Hearty Heresy


All or Nothing Christianity
September 19, 2007, 7:19 pm
Filed under: Christianity, God, Jesus, Religion

Here’s another version of C. S. Lewis’s “poached egg” argument for the divinity of Christ. I found it at j4jesus, and I don’t even know where to begin pointing out the logical problems with this quote from N. T. Wright:

The pain and tears of all the years were met on Calvary. The sorrow of heaven joined with the anguish of earth; the forgiving love stored up in God’s future was poured out into the present; the voices that echo in a million human hearts, crying for justice, longing for spirituality, eager for relationship, yearning for beauty, drew themselves together into a final scream of desolation . . . The death of Jesus of Nazareth as the King of the Jews, the bearer of God’s destiny, the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people of old, is either the most stupid, senseless waste and misunderstanding the world has ever seen, or is the fulcrum around which world history turns. Christianity is based on the belief that it is and was the latter.

As with the Lewis argument, the events surrounding the life and death of Jesus are either inexplicably senseless (or utterly insane) or the obvious work of the Lord of the Universe, and there’s no middle ground. All I can say is, there’s plenty of middle ground here, and all one has to do is read something other than Brand Xian boosters (like N. T. Wright and C. S. Lewis) to get a sense of what other possible explanations there might be for the life and death of Jesus. Try Spong, Crossan, or Borg if you’re looking for something to help you sort through the hodge-podge of accumulated distortions about the life of Jesus that have been perpetuated by Brand Xians.

As far as Jesus’ death being “the most stupid, senseless waste and misunderstanding the world has ever see,” any death that is the result of an oppressive political and/or religious system is a stupid and senseless waste.

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I Bet the Number of Heretics Is on the Rise, Too
September 15, 2007, 2:30 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Faith, God, Heresy, Religion

I just saw an article in the Washington Post titled In America, Nonbelievers Find Strength in Numbers, and it’s got me wondering if the number of heretics in America is rising as well. Here’s a bit from the article:

A study released in June by the Barna Group, a religious polling firm, found that about 5 million adults in the United States call themselves atheists. The number rises to about 20 million — about one in every 11 Americans — if people who say they have no religious faith or are agnostic (they doubt the existence of a God or a supreme deity) are included.

That sounds like a pretty significant number for a “Christian Nation.” In fact, if I’m doing my math right (which isn’t one of my strong points), it appears that there are more atheists and agnostics in the United States then there are people who have a “Biblical worldview” (see this earlier Barna report I blogged on a while back, which says “only 4% of adults have a biblical worldview as the basis of their decision-making.”) Sounds to me like reason is winning over Biblical literalism. Who says there ain’t no good news in the papers these days!



The God Game
September 9, 2007, 12:36 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Faith, God, Jesus, Religion, Theology

“One of Us” is not my favorite Joan Osborne song–that would be her version of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” with the incomparable Holmes Brothers. But I can’t help but thinking about “One of Us” when I’m riding the bus to or from work. You see, Mrs. Heretic and I reduced our carbon footprint earlier this summer by donating our second car (a late ’90s white Toyota Corolla with manual transmission) to Habitat for Humanity, and since then (well, actually, even before then) I’ve been commuting to work via Metro Transit. And it didn’t take long before I heard a trio of riders actually quote Osborne’s top 10 hit. In fact, they even asked me my opinion on the subject while we were waiting for the bus. “What do you think? Do you think God could be one of us?” And I said something like, “We’re all God’s children, aren’t we?”

At any rate, I don’t miss the old white Corolla that much. I find sitting on the bus much more relaxing (fighting traffic is not one of my favorite activities) and it gives me plenty of extra time to read things like Crossan’s The Historical Jesus and Frend’s The Rise of Chrisitanity. It also gives me a little time to play the God Game, which is pretty much doing what “One of Us” says: imagining that God was “just a stranger on the bus.” The rules are pretty simple. Whenever you happen to spot someone (either on the bus or waiting at a stop) who would be the least likely to fulfill, say, Pat Robertson’s image of God, you say to yourself, “That’s God.” And you have to take it seriously. That older woman with the bad dye job and the sloppy lipstick? God. The overweight man in the dirty Our Lady of Guadelupe T-shirt? God. The shirtless young blood with corn rows and saggy black jeans? God.

