When Jesus said he was the way, the truth and the life and none shall come to the Father but through him, he told us he would be a beacon, a gatekeeper, a guide and a judge. It bears noting, however, that he never laid down a religion we had to follow to get past him and see the Father. He told us how to generally behave and what to seek; he didn’t free us from sin to deliver us to the bondage of rigid and cruel dogma.
Jesus did not allow himself to be crucified so that you could metaphorically nail other people to crosses of your own manufacture. If you absolutely cannot resist pounding some spikes into spiritual flesh, crucify yourself and leave everyone else out of it.
I feel reasonably confident in declaring that God does not award extra points to you for using Him as an excuse for acting like a judgmental, insensitive, closed-minded, shallow, hypocritical, cruel, thoughtless, abusive prick.
While I have begged off further involvement in a debate here a while back about the Catholic Church’s reputation and the Vatican’s legitimacy (see here), my opponent David made an interesting comment about God’s immutability and I’ve been planning to address that subject ever since, as well as contraception (since David and I went pretty heavily back and forth on the rightness or wrongness of birth control), and the ways the two issues tie together in some ways.
This post may be a bit of a ramble. Apologies in advance if so.
God is, reportedly, immutable, unchanging and eternal. I really have no argument with that (though I also have no proof of it). I know a lot of agnostics and atheists do reject the unchanging nature of God, and they often contend such notions with talk about God’s personality shifts in the Bible, but I disregard that line of argument. I disregard it in part because I believe it is less a case of God changing than of God changing the way He approaches people.
And really, how could He not?
Humanity has evolved (genetically, socially, technologically, etc.) in so many ways. God had forged multiple covenants with humans not because He cannot make up His mind but because dealing with us is an ongoing process, and guiding us toward the next steps in our spiritual development (in this life and beyond it) is an ever-shifting process.
Now, Jesus pretty much put a final stamp on the basic theology and the priorities we are supposed to have. Given the period in which he appeared historically speaking, it was probably as good a time as any to make a “final” covenant that would carry humans through until God’s plans were complete in terms of our time here on Earth.
However, I cannot help but notice that Jesus didn’t talk about nearly as many things as the apostles did after he was gone, and Jesus certainly didn’t emphasize the minutiae of the Old Testament laws. I cannot help but notice that Jesus kept it pretty simple and basic. I also cannot help but notice that while Jesus himself followed Jewish law for the most part, he didn’t uplift it as something to be a slave to, and he broke it in cases where it was irresponsible to follow the law simply for the sake of the law.
And here’s where I get to contraception, boys and girls.
First off, let’s toss that Onan shit out the window. Anyone who can read that story and still say it was about masturbation being evil and contraception being evil has totally and completely missed the point that Onan was punished because God told him he needed to get a child on a certain woman after all his brothers had died and Onan failed to do so because he didn’t want to. If God was so mad at masturbation, why kill that guy, after centuries upon centuries of masturbation and coitus interruptis, and no one else? God had a mission for that man, for some reason, and Onan defied God and did so in a highly disrespectful manner. End of story. Don’t anyone argue with me on that point. Don’t even start. Jacking off was NOT the sin in that story.
Now, you can point to various things in the Bible and extrapolate that God wanted men and women to marry and have lots of kids. Great. But let’s take that in context. The world was not overpopulated at the time. Women were often little more than baby-makers, sometimes little more than chattel, and so from a societal standpoint, they weren’t considered useful aside from family-rearing. Also, families needed new blood to keep things going and run the farm (or herd the sheep, or make the boats, or whatever). Fathers needed heirs. Infant mortality was high. Many women died young thanks to birth complications.
So, of course there is going to be a focus on marrying people off and having them breed in those times. Particularly as regards Isreal, because if God set them as his messenger and the venue through which Jesus would come, so He’d be particularly keen on them making plenty of babies and remain viable on the Middle Eastern stage. So, for the Bible to support “be fruitful and multiply” made sense then.
But that is not the world we live in now. Many things in the world today are not covered biblically and attempts to use the Bible to deal with current issues based on anachronistic origins end up ringing untrue for that very reason. End of life decisions, abortion, pornography, electronic interactions and a ton of other things are all things that not only didn’t really factor into daily life (or at all) in Jesus’ time (or before) but also don’t even have any logical parallels with things covered by the Bible.
So, times change. The Bible is meant to be a guide, not a lawbook. It doesn’t change to keep up. God doesn’t check back in with us to give us the Commandments version 25.1 or something. We are expected to try to act as much in concert with the Holy Spirit as possible. But when something like the Vatican makes blanket rules and says they will never change and we’re going to keep doing it because we have been for 2,000 years (or longer) doesn’t make sense.
