Not Believing Bullshit

Last night I finished reading Believing Bullshit – How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole by Oxford academic Stephen Law. The book discusses various ways through which people are persuaded to believe things that may be factually wrong or philosophically extremist.

Overall the book is an easy read and does well to outline the various techniques used in convincing people of arguments such as only counting up successes as evidence and ignoring failures, people claiming to have hidden knowledge and ways in which smoke screens are created to convince people of mysteries.

My biggest criticism of the book is Law’s treatment of religious belief. In the introduction he states:

True, I illustrate how even core mainstream religious beliefs are sometimes promoted and defended by means of strategies covered in this book. But that’s not meant to show that beliefs in question are false, or that they couldn’t be given a proper, robust defence. Just because some religious people chose to defend what they believe by dubious means doesn’t entail that no one can reasonably hold those same beliefs.

However, he then goes on throughout the book to continually misrepresent, attack, and deconstruct religious beliefs – especially Christianity. In many of the techniques discussed Law shows how people who hold particular religious views use the techniques. However, in many of these examples he has highlighted an extreme minority view and presented it as mainstream – for example confusing Christian Science with mainstream Christianity. Or in order to validate his own point sourced random blog, forum, and chatroom postings online.

For a book coming for someone within the academic community I expected more solid references and arguments. This is disappointing as the issues discussed in the book are valid but are let down through poor examples.

In summary, Believing Bullshit is a worthwhile read and one can get a better understanding of how not to get fooled by creative arguments, but don’t get sucked into its own misrepresentation of extremist Christian viewpoints as mainstream Christian beliefs.

Brian “Head” Welch’s Stronger

I have just finished reading Brian “Head” Welch’s Stronger – Forty Days of Metal and Spirituality. The book is a forty day devotional consisting of a few scriptures and then a few pages of either commentary or stories from Welch about how these scriptures have impacted his life.

This is the second Welch book I have read (see here my comments on his first) and like his previous work this book comes across in an easy to read style that engages the reader in a way that they can relate to. This is what makes Welch’s work particularly good, this is a book about God written not by a high and mighty spiritual perfectionist but instead by a guy who has been on top of the secular world and seen his world crumble all around him and somehow in all the mess, the drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll he found God who has given him a whole new perspective on life.

Overall, Stronger gives an excellent insight into the struggles of everyday life but also how you can live your life with God in control without coming across as some weird ultra-religious zealot. I would recommend anyone who struggles with how they can keep their faith real and relevant in modern society to pick up this book and give it a read, it is short but will challenge the depth of your soul.


Thoughts on Rob Bell’s Love Wins

Last night I finished reading Rob Bell’s new and very controversial book about Heaven and Hell – Love Wins. I have taken a week to read the eight chapter book deliberately reading a chapter a day so that I can digest and think about what he is saying rather than rushing through it for the sake of adding my two cents to a very crowded discussion.

I have read all of Rob Bell’s previous books – Velvet Elvis, Sex God, Jesus Wants To Save Christians, and Drops Like Stars. His previous books have been very well written, engaging and challenging. Love Wins starts off in a similar fashion to his previous works in short half-sentences and a thought provoking conversational tone. Chapter’s one through three deal with how you become saved (which is left open) and biblical descriptions of heaven and hell (which is more than gold, fire and brimstone).

The middle two chapters deal with free will, death, and redemption and in these chapters Bell makes some really powerful and interesting points. His particular focus is on the present age and the age that is to come. How in the present we can have “heaven on earth” and “hell on earth” as a direct result of our actions and our approach to life. When talking about the heaven that is to come he makes an interesting point about the gates of heaven never being closed and suggests the possibility of redemption still being available in the age that is to come.

However, my disappointment with Love Wins is the final three chapters. In these chapters Bell deals with how people are rejecting established religion but still finding God, how the condition of the heart matters, what if people never hear the good news, and the idea of a vengeful God. All of these topics are important but Bell’s points seem to be rushed, muddied, and not entirely clear.

The biggest and most controversial of these topics is universalism. While discussing the condition of the heart over following a religious script Bell throws it out there that Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists may be in heaven saying “… that there is only one mountain, but it has many paths.” What grates me about this comment is Bell is making this comment after talking about John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Writing about this Bell states: “What he [Jesus] doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what matter the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him.” And this is where I begin to have a problem with what Bell is writing.

