Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Religion as social club

I am wondering if there really is a difference between a religious church group and a social non-religious group. Is a religion just another form of social organization where people follow a generally prescribed set of opinions. The boundaries of opinions being set by the overall denomination out of the scores of different denominations. The social groups then holding together the wider dispersed denomination. The denomination leadership working to keep their overall group distinct from the other social organizations, the other denominations.

Now this would not seem to be a bad thing, as there are all kinds of social groups in existence but the religion claims a higher goal. That goal being to search and hold to truth. They do well on the holding onto what they think is truth part, but how well to they search for truth? Or could I be wrong and they are not searching for truth at all, rather, thinking they already have the truth.

Searching for truth involves testing and experimentation with different ideas and practices, that is not something that many church organizations seem to do much of it seems to me. For example when I used to go listen to sermons at my local church I would practically never hear anything new that stood up to the test of being true. Sure our Washington Conference brought a woman in to help teach people how to evangelize and she told us that the ancients tied lamps to their sandals hence the Psalmist famous quote, “thy word is a lamp unto my feet”. That indeed sounds like something new, it was news to me, but there was no truth behind it. No archaeological evidence no written descriptions, no half burned up sandals from the spilled oil. I would love to have seen her try to tie some lamps to her shoes and test out the theory however. But it does not stop these people who seem to be church organization leaders from telling these ridiculous things.

Just this last month I noticed John McLarty had to write the following to the North Pacific Union Gleaner:
“In his May editorial, Max Torkelson spoke of the good news that Jesus is coming again. In support of this good news, Torkelson quoted an "End Times Predictions" website that claims major earthquakes are increasing in frequency. However, according to the United States Geological Survey (which has credibility in the field of earth science comparable to that of the GAO in the realm of government or the CDC in the field of public health), the frequency of earthquakes has not increased over the last hundred years or so that systematic records have been kept.”
I know over the years on the Internet I have pointed out this same mis-information and pointed people to the scientific information from the USGS. But it seems in the church organization truth is ignored in favor of some pet belief. So maybe truth is really a casualty of religion just as in the societal groups that hold to astrology where the truth of planet alignment really has nothing at all to do with human behavior and that the planet positions or names but is assumed to have deep meaning. As the article states:
These ideas were not, however, isolated - they were instead part and parcel of omens derived from entrails, oil dropped on the floor, birds flying in the sky, and more. As Will Durant observed of the Babylonians:
Never was a civilization richer in superstitions. Every turn of chance from the anomalies of birth to the varieties of death received a popular, sometimes an official and sacerdotal, interpretation in magical or supernatural terms ...The superstitions of Babylonia seem ridiculous to us, because they differ superficially from our own. There is hardly an absurdity of the past that cannot be found flourishing somewhere in the present.

Yet how often does the dating crowd ask someone what sign are you? It becomes a commonality a way of communicating, to get the conversation going. That is what is happening with the religion as well. Traditions and untruth are used to bring the conversation around to something that they believe even more deeply. But in religion many of those beliefs cannot be documented as true or false because we lack the ability to ascertain the future or all the aspects of the past so they must remain as beliefs. But if truth is important in a religion why is it so often ignored?

It seems that the search for truth may be one of those statements which is used as a tradition rather then as a meaningful statement. Because a religion should really want to be about truth just as much as tradition if not leaning more toward truth. But because truth interferes with tradition and presuppositions it seems to often be a fictitious piece of propaganda, we have the truth, we search for the truth, but don't ask us to really pay attention to the truth.

The Adventist church is on the cusp of dealing with the issue of science and truth with the controversy at La Sierra University and subsequently all other Adventist educational institutions. Will truth win over traditions...we will see, social clubs don't need truth after all.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Brain Dead Administation

I think I have figured out the leadership of the Adventist church. Ah you may say no one can figure out their inscrutable minds. After all the Board Chairman at La Sierra University Ricardo Graham recently asked 4 people to resign after listening to a secret recording of their private conversations. As if private conversations should be supplied to employers for their use in deciding faculty and staff positions. You may think they would not want their words recorded and played back to their constituency. But I think they don't even think about that. It is to Clifford Goldstein that I owe this new understanding of Adventist leadership.

