Church and State — Forever Separate…

2016-06-06_09-43-01.pngI will say up front here that I think the mixture of government and religion is a serious danger to all of us. Since there are so many different versions of religion today which one should control the lives of all of us. I adamantly say NONE OF THEM!!  This post will show you that both Islam and Christianity have that goal in at least some forms.

Islam–

I am a bit uncomfortable making this claim, especially now, with anti-Muslim bigotry on the rise. But Islamic exceptionalism is neither good nor bad. It just is, and we need to understand and respect that.

Two factors are worth emphasizing: First, the founding moment of Islam looms large. Unlike Jesus Christ, the Prophet Muhammad was a theologian, a preacher, a warrior and a politician, all at once. He was also the leader and builder of a new state, capturing, holding and governing new territory. Religious and political functions, at least for the believer, were no accident. They were meant to be intertwined in the leadership of one man.

Second, for Muslims the Quran is God’s direct and literal speech, more than merely the word of God. It is difficult to overstate the centrality of divine authorship. This does not mean Muslims are literalists; most are not. But it does mean the text cannot easily be dismissed as irrelevant.

SOURCE:  How Islam Is Different from Other Religions | TIME

Christian–

Dominionism fundamentally opposes America’s venerable tradition of church-state separation — in fact, dominionists deny the Founders ever intended that separation in the first place. According to Frederick Clarkson, senior fellow for religious liberty at the non-profit social justice think tank Political Research Associates, dominionists believe that Christians “have a biblical mandate to control all earthly institutions — including government — until the second coming of Jesus.” And that should worry all Texans — Christians and non-Christians alike…

Dominionism comes in “soft” and “hard” varieties. “Hard” dominionism (sometimes called Christian Reconstructionism), as Clarkson describes it, explicitly seeks to replace secular government, and the U.S. Constitution, with a system based on Old Testament law.

SOURCE:  The Fringe Theology That Could End Religious Freedom

To me both of these views sound pretty much the same. Mainly that “our” religion is the true one that should dominate the world and all its interactions.  God demands that everyone should be under Sharia Law. God demands that Dominionism should be the law of the land.

I have again come to the conclusion that our founding fathers were wise beyond their years in calling for a clear separation between the god we believe in verses how we govern ourselves as a population.  Apples and oranges are tasty but would a hybrid of both be better. I seriously doubt it, especially when it comes to church/state.

Until God comes down and forcefully, beyond any doubt, tells us who he/she really is we should keep our opinions to ourselves.  Believe what you want but don’t try to force me to believe it also…

As a side note, it doesn’t surprise me much that the Christian version of church/state originates in Texas as so much of this misguided stuff starts there it seems. If there is a movement to make Texas its own country let me know and I will sign up for it.  Texans belong in a world of their own…  and away from the rest of us  🙂

 

Christianity is Harder Than We Pretend it is….

Surprisingly, many people don’t reject Christianity because they’ve given up on God. Instead, they’ve given up on the people and things that represent God. They don’t hate Jesus, they just become tired of not finding Him within Christian culture. As Christians, we sometimes mistakenly try to compensate for God by presenting our faith as easier than it really is. We cover up the ugliness and hardship of authentic faith.But while following Christ is beautiful and worthwhile, disappointment, pain, suffering, betrayal and hurt are also a part of life, and Christians aren’t immune or excluded from these horrors. Contrary to a life of ease, comfort and luxury, following Jesus demands sacrifice, honesty, vulnerability, conflict and a lifetime dedicated to loving others. This is really hard—a commitment not meant to be taken lightly…. Yet many churches market Christianity as an easy and painless solution to all life’s problems. Instead of introducing Christianity as a path to having a relationship with God requiring time, energy, work and intense dedication, it becomes a product that promises much without hardly any sacrifice…. In fact, we actually expect things to get favorably better for us. We assume God will shine down divine blessings: salary increases, better parking spaces, health improvements, increased social popularity and championships for our favorite sports teams. We want our faith to work for us—not the other way around. SOURCE: Christianity is Harder Than We Pretend it is | Stephen Mattson.

