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Religion – definitions

In my last blog, I talked about the differences between Spirituality and Religion in basic terms only. It’s purpose was to clarify what I personally mean when I use the words so everyone is on the same page, although many did like the descriptions.

But the definition of religion needs to be unravelled much more. People are always at cross purposes when talking about it, and unless they take the time to explain the semantics etc, it’s often a lost cause. Even Wikipedia struggles with it: “Religion may be defined as a cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, world views, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion”.

So once again, I have to provide my own views so at least there is no confusion when discussing this broad subject.

The word religion is often used in derogatory ways these days, however I try to avoid any judgement attached to it and use it as an overall term for various belief systems. So here are a few qualifiers I add to the word and what I mean when I use them in reference to Christianity.

 

Traditional

As the name suggests, this is a system of theistic beliefs that have been built up over long periods of time to create a complex set of dogma that are regarded as sacred traditions and essential to maintaining those beliefs.

Fundamentalist

This is pretty much the same as conservative evangelicalism and embraces literal interpretations of scriptures (although still guided by doctrine and dogma) in an attempt to maintain the purity of “faith”. It is also very much into defining who’s “in or out”, setting clear boundaries around salvation and acceptance by God. It is often the most aggressive form of religious expression.

Institutional

This is very similar to traditional religion but is more defined by the power structures and politics that shape and control the traditions. It takes the traditional beliefs and uses them to justify a complex, and often global, network of “branches”, along the lines of a business.

Liberal

Liberal christianity contains far less dogma and is open to allegorical and metaphorical interpretations of scripture, often embracing mystical and eastern philosophies. It rejects literal understanding of scripture based on the type of hermeneutics used to interpret any ancient literature.

Mystical

This is an interesting approach to religion that has persisted throughout Christianity’s nearly 2000 years. It could be said to be “above” the constant battles of other forms of religion and most of the profound wisdom teachings over the centuries have come from the more mystical interpretations of scripture. It’s very hard to pin down any specific definition but Wikipedia has a whole section on it.

Pentecostal

This could be considered a sub-group of fundamentalism and is defines by extreme physical demonstrations of faith, such as speaking in tongues, prophesy, various types of “trances” and ecstatic states, miracles (mostly physical healing) and a high emphasis on evangelism.

Charismatic

This is very similar to Pentecostalism but tends to be part of more traditional church structures, such as the Catholic Charismatic Movement etc.

 

There are of course, many smaller sub groups. Often these groups refuse to be labelled and many believe they are the true representation of the original church, or variations of that idea. A lot of them would be classified as cults.

 

So there you have it in a nutshell. If you use the word “religion” in any conversation, be aware that any of the above could be assumed by your use of that word.

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Deconstructing Jesus

I’ll preface this blog by saying that the Christian belief system is a very mature one, in that it’s doctrines have become a panacea and comfort for countless people. It provides security for our eternal future, a safe haven from our darkest struggles, hope for a better life, loving communities and a way to navigate the complexities of life. The writings of Paul in the New Testament are powerful observations of human nature and methodologies for navigating our failings. For most Christians however, it all comes down to “relationship with Jesus”.

In my own life, through all the years of crap, it was my relationship with Jesus that kept me going!

We claim that whatever people say and do and whatever claims about God people make, Jesus is real and loves me more deeply than I could ever imagine. When we experience the “living Christ” we know that we know he’s real and alive in us.

Atheists and critics tend to focus on all the absurdities of the bible and the mythical anthropomorphic god, the hypocrisy of the church and so on – all the really obvious stuff. But for those of us who have experienced the reality of Jesus none of that matters, in fact we may even agree with a lot of it! When we “know” Jesus, nothing is going to shake that belief because we experience him everyday and every way in our lives.

When everything fell apart for me, the only thing I had was Jesus. I could rest in the fact that he was there for me, speaking to me, telling me it was OK and he’d look after me. But as I began to dismantle the theology and doctrines, the historicity and veracity of the bible, church history, other religions and philosophies and especially psychology, I had to take a second look at this “relationship”.

As all the external beliefs slowly crumbled I was left wondering what this relationship actually was. What exactly was my heart “hearing” when we talked? Where did these words of love and comfort come from? It wasn’t until I had the honesty and fortitude to let go of my security in that voice that I could see it for what it is. It was me all along!

Yes, it was my deep longing for love being voiced by my subconscious desires. It was my own heart telling me I’m loved and good and to hang in there. I had taken my “innermost thoughts” and ascribed them to a deity. I had separated my heart into “me vs god”. The core doctrines of Christianity told me that my heart was deceptive and there was nothing good in us, and that the only way we could grow was to nurture our relationship with Jesus, so this inner voice, that the bible said was the Holy Spirit (which is the same as Jesus, which is the same as God, or not), was the only thing to be trusted. However, we could only trust it if it aligned with scripture!