Here is the paragraph that led me to my new understanding:

“The dead, therefore, know no delay in the Second Coming. It’s we, the living, who fret over it, but only because we look from the wrong perspective, the perspective of the living. But that’s too narrow a view, because most people are dead a lot longer than they are alive. From 
the perspective of the dead, things appear quite differently.”

You see if you have perspective of an active and thinking brain you act differently then someone who as Goldstein says in his article: “--what would death do to that experience when we have no brain function or, if dead long enough, no brain?”

So he wants people to look at the wider view of things. That view, that perspective, in his article is that of the inactive, non functioning, dead brain. Are you getting the picture? The goal of the Adventist leadership is to have the wider view of things. The perspective of the dead with no thoughts and no brain. What is the perspective of someone with no brain; normally being brain dead is not a something to be desired but it appears to be good and we are to emulate it and it does appear that the administration at La Sierra University are doing their best not to think. Strange how not thinking and fundamentalism go together, but that is the subject for another day.

Monday, June 06, 2011

When logical become Traditional

There was an interesting discussion in our Sabbath School class recently. It was posited by one or two of the members that in the Genesis story of Cain and Abel it is logical to assume that God had instructed the brothers upon how to present offering to God. What I found interesting about this attempt to retell the Genesis story is that it conflates logical with traditional. First is it logical to assume facts not present in a story? Well yes to a certain degree, we could assume that when telling a story about human beings that the humans breathe air, they carry on the same physiological activities as any other human.  That we could say is a logical assumption. Now are we still in the land of logical assumptions if in the Cain and Abel story we assume that angels came by and told them how to turn lead into gold? We would say no that is not in any way connected to the story it would not be logical.

The problem comes when we assume logical and really mean traditional. There is a long tradition of the assumption that Cain and Abel or even Adam and Eve were taught about offerings and sacrifices. The traditions of the sacrificial system are assumed to be present in these stories because the sacrifices later on played an important role in the Jewish tradition. Then when Christianity saw Jesus as the focus of the sacrificial system they redefined the stories to make Jesus included in the assumptions of sacrifice instructions which were never referred to in the Genesis stories at all.

Thus what was traditional…the long standing assumptions move into the realm of logical. The two become one even though they are very different. This becomes a real problem when we seek to understand the ancient stories and what they originally intended to convey. Traditions can so color the story as to make it practically unrecognizable. We see this more clearly when we examine how the Midrash adds to the story:

And Cain had words with Abel his brother (4:8)
About what did they quarrel? "Come," said they, "let us divide the world." Cain took the land, and Abel took other the movables (the cattle). Said Cain: "The land you stand on is mine"; retorted Abel, "The clothes you are wearing are mine." One said: "Strip!"; the other said "Fly!" Out of this quarrel, Cain rose up against his brother Abel.

Rabbi Joshua of Siknin said in Rabbi Levi's name: Both took land and both took movables, but about what did they quarrel? One said: "The Holy Temple must be built in my area," while the other claimed, "It must be built in mine."
Judah ben Ami said: Their quarrel was over the first Eve. Said Rabbi Aibu: The first Eve had returned to dust. Then about what was their quarrel? Said Rabbi Huna: An additional twin was born with Abel and each claimed her. (According to the Midrash, twin sisters were born together with Cain and Abel for them to marry--one with Cain and two with Abel.) The one claimed: "I will have her, because I am the firstborn"; while the other maintained: "She is mine, because she was born with me."(Midrash Rabbah)
You can move anything into the realm of tradition. But logic on the other hand has to have some contextual certainty. It requires reliable inference and that is much different from traditions and assumptions that produce traditions. With assumptions you can create a completely different story then the one that was written down. It may have good lessons or it may have absurd lessons. But if you want to know what the story was trying to say you have to limit your assumptions to the information provided and this becomes very difficult when tradition trades places with logic.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Guest Review of Rob Bell's new book

Love Wins, But Always?

In Rob Bell’s best seller, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and The Fate of Every Person Who Every Lives, the writer raises questions which have rocked the Christian world and have been discussed on the internet, TV shows, religious columns, and many Christian Bible studies. No matter what one believes, as a Christian about either Heaven or Hell and the afterlife, this book brings those questions to the forefront and are back of almost every Christian belief. This is only one of the very provocative questions he has dared to ask:  “Will only Christians be saved?” This was prompted by a scrawled not underneath Gandhi’s picture in an art show of prominent peacemakers: “He’s in Hell.”

