Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Some assorted stories from my life with a theme

I never remember truly believing in Santa Clause. I am sure I must have at some point. I also never recall losing my faith in him. I am sure I had lost my belief in this by the time I was five, if I ever really believed. I know I no longer believed by the time I was five because I started giving presents to my family because I figured out how this worked. This did not make me lose the fun of Christmas nor did it stop me from pretending I believed in the mythos, it just made it all more fun.

When we moved to the United States my parents became avid watchers of TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network). TBN had a lot of Biblical prophets and especially faith healers. They were good at making the money roll in. Benny Hinn was one of the most prominent faith healers in the station. He held huge crusades where people were healed of their infirmities by their faith.

When I was in middle school he came to my town and we got tickets to it. We came in a little late so we were sent to the row right in front of the wheel chairs. Awesome! We had an “in front of the row seats” to the whole event when they would get healed, right? No. None of them were healed. Did I lose my faith, no, this was periphery to what I truly believed. It was a fringe phenomena. Still, I cannot say it did not make me look at the claims of Christians a little more critically.

Also at the time there was a car dealership with a Christian fish symbol on it and we passed it every time in our drive to church. One day my father said “You know they cheat everyone as much as they can.” Every Sunday after that I looked at that place on the way to church and thought about it and it made me realize that you cannot trust someone anymore because they claim that they are a Christian than if they are not. Shortly after that we were judged out of our church because of the prosperity doctrine.

We moved to another church and another state and I started to put a few things together like how every time someone spoke in tongues it sounded the same and I was able to imitate it perfectly. Did the Bible not say that speaking in tongues sounds like your native language when the person speaking does not speak it? Also the translation, which my Sunday school teacher said was essential to verify that it was from God, never stuck in my mind. I thought to myself, as I listened intently trying to gain some insight, that if it was really a direct message from God should it not be a little more memorable, instead of completely forgetable.

I had a very progressive sort of a Sunday school teacher. He wanted to teach us to think for ourselves, especially if it led us to the same conclusions as it was accepted in the church. By this time I was already taking everything with a grain of salt, I was in high school, and I found several things in the doctrine of my church that they treated as essential that I could not reconcile with my conscience and the Bible. There was their stance on the death penalty, war, a Christians involvement in politics to name a few. My Sunday school teacher taught us about different religions other than Christianity. I thought this was some great perspective, well I thought that when he started. I asked, as he was in the middle of teaching about Mormonism, weather this is what the Mormons claimed to believe or this was the interpretation of a non-Mormon. You can guess what the answer was.

One day my teacher made a mistake and taught me an important lesson without meaning to. We were studying Paul and specifically his experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). He divided us into two groups. One was to argue how this was the best thing that ever happened to Paul and one was to play the devil's advocate. I was randomly selected to be in the opposing group. I, of course, believed that this was the best thing that ever happened to Paul but as I started to think about it the ideas to the contrary just started to flow out. Arguing against what I believed in was fascinating. I loved exploring the opposing point of view. The other kids in my group came up with no ideas at all, I came up with plenty of really good ones. When we presented our arguments, mine were better than the opposing groups. I could see on the teachers face the mistake he realized he had made. He thought none of us could come up with good reasons and therefore discrediting opposing point of views from the church’s in our minds. I just did a too good of a job. He carried on as before. I was super pleased with myself and had a lot of fun.

That taught me that other people are incapable of holding two opposing points of view in their minds at the same time. They are too scared to face two opposing realities. That is the thing I am trying to do with this blog. I am trying to get people to stop being scared of seeing their opposer's point of view in anything but a mocking context. We cannot truly understand what we believe in until we comprehend its opposite. If you are afraid of losing your faith, it is not strong enough and hardly worth keeping if a simple mental exercise will destroy it. A faith unquestioned is a faith not worth having. A child may believe unquestioningly, but when I was little I asked questions like who were Gods parents? If little kids can ask that why are you too scared? You are a grown up, grow a pair and start thinking for yourself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What to do about those Jehovah’s Witnesses

When I was little Jehovah’s Witnesses were seen as a huge nuisance. Only old lonely people let them in. Then the rest of the old bored ladies gossiped about them letting them in. Most Christians that I know seem to have a phobia of other religions. Why are they afraid? I don't really get it. If the God we believe in is so great and there are no other gods then why fear other religions? They often say that they are Satanic. Well, I do not fear Satan, the Bible says God is greater than Satan so why fear him. I serve God, so I am covered. I know God, I trust God, Satan is not going to sneak in like a cold virus from speaking to a door to door mission sales person. That is not how it works. Besides, they are sincere, what ever else they might be, they are sincere.

