Part of a Series on Christianity in Present-Day America
I apologize for this not being up last week. Once you start to research and deconstruct this stuff, there appear more and more rabbit holes you go down. Also, as I’ve always said, brevity is not my strong suit. Also, I’ve switched back to the stock WordPress comments system rather than using Disqus. Let me know which you prefer.
Anyhow, if you haven’t read the last 2 posts in this series, be sure to catch last week’s here or start at the beginning here.
As with last week (and the week before it), I need to clarify that my intent is NOT to attack the foundations of Christianity (save to illustrate questions that millennials may have about Christianity that aren’t being answered), or individual Christians. I do, however, feel that prominent Christian leaders are fair-game to illustrate what is going on. Also, for the purposes of this article, unless otherwise indicated, when I say ‘the church’, I mean the so-called ‘Big “C” Church’ – the Universal Church. Not any specific denomination, congregation, or individual.
I’m also going to try to keep any personal anecdotes germaine to the conversation at hand. I don’t want this to become a personal airing of grievances, though I may allow myself one or two indulgences. It is my blog, after all.
Kindness – And now we start to come into a lot of the heavier issues. I recommend a hard hat, safety glasses, and welding gloves for safety.
Yeah, I’m bringing this up. I’ll start with a story (I’ll try to keep it short).
When I was a child, attending that religious school, I developed severe depression and anxiety. The depression was recognized and began to be treated with medication when I was 11 years old. The anxiety was not. I had social anxiety, test anxiety, generalized anxiety, all of the anxieties. Growing up as a fat kid in the early to mid to late ’90s was also it’s own special hell, and as such, I had extremely low self-esteem. Early on, they had us take a test to determine which math class we should take. I was nervous while taking the test and forgot how to perform long division. I was placed in the remedial mathematics class, which is when I ‘learned’ that I was terrible at math and trying to get better at it was pointless.
Things got exponentially worse when I got to high school. Because of my anxiety, I didn’t make friends easily. I was branded the ‘weird quiet kid’. The ‘good Christian kids’ and the ‘good honor roll kids’ wouldn’t talk to me, and if they did, what came from their mouths was seldom a glad tiding. The people who would talk to me were the other outcasts. The burn-outs, the stoners, the under-achievers … the kids who weren’t religious in the slightest.
My anxiety caused me to miss a lot of class, and under perform academically. Even into my undergraduate years. I earned my bachelors degree by the absolute skin of my teeth. You would think that maybe in high school, a teacher would have told my parents ‘I think your son may have some anxiety issues. You may want to get that checked out if you haven’t already.’ As a college student, you would DEFINITELY think that someone (like – say – my educational psychology professor, or any education professor, really) would have said ‘I think you have a little test anxiety. It might be a good idea to make a free appointment with the university counselling center.’
My anxiety was finally diagnosed in my early 30s. I’m left to conjecture about what may have been possible had it been caught – say – 15 years earlier. As it turns out, it is a whole lot easier to write a young person off as dumb, lazy, or creepy than try to help them.
So, what in the heck does this have to do with the church? A lot, actually. For one thing, we have bible verses about things like this:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7
If your church has been great for your mental health, and has helped you, I’m happy for you, and I mean that sincerely. But to say that the church has a spotty track record with mental illness is an understatement. To this day, church often makes one feel like these sort of problems are our own fault – we don’t trust God enough, we don’t pray enough, we don’t … I don’t know … remember to hook that thingy at the very top of our choir robes.
Historically, the church has viewed people with depressive disorder or an anxiety disorder as people who just weren’t religious enough. Anyone who has committed suicide has performed the ultimate sin against God. People with things like Schizophrenia or an Autism Spectrum Disorder were considered to be full-on possessed by demons. Unfortunately, this type of thinking persists today. I took a cursory look at the search engine results of ‘church AND mental illness AND demonic possession’ and the results are something special. A doctor who specializes in recognizing demonic possession, an article written by a pastor on how to tell the difference between mental illness and demonic possession, and possibly the best thing I have ever found on the internet: A doctoral dissertation submitted by a candidate for the Doctorate of Ministry degree at Liberty University entitled “Mental Illness and Demonic Influence:
The Difference Between Them and the Difference It Makes“. Check it out if you want. It is really well written.
But I digress. The following video was put together by a YouTuber named Trevor Poelman. Unfortunately, I had to cut it down significantly for time and relevancy, and my video editing game is weak.
