Ecclesiastes Prophesied the Decline in Christianity.

One of many things that is different between believers and skeptics is their time horizons. Believers find introduction of Christianity as a permanent new direction in all of human history. Skeptics find the Christian faith to be only one of hundreds that have come and gone over the entire reach of human history.

While Christians recognize things change over time, they differ in denying this applies to their god/religion.

The Bible itself in Ecclesiastes recognizes time or timing as part of the human experience. A time to sew and a time to reap is such a powerfull metaphor it found its way into pop music, Turn, Turn, Turn.

We are all born into a culture that favors certain ideas and practices and condemns others. A couple of generations back this included the idea black people are inferior.

Another thing our culture in the west held to was that it is better to think there is but one god rather than many. The many gods fit cultures before ours because travel and communication were not common. Each area had its own god. One god fit later cultures of efficiency and growth. It fit the aspirations of the ambitious Constantine to a “T”.

Standardization of three TV channels and billions of identical Big Macs has been replaced with “have it your way.”

It seems plausible to me Ecclesiastes is hinting the time of the one god is passing and the “have it your way god” is returning.

Posted in Uncategorized | 43 Comments

When the Church Falls to Temptation.

I’ve heard that the evil way money affects our thinking is the most discussed topic of the Bible. That is the opposite impression many people have–they think the most discussed topic is homosexuality.

Money is discussed for good reason. It plays with the heads of many people and causes them to do things they otherwise might not do.

There are several examples of blunders made by the church when it, or its clergy, were tempted by money. Churches across the board threw money everywhere to promote prohibition. Criminal elements thrived under prohibition and it was all reversed a few years later.

Benefices were a way to pay clergy by giving them land in lieu of salaries. This practice yielded to corruption and was stopped.

Indulgences, payments to clergy that lead Martin Luther to revolt are looked back on the a big mistake.

The faith is often mixed with promises of prosperity, the “prosperity gospel”. Whether it is the preacher’s prosperity or the worshipper’s, it often leads to a sad ending.

I think one of the great financial blunders is the Catholic Church’s funding of legal defense of clergy who committed criminal acts. This mistake in management of money would have been very easy to avoid.   The Church should have simply turned over any information about its clergy to law enforcement.

The lesson is that the church, which teaches from the Bible, is no better at avoiding the temptation of money than the average bloke in the pew.

Posted in Uncategorized | 129 Comments

Are Jail Inmates Always Sinners?

On our discussion page it is often said those in jail who claim to be Christian are really not because their sins put them in jail.  It got me to wondering if that was really true.  Surely there are people who break laws that are not worse “sinners” then those who do not.

About half the inmates in the Federal Penitentiary System are there for violation of drug laws. For those inmates to be “sinners” it seems like there should be Biblical or theological basis for drug offenses to be “sins”.

I am not one who claims expertise in defining “sin”, but I do know there was a drug widely praised by those who wrote the Bible.  That drug was alcohol, specifically that found in wine.

Wine was safer to drink than water because, as I understand it, the alcohol killed bacteria in the water that could make people sick. There were no licenses needed for selling wine and, thus, no one was sent to jail or death for being a “drug dealer”.

These days, we all know, some drugs are widely condemned by our society.  The politics of this condemnation are laws that have hundreds of thousands in prison. But, are these prisoners “sinners” when drug use and drug sales were not sins in the Bible?

Perhaps many would say some of today’s drugs are worse than alcohol. There are enough people sick from alcohol to question that.

I don’t think it is accurate to declare all prisoners to be questionable Christians and serious sinners.


Posted in Uncategorized | 56 Comments

The Personality Sells the Product.

A few years ago columnists George Will  mused as to why conservative politics had become so popular. “The lesson is,” he wrote, “if you want certain ideas to become popular, wrap them around an attractive public personality.”

He was referring to how popular conservative politics had become during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. The idea of selling something by attaching it to a personality is an ancient one.

In modern times, companies use personalities all the time to sell things. The General Mills company for decades used Betty Crocker. Ms. Crocker wrote cook books and had a TV show. She was among the best known personalities of her time. She did not exist.