I say this because this Jehovah’s Witness lady has been coming to my door with an assortment of quieter younger women, missionaries in training, I suppose. I don't let her in, not because of the Biblical mandate not to let in representatives of false religions but because my house is always a mess and unfit to host guests so I speak to them at the door. She thinks she is getting somewhere with me. I have told her several times that I love discussing religion in a respectful way. I also write a blog about religion. This is just what I do. I have not directly told her she is not getting anywhere with me. She thinks that Jehovah has led her to me and that and she is getting somewhere. The truth is she isn't. My faith is not tied to a denomination. I do not 100% believe what any denomination teaches. She feels optimistic that we agree on so much. We do because I focus on only the "important" stuff and don't care too much about details like what is God's name. This is a detail that is very important to her, being a Jehovah’s Witness. I told her that the name of God means very little to me because I believe he is the only God out there so if I say God in prayer, he is the only one that hears me. Therefore, I do not give a hoot about God's name. She does, but because I care so little, it has not become a bone of contention between us. She wants to find something we disagree on she has but they are things that matter to me very little.

Maybe I should bring up that she, as in Jehovah’s Witnesses, does not have the monopoly on salvation but anyone, anyone of any faith has an opportunity to encounter God and accept him indepenbdent of the faith community they are raised in. I bet we could disagree on that one. For that reason I have no reason in becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. They have no answers that I have not already worked out in my head, our answers may already disagree but I am uncertain about nothing. Her tact is directed toward people who have uncertainties, or people who do not think about God and the spiritual a lot. I do. I already have my own answers to: Why does God allow suffering? Where is all this going? etc.

I suspect she does not have any experience with dealing with people like me. People certain in their faith but unafraid of questioning, entertaining other people's point of view. I suppose she probably thinks most of the people she meets she lumps into two categories: the unready and the ready. I suspect she sees me as the latter. I wonder if I am wasting her time. Some Christians would say either that I am keeping her from spreading her “lies” to others, or that I am putting myself in danger, or that I am not trying to convert her aggressively enough. I don't know. I enjoy my chats with her and may actually visit a service at the Kingdom Hall. I have been to the services of many other denominations and would enjoy seeing how they do things.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Going to Hell for Fashion, and Other Judgements

Once I went on a missions trip of sorts to Duluth MN when I was in college and living in the United States. It was my mother's idea but I thought it was a great change of pace while visiting home. There were a few people from Finland there to invite locals of Finnish heritage to an evening of Finnish spiritual music. Our motley crew was made up of a former convict, a former drug addict, a former famous singer, a math major who really just wanted to play the piano, me and my mother. We were from different churches there were Baptists and Pentecostals, old and young but we were all Christians and Finnish. We spent a lot of time together and and got to know each other pretty well.

I remember a conversation where, I cannot remember if it was he math major, me or both of us teasing the old people insisting that harps would not be played in heaven because they were pagan instruments played by polytheistic Greeks romping about in various states of undress but the true instrument of heaven was in fact the accordion. I also remember a time he countered their claims of rock music being of the devil that jazz was in fact the music of Satan because it was so sensual. Then he would aggravate the old people by starting to play some old hymn on the piano and jazzing it up. It was all done in good humor and the old people liked the young man exceedingly.

One day while we were driving somewhere in a car the conversation among the older people turned to the fact that everybody in the Tampere Pentecostal Church youth group had dreadlocks. It was big and had many young people but that did not count because they had dreadlocks. That meant they were Rastafarian. I said that it was just a hairstyle and it had to be nothing more, it did not mean they were Rastafarian. One of the older people countered me by stating that it was more than a hairstyle in a way that meant that there was to be no more discussion of it.

I knew they were wrong, very wrong but I was not interested in an argument and I liked all these people, especially the two men with questionable pasts. Still my perception of them became a little colored and my own knowledge in my heart was not shaken that hair was just dead protein. I cannot pretend that this did not in part did not influence in past some of my later choices of hair styles. I spent a few years alternating my hair between shaven and a mohawk. I proved myself to be right. I was not altered with the change in the way I looked. The reactions of other people toward me changed, but I did not. One day I was being cat called and hassled, the next I looked like a 12 year old boy from a distance and was left alone.

