Biblical literalists don’t exist!

Let me start with a shocking statement: the Bible actually does support slavery! Or maybe I should qualify that with this: the Bible can be used, and has been used, to support slavery!

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) worked tirelessly to abolish the slave trade, driven by his own Christian convictions. In April 1791, he gave a four-hour speech to parliament where he had served as MP for Kingston-upon-Hull since 1780, before delivering his first abolition bill. After the vote was cast, church bells rang out in victory across the country: he had been defeated 163 votes to 88! It was only three days before his death in July 1833 that he received news that the groundswell of opinion he raised had changed public opinion, church theology and parliament and he had finally succeeded. We 21st century Christians shake our heads in disbelief that the majority of believers in that day could be so pro-slavery, but there you are; they were! Wilberforce has become so revered now, that both liberals and conservatives are scrabbling to claim him for their own, yet he was an independent! He was certainly not alone in his quest for abolition, but he was part of a new way of looking at the world and he certainly was challenging the ‘accepted norm’ within Christian viewpoints; a minority viewpoint at first, most definitely. Modern theologians who try to draw differences between slavery in the Bible and the slavery that Wilberforce was against, miss this whole point (as well as fumbling over semantics on just parts of scripture, not the whole topic!); slavery was taken for granted to simply be something that was allowed and sanctioned by scripture!

Here’s a brief account of his campaign and work, and his faith.

So we’ve moved on from that and no longer see it as an issue to be debated. I have never come across anyone in my lifetime who has made any argument for slavery from the Bible. What has this got to do with us now?

Well, I blogged recently on the irony (which I found quite humorous!) that a known Creationist who argues for a literal understanding of the six days’ creation is languishing in jail for actually disobeying one of our Lord Jesus Christ’s clearest commands!

So often I have heard it said from pulpits, from the day I first entered church right to maybe just a month ago that “unlike many churches that have gone before us, we keep to the truths of scripture, and keep it all, every word!” Investigation and a small bit of analysis left me long ago realising the abject irony in these statements since I came to the conclusion that absolutely nobody does this, and indeed, nobody truly can!

I laughed (inwardly) at men who told me that tattoos were forbidden in scripture yet the vast majority of them shaved all their facial hair off every day! – Lev. 19:27. I would also hazard a guess that their shirts are of mixed cloth! – Lev. 19:19. Both these laws come right before the one about tattoos!

I argued with those who ‘kept 1 Corinthians 11’ about making women put on hats in church that Paul was talking about Middle Eastern veils, like many Muslim women wear, and not fancy Ascot-style hats or little headscarves, but never got any recognition that women should then actually go and get some ‘proper’ veils! Their cultural understanding had excluded them from seeing any further than the hats they were used to seeing for years, and somehow my words literally fell on ‘deaf ears’. The standard response was truly silence, changing the subject, or “I have to go now. Nice talking with you.”

Don’t worry, I won’t even mention what sleeping arrangements are prescribed for married couples once every month!

You see, Christians don’t like being told that their reading or interpretation of scripture is shaped by the culture they occupy; whether that is allowing the greater culture of ‘the world’ to reshape their thinking, or tacitly accepting that the micro culture of their denominational bent dictates just what they can and cannot question, the simple truth is that we all do it!

These examples may be dismissed by anyone as of minor importance, which is very true, but the original issue I raised here about slavery, an extremely important issue, falls into the same category of ‘your interpretation, not mine!’ Secondly, I am talking of experiences of those who make such boastful claims that they do keep every word of scripture, yet there they are ignoring little bits.

Okay then, so you decide that you are really gonna do it! You’ll make sure you stick to it all. Go ahead – good luck! Unfortunately there are actually some laws that seem to just contradict each other; one example being that monthly womanly thing (that I said I wouldn’t mention, yes!) – does a man who is ‘with’ his wife at that time just accept that he’s ‘unclean’ for seven days (Lev. 15:24), or has he done a heinous thing and deserve to be cut off from his people (Lev. 20:18)? That’s not important? Well, slavery is, yeah? So can fellow Israelites be enslaved (Ex. 21:2-11) or not (Lev. 25:39-43)?

Such difficulties are what led to the rabbinical tradition, where scholars debated these seeming contradictions and tried to find practical ways through it. This is why various people came to Jesus and asked him probing questions: did he side with this school, or that dogma, or the teachings of that old rabbi? The fact that often Jesus would not answer them as they wished to hear, and left them maybe even more confused, leads me to a place where my own confusion is just something I embrace as a fascinating facet of my faith. I’m actually allowed to be unsure about some things. If they remain unresolved until that day, so be it!

