Archive for category Bible

The common lectionary: antisemitism in John’s Gospel. Surprise? Not really.


Like most Christians who went to church last Sunday,  I found myself listening to the  familiar story of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9,  But for the first time this jarring line leaped out at me:

“His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.”  (John 9:22) NRSV

Now, in Protestantland most people are probably reading out of the NIV, which has politically sanitized this verse to say “Jewish leaders” rather than just the “Jews”.   But in the ever popular King James bible it is even worse than my NRSV:

“These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.”

Just in case anyone missed it, the Early English authors used the words “the Jews” twice,  to ensure that we all understand who the bad guys were.  You could almost forget that the blind man and his parents were Jewish too.  Or that everyone in this particular passage were Jewish, last but not least, Jesus himself.

Am I nitpicking here?  Is this just a bit of trivia?  Well, not when you consider that throughout the centuries this is how Jesus, his disciples and his adversaries have been depicted, I don’t think you can deny that this Johannine depiction of  “the Jews”  has shaped much of the Christian world view. Even to this day, as seen in Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” or the Millinialist’s championing of Israel for the purpose of advancing Armageddon,  antisemitism is thread throughout the fabric of the church.  To the detriment of all Christian and, of course, to the detriment of our Jewish neighbors. And to the detriment of world peace.

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No Hell = No Jesus


As long as I can remember  my mother has said, “As a Christian you have to believe in Hell but you don’t have to believe anyone is  there.”  This is her gracious understanding of an essential Christian doctrine.  Though she didn’t know it,  this understanding is a Christian “heresy” called Universalism, a heresy  that says all of us,  even non-Christians, will go to Heaven. And it was expressly against Catholic, and most Christian doctrine. But wasn’t she right about one thing:  Don’t you have to believe in Hell to be a Christian? This must be the case, if Universalism is a heresy.

Not long ago Rob Bell was  in the hot seat with many Evangelicals (and some Catholics)  because his recent book, “Love Wins”,  suggested that no one goes to Hell.  He set the conservative Christian bogs on fire and most of them essentially condemned Bell to hell for not believing in Hell.

The ensuing progressive  Christian defense of Bell was great.  Many Emerging Church and progressive Christian bloggers  busted the chops of people like the Three Johns ( Piper, MacArthur and Hagee) for accusing Bell of  Universalism . They rightly criticized the conservative Christian tendency to make Hell such a big part of their theology, to the point where this doctrine  obscures a lot of the Gospel message.  But, unfortunately, few of them go far enough.

Because in their defense of Bell they made it quite clear that they also believed in the doctrine of Hell, they just adapted it to make it more palatable.  Most seemed to accept the conventional orthodoxy  of a Final Judgment and the potential prospect of Hell (even with little or no scriptural support for it) coupled with the salvic solution of Jesus dying for our sins on the cross, as God’s blood sacrifice, to free us from eternal damnation.  Which, to me, flies in the face of what Jesus spends a lot of time telling us about God.  As I heard a pastor once say, God is either merciful or God is just, but God cannot be both.

I think one reason why so many Christians are unyielding about Hell, and why the progressives still can’t shake the doctrine off, is that, in reality,  Hell is the cornerstone of the Church, not Jesus.  Because without Hell, what is there for Jesus to do? What does he save us from?

No Hell = no Jesus. Or at least the Jesus that many Christians claim to believe in, have faith in.  Without Hell he loses his job description. He loses his purpose along with the primary meaning he may have for millions of Christians. So the idea that there is no Hell is just too damn frightening to consider.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

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The Bible is not The Good Book or a bad book. It is just a….book.


The Bible is a collection of diverse ancient Hebrew writings by many authors who never intended their works to be collected between the bindings of a book.  It is full of spiritual stories, poems, myths, biographies and various historical accounts. It may or may not include recorded attempts at predicting the future. Wisdom and beauty abound within its pages and the reading of this book has helped millions of people, in many spiritual ways,  to encounter God.  By this definition alone, it is a sacred book.  But as St. Paul  once said, the scriptures are useful for instructing a person in the ways of God, implying that they are only some of the tools at our disposal and not the sole repository of spiritual wisdom.

The common thread that runs through this assortment of writings is how a particular group of people interacted with their God over a very long time, in ways that were both moral and immoral.  Inspired by a sense of wonder, the authors attempted to understand God’s nature, God’s will and how, why and if God works in their lives, often depicting God as speaking and acting within the natural world.

