Pastor Hell versus Pastor Positive

For people who love to study cultural change, the transition from a Billy Graham style of Christianity to the new Joel Osteen style is entertainment supreme.

The generation of Billy Graham is scoffing at Joel Osteen.  “He tells people what they want to hear. He doesn’t follow the scriptures.”   They are only repeating what inevitably was said about Billy Graham by the generation that preceded him.  Graham and Osteen are both products of the popular culture of their times.

Billy Graham followed arena-style preachers.  His delivery,  cadence and persona were tailored to the venues in which he performed.  His southern theology,  groomed to appeal more broadly, told people to feel good about themselves in a back handed way, “You are going to heaven.  People you don’t like, sinners, are going to hell.”

Today, the culture has come to believe negative messages, putting down others, is a bad thing.  Children are taught this and their parents believe it.  Osteen’s message is we don’t have to put others down to feel good about ourselves.  Let’s all be positive about ourselves and others.

Neither Graham nor Osteen can guarantee what they promise you will come true.  Both messages are shrouded in mysterious beings no one has ever seen.  There is no more substance behind Graham’s message of sin and hell than behind Osteen’s Jesus wants you to succeed.

When the Bible was written, it was to appeal to the culture of that time.  As cultures have changed, so has its meaning.

Pastor Hell has been replaced with Pastor Positive.

Are There Really Any “Death Bed Conversions”?

It’s conventional wisdom secular people often “come to Jesus” just before death.    I’m  suspicious about how often it happens.  I wonder if it ever happens.

In Billy Graham’s question and answer column yesterday he told of the recent death of a secular friend.  Graham said a “Christian relative” had visited the sick friend just before he died and got the “death bed conversion”.  No one else was there.

There is a story Charles Darwin had a death bed conversion.  It was told, like the Graham tale, by a Christian.  Darwin’s daughter, however, says she herself was by his bedside the entire time leading to his death and he had no such conversion.  The Christian telling the tale was not seen visiting Darwin during that period of time.

I visited with a local hospital chaplain a few years ago about death bed conversions.  She is a Christian but does not see her job as converting patients.  It is, instead, to carry out  patients’ wishes.  She said there are aggressive Christian nurses she has to monitor to prevent these “conversions”.

People about to die surely must often be in pain, under medication,  in various states of consciousness and in vulnerable circumstances.  That one in such circumstances says “yes” to a question about faith does not count.  And, if the story of the  conversion is told by a Christian who is bragging, forget it.

Asking a person in the process of dying for a conversion is not a proud accomplishment.  Anyone who plays such mind games with the dying should be ashamed.

This Kind of Research Hurts the Faith.

Research into how people think and reason is not good news for religions, including Christianity.

There is a new report at about experiments with people to determine who has an “analytic” mind.  In these experiments, people were given circumstances and opportunities to react to them.

There was a reading problem where difficult type style was used.  Some people blew it off and said they could not understand what was written.  Others, tried to find patterns and figure out what was meant by the writing.

Those who blew it off  were called “intuitive thinkers”, the others, “analytical thinkers”.  There were other experiments as well.  The groups were then asked about their views on religion.  Intuitive thinkers were more likely to be religious than analytical ones.

The researchers said this was not the only variable that influences religious inclinations, but it is one of them.  This kind of research opens a door faiths should try to close.

If religious inclinations are found to be even partially the result of how people think, it is evidence of where the god comes from.  It’s from the mind.

That is to say, if the god figure were actually a sovereign being, independent of the imagination, research should give us the same religious inclination in both groups.  If this kind of research continues with the same results found over and over again, people will begin to see religious impulses in the same way unbelievers have seen them for hundreds of years.

Analytical thinkers are not smarter or more valuable to society.  They just can’t find the god.

P. S.  For anyone interested, an article in today’s paper about me and some who comment here:




Religious Liberty, A License to Discriminate?

Conservative blogosphere is full of anger about how the Catholic Church will be required to provide birth control in spite of it being labeled as sin.  There is resistance to treating gays equally because it violates a religious tenet.