You see, if you do decide to go the whole hog and start obeying every jot and tittle, you’ll end up like the Amish. Or then again, you won’t, actually, since they haven’t moored themselves in the culture of the first century, they’ve stuck themselves clearly in the way of life of 18th century colonial North America! You’d need to give up your car and iPhone just for starters! The Amish are so far removed from our century that they will burn a barn to the ground if it has woodworm, in accordance with Mosaic law, rather than get a handy treatment that any of us would buy from the shop.

And right away, their law keeping has set them on a wrong path. How many of you realised this all along, I wonder? If we choose to obey the whole law as laid down in the Torah, then we incur the wrath, yes, the abject anger, of Paul the Apostle. Galatians alone would make that clear to you, but here’s just one easy example: the fourth commandment tells us to keep the Sabbath holy, yet Paul lays out his view to the Romans:

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.

And to the Colossians:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

So by choosing to return to law keeping, you actually contradict what is laid down in the Pauline epistles! Confused? I actually believe you should be! For this drives you to ‘work out’ your own faith ‘with fear and trembling‘. Just don’t keep pursuing the way of the literalist, for it’s not doable, not possible, nor do I believe it is healthy at all to allow any pulpit preacher (even the very good ones!!) to dictate your life for you. Find your own path with Christ, who should be your Lord, Saviour, Foundation, Truth, Way. And your very life.

Grace be with you.

Sympathy for the Devil

Yeah, I know! The Rolling Stones beat me to that title by a lifetime! I was originally going to title this “I think Satan gets a bum deal!” but something about that didn’t feel right.

Why do I think that? Well, he gets blamed for many things that have nothing or very little to do with him!

My son came to me with a video he came across about Satanic symbolism recently found… on an energy drink can! YES! I could not help but laugh, but not at him… I’ve been ‘around the block’ and seen it all… Proctor & Gamble… The Care Bears… Cabbage Patch Dolls… SpongeBob… Harry Potter… and that’s just off the top of my head! And who of our generation could ever forget backward masking? Though I did know a guy who turned his vinyl record player backwards by hand, and he did hear a message: “You are ruining your stylus!!

[For the younger generation: vinyl records were flat disks that rotated slowly and the stylus was the needle that ‘read’ the ‘memory’ on them.]

Ozzy Osbourne: The Prince of Darkness!! Huh? Have you seen his reality show? These promotions of the ‘dark side’ and the rebellious spirit that goes with it, flipping two fingers to the ‘establishment’ is just that – promotions! Marketing promotions aimed at a demographic, usually the younger generation. And such subtle (or not so subtle) images and ideas do work in advertising or else they’d be dropped.

Satan is showing forth his power over the world by getting his wee symbols on marketed products, yeah! And real witchcraft looks exactly like JK Rowling portrayed it in Hogwarts!

If you wish to go looking for symbols, it ain’t that hard. Only today I noticed one; if you have the new Candy Crush Soda game on your phone, look down at the lower left corner on the home screen – if you’re heavily into ‘Zionist conspiracy’ you’ll latch onto that one! No, I don’t see evil in these markings any more than I could hear ‘Hail Satan’ in “tsud eht siteb eno rehtona” or any other ‘wop woo ebb wah nyek’ sounding recording that those guys kept playing until I was supposed to say “Oh, I hear it now!” just to make them go on to the next church youth group!

Where do I see evil then? Where might the influence of the Devil be found? I see it in individuals and corporations who have ludicrous amounts of money yet spend half their life trying to avoid paying tax on their fortunes (which Jesus unequivocally commanded us!). I see it in politicians who care not one jot for the poor. I hear it when Bob Geldof swears, but not in those expletives: in the incredulity he has at how little major nations are giving to help beat the scourge of ebola! I see it in the relative apathy shown by our press at atrocities in our world when there’s a better headline about The X Factor or Big Brother – it’s only when there’s little to report on celebrities or wannabes that real news takes centre stage. And I also see the evil in wanting to promote bad news above even the slightest good thing that might be happening out there. No wonder Christians today think “it’s all getting worse!”

Now there is something to address: how much of this ‘evil’ is within our churches too? How many preachers promote forms of politics or certain politicians whose record may not be squeaky clean? Right away, I find myself reflective, and is that not how we are meant to be? Recognising the sin within ourselves? If I’m brutally honest, that greed that is so apparent in the billionaire is present in me too. Who would turn their nose up at inheriting a good amount of cash? The apathy that I decry is also right there when I find myself switching the TV channel over from pictures of suffering to see that comedy show.