There isn’t really much to say here that hasn’t already been said. Society in general and the church in particular has treated LGBTQ+ folks abhorrently since time immemorial. Back in the ’90s, when I was in middle school, we were taught to fear and hate Gay and Lesbian folks. Today that focus has largely shifted to Transgender and non-gender-conforming individuals. I strongly believe – and I think that a majority of millennials agree on one level or another – that everybody in the LGBTQ+ community is a human being. They deserve all the respect, consideration, love, kindness, affirmation, as any other human being. Furthermore, they absolutely are entitled to the same rights, protection, and privileges under the law enjoyed by any other citizen. If your faith causes you to commit harassment, accostment, assault, or worse, you urgently need to reassess your worldview.
Christianity likes to put people in boxes, see. And that box defines everything about your life – your sexual orientation, the way you dress, your socioeconomic status, how often you go to church, how you look, are your interests and hobbies good and wholesome? None of that demonic Dungeons and Dragons. Do you have a nice house with a white picket fence, a spouse (of the OPPOSITE gender) and 2.3 children? How about a dog? Is it a nice dog? A good, Christian dog? How are you set on mutual funds? The Lutheran Brotherhood can hook you up on those, and maybe a nice Roth IRA. It looks like you’re only tithing 10% of your NET income. It’s gotta be 10% GROSS if you want to get into heaven. Ladies, if you have sex before marriage, you’re permanently damaged and no godly man will have you. Guys …. just try not to have sex before marriage, you know – give it the old college try.
And if you so much as step a toe outside that box, there is pearl clutching and gossiping and passive-aggressive comments galore.
The theologians tell me that ‘Goodness’ in this context basically means ‘generosity’. On that topic, I think that the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats from the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew sums it up the best:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” – Matthew 25:35-40
Whatsoever you did for one of the least of these…. the least of these….
…I think that how one treats marginalized people is a test of character, but also a sign that you can see beyond your own experience. Moreover, it is strongly commanded by scripture. How do Christians (in general) treat the poor, the indigent, the mentally ill, the sick, the lonely, and the forgotten?
I’m going to be honest with you. There is an increasing perception among my generation and others that Christians in general and the Christian Right in particular hate the poor, but let’s unpack that.
I really believe that this is a huge issue with millennials. Remember that we value things like empathy very highly, and are on track to be the first generation in American history to earn less than our parents. When we look at someone living on the street, most of us don’t see someone who has made bad life decisions. We see ourselves, one paycheck removed from being that person. That gives us ample incentive to know dang well who is helping that person and who is hurting that person. Furthermore, if we pay attention in church and Sunday school, we know that Christians have a strong scriptural mandate to help the poor as they are able.
Now, lets’ take a look at Christians’ attitudes toward the poor. The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a poll. It found that 46 percent of all Christians said that a lack of effort is generally to blame for a person’s poverty, compared with 29 percent of all non-Christians. Extrapolating that outward, if poverty is the result of lack of effort, then it is that person’s fault. If it is that person’s fault, then Almost half of all Christians in America think that people are poor because they deserve to be. I’ve even heard preachers say that it is a SIN to live in poverty, as if someone chooses that life. And thus, the Christian establishments tend to look at the poor and needy not as Human beings in need of help, but something less than Human to look down upon. For 1900 years or so, Christians were on the forefront for helping and advocating for the poor. Now they see them as people for whom they have no use.
Ultimately, though, it really doesn’t matter why someone is impoverished. As someone who has flirted with the poverty line a time or two in my life (as A LOT of millennials have), I can tell you that I wouldn’t wish that amount of stress and insecurity on anyone. I have a really hard time believing that somebody would say ‘well, I could take this job that pays $45k, not great, not terrible, but I’d rather live in the dumpster behind the elder care facility. Those older folks never finish their pudding cups. You have to really get in there and suck out the remainder, but its good eatin”.
That is not to mention that it is entirely possible for someone to be too poor to get a job. In order to get a job, you almost always need a physical address, a phone number, and you need to go for a job interview in a presentable condition. If you live on the street or in a homeless shelter, you don’t really have access to those things. You need money to pay the barber, a shaving kit, access to business attire, a place to store your business attire where it won’t be stolen, so on and so forth.