But that’s just the beginning. Then you have to imagine, “If this person really is God, what would they have to do demonstrate their divinity?” Now folks who believe in the Strict Father type of God would find this pretty easy. All someone has to do to prove that they are God is to perform some sort of miracle, preferably something that contradicts the laws of nature: walk on water, calm the seas, raise the dead. But folks who, like me, believe in a more Nurturant Parent type of God would look for another sign. For us, the clearest demonstration that one embodies the divine is to perform an act of love. And that’s what I like to imagine. What if my current candidate for God were in a no-win situation, like being robbed at gun point? Would they use their super God powers to melt the gun out of the assailant’s hands? Or would they choose to see the face of God in another and respond with compassion and forgiveness, even if it meant losing everything they had?

Okay, you probably see where this is going. As far as I can tell from the Gospels, Jesus took the second option. He confronted the worst case scenario of arrest, trial, and crucifixion with dignity and grace. And by doing so, he proved that he possessed to an almost unimaginable degree the most powerful force in the universe: love. For me, that’s enough to show how seriously he took the core message of his ministry, “Love one another.” But for Orthodox Christians, love is not enough. Jesus’ death gets loaded with so much baggage by Brand Xians (ALL the SINS of the WORLD), that it’s almost impossible to see the simple truth of the cross. In the words of Saint Paul (via The Message):

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.



Bible Answers
September 5, 2007, 11:45 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, God, Jesus, Religion

No, I don’t believe the Bible has all the answers! These are the answers to Monday’s Bible Quiz.

1. Name the first five books of the Old Testament.

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

2. Name the four Gospels.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.

3. Name three letters attributed to the Apostle Paul.

Romans, Thessalonians 1 and 2, Galatians, Corinthians 1 and 2, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Philippians, Timothy 1 and 2, and Titus have all traditionally been attributed to Paul.

4. What chapter in what book begins with the words, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”?

The 23rd Psalm.

5. Name the giant that David slew.

Goliath.

6. Which of the Gospels do not include the narratives concerning the birth of Jesus?

The birth story appears in Matthew I: 18 ff and in Luke I: 26 ff, but not in Mark or John.

7. In how many Gospels will you find the word “Trinity”?

“Trinity” appears nowhere in the Gospels.

8. List as many of the Ten Commandments as you can.

From Deuteronomy V: 7-21:

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.

Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

You shall not kill.

Neither shall you commit adultery.

Neither shall you steal.

Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.

Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

9. State the Golden Rule and tell where it is found in the Bible.

Luke VI: 32–”And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”

Matthew VII: 12–”So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.”

10. Name four of Jesus’ disciples.

The twelve disciples were Simon Peter, James and John (sons of Zebedee), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alpheus), Thaddeus, Simon the Canaanite, Judas Iscariot.

So, how’d I do? I missed the book of Numbers in the first question, and I forgot about taking God’s name in vain and committing adultery in the eighth. I also over did it on question nine because I thought the Golden Rule could be found in Mark, too. I may not be a “Walking Bible” like Jack Van Impe (who says he has logged over 70,000 hours of Bible study), but at least I’m not Biblically illiterate.



Bible Quiz
September 3, 2007, 9:10 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, God, Jesus, Religion

I found this Bible Quiz in a resource for new Unitarian Universalists (remember, I scored as both a Liberal Quaker and a Unitarian Universalist on the Belief-O-Matic quiz). I think that everyone who calls him- or herself a Christian should be able to score a perfect ten on this. Give it a try…and no peeking!

  1. Name the first five books of the Old Testament.
  2. Name the four Gospels.
  3. Name three letters attributed to the Apostle Paul.
  4. What chapter in what book begins with the words, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”?
  5. Name the giant that David slew.
  6. Which of the Gospels do not include the narratives concerning the birth of Jesus?
  7. In how many Gospels will you find the word “Trinity”?
  8. List as many of the Ten Commandments as you can.
  9. State the Golden Rule and tell where it is found in the Bible.
  10. Name four of Jesus’ disciples.