Is it really sensible to think that God wants married people to have sex only when they plan to make kids? No. Sex is also a relationship-bonding experience. It is, I dare say, a spiritual experience when I give my wife an orgasm, when I get one, or when we both come together (blessed be those nights…and sometimes mornings or afternoons). If God’s goal was only for us to breed, why not leave us with mating seasons and specific sexual cycles? Why have it be something that feels so good and cements a loving relationship so well, and have it only be for baby-making? So, right there, we’re already off track when contraception is condemned because of the notion that every sexual act should be potentially procreative.
Jumping to the next point, does it really make sense in this resource-strapped world, with so many poor and so few rich but so much wealth in the hands of a tiny number of people, that God wants us to breed like bunnies? Is it really wise for us to do so? No. It makes us poor stewards of the planet. China has population control policies, and look how huge THEY are. What if they didn’t have such policies? What if every married couple in the United States in these modern times had families of six to 15 kids or something. When my dad was young, that was tenable. Now, it’s environmentally irresponsible and financially untenable. Did God not give us free will so that we could exercise some common damn sense?
Contraception is not evil, and attempts to make it so are simply a game of maintaining the status quo for the sake of comfort or habit or plain ignorance.
Is is because we change that we were sent the Holy Spirit, and why we have to try to listen to that spirit of God. It is because we change that God approaches us in different ways at different time. And for a long time now, it’s been right and appropriate for God not to overtly reveal himself, because it is through the search for Him and our attempt to forge a relationship with Him (by whatever means, Christian or otherwise) that we show we are honoring those things spiritual.
The Vatican needs to get up off that no-contraception policy, as do many other Christians and non-Christians. People need to stop calling God a victim of capriciousness and multiple-personality disorder simply as a way of disregarding religion.
And we all need to keep up with the times. But that doesn’t mean throwing out Jesus’ teachings. It means keeping them in context.
I cannot take credit for the following quote, but I can’t help by smile ruefully and nod my head as I read it. It’s sort of the religious/spiritual equivalent of the Tea Party candidates who tout that we need to remain true to the U.S. Constitution, but who don’t know what the Constitution says or what the amendments to it are.
To most Christians, the Bible is like a software license. Nobody actually reads it. They just scroll to the bottom and click “I agree.”
That came from a Twitter account known as almightygod (I didn’t know my Father in Heaven had signed on to Twitter until now ;-)), and I don’t know if the owner of that Twitter account is the originator of the quote or simply passing on something he or she heard, but it’s a gem if I ever saw one, regardless.
It was not quite the discussion I had envisioned it to be, but the debate about the Catholic Church and Vatican that started here has, at least from my standpoint, come to an end with a series of posts over the past couple days that were increasingly (though politely) combative on both sides. If it continues, it will be without me, as I feel further participation by me will only enflame matters and raise my blood pressure…as well as distract me from other things I need to do.
If you didn’t read any of it, or haven’t finished following it, I recommend you check it out.
There has been some interesting historical information shared, which is probably not 100% accurate on either side of our debate, but somewhere in the middle (though I think even in the middle, history tends to support my arguments ;-)) and there has been some insight into the mind of man who became Catholic and embraced it fully in his faith walk, and of another man who respects Catholics overall but cannot stomach the institution that leads them.
It is my hope that even in disagreeing with David, that I have not offended him. I have learned some things, and filled some errors in my knowledge, and gained more knowledge than I had before. I hope he can say the same, but who knows?
In case you don’t check the “Recent Comments” section in the sidebars, let me inform you that David (who commented in my “Down the Hole With You” post the other day) and I are engaging in some friendly debate about Catholic doctrine. He asked in the comments of one of Miz Pink’s posts if I was Catholic, and it went off from there. It’s good clean fun…no one’s getting savaged or anything, but if you’re curious, it starts here.
So, our pastor had an interesting line today in church, and not sure if he got it from someone else (so if he did, apologies if credit needs to go elsewhere). In the final of a four-week series on “Why Church?” he noted, of the value of attending church, that in doing so…
The synergy of collectivity overcomes the entropy of individualism.
Now, there are a lot of non-Christians who read my blog here who are cringing right now. Really, I can feel your shuddering through the Internet. You’re saying, “See! This is the problem with churches. They preach conformity and groupthink.”
Get your knickers out of your ass crack for a moment though, and reflect. First off, even the non-churchgoing types belong to plenty of clubs, groups, political parties, community groups and more where unity of action and thought is often encouraged. So get off the high horse.
But more importantly, let’s examine what the pastor of my church is really talking about (because, for one thing, it’s a highly open and inclusive church, and doesn’t promote lock-step thinking at all).
Having a community that is together in a single purpose, or a set of purposes, can be a very good thing. My church, in fact, is very involved in community helping and in helping abroad. Helping primarily, with proselytizing really far down the list of priorities. That is the synergy of collectivity. Not a collective “turn off your brain” mindset but the pooling of talents, wills and resources.
Together, we can achieve things that as individuals we could not do, or not do as effectively. The offerings we give, the time we might volunteer, the smiles we might offer to fellow church members who need a smile…all these things come together to make the church community powerful when there is love and compassion at the heart of things, and not judgment or recrimination.
