Monday, January 14, 2008

Why Christianity's Failure to Change is Killing It

The death of a religion doesn't come as a result of a violent murder by outsiders. Proof of this is in religions like Tibetan Buddhism, which suffered greatly under the tyranny of Communist oppression and yet still flourishes today; Catharism, which was wiped out by the Catholic Church and which still inspires pride in the residents of Montsegur; and, of course, Gnosticism, with its many iterations throughout history, suppressed so widely, even today, by mainstream Christianity, and yet its allure is as strong as ever.

No, the death of a religion doesn't come from without. It comes from within. Death of religion results when proponents of that religion fail to evolve it as human understanding of the universe evolves. It is when those proponents point to a specific point in time and say, "That's the only time God revealed himself to humanity, and there can be no other time when that happened because that's what I believe, and what I believe is all true. Anything that goes against what I believe is heresy or blasphemy or Satan's work." It is when that religion becomes an inflexible, absolute, and closed system that it begins to suffocate itself.

You need no other evidence that this mindset exists within modern Christianity than the recent Digg article, "100 Greatest Quotes from fundamentalist christian chat rooms." While most of the quotes are quite hilarious in their absurdity, like JohnR7's statement, "I can sum it all up in three words: Evolution is a lie," there is a sadness that overwhelms me when I read them. These people have given up their ability to think logically in exchange for a comfortable belief system, where they don't have to think, ask questions, or make decisions on their own. A good example of this is the following quote:

"What does a functioning brain have to do with the Bible?" LittleLambofJesus

"Make sure your answer uses Scripture, not logic." cdevidal

Gnostics will love this,

"To say the Bible was written by men and may contain inaccuracies completely contradicts the word of the Bible." Ia Orana

"The only thing I don't like about them is they sell foreign language versions of the KJB ["King James Bible," I assume -- it should be KJV for "King James Version"]. I don't think that's right. We know the only true translation is the 1600's version in English. ... It's too risky for anybody to translate into other languages. Mistakes can creep in ... and that can lead to heresy. True Christians should only read English." leyenda

If you've never been in a fundamentalist Christian church, you may not recognize a lot of these arguments as coming directly from the pulpit. I briefly attended a Baptist church in a rural area of North Carolina. One Sunday, the preacher lamented how he prayed so hard for his in-laws, because they were Methodists. "And as we all know, the Methodists are going to Hell because they don't fully submerse themselves in baptism," he said. And the congregation nodded their heads in agreement.

This is the kind of attitude that casts such a dim light on Christianity. It is as Dr. Stephan Hoeller said once in a lecture. The label of "Christianity" has been taken over by a radical group of fundamentalists who see the Bible as infallible, inerrant, and the only source of truth. While more moderate and even liberal groups are technically Christian, they've been cast out and labeled as lukewarm.
"You are banned. You are not a Christian for Christians don't accuse brothers and sisters in Christ of being non-Christian." Troy
This type of behavior doesn't endear them to many people. The love that Jesus taught us to have for one another isn't present in any of these statements. "Love thy enemy" has been replaced by "I honestly don't care about your rights. If it were up to me, all Atheists would be burnt at the stake and or cast into a river with weights tied to their ankles and or placed before a firing squad, etc etc etc," as AV1611VET so eloquently put it.

Unfortunately, ignorance breeds ignorance. And instead of good seed, as in the parable of the sower, weeds are being propagated, and the fools are speaking as if they're enlightened. What they're doing is dogmatically reciting what they've been taught by preachers who are no better than used car salesmen, who use simple mind-control techniques, like nodding their heads when they say something they want their listeners to agree with, speaking loudly and passionately to inspire an emotional response, etc. The ability to use the brain that their God supposedly gave them is diminished, and blind belief, sometimes called faith, takes hold.

"I often debate with evolutionists because I believe that they are narrow mindedly and dogmatically accepting evolution without questioning it. I don't really care how God did what He did. I know He did it." TexasSky

The problem is that these people feel like they're truly speaking on behalf of the rest of the Christian faith, just like radical Islamic terrorists feel they are speaking on behalf of the whole of Islam. What they're really inspiring is a deep distrust and hatred in the general public for what should be a beautiful religion. I overheard someone I know the other day saying, "We all know that Christians are the Devil." I'd be interested in know exactly why he felt that way, but I would assume that it has to do with the fundamentalists' constant attempts to force their beliefs on others.

It's doubtful that society will ever rise up against Christianity, as it did during Roman times, and as the Christians themselves rose up against other religions. And I hope it never does. But what will likely happen is that the people who are trying so rabidly to force it on others will end up killing it.

For an interesting take on this, check out John Shelby Spong's book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Robertson: Mouthpiece of a Blind God

This week, Pat Robertson, televangelist, founder of a several Christian organizations and corporations and host of The 700 Club, stepped back from making specific predictions for the year to make just the general prediction that "chaos was coming." To quote him, "The Lord was saying that there's going to be violence and chaos in the world." Well, duh! That's as sure to happen as saying, "A baby will be born somewhere in the world in the next 5 minutes."

This most recent prediction comes after a few years of miserable failure at being able to predict anything of significance based on his conversations with his Lord. In May of 2006, the year after the devastating Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Robertson said, "If I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America will be lashed by storms." Two things should be noted about this prediction: that it came after the national weather service warned that the hurricane season for 2006 could be as bad as 2005's, and that no major hurricanes hit American soil in 2006 or 2007 for that matter.

