I had said before that I’d be taking up the subject of religion again, and as I promised, here’s another segment in my litany of criticisms.
Despite Las Vegas’s image as a wretched hive of scum and villainy, it’s actually a relatively quiet town. In fact, ol’ Sin City is cited by a few sources as having the most churches per capita of any city in the US. My family once visited one church (we’ll leave out the full name) called “Grace ———-,” in what was perhaps the single greatest piece of religious sarcasm since Saul was told to go to a street called “straight.”
At “Grace ——-” I had the pleasure of sitting on a butt-numbing pew and listening to an hour of the pastor passionately decry something called “Arminianism.” It was vitally important, it turned out, that we understand that these people were fundamentally wrong regarding predestination. Now I’ll freely admit that I’ve forgotten a lot the the pastor’s exact admonitions- just why it’s so essential to believe one over the other. That was about six or seven years ago- if there’s some awful, soul-rending disaster about to happen to me, I’m still waiting for it.
And that brings us to the topic for the day:
I’m talking about the reasons you go to one church and not the other: because they believe that you’re predestined to go to heaven, while we believe that’s it’s an individual choice. They believe that the holy spirit is an inherent part of the trinity, whereas we maintain that the trinity is the manifestation of the bond between the father and the son. They believe the soul goes directly to the afterlife, whereas we believe that the spirit rests until judgment day.
I gotta honestly ask.
Who. The ****. Cares?
For the love of all that’s holy, people, the Spanish Inquisition was more reasonable than this. Don’t get me wrong- it was friggin’ evil, but at least there was a certain logic to it:
It went something like this: “Heretics threaten to corrupt the church, corruption is bad, therefore heretics are bad and must be removed.” Evil, ignorant, and intolerant, but there’s still a rationale.
What do we have today? This mentality:
“I’m gonna take these handful of words written in another language nearly 2,000 years ago and interpret it to mean something about the nature of God that has no effect on my life or choices whatsoever. I have no way of proving anything I have concluded, or even offering the slightest shred of evidence to back ’em up, but if you disagree with any of ’em, then you might as well be a heathen.”
We’ve got no way of testing any of these hypotheses that get created, yet the entirety of people’s spiritual lives- who they associate with, what they recite, how they view the “role of women”- is predicated on what are pretty much just shots in the dark.
Other than separating people and giving Theology majors something to do, what effect do any of these allegedly fundamental conclusions have on anything?
Do Calvinists expect that they’ll get first boarding to paradise while the Wesleyans have to wait a few more minutes? Do the Southern Baptists expect that the First Baptists will be seated at a table near the bathroom during the wedding feast of Christ and the church?
Then why the **** does everyone define themselves by these rigid little codes? Why do people pass two churches of their supposed brethren to get to one fitting their denominational criteria? Who exactly is any of this for? Do your prayers become more sincere once you understand the correct nature of the trinity? And do you have to get it just right, or do they increase in power the closer you get? Does the good Lord smile upon the Calvinist more than the Methodist? Is the dancing in the pews Pentecostal more at risk of becoming an axe-murder than his dour (but theologically correct) Wesleyan counterpart?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the starving people in the world care less about transubstantiation/consubstantiation and more about eating any kind of bread.
Limited atonement, if case you didn’t know, is the idea that if you’re saved once, you’re always saved, i.e., those who fall away from the faith were never true believers. Again, what possible relevance to anything you do in your daily life this has is beyond me.
And as much as I’m ragging on this system of pointless and petty exclusion, this whole “empty theology” thing extends beyond that. Let’s talk about “spiritual disciplines”- the idea that forgoing food for a day is more beneficial to the spirit than feeding someone who hasn’t eaten in a week.
I tried looking this term up in the Bible… and I couldn’t actually find the words “spiritual discipline” listed anywhere. ESV, NIV, King James- you name it. Yet there’s this whole movement based around adhering to the concepts of “frugality, meditation, solitude, and celebration” (among others). The late Dallas Willard, one of the key writers behind all this, describes the reason for his research and works on “spiritual disciplines”, stating “Many serious and thoughtful Christians are looking for ways into an intelligent and powerful Christlikeness that can inform their entire existence and not just produce special religious moments.”
As I’ve complained before, this line of thought seems to be another product of a safe, comfortable world. Self-flagellation, minus the pain.
Ok, that’s a little harsh, but it’s again pretty hard not to view these (let’s face it) as pretty trifling. I mean, when Willard talks about relaxing alone as a means of spiritual growth…
“Lengthy solitude and silence, including rest, can make them very powerful.”
…it’s a little tough not to harbor some skepticism. It seems that unless you going without lunch is preparation for some hunger strike that’s going to lead to two bitter rival factions making peace with each other, I’m not exactly seeing what good it does.
You can say that your fast is overcoming weakness and bringing you closer to God, but are you really going to be a fundamentally better person after that? If a cheeseburger is truly such a massive challenge to your faith, then we’ve probably got much bigger issues we gotta address here.
Doesn’t this all sound familiar? A collection of the pious, rigorously pouring over holy writ, debating each other for hours on how to fit the law to a T and adding a few rules of their own while they’re at it? Again, the term “pharisaical” seems to fit the situation perfectly, though the adherents of this mentality would probably prefer the terms “Pietist” or “Holiness movement”- two major lines of thought generally endorsing this fanaticism with theological accuracy (no matter how unprovable) and personal “cleanliness.”
So what does this all produce?
Well, as Evan and I hashed out a while ago, this obsession with legalistic perfectionism has more or less rendered it’s adherents incapable of producing any noteworthy art, music, or media. (And to the one person who wants to bring up Charles Wesley, I’ll have you know a hefty chunk of those hymns were based off of secular and bar songs back in the day). We get an ever increasingly insular, detached subculture, obsessed with it’s own importance and disdainful (or at best, patronizing) of anyone who fails to agree with them exactly. This need for “correctness” seems to continually splinter the church, rather than progress it toward the intended goal of perfection, and seems to be contributing to people abandoning the church in droves. Ultimately, for all the fanaticism about theological accuracy and the doctrine of “sola scriptura,” the entire movement seems to be succinctly contradicted by Jesus.
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
So you’ve achieved absolute holiness and purity. Great. Now, go do something useful with it.
I don’t mean to bash people over the head with this- I truly don’t- but this isn’t just some bad habit- it’s a mentality that shapes and guides massive numbers of people across the world. So much time and effort is being placed in things which have absolutely no relevance to anything and offer no betterment to anyone– and on top of all, is serving to continually fracture an already splintered church.
It’s just ridiculous, people.
FINAL NOTES: Again, this is largely focused on Protestant Christianity in North America and Europe (to a certain extent). Obviously, religion as a whole is far, far more complex than is within the power of a blog post to capture, and again, this discussion is going to keep on developing. Be sure to stop in next Monday for my next installment.