My wife and I volunteer at a local food pantry.Â While she and a few others spend time there nearly every day, the rest of the work is done by shifts of people who volunteer once every few months. It takes an army of people doing the unglamerous work sorting and lifting to keep that place going.Â One could not find a better example of community goodness.
An interesting sidebar of the place is that the majority of workers are provided by churches.Â Several churchesÂ volunteer to take aÂ week where their members sign up to give their time.Â On top of that, the churches do their own independent food collections and bring them to the Pantry.
There are also some people from the Freethinkers who volunteer.Â There are not as many, of course, because there are not as many Freethinkers.Â
And how do these people get along? Great.Â There seems toÂ be an unwritten rule that no one wears their views about religion on their sleave, Freethinkers included.Â
Contrast that with the evangelical soup kitichens where poor souls come to get something to eat.Â They have to endure a sermon and prayers as their payment for the food.Â Wouldn’t it be just as effective if the management would simply say, “This facility is providedÂ by the — Evangelical Group”, and let it go at that?
The even bigger problem is that once a set of people has it embedded in their minds that they are to spread the word atÂ any and every occasion, the ability to turn if off when its inappropriate seems to be lost.Â Every year new people are elected to office and carry this embedded idea with them, carrying on about how Christian they are and how they willÂ bringÂ this into office with them.
Please, check both your guns and religion at the door.
Poll numbers keep reflecting the same thing.Â TheÂ group of people who identify themselves are practicing Christians has stopped growing.Â TheÂ groupÂ who identifies themselves as nonbelievers is the fastest growing section of the faith spectrum.Â Â Why is this?
One explanation I read recently is theÂ focus on consumerism.Â That is, owning and enjoying things is contrary to the old austerity message of Christianity.Â Young people today do not see themselves as relating to this message.
AnotherÂ explanationÂ seems more powerful to me.Â It is technology, i. e., the computers you and I are looking at.Â I recall about 20 years ago, columnist George Wills wrote that this little box had changed theÂ political thinking of young people at that time.Â The personal computer lead themÂ away from government as a souce of success in their lives and toward the view that they, themselves, held the power to control their own future. Wills used thatÂ as an explanation for young people voting conservative at that time.Â
The computerÂ may also have empowered them to seekÂ challenges toÂ the other outside source of well being their parents believed in, the Almighty.Â At their finger tips is a powerful myth-busting machine.
The sense of community has also been changing.Â Whereas, generations of Americans have used their chruch and its other members as a source of friendship and support, the new generation goes on line to find like minded people.Â Why sit through an uninspiring sermon when there is a lively on line conversation you can tap into immediately?
So, here’s something to pass along to every preacher you know.Â Â Christianity’s real enemyÂ isÂ the computer.Â Smash it with a hammer and you have slayed the Devil.
There is more news today about a cranky little group of Lutheran churches leaving the ELCA overÂ gay pastors who are not married.Â This focus on the chruch’s big, even huge, role in marriage is not part of the long history of human beings.Â That is, it is not part of “traditional marriage”.
In the millions of years of humans living on earth, insertion of the church into the practice of marriage is a very recent thing.Â Traditional marriage falls under theÂ responsibility of government, notÂ the chruch.
Government has been the decision maker in marriagesÂ of couples in extended families, clans and tribes for most of human history.Â TheseÂ governments, the clan’s leaders,Â hadÂ to adopt strategies of survival. That is, how does the clanÂ find enough food andÂ ward off attacking clans?Â Â Sending a daughter off to marry into a differentÂ clan was part of that strategy.
We now call theseÂ “arranged marriages”.Â Â Arranged marriages are traditionalÂ marriages.
The is a common belief that having theÂ pastor and church performÂ the marriage ceremonyÂ makes the marraige “better”.Â Â It does not mean less likely to end in divorce.Â We have had several couples as friends, born in other countries, whose marraiges were arranged.Â Those marriages seemed wonderful.
If people want to get married in churches and churches want to provide this service, those are choices of the people involved.Â But,Â it isÂ dishonest forÂ some Christian churches to portrayÂ themselves asÂ the ultimate authorities of what is a good, traditional or successful marriage.
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it 100 times, “Those Freethinkers don’t like the Ten Commandments on City Property.Â Let’s just haveÂ a vote and let the majority decide.”
