Friday, February 27, 2009

God Wants You To Read This Post

Today's post is brought to you by Rachel Held Evans, who is currently working on her first book for Zondervan.  Enjoy!

I've been a Christian long enough to know that the best way to avoid unwanted advice is to play the God card. Want to blow your savings on a trip to Vegas? Just explain to your parents that God is leading you to minister among the sinners. Want to break up with your current boyfriend because you've got your eye on another? Try, "It's not you. It's God." Want to justify a career move, a relocation, a big family decision, or a new purchase? Tell anyone who questions you to take it up with God because it was His call, not yours. Want to avoid taking responsibility when things don't go as planned? Place the burden on a higher power and no one will blame you for your mistakes.

Trust me. It works. In fact, I've gotten pretty good at playing the God card over the years. I've even found ways to gently slip it into my conversations in order to appear spiritual without being overt. For example, by calling the creative financing involved in the purchase of my new gas-guzzling SUV a "blessing," I avoid uncomfortable questions about whether I really needed a third vehicle in my driveway to begin with. Clearly, it was a gift from God. No one is going to challenge His act of mercy and benevolence.

Other useful words and phrases include: "calling" (It is my calling to quit school and start a band), "peace" (I feel an inner peace about my decision to date my best friend's ex), and "laid it on my heart" (God has laid it on my heart to tell you you're an idiot.)

Of course, playing the God card is pretty simple until someone plays it on you. It's always a bit awkward when God tells you to do a Bible study on the book of Romans and your co-leader to do a Bible study on the book of Revelation. (In that situation I would recommend recruiting a friend whose affinity for the Romans Road can serve as a confirmation of God's will in the matter. "Seeking confirmation" is code for finding someone who agrees with you.)

But be warned that playing the God card can sometimes lead to heated discussions, like when He seems to want both John McCain and Barack Obama to be president. It's inevitable that some know-it-all will ask how God could be both for the war and against it, both for amnesty and against it, both a Democrat and a Republican-(making Him out to be some sort of divine flip-flopper, if you ask me.) Just ignore it, and go on "seeking confirmation" among friends who agree with you politically.  It's important to surround yourself with people like you so that God
tells everyone basically the same thing.

You see, playing the God card is a centuries-honored tradition, one we certainly don't want to neglect. During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy claimed the favor of God, with Christians from the South using the Bible to support their ownership of slaves. The Crusades of the Middle Ages were often justified by the notion that God wanted to usher in His kingdom through the conquering of non-Christian people.  When Galileo suggested that the earth might move, the Church gently reminded him that God wanted it to stay still. Our history proves that playing the God card can help you get what you want.

I would only caution that you refrain from playing the God card when talking with non-Christians. For some reason, these folks seem to think it is somehow disingenuous to use God to support your decisions, a sin comparable to taking His name in vain. But what do they know?

Otherwise, feel free to play the God card when you don't want to answer uncomfortable questions or take responsibility for your actions. I'll be happy to serve as confirmation of God's will anytime you need - unless of course He's told me something different.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oh I Know How He Feels...

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Ministers Black Veil

A minister who had been practicing at a large Christian church for several years (basically most of his life) told the congregation one Sunday that he did not believe Jesus performed any miracles, and further he had doubts about the whole idea of the Trinity—specifically he did not believe that Jesus Christ belonged in it. This was a full on denominational minister who swore on the Bible to believe in foundational truths about what the Bible taught.

I had a lot of anger built up inside for many years after that; it’s fine for people to have doubt, confusion, and complete disbelief about God—but to spend large portion of your life preaching to people what you so strongly believe only to say it was a lie, can put a lot an emotions through a person. I was seventeen at the time, and I suppose a lot of my anger came from the naivety of my youth—I was old enough to know why I believed, but too young to understand the amount of profane contractions that went into building any church.