I am not going to add a lot to Stephen’s words here, he does a very good job of describing my feeling about being a follower of Jesus. Today’s Christianity just seems to be so watered down from what it was in the beginning. Some within the church even call it a “something for nothing faith”. Jesus’ messages have become so distorted by some of our religious leaders. Folks like Mr. Osteen who tell us Jesus meant for all of us to be millionaires and all we have to do is to send him some money and he will make that happen. Then there are those who make it a “say the correct words and then just sit back and wait”deal. Christianity, if it is practiced in its purest form, and I believe it is meant to be practiced that way,  is hard work and sometimes very difficult to live.  Jesus told us to take care of each other and by that he didn’t mean just people who you agree with from a doctrinal or political point of view. All of us, whether we want to admit it or not, are children of God and we should treat each other that way.

Before Becoming A Christian…

2014-09-20_08-08-101) Christ is perfect but “Christianity” is not. Don’t mistake Christian Culture as God, they aren’t the same thing. Churches, pastors, theologians, and other believers will inevitably fail you, but Jesus never will.

2) It’s OK to change your beliefs. You’ll never have Christianity fully figured out. You won’t have an answer for everything. Theology is a journey, a Pilgrim’s Progress. Life, relationships, and experiences form, shape, and change the way you see, experience, and understand God. The disciples didn’t understand God much of the time, and you probably won’t either.

3) Christianity Isn’t Easy. It doesn’t magically fix things, make you more popular, wealthy, or healthier. In reality, it’s not a form of escapism but a lifelong process of dedication, service, sacrifice, and humbly loving others. It’s very, very, very hard, and not for the faint of heart.

4) Christianity Is Complex. Nobody believes the same thing. There are hundreds of denominations. Doctrines, practices, and traditions are as varied as the people that represent them. This diversity of faith should be appreciated and celebrated. The goal of Christianity isn’t conformity, but an honest and intimate relationship with God.

5) Christianity is ultimately about loving God and loving others. It should never be co-opted by a political movement, a religious institution, gaining power, obtaining control, spreading influence, enforcing laws, or becoming rich and famous. It’s about a relationship with God—never let anything supersede this

5 Things You Should Know Before Becoming A Christian.

I am going to do something here that I don’t often do and that is to reblog an entire post from a blogging friend. This one’s name is Stephen Mattson. He is near the top of my blog reading list as he seems to have just the right words to express what I am feeling about so many issues. He is a trained and practicing theologian but I won’t hold that against him. 🙂

My big complaint is that too many people try to make Christianity a sit back and wait religion but Christ told us he was about anything but that. This list should be read and practiced by all of us who are just approaching it or have been in it for a while.  At times in my life I have almost succumbed to number one.  I took a serious look at Christianity as it seems to be practiced today and found it to be anything but perfect.  That almost turned me away but as Stephen says the institution of Christianity might seem to fail you but Jesus and his words won’t.  That is what keeps me coming back to the well.

 

 

Jefferson And The Gospels….

This is a continuation of our study of Thomas Jefferson to discount the belief that he intended the United States to be a Christian nation. He started out and spent much of his life as a deist. That is he believed in the presence of God in the world but did not proclaim it as a Christian presence. Later in life after he was president he undertook a serious study of the Christian Bible and other religious documents.

He took this study to the point of making his own version of the New Testament. Many are confused by the Jefferson Bible. They wonder why he as a faithful Christian would even attempt to redo such a holy document. Below is part of the explanation why he did this:

JeffersonThe whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.  —Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814.

Jefferson was a person who took things seriously when he decided to get involved in something. He spent many months studying Scriptures and current church doctrine before he came to the above conclusions.  It is no small statement to say that his words above go very counter to many versions of current day Christianity. But it turns out that two hundred years later there is a large and growing group of Christians called Emergents that are coming to much the same conclusion that he did.

The emergent movement, like Jefferson, proclaims that scriptures are very valuable part of Christianity but are not God breathed or without man’s fingerprints.  These words above are very typical of Jefferson, he did not parse words when it come to disagreements with man-made beliefs or institutions.

Jefferson sincerely embraced the “diamond” parts bible as being truly inspiring writing by extraordinary men but as he said other parts were “dung”.

And Its All Small Stuff…..

This is a post that I have carried over from my other blog at RedLetterLiving. It is about an epiphany I had several years ago about my spiritual beliefs. I wanted to share it with my readers here.