But that opened the door for Jesus to be able to say anything to me as long as it could be backed by scripture. This was beginning to become rather a mess, because there are millions who claim to hear Jesus say all sorts of stupid stuff, backed up by scripture. So the only thing that I could say for sure was Jesus voice were the words of love and acceptance, because without that, I had nothing. I was already nothing more than a piece of shit saved by grace, God didn’t have to remind me of that all the time, so his love was the only thing that made sense to me.

But as I said, when I finally had nothing left to lose, I discovered that my own heart – desperate for love and acceptance – was really this “Jesus in me”. I decided to accept that as the reality, instead of all the complicated twisted theology of the trinity and human nature, and how God lives in us.

My heart, in it’s deepest place, is pure and loving. I’m not intrinsically broken and sinful. None of us are! We certainly lose sight of that however, as we blunder on through life, and completely lose sight of that deep perfect love, but it’s there none the less.

So I no longer talk to Jesus, or listen for his words of love and comfort. I don’t wait expectantly in prayer for that still small voice to whisper to me, or his passionate embrace of my soul. I open the depth of my heart to hear what’s always been in me – that part of me that is beyond ego, that existed before our paradigms were formed by life’s interactions and expectations. My heart knows me better than any deity, better than my scrambled thoughts, better than my deluded ego. It’s my own deepest voice that speaks love, and that is a power and strength that no deity can ever match!

Apologetics

In a conversation that came out of my previous blog – Fatal Paradoxes – I casually stated that I knew all the correct theological and doctrinal answers to my own questions: that I had found the paradoxes of faith to be insurmountable and thus fatal. The other person asked if I could provide some examples of these doctrines that I used to be so confident about.

I quickly started looking through old notes and looked up some of the old books etc. What I found was rather scary in some ways!

You see, despite being a deep thinker and questioner all my life, I was also a bit gullible and easily followed those who sounded profound and wise, well at least in the context of christianity.

http://www.digitalfreethought.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/apologetics.jpg

 

My “go to” source for apologetics was C.S.Lewis. He was arguably the greatest apologist for the faith. He came from a rich academic heritage, was extremely well studied in religion and philosophy and very persuasive at presenting what seemed like irrefutable logic.

So as I was digging around to remind myself of all these “theological answers to the paradoxical questions of faith”, looking at Lewis and many other’s works, and thinking “where’s all the good stuff… you know, all the arguments that caused all my doubts to fade?”. I kept looking until I realised I had already found it. There actually wasn’t any profound and persuasive apologetics after all! Even the great Lewis (who I almost worshipped) was simply a product of the culture of his time, lacking in any real diverse understanding or depth from other cultures, and operating in a philosophical environment that reflected the limitations of scientific understanding of the time.

I scratched my head a little more thinking how arrogant I was for coming to that conclusion, and surely the basis for christian faith is more solid than this?!

But I realised that once you’ve “un-seen” the integrity of the faith, you can’t go back. Once the confirmations biases are revealed, the paradigms seen for what they are, the logical fallacies exposed, the role of psychology and science explored, the assumptions about the veracity of the bible and how it all hinged on that, then there really is no going back. The entire foundation of the christian belief system becomes at best, a fascinating adventure in Jewish history, or completely irrelevant, or at worst, an incredibly damaging belief system that was responsible for more hatred and bloodshed than any other. The truth is probably a mix of all these. And yet it persists – and many beautiful, genuine, loving people embrace it and bring life to others in the process.

But for me and countless others, there are far greater truths, and far greater questions that christianity fails miserably to answer, and the apologetics I thought were irrefutable are nothing more than opinions based on assumptions.

What strange and foolish creatures we are!

Fatal Paradoxes

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/0_zBYWparsA/0.jpgI used to ask a lot of questions. I was one of those kids!
This has been the bane and blessing of my life. As a result, the platitude that “God’s ways are higher than ours” or “who are we to question His thoughts” etc, left me absolutely stone cold.

Even though I tried my best for 40 years to reconcile all the contradictions in doctrine and, more importantly, in the bible itself (and I had all the correct theologies and doctrines, all biblically based), I finally had to admit defeat and declare them irreconcilable – fatally flawed – logical fallacies… all leading to the complete dismantling of biblical theology and reasoning, although I still believe there are some gems of wisdom there, as with any “holy” writings.

This is a short summary of the most glaring issues (provided by a friend)…

So, God is the God of Love according to the Bible:

  • Love is patient – God gives up on us.
  • Love is kind – God drops us into a swirling fire pit of violent demons.
  • Love does not envy – God calls Himself a jealous God.
  • Love does not boast – God needs constant praise and adulation.
  • Love is not proud – God rejects our earnest inquiry and reminds us how lowly we are.
  • Love is not easily angered – God has wiped out most of humanity and many many people groups and individuals time and time again in His anger.
  • Love keeps no record of wrongs – God will make us answer for every single sin committed during our lifetimes.

Yes, I know how to “whitewash” or circumvent all these arguments with the best bible college answers, but to do so is to avoid the simplicity of the statements, thwarting any attempt to apply reason and/or logic to the issue.