Is He Christian?
The Love Letter From God.
When Did We Stop Thinking?
When it comes to religion and religious faith; the health of our spirituality and integrity demands that we become like the little child who constantly asks, "Why?" When we stop asking, "Why?," we stop growing. We lose our way. Reality takes a vacation. Denial and self-deception often creep in. And then, slowly but surely, we become what we detest.
We should ask ourselves, "What is nurtured by denial and self-deception? And what often happens when those two ugly siblings take over our thoughts and reasoning capabilities?"
With respect to religion and religious faith, I do not criticize them directly. I am much more critical of the questionable and ghastly deeds we do in the name of our religions, and the intolerant and horrible conclusions we often reach and teach because of our religious faith.
During the Bill Moyers Faith and Reason series of interviews on PBS, a comment made by the author and poet, Margaret Atwood, struck a nerve with me. I may not be interpreting her comments accurately; but she made several statements that indicated she believed what she wants to believe - - - she wants to believe in what is good and decent. She believes what resonates within her. Those thoughts are important with respect to what is written in the following sections.
Is He Christian?
In his book, Why I am Not a Christian (Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, (1957)), Bertrand Russell denies the existance of any god, tells us that the universe is nothing more than the result of physics, tells us that religion has done us more harm than good, tells us that dogma shackles our minds and he places the judgement, wisdom and emotional stability of a Man called Jesus at a very low level. As I read the book many years ago, I wrote quite a few comments in the margins that attacked Russell's logic and belief system. I could see that Russell was criticizing and condemning quite a few dogmatic institutions while promoting his own dogma. In my frame of mind at that time, I disagreed with every point Russell made. I would accept nothing written in that book. I'm sure that if Bertrand Russell would have been alive at that time, the weight of my sophomoric rebuttal would probably not have concerned him. But it made me feel better. Years later, after enduring the struggles of a long spiritual odyssey, a few points in Russell's book started to make sense.
In early 2009, I exchanged a few e mails with a Lutheran minister. She and a few friends had been reading parts of my book, Isaiah's Leper, A Spiritual Odyssey.
Although we did not agree on everything, the minister and I both had questions and mutual concerns on a number of issues with respect to organized religion. In one of her e mails, the minister relayed something one of her friends asked about me. After reading my book, her friend asked, "Is he Christian?" Well! That seemed to be a strange question since I am very clear about my belief in the Christ. The answer should be obvoious. So I sat down and started writing. I was stunned when I saw my answer. I gave a simple, direct, truthful two word answer. My answer was, "Hell, No!"
Then, with no effort, my explanation came out with considerable clarity.
I am not a Christian because I do not want to be something that Jesus would abhor. Jesus would be insulted, repulsed and appalled with much of what we call Christianity, the way Christianity has been imposed, its true Roman Empire origins and the fact that much of Christianity has been (and still is) a political entity cloaked in the vestments of a religion.
As a number of Roman Catholic priests, nuns, Protestant Bishops and lay people have written; Christianity lost its connection with Jesus the moment Rome took over and started killing early Christians who did not and would not believe in the Roman blend of pagan tradition, love of power and specific second and third Century Christian writings. History clearly shows us that the table was the Roman Empire, the cake was paganism and the frosting was Jesus.
To be a follower of the Christ, we must love, seek, hold onto what is good and be tolerant. Any deviations from those requests are not the essence of the Christ, and are doomed to collapse and fail. Fr. Hans Küng has pointed this out so well in his book The Catholic Church, A Short History (Random House, New York, NY (2001)). Former Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong has made the same kinds of statements in his book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die (HarperCollins, San Francisco, CA (1999)). And a Lutheran who teaches in a Catholic university, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer makes a similar statement in the title of his book, Jesus Against Christianity (Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, PA (2001)).
I am not a Christian, and I do not embrace formal or fundamentalist Christianity. When I attend Mass with Christians, I am not participating in a blood sacrifice or funeral for some divine entity. I am celebrating the Christ Who is always in me. I am participating with others who accept Him and love what He truly represents. I am demonstrating my love and respect for those who share that belief. If I receive communion, keeping the last sentence of Luke 22: 19 in mind, I do this in "remembrance of Him." I have great respect for the community, the sacraments, the ministry and those who serve others in a healthy spiritually driven way in the religious life. But I have no use or respect for the institutional-hierarchical elements of Roman Catholicism and other organized religions. With respect to Roman Catholicism, the institutional element is nothing more than a remnant of the Roman Empire political entity hiding behind the disguise or facade of a religion.