Posted on October 22, 2012 at RedLetterLiving.net

In 1997 Richard Carlson wrote a very popular book entitled Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff…. and it’s all small stuff. In that book he listed one hundred things to make our lives more peaceful. Some of those topics that I took to heart included: Read more

It’s Hard To Make a Fine Wine When All You Have Is Sour Grapes….

The title of this post came to me as I was recently reading the book Falling Upward by Richard Bohr.  In this book the author says each of us has two distinct parts of our lives. The first is making the container and the second is filling it with what we were meant to do.  Although I don’t necessarily agree with some parts of this book the thought of having two distinctive parts of your life is thought-provoking for me. It just makes sense.

How much of your life you spend building the container and how much filling it with what you are meant to be varies with each of us. Some probably spend most if not all making the container and then have no time to actually fill it.  While others build their container very early in life and then have more time to do what they were meant to do.

I personally believe that I am probably one of the first group. I grappled with who I was (i.e. my container) for many years. I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I mean I was in my fifties and still asking that question. I just couldn’t decide the shape of my container.  It wasn’t until I managed to get free from the corporate world that my container really started to take shape. So here I am in the later part of my life finally filling my container. My container was always meant to be filled with compassion for my fellow-man.  I discovered that I am an altruist to my heart. I just didn’t realize that for so many years. I spent so many fruitless years building what others told me my container would be. I never really looked into my heart to discover my true container’s shape.

That brings me back to the title of this post. It seems that there are so many people today who have filled their container with nothing but sour grapes. Their purpose seems to be making sure that no one  gets anything they haven’t worked for or somehow don’t deserve.  Our current political process seems to be overrun with these types of containers.

I find that fact so bitterly ironic because many of the sour grape people adamantly claim that we are a Christian nation. Everyone who has studied even the slightest levels of theology know that one of Christianity’s foundations is that Jesus died for our sins so that we can go to heaven. Our dogma tells us that we absolutely don’t deserve what he did but he did it out of the love for us.  So these sour grape folks are basing their eternity on unearned grace while denying those around them of their own personal grace.  This totally confuses me. How can they possibly reconcile the two attitudes????

What Is An Altruist??

I am going to put on my teacher’s hat now.  Although I have never been an official teacher I have taught at several seminars in both the professional arena and the religious arena. So here is a lesson about altruism.

On the right side of my blog I proudly proclaim that I am a passionate altruist. But what does that really mean? As usual there are varying definitions of the term. Here is what Dictionary.com defines as an altruist:

altruism  (ˈæltruːˌɪzəm) 1. the principle or practice of unselfish concern for the welfare of others

2. the philosophical doctrine that right action is that which produces the greatest benefit to others

While this short answer gives you an idea of what altruism is let’s look at Wikipedia for a longer explanation.

Altruism /ˈæltruːɪzəm/ is a concern for the welfare of others. It is a traditional virtue in many cultures, and a core aspect of various religious traditions, though the concept of ‘others’ toward whom concern should be directed can vary among cultures and religions. Altruism is the opposite of selfishness.

Altruism was central to the teachings of Jesus found in the Gospel especially in the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain.

Some Christian denominations use altruism as the very foundation of their beliefs. Quakers are one example of that and Catholics to one degree or another. Other Christian denominations very much downplay altruism and instead favor personal salvation, human unworthiness and helplessness as their foundation. From personal experience I believe Lutherans are part of that group but they are by no means the only ones in that category.

It may surprise some of you to learn that in Buddhism altruism is also a foundational item. Here is Wikipedia again on that topic:

Altruism figures prominently in Buddhism. Love and compassion are components of all forms of Buddhism, and both are focused on all beings equally: the wish that all beings be happy (love) and the wish that all beings be free from suffering (compassion). “Many illnesses can be cured by the one medicine of love and compassion. These qualities are the ultimate source of human happiness, and the need for them lies at the very core of our being” (Dalai Lama).

So to be an altruist is to care about others as much or even more than you care about yourself. I’m not sure that a person can learn to be an altruist. I think maybe you have to have that in your soul or at least your DNA 🙂 . Here is a study about the neurological origins of altruism/selfishness.

An experiment funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted in 2007 at the Duke University in Durham, North Carolina suggests a different view, “that altruistic behavior may originate from how people view the world rather than how they act in it”. In the study published in the February 2007 print issue of Nature Neuroscience, researchers have found a part of the brain that behaves differently for altruistic and selfish people.