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a short story that I have long considered one of the greatest ever wrote, and which message has never left me; it’s called The Ministers Black Veil. For those unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a minister who one day shows up wearing a black veil to church; he delivers a sermon on secret sin, and the veil thus symbolizes what we each use to hide our sins from the world. He continues wearing the veil, but never reveals what his secret sin is—he doesn’t have to, because it really doesn’t matter; the point is there’s something inside all of us that we fear telling even those who we confide everything in.

I suppose the minister revealing how he really felt about Jesus was his way of unleashing his secret sin to the church; he no longer had to wear the secret veil, and I suppose there is some courage in that.

I left the church after the minister’s comment, but I was alone. My parents, their friends, my friends all said the same thing, “I think we just misunderstood what he was saying.” I’m not sure if I would call that denial as much as sticking up for the church. When he made the comments several more times, people finally began to question what he meant by it, and even when he made it clear, most people didn’t leave. You just didn’t do that to your church—you waited it out because things would eventually change.

I have never been to a church that didn’t have this bizarre blend of sacred and profane. It’s as if for the Holy to dwell in the building, there must be whispers of scandal. If that’s true, however, then why go? What’s the point of church if it only introduces someone with deep faith to these profane contradictions or black veils? How is it not better leading a spiritual life that is free from the confines of church?

It’s complicated to understand, but, I think we need the profane just as much as we need the sacred and the holy. Sin separates us from God, but ultimately it brings us closer to him.

Obviously, there are some things worth leaving a church over and I still believe that the minister’s crisis of faith was one of them. The lesser profane walls of the church—gossip, slander, and anger, just to name a few—are the ones that ultimately let people see faith in action through forgiveness. It is in those bad times—the times that the black veils of the church are exposed—that we can each be tested to know what it really means to forgive and move on.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What's in God's iPod?

I'm not going to lie. I used to read those Christian music recommendation guides. For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, many Christian bookstores carry these free music guides that are supposed to help you get into Christian music. On one side of the page there was a list of popular secular artists, and then on the other side were the "Christian versions." For example, if you're a James Taylor fan, then according to the guide you would like Chris Rice and Steven Curtis Chapman. Sometimes I found some pretty good bands, like mewithoutYou, Starflyer 59, and Underoath.* Some, on the other hand, were complete duds.**

I used to feel really guilty about listening to secular music. Shortly after my conversion I started going to my then-girlfriend's church, a conservative church that frequently spoke in tongues.*** I would go to their Wednesday night Bible with a different band t-shirt each week: Pink Floyd, Bad Brains, Smashing Pumpkins, etc. No one said I couldn't wear those shirts (except, of course, for Sundays), but a couple of members would say things, "Let's help you get rid of those old CDs and give you some new ones."

I've yet to read anywhere in the Bible that says Christians are only supposed to listen to Michael W. Smith. Most Christian-music-only advocates love to quote Philippians 4:8: "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." But to me, that quote doesn't specifically say only listen to gospel. Scripture says to focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, etc.

There are some things that I conscientiously don't listen to. I refuse to listen to any music that glorifies violence, sexism, homophobia, racism, or materialism.***** Profanity doesn't bother me, although saying the f-word in every other line does make one sound ignorant.

But for the most part, I'm open to anything that conveys truth and beauty. That's what great art is supposed to do, right? Art is a mirror reflecting how we relate to this life and each other. So whether it's Pink Floyd or DC Talk, it doesn't matter to me. What matters most is that the music is real.

*Pretty much anything on the Tooth and Nail label
**For example, The Huntingtons tried way too hard to be like the Ramones
***I'll get more into this later.
****Which means I don't listen to any gangsta rap. I don't care how well those guys can flow.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Un-Whiskey Priest

For reasons that would take much too long to explain, I was paired with a semi-retired priest to write my college senior term paper, which was about the evolution of Christian themes as found in the modern novel as opposed to the post-modern novel—you’d really have to read the paper to understand what I mean by that.