That reasoning, let the majority decide, defies any hint of intellectual detachment.Â Since the beginning ofÂ time, religions have risen up, been popular, and then died away.Â Why would someone think it is impossible that this would happen to Christianity in the United States?Â
It seems like a rational Christian would want his/her children and those many generations to follow to have the option of Christian worship.Â Would not it make this possibility more likely ifÂ the governmentÂ was secular rather than entangled with a religion?Â Then, if the majority became nonChristian, that majorityÂ might allow the minority Christian population more opportunities to full citizenship including the right to worship as they please.Â
Thus, it seems self evident to me that a secular government is more in the Christian religion’s best interests than is a “Christian government”.Â Ironically, FreethinkersÂ do more to protect the interests ofÂ flag waving Christians than they do for themselves.
Speaking of self interest, I haveÂ my own.Â It is a daughter and her three children, my granddaughters.Â I want those granddaughters and their childrens’ children to have the right to be Christians if they want to be.Â
So, I keep on working to make our government more secular.
For a few years, IÂ did a volunteer job of reading applications from gay High School seniors forÂ college scholarship money.Â One of the qualifications for this money was that the kids were “out”.Â The “out” requirement had been placed on the scholarships by the donor, Â a deceasedÂ gay man.
In one part ofÂ the application, the kids would tell their story.Â There were lots of happy stories of kids who cameÂ from supportive homes, had good grades,Â excelledÂ in everythingÂ and had lofty goals for themselves.Â But then, there were the others.
These were it kidsÂ rejected by their parents andÂ living with someone else. Others considered themselves “out” because they had told someone, but were frightened ofÂ telling their parents.
It seemed like there was a clear pattern.Â Kids with supportive parents were involved in more extracirricular activities and had higher grades.Â One would suspect theÂ kid rejected by his/her parents, or afraid the parentsÂ might find out, spentÂ all availableÂ time trying to navigate a difficult life rather than studying and doing High School activities.Â
I’ve know of parents who have rejected their gay child and had the support of their pastor, relatives and friends.Â The most common explanationÂ of these parents is, “It’s against my religion.”Â
Â I think a more accurate answer would be, “I’m really kind of full of myself.”
Years ago we used to get a televangelist named Robert Tilton on our cable.Â You may have heard of him.Â His technique followed the same format every day.Â “Brenda, tell meÂ your story.”
She was down to her last $5 and saw Robert on TV. She sent the $5 to Robert and the phone rang. It was a job offer (or, a rich Anut died and left her money, etc.).Â Tilton would lean toward the camera.Â “Things can get better for you. Send your check to me at this address.”Â Tilton got in lots of trouble, but today is doing well and livingÂ in aÂ million dollar home.
His success broughtÂ many clones.Â The clone that most surprised me is Pat Robertson.Â I don’t recall himÂ doingÂ “prosperity evangelism”Â untilÂ the last few Â years.Â Now there is a Robert Tilton like story on his 700 Club a few times a week.Â It’s the same thing, “Things were tough, but I decided to increase the money I was sending to Pat.Â My business took off right after that.”
The good thing is that this kind of monkey business makes up only a smallÂ part of that broad “institution” called Christianity.Â Kudos to every church and pastor who could do this stuff and does not.
Freethinkers probably are not all good people either. I don’t know any bad ones, but I’m sureÂ there are some.Â The thing is that even the bad ones cannot practice “prosperity evangelism”.Â There is no devine figure or big personality to deliver the prosperity.Â If you are a Freethinker and times are tough, we can’t do a thing for you.
Television preachers and pundants alike grieveÂ over Europe.Â So many of us have European Christian ancestry,Â it is hard to understand why the U. S. has a thriving Christian faith while over there it is languishing.Â Â
One explanation given often is that Christianity has fallen off there because of theÂ “State Church” concept.Â Â Â Because the church had a monpoly, the argument goes,Â it did notÂ have to present itself in an attractive way.Â In the U. S., the competition among churches has lead to aggresive and successful marketing.Â This explanation is usedÂ to make the case for separation of church and state.Â
There might be another explanation.Â There have been wars over religion in EuropeÂ since I-don’t-know when.Â It’s been a big part of the history there.Â Thus, I wonder if the general population makes a different cost and benefit calculation than the majority of U. S. people do.Â The European calculation may be that their ancestors were killed and chopped up over religion and wonderÂ whatÂ was accomplished from all that?Â They mayÂ see moreÂ bad than good inÂ religion.
