Why I Couldn’t Return To Church

 

Every weekend (mostly on Sundays, although some prefer Saturdays), billions of followers of the Christian religion all around the world head over to a building to sing some songs, donate some money, and listen to a speech (and, in some cases, have a bite of bread and a sip of a grape-based beverage). While I used to attend these meetings quite regularly myself, I haven’t gone to one in many years now. I’ve been asked to return on occasion, but when I explain why I no longer do so it becomes apparent pretty quickly why I’m not able to any more.

When I stopped participating in these practices it wasn’t because I had stopped believing the Bible. When I finally walked away from Churchianity (as I like to call the Institutional Church and religious Christianity) it was because of just how unbiblical pretty much all of the Institutional Churches I’d ever visited actually are. I’ve attended any number of traditional churches back in my religious days and I can’t think of one that had leaders who taught, or even seemed to know, what the Bible actually said. If you attend any conservative church services at all you’ll inevitably hear the preacher telling people they need to get back to the Bible, yet if the congregation listened to him and took his statement to heart they’d quickly stop attending that church. In fact, I don’t believe a single first-century believer would recognize much of anything that was practiced or preached in a modern church.

 

Now, I’m not going to get into all of the scriptural arguments for why I believe the Bible teaches (and doesn’t teach) what I believe it does (and doesn’t), but I’ll explain some of them and give hints for others so that anyone who wants to figure it out for themselves can do so. Suffice it to say, people who do believe the Bible was inspired by God would do well to A) pick up a concordance (and actually use it), and B) learn a bit about the original languages the scriptures were written in. Pro tip: a lot of the English translations are badly mistranslated in various places thanks to the preconceived doctrines of the translators which they often (mis)translated into their versions. Because of these assumptions and biases that the translators had, modern Christians believe in all sorts of wacky ideas that put them at odds with not only what the scriptures actually say in their original languages, but also with morality, and even basic logic and reality. Remember, if you start down the wrong path to begin with, odds are you won’t end up in the right location at the end of it all.

Hell

A great example of this is a pre-existing belief in the doctrine of “everlasting punishment” (a doctrine that didn’t exist among the first believers in Christ, or among the Jewish followers of what Christians call the Old Testament) that caused many translators to horribly mistranslate Greek words like aiónios (αἰώνιος), which really refers to “a set period of time with a definite end” (literally, an eon or an age) into English words that mean “never ending.”

 

Aside from the fact that anybody who sat down to actually think about it would realize no sin or crime could ever warrant torture that lasted forever (and that physical torture even for a little while isn’t a valid punishment for anything to begin with), there isn’t anything in the original Hebrew or Greek that even implies that hell (which itself is another bad translation of various words that actually refer to different places from each other) lasts forever. These facts, combined with the fact that there are actually plenty of passages in scripture that tell us that everyone eventually will be saved (God is the saviour of all men, especially those who believe — not only those who believe — for example. If a teacher told a class that “everyone passed this grade — especially Lisa who is the only student to get an A” — you’d know that everyone else still got at least a D and passed) makes it pretty clear that the only reason to continue believing in a doctrine like everlasting torment in hell is because you want to believe it.

This horrible doctrine is also probably the biggest cause of religious evil. How so? First, it’s caused millennia of psychological torture for children (and adults). Somehow, religious parents have rationalized the idea that instilling the fear of this mythological torture chamber into their children is a good thing, but all it does is cause sleepless nights for millions of kids who are terrified they or their loved ones will suffer horrific agony for eternity with no chance of escape if the wrong decision or action is made (evangelical “end times” beliefs should also never be taught to young people for similar reasons).

Perhaps worse, though, is the fact that once this doctrine has been completely absorbed into the psyche it makes emotional empathy an extremely difficult thing to possess, causing religious people to think it’s okay to reject and even eject family members (sometimes from their own homes) who believe differently from them, and discriminate against people who don’t follow their religion or who might not think certain “sinful” actions are actually wrong.

I personally believe it also makes people more likely to be prone to violence. If God is going to torture people forever in the afterlife for even the smallest sin, what’s a little temporary violence in this life?

Sex

Speaking of one of those so-called sinful actions that aren’t actually sinful, one of the biggest would be premarital sex. While there definitely are sexual acts that are frowned upon in the New Testament, this isn’t one of them.

 

The primary reason that most religious Christians are so against premarital sex is one little word: fornication. Depending on your English translation, you’ll find fornication criticized as a very bad thing that one should flee, and if you look fornication up in an English dictionary you will indeed find that it means sexual intercourse between unmarried partners. The problem is, the word translated as “fornication” in the Bible is the Greek word porneia (πορνεία), which does not literally translate as “premarital sex” the way the most Christians believe it does. In fact, it’s generally agreed that the most accurate translation of porneia is “illicit sexual activity” (or “illegal sexual activity”).

If we take the term “illicit sexual activity” literally, it means sexual activity that breaks the law. Generally, here in the western world, premarital sex doesn’t break the law, and it certainly wasn’t against the law among the gentiles Paul wrote to when he told believers to avoid porneia either.

The truth is, the word porneia actually had multiple meanings, depending on how the word was being used. It spoke of sexual idolatry in some cases, referring to sleeping with temple prostitutes who did so as a part of worshiping other gods. It could also be used in reference to sexual practices that actually were considered illicit by the culture in question, practices such as incest, for example. There was also a spiritual meaning to the word, having nothing to do with physical sex at all.

The one thing it never meant, however, is premarital sex, or at least there’s zero reason to believe it did, despite the fact that your parents and pastor would probably prefer you believed it did. Of course, they likely only think they want you to. If they understood just how many STIs and unwanted pregnancies this teaching is responsible for, they might change their minds. The idea that premarital sex is sinful causes many parents to actively make sure their kids don’t learn about condoms and birth control, but since an equal number of Christians have just as much premarital sex as non-Christians (the religious can’t fight nature and biology any more than the rest of the world can), only without any knowledge of how to minimize the potential risks, young people in conservative areas or with religious parents tend to end up with more diseases and unwanted pregnancies than those who don’t.