And that’s where we get to the “entropy of individualism.”
Not, mind you, “individuality.” Our pastor said individualism.
I think there is a distinction. The first is natural. We are all unique and should be. We all have lives outside the church as well. And we should. These are good things.
But the latter thing, individualism, is trickier, and more dangerous. It speaks to me of the desire to put individual desires above all else. We’re all guilty of doing this, regularly. But we must be careful to remember the importance of community (spiritual or otherwise) and not lift up the individual so much that we end up preaching the dangerous nonsense of someone like Ayn Rand and that dangerous school of thought known as Objectivism, which encourages people not to help their fellow humans.
There are pastors and churches where the collectivity is taken to the extreme of collectivism, which is where we end up with “sheeple” and large groups of people mobilizing behind issues that I’m sure make Jesus cringe.
I agree that such a state is not good. But I like the “synergy of collectivity,” idea and I agree that it should be one of the primary reasons for finding a good church and being a member of it, even if you don’t attend every week and even if you can’t give much or your money or time.
I have no opinion or commentary about Pastor…oh, sorry…Bishop Eddie Long and the allegations he coerced young males in his mega-church to engage in sex with him, while also openly opposing gay marriage and decrying homosexuality as a sin.
However, I have a lot of opinions about his adherence to biblical principles, most especially Jesus’, as he rolls around in fancy clothes and cars and rakes in big bucks, advocating that Jesus was wealthy and wants all of his followers to be wealthy, too.
But why share all of those opinions when I can keep it simple and just say that Eddie Long needs to re-read the New Testament.
Because in my opinion, Bishop Long is going to have, as Jesus noted, nearly as hard a time getting into Heaven as a camel has of getting through the eye of a needle.
I have a friend…no, really, it’s a friend. It’s not me.
I wouldn’t have the patience to do what she does, so it’s really not my situation I’m venting about.
Anyway, she runs a small not-for-profit agency that serves as a community center in an impoverished and crime-ridden area. Her board of directors cannot be motivated to do anything that would actually grow the organization (which is seeing much fewer church donations and grant funding, but a lot more utilization of services), nor to respect her abilities (though several board members speak highly of the male head of another community-based organization and praise him for his actions, while rejecting most of the suggestions of my female friend, even though hers are comparable, and she’s managed to run an organization on a shoestring with a sedate board while his board busts their asses to make sure he can actually afford to hire people).
What it always comes back to, every time that she tries to convince them to bring more business people onto the board (people with financial connections who can help bring in funds and other support), or to urge them to plan fundraisers (instead of relying on ever-diminishing grant and foundation funding), or she tries to push for actual staffing (since she’s the only person who’s a paid employee, and underpaid by far, at that)…well…
…well, they pull out their Bibles.
Metaphorically, that is.
She mentions that they need to focus less on bringing more Christians onto the board, and they remind her that the organization was originally founded as a church (which it failed at, given that there are plenty of under-attended churches in the area already, and people are more concerned about daily survival). Doesn’t matter that, as she points out, the YMCA and Salvation Army have a Christian foundation, but reach out well beyond that base.
She mentions that they need to raise funds by having events, and they suggest she reach out to more churches. Never mind that the churches that once supported the organization have reduced their donations year after year as needs have gone up.
She mentions that they need staff to work with the increasing number of people who come to the organization, so that she can focus on administrative duties, and they suggest getting more volunteers. Never mind that volunteers are often unreliable in terms of attendance and many who come to the center are kids, and want to have stable adult figures, not a rotating door mentality. Also, never mind that when she gets volunteers from local colleges that need service learning credits, their semester is almost over by the time she has them adequately trained, which means constant wasting of time on very time-limited resources. They suggest she ask more churches for volunteers. These would be the same churches that haven’t been giving any other support, of course, for years…and they want to send older people who complain about the lack of air conditioning and the plethora of kids and don’t come back. Great idea, huh?
My point is, they always come back to the argument that what this center really needs to be is what it was founded as shortly after the church idea fell apart: to be a Christian mission.
So they want more Bible study and proselytizing, even though what is needed is a safe place for people (the at-risk kids, mostly) to gather and a place for them to get food and possibly connections to other services, like parenting classes, job training, financial education, and the like.
They are so fixated on being a Christian mission program that they have totally lost sight of their Christian mission.
That is to say: Jesus taught about reaching out to the sick and the needy and to letting God shine through our actions.
My friend has a board that is so hell-bent on looking Christian that they’ve completely forgotten that we are largely to spread the Gospel and being beacons to bring people to Christ by acting like Christians. That is, following in the example of Jesus.
They aren’t a mission. Instead, they have a mission. One that had been delivered into their laps and which they ignore to hold to a gameplan that probably never applied and certainly doesn’t anymore.
An entire board of Christians has turned away from a crying need in the community. A calling, really. And why? So that they won’t lose their Christian roots.
How blind is that?