I am not Catholic, I have never been Catholic, and the thought of having one on one, closed door, private time with a priest on the heels of one of several priest molestations cases was a bit nerving. But I needed to do it to do it if I wanted a degree.

I meant the priest at his parish, and was almost run out of the church office by a teenage receptionist because I refused to refer to the teacher as “Father.” It wasn’t that I was trying to insult the guy—I just didn’t see why I had to call him that when I didn’t believe in the church’s teachings on authority; and if he wanted me to call him “Father,” I, at the very least, wanted wine and a wafer out of deal—something the teenage receptionist wasn’t willing to give up even though I knew they had a whole cabinet full of it in the church.

Once in the office, the priest told me in a voice just a little too creepy to “shut the door;” at that moment, I knew what would come next, and I regretted not wearing two sets of boxers. In hindsight, I was just a bit paranoid, because actually what came next was an hour long conversation about novels, and in particular which ones I would want to analyze during the semester. By the end of the appointment, we came up with a list of about 50 books, which came out to 2 or 3 books a week. I wondered afterwards if a good Catholic boy would have had this much reading to do.

Throughout the semester I would report back to the priest on a bi-weekly base. As we got to know each other more, our conversations got deeper until he was finally ready to reveal something he had revealed to few people—certainly known of the good Catholic students who had come to him for counsel. His secret? He wanted to write a novel—something that had never been done before—something scandalous and that would have the entire world talking—something that would shock people, but at the same time change their lives.

I’m sure your mind is swirling as much as mine was about what his idea could possibly be—a confessional about a priest who had did something vile? A work of fiction similar to the Da Vinci Code? One of the books I read that semester was Greene’s The Power and the Glory about a whiskey Priest in Mexico; this was probably the most shocking (and powerfully moving) portrayals of a priest I had ever read, so I was sitting on the edge of my seat for him to say what his idea was…and then he said it.

He wanted to write a novel about a Priest who had always loved a nun, but had never been able to do anything about it.

I expected a scandal when I began going to the parish; an entire semester of prolong expectation and that was what I got? I was let down. But at least my paper past and I was able to graduate at the end of the semester.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Battle of Words

The following is an article I originally wrote for Relevant Magazine.

My friend Max used to work at a small kitchen supply store that hardly had any business, so I would often visit him. He’s a very smart guy who has a lot of well thought out ideas about politics, art and life. I may not always agree with him, but I’m always fascinated to hear what he has to say, and end up thinking about things I had never thought of before.

One afternoon while we were chatting, the cleaning lady came in to pick up a key. Before she left she mentioned to us that she was having trouble finding a second job for the summer. “It’s because all the good jobs are going to those daggone Mexicans,” she said.

“Well,” Max said, “if you were living in extreme poverty, wouldn’t you take any job you could to feed your family?”

“But I pay my taxes,” stated the cleaning lady. “I can’t get a break like these Mexicans who are sneaking over here and stealing our jobs.”

The debate went on like this until it started getting personal. At one point, the cleaning lady accused Max’s construction worker father of hiring illegal immigrants. Max calmly tried to explain that, since his dad was just a foreman, he had no say in the hiring process. The cleaning lady rolled her eyes as if Max was talking nonsense. After what felt like an hour, the cleaning lady finally left. Max could not have been happier.

I don’t want to start any debates about immigration. I mention this only because it reminds me of how much people want to prove that they are right and everyone else is wrong.

Perhaps it comes from the natural drive for self-preservation. As you might remember from biology, all creatures have a fight-or-flight defense mechanism. When danger arises— such as a hungry tiger looking for dinner—the animal puffs up and gets ready to either fight or run away. Without this inherent trait, defeat would be all too easy.

But in his comfortable suburban existence, modern man doesn’t have as much to worry about as wild animals. We still face threats, of course: neighborhood violence, robbers and overdevelopment, to name a few. But nothing as immediate and threatening as, say, a jaguar about to eat you. So what do we do with this natural defense mechanism?