Money

Pastors, however, don’t only tell us that certain things are forbidden. They also try to convince us that certain things are required. If you do attend church services and become a member of a particular assembly, you’ll likely sit through a number of sermons meant to make you feel guilty if you don’t tithe regularly, sermons that completely ignore the fact that the “tithe” was meant solely for followers of the Old Testament law. Christians (Jewish or otherwise) are not supposed to follow the law of Moses, and if we do decide to follow any of it, we’re then under a curse and are obligated to follow all of it, according to Paul (that means no more bacon or shrimp or clothes with mixed fabrics or washing your car on Saturday).

 

Of course, a true biblical tithe is actually in the form of food or livestock, and only goes to the Levitical priests. Unless your pastors are Levites who perform animal sacrifices, they have no scriptural basis for demanding it. There’s absolutely nothing in the New Testament about the body of Christ having to give a tenth of their money to their religious leaders or organizations (and, as an aside, anyone who tells you one should tithe more than 10% has no idea what they’re talking about since the word tithe literally means “a tenth.” It’s no more possible to tithe higher or lower than 10% than it is to give more or less than half of something and still call it 50%).

While tithing for believers might not be a biblical idea, what is recorded as having apparently happened in the New Testament is people giving financial gifts to those in financial need. They didn’t, however, just give money to religious leaders who simply wanted to live off church members’ hard-earned money or keep the power running in a church building.

Church

Those church buildings and pastors themselves, by the way, are also a big reason I couldn’t return to church. Why? To begin with, because modern church services, and the buildings themselves, don’t have any biblical justification for existing in the first place. “The early church,” as the first believers are often referred to, never met in chapels or temples specifically meant for Christian worship. Instead, they met in each other’s homes. And a gathering wasn’t a few songs and then a sermon by a pastor. There might have been songs, and even a speech or two, but the early church gatherings were generally a meal (“The Lord’s Supper” was a part of a real supper; it wasn’t just a little snack) and discussions (actual conversations rather than just a monologue by one preacher). Church buildings didn’t exist until quite some time later, when Christianity became more formal and institutional rather than relational.

 

To be fair, it’s not the buildings that are the real problem; it’s the “organization” and lack of real, spontaneous fellowship. Yes, you will almost certainly hear the word “fellowship” in most traditional church meetings, but you also almost as certainly won’t experience any there, despite how much so many pastors seem to love the word. But you can technically meet in a home and still be an Institutional Church, or rent a hall and be a relational, Open Church (as this sort of gathering is often called). As nice as a home gathering is, it’s really the openness and fellowship that are the important factors.

In addition to this, however, the idea of a pastor or priest who rules over a church (a word which simply refers to the “group” or “assembly” of believers in an area, by the way; it never referred to a building) isn’t in the Bible either. Local churches were led by a group of (presumably unpaid) “elders,” not by one (paid) man. If you have one person leading a local gathering of believers, or overseeing a group of assemblies in a geographical area, I would suggest not having much of anything to do with them or their gatherings if you value your spiritual wellbeing.

Morality

There are so many other traditional religious ideas that aren’t in the Bible but that you’ve no doubt been taught are biblical. There’s no better example of this than the conservative “Christian” morality taught by Churchianity. For example, you have probably been taught that:

  • Lust is always wrong. When you discover what “lust” actually refers to in the Bible you’ll realize that it is often encouraged, and that it’s also time to reconsider your thoughts on pornography as well.
  • Abortion is condemned by the Bible as murder. Regardless of your feelings on abortion, it isn’t ever mentioned in the Bible; and since murder is a legal term, it can’t legitimately be defined as murder in places where it’s legal.
  • Homosexuality is forbidden. I’m not aware of anything in the Bible that forbids women from being sexual with each other, nor where it says anything at all about romantic feelings between people of the same sex in general, and many scholars will also argue that it’s questionable as to whether the New Testament (whatever the Old Testament might say, it isn’t particularly relevant to Christians here) actually forbids anal sex between men when the original languages and context are considered as well, particularly for those living in the current dispensation (and, even if it does, it doesn’t seem to say anything about any other form of sexuality or love between consenting males). Either way, the manner in which followers of Churchianity treat LGBT people (especially LGBT youth) is absolutely deplorable, and until they remove the logs from their own eyes about the way they do treat people based on who they happen to be attracted to, they have no business saying a word about this topic. I should also say that digging into what the Bible says “the sin of Sodom” really is would be extremely helpful too (it’s not what most people think it is).
  • Swearing is shameful. The Bible has plenty of profanity in it in its original languages. In fact, the only thing that looking down on profanity does is demonstrate what an unspiritual snob one is.
  • Drinking alcohol is forbidden. It’s definitely not pro-drunkenness, but the Bible actually recommends the consumption of alcohol in some places.
  • Dancing, movie theatres, certain music, card games, and various other “worldly” activities should be avoided. Some Institutional Churches are worse than others, and most aren’t this extreme, but these examples, along with the various so-called “sins” I’ve already covered, are a great example of how the religious like to add rules to the Bible that were never mentioned in there to begin with, or twist teachings that are in there to try to make them say things they never actually meant. Yes, avoid the appearance of evil, but the things that most religious Christians mistakenly think appear evil aren’t even close to actually appearing (or being) evil at all to anyone who hasn’t been brainwashed by Churchianity, while their attitude and actions towards people not following their rules definitely is quite evil.

 

All of that aside, though, worrying about morality (at least the way conservative Christians understand morality) is a huge red herring. The thing followers of Churchianity forget is that all of the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” causes them to completely miss the point of Paul’s teachings to begin with (not to mention Jesus’ teachings). Starting with a flawed presupposition about doctrines like sin and grace will cause you to think that you’re supposed to be concerned with religious rules when being a member of the body of Christ is actually about something else altogether.