In theÂ U. S.,Â religion has not had to swim upstream by explaining, at least as often,Â why it is just to kill in the name of God. TheÂ positives have looked, up to now, larger than the negatives.Â Â
But, in my opinion, the conservative branches of Christianity are mortgaging their future byÂ acting as if they are monopolies.Â They refuse toÂ adjust to the new market reality of gay marriage, abortion rights and couples pairing up without marriage.Â
There is this saying, “Buyer beware.”Â Sellers need to beware as well.
This is a follow up to an earlier post, “You My Christian Friend are an Atheist Too”.Â Â Â
That earlier post pointed out that since Christians consider the many thousands of gods human beings have worshipped over millions of year to figments of human imagination, they areÂ in almost 100% agreement with atheists. They only disagree isÂ over one of these thousands of gods, the Christian one.Â
AnÂ unstated pointÂ of the post was immediately recongnized by some critics.Â To say that all other gods were and are figments of human imagination is to suggest that the Christian God is as well.Â Â Â Â Â
There are essays by practicing Christians who believe the Christian God and the Biblical character, Jesus Christ, are in the mind exclusively.Â It seems plausable to me that someone couldÂ reason in this way and be a faithful Christian.Â
Things of the mind are in their own way real.Â I believe it was the baseball base stealer, Morrie Wills, who put it best.Â Â As his career advanced he began to have terrific pains in his legs.Â Doctors could not diagnose any physical ailment. Wills said, “A pain that occurs in your head isÂ the mostÂ real of all.”
It seems like wholesale adoption of the view that every god exists in the human mind exculsively would be a win for everyone.Â Believers could hold fast to their respective faiths. Believers and nonbelievers could agree on the origin of faith.Â
Most importantly, it seems like itÂ might limit the bloodshedÂ thatÂ insertion of religion into governments causes around the world.Â Â Gone might beÂ the warÂ cry, “My god is more real than your god!Â Bang, bang, you’re dead!”Â Â Citizens of the world could agree that all gods are equally real.
“Lindgren, I saw you there and thought, ‘Man, he’s the guy I need to ask.'”
I’d was standing in front of the car repair shopÂ where I’d left one of our cars waiting for my wife to pick me up.Â The man had instantly changed directions and squealed his tires to turn and stop in front of me.Â “What’s up?” I asked.
“Well”, he said, “I work at this place and there are a lot of people there who were born in other countries.Â They’re nice people. The thing is they don’t know how to get along here. They don’t say the right thing, sometimes.Â They spit in the streeet. Stuff like that.Â Now, they’re smart.Â I know I’d haveÂ trouble in their countires.Â They need some help.Â I thought you’re group, it’s call the Freethinkers, right, could set up some classes and teach them this stuff.”
We chatted awhile.Â I have no idea why he thought the Freethinkers would have any skill or wherewithall to do such a thing.Â People’s impressions of the Freethinkers and our 100 year old name is all over the map.Â SomeÂ think it means something like free spirit.Â Others, perhaps the fellow, think it is about free help to others.Â It’s always fun to hear what people’s impressions are.
He left and my wife came by to pick me up.Â I told her my story.Â “Let’s see” she said.Â “He was suggesting that the Freethinkers teach new arrivals in town about America?Â I think some people would have a problem with that.”
Oh, yes.Â Would they ever.
In today’s Wall Street Journal was an article aboutÂ two religious leaders who areÂ urging their followers not to practice yoga.Â OneÂ was the Pope. The other was anÂ authority on theology in the Southern Baptist Church.
As I understand it, both of these authorities see something evil in using the body as an entrance to the spiritual state.Â Whether its a sin to get in touch with the Almighty inÂ this relaxed and meditativeÂ state,Â or, that you are having a phony visit with Him when you get there, I’m not sure.Â In any event, if you are a Catholic or a Southern Baptist, no Yoga.
Actually, I’m a little concerned about Yoga myself.Â You see,Â part of my social life involves nonbelievers.Â We get together and yak and laugh about things–I really enjoy that.Â
But what if all my nonbeliever friends took up yoga andÂ opened the doorÂ to spirituality?Â Â TheyÂ mightÂ take up with some Hindu god or whatever,Â and, poof, they won’tÂ need me anyÂ more.Â
Â Perhaps they might thinkÂ they had become Catholics or Southern Baptists when they really were not because theyÂ came into portÂ on the wrong ship.Â Â That would not helpÂ me because I would have missed the ship altogether.
If you need to relax and get yourself into a great state of mind,Â don’t try to get there throughÂ your body.Â Â There are substances that go right to your head, but we won’tÂ discuss them here.