Along the way, someone decided that a person’s worth directly correlates to what they contribute to society. I and – I suspect – the majority of my generation find this viewpoint absolutely abhorrent. Millennials grew up being told that every person is created in the image of God, then watched those same people who told us that look down on the poor, oppose programs to help the poor become not poor anymore, etc. At least use the intellect that God gave you to work the problem. This isn’t a zero-sum game. Find out what causes poverty and work to mitigate it. Find out what people in poverty need – vocational guidance, mental healthcare, rehab? I’ve seen stories about charities that help the homeless with a haircut, a decent suit (procured from the local goodwill or similar), and mock job interviews so that they can ACTUALLY go out to find work. Some states are finding that it is actually cheaper to give homes to the homeless than to pay for the social services that come with having a homeless population. I’m not saying that either of these approaches will put an end to homelessness, but they illustrate that this isn’t a zero-sum game – this is not a black-and-white issue – and every Human being has just as much intrinsic worth as any other.
“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:24
Those are the words of Jesus Himself, which were also recorded in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. I’m not going to try to litigate what He meant by ‘the eye of a needle’ – that has been argued since time immemorial by people with significantly more theological training than I. Still, the meaning is fairly plain.
Most pastors, preachers, ministers, priests, etc work hard, long hours to minister to their flock, do good in the community, and give a good homily or sermon on Sunday morning. Depending on what jobs website you look at, the average pastor in America makes as low as $17k/yr or as high as $120k/yr.
And yet, some
snake oil salesman megachurch pastors find themselves in the stratosphere. Beliefnet.com ranked the 8 wealthiest pastors in america (n.b. I don’t know how old these figures are), and the results are surprising, even to an old cynic like me. Leading the list with a net worth of $760 million dollars is this literal chucklehead:
As we have now heard from Rev. Copeland twice, let’s use him as an object lesson, shall we? The 19th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew reads: “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.“
So, the good pastor has a net worth of $760 million dollars. He could – as an example – give a million dollars to the rescue mission in 759 cities (good, Christian organizations who genuinely help people – also, I’m not entirely sure that there are that many city rescue missions in the United States, but we’ll say that for the cities that don’t have one, he gave that million to the food bank or a shelter for battered women, or one of any number of causes). A million dollars would make a huge difference to those organizations, and Rev. Copeland would remain a millionaire.
Now again, this is an object lesson. I’m not attempting to dictate how any one else should spend their money. We could run the same scenario with the next on the list, Pat Robertson with $100 million, and so on. When you have the most visible listened-to leaders in Christianity leading lives of opulence while poverty still exists, what is anyone who learned the Gospels as a young person supposed to see? Or think? This is the kind of thing that makes Humanism start to look like a good idea.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” – Proverbs 15:1. One of my favorites.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:29
Jesus described Himself as ‘gentle and humble in heart’. I’m not sure why, but that is a tough one. I don’t think that I’ve ever had a problem with the gentleness part, but humility is a tough quality to maintain in our post-modern world. Everybody posts things to their social media that makes their life look perfect, and then it’s this game of one-upsmanship – we don’t understand why we’re doing it – just something in our less-evolved paleo-cortex telling the more developed neocortex to take a nap, because paleo is driving for a few minutes.
Anyway, let’s talk about abortion.
Yes, that segue was intentionally terrible. And yes, I’m bringing this up. I might as well go for broke while I’m here. And yes, I’m tying this into Kindness. Also, this is the part where I state that – as a topic – Reproductive Rights is not in my wheelhouse. It is barely in my boat at all. I can look at data and speak somewhat to public policy, though.
I don’t THINK reproductive rights are hot on the minds of most millennials right now, but it is for many, and is huge for some.
Let me illustrate. I have a story, and I swear that I’m not making this up. 100% true.
I went to college in a kind of sleepy little university town in the middle of Michigan. Outside the city it was rural countryside for miles and miles and miles.
My second or third year, a Planned Parenthood opened in town. It was just a little Planned Parenthood. Kind of a satellite Planned Parenthood, if you will. They weren’t set up to do any kind of abortion procedure – I’m not sure if they could even prescribe some methotrexate to terminate very early pregnancies. Maybe they could, I don’t know. They were there primarily to do health screenings, provide contraceptives (primarily for women attending the university, most of whom didn’t have a lot of money), perform STI screenings, and so forth. Any abortion procedures would have to be referred to Lansing (as an aside, I lived right by the Lansing Planned Parenthood – which does provide abortion services – for three years, and have never once seen anyone protesting there).
As soon as it opened, people came from the surrounding counties to yell and carry anti-abortion signs – in front of the Planned Parenthood that didn’t perform abortions. It really made me wonder what they do for a living that they can be there every afternoon protesting. Oh, and they brought their elementary aged kids. They were home-schooled, see, and thus could be out protesting with mommy or daddy during school hours – presumably to get their elective in ‘behaving like a philistine’.