Bottom line, the body of Christ doesn’t actively try to avoid sinning by their own strength, since they’ve repented of their religious ways and are justified (and living) by faith. Basically, never trust a religious teacher who tells you, “touch not; taste not; handle not.” And if you hear someone espousing “traditional family values” or telling you to follow the Mosaic law in any way, don’t walk; run! It means that they are very likely a wolf in sheep’s clothing, trying to lure you into their religious trap. At the very least, they are extremely confused and likely have nothing useful to teach you (at least from a spiritual perspective). As Paul would say about them, let them be anathema. Remember also that, while not all things are a good idea, all things are permitted.

Now please don’t get me wrong. Believers are supposed to live righteous lives, but most members of Churchianity don’t have the slightest inkling of how that is supposed to happen, or even what that actually means. And the biggest irony is that while nearly everything religious Christians think is sinful actually isn’t anyway, almost all of the actions and attitudes that they live by are extremely wrong. As anyone looking in from the outside could tell you, greed, pride, fear, envy, prejudice, hypocrisy, malice, and spite are the hallmarks of most of Churchianity.

Politics

Regardless of one’s views here, however, whatever the New Testament might actually say about morality within the body of Christ, it’s limited to the body of Christ, contrary to what so many in the Institutional Church seem to believe. Trying to force those who are not a part of the body of Christ to live a supposedly “Christian life,” by legal means or otherwise, is not even slightly justifiable. Nowhere in the Bible is it even hinted at that the body of Christ is called to influence (or force) our cultures to be more conservative or follow religious laws. In fact, the only thing we’re asked to do regarding the government is to obey the secular laws and to pay our taxes. Yes, in a democracy we the people technically help determine the secular laws to a certain extent, but there’s still zero biblical excuse for trying to create laws based on religious morality (especially when we consider the fact that most religious morality isn’t at all biblical, as already discussed). And culturally, there also isn’t any reason to go around putting down non-believers for doing things that go against one’s moralistic and legalistic sensibilities (particularly, again, since most of the things the religious think are sinful aren’t actually even slightly sinful to begin with), for trying to pressure the rest of the world into acting the way conservatives want them to, or for any number of the cruel or unnecessary actions that the many of the religious seem to feel obligated to perform against those in their communities and countries. Actions such as trying to get people fired, kicking people out of their homes, or not being willing to sell things to people, all based simply on who they happen to be attracted to or what gender they identify as, for example; or actions such as trying to enforce prohibitions against consuming certain beverages or plants, or at least enforcing prohibitions against purchasing such things on certain days of the week (to name just two of many examples). Any attempt to legislate religious morality, or attempt to pressure the rest of the world into following your conservative leanings, will do nothing but drive people even further away from the faith you no doubt want them to embrace, and will also continue to cause everyone to misunderstand what Christianity is actually about (hint: it’s not about trying to be as big of an asshole as possible towards those who don’t believe and act the way you do, as so many conservative Christians act like they think it is).

This is an important factor for parents to keep in mind too, by the way. Raising your kids to be good citizens who live peaceable lives is important, but trying to force people to live “godly lives” misses the entire point of the New Testament. You can’t force the Holy Spirit into somebody, and trying to force people (children or grown adults) to live according to religious rules will only cause them to sin and rebel all the more, as the apostle Paul makes quite clear (that was the whole purpose of the existence of the Mosaic law, after all).

History is very clear about all of this as well, of course. When religious “morality” gains control of government, people suffer. There’s almost nothing scarier, or more antithetical to freedom, than a theocracy or theonomy (remember, it is for freedom that we have been set free; it wasn’t so we would put ourselves back under religious bondage). When religious conservatives run governments without a secular hand to restrain them, people are censored, fired, expelled from their homes, imprisoned, tortured, and even executed simply for their beliefs (or lack thereof), as well as for the most innocent of actions. If someone challenges the religious status quo or does things considered sinful in a theocratic society, religious conservatives become extremely evil towards such heretics and infidels (and even today in more secular countries you find religious conservatives trying to take or keep civil rights away from people who might live differently from them for no reason other than the fact that these differences might not line up with their religious beliefs). This is another reason I like to stay far away from religious conservatives in general (or at least only meet with them in public places). Torture, theft, and killing are a major part of the heritage of nearly all religions, and I have no doubt that many of them would bring that legacy back into practice if they could. That’s not to say all religious conservatives would do this if they had the opportunity, but I still wouldn’t want to take that chance. And regardless of their propensity towards violence, I have no doubt that most of them would definitely (and happily) fight against freedoms and civil rights for people who are different from them in various ways, particularly when it comes to sexuality, and I see no good reason to have much to do with people who would be so heartless and mean.

Doctrine

But a flawed understanding of morality and politics isn’t the only problem. There are so many doctrines that nearly every religious church leader would insist one agree with them on to be a part of their group, when they themselves are quite confused about said topics. Topics such as:

