A New Way to Market the Faith

While there are failing churches, there also are plenty of success stories. A church I can walk to from our home, a United Church of Christ, is successful. There is a branch of the Presbyterian church in the middle of New York City that has expanded to multiple campuses.

The New York City Presbyterian church attracts professionals in the 30′s and 40′s. The ex professor who started the church knows how to reach this group.  He knows they are not as worried about the afterlife as much as they are about their professional legacy.

Perhaps many of today’s under 40 professional adults have a hard time going hook, line and sinker for the notion there is an afterlife where angels sing. Their concern, if they are like their contemporaries in NYC, is that their 80 plus hours of work each week will be forgotten and wiped away when they die.

This New York City preacher has something comforting for them: There is a God. He is recording what you do at work. It will be in his records forever.

He also seems to admit there are competing gods. His god is the best one because he comes to find you instead of visa versa.

The topic of sin and the forgiveness for sin did not come up in the article about this preacher and his message. And why would it.

The lesson is that a preacher’s version of the faith must fill the pews. Adjust the message or die.


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Why Would Jesus Tell Followers Not to Condemn When It’s So Much Fun?

There is a standard way to practice Christianity. The Christian says there are parts of the Bible and the message of Christianity he like, and parts he dislikes. Those parts he likes are the what the faith is really about. Some people like others parts, parts he doesn’t like. People who disagree with him don’t understand their scripture is unimportant.

I read today there are four teachings of Jesus that most Christians ignore and/or don’t think are important.

1.) Jesus, not the Bible, is what the faith is all about.

2.)Going to heaven is by deeds, not beliefs.

3.) Jesus was not about condemnation.

4.) You should bless most those you disagree with most.

You can see the scripture these are based upon in the link. These four, with a focus on Jesus and not the Bible, fit well with the smaller contemporary threads of the faith including Joel Osteen and the emergent church.

The problem with these four is they are a finger in the eye of Christians who use their faith to hate women and clinics that do abortions and the endorsement of gay marriage. There is so much pleasure in condemning abortion and gay marriage that if these were ruled out of bounds it would take away all the fun of being a Christian.

I know from experience there are many bits of scripture used to justify condemnation. They are used to justify what’s fun for some in the faith.

It is better to give judgment than receive.


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Forgery, Adding Fuel to the Skeptic’s Fire.

People do change their minds. But, when we’re talking “the word of God” is seems like we ought to know what that word is.

Thessalonians I and II in the Bible have different messages about the end of the world. In I Th. it says the world will end in an unannounced surprise. It tells us those believers who have died before it happens will be the first floated up to Jesus. Then, “…we who remain will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the sky.”

The writer of I Th., that is, expected to be among the living when the sudden and without warning end came. Thessalonians II has something different to say.

In II Th. we learn the opposite, the end is not coming right away. And, further, when it comes it will be no surprise, preceded by easily recognizable signs. There will be a political or religious uprising. Then, an anti-Christ figure will appear and claim to be God. These signs preceding the return of Christ will be all the more recognizable because people will have already been taught to look for them. In I Th. they were taught just the opposite.

I Th. and II Th. are claimed to be written by the same person, Paul. As you can see, they seem to have been written by two entirely different people. II Th. even carries the warning to not be taken in by imposter writers.

Most scholars think the II Th. practiced forgery. We don’t know for sure.

Why believe either?


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The Influnece of Economics on Religion is Unrelenting.

The announcement recently that the Catholic Dioceses in both New York City and Chicago will be shuttering vast numbers of churches, perhaps over 20%, and consolidating them with others is driven by economics.

The New York Diocese has mentioned declining church attendance and a shortage of priests as part of the reason for closing churches. Another way of saying this is that the economic model it has used for centuries does not fit current circumstances.

That economic model was hiring priests who subsidized the enterprise by working for pay lowering than the market. The priests could justify to themselves this lower pay by the job security.

