Leaving the Fold

Leaving the Fold

Sunday, 4 May 2014

General Questions on Christianity Part 1: Worship, Commandments & Miracles

General Questions on Christianity Part 1: Worship, Commandments & Miracles

God, humility and worship

It is claimed by some Christians that God is humble while this seems true of Christ there is a problem with this. If God was humble, he would not require nor want worship. He most definitely would not care whether he is or is not worshiped nor would he require it and send those who refuse to do so to Hell. He would not care for the amount of worship that has become trendy in contemporary churches and would probably find it trying especially when it can be so over the top. He would probably rather those worshiping did something more productive with their time, like help others (some do). The New Testament even says that 'faith without action is dead'. Prayer can also be majorly over the top and at times mantra like. In church settings, this is often doubled with dramatic emotional music to set the appropriate mood amongst those praying. I am being slightly biased here, I was an Anglican for around half the time I was a Christian before I moved from my hometown. Anglicans are somewhat more strict in how they worship or praye and are far more subtle than contemporary pentecostal churches In saying that God would not want worship I am not suggesting t that God would not want respect, he would probably want it in the same way a parent desires it from their children. Most people do not flatter and praise their parents and not many if any make up songs about them, most people’s parents would be suspicious of constant flattery or praise by their child like the kind often given to God and suspect they wanted something. In fact most, if not all, parents probably would not want the amount of flattery or worship from their children that God demands from his people. Why does God need to frequently be reminded that he is God or that he's good? He knows that, he doesn't need us to tell him that, a humble person does not require that sort of thing and if God does need it he is very insecure.

Sadly many evangelists are not the epitome of humility, there are quite a few especially among the more extremely charismatic happy-clapper variety that are anything but humble. I would rather face God knowing I was totally wrong about him and being humble about it than boasting about all the things I did in his name which seems to be what some evangelists think they will get to do in the afterlife. This is not the kind of attitude that Jesus suggests is pleasing to him as suggested by the following parable:

“9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

- Luke 18:9-14

While Christian’s say God is humble and values humility there are some verses that would suggest otherwise, including the following:

“I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. “
- Ezekiel 36:23 (note that the speaker in this particular passage is indicated to be God, not someone praising God).

“But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the LORD of hosts, “and My name is feared among the nations.”
- Malachi 1:14

Whether or not God wants humility from people is less difficult to interpret, given the number of people who get killed for not being humble enough (including showing a lack of humility towards a prophet).

“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you “ - Deuteronomy 8:2-3

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
- 2 Chronicles 7:14

“Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes…”
- Genesis 18:27

The dramatic prayer and worship often combined with a mellow piano or string motif/composition have a bizarre effect on the human mind. It is of course no secret that people can be drawn in my dramatic music or music in general as this is a regular technique used in advertising, movies and media news broadcasts (sometimes) as well as TV shows and video games (the latter sometimes achieved poorly). It is also no secret that music in a communal setting such as a church can induce a trance like state in people coupled with ecstatic movements, cries and dancing, in a way it forms a bond between those in the trance which is why communal music and dancing is so popular. Testimonies likewise, a major part of Christianity, seeks a similar effect by encouraging a person to make a preferably emotional and inspirational story about their journey to the faith. From the perspective of a believer some testimonies to seem amazing, but from the outside many seem to show Christianity's ability to play on our insecurities and, as mentioned previously, provide a voice of certainty where there is none, thanks mostly to the community it sometimes but not always upholds.

Any large gathering of people amassing under a cause can produce a vibrant atmosphere, some may attribute this to God but a Hindu attending a large festival will feel the same thing, and Hindu festivals are huge, the largest attracting 20-30 million people over a period of two months, or around 500, 000 people a day. People doing meditation, yoga or seeking some other spiritual endeavour in a group, including Buddhists and Hindus for whom this is a way of life may also feel a similar atmosphere yet for them it is not attributable to the Christian deity.

On the subject of testimonies, there is a less kind side to them. It is an expectation amongst many Christians that as a member of their group you will be able to provide an inspiring and encouraging testimony, if you fail to do so then they may be less amused. Sometimes, hesitant members can be forced to provide a testimony they do not wish to give leading to considerable embarrassment unless they somehow excuse themselves. Forcing someone to divulge details of a story they do not wish to tell, can be interpreted as bullying by some. A similar scenario I experienced  led me to realize my testimony no longer made sense, despite being told previously by multiple believers that the miraculous events (or not so miraculous by this stage) that led to my conversion were definitely a sign of God's hand in my life. Following that, the transition to agnostic was well underway.

Following the 10 Commandments

Many Christians still believe that the 10 commandments should be followed despite varying opinions on the idea that Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses so that it no longer had to be followed because the rules within them especially found in Leviticus were extremely difficult to follow. Some evangelicals will try to convince other people that they are sinners and therefore must repent since they cannot follow at least one or more of the laws. Most of the 10 commandments even given a literal interpretation I have no problem with, except two.

Honour your parents
The command that one must honour their parents is a total pet hate of mine. Sure, in context it works well since to the Israelites, family was extremely important, and in an ideal world, it should work still. However, there is a commonly accepted mentality within some church that a person, who does not honour their parents because they were either mistreated, or abused, goes to hell. Undoubtedly, anyone in this situation would not say such a thing and would probably be highly offended. The commandment works well for a functional, healthy family it does not work well for a family that is not very functional because the parents are either tear each other apart, figuratively speaking, or not respecting the child as they should. In other words, this applies to families that love each other, or at least the parents love each other and love their children, not families that do not show this, it should by all means but it sadly does not. Nor do I think it is appropriate to deliberately keep reminding a child that they will go to hell if they are not obedient to the point the child develops a very unhealthy fear of doing anything wrong (I don’t think threatening a child or teaching hell to them is right under any circumstances).