The second, smaller part of the Bible concerns Jesus of Nazareth, his life, crucifixion and resurrection. It also includes his teachings and the teachings of some of his disciples.  These teachings have undoubtedly inspired generations of people to live lives of peace, mercy and love while at the same time championing justice.  At the same time,  different interpretations have helped others to rationalize behavior not so commendable.

The Bible had no release date, there was no publishing date. At some point, around 1700-1800 years ago, powerful religious men decided what Jewish scriptures would be included in what we call the Canon and the Apocrypha.  Everything else  (probably more than what was included) was discarded or destroyed, though some of these manuscripts survive today. Throughout its history the Bible has been translated in different ways and there have been a few cases where it has been altered to serve a religious agenda, but these were rare occurrences.  There has always been a very active, and often heated,  debate over what many portions of the Bible actually mean.

The Bible may, or may not, be relevant to us today.  The stories and poems and letters within have been used as a guide for morality, compassion and self sacrifice.  They have also been  used to justify genocide, torture, slavery, misogyny, bigotry and war.  If God has spoken through the Bible then some have certainly heard the voice of Satan as well.

Although a great work of historical literature and sacred to millions,  it has no magical qualities or powers. It needs to be interpreted contextually, framed within the time and circumstances of the people who populate it, lest whatever lessons it might contain remain hidden.   It is undeniably a very, very important book.  It is certainly a great book, one of the world’s greatest.  But it is not the GOOD book any more than it is a bad book.  In the end, with all that it has to offer, it is still…just…a…book.

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But if you’re a Christian, then what am I?


Over on the Wall Street Journal blog, one of the members has (hopefully) started a thread by asking this question:

How do Christians define Christians? What makes you or not a Christian?

I often come across the argument that “said person is not a real Christian”, many tend to use this argument to exclude particulars who happen to shame the religion calling themselves part of it, or act in the name of it.

I think it would be interesting to see, how does every one define it, is it simply believing in a higher authority?. Is it taking every literal word of the bible?. Is it following the “reasonable” aspects of the bible?

Now, so far, only one person has given an answer, and it is one that I suspect the majority of American Christians would agree with:

A Christian is somebody who believes that Christ died on the Cross and shed his blood as the ultimate atonement(replacement for the blood sacrifice of the Old Testament law) for the sins of mankind. They believe that Christ is who He said He is. ie, The Son of God, and therefore God Himself. The concept of the Trinity applies here. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Christ was the product of the immaculate conception. Christ was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy. Isaiah 53:3-7 is an example, among others of the prophesy.

The first chapter of John in the New testament, gives a good representation of what Christians believe about Christ.

To be saved (ie a Christian), is nothing more then the realization that man is born into sin, and the acceptance and acknowledgment of the free gift of eternal life(made possible because of Christ sacrifice on the Cross), that is offered to mankind, should they(exhibit their “free will”) except it. It is nothing more then Gods grace being demonstrated through mans faith.

If all of the above needs to be believed in order to be a Christian, then I guess I am not one.  Of course, for many reasons I think the above definition, although perhaps “orthodox”,  is incorrect.

Over on Ric Booth’s blog there is an interesting conversation taking place about a new organization that John Shore is spear-heading called ThruWAy Christians, particularly their controversial acceptance of gays and lesbians.   The stated goal of ThruWAy Christians is to provide moderate Christians with a new forum.  As it says on their website:  “If you find conservative Christianity too oppressive and exclusionary, and progressive Christianity too theologically tenuous, you’re probably a ThruWay Christian.”   Which means that, though I agree with much of the content of their founding document, my theology is much too “tenuous”  (something which I am sure the Conservative Christians could accuse the ThruWay people).

Surprisingly,  I don’t believe my theology is any weaker than theirs or any one else.  It’s different to be sure.  Maybe not as orthodox as they would like.  And like Christianity, it is evolving. But that doesn’t mean that it is “flimsy, insubstantial or lacking in strength”.  This is a charge that the orthodox have always levied at those who had the audacity to question theological authority.

The good folks over at ThruWAy Christian are not really challenging conservative Christian theological authority, though. They are only challenging the  conservative interpretations of certain scriptures that they believe lead to intolerant and mean spirited attitudes and behavior.  But I would suggest that the overarching theology that both the moderates and the conservatives still hold in common ( much of which has been condensed by the commenter from the WSJ blog and jives with the  first line of ThruWay’s creed )  is actually what drives this intolerance.  And has for centuries.

I ‘ve found that it is nearly impossible for Christian moderates to  engage Fundamentalists in any meaningful dialog that might result in a change of perception on the part of either, so  I’ve given up on it myself.  If this is the goal of the folks at ThruWAy, well then, have at it.  But  if they would be open-minded enough to engage some Christians whose convictions are not quite as solid, substantial or strong as theirs then perhaps they might find that ‘progressive’ is not such a bad word after all.