The problem with this model turned out to be high fixed costs. Fixed costs are ones not related to income or productivity. The large number of churches, rectories and aging priests have collided with smaller collection plates. What is needed is a flexible model where costs fall when attendance declines.

This could be accomplished with two changes that seem unremarkable to an outsider. They are married and women clergy. Married men and women would provide their own housing. They would often have a spouse working outside the home at some other kind of job resulting allowing lower pay for the priest and a subsidy of the church.

Thriving Pentecostals gather in cheap store fronts. Growing but still small atheist groups meet in bars and restaurants.

Sometimes the change that is needed is obvious but to make that change is impossible.


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The Movie, “God’s Not Dead.” A Review.

Early in 2014 the movie, God’s Not Dead, was released. It is a low budget film and has made spectacular profits.

At an atheists’ breakfast gathering, several of us watched the movie. Though others laughed heartily, the movie explained a lot to me.

Briefly, the fictional story is about a liberal professor who wants his students to be atheists. A determined male student argues him down and the professor converts to Christianity.

So, why did the professor not believe. It was because of a personal emotional tragedy in his life he blamed on God.

The nonChristians in the film are all troubled or flawed characters. One critic said it was like a film Hitler would have made about the Jews.  Another, a Christian, said, The problem with the film is not its religion, but its anthropology. Unbelievers don’t believe because of personal demons. 

Other characters in the film are Muslims who are dim witted, a girlfriend who has no weak resolve and so on. The smart, courageous and emotionally sound characters are all Christians.

That said, the movie explained a lot of the experience I have had here on the blog and elsewhere. People are forever asking me, “What happened to you? What is wrong with you?”  They are saying I don’t believe because I am flawed or personal demons keep me away from Jesus.

Christians often say atheists treat them have lacking intellectually. The movie, God’s Not Dead, illustrates the lack of respect goes in the other direction as well.

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Pope to the Catholic Clergy Bureaucracy, Back Off, Back Out.

A piece on the web says the largest crisis in the Catholic Church is not sexual abuse or the cover ups. The worst problem is an over arching one, that clergy have taken over areas reserved for laity.

The writer, a Professor of Law at a Catholic University, explained that the Catholic church cannot function with laity who are mindless dolts and who simply take orders from clergy. Laity must make decisions independently.

I had never seen this separation explained before. It addresses an issue I’ve raised here,  that Catholic Clergy must be accountable to someone besides themselves. Whether we are in pursuit of wealth, sex or power, we humans are not immune from self interest. Catholic Clergy, from the Popes on down, are in the end human beings.

Pope Francis has condemned clericalism by both the clergy and its laity.  Clericalism is when the clergy imposes its version of theology in areas outside the sphere of the Church itself. The link says it poisons the relationship between clergy and laity. The laity, also, is guilty of clericalism when it becomes lazy and surrenders its own responsibility.

We’ve seen comments here reflecting clericalism by both clergy and laity. The Catholic Church will remain stuck in a time warp unless the clergy steps back from areas where it has no business and the laity steps forward to decides for itself how it will conduct its collective life.

The Pope knows clericalism, and the disrespect it brings to clergy, is why Catholics continue to leave the Church.


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Interfaith Marriages, How Do They Handle It?

I using using the term, interfaith, as between but two distinct religious traditions. That would be Christian/Muslim, Christian/Jewish, Christian/ Hindu, Christian/atheist and all the other combinations.

They always face the question of what to do about their children. I suppose some couples would say expose the children to both religions and let them choose later. As a practical matter that must be difficult.

The rate of interfaith marriages probably happens at least as often as interracial marriages. There certainly are plenty of these.

In Red River Freethinkers I have met many individuals who are married to a spouse in the faith. A common why of dealing with this difference is to not discuss religion at all. Most often the children are brought to church by the believing parent. Some children take to the faith and others drop out.

So far as I know, the Bible does not give advice to couples who are in mixed marriages and  have no intention of both becoming Christians. Evangelizing and warning those who are not Christian is the only Biblical admonition I am aware of.