  • What sin actually is. Also, what is actually considered sinful under the New Covenant, and the way we avoid sinning as members of the body of Christ (it isn’t by our own strength or willpower).
  • The origin of evil according to the Bible, not to mention what evil actually is. Hint: evil and sin are two completely different concepts.
  • Free will. Aside from being an entirely unscriptural concept, it’s also a complete impossibility from a purely logical and scientific perspective. That said, I don’t think most people know what “free will” actually means. I won’t get into it right here, but it doesn’t mean the ability to choose.
  • The point of the Mosaic law, not to mention the Old Testament in general. Many religious Christians will insist that we are meant to follow the law of Moses (or at least certain parts of it), not having a clue what the New Testament says about such things. It seems safe to assume, however, that these people have never understood Paul’s epistles (seriously, go re-read Romans and Galatians in their entirety if you think Christians are supposed to have anything to do with the Mosaic law).
  • The Sabbath. This is one where various sabbatarian denominations are actually partially correct, although they’re also quite wrong about it at the same time. The Sabbath is indeed Saturday as they claim; it was never changed to Sunday. But since the whole Mosaic law is now fulfilled and we are not to follow it in any way as Christians, it doesn’t really matter what day it was since our Sabbath is now something (or rather Someone) else.
  • Baptism for believers. Most people assume that after you believe the Gospel you should be baptized in water, but I believe that water baptism was only meant for a limited amount of time. In many cases baptism was actually a spiritual reference in the Bible, having nothing to do with water at all. Yes, Paul did baptize a few people in water early on in his ministry to the Gentiles, but he stopped pretty quickly.
  • What repentance, salvation, and grace are really supposed to be. I can count the number of Christians I know on one hand who could accurately explain these things, but since salvation is also one of the most important parts of the Bible I’ll go into a little more detail in the next section.

Salvation

As I mentioned before, nobody spends forever in a place called hell. Just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive, but each in their own order. So, while every human who is affected by the curse will also be equally (actually, more so) affected by the cross, it doesn’t happen to everyone at the same time.

 

According to Paul, only those few people God has elected (chosen) for eonian life (a transliteration that is a far superior rendering of what most Bible translations call “eternal life”) will be given faith and be saved (noologically speaking, as I like to call it; everyone has already been saved by Christ, ontologically speaking) in this lifetime; they will get to experience the eons or ages to come. However, at the consummation of the eons, everybody will live forever and God will be “all in all.”

This faith is not something you can just decide to have, however. You can’t choose to believe the Gospel without God first giving you the faith to believe (faith is not of yourself; it’s by grace, rather — a gift of God to certain chosen people who are predestined for eonian life for a specific purpose), and to teach otherwise is to teach salvation by works.

I’m sure the idea that “choosing to accept Christ in order to be saved” is actually salvation by works goes against what most of Churchianity has probably taught you, but if you need to stop sinning and decide to choose Jesus as your lord and saviour in order to be be saved, how could it be anything else? The first part of that should be obvious enough, since forcing yourself to stop sinning in order to be saved is obviously a works-based salvation, but even having to choose to believe is a work. If you don’t agree with me, try choosing right now to truly believe in Thor as your lord and saviour. Can’t do it, can you? Forcing oneself to believe something that one hasn’t organically come to believe is one of the biggest mental works a person could do, and I doubt that anybody is actually capable of it. Regardless, even if someone could somehow brainwash themselves into believing something they really didn’t previously believe, it would still be an action (even if just a mental action) they had to accomplish to save themselves (or accomplish to participate in saving themselves). Basically, nearly every denomination out there teaches salvation by a combination of Christ’s sacrifice plus our own “free will,” but if salvation is by anything other than grace alone it becomes salvation by grace plus something else, ultimately making it salvation by works (and a false gospel). Accepting Jesus as your saviour doesn’t mean choosing to allow him to save you (which would mean you would have a role in your own salvation, even if just the small role of making the right decision), but is rather accepting that he has already saved you after you’ve been given the gift of faith to believe the good news of your already existing (ontological) salvation. And if one isn’t among the elect, then damnation is a part of God’s sovereign plan for that person, and they couldn’t possibly believe the Gospel no matter how hard we try to get them to.

Predestination

The sovereignty of God and His purposes for creation from before it all began might actually be the most important factor in the Bible that followers of Churchianity ignore; yet it’s the one that ties pretty much everything together. Most religious Christians believe that God hoped humanity wouldn’t sin but is now on Plan B because we did. They don’t realize that everything about creation, be it good and evil, sin and righteousness, faith and disbelief, even Satan and the crucifixion, were all intended by God from before the beginning of creation. Of course, many Christians dislike the idea of predestination since it would mean God decides that certain (actually, most) people will suffer for eternity in a literal lake of fire if their soteriology is correct. It’s only when one realizes that God has a specific reason for electing only certain people to be (noologically) saved in this lifetime, and that nobody stays in hell forever (not to mention that both hell and the lake of fire probably aren’t what most people think they are), but rather that God actually had a plan all along that works out for everyone in the end, that one might come to understand that predestination is ultimately in our best interests.

Many Christians like to say things along the lines of, “God doesn’t want robots,” and teach that God gave us free will to decide to choose Him for ourselves. These people don’t understand basic science and logic, however, since “free will” is a misnomer and can’t actually exist in reality. They’ve also ignored all the teachings throughout the Bible where God takes credit for both the good and evil that exists in the world (even the Devil was created the way he is for a specific purpose), as well as for who ultimately gets saved in this lifetime and who has to wait until later.

Love

Meanwhile, as religious Christians ignore the Bible and try their best to do and avoid all of the things they think they need to do and avoid (or, as is more common, try to force the rest of the world to do and avoid these things while they only pretend to), the most important thing they actually are told they’re supposed to do (aside from having faith) is the one thing that I’ve almost never witnessed from anyone within Churchianity (with a few rare exceptions). The body of Christ is called to love each other (those inside the church) and love their neighbours (those outside the church), doings unto others as they would want those others to do to and for them. But, despite their lip service to love, it’s so rare to actually see any real love towards other people inside or outside the Institutional Church that they might as well just toss the whole Bible aside and make up their doctrines as they go along (yes, I’m aware that’s basically what they’ve already done, since it has been the point of this entire article). This goes for the rest of the Fruit of the Spirit as well, I should add; it isn’t only love that is lacking. None of the Fruit of the Spirit seems to be a trait of Churchianity in my experience.

Of course, when one believes that God (who is love) will allow the majority of humanity to burn forever in a literal lake of fire, it’s not surprising at all that so many religious Christians have no trouble being as cruel and hateful as they are.