I will happily agree that the condition of the heart is far more important than following any religious script. I am also happy to believe that we may have a few surprises in heaven; there are plenty of stories in the bible about people’s faith in the unknown God seeing them saved. I will even go as far to leave open the possibility of people of other faiths who in their deepest of hearts believe in God and his redeeming grace and have never had a chance to openly and fully examine the “Christian” story of God will somehow be saved.

However, I do not believe that when someone makes a deliberate choice to reject Jesus as the son of God and instead just see him as a prophet or good teacher that they are still saved because they are a good person. The first commandment is “to have no other Gods” and I cannot see how continuing to serve a different god after hearing about the true God will get you saved.

I can accept wide diversity in the Christian faith, I can accept people have differences in how they express their faith, how they see and practice their relationship with God. However, a rejection of Christ’s virgin birth, sinless life, death on the cross, and resurrection is surely a rejection of “coming to the Father through me.”

Overall Love Wins is a good read; it provokes in typical Rob Bell fashion, however, the muddied last few chapters leave a lot of questions without clear answers of even what Bell thinks about a lot of things. And it is that unknown which has left me so unsatisfied with Love Wins, and as a result there is little wonder it is getting so much controversy.

Finally, I will leave the last word to Bell himself speaking the other day:

Thoughts from: The Case For God – Karen Armstrong

Whatever it is you say God is, God is more. The very constitution of the idea is deconstructive of any such construction… the very formula that describes God is that there is no formula with which God can be described.

John D. Caputo

Yesterday I finished reading Karen Armstrong’s best selling The Case For God. The book is a very academically written history of religion from the start of humanity until modern times. The key message of the book is that our current ideas about God are dramatically different from those of our ancestors.

I would call this book a must read for anyone who wants a rational and intellectual understanding of the history of religion. The majority of the book is centred around Christianity but there is coverage of many other faiths and religions as well. The book also tracks the history of science and how religion and science have developed together and how some of the top scientists of the past have changed our views on religion.

While I don’t agree with all the points made, in particular, the conclusion that there are many ways to God, the book will challenge what you believe, why you believe, and helps you to understand how religion got to where it is today.

Some of the points struck right of the heart of what I have been struggling with over the past few years in my faith, in particular:

Today religious experience is often understood at intensely emotional… In all the great traditions, however, teachers have constantly proclaimed that far from being essential to the spiritual quest, visions, voices, and feelings of devotion could in fact be a distraction. The apprehension of God… had nothing to do with the emotions. Christians had been aware of this from the very beginning; worship had often been noisy and unrestrained: under the inspiration of the Spirit, there had been speaking in strange languages, ecstatic trance, and spontaneous prophecy. But St Paul sternly… told his Corinthian converts that these transports had to remain within due bounds and that by far the most important of the spiritual gifts was charity. In all the major traditions, the iron rule of religious experience is that it be integrated successfully with daily life. A disorderly spirituality that makes the practitioner dreamy, eccentric or uncontrolled is a very bad sign indeed.

Silence (pg 112 – 113)

How many times have we heard preachers say “go to a deeper level”, or “let yourself go”. I don’t see any problem with feeling your faith or being moved to express yourself in ways you wouldn’t act. However, what needs to be clear is control. You must always have control over yourself and your body. The point at which you lose control is the point at which you open yourself to spiritual risk. The point that your faith should be reflected in your daily life is a poignant one, in your daily routine you would not enter a trance like state, so why overdo it when you are in worship?

In 1655, Juan da Prado, who had been a committed member of the Jewish underground in Portugal for twenty years, arrived in Amsterdam. He too had found that without spiritual exercises, the ideas of conventional religion lacked substance, and had succumbed to Marrano deism, seeing God as identical with the laws of nature…
The unhappy stories of da Prado and da Costa show that the mythos of confessional religion is unsustainable without spiritual exercises. Reason alone can produce only an attenuated deism that is easily abandoned, as God is remote, abstract and ultimately incredible.

Science and Religion (pg 184-185)

This point is interesting in light of modern churches which have thrown out all basis of traditional festivals or celebrations. We go to church every Sunday and it is the same except for Easter and Christmas, where the only change will be a watered down version of a normal Sunday. Very early on in Christian history the adherence to Jewish festivals was abandoned and replaced. However, most modern churches no longer even mark the traditional Christian calendar. The argument for throwing out these traditions was that it was just boring old Church and we needed to be modern. But by doing so overall church numbers have continued to decline, we have Sunday-only Christians and a population with rapidly declining levels of faith.

