Who’s Skewering Whom?

In a predominantly Christian culture, why do some continue to stir up the notion of “persecution” when they carry their beliefs too far?

Shooting for humor, I posted an anecdote this last Sunday that poked fun at Georgia Republican congressman Paul Broun and his interpretation of the bible and the venue he used to give his sermon.  But of course what comes across as wild-eyed imaginings to some are dead serious claims by those who make them.  It doesn’t make any difference that there is no factual basis for some of these claims.  All that matters to “believers” is that, well, … they believe it. “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”    Such contrived assurances fit nicely into their world view of things and it gathers strength when you get affirmations from other like-minded people as Broun appeared to be getting from his audience.

It’s not an argument that any non-believer really wants to get into with a religious believer.  Because they have an ancient tradition on their side and a thinly credible counter argument of some “biblical authority”, you would be hard pressed to correct any rigidly held beliefs by them.  But Broun makes the mistake of asserting an assumption that has no biblical authority and that flies in the face of some evidence about science that even many Christians have come to accept at varying degrees.

All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.  – Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.  

It would be a stretch at best to link any bible verse to support Broun’s notions that evolution, embryology and the big bang theory are from the devil.  Embryology is not even a theory or belief system but a scientific field of study that’s been around formally since at least 1827.  But interests in embryonic development began with Aristotle hundreds of years before Christianity and the notion of a savior became part of popular thought.  It doesn’t challenge the belief in Jesus as a messiah.  It simply helps describe the  marvelous development from egg to human fetus which Christians are always fond of celebrating.  So why the disparagement of this from Broun?

Let the Flogging Begin

Fundamentalist views have always held that if you were properly indoctrinated with church dogma and later found a different way of thinking that only Satan and his minions could have persuaded you from rejecting biblical truths.  I bought into this myself at one time as a devout “born-again” christian with the aid of C.S. Lewis’ excellent story telling in “The Screwtape Letters”.   Even within the Roman Catholicism I was raised in, the Church taught us that ours was the one true branch of christianity.  As my Dad used to put it, “they’re called Protestants because they protest the original church founded by Peter.”

Christians, which count for nearly 80% of the U.S.population, often cry discrimination when some of the fundamentalists elements within try to lay claim to neutral territory, raising objections from the other 20%.  Much like the white settlers that came here from Europe and claimed land that was long held as the domain of various native Indian tribes, Christians today also impose themselves in the public domain that is shared by other faiths and systems of belief. They simply didn’t then or don’t today see themselves as intruders but as rightful heirs to some divine manifest destiny.  A sense of righteousness often overshadows the reality that theirs is a system of faith not indisputable fact and forgets to allow others the same privilege of putting their system of faith on top of their hierarchical pyramid of choices.  Point this out to them however and the wails of “persecution” ensue.

For people like Paul Broun to suggest that the science of embryology along with the theories of evolution and the Big Bang are the work of the Devil denies that people like me can make that transition out of the faith based almost exclusively on the church’s own historical record.  Even the great intellectual apologetics of C. S. Lewis could not overcome the skepticism that eventually developed within me as I studied the origins of my faith in great detail.   As a strong advocate of the faith years ago and a serious student of history, I discovered in my attempts to fully understand the evolution of Christianity that the institution itself was flawed and their alleged bedrock claims of superiority are marred with historical distortions and jockeying for power within the larger social context.

This revelation was not viewed by me as an attack on some unseen God that may or may not exist but on the church’s position that their insights and only their insights cannot be challenged.  The dogma that has layered over the original core values the earliest Christian groups held and the organized authority of the church over time has created a barrier between the simple truths of “the man from Galilee” and postulations of those who now claim to speak for him.