Conclusion

I could go on and on about the multitude of ideas that religious Christians are ridiculously confused about thanks to the flawed assumptions they begin with, and a lack of desire to actually take the time to pick up a concordance and dig into what the Bible really says, taking their pastor’s word for it instead, but that should be more than enough to explain why I couldn’t ever return to a modern evangelical congregation. Not that I’d be welcome back at one anyway, if I ever wanted to return. At least not if I refused to keep my mouth shut about the various things actually taught in the Bible. So perhaps the real question shouldn’t be why I couldn’t return to church, but why you yourself might still consider having anything to do with such an unbiblical, not to mention harmful, institution.

 

Now, I suspect that most of what I’ve written here is brand new for many of you, and that you’re not sure what to believe (or think it’s so foreign to what you were taught growing up that you’ll just reject it out of hand). This is quite sad when you think about it, since most of the ideas I’ve covered are considered to be “milk doctrines” for those who are new to the faith (vs “meat doctrines” for those who are more mature in the faith), as Paul would put it. However, for those chosen few of you who do dig deeper and then realize that you need to reject Churchianity and organized religion, you’ll be left wondering what you should do instead. Well, first of all, it means that you get to sleep in on Sunday mornings if you want to. Beyond that, however, if you can find an Open Church that actually teaches what the Bible says, it might be a good group to check out. Otherwise, just keep studying the Bible (you’re better off not attending any church than you are attending an Institutional Church. Yes, it’s important to not forsake the gathering of likeminded believers, but you won’t find many likeminded believers in the traditional denominations, at least not if you happen to agree with what I’ve mentioned in this article). Bottom line, those of you who are inspired to do so, come out of Babylon, then pull out your Bibles, concordances, and Koine Greek dictionaries, fire up your search engines, and start studying to “shew thyself approved.”

Profane Hypocricy

“I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

It’s said that Tony Campolo would often begin speeches with the previous quote, and it’s a great example of how certain people get offended by the wrong things.

People all over the world, even the western world, are being persecuted solely on the basis of who they happen to be sexually attracted to. Much of the time this persecution is perpetuated by those claiming to follow Christ. People in the US are going into debt because they had the gall to get sick or be injured and require medical care, and many of the people insisting this debt should continue to be forced upon them are also Christians. Children and adults alike are going hungry all over the world, even in America, while there’s more than enough food in the world to feed every single one of them. Many women, often while they’re still just children, are forced to be sex slaves, even here in the west. People are arrested and thrown into prison every day for the crime of ingesting (or even simply possessing) a plant that God created, while actually harmful drugs are allowed to be created by greedy companies and sold to us in order to make these rich men even richer. And politicians continue to create unjust and harmful laws all over the world, again, even here in the west; and what’s worse, a large majority of people often actually support these laws because they think their deity will bless them if these rules are created and obeyed.

Most of us have become desensitized to these tragic everyday realities. Honestly, most of us really just don’t care (if we cared we’d do something about it). Yet, while these horrible things don’t phase most Christians anymore, some still get terribly offended when they hear certain sounds or read specific combinations of letters. And, let’s be honest, that’s all swearing or profanity really is.

I’m not going to exegete all the passages in the Bible about language, though I will quickly point out that saying “oh my God” isn’t taking the Lord’s name in vain since “God” isn’t even close to being the Lord’s name in Scripture (and the commandment isn’t talking about profanity either anyway; it’s basically referring to perjury after swearing not to while using the Lord’s name in your oath). Instead I’ll point out the hypocrisy, not to mention haughtiness, of having trouble with profanity.

All profanity means is “outside the temple,” ie., anything that isn’t sacred. I won’t get into the problems with the secular/sacred dualism most Christians hold to, but technically anything non-religious is “profane,” not just certain words. However, pretending for a moment that certain words are more profane than others, the idea that words can be bad in the first place quickly becomes comical when you begin to deconstruct the idea.

Let’s break it down. Is it the particular combination of letters, or the specific sound the word makes when spoken, that makes a word wrong to use? It’s obviously ridiculous to think so, otherwise the words “damn,” “hell,” and “ass” shouldn’t be read in the KJV Bible, or said in a homily, as they’d be just as inherently bad in Scripture or sermon as when spoken in everyday parlance.

Is it the meaning behind the word? If so, simply saying “sexual intercourse” (or “rats” or “ouch” any other number of euphemisms) would be just as bad as saying “fuck;” and “crap” or “faeces” would be just as bad as saying “shit.”

Is it the intent behind the words? For instance, is it okay to say fuck if you’re referring to sex, or just using it as a playful adjective, but wrong to use in anger against another person? I’m okay with this, but only as much as I am with the idea that we shouldn’t be saying anything with the intention of hurting another person (whether in anger or not), regardless of what words we’re using.

When it comes right down to it, getting offended by these “vulgar” words implies that you think you’re too good to hear everyday, common language, and that you probably need to be brought down a peg or two.

Honestly, the old childhood saying about sticks and stones is true, and words can only hurt you if you let them. But, if you really insist on being offended by certain words, how about choosing to be offended by those words intended to hurt people who don’t happen to share your particular values or preferences instead of words that simply add a bit of colour to everyday speech.

But I’ll make a compromise. Get offended by the many injustices and atrocities being committed not only around the world but even in your own backyard, and I mean offended enough to actually do something about it, and I’ll try to pretend you’re not a snob when you turn up your nose at everyday language. And I won’t even say the word uterus around you if that helps.

Bible Verses to Help in Your Fight Against Abortion

Have you ever wanted to come up with a good 1-2 punch from the Bible to help you win arguments about why God hates abortion? Well, now you can. Here are the only passages you need to know to turn your abortion loving friends against killing babies:

  • Exodus 20:13 – “Thou shalt not kill.”

Well, that isn’t going to work if we’re going to support the death penalty and war and cops carrying guns in the line of duty. Let’s see… Oh, I know. Other translations put it as, “You shall not murder.” That’s better. Hmm… Except that murder technically means “illegal killing,” and if abortion is legal then it can’t actually be labelled murder. Well, let’s find a better passage then.

  • Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”

Great! No, wait, all that really tells us is that God knew Jeremiah before he was born. Hmm… does this mean that we exist as spirit babies before we’re born? This is going to help Mormons defend some of their theology, but all it does for the rest of us is explain that God foreknew Jeremiah’s existence and planned for him to become a prophet beforehand, so we’d better keep this one under wraps if we don’t want to have to wear special undergarments. Anyway, it doesn’t tell us that God hates abortion like we know He does from the Bible, so we’d better find those passages telling us that He does.

  • Psalm 139:13-16 “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”

I’m not sure what that says, let’s check the NIV. Oh, that’s just more of Jeremiah 1:5, explaining God’s foreknowledge and predestination. Since most of us want to keep believing in free will, it wouldn’t be a good idea to take that passage too literally anyway. Moving on…

  • Luke 1:39-42 “And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

Yes! Babies in the womb can leap when the Holy Spirit inspires them to do so. Although, on second thought, what does that have to do with abortion? Drat, I thought I was onto something there. Well, let’s see what else I can find. Hmm… I’m out of passages. Well, at least we know that God loves children and would never do anything to harm them:

  • 2 Kings 2:22-24 “So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake. And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.”

Whoa, God sent bears to kill children for making fun of someone’s baldness? That’s scary. Maybe He only loves children while they’re still in the womb. It’s a good thing we’ve got all those passages explaining that He does, isn’t it?

Disclaimer: This post isn’t meant to support either the pro-abortion or anti-abortion positions. The only point is that the Bible can’t be used to defend the idea that God hates abortion or is pro-life. God does LOTS of killing and sanctioning of killing, even of children, according to the Bible, so it isn’t in your best interest to try to use it to fight abortion.

Also, if you believe in everlasting torment in hell and the age of accountability, you should be hoping that every pregnancy ends in abortion.

All Things Are Permitted

There’s a very simple bit of theology that the church in general doesn’t seem to have caught onto yet: According to the Bible, we can do whatever we want to do (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Does the Bible really tell us we’re free to sin? Yes, technically it does. We can do pretty much anything and we’re still covered by grace. In fact, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

However… just because we CAN do whatever we want doesn’t mean we SHOULD do whatever we want. While 1 Corinthians 6:12 does tell us that everything is permitted (or lawful, depending on your translation), it goes on to remind us that not everything is expedient or profitable. Remember, your actions are going to have consequences, both to you and to others.

And not only do we have to consider the possible negative consequences, there’s the fact that the more we give in to harmful desires, the more we can become enslaved to harmful habits. Since the whole point of Christianity is supposed to be freedom (it’s for freedom you’ve been set free, Paul says in his letter to the Galatians), being enslaved by harmful desires is no better than being enslaved to religion.

The bottom line is, don’t let any religious leader tell you you’re not allowed to do something, but it’s also a bad idea to let any habit or desire rule your life. And always consider what the consequences of your actions might be, not only to yourself, but to others as well.

That being said, not everything that we’ve been taught to believe is sinful or harmful by our religious leaders actually is sinful or harmful. I brought up one of these “sins” in my recent post on premarital sex. The problem is, there’s a lot of confusion, and even outright misinformation, about some of the things that we’ve been taught are wrong to do. This means we should each reevaluate our ideas of what some of the things we might personally need to avoid are, but we also need to keep in mind that some of the things which might be harmful or habit forming for me might not be the same for you, and vice versa.

However, there’s still one more factor to consider. Even if we know that an activity is completely harmless to us, some of our brothers and sisters won’t have the same understanding we do, which can lead them into harmful habits themselves if they don’t understand proper balance. Similarly, many of them (most of them, in all honestly) don’t have very strong faith in God’s grace, and publicly practicing certain activities they consider to be sinful can cause some of them to stumble at times, so abstinence, at least publicly, might be the advisable course of action in some situations (though less often than you might think. Helping someone remain “weak” in their faith isn’t necessarily doing either of you any favours). This, of course, brings up all sorts of other questions, but those will have to wait for another post.

Disclaimer: Just because something is covered by grace or is not against God’s law doesn’t mean it isn’t against one of man’s laws. This post is not meant to encourage anyone to break any of the laws of the land where they live, as unjust as certain laws may be.

Dialogue With an Evangelical: The Movie

Three years ago, I shared a little dialogue between myself and a random evangelical on the subjects of hell and Christian Universalism.

For the fun of it, I decided to make up a short video of that discussion using those talking bears I’ve been seeing around the web over the last few months.

It seems to have a couple unusual pauses in the dialogue for reasons I haven’t determined yet, but otherwise it seems to have come out well for my first attempt at a video.

Avoid Sexual Immorality

A few months ago I pointed out that not only can lust be a good thing according to the Bible, but that even Jesus lusted. I also claimed that the Bible actually says a lot less about premarital sex than we’ve been told it does. Here’s a quick explanation of why I said that.

If you grew up human, you probably know that those in the Christian religion normally condemn premarital sex (along with various other sexual practices that seem to make them squirm). They’ll usually tell you that this is because God also condemns it in the Bible. Of course, like nearly everything else, they generally haven’t actually studied whether or not Scripture really says what they think it says.

The primary reason that most Christians are so against premarital sex is one little word: fornication. Depending on your English translation, in the New Testament you’ll find fornication criticized as a very bad thing that one should flee, and if you look fornication up in an English dictionary you will indeed find that it means sexual intercourse between unmarried partners. The problem is, the Bible wasn’t originally written in English.

The word translated as “fornication” in the Bible is the Greek word porneia (πορνεία). The thing is, this word does not literally translate as “premarital sex” the way the religious would like you to believe it does. In fact, it’s generally agreed that the most accurate translation of porneia is “illicit sexual activity” (or “illegal sexual activity”).