Scientific rationalism, therefore, was what Newton called the ‘fundamental religion’. But it had been corrupted with ‘Monstrous Legends, false miracles, veneration of reliques, charmes, ye doctrine of Ghosts or Daemons, and their intercession, invocation & worship with other such heathen superstitions’…
God had become a mere force of nature. Theology had thrown itself on the mercy of science. At the time this seemed like a good idea… In reducing God to a scientific explanation, the scientists and theologians of the seventeenth century were turning God into an idol… Newton, Bentley and Clarke argued that nature could tell us everything we needed to know about the divine. God was no longer transcendent, no longer beyond the reach of language and concepts… But what would happen when a later generation of scientists found another ultimate explanation for the universe?

Scientific Religion (pg 200, 202)

The above excerpt tries to cram four pages at the end of a very detailed chapter into two paragraphs but hopefully it gets some of the key points. Trying to explain God through scientific processes seemed like a good idea at the time. However, in doing so, over the last four hundred years we have redefined God in terms of science and tried to prove his existence through science and only science. The problem, of course, with this is every time we have given a proof for God in science someone has managed to counter prove that God does not exist. This of course has led to the creationism, intelligent design, evolution debates.

The concept of a ‘Personal God’, interfering with natural events, or being ‘an independent cause of natural events’ makes God a natural object beside others, an object among others, a being among beings, maybe the highest, but nevertheless, a being. This indeed is not only the destruction of the physical system but even more the destruction of any meaningful idea of God.
A God who interfered with human freedom was a tyrant, not so different from the human tyrants who had wrought such havoc in recent history… many had forgotten how to interpret the old symbolism and regarded it as purely factual. Hence these symbols had become opaque; transcendence no longer shone through them. When this happened, they died and lost their power, so when we spoke of these symbols in a literal manner, we made statements that were inaccurate and untrue.

Paul Tillich, Unknowing (pg 269 – 270)

This point is rather interesting. More and more I am rejecting the idea that God influences and changes every waking second of our lives. The idea that God will find you a carparking spot just seems absurd to me. However, books of the bible tell us stories of God writing in the walls of buildings, and swallowing whole armies in the sea. Do we reduce this an explanation of a random event or believe that in some cases God does change what we see in reality?

We can no longer speak of God easily to anybody, because he will immediately question: ‘Does God exist?’ Now the very asking of that question signifies that the symbols of God have become meaningless. For God, the question, has become one of the innumerable objects in time and space which may or may not exist. And this is not the meaning of God at all.

Paul Tillich

God could never be an object of cognition, like the objects and people we see all around us. To look through the finite symbol to the reality – the God beyond ‘God’ that lies beyond theism – demands courage; we have to confront the dead symbol to find ‘the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt’.

Unknowing (pg 270 – 271)

And this is where faith comes in. We can’t prove God exists through our physical means. But we have faith in the unknown, in those things that we cannot understand or explain. Faith isn’t just a way for us to find comfort in not knowing what happens when we die – do we turn to dust or does our soul live on? It is so much more than that. Faith defines how we live our life, it isn’t a moral compass we can most certainly be moralistic without having faith but more so it shapes our understanding on our place and purpose in this life.

In all its forms, fundamentalism is a fiercely reductive faith. In their anxiety and fear, fundamentalists often distort the tradition they are trying to defend. They can, for example, be highly selective in their reading of scripture. Christian fundamentalists quote extensively from the Book of Revelation and are inspired by its violent End-time vision, but rarely refer to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies, to turn the other cheek and not to judge others. Jewish fundamentalists rely heavily on the Deuteronomist sections of the Bible and seem to pass over the rabbis’ injunction that exegesis should lead to charity. Muslim fundamentalists ignore the pluralism of the Qur’an and extremists often quote its more aggressive verses to justify violence, pointedly disregarding its far more numerous calls for peace, tolerance, and forgiveness. Fundamentalists are convinced that they are fighting for God, but in fact this type of religiosity represents a retreat from God. To make purely human, historical phenomena – such as ‘Family Values’, ‘the Holy Land’ or ‘Islam’ – sacred and absolute values is idolatry and, as always, their idol forces them to try to destroy its opponents.

Death of God? (pg 282)

Armstrong certainly starts pulling the punches by describing fundamentalists as idol worshippers. But she does have a very valid point. So much of church fundamentalism is caught up in judging others rather than loving others. This certainly does not mean that we should be open to accepting everything and letting anything go. But rather than constantly focussing on what is wrong we need to look at how we can bring light to the world.