Use it for other situations, like debates.

We humans like to define ourselves by our beliefs. Whether they are political, religious or social, our beliefs shape our personality and view of the world. When someone challenges our beliefs, everything that defines who we are is threatened. That’s when the old fight-or-flight kicks in.

Nowhere have I seen this more than in online Christian forums. When I first became a Christian, I was excited to learn from fellow believers all over the web and share my walk with them. Over the years, however, I’ve been seeing more and more arguments, debates and name-calling. It’s either one side accusing another of being “fundamentalist Pharisees” or someone being called a “liberal heathen.” And I, unfortunately, have participated in such arguments. So much for One God, One Faith, One Baptism.

I remember one person in particular, who used to frequent a Christian community on LiveJournal. Her posts were always of the fundamentalist persuasion. She claimed that gays were ruining families, Democrats were enemies of God and the Catholic Church distorted the Gospel. Whenever someone disagreed with her, she accused them of not reading their Bible enough or being “liberal heathens.” This was a person who was not happy until she had proven that she was right and everyone else was wrong. (This is also someone who recently wrote a blog entry suggesting that Barack Obama might be the Antichrist.)

But is all this arguing really worth it? Are we really teaching and correcting one another, or are we just tearing each other apart? The Bible says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). I don’t know about you, but to me arguing and name-calling are not very helpful.

All of us come from different backgrounds and experiences. What if we took the time to hear each other’s stories to see where we all come from? To really serve someone, you have to put yourself in their proverbial shoes. In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “To the Jews I became like a Jew to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so as to win those under the law” (9:20). We don’t have to agree with each other, but we can definitely understand each other better. The more we get to know each other, the better we can serve one another.

I pray for a great sense of unity within the Body of Christ. May we realize that we are all learning how all of this works, and that no one is perfect. And I’m praying for myself as much as I am praying for the Church.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Caught In The Act

On my wedding day, I felt I could barely make eye contact with my guests. I felt like they were staring at me and my new husband and thinking one thing, and one thing only, "They are going to do IT". For all I know they were thinking when the wedding will be over so they can go home, but I was so ashamed of this idea. Of course we were going to do IT. That's what married couples do. So why was I so ashamed of this?

I grew up in a home where my mom was open when it came to the birds and bees. It was more like she would tell me, and I would be too embarrassed to ask questions, or respond to the fact that she just told me what fellatio was. I was taught that sex can be a beautiful act, but deep down inside I felt so awful talking openly about it.

I have always been easily embarrassed growing up, especially about sex, and this way of thinking grew with me as I became older. I received a book on Christian sex. “Christian sex? Do we have to do it on a cross? Do we have to listen to Focus on the Family while I do it?” Those silly questions were my awareness to how Christians viewed sex. If books had to be written about how Christians have sex, then there is something wrong with this.

Sex, like anything else, can be abused. Pornography is a perfect example. I have seen it ruin the lives of friends and I have heard many stories of ruining families. I am not talking about that type of lustful sex, I am talking about just sex. The kind that makes Christians so uncomfortable, they have to place it in a topic completely of their own in the book store. Being married for less than a year, the sex I have, I’ll admit is paramount. It is like nothing else. It was difficult in the beginning because I felt unholy or like James Dobson had to be whispering principles of conservative Christian living in the background.

Rob Bell released a book in 2007 titled “Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality”. I just recently read it and it has helped me realize, of course God created sex, but He created it to be amazing, not agonizing. He writes how sexuality and spirituality is a perfect pair because if you don’t have both, as a married couple, you are disconnected. I completely agree from personal evidence in my marriage. If I felt out of touch with God, I felt out of touch with my husband. My husband and I don’t pray before sex or do anything too borderline weird. However, we do appreciate sharing our spirituality as much as our bodies.