The most obvious question, of course, is what exactly constitutes “illicit sexual activity.” Of course, if one has been brought up with the presupposition that premarital sex is wrong then one will naturally assume that it falls into this category (hence the “fornication” translation in many Bibles). But one should never make assumptions when it comes to theology, even if it is the easiest route to take.

If we take the term “illicit sexual activity” literally, it means sexual activity that breaks the law. Generally, here in the western world, premarital sex doesn’t break the law, and it certainly wasn’t against the law among the gentiles Paul wrote to when he told believers to avoid porneia either.

The truth is, the word porneia actually had multiple meanings, depending on how the word was being used. It spoke of sexual idolatry in some cases, referring to sleeping with temple prostitutes who did so as a part of worshiping other gods. It could also be used in reference to sexual practices that actually were considered illicit by the culture in question, practices such as incest, for example. There was also a spiritual meaning to the word, having nothing to do with physical sex at all. The thing to take away from all this is that we can’t simply take the word and force the meaning of premarital sex onto it, despite the fact that your pastor would probably prefer you did.

Now, I could go over each occurrence of the word porneia in the New Testament with you, but it would be better for you go over them for yourself. Here’s every occurrence of the word in the KJV where it’s translated “fornication.” What I want you to do is read each passage and replace the word “fornication” with the word porneia in your mind, and then think about whether premarital sex is what the passage is definitely talking about. I think you’ll find that, at least in most (if not all) cases, there’s little to no justification for making that assumption.

The Problem With the Origin of Evil

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been listening to an excellent series on the topic of questioning God over the existence of suffering and evil. It’s been an interesting look at the question of why God allows evil and suffering in the world, as well as asking whether it’s okay to be upset with God over it.

The reason for this post isn’t to get into whether it’s okay, however, but rather it’s because I became very uncomfortable while listening to today’s sermon on the topic of the origin of evil. He asked all the right questions, and brought up the logical argument that if God is all powerful and all knowing then He must ultimately be responsible for its existence. He then decided that, since God couldn’t have created evil, it must originate in man’s free will. I had a couple problems with this, the first being the sudden assumption, seemingly out of nowhere, that God couldn’t possibly have been responsible for evil’s existence.

I know that it seems like a noble thing to try to take the blame away from God, but doing so also takes away from the godness of God (or perhaps we should say the sovereignty of God, to use a more theological term).

Trying to blame humanity’s free will also causes problems. I’ve written about this before, but human “free will” is a complete logical impossibility. We can make choices, but those choices are predetermined by our nurture and nature (both physical and spiritual). Sure, we have a will, but it’s anything but free. There’s no way around this that I’m aware of, and to simply wave our hands and say free will exists because we want it to doesn’t actually give us any answers or help us in any way.

Despite what I’m assuming is his desire to keep the blame for evil from falling on God, both logic and the Bible tell us that God is responsible. If God knew that Adam and Eve were going to sin (presuming the story in Genesis 3 actually literally happened) and still created them anyway, then He has to take the responsibility; there’s just no way around it. Considering the fact that free will doesn’t exist, there was no way that they weren’t going to eat the fruit. If God didn’t want evil to exist He never would have created the fruit or the talking snake.

In the end, though, God ultimately takes responsibility for evil anyway (at least He does if you believe the Bible). In Isaiah 45:7, God says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (for those who aren’t using a Bible with Strongs numbers, the word for “evil” there is the Hebrew word ra`, the same word used in the name of the tree Adam and Eve ate from, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”).

We also read, in Amos 3:6, “shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?”

And finally, simply put, “all things are of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

It might seem honourable to try to blame humanity for evil, but God Himself takes the credit so we might as well let Him have it.

Having said all that, I also want to point out that using the word “evil” can completely distract us from the real problem, which is suffering. As I’ve previously written about, evil doesn’t actually exist as an ontological “thing” (which, thankfully, the preacher does briefly acknowledge). Suffering, however, is very real, and most of it originates in what we call “acts of God” (the figure of speech we use just goes to show that we recognize, even if only on a subconscious level, that God is ultimately responsible for the suffering we experience in this life).

There’s more I could say on all that, but I’ll end off by pointing out one more common evangelical assumption he made in the sermon, the idea that Satan was once good but fell from grace at some point in the past due to pride. The truth is, there’s nothing in the Bible that actually comes out and says this. In fact the Bible actually says that the devil was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44), which indicates he was probably never actually good. There are a couple passages that evangelicals tend to read into when trying to back up this Christian urban legend, but it’s not good exegesis in my humble opinion.

All that being said, nobody is perfect, and I still think this preacher is pretty good on a lot of other topics as well.

The Lusts of the Flesh

Is it wrong to lust after an attractive girl? Did Jesus ever lust? I’ve been meaning to write about the topics of lust and sex for a little while now, but a friend of mine beat me to it. So, before I get into the subject myself, I want you to first watch Martin Zender talk about it in his biweekly Crack O’Dawn Report:

It’s not just Jesus who lusted (seriously, watch the video), the Old Testament prophets did too (“desire” in that passage is the same Greek word translated “lust” in Matthew 5:28). Not only that, the Apostle Paul tells us that lust can even be a good thing at times (again, same Greek word being used for “desire”).

It all comes down to context. When Jesus compared lust to adultery, He was most likely referring to coveting a woman who already belonged to another man, not to simply finding a single girl sexually appealing (the same Greek word is also translated as “covet” in at least one passage).

The Christian religion might be primarily about sexual repression (okay, it is; there’s no “might be” about it, despite what people might say), but the Bible isn’t as against sexual desire as most Christians believe it is. It even says less about premarital sex than most people may think, but I’ll get into that in a future post.

