. There does appear a few words on the town of Sodom, which I will recount here:
I have truly despised your see, the Roman Curia, which, however, neither you nor anyone else can deny is more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom ever was, and which, as far as I can see, is characterized by a completely depraved, hopeless, and notorious godlessness. (page 45)
Wherefore even by this we may plainly see the inestimable patience of God, in that he hath not long ago destroyed the whole Papacy, and consumed it with fire and brimstone, as he did Sodom and Gomorrah. (pages 115-116)
Stange does note that in the Augsburg Confession of 1530, Luther said that
biblical references that depart from New Testament inclusiveness — abstaining from eating pork, for example, or requiring male circumcision — not only can but should be set aside.
Stange also makes the claim that a
21st century Luther would affirm the ordination of such persons, as in line with his theology of the “priesthood of all believers.”
I feel compelled to address the anachronistic problems with such a statement. Luther is only important to us in his historical context. Were he alive today, he would not be Martin Luther, the renowned church reformer, he may be some important church figure, but he would be altogether a different person. We can make conjectures about how he may feel about current topics of the day, but we cannot resurrect him and then juxtapose modern-day topics or issues onto the man. I feel we can only deal with his works as they appear in his time and no other. So the question, “What would Martin Luther do” only works if we assume he’s still Luther, the historical reformer, not Luther, the modern day reformer. Thus, we can only work from the man’s own writings in his day and try to come to some sort of conclusion about how he might have felt. But it goes without saying, we certainly can not presume a modern-day incarnation.
His opinions on the Old and New testaments (the former more accurately titled the Hebrew Bible) are quite interesting, as he seemed to give preference to New Testament teachings of the new law versus the old. Given that, were we to take the “new law” as the one to be followed, Christ himself doesn’t say a word about homosexuality, while the old one says much about sodomy. Further, if homosexuality is innate in some people, what does that say about God, who apparently created the same folks he would come to reject? (As a side note, the point about homosexuality is undebatable at this juncture.) If homosexuality is not innate at the gene level, it is at least innate at the hormone level, where a meager amount of testosterone in some guys could trigger sentiments toward gayness, while a small amount of estrogen in females could render the same. Regardless, even if that isn’t true and something else is the cause of gayness, there is no reason to believe gayness, with all the prejudice and mockery gay folks must face, is desired by them. Indeed, if I thought I was gay, but if I knew I would face the loss of my family and friends for “coming out,” I would pretend otherwise. So, there is no great joy or freedom in “coming out.” Actually, there is much hardship in doing so. Thus, arguments that claim folks prefer to be gay (I can’t imagine why) break down.