Why some have it and others don’t is a mystery to me. As mentioned above the opposite of altruism is selfishness. It is not hard to find examples of selfishness almost anywhere you look. The current political arena is gushing with it.

Are you also and altruist? If so have you always been one or did some life event push you in that direction?

Tolstoy and Christianity….

<< Update 12/16/16 –  I wanted to put this post as a featured post for a while as it has consistently been one of the top posts I have written over 5 years ago.  It has gotten regular readership almost weekly since then. >>>

After watching the ending of a movie about Leo Tolstoy the other day I got interested in his life and writings. It surprised me to learn that he like Thomas Jefferson had written his own version of the Bible called the “Tolstoy Bible”. He again like Jefferson believed that the Christian church had strayed too far from the words of its founder Jesus Christ. I also learned that much of what Gandhi practiced come from Tolstoy’s writings.  Here are some words about that from Wikipedia:

Tolstoy’s Christian beliefs centered on the Sermon on the Mount, particularly the injunction to turn the other cheek, which he saw as a justification for pacifism, nonviolence and nonresistance. Various versions of “Tolstoy’s Bible” have been published, indicating the passages Tolstoy most relied on, specifically, the reported words of Jesus himself.  Tolstoy believed being a Christian required him to be a pacifist; the consequences of being a pacifist, and the apparently inevitable waging of war by government, made him a philosophical anarchist.

Tolstoy believed that a true Christian could find lasting happiness by striving for inner self-perfection through following the Great Commandment of loving one’s neighbor and God rather than looking outward to the Church or state for guidance. His belief in nonresistance (nonviolence) when faced by conflict is another distinct attribute of his philosophy based on Christ’s teachings. By directly influencing Mahatma Gandhi with this idea through his work The Kingdom of God is Within You, Tolstoy has had a huge influence on the nonviolent resistance movement to this day. 

Before this study the only thing I had credited Tolstoy with was his very long book “War and Peace”. It is interesting to see the more complete man now.  Much of his spiritual understanding are my own as well as the Quakers that I so admire.  To get a better understanding of Tolstoy’s Christian beliefs here are some of the words from the above cited book entitled “The Kingdom of God is Within You”. It now resides on my Kindle for a future read.

From: The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy  1894 But Christ could not have founded the Church, that is, what we now understand by that word. For nothing like the idea of the Church as we know it now, with its sacraments, miracles, and above all its claim to infallibility, is to be found either in Christ’s words or in the ideas of the men of that time. The fact that men called what was formed afterward by the same word as Christ used for something totally different, does not give them the right to assert that Christ founded the one, true Church. Besides, if Christ had really founded such an institution as the Church for the foundation of all his teaching and the whole faith, he would certainly have described this institution clearly and definitely, and would have given the only true Church, besides tales of miracles, which are used to support every kind of superstition, some tokens so unmistakable that no doubt of its genuineness could ever have arisen. But nothing of the sort was done by him. And there have been and still are different institutions, each calling itself the true Church…..

It is terrible to think what the churches do to men. But if one imagines oneself in the position of the men who constitute the Church, we see they could not act differently. The churches are placed in a dilemma: the Sermon on the Mount or the Nicene Creed–the one excludes the other. If a man sincerely believes in the Sermon on the Mount, the Nicene Creed must inevitably lose all meaning and significance for him, and the Church and its representatives together with it. If a man believes in the Nicene Creed, that is, in the Church, that is, in those who call themselves its representatives, the Sermon on the Mount becomes superfluous for him. And therefore the churches cannot but make every possible effort to obscure the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, and to attract men to themselves. It is only due to the intense zeal of the churches in this direction that the influence of the churches has lasted hitherto.

Let the Church stop its work of hypnotizing the masses, and deceiving children even for the briefest interval of time, and men would begin to understand Christ’s teaching. But this understanding will be the end of the churches and all their influence. And therefore the churches will not for an instant relax their zeal in the business of hypnotizing grown-up people and deceiving children. This, then, is the work of the churches: to instill a false interpretation of Christ’s teaching into men, and to prevent a true interpretation of it for the majority of so- called believers.

Some very interesting words from a very influential person of his time.