Do not Lie

In itself this is not a bad commandment but some interpretations go so far as to suggest all lies are a sin even if they are done with good intention (however rarely) such as if someone is protecting another person who is being wrongfully persecuted and lies about their whereabouts to keep them from harm. To suggest that this is a sin and a condemnable offense as far as the church or God is concerned absurd. If a Christian was fleeing persecution and asked someone to lie about their whereabouts to protect them, I’m sure they would not be complaining about breaking this particular commandment.

Do not murder

While I most certainly agree with this verse, some considerable liberties are taken with interpretations of this verse. It is not considered murder when God condones genocide and killing in the Old Testament or commits it himself. If he had not wanted the Israelite’s to break this commandment then it makes no sense that he would order them to kill some of their neighbors (in striking contrast to Jesus’ attitudes on love thy neighbour). It also makes no sense that God rarely reprimands his followers for killing people without his consent such as when Elisha kills the 42 boys, Elisha is not told off or told his actions were a little extreme despite the fact that God would have had full knowledge of Elisha’s actions.

On Miracles

There have been many stories by Christians where a loved onewas brought back from the dead. Without a note on their medical records of this and very little in the way of resources to back them up these stories hold little weight, despite that, they are a favorite of pastors in some churches. Many of these stories result from a lack of knowledge of how defibrillators and CPR actually work, which is understandable. Defibrillators cannot restart a heartbeat, they stop it allowing intrinsic mechanisms within the heart to restart the heart with a normal rhythm. In fact a person’s heart may occasionally stop for a fraction of a second to prevent, or stop, an abnormal rhythm known commonly as ectopic beats that often go unnoticed. Beginning a story with someone flat lined and then were defibrillated back to life actually reflects a very poor knowledge of cardiology. Defibrillators can be used to stop a life threatening arrhythmia (such as a heart attack). If the heart is stopped this requires complicated and very fast intervention before the brain becomes starved of oxygen which not only starves brain cells of energy but also triggers a series of reactions within the cells which kills them . Bringing someone back in one piece after their heart has stopped completely is extremely difficult and rarely ever fully successful (brain damage often occurs). There have been instances when someone’s heart has stopped for a long time but through medical intervention, involving both CPR and the application of life support devices, blood flow and a supply of oxygen supply was maintained allowing the brain to remain intact until the heart could be restarted (again not always successful). A slow metabolism brought on due to cold temperatures or meditation can increase the duration of time before brain damage occurs if the heart stops but this is never guaranteed.

Some of these stories, notably by pastors include descriptions of loved ones catching a glimpse of heaven. Strangely many of these stories give very different accounts of what they saw. One would expect if they went to the same place some of the details if not many of them would have been consistent. Unfortunately, the worst offenders of bad stories where a person has been reported as seeing heaven and hell are the ones that start with the line: “the patient’s heart flat lined (no heartbeat, aka dead) and they were defibrillated.” Unless someone had lots of syringes and the correct drugs that probably are not readily available to the general public and other equipment handy (and knew how to use all of these) while someone else did CPR, this would be useless. Even if they did have the right equipment, the success rate of restarting a heart if intrinsic mechanisms fail to restart the heart is not high and more often than not, the victim is revived with brain damage. Whoever wrote these stories had watched too much Hollywood, where defibrillators can apparently cure just about even everything. This gets even worse in modern video games where they can bring the player back to life even after they have just been hit by an explosive.

One such story I heard retold in church, by a ‘friend of a friend of a pastor’, recounts a boy going to heaven after watching TV in the bath (with the TV delicately poised on a ledge) and the TV fell in, on that basis alone the story is highly improbable, nobody is that stupid and no one’s parents would admit to their child doing something that stupid (or allow that in the first place seeing as the boy’s mother was home in the story).  The most unrealistic part, was the fact that the paramedics attempted to use a defibrillator for over twenty minutes, despite the fact they would have known that this would not work (especially after five minutes). Nor do I think God would have been pleased to see the boy as occurs in the father’s story, after getting himself killed by a highly avoidable and highly stupid means. It seems very unfair that God would bring him back to life and not bring back the lives of other people’s kids who have died through no fault of their own (using a TV in the bath was the boys fault). The congregation overhearing the story did not think it was implausible, in fact, the majority thought it sensational.

God’s miracles and answers to prayer have a similar pattern to the above, making it seem as though he is playing favourites or randomly selects a certain number of prayers on any one day and answers them. For anyone struggling in their faith, this is like watching a sibling get utterly pampered and spoilt by their parents while the other sibling themselves gets no attention at all (for infants there is a slight exception as this can be expected to an extent). To use a slightly better analogy, this is like being a child watching your siblings open a massive stack of Christmas presents while you discover you only have one little parcel. This turns out to be something like a pair of socks, which turn out to be for your siblings. For struggling Christians, this is made far worse by some Christians bragging about what God has done in their lives sometimes to the point they run the risk of sounding like total spoilt brats. Even some Christians find this objectionable but often will not politely embarrass the other Christian for their remarks. There are a number of things that Christians say to each other that are usually not expected or intended to be heard by someone who is not a Christian.

The only reason I mention this is because it Is becoming so widespread in the Christian community, it is like the people doing it fail to realize there are 7 billion other people out there, there are people starving and dying of illnesses every day, and they think God cares about their trivial concerns and prayers instead. Many of his prayer answers seem bizarrely random and make you wonder what the person praying did right, to get an answer, that everyone else also praying did wrong. While other prayer requests like praying a cold will go away within a week (which I have heard before) are kind of rigged, they will appear to be answered. Also, if somebody from another religion prayed the exact same thing to their god/s, their prayer would appear answered as well yet this never seems to bother Christians much.