Anyhow, a female acquaintance of mine – another university student – thought she might have cervical cancer. I don’t know why. I didn’t ask why. But that can be a serious condition. She didn’t have health insurance, so the only way for her to get checked out was to go to the Planned Parenthood. While entering the premises, she was verbally accosted by the protesters, and called all sorts of vile names and insults. Because she was going to the Planned Parenthood that didn’t perform abortions to get herself checked for cancer. (It turned out that she didn’t have cancer)
See, I think that sometimes, some Christians – when they feel that their cause is just and holy – will sometimes act out in ways that harm their cause rather than help it. And I understand. If you believe that abortion is murder, then you would certainly try to stop it, and the shortest route between point A and point B is a straight line, right? So you physically go out and MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD! You yell to the heavens and wave signs galore, but don’t think through if that is the loving, generous, kind way to go about it.
If you’ll allow me a digression, I enjoy some American (Gridiron) Football from time to time (not the European/Association 90-minutes-of-boredom-that-ends-in-a-tie football), and one of my favorite parts of the game are the trick plays that only show up once or twice a season. One of my favorite plays in Football is called the ‘double reverse’. It takes a lot of practice, skill, and luck to pull off, but it can be found in the playbook of some high school teams, all the way up to the NFL.
Here we see it being used in a game between two high school teams. This is a good example, because you see the teams line up before the play, and things happen more slowly than they would in an FBS or NFL football game (also the NCAA and NFL don’t allow their footage to be embedded outside of YouTube, so this was the only good example I could bring you). But you can see, at the start of the play, the quarterback (the offensive team is on the left) is in the shotgun at the left hash, and everything looks normal. One second into the video, the ball is snapped and immediately handed off to the man in motion running to the right – something that the defense more or less expects. The defense then moves toward the right in an attempt to stop the run. The wide receiver all the way to the right fakes that he is about to run forward, and instead runs backfield and toward the left. The defense is still moving to stop the ball-carrier running to the right. That ball-carrier then tosses it to the wide receiver who had come from the right and is now running to the left. With the defense all out of position trying to stop a run to the right, the area left of the hash is completely open, and the wide receiver can run for a big gain. The double reverse takes awhile to play out in the backfield, so if the defense expects it, they will absolutely break past the offensive line and smother the play, causing the offensive team to either lose yardage or possibly possession of the ball. In essence, they are playing smarter rather than harder.
In 1973, the Supreme court, Roe vs Wade, you know the whole deal. Abortion quickly became a wedge issue because reasons. And even within Christianity are a wide number of positions on the issue. Some Mainline Protestant congregations – such as the Methodists, the UCC, the Presbyterians, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (which is very different from the flavor of Lutheranism in which I grew up) generally recognize abortion rights to one extent or another. Other Christians think it is okay up to a certain point – say, the first trimester. Some say that it is acceptable in cases of rape or incest, some say that it is acceptable if the pregnancy is endangering the life of the mother. And some say that it isn’t acceptable under ANY circumstances. If the mother’s life is in danger, she’s going down with the ship, as the band plays ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’.
Just before writing this, I went to a pro-life website to see if they could point to any parts of scripture that tackle this issue. They provided some, most or all of which are completely unrelated to abortion, so I really don’t understand why this is such a huge, righteous cause for Christianity. My question is – if God REALLY REALLY REALLY wants all fetuses to be brought to term, why does He allow miscarriages? I mean, God is all-powerful. He could make it so that all pregnancies result in a bouncing baby and a healthy mother. But He doesn’t. For the record, I know that a miscarriage can be absolutely devastating to the prospective parents – I’m not making light of it – I’m just posing the question.
When I was a small child – maybe 5th grade, so around 10 years old, all of the 5th graders were taken out of class and led into the sanctuary, where a representative from Lutherans for Life talked to us about the evils of abortion. We were even shown the little fetus dolls. The ones that portray fetuses as looking exactly like a smaller version of an infant brought to full-term beginning at around 8 weeks. We all walked up and filed by as we took a good, close look at the American Girl Fetus Collection. They clearly intended for our little brains to have a visceral reaction. I distinctly remember NOT having that reaction (I’ve always tended to be a person who needs the whys and the wherefores of a concept rather than raw emotion), and filing the mental note ‘Abortion is bad … I suppose … because the church wouldn’t lie to me. So, bad indeed.’