James The Brother of Jesus – Faith Without Works is Dead…..

I want to get back to our study of the Book of James in the Bible.  To me this is one of the most important books in the Bible as it tells us most directly how to live our lives. Here is an extended quote from the second chapter for our discussion today. I have underlined a few places that I will be discussing further.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?  As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

For the matter of this discussion I also want to bring up a quote for Paul in Ephesians 2:

For it is by grace  you have been saved,  through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works,  so that no one can boast. 

The first quotes obviously shows that faith and deeds (works) are inevitably linked. As James says a body without a spirit is dead and faith without works is equally dead.  Can dead faith save you? James answers that in a very emphatic way. The second quote seems to directly contradict the first.  This is one of several places where one author contradicts another in the Bible. Who are we to believe? Unfortunately many current day Christian evangelical denominations, particularly my Lutheran friends, latch onto the second quote as a means to treat Christianity as a fire insurance. To them just by saying you have faith you are therefore saved from any consequences of your actions, or maybe more appropriately lack of action. All you need to do is cash in that “faith” when you leave this earth. This is what saddened me more than anything else during my extensive three year study of current day Christianity. It is very clear to me that one of the purposes for Jesus to come down to earth was to teach us how to live and love each other. To ignore that basic fact is almost to ignore Jesus himself!

I don’t pretend to know why Paul apparently said something that seems to directly contradict what Jesus’ brother James said?  But I know what side of this controversy I will land on.  Let’s not deceive ourselves into believing that Christianity is a “something for nothing” religion. When you sign on to be a Christian you also sign on to the duties of showing that you are a Christian and that usually means living a very different life than others around you and that just isn’t visible in the world today. Words without action just don’t hack it. Don’t treat your Christianity as a fire insurance; do what Jesus says….

Conservatism and….

Source: Column: You can’t reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus – USATODAY.com.

The source article is about how many conservatives have put Ayn Rand on a pedestal lately. It goes into how much of her philosophy runs very contrary to espoused conservative values. The graphic I attached here from that article is pretty neat. It does a good job of showing the broken link between Ayn Rand and supposedly Republican party principles.

Here are some words from the reference article:

Turning the tables on traditional Christian morality, Rand argues that altruism is immoral and selfishness is good. Moreover, there isn’t a problem in the world that laissez-faire capitalism can’t solve if left alone to perform its miracles

Looking at the graphic also got me to thinking that even the right side of the graphic is an oxymoron to me.  I just can’t see how so many Christians can be so aligned with today’s version of conservatism?  With the exception of two issues (anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality) conservatism and Christianity seem to be very different to me.  That is what this post will primarily be about.

Let’s approach this issue with discussing what conservatism is about vs. what Christianity is about:

  • Conservatism is about being a “hawk”
  • Christianity is about being a peacemaker
  • Conservatism is about keeping your own money
  • Christianity is about giving a stranger the shirt off your back
  • Conservatism is about a strong work ethic
  • Christianity is about helping the poor and downtrodden
  • Conservatism is about strict enforcement of the law
  • Christianity is about giving freedom to prisoners
  • Conservatism is about a strong national patriotism
  • Christianity is about being a citizen of another place

As is obvious with these directly opposite characteristics I have my doubts about how sincerely conservatives cling to the cross of Christianity. But for me the most pointed example of the lack of Christian compassion by conservatives is the current crop of Republican presidential candidates. There is almost nothing in any of their platforms that indicate that they will be compassionate presidents.

  • They talk continuously about taking back Obamacare and leaving the uninsured to the mercy of the insurance companies.
  • They talk about reducing Medicaid allocations to eliminate even that safety net for the poor.
  • They want to eliminate agencies like the EPA and Education
  • They talk about cutting the safety net for everyone and yet leaving our extremely bloated military budgets unscathed.
  • They talk about defunding the U.N. which is the last vestige of peacemaking  left.
  • They take great pride in the governors in their party who are making massive cuts in State level funding for the poor.

I wish someone would point me to just a handful of things that could be considered compassionate about any in this group. I really don’t want to believe that these guys are intent on turning us into a “survival of the fittest” nation. I know they almost exclusively are saying what they are against; I wish they would show us what they are for or at least on occasion show a little compassion.

But what do I know…..