Song of Songs is one of the most favored books of the Bible. It is intimate, relinquishes what sex should be like (although Solomon had more than one wife, so maybe that is why it was good!) and a lot of Christians choose to ignore it because it makes them excruciating. Maybe that is why it’s my favorite.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Waco Under Fire, Part Two

--Click Here to See the First Half of This Post--

Things went well early on in the negotiations between the Davidians and the FBI; the FBI even gets Koresh to release 19 children as a sign of good faith. If this wasn't a sign that it could have been involved peacefully, then I don't know what is! But eventually the direction of the FBI changes, and they decide to use more drastic tactics to get them out. It was fascinating and tragic to see how the outlook might have very well been different if the agencies had tried to form a better understanding of the movement instead of going in like cowboys.

To this day ask any random person who knows about Waco if it was a mass suicide, and they will likely say yes. Vice President Joe Biden even makes a cameo in the Waco documentary where he supports the claim that it was mass suicide. After years of people studying the case, it’s now believed that it’s very well possible that it was not suicide at all.

The problem with Waco, the problem with a lot of things that involve religion, is it's handled by people with military background and not religious background.

There was a dispute between the FBI negotiator and some of the FBI leaders, because the negotiator believed he could get Koresh to come out by simply talking to him—and he probably could have. The ones who made the decisions, however, believe the best way to get them out was to use psychological warfare. It just didn't make sense; to deal with someone who is unstable, you have to get them to trust that you can help you—you can't do that by blaring loud music all through the night and having agents (yes agents) drop their pants and mooning the women and children (they had footage of this).

The documentary shows disturbing infrared footage of the FBI gassing them out of compound while FBI agents outside the compound fired rounds of ammunition into the building. So basically the people had to make a decision--be burned alive or get shot. There's even footage of what analysis believe is a man in the compound getting accidentally run over by a tank.

So did the FBI kill them or was it mass suicide? You can make the case either way, but the most important thing the documentary showed was excessive force was used, and people didn't have to die.

One of the reasons that Koresh remained inside was he said he was still working on decoding his seven seals vision. The day the FBI went in to gas them out, Koresh had finished (there is physical proof of this), and the negotiator believe that he was ready to come out because his mission was over. Not a single person who survived said that they had been give orders by Koresh to kill themselves. The reality is, they probably saw no way out and killed themselves so they wouldn't have to suffer, and they did so believing that they would be with God in heaven for doing it.

Koresh was not an innocent man; if he had been brought to jail and stood trial, he probably would have been put away on child molestation charges (on top of a number of others). Because of, however, the government’s complete disregard to attempt to understand the movement’s belief dozens of innocent people died—including children.

So what did the government learn? It seems like nothing, because for eight years with ex-President Bush we did not make enough of an attempt to understand Islam. Again and again, it's gun-ho tactics over peaceful ones.

It's unfortunate that often when we do not understand the beliefs of a person, we mark them as insane. David Koresh wasn't insane, Jim Jones wasn't insane, Joseph Smith wasn't insane—but all are perfect examples of people who were poked and pushed to the point that they went on the defensive.

You would think that things feel apart for the Davidians; that they simply were broken and defeated and reentered the world again--you would be wrong. The fact that the government basically attacked the Davidians unlawfully only assured them of the fact that the government was against them, and it was their God given mission to endure. Here's the Davidians (un)happy ending:

Several of the people who escape and went to prison for their participation in assaulting federal officers during the raid still believe and follow the Davidian movement—all of them how now been released from prison. The Davidians still alive believed that Koresh would return to Earth one day; the first prediction was that he would come back 1,335 days after his death on December 14, 1996; this didn't happen, so they changed it to August 6, 2000; that didn't happen either, so they now have two predictions: one, March 2012, and, two, there is no set date, but he will return. Koresh's own mother, Bonnie Clark Haldeman, was stabbed to death by (allegedly) her sister early this year on January 23. I wasn't able to find what happened to my former teacher’s daughter, but I imagine even years of counseling can't correct the pain that one new age movement inflicted on her life.