What I am trying to get at is many things are labeled as sinful, gateways to sin or signs of sin when there is barely correlation, certainly not causation. When my parents were young, Pentecostals in Finland did not drink alcohol, dance, play cards and the women did not pierce their ears. The root cause was that sometimes these things were associated with activities that the church deemed sinful, and in many cases Bible too, and therefore they became sin by association. Alcohol drinking was all out banned for obvious reasons, overuse of alcohol is a terrible thing and still a wide reaching and real problem in Finnish society. Card playing was out because it was associated with drinking and gambling and such and both are bad when not exercised in strict moderation. Dancing was out because it was seen as a gateway to fornication and a lot of other vises, like drinking, went along with it.

As for pierced ears I am not sure what was bad about them. I suppose they were like the dreadlocks, they looked sinful and had sinful correlations in the minds of people. All I know is that when my mother was newly saved, still fresh and enthusiastic, went to church with tiny pearl studs a woman told her that she could not be saved and wear earnings. She was mortified and took them out for ten years or so. Still, while she does not oppose others wearing earrings she does not feel comfortable wearing them herself.

First Corinthians speaks about this topic. In chapter 8 it states that eating meat that is consecrated to idols is no sin, unless by doing it you lead others astray. In the same way dreadlocks are no sin and neither are earrings. In both cases no one was lead astray, no where in the Bible does it state that incurring the judgment of your brothers and sisters in Christ is a sin. Your sin is ultimately between you and God and outward adornments are not sinful. It does not matter to God nearly as much what we put on or in our bodies as what is in our hearts. If our hearts are for him it does not matter how our hair is done, how many piercings we have or if we enjoy a good game of solitaire while sipping a beer, or what ever. Those things are not sin. Sin happens when your heart turns away from God because it knows you are hurting someone, be that yourself by ripping your liver apart with excessive alcohol or by gambling your family to the poorhouse.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I love Muslims

I am serious, I really do love Muslims. Do I love them more than say Atheists, Buddhist, Satanists, Christians or Secular Humanists. No, not really but lately there has been a lot of talk about Muslims in my neck of the woods.

It has been a while since there was a major terrorist attack and we have had plenty of time to connect with our fellow humans and get to know those affiliating with the Muslim faith. Still people are unduly afraid of Muslims. Why is that? I have known plenty of Muslims in my life and really cannot say that any of them were anything other than harmless regular people, some I would even categorize as really great loveable people. You know, same as with any random sampling of humanity.

I see Muslims everyday on the bus. Well, I see Muslim women. I am sure I see men too but they are not as noticeable because they dress just like everyone else. I feel no fear, or nervousness with these women. I have classes with them. They are quiet, some not so quiet, but they seem like regular people. They stick to their own kind, just like the representatives of most minority groups because they are probably a little scared.

I remember 9/11. I was in the University of Oklahoma at the time. People started saying crazy things like, don't go in the Towers (12 story residential buildings) someone will fly a plane in them. I remember laughing and thinking they were crazy, I lived on the 12th floor of one. What was going to happen? Someone was going to fly a crop duster in one? I also remember being scared for my brown friends. Not only my Muslim friends but all my brown friends. Any one perpetrating a racially motivated attack is not going to wait to find out that they guy is actually Sikh, or Mexican.

I take all the words of Jesus literally. I may leave some room for interpretation in some parts of the Bible, but I must say that the words of Jesus I listen to with out interpretation. I have never felt the need to expand up on them. I try to expand the sphere of my love as far as it will humanly go. I try to love people no matter how exotic their culture is or how strange their ideas are because they are people just like me. I also believe in loving my enemy and as a result I am supposed to have no enemies. I can honestly say I love all Muslims from the nice Afgani family that runs the pizzeria down the block to even the villainous late Osama bin Laden. My literal neighbours in this case may deserve my love and it is easy to love them, the latter is universally hated for the things he has done and deserves no love but he is still a human being and the words of Jesus apply to him too. So, if you start from the stand point that we must love our enemies, if we are to be good Christians, and the late Mr. Laden is our enemy, how much easier is it to love that person down the street who is merely different.