Noting that atheism is always a rejection of of a particular conception of the divine, he [Caputo] concludes: ‘If modern atheism is the rejection of a modern God, then the delimitation of modernity opens up another possibility, less the resuscitation of pre-modern theism than the chance of something beyond both theism and the atheism of modernity.’
It is an enticing prospect. If atheism was a product of modernity, now we are entering a ‘postmodern’ phase, will this too, like the modern God, become a thing of the past? Will the growing appreciation of the limitations of human knowledge – which is just as much a part of the contemporary intellectual scene as the atheistic certainness – give rise to a new kind of apophatic theology?

Death of God? (pg 302 – 303)

I strongly disagree with Armstrong on this point. Even if our understanding of how much or little we understand changes I don’t see an united marriage of religion and atheism happening. There will always be those who believe in something more and those who reject it.

There really is only one conclusion from this long blog post: read this book. It will challenge your faith, and make you really think about what you believe, why you believe and how you act.


Earlier tonight I was having a conversation with a friend about some stuff that had happened more than a year ago.

The conversation brought up a particular event which at the time was a big thing but in hindsight really was more petty than serious and all that needed to prevent/solve that event was for a few people to step back and listen to what everyone else was saying.

And that is how the conversation ended.

Fast forward a few hours and I am now trying to sleep but this stuff in the past is now turning over in my head. And the head is a funny place sometimes. It is funny because in hindsight the events that happened in the past you completely regret happening the way that they did, but at the same time there are parts of them that you really enjoyed.

And this has got me thinking, thinking enough to get my laptop out typing, and typing enough to get me blogging. But I digress what I am pondering is why do we [sometimes] desire those things that are so wrong in life? Why do we desire to break rules and push boundaries? Why do we [sometimes] find sweetness in revenge?

You know we are meant to seek after the healthy things in life and find fruit and goodness in the light. But, sometimes the darkness can also bring (albeit temporary) satisfaction and enjoyment, sometimes even more so than doing the right thing.

And in all of this all I can keep playing over in my mind is The Prayer of St Patrick (The Breastplate – Lorica – of Saint Patrick, 5th Century):

I arise today
Through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today
all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison,
against burning,
Against drowning,
against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.


I’m in a cynical mood, just saying

So anyway after my crazy long blog post this afternoon I suddenly decide at 5.40pm to go and visit a church in the middle of the city, I pretty much picked up my keys, walked down the road, jumped on a train, off at the next stop, and then walked my way two blocks to find the church.

Outside the church the doors were closed, and while they were glass faced so you could see in there appeared to be no one in the foyer welcoming people or anything, this was 5 minutes before the service was due to start, and no people coming or going from the building. Thinking this was odd I walked past and quickly thought of my next plan of action for something to do. It was at this moment that I heard very loud crowd sounds coming from the nearby Hide Park.

I then wandered up to the park where as part of the St Patricks Day Celebrations a U2 Cover’s band was playing. And this is where things get weird. There were probably 20,000 people at this park listening to the band, possibly more. And you know what the songs of the lyrics were talking about everything that is wrong with the world, and people were singing along, they had their hands raised and were jumping up and down as well. It was at this moment cynically I thought to myself that this was a lot like church. Only the people weren’t filled with the Holy Spirit they were filled with too much Alcoholic Spirits. And later there were people who appeared to be overcome by the spirit but it was the spirit of alcohol that had caused them to collapse.

And the cynic in me goes why do we have magnificent church buildings where the doors are closed and you are just expected to somehow know how to get in, when you can get a much larger crowd by setting up a stage in a park, that is open and exposed to the world. What are we missing? I am sure the alcohol component has something to do with it, but if people are able to have a fun time on alcohol and desire it so much, then why isn’t it the same which church? Sure you have some people who are completely on fire for God but what about the rest. What are we missing?

And reading over this the cynic inside the cynic tells me that it is because there is too much arguing amongst church denominations and the like. Sure that is partly true. But that can’t be that much different than the difference between hip hop, classical, and alternative rock can it? I mean all of those genres all attract massive crowds and people long to attend live music gigs, but there is something about Sunday and church that just puts people off including myself. Just saying.

A theological dilemma

A few days ago I blogged on the struggle I was having finding a church that I fitted into (see Rebuilding Conservatism through Modern Churchanity).