To those who say that stuff like this doesn't happen anymore--it happens even in the most mainstream situations. Not to long ago California had an initiative to ban gay marriage; watch some of the rallies--look at the hatred in people's eyes as they chant their views--on both sides of the fence. Instead of stopping, for just a second, to realize why others believe what they believe, there was utter hatred. If people believed one way, then they believed with passion that the other side was wrong, and they didn't even know why the other side believed what they did. Here's the reality: both sides of that debate are right, and that's why it's so hard for there to be resolution.

Conflicts continue to rise up everywhere in the world not because there are so many people who believe so many different things, but because there are so many people who believe they are right and everyone else is wrong—who use the gung-ho tactics instead of the peaceful ones—and who try to forcefully make others believe the same way.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Waco Under Fire, Part One

Ms. Jewell taught seventh grade keyboarding. She always found games to make typing enjoyable. She died the year after I had her class in Waco, Texas—part of the Branch Davidian cult. I have not thought about Ms. Jewell for some time, but my memories were recently rekindled when I watched the documentary Waco: Rules of Engagement. As I wrote this, I found I had lots to say, so I’ve broken this post up into to separate blogs; the second half will be posted tomorrow.

There were no hints from her that her life was troubled; she took quite a few sick days (perhaps to deal with the custody battle between her ex-husband, who found out his 12 year old daughter was pledged to be married to David Koresh; he won and her daughter later testified before Congress that Koresh molested her while reading the Bible to her.), but that was it. I would never have suspected she was involved in a church several miles away in La Verne preparing to leave for Waco, Texas.

Even today, whenever I hear a story on Waco I always instantly think of Ms. Jewell, a soft spoken Hawaiian living in SoCal, and how on Earth did she become she became involved with a radical movement in Texas.

As it happened, Ms. Jewell was a bit of a wild child in the early eighties, but tamed herself when she found God via Seventh Day Adventist church—which is where Branch Davidians branch off from.

The reason so many new age cults spring off from the Seventh Day church is because of how much emphasis they put on prophecy and the book of Revelations—if you encourage people to have visions you are bound to have people break away claiming to have visions contrary to the churches teachings. And that's exactly how the Davidians started.

David Koresh suffered from dyslexia, but managed to memorize the entire New Testament by the time he was a teen (I believe Stalin did the same thing). By the time he was 24 he had broken away from the Seventh Day church (a dispute arose when he told the pastor of the church he was attending that he had vision that said he was to give his daughter to him in marriage), and was involved in a Seventh Day offshoot (The Davidians); it is alleged that he began having sexual relations with the 78 year-old leader of the church. When she died, her son wanted to take over, so Koresh goes away to build a following. He eventually returns with a gun tooting posey to reclaim the church and, I am not joking about this, the son dug up a dead body and told Koresh to make it rise from the dead; Koresh had him arrested for digging up the dead and took over the church!

The son later murdered another person involved in the church, and, I believe is still in jail to this day.

In between the disputes with the woman's son, Koresh went to Jerusalem, believed he was the chosen one (he didn't believe he was Christ, contrary to what media frequently reported) that was supposed to reveal the seven seals of Revelations. He recruited more heavily when he returned (including in La Verne, California where the Davidians had a small following and where I assume he meant my teacher).

The ATF started building a case against the Davidians once Koresh had once again regained control of the church and was living in the compound. The Davidians had been stockpiling weapons (that were obtained legally), and the ATF charged that they had illegally modified them. Why did they have the guns to begin with?

One, protection—they were anti-government (they weren't radical enough to start war on the government, but they did believe the government was out to get them and they needed them for protection—oddly, it turns out they were right); two, they were selling and trading them at gun shows—this was actually one of the biggest ways they got money.