As an exercise, start gathering information on the death and destruction that has occurred due to the strong beliefs of those associated with various religions, cultures and political systems; especially those that promote the belief that "they are special," "they are chosen" or "they are the chosen ones." Look at the horrible consequences of those belief systems. If you are not sure where to start, I would recommend the Old Testament. Before you get all the way through Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges; the numbers of men, women and children slaughtered by the ones "chosen" by the Israelite warrior god are staggering. If you want to be the right arm of god in the slaughter of infidels, read the Koran. The Book of Mormon has its own brand of justification for mass slaughter. And for a final reading, give Mein Kampf a try. Look for the parallels or similarities in all of these books. You will find that there is one parallel and similarity that is unmistakable. All of those books are written for "the chosen ones."
Based on its policies and methods over the past eighteen centuries, I am not a Christian. I can do much better than that. I can make a much more constructive contribution with the life I have been given by actually following the teachings of the Christ rather than following the teachings of this corrupted "thing" that has used Him, blasphemed His holy name, misrepresented Him, quoted Him in fraudulent ways and abandoned His teachings.
The Love Letter From God
In my conversations with Fundamentalist Christians; or Christians who regard every word in Scripture as a loving and authentic message from God sent to us through the efforts of various scribes, followers, prophets, political/religious leaders, disciples and apostles; the same words and the same verbal pathway occurs with respect to our conversations on this subject. The conversations often start out with Genesis 3 and Adam and Eve's close relationship with God (apparently they walked with God), Adam and Eve's apparent tendencies toward pride and independence that led to thier disobeying one of God's commands, and the consequence of their "fall" when they are driven out of Paradise.
I am then told that the Bible is a letter from God, a letter of love, that gives us His instructions and His guidance so that we do not fall under the same influence of pride and disobedience that Adam and Eve allowed into their lives. And I am told if we truly believe and follow what is written in this letter, we will be safe and will be saved. Upon hearing this, the first question I often ask is; "Within a very short time period, after experiencing disobedience from just two people who walked with God, experienced and saw His glory, talked to Him directly and heard His every Word; do we believe that this same God would have confidence in the ability of billions of people over millions of years to follow His commands just based on a letter or a bunch of letters written in a book?" And my second question follows; "Do we believe that God is this naive?"
The interchange becomes very heated when the conversation gets more serious and I tell them that the God of love and mercy I believe in, respect and pray to does not play favorites, does not suffer from a serious bi-polar disorder, does not encourage hatred and did not command Israelites to murder approximately 2.5 to 3 million Caananites, Hittites, Amorites, Midianites, Ethopians, etc. for the benefit of a so-called Chosen People.
There are verses in the Bible, Talmud and Koran that claim we have a "jealous God" (Deuteronomy 5: 9 and Exodus 20: 5), statements that imply God is a "deceiver" (Isaiah 45: 6, Jeremiah 4: 6 where Jeremias actually questions god the deceiver, Ezechiel 14: 9,Thessalonians 2: 11, Surah 23: 61 and 64, Surah 44: 142 and 157), statements that imply God "brings down great destruction on an unsuspecting people" (Jeremias 4: 6-10, Surah 8: 12 and 65, and Surah 17: 16), statements claiming that God "creates evil" (Isaiah 45: 7), statements claiming that a loving, merciful and benevolent God curses his own children and actively participates with specially chosen earthly tribes in the total extermination of those who have divergent views and different beliefs - - - "every man, woman, child, ox and ass" - "exterminating the last of them," "leaving none alive," "doomed to destruction," "receiving no mercy" (Joshua 6: 2-21 and 11: 6-9, Exodus 32: 15-28, Numbers 31: 13-18, Soferim 15, Rule 10, Surah 2: 89, Surah 3: 151-152). Who or what came up with all of these God-denegrating insults? And what is their objective?
Often times, the excuse I hear for all of this horror is: "Well, they were all bad people and disobeyed God." Oh? What about the little newly born Caananite babies who were cut in half by the Israelites in their march through the Promised Land? Do we consider those helpless little babies bad disobedient people who deserve a brutal death? What about the old Midianite men and women who welcomed Moses into their camps and, with their sons and grandsons, were later slain under Moses orders (allegedly commanded by God of course). Were they all bad disobedient people? What about the more than one million Ethiopians (2 Chronicles) slain by Asa's army (allegedly under God's directives), were they all bad disobedient people?