For 2007, this Lord of his told him that mass killings were coming to America, sometime after September, possibly in the form of a nuclear weapon, even though, according to him, "The Lord didn't say 'nuclear.'" Now, while the worst school shooting in US history occurred at VA Tech in the Spring of 2007, no terrorist attack occurred on US soil at all.

So, after a few years of abissmal failure to get an accurate prediction out of "God," Robertson has made the prediction that "We've just begun to see what's going to happen, and the nations are going to be convulsed with violence." Really? Perhaps you'd also like to predict that gasoline prices will fluctuate as well, Robertson. Or how about, there's a good chance that I'll take the trash out this week? The fact of the matter is that when people try to prove the efficacy of their god by trying to make predictions, more often than not, they end up making fools of themselves.

The "God" of Pat Robertson begins to take on the archonic role ascribed to him in many Gnostic texts, including "The Apocryphon of John" and "On the Origin of the World", which is to say, He becomes Samael (the blind god) or Saklas (the foolish god). This Demiurge (or half-creator), also known as Yaldabaoth, Nebro, and a few other names in the Gnostic texts, was the offspring of Chaos and Sophia, the feminine aspect of God's wisdom. Being blind to his own origins, he foolishly proclaimed, "It is I who am God, and there is no other one that exists apart from me."

This is the god that Robertson follows. The god that demands that the whole world come under his dominion and worship him alone. All other faiths are false. There is only one way to salvation.

Now, I don't want to give you the impression that I think Robertson is a bad man. I truly don't think any of these evangelists are bad people. They've just been a little misled. If their faith brings them closer to the Divine, I support them, just as I support a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Zoroastrian whose faith bring him or her closer to the Divine. But it's when they start saying that their religion is the only religion and they try to force their faith on others, I see the cracks in their armor. A god who demands worship doesn't deserve it, in my opinion.

And obviously, trying to prove the power of your god through public predictions doesn't work either. Isn't it the mainstream Christians who said that many of the noncanonical texts weren't canonical because the "age of public revelation" had ended when they were written? Is it suddenly okay to reopen the age of public revelation? And who gets to decide that?

If you're going to tout your religion as the ultimate religion, at least be consistent about it. Otherwise, do what is best for your religion and focus on bringing hope to a dark world. We can all agree that what we need for 2008 is hope.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Gnostics and Ninjas: The Mysterious Connection Between the Cult of God and the Cult of Death

How can a person connect the Gnostics and the Ninjas, you might ask. On the surface, the two groups are not only separated by hundreds (if not thousands) of years and thousands of miles, but they are also greatly divided in their purpose ... or are they? Modern mainstream media has given us a pretty warped view of both groups.

The infamous Ninjamania movies of the 1980's told us that the ninjas were nothing more than assassins. Their sole purpose was to wreak havoc, dishearten enemy warriors, and brutally murder whoever got in their way. At best, we got to see the spiritual side of ninjutsu as Sho Kosugi angrily and tearfully performed kuji-kiri (hand gestures) and recite sutras in front of a Buddha in "Revenge of the Ninja" and "Pray for Death."

Modern literature/cinema has given us a glimpse of Gnostics as well, though the Gnostics of "The DaVinci Code" were just good at hiding secrets in artwork and having group sex in basements. At best most people think that the Gnostics were a group of people who were pretty smart and connected to some great power. At worst, they were a bunch of libertines who defied God and "His Church."

The truth is that both groups were just different from the accepted norm, and that got them both into trouble with the authorities of their time.

Ninjas were small, local clans of kinsmen who trained in the martial arts to survive the harsh times of a country embroiled in battle after battle. They accepted the teaches of outcast Chinese generals, Shinto priests, yamabushi Buddhist ascetic monks, and samurai who refused to slit open their own bellies just because their master lost a battle. They treated both sexes as important, and many women became valuable fighters as well, known as kunoichi. Because they didn't adhere to the codes of conduct prevalent at the time, they came to be seen as practitioners of dark arts, or even tengu (mountain goblins). They understood the value of melding the spiritual with the physical, of coexisting and working with Nature to achieve their goals, and to use their strengths to make a difference in the world. The stronger, more prevalent aspect of society, however, saw them as a threat and attempted to destroy them. Over time, they moved deeper underground, passing their traditions on to a select few or to other masters, if a master died without an heir. Only in recent years have they enjoyed the freedom to come out of the shadows back into society.

Gnostics were small groups of men and women who, at least in Christian times, existed within the structure of orthodox Christian society. However, living as many of them did at the crossroads of thought, Alexandria, they were exposed to the beliefs of many other people. They began to see that God was a lot more than what they had been told by the orthodox teachers. Melding the philosophies of Christianity, Neo-Platonism, the Mystery traditions, Zoroastrianism, and possibly Eastern philosophies, they began to get a fuller picture of the Divine and the Cosmos. They began to see the true purpose and mission of Christ the Logos. As they moved beyond the beliefs of society, so too did they change their views of women. Women were allowed to be ordained and to teach. In fact, the great aeon of Gnosticism became Sophia, the feminine aspect of God. Their beliefs threatened the power of the Church, however, and soon a campaign was launched against them to wipe out their books and their beliefs. They too survived into the modern age by going underground ... literally placing their sacred texts in an earthen jar in a cave at Nag Hammadi.

What both groups represent is a desire by a select few to see beyond what society tells everyone else to see. They sought to reach their full potential, and that was something their societies couldn't tolerate. Power cannot be placed in the hands of the individual if repressive societies are to endure. Freedom can only be allowed in the small doses meted out by those in authority. To do otherwise is blasphemy.