Even though Koresh and his followers were known to venture regularly outside the compound at restaurants and stores, the ATF decided it would be better to surround the compound and surprise them with a warrant; the documentary alleges that they filmed the whole thing, and probably planned to use it as PR to show the world how great the agency was and why they needed them (they were in danger of losing funding). It's at this surprise attack that the real controversy starts. They knock on the door to issue the warrant, Koresh comes out completely unarmed, and someone fires. The ATF says it was someone inside the compound fired, but it is more widely held that probably an agent accidentally fired the gun, and then it all backfired.

Koresh goes back into the house and the group begins to fire back in self defense—like I said, they believe the government is out to get them, so it makes sense to them that the government would be shooting at them.

At one point, a man inside the compound, Wayne Martin, calls the police and tells them that there are women and children inside and they have to stop shooting; the sheriff tries to contact the ATF, but for some odd reason they have no radios or phones—just fax machines to send press releases to media outlets!

Two hours later the ATF finally runs out of bullets and retreats. The FBI is now brought out to handle the situation and clean up the ATF's mess.

Read the second half here...

Friday, February 6, 2009

How Would Jesus Vote?

Whether or not you voted for him, you got to admire how Barack Obama reached out to the evangelical community during his campaign. Over the summer he held a special meeting with T. D. Jakes, Max Lucado, Cameron Strang, and other evangelical leaders to discuss issues relevant to the Church. He often spoke openly about his faith in Christ and how it inspires him. Obama even managed to get Christian author Donald Miller to campaign with him. While I applauded Obama for trying to bridge the gap between the Democratic Party and American evangelicals, I couldn't help but worry. Would Obama cater exclusively to the evangelical community? Will people now think God is a Democrat?

Unlike peanut butter and chocolate, politics and religion often don't make a tasty treat when combined. Too often one will dominate the other; then you get preachers sounding more like political pundits, and church suddenly becoming Fox News (or MSNBC, depending on the church).

Which is why for the longest time it was believed that the Republican party was for the good little Christians, and the Democratic Party was for the evil liberal heathens. Supposedly voting for a Democrat meant voting for Satan; then religion would become illegal, families would be destroyed, and the Muslims will take over America. Or something like that.

Fortunatley, many Christians nowadays are trying to break the dichotomous way of political thinking. They are concerned about both "conservative issues" (pro-life, marriage between a man and a woman) and "liberal issues" (the environment, social justice, fighting poverty).

In the end, however, Christianity is not about politics or social change. Faith in Christ may inspire activism (which is definitely not a bad thing), but social change is not Jesus' main mesasge. It's about Him setting the wrong things right. It's about how He sacrificed His own life so we can be reconciled with God. Besides, God's not even an American, so why should He be either a Democrat or a Republican?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I Wish This Movie Was "Expelled" from My Mind

I knew nothing about Ben Stein’s documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" except that it was about intelligent design and he related Darwinism to Nazism...not the best combo, but it’s an instant view on Netflix and I was hopeful that somewhere in the film he would say "Buller" in a way that made laugh (he didn’t).

I won’t say I was disappointed in the film. It was sloppy and biased, but I expected that. What troubled me about the film (aside from the Nazi stuff, which I will address later) was the fact that he didn’t really explain the theory of intelligent design--aside from saying it is not creationism.

If intelligent design should be taught in schools, as Stein believes, then it needs to have an actual theory, but no such theory is explained. I don’t really get the debate--God is faith, not a theory. Evolution doesn’t teach that there is not an intelligent designer; it merely shows a scientific theory used to show how species evolve over time to meet the conditions of their environment needed for survival. You don’t need to talk about how the cell began to teach it.

I happen to believe there is an intelligent designer, but I’m not sure how this fits into science, and Stein doesn’t help me out at all. I believe faith and science can coexist, but not in the world Stein sets up. I don’t see anything wrong with studying the theory of intelligent design if you are a scientist, but until there’s more of a hypothesis behind it, I’m confused about why it should be taught to mere students.