Being required to do something that violates a religious tenet is called a burden in legal language.  The concept of burden competes with the concept of discrimination.  For example,  a landlord who believes mixed race couples are sinning would find his burden eliminated if he could refuse to rent to them.

Slavery and followed by segregation had religious justification.  When courts ruled against segregation, they established discrimination as more important than burden.  So it is today.

Catholic Bishops and conservative Protestants want to make burden the higher of the two.  But, the Amercian public has seen discrimination and didn’t like it.

Anti discrimination has a win win characteristic absent in burden.  We have seen economic and social benefits accrue to society at large from the rise of those who were discriminated against.  Black scholars, musians and atheletes would not have contributed as much to our general enjoyment and betterment in a bygone era.

Burden has a hole-in-the bucket problem.  Claims of burden are infinite–new religions are invented every year.  It could well be a tsunami of burden is coming. It’s sibling, discrimination will be nearby.

Competition between burden and discrimination continues. To raise the status of burden is to take us backwards.

That would be a mistake.

P. S.  I’m indebted to Attorney Bob Ritter for this topic.


Win a Million Dollars, Prove There is a God.

Our preteen granddaughters love to watch reruns of the reality show, Mythbusters. It’s a show that tests the validity of myths and conventional wisdom.

The popularity of Mythbusters is but the tip of a huge cultural fascination with skepticism.  Skepticism has international conferences, publishers and entertainment venues involving millions of people worldwide.  It’s fans are not always the same group as atheists, but they compliment each other.

Some of the skeptic organizations and popular personalities focus on issues such as faith healers, mystics, psychics, political “birthers”, anti-vaccination advocates and the like.  But, a branch of them focus’ on the mythology of religion.  As someone wrote recently, in a culture that reveres faith above facts, skeptics are a vanguard of rationalism.

As an example, the James Randi Educational Foundation, founded in 1996, offers a million dollar reward to anyone who, under controlled conditions, can prove the existence of a god figure.  No winners so far.

Interest in skepticism is most popular among people under 40. It seems to me this interest in critical thinking is fed by the availability of the computer.

While the Christian faith has done remarkably well when put in competition with other faiths, one has to wonder how it will do in competition with skepticism and critical thinking.  It has lost ground in Europe and in the last ten years in the U. S. it has stopped growing.

I’d like to prove there is a god, and win a million dollars, but I can’t.

Toto, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.

This, from The Wizard of Oz, is fourth among most quoted movie lines.

Today it refers to a clash between religious-based prejudices and gay people.  It involves the city of Hutchinson, Kansas.

Hutchinson, population about 40,000, has a Human Relations Commission which recently made a recommendation to the City Council for a Human Relations Ordinance.  The idea was to make the City a good place for people of all races, creeds and gender orientations.

Like everywhere else, churches in Hutchinson rent of their meeting rooms and sanctuaries for money to various groups who can use them.  The Ordinance declares if churches are going to be in the business of renting out space, they must treat all members of the public equally.

This brought the predictable outrage from some, but not all, churches.  The churches that consider homosexuality a sin do not want gays in their buildings.

A peculiar argument was made against the Ordinance by someone from the Kansas Family Policy Council.  Instead of just quoting the usual bits of scripture, this fellow said they were opposed to the Ordinance because it would result in sexual predators lurking in the rest rooms preying on children.

This man needs to read the monthly publication of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  Every month, someone reports all the cases found in the U. S. where clergy are involved in pedophilia, rape and other sex crimes.  There are many new ones each month.

This is a Kansas pot calling the kettle black.

Mitt Hires His First Out Gay Staff Executive.

Things are moving fast in U. S. politics–today Romney signaled he heard it when Catholic and evangelical leaderships said they would do whatever it takes to defeat Obama.  The message Obama took from that is they have no where else to go but him.  He can now be himself and return to the formula he used as Governor of Massachusetts, a social liberal.

The out gay man Romney chose for his campaign is Richard Grenell, 45, who has worked in the United Nations and on several Republican campaigns.  He seems to have great credentials.

Obama did something like this when he invited a conservative evangelical minister, Rick Warren,  to do the prayer at his inauguration.  Liberal people were annoyed.