The existence of mixed religious marriages is sign, I believe, that religion is not taken seriously enough by either of the partners to end the marriage. It reflects the increasingly casual attitude toward religion where it is not as important as it once might have been.

We all know of mixed marriages that did not work. But, that many do is a sign things are getting better.


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Joy to the World, But Don’t Mess With Orthodoxy.

Probably most readers have not heard of Rob Bell and could care less. I find him one of the most interesting figures in religion.

He had a very large church, sold lots of books and then left that church. Now he will have a talk show on Oprah’s network. He mixes religion and entertainment.

Bell talks about the Bible. But, orthodox religious leaders hate him. Why would they be so angry at a preacher who preaches about the Bible?

It’s because Bell does not teach from the politically correct parts of the Bible. He could done what preachers and priests usually do, read something from the most inauthentic Gospel, John, prayed and sent people on their way.

Instead, Bell talks about Revelations, especially the parts about hell. It is impossible to be sure what is meant by the hell discussed in Revelations.  Maybe, he asks, we don’t really know if there is a hell nor, if there is one, who goes there after death?

Those are fightin’ words in Christian orthodoxy. They are dangerous words because they have wide appeal. Oprah did not invite orthodox preachers or priests to have a talk show on her network.

Before Bell began to raise these questions about hell, he was named one the hundred most influential individuals in America. When he left orthodoxy, he was regarded as a pariah among the Christian establishment.

Rob Bell has not been convicted of stealing money nor infidelity. He is guilty of something worse, asking questions.


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Government Removes Marriage Question.

It’s my impression gay marriage is moving out of the news. Perhaps when the last few states remove prohibitions against it there will be but a sentence or two in the papers.

An interesting thing happened recently about all marriage. The Federal Government proposed taking five questions related to marriage out of a census survey it does. The questionnaire is called the American Community Survey. It is a large project, the only one larger is the census each decade, done constantly involving 250,000 people every month.

All kinds of people are complaining about dropping marriage out of the survey. Conservative groups believe marriage is the key to prosperity. Some professors like to use the marriage data for their own research.

The purpose of the American Community Survey to measure the impacts of federal programs. It turns out, according to a census official, of all the questions ask marriage is the one least used by federal staff studying this data.

Part of the problem is, I would guess, marriage is becoming less popular.  Thus, when one is collecting information about reactions to Federal programs, housing, budgets, transportation, etc., a household is important, the legal status of those in the household is not.

I think marriage is a good institution because we have laws about ownership of property and responsibility of parenting in a marriage.  When a marriage dissolves, we have laws and court cases that help decide who gets what.

It looks like marriage, its definition, importance and future will continue to change.


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The Kind of Woman Catholic and Conservative Protestant Hierarchies Hate.

Elizabeth Holmes started a company from scratch while a college freshman at Stanford. She quickly dropped out of college to manage the company. She is now worth several  billion dollars.  She is thirty years old.

While a student, she invented and patented a process to test blood for diseases. The typical lab cost for a blood work up is about $50. Her’s is about $3. Holmes believes that if her blood tests were available everywhere without the current requirement of a doctor’s sign off it would catch early millions of cases of disease and save countless lives and dollars.

Brilliant women like Elizabeth Holmes, however, are not smart enough to be trusted with decisions in some branches of the Christian religion. They cannot be trusted to make moral decisions about their own abortions. They are not capable handling the job of priest and pastor in those branches either.

Women like Holmes make it necessary for powerful men in religion to justify why they continue to keep women from being included as equals.

Why is it such absurd thinking prevails in religion when in other places in society there are no barriers to the responsibility given women? There can only be two reasons.

One is that Christianity is rooted in past cultures. These cultures would have been abandoned in religion long ago as they have been elsewhere were it not for the second reason.

That reason is self interest. Men enjoy passing judgment on women from their superior positions of power.



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