So, what do football and fetuses have to do with millennials being driven from church … or anything, really? Simple. In the football play, the kids played smarter, not harder. In the case of the Planned Parenthood Protestors in my anecdote, they accomplished nothing and made Christians look ignorant and hateful. That kind of thing has gone on for 50 years, with little to show for it, and Christianity’s ‘brand’ being tarnished by it. What if I told you that there may be a way to significantly reduce abortions almost to zero, in a way that is kind, caring, generous, and Christlike?
See, people seldom do things (especially when it comes to major life decisions) for no good reason. When I was growing up Lutheran, my understanding was that women were just going out and having abortions willy-nilly, but not only is that viewpoint false on it’s face, it is contradicted by research. A woman seeks an elective abortion when it looks like the best out of a lot of really bad outcomes. So, mitigate the socioeconomic issues that make it the least bad out of a lot of bad outcomes.
I checked out this open access, peer reviewed research article on the topic. There are a lot of reasons that women seek elective abortions. There are almost always compounding factors, but they tend to follow the same theme and variations.
Think about it. If you have extremely limited means and lack access to health insurance – prenatal care, pregnancy and delivery are EXPENSIVE. Like, bankruptcy expensive. Skipping prenatal care would result in a higher rate of infant mortality, which is the same outcome as an elective abortion. 40% of women seeking an abortion cite financial factors. This could be mitigated by paying for the health care of financially disadvantaged pregnant women, either via private charities or through government action. There are a number of tremendous organizations that provide things like formula, diapers, and other baby stuff. Those might not be as accessible to many women – particularly in rural areas. And then the infant will need regular check-ups with a pediatrician or family medicine doctor. Make sure that the resources exist to allow that to happen, etc. Break down barriers, lift people up, and make that abortion completely unnecessary.
A lot of women are trapped in abusive relationships and (quite understandably) don’t want to bring a child into that sort of environment. That could potentially be mitigated by donating to women’s shelters and hiring more social workers and the like who can help women get out of those situations.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a free country. If you want to wave signs outside a clinic, by all means, have a day. Just know that you won’t do away away with abortion by running the ball up the middle. Actually working the problem is a win/win for everybody, and maybe some of the folks who have left the church will say ‘you know what? They seem to be calm and rational, are doing actual good – I might give church another go.’
Faithfulness in this context definitely means one’s faith in God and the Holy Spirit and – depending on who you ask – faithfulness within a relationship such as marriage. I don’t think that you can quantify peoples’ faith, so I am taking a pass on that. As for the other thing – faithfulness within a relationship, I am definitely taking a pass. As far as this one goes, I yield back my time.
Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city. – Proverbs 16:32
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. – Proverbs 25:28
Self-control. It is vastly underrated in our contemporary society. I think that everybody slips up in this regard every once in awhile. Perhaps, out of frustration, we say something we shouldn’t – or cut someone off on the freeway because we are running late. A lot of people, however, indulge their baser instincts.
During the past year, we have seen people terrorizing poor store clerks over mask policies. We saw a small army of Americans break into the United States Capitol and defecate in the hallways of that hallowed building, a few hours before the President of the United States said that he loved those people.
Look at the type of people that our Evangelical friends are exalting. ‘Alpha Males’, strongmen, people who will ‘own’ those with whom they disagree.
As I mentioned previously, contrary to popular belief, millennials did not just fall off the turnip truck. We see what people do, we hear what people say, but we can also read between the lines – see the subtext behind what people say and do. And we shape our worldview accordingly.
Bonus Round: Anti-Intellectualism
As much as I’d like to wrap this up, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the topic of anti-intellectualism.
Remember that Millennials are the most educated generation that has existed thus-far. We’ve been taught the scientific method. We’ve been taught to think critically, to question our own beliefs and assumptions, and to – ideally – be strong enough to brave the cognitive dissonance needed to alter those beliefs upon discovering and verifying contrary evidence. That is the way that human beings gain new perspectives, how thought advances, how innovation happens.
Biblical literalism, Biblical Inerrancy, and Young Earth Creationism
No joke. When I was in middle school, I asked my Science teacher (who was, and hopefully still is, a really great guy. Retired a good decade+ ago) something along the line of ‘I saw on the Discovery Channel that Archeologists have found evidence that Neanderthals once existed. When about would that be, in relation to the Old Testament?’ to which he replied ‘I’m not sure. It would of had to have been around the time of Adam and Eve.’ I had an inkling at the time somewhere in my 12-year-old brain that the answer didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but like a good Lutheran child, the teacher had spoken, so I didn’t challenge it. Today we know that the Neanderthals disappeared because a group Homo Sapiens migrated out of present-day Sub-Saharan Africa into Europe and Southwestern Asia, where Homo neanderthalensis resided, and interbred with them so much that after enough generations, all that was left were Humans. In fact, some of the commercial DNA tests (i.e. 23andMe and Geno 2.0) will actually tell you how much of your genome is Neanderthal (it is around 2% for most of us, though people whose ancestry resides entirely in sub-Saharan Africa will have 0% Neanderthal DNA, as they are descended from Homo Sapiens that did not migrate away and interbreed with Neanderthals. But again, I digress.