It’s not that Christians in various parts of the world are not discriminated against by various elements in other cultures but should such persecutions be used to make false parallels in this country?  Only in the U.S. where all other faith systems are dwarfed by Holy Mother Church is it alleged that a very small minority of non-believers are crushing the powerful influence Christianity continues to hold.   The bible and its stories do in fact convey a sense of belonging and can nurture those lost souls whose self-serving values demoralize them and those they are close to.  But when notions become ingrained that allow intolerance and promotes fear, any true disciple of Jesus would have to ask, “who is it here then that is really from the pit of hell”?

If the truths that are claimed to exist in the Bible are infallible then any challenge to them cannot stand up to scrutiny.  Yet this is in fact the weak position many Christians like Broun have put themselves in by relying on ancient texts written by the men of that age to speak to future generations whose world is a far cry from the times the words were first laid on papyrian documents.   There are many relevant messages of hope in scripture but there are also assertions that declare women as property, legitimizes slavery and killing a disobedient child.  If these are infallible truths why aren’t Christians today following them? (not that many wouldn’t like to, I feel)

Scholars have found numerous errors in the Bible

To claim that the bible is “the inerrant word” of God fails to account for the fact that Cain found a wife in the land of Nod shortly after being banished by God. (Gen.4:16-17)  If Cain was the first child of the two original human beings where does this woman come from?   And did God rearrange the universe following the battle between the Jews and the Amorites where supposedly the Almighty stopped the Sun from rotating around the earth until Joshua and his troops had avenged themselves upon their enemies.(Jos. 10:12-13)  If the Christian God is the same “as he was, is now and forever will be” how could his word be in contradiction with certain realties?

People like Broun who hold positions of power in government and declare they will enforce “God’s law” over everything else share that characteristic we see in rigid theocracies like that of the Taliban or in iron-fisted rulers by atheistic despots like Stalin and Pol Pot.  If free will is indeed an inherent part of biblical teaching then what gives Broun and others the right to force their views on those who have equally strong beliefs that contest them?

Legislating MoralityDo rush to judgements hurt the character of religion?

Back in 1985 John Denver testified before the Senate Committee for Commerce, Science and Transportation on what he saw as censorship by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) formed by Tipper Gore and other Washington wives to ban offensive lyrics that referenced sex, drugs and graphic violence in the music of that era.  In his presentation Denver pointed out how some radio stations banned his song “Rocky Mountain High”, thinking the lyrics were violating a FCC censorship order about promoting drug use.   Denver also claimed that  some theaters refused to put the name of his movie, Oh God! on their marquees as did some newspapers ads for the movie out of concern that it may be viewed by rigid fundamentalist as “irreverent”.

If God is really in control then why do religious fanatics undercut this belief by legislating morality?  I was raised to believe that we need God, he doesn’t need us and yet the actions recently taken in many conservative state legislatures aimed at forcing unwanted pregnancies to occur is done by those who claim to be acting on God’s behalf. Is the omniscient and omnipresent God of the bible no longer effectual or too overwhelmed where he was once capable of counting the very hairs on our head and placed more value on each of us than any one sparrow?(Matt. 10:29-31)

As a society it can be destructive if we all act on our own self-interests.  Cohesiveness is vital for survival and this often entails finding good leadership and allowing ourselves to follow their lead as it serves our need for survival.  But we are not sheep and when claims are made to herd us in to a robotic, Stepford-wife direction, then it becomes necessary to raise this concern and challenge those views that would enslave our free wills.

The bible, I found, does indeed have lessons for life and can serve as a guide for many who are as children.  But as we mature we are able to look outside the bounds that an individual or an institution has set for us when it no longer seems to meet the reality of our time.   Women and certain cultures are not second class citizens as ancient scriptures declared.  Nor are claims of “abominations” legitimate when referring to gays today from a view held by people who believed at one time that the earth was the center of the Universe, believing that this too was the will of God.

Science is a method, not an all-powerful force or an absolute measure of what exists.  It is an assortment of peer-reviewed fields of study that seek to make sense of the physical realties in our world and offer reasonably sound answers to phenomena that were once thought to exist only in the realm of the ethereal or metaphysical, such as the sun being pulled around the earth by a charioteer.