Seriously, what is the common Christian belief? How can we be sure? What must one do, be, or perform to qualify for entrance to the Pearly Gates? Is it dependent on one’s parents? The country of your birth? Making the right choices during your life? How much control do we really have over our parents, our birthplace, or our early environment that plays such a pivotal role in our attitude?

If one dies very suddenly is there any hope if he may not have been baptized into the Christian faith? Is that what Christians believe? Or, is it based on one’s personal relationship with Christ? Even though there is never such a phrase in the entire Bible?

The age-old questions “What must I do to be saved?” Is answered by sheer luck of being born in the right place, at the right time, to the right parents, and to good environment. If that is true, then my eternal future is in the hands of others.

Or, is it solely on my belief in Jesus’ blood that has saved me? How is this to be applied?

What conditions are necessary for me to be assured?

Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible is there promised a future eternal life; they did not talk of a future life somewhere else because they anticipated a coming day when the world would be restored, renewed, and redeemed and there would be peace on earth.

Jesus was the first to speak of Heaven as eternal life when asked of the young ruler who was most anxious to be assured. In Jesus’ reply he said that one day when God’s will would be done on earth as is now done in heaven, that earth and heaven will be one.

Surely, this question is one of the most important of all questions Christianity has been asked. If Christians cannot be certain of what the future holds, why be a Christian?

Since first they were introduced into the Christian lexicon, heaven and hell have been central to their mission.  Are they literal places? Was the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus merely a metaphor for telling men that we must show mercy to others?

Is the Devil the one in charge of Hell and God is in charge of Heaven? When did the concept of Heaven as the home of the saved originate? Or that Hell was reserved for the most devious of humans? How much of the concept of Hell and Heaven were influenced by both ancient and more recent writers? Both John Milton and Dante described these two abodes of humans: Milton described Paradise in his epic poem Paradise Lost and Dante wrote the Divine Comedy portraying Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. This poem had an enormous influence on Christian thinking and was incorporated into Christian theology.

One of the most famous Bible verses in found in John 3:16: “For God so loved this world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not , perish but have everlasting life.” What is often forgotten and seldom read are the two verses following: “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.”

This is the overriding theme in Bell’s book: according to the book of Timothy, “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2). And in Hebrews, the writer says: “God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear“ (chap. 6).

What did the writer of the letter to the Philippians mean when he wrote “Every knee should bow…and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord”? and Peter says that Jesus will “restore everything” (Acts 3), and Paul writes in Colossians 1 that through Christ “God was pleased to….reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”

On to Revelation: in the last chapters, the gates of that city in that new world will “never shut.” Gates are for keeping people in and keeping people out. If the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go. When, in that book, God is saying that He will make all things new, does that mean everything, including people?

What did Jesus mean when he said “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen” (John 10).

In the parables of the prodigal son and the worker who only worked one hour compared to those who had worked all day, it demonstrates that in Jesus’ kingdom, people will get what they don’t deserve.

Bell asks deeply unsettling questions for those who have been so secure in their beliefs of who will make up heaven’s inhabitants: Does this sound familiar? “Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way, that is the way the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with his child would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter.”

If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities. And yet millions of Christians have been taught this very belief and converted millions based on this fear. Has there been a bit of schadenfreud in Adventism that goes like this:

“Those people out there may be going to parties and appearing to have fun while the rest of us do ‘God’s work,’ but someday we’ll go to heaven, where we won’t have to do anything, and they’ll go to hell, where they’ll get theirs” This is the same sentiment expressed by the elder brother when he was so angry because his father welcomed the prodigal son with open arms.

If God’s love is so small, so parsimonious that only those who have joined with the “elect” will be invited to heaven, that god has become much too small to redeem the world; to build mansions to be inhabited; to extend his welcoming arms to his children.

That can only mean that for those who believe this,:their God is far too small, and deserves no worship and adoration. Like the Wizard of Oz, that god is a very small image of our own making.