McDonalds uses Ronald McDonald to see hamburgers. KFC uses Colonel Sanders to sell fried chicken. Colonel Sanders did exist, not Ronald McDonald.

It doesn’t matter whether the personality was real or fictitious, the technique is the same.

Religion is no different. I’m sure there are religions without gods, but mostly religions use gods to sell their ideas.

The other day I posted a blog illustrating the most common traits the gods had to have in order to be popular. The list is called the Rank-Raglan hero type. The Jesus story had 20 of the 22 characteristics popular in god stories.

The various ideas included in Christianity, sin, forgiveness of sin, the reward of life after death and so on needed a personality to sell them. The character called Jesus, real or not real, has done a good job.

Posted in Uncategorized | 97 Comments

What is a “Cultural Christian”?

The term “cultural Christian” came up most recently here when I discussed the disproportionately large numbers of Christians in jails and the small number of atheists. The response was that those who check the “Christian” box on the intake form are not really Christians, they just mark it without thinking what it means.

That may in fact be correct. But, I would suggest those in jail are no different in this respect than the rest of us. That is, a very large proportion of those who mark “Christian”on surveys are not practicing Christians any more than the folks in jail. They, like the inmates, are cultural Christians. They have no real interest in the faith.

Seldom does anyone discuss this. The link interviews some such people. They do not believe in the tenets of Christianity and are looking at various theology and religious practices. They find the easiest way to deal with the question, “What are you?” is to just mark “Christian”.

The number most often quoted by pollsters for the unaffiliated is 20 %. The link author has surveyed folks trying to determine the depth of their commitment to and interest in the faith. He believes the number of unaffiliated is closer to 35%.  He did not mention this, but I recall that only one out of four people attend church.

I think the political implications of cultural Christians was seen in the rapid acceptance of gays over the objections of the religious right. Perhaps there are even more political surprises to come.

Posted in Uncategorized | 82 Comments

From Galileo and Gays. Retreat, Then Retreat Again.

Since its beginning, Christianity has had to change its never-to-be-changed dogma to adjust to reality. It began with Paul deciding to market the faith to gentiles. It again happened when Galileo saw that the earth moved around the sun instead of the opposite. Now, the faith is again between a rock and a hard place.

The faith’s weak spot is believing there is ”divine revelation”.  All kinds of things are reported to be absolutely true based on someone’s dream or vision. The dream or vision is important if it happened to an important person. When a revelation turns out to be wrong, great pains are taken to avoid changing horses.

Columnist Cal Thomas wrote recently the church needs to find some position that does not pit its fundamental belief about marriage against equal rights for all.  That’s how the Catholic bureaucracy tried to slip slide the Galileo problem for 400 years.

The church said (paraphrasing), “Look Galileo, you make a powerful case with your telescope.  But, the Church is never wrong.  Luckily, we can do a little shuck and jive.  Let’s agree on this statement, ’The Church is correct that the sun actually rotates around the earth, but your deal the earth moves around the sun is an interesting theory’.”

Galileo did not agree. He spent some decades under house arrest. The Church has never said, “We were wrong about that.”

Perhaps there will b a divine revelation from the Pope. It needs to accommodate homosexuality, but not admit the conservative Christian position was wrong from the start.

Posted in Uncategorized | 100 Comments

Cars, Tax Law and the Church.

The link explains something important to religion, the automobile. He explains how the automobile made it possible for people to church shop.

They can find a style of church service they enjoy or a theology that suits them by driving to a favored church instead of the church moving to where they live. Ultimately, then the automobile has affected theology itself. People drive from theology they do not like and toward what they do like.

What the author does not discuss is the role of taxes in this process of change. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the taxes we all pay when we buy fuel for our cars does not fund everything our car uses.  It pays for only some of the road construction.  When we pay a fee to park in a ramp or parking meter, it pays for only some of the costs of providing the space.

The rest of the costs are paid from other sources, often by people who do not own or drive cars. Money for roads and parking is collected in property taxes and income taxes. When you use your car you are receiving a nice welfare or subsidy payment from government.