Questioning Your Presuppositions

While truly questioning one’s theological presuppositions is rare among Christians, the real hallmark of a heretic is that he or she is willing to reject the ideas that conflict with reality, regardless of how orthodox said beliefs may happen to be and how much trouble he or she might get into for following the evidence no matter where it leads.

Growing up in the evangelical church, I was trained to believe all sorts of doctrines based on my denomination’s ideas of what the Bible says. We were taught that people who didn’t become Christians before they died would suffer forever in hell. We were taught that having sex is pretty much the worst thing that someone can do unless one met very specific requirements such as being married to the person you were sleeping with and being the opposite genders of each other. We were taught that drinking alcohol is wrong if it isn’t during communion. And we were taught that, every Sunday, people should gather in a building to sing and listen to a presentation by a pastor or elder and then give money to the people running the building.

What most rarely did, however, was ask why we should believe and do (or avoid) these things. If one of us did happen to wonder aloud about any of these doctrines, we were simply told that the Bible teaches these things and we were possibly shown a passage or two of Scripture that seemed, at least on first glance, to support these ideas. What we weren’t shown were any contextual reasons for interpreting the passages the way we were told we should, or given any proof that the English versions of the Bible we were using were translated accurately. And, perhaps most importantly, we were never told why we should consider the Bible to be inerrant, or even the basis of spiritual truth, in the first place.

Most people in the churches I grew up in were happy to take the doctrines they were taught for granted, trusting that their pastors and teachers must know what they’re talking about and believing that their leaders wouldn’t lie to them (even unknowingly). A few of us, however, weren’t content to simply accept “because the Bible says so” as gospel truth. We got right down to the foundations of our faith and questioned the validity of ideas like biblical inerrancy, and even if we accepted that there is truth in Scripture, we didn’t blindly trust that the translators were without bias or error in their English versions. And, after much investigation, we concluded that many of the doctrines we had been taught were actually being read into Scripture based on the presuppositions of our church leaders as opposed to legitimately being interpreted from Scripture without bias.

Of course, coming to theological and spiritual conclusions contrary to those that we’d been taught didn’t make us popular. Despite what you might hear, Christians don’t become heretics to win friends and influence people. Rather, we become heretics because we’re more interested in truth than in dogma. Because if truth is what you’re after, questioning your assumptions is not enough. You’ve got to actually be willing to accept that you might have been lied to and be able to handle the consequences that will inevitably arise when it becomes known that you’re not blindly following the leader anymore.

To those brave few who do make this uncomfortable, but ultimately rewarding journey, I congratulate you and wish you godspeed on your travels. To the rest of you, I also wish you well and simply ask that you go easy on those who may not agree with you 100%.

The Christian Religion is a Failure

This might come as a shock to some, but the Christian religion can’t help you. It won’t help you live a better life. It won’t bring you peace of mind. It won’t even help you get to heaven. In fact, odds are it will do just the opposite. Sure, it’s got its benefits (well, depending on where you live anyway). You get to go to meetings at a cool clubhouse every weekend. You get to feel good about how smart you are for choosing this path. And perhaps the most satisfying part is that you get to look down on all those sinners who just refuse to stop enjoying life without at least giving 10% of their earnings to your favourite religious leader.

The problem is, members of the Christian religion are just as likely as those outside their numbers to commit adultery. They’re just as likely to lie. They’re just as likely to steal. They’re just as likely to rape. They abuse their children and spouses just as often as anyone else does (possibly even more frequently), physically, sexually, and particularly emotionally. And don’t even get me started on the internal sins that so many of them seem to be completely shameless about, sins such as pride, greed, envy, anger, gluttony, and the list goes on and on.

While they preach that sex outside of marriage is wrong, just as many Christians have premarital sex as non-Christians, and just as many of them consume porn as everyone else does. Belonging to this religion doesn’t take away one’s sex drive, nor does it change one’s sexual orientation, and people are going to do what they’re going to do, sexually speaking, regardless of what religion they belong to.

Not only does belonging to the Christian religion not change your behaviour, it doesn’t bring peace of mind for more than a brief period of time after one’s conversion experience either. For a little while after joining the church you might feel like your sins have been forgiven and experience confidence that God loves you and will take you to heaven in the Rapture (or at least after you die if Jesus takes too long getting around to returning). You might even be able to abstain from some of the habits that drove you to convert in the first place for a period of time (conversion experiences can give you the strength to change your life for a short amount of time, no matter what it is you converted to). But give it a little while and you’ll realize that you’re sinning just as often as you did before you “got saved.” Guilt will begin to eat away at you, and you’ll wonder, at least off and on, if you’re going to end up in hell after all (or, at the very least, whether God is going to punish you while you’re still alive).

And speaking of hell, you’re either going to drive yourself crazy worrying about the eternal fate of non-believers, not to mention your “unsaved” loved ones, or you’ll become callous and convince yourself that people deserve their fate so you can avoid going insane.

The truth is, people are generally much better off avoiding the Christian religion altogether (and any other religion too, for that matter).

Now you may be asking what it is that I would suggest as an alternative to the Christian religion, and in response I would recommend Christianity. Of course, if you aren’t a regular reader of this site, you might wonder what the difference is. The difference is that “Christianity is not a religion, it is the announcement of the end of religion. Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshipping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle of Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle of Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection. For Christians, then, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade. The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical, and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that ‘while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.’ It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace.” – Robert Farrar Capon. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus

Those of us who have rejected the Christian religion for Christianity have found a lot more peace than we had before. We’ve stopped trying to avoid sin because we’ve realized that attempting to stop sinning only causes you to sin all the more. We’ve stopped worrying about hell, for ourselves or for anyone else, because we’ve discovered that hell isn’t the ultimate fate for anybody on this planet, at least if the Bible is to be believed. On the contrary, we realize that, even with our imperfections, God accepts us just the way we are. And we’re through with trying to use our will power to live a “godly life” because we know it can’t be done. Instead we find much more peace in trusting that Christ will live the life He wants us to live through us.