Monday, April 23, 2007

In the beginning...

I have been busy working on my book proposal, the book formerly known as "The Fish Wars: How Evolution and Christianity Can Make Peace" which I'm renaming "Losing My Religion: A Christian Gets Fed Up..." I need to come up with the second half of that sentence or just leave it as is. I am taking a much more first-person approach and will talk about how the anti-science fervor, the literalism and fundamentalism and Christian right mixing politics with religion is not just about as opposite as you can get from what Jesus was all about, it's causing a lot of people to laugh at and walk away from Christianity.

My book will also talk about how many people in the church were not there for me during and after my divorce while all my non-Christian friends were. What does this say about the faith? Or about theirs anyway? I have met person after person who have said the same thing, so this is not just a local phenomenon affecting me. I am not embarrased in any way to be a Christian. I love the Bible, I love Jesus, and I think it's a beautiful empowering faith. But I am increasingly embarrassed by the Christians... the judgmentalism and narrow-minded pursuit of a political agenda, making creationism, abortion, gay marriage the main topics in their repertoire. What about poverty? What about being there for people in your life, and not running away or judging people who are not perfect? What about forgiveness?

There are certainly many wonderful things Christians have done in the world and continue to do. But in America, where I'm from and what I know, it's a mixed bag. All I know is that many intelligent and compassionate people would not think of becoming a Christian because of it's rejection of science. It's actually quite harmful to our society, and quite scary how sheep-like people can be. People often blindly follow and don't think critically about their beliefs. I like to say, Jesus didn't call people sheep for no reason! :)

8 comments:

David said...

Let me be the first to comment!! This is a great idea. I'm looking forward to reading what you have to say.

Anonymous said...

Wendee,
Just read your blog. I particularly liked the part about your non-Christian friends being more supportive of you during your divorce than were your Christian friends. Interesting but what to make of that?

I have two sons who became born-again fundamentalists (they were raised without religion) and have already condemned me to burn in hell since I'm not a Christian and don’t subscribe to their church or beliefs. Seems to me their church is only good in passing judgment and dividing families from one another.

Would Jesus condone being judgmental and dividing familes? I'd have to think that would be contrary to his teachings.

theodicy said...

You might need to create another blog: "Losing My Religion!" No doubt that most for what passes as Christianity in America is a club for those who need to feel self-righteous. Some of this can be blamed on the Protestant tendency to preach Paul rather than Jesus, and some of it is just proof of the evil that lurks in every human heart, even those who are Christian. But there are a few good Christians out there! If they're weren't, I would have abandoned the faith long ago.

This new blog is an excellent idea, and one I'm sure to visit frequently. Keep up the good work!

<>< TM

Melody S. said...

So true, Wendee! You hit the nail right on the head about the judgmental sheep who've completely forgotten Christ's commandment that we love one another as He loves us.

Several years ago, my aunt (who was raised Catholic) became a "born again" member of what the rest of the family dubbed "The Church of What's Happenin' Now." She became convinced Catholics are all idol worshipping freaks who should roast in hell. She would leave pamphlets in our homes when she'd visit, in an attempt to save us.

Well, unfortunately her husband proved to be insane & abusive. Thank God she divorced him. And guess who was there to support & encourage her through it all??? You got it - the so-called idol worshipping freaks! All her new, allegedly Christian friends condemned & abandoned her. Very Christ-like, huh?

I enjoy your posts & the opportunity to hear from other Christians who aren't afraid to think, debate & complain about these things. Thanks, Wendee!

Wendee Holtcamp said...

To Theodicy - this blog will cover all the issues of "Losing My Religion" - the working title of my book (that blog title was taken!). It's all about bringing people in and outside of Christianity back to LOVE, TRUTH, WISDOM, GRACE which is what it's all about... sorting out the wheat from the chaff. So anyone is welcome to post any comments and I'll try to respond in Comments or in the blog itself.

Wwhat do you mean by preaching Paul instead of Jesus? I myself am a big fan of Paul's writings...and do believe that the New Testament is all God-inspired, though I also have some issue with the one thing he said about women not speaking in the church. However, Paul himself stated in at least one place that some of his teachings/commands came from God and some from himself, so I'm inclined to think that some of what was said related to the culture in which he lived.

theodicy said...

Wendee,

I just found out that the blog post that you responded to on Gary Presley's blog was entitled "Losing My Religion!" Too funny! Makes me want to listen to my old R.E.M CD's...

Anyway, for the record, I consider myself a trans-denominational Christian; I don't even like using the Protestant/Catholic labels to define myself, because I like and appreciate both Catholics and Protestants, though I'm technically Protestant, in that I attend a church that's not Catholic...

The 'preaching Paul instead of Jesus' comment has to do with something that I've observed during my twenty years in the conservative, evangelical stream of Christianity. It is a topic I can talk about at great length, but I'll do my best to sum it up as accurately as possible.

The essence of the theological foundation of the Protestant reformation can be found in a short passage from the book of Ephesians:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph 2:8-9. NIV)

Grace through faith, not by works. In Evangelical Protestant Christianity, "works" is often taught and preached as being any moral action that one would perform in order to earn the right to be saved. Hence, right moral action is not necessary for salvation, just FAITH ALONE is necesary and sufficient.

This one main point is then taken from Paul's epistles (he makes the same point in Galatians and Romans as well) and used as a filter for understanding the entire rest of the Bible, as well as salvation itself.