Over the last few days I have continued to look at churches and there are two things that are really bugging me about modern churches: prosperity theology and social justice.

Now social justice is something I really believe in and have a real passion for, not just feeding and housing the homeless but also having an impact in the wider community amongst work mates, schools, social clubs etc. For me social justice is about Christians being out in the world as lighthouses amongst the darkness. John 13:35 (NIV) says “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

However, I am finding many churches who are so insular and cater for their own membership and do little for the wider community – or when they do it is through the indoctrination of specific religious beliefs upon people – and this is always bound to end up in massive controversy. Something that I always wonder is why can’t we just go out into the world and serve people first, show them the love of Christ rather than ram church down their throats and then “rescue them”?

Jesus didn’t go out into the world and say in order to be healed you have to first believe this and that and something else and attend church every Sunday, and the special program for people like you on every Tuesday night. No, instead he spoke to people and they were healed in fact sometimes he didn’t even speak to them he just told them to get up and walk. Sure after this they most likely believed but it seems the opposite of what a lot of churches are preaching whereby in order to be healed you must first believe. Surely God can heal those who don’t believe and through that healing they will believe?

Anyway I am already sidetracked; my main gripe/dilemma/issue rests with prosperity theology.

So what is prosperity theology? A really interesting article in Christianity Today puts it this way:

The teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the “sowing of seeds” through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.

There are a number of verses that are often used to back up this belief, in particular Malachi 3:10-12 (NIV):

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

Now I certainly have no issue with giving to the church, however, the modern church is so focussed on a money tithe. It was not like that in the past, the reason why the verse says storehouse and not bank is because in the past the tithe was giving of what you actually produced – not just material wealth but also giving of time, and goods, etc.

Lots of modern churches have this focus on giving 10% of your financial income to the church. I whole heartedly disagree with this (and could spend a whole another blog post on this). I believe you should give to God and the church what God has placed on your heart to give. I may not agree with most of what the church I have been attending over the last few weeks but having said that when I got paid I gave what God placed on my heart to give. In addition to this I give to God through serving in other areas both within church and in the wider community (although not much at the moment until I find a new church and get settled).

Opps, I am off on a sidetrack again. Coming back to the idea of Prosperity Theology I fundamentally for a few key reasons:

First the lives of the apostles in the book of Acts certainly do not seem to agree with prosperity theology, in the healing of the crippled beggar in Acts 3:6 (NIV) Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” That verse has always spoken to me we don’t need material possessions to follow God, to heal people, or to do God’s work all we need is ourselves.

Jesus actually spoke in many places about the greed associated with building up massive amounts of wealth. And I could go on for many paragraphs about the love of money being the root of all evil and/or how hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven. And I am certainly not saying that you can’t be rich or God can’t bless you, if your heart is in the right place then it is awesome that you have such a blessed life. But there is something that just seems so wrong about preaching that if you give more and more and more to God that you will get more and more and more back. If you don’t get more back does that mean you’re doing something wrong, or your faith is not strong enough?

Second, the book of Job is all about God letting terrible things happening to someone but their faith remaining strong the entire way through. Job didn’t give up just because he gave his whole to God and God didn’t bless him with abundant wealth instead he knew that the reward in heaven was so much more than what we can ever have on earth. (And I know this is a massive over simplification of the entire book).

In a more modern context I find Prosperity Theology not holding true in the whole situation with the poor starving kids in Africa. I say “poor starving kids” a little cynically not because that isn’t the situation but rather the constant pressure in advertising to give money and the problem with go away, that is not the case, sure money is needed to fund things, but more important is people on the ground giving their time and love.

But again coming back onto topic a lot of Christians in areas of the third world have a stronger faith than many Christians do in the restful west. If prosperity theology was so true then why don’t these people just have faith in God and through some miracle everything works out right for them? Africa remains one of those situations where I fail to understand why they get such a rough ride when in the west we get it so good yet we are quite often far worse sinners. And I know there are not degrees of sin, all sin is bad, but yeah it is something I have never quite understood form a spiritual point of view.

So coming back to the hunt for a church to call home, maybe I am being really picky, maybe I am being too religious, maybe I am too focused on doctrine then on God. But the real issue for me is I don’t want religion where God is effectively dead and ritual replaces any chance for the Holy Spirit to move. However, I really seek a place which is alive in passion and worship for God. I love loud modern church music and preaching that is relevant to today.