Christians can be both scientist and followers of biblical concepts and principles but they can’t claim one has preeminence over the other based on outdated data and ancient texts.  They must assert themselves in light of the here and now and speak to people in a way that allows them to identify with the information both sides present.  Insisting that what one has to offer should not be questioned is not a path that leads to truth but one that leads to suppression.

A couple of years ago I spelled out in an article why I could no longer practice the faith of my fathers.  I concluded it with this which seems fitting for this essay as well.

“If I were to re-write that part of John in chapter 3 that posits Jesus as the final solution, I would do it in the way that I now understand it. For God so loved the world that he sent people into the world like Jesus to serve as a light and a guide to lift you up and fulfill the life you have been given. You are a slave to no man and you are above no man. It is love for the life I have given you and the companionship of others that will strengthen you in times of stress. Without love your existence has no meaning. Without sharing you are the lowest of all species. It is through your interconnectedness that true salvation is found”.  - How I Learned to Move Beyond the God of My Religious Upbringing

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11 responses to “Who’s Skewering Whom?

  1. I honestly don’t care what religious beliefs people adhere to as long as they keep them to themselves unless begged to share – and never bring them to work especially if you’re a legislator. This need to save others is bizarre. Save yourself first and then shine your light on others through deeds and kind words.

    • “I honestly don’t care what religious beliefs people adhere to as long as they keep them to themselves unless begged to share – and never bring them to work especially if you’re a legislator”

      I think that was part of the idea behind the Puritan’s move to this country centuries ago and now it seems we have come full-circle and become what they ran away from back then.

  2. Anytime a rep brings religion to his job he has crossed the line of the separation and then he needs to be registered as a lobbyist which would eliminate him from serving in the Congress…..they are either a lobbyist for God or they are a rep of the people….decide and move on…

  3. Fundamentalism is based on fear and when a belief is based on fear, you might as well set off a nuclear device as to try to bring the truth to them. They are too frightened to contemplate truth, whether it be that there is no God (if that is your truth) or that God exists but not in some neat book that is open to a variety of interpretations. Of course to their mind, the book is God and the interpretation is simple–theirs.

  4. I went to a Lutheran College and our Bio prof, a devout Christian, spent a half hour before the unit on evolution explaining why evolution was NOT contrary to scripture. I thought he was over-emphasizing the obvious, but since then I realize he probably had to deal with a lot of people who disagreed. Galileo said that if scripture says something science shows to be untrue then “our interpretation of scripture” must be wrong. Ultimately the Church would come to agree; the Catholic Church embraced the big bang because it suggests that space-time was created! I’m not a Christian, but I think Christians should be upset when extremists make it seem like their faith is anti-science and intolerant. For most Christians it’s not. Broun’s problem (or that Arkansas guy who says children should potentially suffer the death penalty for disobedience to their parents) is that they are claiming their own warped views are somehow indicative of what their religion demands they believe.

    • “I’m not a Christian, but I think Christians should be upset when extremists make it seem like their faith is anti-science and intolerant.”

      I think most are or at least uncomfortable with zealots like Broun but are too reserved to speak out. Many christians are unsophisticated and tend to accept other people’s interpretations who are audacious enough like Broun to hype such gibberish. It really falls on religious leaders to put people like Broun in their place.

  5. I’m essentially an Atheist in the way that Reagan stopped being a Democrat. I didn’t leave Christianity, Christianity left me.

    It’s sad to see how Christianity has been morphing into a paranoid, delusional, science-denying, army for God. Because it’s driving away all the positive elements from the Religion and all the positive folks out of it.

    You wouldn’t believe the number of churches closing here in Canada and most of them are not closing as a result of paying of the victims of kiddie diddling priests. The only Christian churches not dying off are the snake charming, lunatic kinds who will cast everyone but themselves to Hell.

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