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Pentagon cover-up: UFOs found Noah’s Ark!


Not really.

But on the way into work,  I happened to catch about 5 minutes of the Steve Quayle show on XM radio.  There is political commentary on this station in the evening but I always switch to another station in the morning, as Quayle’s program is devoted to talk about things like aliens, pending doomsday scenarios and ancient astronauts.  But today, before I had a chance to touch the dial,  I heard the word’s “Noah’s Ark”, which quickly stayed my hand.

I find the obsession some people have for the Biblical flood scenario fascinating.  The Flood is essential to the cause of Creationism,  since the magnitude of such an event is said to be sufficiently energetic to sculpt an Earth that only appears to be millions of years old.  But, no offense folks, I’ve always found the idea that this is more than a Biblical fable to be just a little bit goofy.

Just like talk of the Mayan prediction of the Earth’s demise in 2012.  Or UFO abductions.  Or Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Or the prophecies of Nostradamus and John of Patmos or the ghosts of the Nazis.   Essentially the combined prime-time line-up of the History, Discovery and Learning Channels. And let’s not forget the silliness of filming the hi-jinks of a semi-literate Alaskan ex-governor’s dysfunctional family – but that’s a different (although perhaps related) story.

Within the five minutes that I listened to Quayle’s program the talk went from an international conspiracy to hide the discovery of Noah’s Ark, to the pending Mayan apocalypse and how it was predicted in Luke’s gospel and the Book of Revelations to the ongoing Pentagon cover up of visiting alien spacecraft (fallen angels), finishing with the coming New World Order that will overshadow the tyrannical excesses of Nazi Germany. The guest on the program (who’s name I did not catch) as well as the few callers, all professed to be Christians who possessed special knowledge of the world given to them by studying the Bible and other ancient texts.  The evidence was incontrovertible, they claimed, and the inability of most of the world’s people to see the handwriting on the wall was proof that Satan was actively at work in the world, undermining the will of God. It was up to each and every Christian to spread the word and take up the good fight.

The crazy thing is, that though it is easy to call these folks crack-pots, they are not that rare of a species.  Similar ideas can be heard from pulpits across the country (like the Wasilla Assembly of God)  and on numerous “legitimate” websites.  Even a mainstream media personality like Glenn Beck talks of the pending apocalypse, apparently orchestrated by the minions of Satan.   In their world,  ‘faith’ trumps reasonable skepticism every time.

Madness.

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Thumping loudly on the Bible and the Constitution


Today the Republicans in the House of Representatives are reading the Constitution aloud, as symbolic token to the Tea Party’s devotion to the document.  A good civics lesson, or “sanctimonious reverence” ?

The Tea Party. Why is it that bible thumpers (of which the Tea Party abounds) claim to love the Constitution so?   Because it’s not that the two world views are inextricably wed, there are plenty of conservatives and libertarians who are religious moderates or even atheists (like Ayan Rand).  And there are even a number of left wing Evangelicals like Tony Compalo and Jim Wallace. But today’s political conservatism embodies the yin and yang of both Christian and historical fundamentalism.  Biblical literalism meets Constitutional orginalism.

Which I guess should not be too surprising.   It makes sense that if you hold to a literal and inerrant view of the Bible that you would look at the US Constitution in much the same way, especially if you you believe that Americans have replaced the Jews as God’s chosen people (and  like the Israelites, we have often gone astray).  If we asked a  Tea Partier,  I think we would hear some interesting similarities in how  both the Constitution and the Bible are viewed.

They both:

-should to be taken literally, meaning that the written words are to be  understood precisely as they were written and not subject to individual interpretation

-share the ultimate authority on how Americans should live their lives, holding to the author’s  original intent (and God’s will)

-are able to transcend time, speaking  as authoritatively on today’s issues as within their own day, having been written by devoutly religious  men who were directly inspired by God to be  both prophetic and prescient, able to anticipate every correct response to all future events.

These assertions are, of course, absolutely incorrect, as proven by a reading of the historical record, accompanied by a dash of the much heralded “common sense”.  It is obvious to most who study scripture that the circumstances and situations  addressed in the Bible are not always, if even very often,  germane to today’s world.  Christian fundamentalists realize this as well, since they are very selective about which ‘fact’ they will believe or which stricture or dictate they will obey. Very few still believe that the Earth is flat, as suggested in Genesis, and no one (outside of the Chalcedon Foundation) wants to have sassy children put to death.  Though they may not allow women to be ordained, they no longer force them to wear scarves in church.