At the same time this often goes way to far where the music becomes more of a show than worship to God and the preaching crosses over from talking about God and the stories in the bible to instead using modern motivational speaking tricks to keep the audience interested and incorporates so much modern secular business style teaching that somewhere along the way it just becomes Church Inc. I really want something in between, something that is bible based, not steeped in tradition but has respect for it, and has a real passion for both social justice and community.

So far I have not found that in between anywhere near my new house. The question I am really pondering is do I continue to attend a church that I disagree with a core preaching and style of for the purpose of attending church until I either find a church near me that I agree with, or I find an effective way to get to the outer suburbs to attend churches that I do agree with and have a passion to attend? Do I continue to attend a church that I disagree with because the people and community is awesome and being in a new city friends are what I need most?

Is a suitable modern substitute for church: podcasts, worship music, bible reading and commentary, and small group discussions at university? How long can one grow with God and not lose faith with the absence of church, at the same time what if that church is destroying your faith? Can a church destroy faith?  These are all (and there are many more) questions that I am really struggling with at the moment.

As a side note a few years ago The Chaser did quite a funny satire piece on one particular modern church. Now before I get ravaged by people who attend this church note a few things: a) It is comedy, b) You should be able to laugh at yourself, c) If this is how the world really sees you then maybe it is time to consider ways to change that perspective, d) You can only be offended by something if you chose to be offended by it, e) I certainly do not agree with most of it.

Rebuilding Conservatism through Modern Churchanity

Since moving to Sydney I have been struggling to find a home church that I fit into. I have spent countless hours looking at many church websites and reading their doctrines, lining them up to what I believe. Maybe I am doing this wrong but in the past I have had major falling outs with churches where I fundamentally disagree with something that is believed, taught, preached or made a rule of membership. So far the few churches that I would love to visit have been at least 20km to the west or north of the city and without a car I can’t make it to them.

Over the last five weeks I have been attending, with a group of friends, a very large and “modern” Pentecostal church. If I were five years younger I would probably have loved to attend the church but now I seem to be seeking something more “real”.

I use the term “real” with caution, but even in a modern church that has done away with all the church tradition there seems to be something very religious about following a perfectly timed script every Sunday that goes something along the lines of this:

  • A few minutes before the service dim the lights, add lots of artificial fog into the room, play a five minute video and light show to build the mood.
  • Start into worship with a roar and two songs that are so loud you can’t hear the lyrics, and can’t get over the “rock concert” like experience that is happening at the front of the church.
  • Do another two songs that are a lot slower and quieter (although they are still on the loud side).
  • Have a leader get up and welcome people to church, do prayer requests, show a video testimony, do the offering, show the church news.
  • Do preaching for about 30 minutes
  • Do a call for salvation
  • Final song

Sure most churches use a variation of that formula every week, but that is something I am grappling with. Why do we have to use that formula every single week?

I am not trying to say there is anything wrong with loud music, people jumping up and down, or any of the other stuff. Heck, at Parachute Festival I will be up the front in the middle of the moshpit even during the Sunday night worship.

And maybe I have just grown up so churched that now I am seeking something more. The church I was attending in Auckland for the last six years was something different. They were doing things differently. Sure there was plenty of Sundays were they followed the formula I have outlined above, but just as many would be different, say a Sunday where there is nothing but an piano, acoustic guitar and bongo hand drums on stage. Or a day where instead of doing “church” they would have a big meal as a church community or instead of preaching they would have a group of people sharing testimonies. It was church, but it was different church.

And that brings me to community, a church is a community of believers, but also a church should work in the community. I am finding a lot of churches are very inner focussed they will help those who are in “their” community but seem to be doing little in the wider community.

Throughout the last few weeks as I have questioned what I really believe and where I fit in I have also felt my conservatism rebuilding. It is interesting how attending a church with little in the way of church tradition has left me seeking church tradition. I don’t believe in religion, but I do believe in church heritage and it would be nice to have a mention of it currently being the season of lent and how that applies to our lives today (and I have to admit I am not doing anything for lent), or to do a communion one day. It seems to me that the “modern” church has done so much to attract those who got sick of church religion and as a result have nothing to do with the traditional church. Surely there is a balance somewhere in between?