Many Christians have told me they believe that the Bible is a letter or love letter from God. When I hear this, I hear and feel their denial and self deception taking over. The Bible is not a love letter. And claiming that God wrote it is a blasphemous insult to a loving and merciful God. And it doesn't matter whether you are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Mormon, Hindu - - - , please examine the many justifications and implications in your sacred writings and teachings. And then start asking embarassing questions about what motivated those writings and teachings. And the first embarassing question you must ask is, "Why?"
When Did We Stop Thinking?
In their book, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire, authors Rita Nakashima, Brock Parker and Rebecca Ann Parker searched for reasons why the crucifix did not appear in churches until the 10th century. They describe a healthy early Christian concept of paradise (as part of both the material world and of the spiritual) and a sharing of the divine life or divinity with the Christ. These early views are valid. In Peter 1: 4 believers in the Christ are described as "partakers of the divine nature" with "Christ in you" (II Corinthians 13: 5 and Colossians 1: 27). John 1: 12 states that Jesus gave "the power of becoming Sons of God to those who believe in His Name." But the spirit and focus of this belief system deteriorated and eventually evolved into something more political. Portions of the early life-affirming and more Christ-like emphasis of Christian faith were apparently overwhelmed by Roman empire-building tendencies; returning to politically motivated foundations that embraced intolerance, violence, terrorist attitudes toward unbelievers and the use of the cross as a sign of terror during the reign of Charlemagne (768-814 A.D.). This was a re-enactment of what transpired under the rule of the Roman Emperors Constantine, Justinian and Theodosius. Rather than a celebration of life, the Eucharistic emphasis became a funeral and concentrated more on the brutal and bloody death of Jesus. As a result, Christian sprituality became even more overwhelmed by the politics, dogma and brutal policies of a corporate religion designed, dictated and enforced by the Roman Empire.
The physician, philosopher and author, Deepak Chopra, has mentioned that he is fond of the saying, "God handed down all the truth, and the Devil said, 'Let me organize it and we will call it religion.' "
In Matthew 15: 3 and 8-9 Jesus expresses his disdain for those who transgress against God because of religious tradition. And in Matthew 23: 1-39, Jesus gives us a very clear view concerning His disgust with the politicized religious leadership and hierarchy of His day. Matthew 22: 39 and John 13: 34-35 are good indicators that Jesus valued and encouraged spirituality far more than organized religion. In those two verses, Jesus asks us to "love one another." It is a simple request. He does not ask us to do the impossible. He does not insist that we like each other. All He asks is that we "love one another" and love our neighbor as ourselves (wish them well, respect their rights, don't kill them, don't steal from them, etc.). Matthew 22: 39 and John 13: 34-35 are rock solid standards for our attitudes and behavior. Similar statements served as standards for many people and cultures from Sumerian to Egyptian to Celtic to Native American. Matthew 22 and John 13 complement the generally accepted principles and protocols of other belief systems and other civilizations; "Love members of society as yourself," (Mithra-Persian) "If it harms no one, do what you feel is best," (Celtic) "Do not lie, and do not bear false witness against your neighbor (Egyptian Book of the Dead, Code of Hammurabi, Code of Eshnunna) and "Ho! Mitakuye Oyasin" or "We are all related!" (Lakota). These are all tied to "tried and true" principles to guide our attitudes and conduct. Collectively these principles or standards give us a very strong message. The message is, "We either live together or we die apart." In the long run, nature will give us no other options.
We often focus too much on religion and not enough on spiritualitiy. Part of our brain appears to be "wired" for religion. So, we might ask, "Where does our spirituality reside?" I believe that spirituality resides in higher places that are in and around us - - - in our spirit, in our soul and in our true links with the Divine. Spirituality should guide, moderate and constrain religion. But the reality of our condition is that religion guides, moderates and constrains our spirituality. By placing too much concentration on religion, we are in danger of losing our souls and our spirit. And in no time at all; as we can see in the Bible, Torah, Talmud, Koran and Book of Mormon; we use our religious belief systems to enslave and/or kill one another with the conviction that we have the active participation and assistance of our gods.
In a television special on religion, former congressman and UN ambassador Andrew Young made the point that we often view ourselves as human beings who are having spiritual experiences. However, Young goes on to state that our viewpoint and frame of mind may be much more correct and healthy if we consider ourselves as spiritual beings who are having human experiences.
Lama Surya Das, the author of Awakening the Buddha Within, focuses on our inner goodness, our connections with others and our spiritual integrity. To appreciate the message he gives with respect to maintaining our spiritual integrity, we might follow the suggestion made by St. Paul in I Thessalonians 5: 21, "But test all things; hold fast that which is good." We might hold on to the higher level spiritual messages found in Matthew 28: 20, Luke 17: 21, Colossians 1: 27 and Thomas 3 where we have the assurance that God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Great Spirit and the Great Power of Nature are All with us and "in us." No matter how alone and isolated we feel, They will never abandon us. They are "in us." And there is no power on the face of this earth that can take Them out.