Yes, I am well aware that Biblical Literalism, Biblical Inerrancy, and Young Earth Creationism are separate concepts and not necessarily tied together, and any of the three (mostly) can exist on it’s own independent of the others, but I regrettably don’t have time to examine each individually. I do, however, think that I can tackle them all at the same time.
A lot of mainline Protestant denominations (again, your Presbyterians, the UCC, the ELCA, and maybe the Episcopalians (I haven’t checked on the latter) tend to take a more historical-grammatical view when interpreting scripture. Most mainline protestant denominations require their pastors to attend seminary, and hold at least a Masters degree in Divinity before becoming ordained. Some pastors even have a Doctorate of Divinity (in which case their name is usually formatted as – for example – ‘Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier’, who was one of my pastors when I was growing up, and who regularly gave 45 minute sermons. I can’t complain, though; brevity isn’t my strong suit, either. Martin Luther King, Jr., however could be called either Dr. King or Rev. King, but not both at once, since he had a Ph.D. rater than a D.Div.
Anyway, in a mainline protestant church service, the sermon or homily is always given on one of the day’s bible readings, as opposed to the ‘You know, whatever I want to talk about’ approach. In such a church, it is not at all unusual for the minister to say something like ‘Now, the original Greek text has the Apostle Paul using the ancient Greek word ‘*something Greek*’. It is almost always translated as ‘*bibley word*, but in the Greek, there is more nuance to the word, it can more accurately be described as *longer phrase that is more specific than the word given in the English bible*. They have to learn some Greek and Hebrew at Seminary, see.
The more fundamentalist and conservative churches (which are often the largest and most visible churches), however, will often believe in Biblical Inerrancy, Biblical Literalism, and sometimes Young Earth Creationism. That is – the belief that the Bible – in whichever translation they have arbitrarily chosen (there is a ton of them that all say pretty much the same thing – I grew up with the New International Version, but can see the appeal of the old King James Version, outdated as it’s language may be) is the 100% accurate, infallible, literal word of God, and everything in the bible is 100% literally true as stated, and oh by the way – the entire universe is only 8,000 – 10,000 years old. This … introduces some issues, to say the least.
Why don’t we look at a few things that happened in the Bible (predominantly the OT), that make literally no sense given what we know about the universe, physics, chemistry, astronomy, cosmology, archeology, and history. Some of these are sort of cliché to bring up and have been heavily discussed already. That is why I am bringing them up. We’re talking about what the younger generations are seeing that makes them deconstruct their faith, and these are some of the most visible issues with Bible History.
In an effort to introduce at least a little bit of brevity, I will try to distill these down to some bullet points.
- As a kind-of-sort-of-not-really amateur astronomer, this is my favorite. Joshua 10:12-14 – So Joshua (who had previously won the Battle of Jericho by making the walls around the city fall down … by yelling at them – which leads me to believe that the people of Jericho must have had some SERIOUS building code violations) was again leading the Israelites against some enemies. In this case, it was almost nightfall, but Joshua wanted to go on fighting to finish the job. So, he raised his sword and commanded the Sun and Moon to FREEZE IN THE SKY (as one does). And … they did that. They stayed in the same position in the sky for ‘about a day’.
- Okay, so if this is the word of an all-knowing God, how did He not get the concept of ‘heliocentrism’ correct?
- Trying to figure out the physics of this is like trying to actually build something found in an M.C. Escher painting. If you don’t think too much, it doesn’t seem so far fetched, but when you think it through, you find yourself in an impossible situation.