Save Me From Myself – Korn’s Brian Head Welch

Last night I finished reading one of the best books I have read in a long time. It is called “Save Me From Myself” and is written by Brian Head Welch formerly of the band Korn. The book is an autobiography of his life from childhood, through his drug fuelled years with Korn and his coming to Christ and becoming a Christian. I won’t give too much away about the story as it is a book that any young person should read.

The one bit that really got me from a Christian perspective was towards the end of the book where Welch describes some songs he wrote after coming to Christ:

After I’d been writing for a bit, God gave me another song called “It’s Time To See Religion Die.” To me, this song has a few different meanings. For one, it’s a song that encourages people to get out of this whole “Sunday Christian” mentality and into the world so God can use them to change the world, to help people understand that God does not live in buildings made by men (Acts 7:48). We are God’s building, because he dwells in us (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Upon reading this I grabbed my bible to check the verses mentioned in context. The full context of Acts 7:48 is from verse 48 through to verse 50, from the NIV:

However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?”

The full context of 1 Corinthians 3:16 extends into verse 17 as well:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

This commentary was something that I had always known but had forgotten about. It seems too often that we get caught up in thinking that God is at Church. When God is actually right with us, right now. And church is something made by man to come together as a body of believers to worship God. Church is not God and does not create God, but we can meet God at church, in exactly the same way we can on our owns anywhere else at any other time.

Welch then continues:

That’s not the only meaning to this song though. Also, this song is for all the people that have been hurt by religion. All of the man-made religion crap in this world has to die. Whenever it’s Christian man-made religion crap or some other man-made religion crap, it all has to die. It must grieve God’s heart when he sees Christians fighting about whose doctrine is right; he doesn’t see denominations, he sees one big glorious bride. When Christians argue about doctrinal issues, all he sees is carnal people acting like children. All that prideful, controlling religious crap is what drives young people away from churches, and it has to go. Much of the world’s population is under the age of eighteen, and we have to bring the love of Christ to them without all this controlling crap going on. Because, where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

I found this point quite interesting as well. I think it is important to be able to freely and frankly discuss your differences of points of view on doctrine but many times church groups take it way too far (catholic vs protestant for instance). And it does put people off. If we put as much effort into working with young people as we did discussing the finer points of some minor piece of doctrine how many more people would we save?

You can buy the book on Mighty Ape

The Genesis Enigma – A scientific approach to the origins of life and the universe

When I was in Sydney a few months back I picked up a book at the airport to read on my flight home entitled “The Genesis Enigma – Why The Bible Is Scientifically Accurate”. I was surprised to find what at first I considered to be a creationist book in the popular science section of an airport bookshop. Furthermore the book is written by Dr Andrew Parker an Honorary Research Fellow of Green Templeton College at Oxford University, Research Leader at the Natural History Museum and a Professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University none of which are the typical credentials of a creationist.

The book takes a very different approach from most books on God, science and the origins of the universe. The typical approach is to use the bible as a literal roadmap of creation and then tweak the science to make it fit the bible stories. However, Parker takes the opposite approach in The Genesis Enigma by outlining the science of the origins of the universe and life and then tests if the bible can line up with this. Surprisingly with a little less literal interpretation of the bible it does.

The main thesis of the book is:

  • The bible is a historically accurate record of people and events.
  • The six days of creation are not a literal six days but instead refer to the order in which science now reveals the universal comes into being. Something that no one writing a religious book a few thousand years ago would have been able to know, or understand unless the knowledge came through divine intervention.
  • The evolution is an undisputable scientific fact. However atheism is not a fact or theory it is as much a religion as any other faith based religious belief.
  • There is more to life and God than just science. And science cannot explain everything in the world. Science is not the be all and end all of explaining the meaning and purpose of life.

Overall the main ideas in the book make a lot of sense and while I do not necessarily agree with all of them it has provoked my intellectual thought around the subject. The end of the book also finishes with a discussion of intelligent design and atheism which is very interesting independent of the rest of the book. In particular:

“One’s reaction to the science versus religion debate is a very personal choice. Do you believe that science will take such huge steps, changing the way in which it works today, as to be able to answer those big questions in the universe? Or do you choose God? To borrow from C. S. Lewis, do you believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, or that there is a great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest? Creationism and atheism are neither scientific theories nor demonstrably true. If we do not allow them to cloud our judgement then God can appear as a rational answer as to why we exist on earth.”