What exactly is Satan’s role in the universe? What is his ‘job’? His aim? Is it not to ‘deceive the elect’? How did he tempt Eve in Eden? Was it not by saying that she could become greater than what God planned for her? He tempted her to take pride in herself, in her ability to decide between good and evil, and to find pleasure in being able to judge others. It is actually in that recognition of his intentions, that his aim is to get us to look at others’ sins and failings and not our own faults, that we can defeat him. If he wants us to be blind to our own limitations and our need for Jesus and his forgiveness, then surely each of us seeking to change ourselves first and foremost is the most efficient way to defeat him? I shall repeat myself again: Revival is never about them, it’s always about you!

On second thoughts… all those things that Christians love to find and point out, out in the world that show the extent of Satanic influence, all those symbols and children’s shows and pop songs, maybe they are actually his ploys! Carry on as you were…

Grace be with you.

 

P.S. Here’s a wee poem what I wrote as a younger me, many moons ago (forgive the limited blog formatting, please):

DARKNESS

When the darkness falls

The moon has gone

And the stars behind the clouds are hid,

The angel calls

My spirit on

And my anxious fears to death are bid

But will I stand

Against the tide?

Will courage fail me at the test?

Or fate demand

That flight will bide

And put my skittish soul to rest?

 

How can I know

If I’ll be strong

Before the day of judgement dawns.

Time will show

If I am wrong

To think I’m king among the pawns.

Through trying times

I’ll have to learn

To learn from every trial I face

And face my crimes,

Those crimes that churn

Within my darkest, hidden place.

 

The greatest voyage,

It is said,

Has to start with the first step.

But this wise adage

Has conveyed

A truth which in our minds has slept.

To beat the rise

Of evil

In everything I see

I must surprise

The Devil

By seeing the sin in me.

 

Shanky’s Hollow, Mourne Mountains

25/8/95

Whose voice are you listening to, Victoria? (An open letter to Victoria Osteen)

Dear Victoria,

Please accept this in the spirit of love and concern it was written, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There are reports that you are unrepentant over your original comments: “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy…”

The statement that you and your husband were standing by what you said came about two months ago, but I only just came across the news myself. The original comments had left me pondering just how to respond; I can know something is so wrong, but I feel that I am up against a mindset that is convinced it is hearing the voice of God telling them to pursue their own happiness and feel good about all that they do to achieve that. An easy response is to say “atheists often say that our desire to be charitable Christians and help others is not truly altruistic since it makes us feel happy and therefore it is inherently just us finding pleasure in giving, and you’ve just played into their hands” but we as a church should not be concerned with criticism from cynics like that.

No, I’ve come to realise that you actually may well be hearing a voice, and it speaks softly into your life that all you’re doing is just so right, but the question is: whose voice is it?

I shall presume you know of the account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness by Satan. Satan tried in three ways to tempt Jesus. Tempt him to do what? Obviously, he was attempting to get him to disobey the will of God and so sin against God. What were these sins he tempted him to do? Knowing Jesus was hungry, he said that Jesus should make the stones into bread, then that he should test God by trying to harm himself in order to avail of God’s protection, then he offered him power and dominion over other peoples on the Earth. Jesus rebuked him by simply answering from his knowledge of the scriptures each time.

Let me offer a paraphrase of what Satan said to him (since I believe the actual discourse was longer than we have recorded in Matthew): “God wouldn’t want you to suffer like other humans who have no faith in him! He won’t wish to see you go hungry, so he gave you the power to command stones into bread to feed yourself. Go ahead! It’s what he would want you to do. He’d also allow you to enter into many dangers but with a surety that he will protect you at all times. You’ll come to no harm. He’s almost wanting to be tested by you, just ask him for your heart’s desire while you pursue your dreams and he’ll do it, no quibble. And hey, what if you could have untold wealth and power? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? You could have so much influence in the world, do so much good for others, if only you’d take advantage of that power you have within you and inherit all he intends for you, right here and now.”

Now my knowledge of Jesus’ own words throughout his ministry were that he wished for us to take up our cross, deny ourselves, count our family and our lives as nothing in comparison to our devotion to him, love others for no other reason than he commanded us and for us to show him within us, that others would know we were his disciples. Satan’s words to Jesus sounded fine and dandy, but Jesus had a higher calling, a path to follow where he would be a servant and not think of his own happiness and comfort, and that he would beckon us all to follow his example.

So again, Victoria, in all honesty and by the love of Jesus, ask yourself whose voice you are hearing when you hear that you should pursue your own ends in this life and just be happy? Better still, read through the gospels and highlight all of Jesus’ commands. ALL of them, not just the tiny snippets that fit your worldview, since this is a travesty that all of us are unfortunately capable of doing. Weigh up all that he said to his disciples and then decide which way he would have us live. My genuine concern is that in saying you follow him, you actually may be blindly following a different path, while leading others who listen to you. Is it your way, my way, or someone else’s way? No, it should just be his way!

Lean not on your own understanding.

Grace be with you.