The subsidy is even bigger, much bigger, for churches. Both the church and its parking lots are not required to pay property taxes.  They may pay special assessments for streets but get by on property taxes.

The property tax system, then, influences theology by lower the cost of shopping churches.

Posted in Uncategorized | 44 Comments

The Bible: Story Telling 101.

All religions had great story tellers. But the campfire stories that eventually made it to the written language in Christianity must rank among the best.  These stories have heroes to cheer for, villains to hiss at and, most importantly, ways to draw the reader personally into the tale.

The link author asserts that the first inklings of people giving up religion as the only and absolute source of all knowledge happened in the 19th century.  It happened, he thinks, because the genre of the detective story became popular.

The detective story has element some might say were stolen from the Bible. There is a sin, the murder, and a villain. Ultimately, sin is punished and the righteous rewarded.

The principle figure, however, is not the all-knowing god, but the all-knowing detective. The detective knows enough more than the sinner to have the last word. Here, humanism, the belief that human beings are capable of making sound moral judgments and solving complex problems without a god, raises its ugly head.

The story of Cain and Abel was a classic murder mystery. Cain killed Abel. But why? The classic explanation is jealousy because God gave Abel praise for his offering but did not praise Cain’s.

The motive is never fully revealed. So as time passed, new motives were offered up. For example, because Cain was a crop farmer and Abel a shepherd, the story is said to reflect the conflict between those groups over the ages.

Like a good detective story, some things are left unresolved.

Posted in Uncategorized | 35 Comments

Pat Robertson’s Halloween is About Demonic Spirits.

Pat Robertson said this last Thursday. He suggested churches hold their own parties and put a Christian emphasis on the holiday. Included in a Christian Halloween party, he said, would be bobbing for apples.

Pat does not know the controversy about where Halloween came from. He does not seem to know bobbing for apples is disgustingly unsanitary.

Wikipedia sites scholars who find the origin of the Halloween we celebrate is definitely Christian. It was began as an ”all saints day” some believe.

One point of the celebration mentioned in Wikipedia is that Halloween is a time we outsmart death with cunning and humor. Certainly, we have a good time.

Whether Halloween is a pagan celebration that was stolen and made into an all saints day or originated with Christians does not matter. Christians stole the winter solstice and spring equinox that originated with other groups. If Pat wants to steal a holiday established for ghosts and witches and use it to spread germs by apple bobbing, he is operating within the Christian tradition.

The most interesting thing to me about the modern Halloween is how it has become an adult event as well as a children’s event. Adults seem to enjoy pretending to be someone other than who they are just as much as children.

Pat is correct, however, the day has roots somewhere and somehow with religion. Religion is about some kind of reality that is different from what we experience in our mundane day to day lives.

That’s Halloween as well.

Posted in Uncategorized | 121 Comments

Heaven: If it Sounds too Good to be True, it Probably is too Good to be True.

Death is one of those topics we just don’t enjoy discussing. We don’t like to contemplate it for ourselves or those close to us. How could there be a world which just goes on, not missing a beat, and we are not there anymore?

In history and fiction written in the past, death appears to have loomed even larger than it does now. Think of large families where some of the children often died young and the parents seldom lived into old age. Death would have been always in your face.

What a sweet sound the message must have been that, if you buy into this religion or that, you don’t really die and neither did your parents, children, brothers or sisters. It sounded good then, it sounds good today.

What must also have sounded good in times past were medicines that cured a list of ailments as long as your arm. I suppose the medicines were often just whiskey with the label changed–it made you feel warm and good.

I understand the Christian version of the afterlife, a good one, heaven, and a bad one, hell, was a religious innovation not present in many religions. Apparently today, the good version, heaven, is remains quite popular among Christians but the bad one is something many do not believe.

In a way, heaven is gone. I understand mainline Protestant seminaries no longer teach future pastors there is a literal heaven.

Perhaps the faculty find it, like I find it, just too good to be true.

Posted in Uncategorized | 70 Comments