I’ll give you the answers (and let you know how I did) later this week.



Being a Loving Father
August 28, 2007, 9:48 am
Filed under: Christianity, Faith, God, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality, Theology

Mrs. Heretic and I have pretty much decided that Hearty, Jr. is going to be an only child, which if fine with us (and I hope with him). There are a lot of factors involved in this decision, but given the settings on our biological clocks (tick tick tick), it’s more or less inevitable. This means that I have the luxury of having to consider only one child when it comes to carrying out my fatherly duties. And when I think of all those fatherly duties (changing diapers, making sure the house is childproofed, getting the tires on the Subaru rotated) one stands out as Job One: giving my son enough love to last a lifetime.

Pretty simple. My primary job as a father is to make sure that my son will always know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I do and always will love him–unconditionally. Of course I’m not sure how this will play out, exactly. There are no guarantees that either Hearty, Jr. or I will be around in twenty years, or ten, or five, or even tomorrow. That’s why I take this job so seriously: I have no idea how much time I have available to me to do this job right. Which means that the here and now is always the best time and place to show that love.

Anyway, this has got me thinking about the part in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says,

If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?

I’m thinking that if I, an admittedly imperfect human being, can imagine wanting to be an unconditionally loving father to my son, then it’s not hard to see the God Jesus is talking about in a similar light: a God who has made loving his children his number one priority. (The pronoun “he” is from Jesus, of course. I could just as easily be talking about God as a loving mother or a loving parent.) What’s more, it doesn’t take much to expand this notion of unconditional love beyond a single lifetime, which makes God’s number one priority this: to give each and every one of us enough love to last forever.

And that, I believe, is the heart of what Jesus taught. God is such a loving God that he will never, ever give up on us, no matter what. And it has nothing to do with our nature and everything to do with God’s nature. This, I believe, is how Jesus experienced God (“You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life”). And Jesus knew this, too: it is ultimately impossible to reject or hoard such love. All we can do is accept it–and give it away. Which makes it easy for me to fulfill my fatherly duties. If I ever need a reminder of God’s love, all I have to do is look into my son’s eyes.



Love is All I Know About God
August 23, 2007, 11:47 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Faith, God, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality, Theology

Emphasis on love. One of the first posts I wrote for this blog included this response from Stephen Mitchell to the question “What is the Gospel According to Jesus?”: “Simply this: that the love we all long for in our innermost heart is already present, beyond longing.” I mention this now because for some time I’ve been meaning to write a post about my experience of God, and I have to say that all I have ever known about God has always been love.

Emphasis on know. You see, the God that I know, the God that Mitchell’s quote points to, is the only God that I have ever experienced in my life. Sure, I’ve been told lots of things about God, from people who think that God can be found in the “common storyline, common theme, and common message” of the Christian Scriptures. That God is what I like to call the “Bad Dad” God, the God who acts like a petty tyrant lording over his household, whose every action (no matter how indefensible) is an expression of his perfect will and must not be questioned, and who enforces submission to that will through violence. Oh, and he loves you, too. How do you know? Because “the Bible tells you so,” so you’ll just have to believe that it’s true.

In all honesty, I’ve never experienced that God. I’ve experienced petty tyrants who could easily be human models for such a being, but I’ve never truly had a sense that the real God–the God I know in my innermost heart–is anything like this Bad Dad. No, the God of my innermost heart is a loving God, pure and simple. And my belief in that God doesn’t come from “66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents,” but my from own personal experience, as confirmed by what I believe to be the true teachings of Jesus, summarized repeatedly by Jesus himself: “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

So when I read the Christian Scriptures, I can’t help but understand them based on what has been my experience of the holy and the divine. And when I look at the teachings of Jesus, it’s pretty clear to me that he, too, experienced the holy and divine in a similar way. That experience is what informs the most beautiful and compassionate parts of his teachings. All the other stuff attributed to Jesus just sounds too much like the same old Bad Dad story to be the authentic teachings of a truly enlightened being.

Does this sound naive? “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in.” Jesus said that, too.