But, Romney’s gay hire seems more bold than Obama’s preacher.  It sends a signal he intends to go after moderate voters and he doesn’t care what evangelicals, Catholics or other Mormons think.

It is a much different tack than that used by “W” Bush.  Bush did some overtures to the middle but he did not hire an out gay.  Neither did the  McCain/Palin ticket.  But, the latter lost their election.

While we don’t know how the election will turn out nor what will follow it, one thing seems clear.  The Christian right’s candidates did not win the Republican endorsement and the man who did win it is not following the right’s playbook.

The Republican Party remains more a party of Wall Street than of the pathway to eternity.  I’m pleased with that.

Christians Coming to Think Like Atheists.

I know many Christians see themselves as firmly grounded in the Bible, and, the Bible as the firmly grounded truth handed down from God (or some variation of this).  Looking at it from the outside, however, it appears  to change to fit the contemporary culture.

One of the areas where change is afoot is the concept of “heaven”.  The April 16th issue of Time reviewed several scholars including New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright, a former Anglican bishop in England.  He thinks the Bible’s message describes heaven as being located here on earth, after the Almighty returns.  All the wrongs will be made right.  Heaven is not a separate place.

Thus, the task of believers is to start preparing by making things right now.  While the scholar, Wright, is definitely a believer, and would not claim to be anywhere close to unbelievers, his view seems not far from that of Freethinkers.

Most Freethinkers feel their responsibility is to make the here and now better.  They would not agree they are preparing for the coming of some spiritual being, but are preparing the world for future generations.

The Time article runs through the many concepts of heaven and the afterlife believed by Christians over time.  Slaves waited for the chariot to take them from their misery. Billy Graham says it will even better than our current affluent life here.

Atheists seem not to have changed as much as Christians–but the revised view of “heaven” by Christians is one I like.


Nuns, Put the Habits Back on.

If anyone thinks the current leadership of the Catholic Church intends to consider women as equals, they are in for a disappointment.  A  group of nuns called, “Leadership Conference of Women Religious,” is finding that out.

A four-year study funded by the Vatican found Women Religious did not adequately demonize  the Vatican’s favorite villains, abortion and gay marriage.  From now on, the Vatican will supervise Women Religious, placing under a microscope who is invited to their conferences and what topics they discuss.

The Vatican found Women Religious was spending just too much time discussing topics the old men found revolting, ordination of women and ministering to gays.  After all, the Vatican’s report said, it is the Catholic Bishops who are the authentic teachers of faith and morals.  Women are not qualified to discuss moral topics that might interest them.

One has to remember it was Eve, not Adam, who was responsible for the original sin.  How, then, could her gender be trusted to separate good morals from bad?

The male Catholic hierarchy knows how to put the hammer down.  Nuns who have the backbone to stand up against this ancient form of discrimination are mostly an older generation.  As they age and die off, the Old Men’s Club is replacing them with women who will wear the habit and behave.

The proportion of nuns who wear habits and do not discuss female priesthood are growing.  The Catholic clergy is making sure its future is secure.


Religious Right Coming Around on Climate Change?

Sunday is Earth Day.  About 15 years ago, my geologist friend said his profession had come to agree climate change was happening.

Agreement climate patterns are changing is slowly spreading across the rest of the world’s population.  Here is the U. S., resistance of the political and religious right has been stiff, but some say it is moving.

A professor at  a Christian college, Mark McReynolds,  believes opinion in evangelical circles is changing.  He notes last year 4,000 church officials and pastors from around the world attended a green evangelical event in Cape Town.  The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in 2008 addressing the consequences of climate change.

While all admit the Bible does not command a position on this,  it does say one is to be a good neigbor.  But, what are we to make of the “cause” of global warming?

We all know climates have cycles.  But,  the cycles are falling outside normal patterns.

There is the variable we have all heard about, carbon.  We know there is more of it than ever.  We know our consumption of energy emits carbon.  We know carbon affects the atmosphere.

The nearly unanimous conclusion of scientists is no other variable has changed since prehistoric times except the volume of carbon.  They conclude that although natural cycles account for some climate change, this new variable also affects climate.

For the life of me, I can’t see the harm in reducing the carbon we cause.