But the problem is this: faith is essential for becoming and growing in the Christian faith, but it is only one aspect of Christianity, though an important one.

Paul has to re-iterate the "faith, not works" point often, because a group of Jewish Christians were teaching the Greeks that circumcision was necessary for salvation, along with faith. So Paul spent a lot of time and energy explaining to the Greeks that circumcision, along with following Jewish laws and religious customs, had absolutely no bearing on a person's salvation. Christ's death on the cross ended that system, and now the gift of the Holy Spirit has literally replaced the old Jewish laws and regulations.

In other words, Paul is talking a lot about theology in his letters, and with perhaps the possible exception of the letters to the Corinthians, doesn't really spend much time talking about the practical matters of living a Christian life.

On the other hand, Jesus is constantly talking and preaching about the practical aspects of what it means to live a life devoted to God, and rarely talks about theology, with the exception of the Gospel of John, which is the most theologically orientated of the four gospels by far. But even in John, Jesus never talks theology to the exclusion of the need to live an upright life.

Nor does Paul really, but Paul's exhortations to live a worthy life often get overshadowed by the doctrine of salvation by faith ALONE.

The only problem is that neither Paul nor Jesus ever really teaches salvation by faith ALONE. When looking at their teachings in context, they speak about faith as a necessary first step in the Christian life, but as James explains so well in his epistle, faith must eventually result in action.

What I have seen and heard in an environment where the greatest emphasis is placed on salvation by faith alone (Paul) is a group of Christians who are primarily concerned about their OWN salvation, and who believe falsely in a pre-tribulation "rapture" that will remove them from earth before things on this planet really go to hell.

Hence, you have Christians who get wrapped up in their own "righteousness" and are unwilling and unable to help others who are struggling, even those in their own church. Its almost as if they fear they will catch whatever it is you have, and so they shun you.

But this stands in stark contrast to the message and ethic of Jesus, who was constantly at work amongst those who were shunned or who were caught in indiscretions!

Jesus teaches that faith is important, and that for it to be genuine, it must result in a person's commitment to help others, no matter who they are or what their status is.

To put it simply: Jesus teaches (through the Gospels) the ethics of Christianity, and Paul teaches the theology. Of course their teachings do overlap, and Paul is certainly interested in how Christians behave, and Jesus is certainly interested in what Christians believe, but in general, the emphasis of the writings is quite different.

Let me just add that a Christian is not interested in living a moral life to "earn" salvation, but rather living a moral life is the outward proof of salvation. Salvation is a gift, how we live our lives after receiving this gift is proof of our value of it.

Hence, while I myself am a big fan of Paul's writings, I believe his writings must be understood in the context of the Christian ethics and theology as taught by Jesus, rather than using Paul's theology to make sense of Jesus' teachings.

To be honest, I'm not completely satisfied with the answer I'm giving you, as it doesn't include some more concrete examples from scripture and from life in general. But I hope that this partial explanation at least helps you to understand where I'm coming from.

Christian are not Christians just because of what they believe, but how they act, which Jesus spends a lot of time talking about, as well as illustrating with his own life.

...also...you are quite correct to point out that Paul (and other NT writers) must be understood in terms of their cultural context. As for Paul's teachings against women, which occur in 1st & 2nd Timothy, there is good reason to believe that Paul DIDN'T write those instructions, but that they came from a later Christian writer who used Paul's name as a pseudonym much like I use Thomas Merton. From what I understand, very few NT scholars believe that Timothy was written by the same guy who wrote Galatians and Romans.

My own personal opinion is that 1st & 2nd Timothy was written by someone other than Paul.

<>< TM

Anonymous said...

Wendee,

I know (or at least hope)that you are waxing sarcastic in your aside about Jesus calling people 'sheep' for good reason, but you know what the real reason is: encouraging people to accept Jesus as the shepard of our souls.

I say this to connect the dichotomy of the lack of acceptance and support from your fellow Christians through your divorce; these "believers" apparently have not absorbed the strong Christian principle of pastoral care of others, thus they are not picking up on the Good Shepard ministry of Christ.

Try reading Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the sheep and the goats. Sounds like you were exposed to a lot of goats in their distance and avoidance.

'...Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these of my brethren...you have done it to me..."

Sorry for the hurt that must involve...

Dad

Wendee Holtcamp said...

I do believe the fact that Jesus refers to people as sheep has multiple meanings, just as many parts of Scripture have richer meaning than just the literal surface one. Of course it relates to the pastoral nature of Jesus' leadership, but I believe it also reflects on human nature as people often follow blindly along in a flock, not really realizing where they're headed. We have to be careful not end up following "wolves in sheep's clothing" -so-called Christian leaders who are simply leading followers away from what Christ truly taught. This is clearly evident by cults, KKK, and other hate-filled or violent groups that use Christianity as a guise to do their work, but is more subtly evident in other churches -- mixing politics with religion, TV evangelists who convince poor members to give and give and give while they live in mansions... etc. There are reasons for tithing, of course, but Scripture can be taken out of context and manipulated and warped. People need the comfort of companionship and conformity so much that we often believe whatever is the common belief at the time, or what our church and political leaders tell us, without taking the hard work to challenge one's own belief systems.

I think that's why Jesus spoke in parables so much, and shook up the beliefs of his followers. Eat his flesh? Drink his blood? He lost a lot of followers after that big speech... ("On hearing it, many of his disciples said 'This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?'... From this time may of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." John 6:60,66)