- The movement of the Sun in our sky is a product of the Earth rotating on it’s axis in relation to the Sun. The Earth is a planet, and those tend to be big. In fact, in order to continue it’s rate of rotation, the SURFACE of the Earth – at the equator – is moving at roughly 1,000 miles per hour (it would obviously get slower, but still very fast, as you go north or south from the equator, because geometry). So everything on the surface of the earth is going at or near 1k mph. That is an ENORMOUS amount of kinetic energy. If we apply the Law of Conservation of Momentum … well, picture that you drive your car (okay, not YOUR car, but an old car that doesn’t have things like crumple zones) into an impenetrable wall at 100 miles an hour. Without serious safety measures being taken, you would be turned into chunky salsa, right? The car is going at 100 mph, suddenly and totally stops in an instant, but you, along with everything inside you, continue to travel at 100 mph. Now imagine that your car is the Earth and instead of 100 mph, it is moving at 1,000 mph. What happens if it suddenly stops? Everything continues moving at 1,000 mph until stopped by another force. That means that we would have 1,000 mph winds wrecking everything. The oceans are still moving at 1,000 mph and the water goes … well, everywhere. Dust would continue moving at 1,000 mph and cause enormous dust storms. Buildings would be obliterated by force greater than that given off by an Atomic Bomb, etc. … long story short, everything on the Earth is obliterated. The good news, however, is that people wouldn’t have enough kinetic energy to reach escape velocity as they flew toward the sky, so they wouldn’t wind up in outer space. So … you know … there is that.
- The moon also stopped in the sky in this passage. In order for the moon to stay put over a spot on the non-rotating Earth, it’s orbit around the Earth would have to stop. Meaning that it would no longer have the angular momentum needed to continue falling around the Earth, and would instead fall INTO the Earth, which would also be an Extinction Level Event.
- Genesis 6-9 – Noah’s Ark
- Yes, I’m talking about this. Yes, I know that it is one of the most widely debated things ever. Yes, I know that I’m basically peeing into the wind at this point.
- I am not a naval engineer, nor a marine architect. People who do have those credentials have debated the seaworthiness of such an ark ad nauseam, so I am going to stay out of that area.
- The Bible states that Noah built the ark when he was 600 Years Old. I’m 36 and lifting heavy objects hurts my back. Without modern medicine, how did people live that long and remain hale and hearty enough to become useful?
- According to the Young Earth Creationist site answeringgenesis.org, they have used the many paragraphs offered about who begat whom to figure that the flood happened in exactly 2348 BC. Mount Ararat is in present-day Turkey, which is in what we consider the Near East. 2348 BC in the Near East would have put the flood smack in the middle of the Near East’s Bronze Age – Almost the end of the early bronze age, to be more specific. There was organized agriculture, pottery, written law, architecture. There is evidence that the people in this place and time were developing a rudimentary understanding of mathematics and astronomy. There were thriving civilizations on every continent except for Antarctica. A global flood killing all of those civilizations would be very noticeable archeologically, so how does that all work out with known history?
- Speaking of – there is no way a global flood could have happened at all. Earth has a finite amount of water, see. It gets moved around via the water cycle, but there is only so much of it. Which begs the question – if there was a global flood, where did all of that water come from?
- Furthermore, when the flood was over, where did all of that water go? We’re talking about enough water to completely cover the surface of the planet, presumably so high that Noah couldn’t even see or find a mountaintop, so it would have been enough water to cover the mountains. That won’t just dry up when the sun comes out.
- Noah took two of every animal on Earth. How did he travel to Australia to get marsupials, North America to pick up white tailed deer, Antarctica to get penguins, etc? Moreover, how did he go back and deposit each species of animal in it’s own specific ecosystem without introducing invasive species that would ruin said ecosystems?
- A single mating pair of each animal species wouldn’t have enough genetic diversity to continue that species. You would need at least 50 animals, and preferably at least 150 animals of each species, otherwise they would be so in-bred that the species would go extinct within a handful of generations.
- What about marine life? Introducing that much water would cause such massive changes to things like salinity, water temperature, and Ph levels that all marine life would die, unless they, too, were taken on the ark. Did Noah run an aquarium? Did he have enough room for two 82 foot long Blue Whales?
- What about plants? A flood covering the whole planet for around a year would have killed them. All of them. Without plants there is nothing for herbivores to eat, and without herbivores, there is nothing for carnivores to eat. Life on Earth would have ended.
- How did they feed the animals during that year on the ark? They had all the animals from around the world, right? Each animal has it’s own dietary requirements. (for example, there are carnivores like Lions that will only eat something that they killed themselves, koalas only eat eucalyptus leaves, pandas only eat bamboo, cows eat hay and other grasses, whales generally eat krill, you’d have sharks and sloths and apes, all with their own needs. And how did Noah have the manpower to feed all of those animals on schedules dictated by the animals’ needs? And how did they clean up after the animals? Did the ark just fill up with elephant poop? Was there some type of sewage system? Where did he store all of that animal food?