Furthermore Parker makes a very strong case for divine intervention in the authorship of the bible by stating:

“That Aaronid priest who wrote the Bible’s first page, or Moses who may have given the ancient Israelites their creation account originally, lacked any interest in natural history. Although demonstrating attention to detail in other subjects – geography, politics, economics, law – this Aaronid priest and the character Moses, provide us with no signs of biological inclination. The scientific method, necessary to decipher the true account of how the universe formed and life evolved, with its repeatable experiments, was yet to manifest itself. The ancient Israelites were not conducting scientific experiments in their sheds – if they were, they would have written about it, as they did about everything else they did. The writer of the Bible’s first page simply roamed the desert or traversed the dusty streets of ancient Jerusalem during the day, and marvelled at the stars at night. He was without so much as a magnifying lens.

Indeed, the history books tell us that science and natural history began some centuries later with the ancient Greeks, who were influenced by very different natural surroundings. So, in terms of providing an explanation for how the universe and life came to be, the Aaronid priest given this task, or the character Moses, would not have had a clue. All the same, something was written. And it made its way to pride of place in the Bible.

As such, unprovided with evidence of any kind, the creation account on the Bible’s opening page might be assumed a fantasy. But the Genesis Enigma has told us that those enigmatic phases that ignite the Bible actually mean something – they are scientifically accurate. That would be an outrageous assertion, were it not true. The conclusion that this page of the Bible could, perhaps more than any other, represent God’s hand in the Bible. The true account of how we came to exist may have been handed to humans by God.

In any case, our strong preconception that science has, with each discovery chipped away at the notion of God is proved wrong in this book. Now we can live with the real possibility that God exists while fully accepting the science, rather than straining to find contradictions. Faith suddenly appears that much stronger.”

Now as I stated earlier I do not necessary accept or agree with everything Parker has outlined in his book.  The remaining question for me is that if God is able to put in places the rules that govern the universe that make evolution work on both a small scale (as now commonly accepted by most creationists) and a large scale (as Parker and most of the secular scientific world believes) then why does God just stop there? If God can do all this stuff that makes the world tick over then why can he not decide to play with the rules and create a literal six day creation as well? It is not designed to make us confused about how old the world is, but rather to demonstrate that God ultimately has the power to influence and change the universe. It is about demonstrating that God is in control and not science.

After reading the book and pondering some of the ideas raised in it I went back and read some of the creationism based “science” that I had blindly followed from a few years ago. What I have discovered is that by arguing that evolution is nothing more than a myth and controlled “brainwashing” people they are essentially doing the same thing with “creationism”. Statements such as “long years of educational brainwashing in the mythology of evolutionary theory “ plant ideas in the minds of people that they have been brainwashed, ironically by planting these ideas creationists are doing nothing more than the same thing! Furthermore, the contradictions in their arguments and statements just scream this out.

For instance Chuck Missler who is well known for his Bible commentary and in particular his study on Daniel’s 70 weeks where he shows they are not a literal 70 weeks but weeks of years states here: that the earth was created in six literal days because the bible says so. However, the bible does not directly say Daniel had 70 weeks of years, no it just says 70 weeks. So how do you determine when there is a literal meaning and where there is not? Furthermore Missler shoots himself in the foot in another article on the site where he argues there is a gap between God creating the heavens and the earth and the actual six day creation: this makes no sense because now in one place he is arguing in an absolute six day creation, and another he argues there is a gap. What one is it?

Or for instance the finding of a city under the Black Sea as evidence for a worldwide flood when anyone with any knowledge of geology would brush this off as evidence of the plates of the earth shifting and changing over the years. This is not to say that the ideas of intelligent design are completely dead in the water Kent Hovind poses some good questions that have still not be fully answered by science, in particular:

  • Without a creator how did time, space, and matter came into existence by themselves?
  • How and why did matter create life by itself?
  • How and why did early life-forms learn to reproduce themselves?
  • How and why did major changes occur between diverse life forms (i.e., fish changed to amphibians, amphibians changed to reptiles, and reptiles changed to birds or mammals).

The biggest problem with creationism is the way in which they throw out solid science and replace it with arguments that the Bible says this happened so it must be true. This would be the same as arguing the world is made of the Greek Classical Elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Aether) because this is what was written on Greek tablets a few thousand years ago. The reality is the stories written in the Bible were written firstly for the understanding of the people who lived at the time the stories were written. Yes the Bible and the stories in it still have a huge amount of relevance today, however, we cannot take every single word as literal because the very first thing we would be worshipping is a lamb and not a person who lived 2000 years ago.