You may consider me a bit daffy with respect to my next recommendation, but please give it some serious consideration. By following this advice, you just might acquire more insight with respect to the large number of conflicts between organized religion and spirituality. I recommend reading parts of the following books: god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, by Christopher Hitchens (I know! I know! It sounds crazy. But please, just do it.), The End of Faith, by Sam Harris, The Trouble With Islam, by Irshad Manji, What Went Wrong, by Bernard Lewis, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, by John Shelby Spong and Jesus Against Christianity by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. In their own way, each of these authors is challenging and criticizing the ugly, corrupt, intolerant and destructive elements of organized religion that continue to produce so much of the misery and conflict in this world. These authors are not necessarily against God, Jesus, Allah, Isa, etc. What they criticize and condemn are the horrible ways we use God, Jesus, Allah and Isa to do our dirty-work and promote the kind of depravity that would repulse any loving and merciful Divine Power.
The power, glory and mercy of God are often acknowledged and proclaimed in our traditional prayers and ceremonies. However, in our sacred books, we give this god a personality and temperament that often appears to be a mix of Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, Nero and Vlad the Impaler. In the Old Testament, this god allows and sometimes actively participates with the Israelites in a campaign of extermination all over the land of Canaan (about 1.5 million slaughtered, later on, another 1 million slaughtered in Ethiopia) - - - men, women, children, all live stock - - - no survivors. This is the same god, who, in the Book of Kings, gets even with 42 boys after they call the prophet Elijah "baldy" by unleashing one or two bears upon them and tearing everyone of the disrespectful little rascals apart. This is the same god who, in Genesis 22: 9-12, tells Abraham to slaughter his son Isaac - - - and then gives the frightened little kid a reprieve at the last minute. There seems to be a lot of child abuse in the Bible.
Do we simply shrug it all off with the comment, "Strange are the ways of the Lord." Are we willing to surrender our minds to blind acceptance, immerse ourselves in a form of denial, and sing praises to some of this god's outlandish deeds (where he rips apart a lot of what he created, plays favorites, changes his mind, creates evil (or "just a lot of bad stuff" as some appear to prefer in their interpretation of Isaiah 45:7), etc.)? My conscience and respect for the Divine will not allow me to accept many of the disturbing, blasphemous and brutal writings that appear in the so-called "good books" such as the Bible, Torah, Talmud, Koran, Book of Mormon, etc.
Our sacred texts make this God brutal and inconsistent. And then, in the final act of blasphemy, we align ourselves with this personality and temperament and claim our tribe as being "chosen" by God. We are special. God is on our side. Everyone else goes to hell.
Many people and cultures consider themselves as being "chosen ones." That is a claim that encourages malignancy. If we are malignant enough, we may all become "chosen ones," or "ones chosen" who are destined for destruction by our own intolerance, self-deception, denial and blasphemy. Do we think that a loving God would create diversity and then become the bipolar disordered maniac we have made of Him in our so-called sacred texts? Would a loving, just and merciful God decide to smash his toys; abandoning, condemning and destroying many people just to preserve a few who are "chosen?" When our time comes, what kind of excuses are we going to give that explain why we gave into these necrotic belief systems and so willingly insulted, blasphemed and attempted to make fools of God, Jesus, Allah, the Holy Spirit or the Great Spirit?
If we fail to be careful and thoughtful enough, we may be in for a terrifying surprise. Many of the intolerant claims made by our organized religions could eventually turn on us, come back to haunt us and kick us right in our collective behinds. We cannot continue to regard ourselves as "God's chosen ones," "the only ones," "the caretakers of the truth," "the people of God," or "God's soldiers" who are god-ordained to subdue, subjugate or eliminate heretics, infidels, goyim, the unclean, unbelievers, pagans and outsiders. Look around us! The God of this Universe is obviously a God who values diversity and different ways of thinking. If we pay attention to the history, deteriorating conditions and toxic affects associated with Judaism, Christianity and Islam; it is very clear that any belief system that violates God's appreciation for diversity will suffer a "terrible chastisement." And certain followers of those religions may suffer an even worse fate if they do not mend their self-serving and violent ways.
A quote from Irshad Manji applies to all religious belief systems - - - Islam, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Mormonism, etc.; "Why are our lives so small and our lies so big? When did we stop thinking?"
© George D. O'Clock, 2008, 2009, 2010