My belief is religious ideas, such as creationism or intelligent design, should be taught at all schools--but not in science class. There should be a religious history (covering all religions) in every school in the country so we have a better idea about why people feel so strongly about things and why wearing something around your head doesn’t make you a terrorist. But maybe that’s just me.

There’s a reason this film got a 10 Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes; it’s not because all critics are liberal and bias--it’s because the film went about things all wrong.

Instead of looking into the matter of design objectively, it said with bias that intelligent design theorist are victims being denied freedom (this from a guy who is pro-life (so am (though my feelings on the issue are probably much different from his own) I but I’m not the one preaching freedom)). Further, he concludes that there is a secret plot to get Protestants to believe in evolution just so they don’t sound like fundamentalist. That’s really where the film turns from bias to sloppy and in bad taste because this is where the Nazi stuff comes into play.

Stein is quick to point out that Darwinism didn’t lead to Nazism--it just was a key component. Because Darwin said survival of the fittest, many scientists believed we should kill off the weak. It was a bad idea and was even practiced to a lesser extent in America. Was it right? Of course not! Was Darwinism to blame? Let’s look at that question in another way...was the Bible to blame for the Salem Witch Trials? I suppose if Hitler is the product of Darwin then ex-President Bush is the product of intelligent design; I would prefer to believe science doesn’t lead, or even inspire, evil—only man can lead to evil.

The film further says that evolution can only lead to atheism, and evolutionists are all hopeless about life’s outlook. The movie could have been good if it explained the theory of intelligent design and used facts. Instead it was just a broad generalization that ultimately fell flat. Watch if you must, but don’t expect to learn anything.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Lesson in Tolerance

One of my majors in college was comparative religion; my emphasis was on new age movements and Christian history. As part of the graduation requirement, I had to take a class in Jewish history.

The class was taught by a man called Rabbi Newton; it was his first class. He was a retired rabbi, and thus the title of his name. He also was not related to Sir Isaac Newton, which he felt obliged to point out the first day of class.

He taught the course in such a way that it was clear he had a grudge against evangelicals, which was fine by me, because I sort of did to (note to reader: I am evangelical, but that doesn’t mean I like other evangelicals (or myself for that matter)).

All was well until he started to make comments about Christians in general—comments like the hatred Christians subconsciously had towards Jews, which is evident in the New Testament, is what led to the Holocaust (and to think, all along, we had it pinned on some nut head German with a bad mustache!). His theory was that any person who believed the New Testament was divinely inspired by God, hated Jews by their very nature.

I questioned him on his theory, and thus became known to him as “one of those people”—his term for evangelicals.

The first quiz was oddly biased to me. It contained a question that said, “Why are the Jews God’s Chosen People?” Instead of answering the question as he intended, I answered the question, but went further by explaining why I did not believe that the Jews were God’s Chosen People; my answer wasn’t Christian—most Christians, if they understand the concept of Chosen People, would probably agree that they were the Chosen People; my answer was more about a promised New Covenant with all people, and how thus all people were chosen if they chose to accept it.

I got a “F” on the test. I also got a “See me” scribbled underneath the grade.

After class, the professor took me to his office, closed the door, and explained, “I know what you are trying to do, and you can’t do it.”

I looked at him confused and waited for him to continue.

“You can’t convert me—I’m unconvertible.”

I nodded, pulled out my quiz, and asked, “What’s wrong with my answer?”

“You should have stopped while you were ahead. I didn’t ask for opinions.”

“So I failed because I said what I believed?”

“That’s right.” He reclined in his chair and proudly said, “You can’t convert me.”

The Rabbi felt that Christian’s lack of what he considered tolerance was their biggest flaw. It was odd, but he was so blinded by what he thought all Christians believed that he couldn’t see his own weakness in the area of tolerance.

I got a “C” in the class when it was over, and, no, I did not covert the Rabbi.