Times change and not everything written 200 or 2000 or 4000 years ago is relevant today. Though it may have made perfect sense in that time and place, neither the Bible or the Constitution present the perfect solution to every challenge we are presented with today. They were written by flawed men (and maybe women) who were doing their best to define the truths of the universe while addressing the challenges of their day.  Like it or not, their work must be interpreted, which means that there will always be differences of opinion and no accurate or permanent orthodoxy can ever take form.  No orthodoxy  has ever endured without some sort of evolution.  Centuries later we cannot delve into the writers’ minds and we cannot know their intent, any more than their writings can convey to us the true will of God.  Nor are the authors’ intentions (or their understanding of God) necessarily relevant today.

Though the Constitution is undoubtedly a work of genius and in its time came very close to offering the ideal formula for engineering a sustainable American liberty, it was not then and is not now perfect.  If it was perfect then it is unlikely that there would still be heated scholarly debate over its meaning.  The perfect Constitutional solutions to so many problems have long eluded us.  If perfect, there would have been no allowance for slavery and there certainly would have been no Civil War.

If Americans had allowed themselves to become slaves to their rigid interpretations of both the Constitution and the Bible, we would have no Emancipation Proclamation, no Civil Rights Act, and  no women voters.  Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams  and St. Paul could  never envision a world in which the injustices of slavery and misogyny did not exist and each day produces new challenges that they never could have imagined.

But there is something very comforting to think of both Bible and Constitution in special supernatural ways, providing us with a cosmic link to the past and the men we have come to see as our spiritual fathers.  And as devoted children, we develop a fierce defensive posture whenever the work of our fathers is threatened, or even questioned.  Especially when that work provides us with a sense of security, a defense against those who might take from us or as a means of preventing rewards being bestowed upon those who do not deserve it.  “Strict” interpretation of both Constitution and Bible have been used to shore up the positions of the powerful and the entitled at the expense of the underrepresented and the different.

I can think of no other reason for the forced marriage of the Bible to the Constitution other than that religious fundamentalism and a fundamentalist view of history are both the result of psychological insecurity and fear. Which becomes  abundantly clear when we see the slogans and signs and  hear the speeches emanating from the Right, hysterically linking God the Father with the Founding Fathers,  equating love of the Bible with love of the Constitution. It is ironic  that so many of these folks, when asked to provide some positional support from their two most sacred texts, seem to know so little about either of them.  Or of those who wrote them.

“Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human”    – Thomas Jefferson

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God’s Comet Cleansers: astronomers finally prove the existence of God


Not really.  But take a look at this article from Christian Newswire. Astronomical evidence clearly shows that comets have been the agents of much of God’s destruction in the Biblical past as well as in the future to come.  According to Dr. Jeffrey Goodman:

Recent archeological, geological and astronomical discoveries that shine new light on the Bible and its prophecies” he reports that most of the scientific data learned about comets in the last 25 years has already been recorded in the Bible! Long before the photos of Comet Hartley, the Bible correctly refers to the vents (“mouths”) in an active comet’s crust, and then correctly tells how these vents can powerfully spew out poisonous gas that can kill men (Revelation 9:17-19). Revelation 8:10-11 tells of a comet impact that is to poison rivers. Goodman says the Bible even gives an account of a cometary “blast” that probably contained cyanide (Isaiah 37:7) which killed 185,000 invading Assyrians outside the gates of Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:36-37).

How exciting! I couldn’t wait to jump into my Bible and check out the comet-related passages. Revelations is always fun, something like “Final Fantasy”.

10The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— 11 the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.

17 The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. 18 A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths. 19 The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury.

Undeniable comet activity, as seen almost every day through our nation’s best telescopes! Let’s look at Isaiah 37:7 next, shall we?

Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.’”

What else could this be but the report a comet makes as it enters our atmosphere? Of course, no one has ever heard this (at least no one alive, heh-heh). Later on in Isaiah, verses 36-37 we find out what happens to evil people when a comet comes in contact with the Earth:

36 Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! 37 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.

In this case the ‘angel of the LORD’ is code for a kick-ass comet. After all, the people at the time didn’t know much about comets, but they sure knew their angels. This verse offers conclusive historical proof that comets are so dangerous that God uses them to do his dirty work. Sort of like cosmic hit men for the ultimate Godfather.

Of course, those who do not take the Bible as the literal Word of God but insist upon seeing it as metaphor or story or poetry, ignoring the clear black words on white paper, will continue to deny this irrefutable evidence.

Satan is a vile deceiver.

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