- I’m not trying to disprove anything. I’m just asking questions. Like:
- Why is this even a thing? Why do we teach this to children?
And if your response to ANY of that was something along the lines of ‘Well, God did it’. Or ‘With God, All Things are Possible’. Or especially ‘Don’t be a Doubting Thomas’, then I’m afraid you’ve completely missed the point, my friend. That is a non-answer. These are things that violate the known laws of physics, biology, engineering, oceanography, geology, etc. You’re expecting us to suspend disbelief and believe that all of this actually, physically literally happened. Because ‘God did it’. You might as well tell me that a cow literally went into space, orbited the moon, and returned to Earth, survived reentry, and it was possible because it was a joint operation between Bigfoot, Santa Claus, and the Toothbunny. (Yes, I mis-typed and accidentally created a Toothbunny, and no, I’m not going to correct it.)
By and large, we have a pretty decent understanding of the laws that govern the universe, life, etc. In our experience, a deity doesn’t come along and suspend or alter those laws … well, ever, really. And we have records going back thousands of years (The Chinese have astrological records dating back as far as 3,000 years. They never noticed a sudden alteration of the laws of physics, either).
Real quick here, I want to go over some more general questions that come up and don’t really have answers.
- Assuming that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving, then why would he send anyone to Hell at all? Why did he create 10 arbitrary rules, and say ‘Don’t do these things, and believe in Jesus, or you get eternal damnation!’ Couldn’t He just let everybody into heaven, or at least Heaven’s guest house?
- Creationists often state that a complex and ordered system (such as the universe) must have been designed, BUT, if that is true, the deity that designed that universe would have to be at least as complex as the universe, and therefore it itself would have needed to be designed by something at least as complex as said deity, and so on into infinity.
- If God is omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect, why did He create flawed Humans rather than other morally perfect beings?
- Why did God give Humans free will at all if all He wants of us is to believe a certain way, worship Him, and not do 10 arbitrary things?
- Why can’t I covet my neighbor’s gas grill? I really want to covet that grill. It’s a really nice one.
- Why does an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God need us to worship Him at all?
- If God created everything, didn’t He create evil and suffering? If so, why?
- If God is sovereign and His will governs all things, do Humans have free will at all? Do we choose which route we take to get to the grocery store, or does God determine that? If I’m deciding which road to take, then God’s will does not govern all things.
- Why did God decide to communicate with us through literature? The written word is a medium that inherently requires interpretation – hence, different flavors of Christianity believing different things. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God doesn’t want blood to be passed from person to person, meaning that JWs can’t take life-saving blood-transfusions. So, if the JWs are right, they’re fine, and any Christian who has ever had a blood transfusion will be separated from God and sent to hell. If the JWs are wrong, the rest of Christianity is fine, but many JWs would have died preventable deaths. Either way causes suffering. If God authored or inspired the Bible, he either couldn’t do any better to communicate with us (in which case He is not all-powerful), didn’t know the suffering He would cause (in which case He is not all-knowing), or didn’t care if suffering resulted (in which case he is neither all-loving, or any sort of deity that deserves to be worshiped, IMO).
- With the notable exception of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, almost all Christian denominations believe in the Trinity – the Triune Godhead. As a young Lutheran in confirmation class, I learned about this through Luther’s Small Catechism, which presented the topic with an image such as this:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not each other, but each is God, right? Cool. So when you break down the premise of the Gospels, God sent God to die on the cross to be punished for our sins, because if God wasn’t punished for our sins, God would send us all to hell because that is how God be. God died and went to hell, and then went to heaven so that God could meet God. God then came back down to Earth for awhile. God ascended into heaven, where God lives at the right hand of God. Eventually God will come back to judge the living and the dead to see who God takes to heaven, and who God sends to hell. In the meantime, God sent God to live inside the apostles and allow them to perform miracles and write a whole lot of letters.
So, why did God have to make God die, when an omnipotent God could just let people into heaven …. and my brain has crashed. Abort, Retry, Fail.
Again. Not trying to poke holes – just asking questions. These are the sorts of ideas and concepts and questions with which Millennials are faced. And when we go to church to seek the answers, everybody is just there to wave their hands at the praise band, or sing a hymn, say some liturgy.
Join me next week when we finally, mercifully, put this ill-advised series to bed as we examine the future of the church in America. I’ll leave you with the words of internet personality Rhett McLaughlin of Good Mythical Morning, who I feel articulates things perfectly.