Tag Archives: Religion

Advent Thoughts ‘n’ Things

First of all, here, have some music:

This is “This Endris Night”, as performed by Vox Musica, the women’s voice choir to which Jennifer belongs. They always sound great.

One of the atheist billboards in Sacramento
One of the atheist billboards in Sacramento

Meanwhile, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has put up some billboards around the Sacramento area. I approve. Not because I am personally an atheist or agnostic, but because there are a lot of people out there who are, and they each deserve to know that they’re not the only ones out there, and that they have a right to dignity and respect as well. I have read that some people believe that these billboards are somehow discriminatory against Christians, but I find that idea ludicrous; Christians are NOT a persecuted minority in the United States of America, and anyone who tries to tell you that they are has bought into the Fox News victim mentality.

The shield of the Episcopal Church
The shield of the Episcopal Church

Me, I’m happy to call myself an Episcopalian — though, I suppose, to some people, the Episcopal Church barely counts as a Christian denomination. I believe in God, in the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ, and in the Resurrection. I was baptized in the Episcopal Church, and confirmed there as well. All the basic stuff. I believe that God’s commandments to human beings boil down to what Jesus called the two great commandments: Love God, and love each other. The rest, I think, is more or less fluff, and the more you get bogged down in the theology and strict Bible-ism, the more likely you are to let your own prejudices and hatreds interfere with the two great commandments.

Most importantly, I feel these two great commandments are essentially identical, if at least not very much alike. As Christ himself put it:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ((Matthew 22:37-40, NIV))

There you have it. In my mind, if you serve others you’re essentially serving God, no matter what your religious inclinations are. In further verses (particularly in the Sermon on the Mount), Christ teaches that our neighbors are not just the people who live next to us, but all humankind, as well, even our enemies.

So. Christmas. It’s upon us this very Wednesday. Right now we’re still in the season of Advent, the time of expectation and waiting for Christmas itself. I wish I had some Deep Meaningful Insights to share with you about the season, but I don’t. Just… as we finish running out the season, allow yourself to relax, be meditative, and so on. It’s hard to break out of the rushing and materialism that marks Christmas in our culture these days, but it’s important to do so.

Other than that, I got nothing.

In other news, I’ve revamped my blog. I’m not yet happy with the layout, navigation, appearance, or so on, but after using the same home-grown theme for years and years, I thought it was time for a change. Plus, the new layout is responsive, and looks good even on my cell phone. The wonders of living in the future!

‘Tis the season for (random) Holidailies

Guns, God, and beer

Here are some thoughts I’ve been having recently. They’re not necessarily coherent. They’ve just been on my mind.

Guns. In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, a lot of people have been considering their position on gun control (though Gawker reports that gun sales have reached unprecedented numbers, especially assault rifles, since the shooting, which makes no sense to me). While the gun control discussion will probably lead nowhere, one of the predictable cries is “GUN CONTROL! NO OMG THAT MEANS THEY’RE GOING TO TAKE OUR GUNS AWAY!” which is, of course, just BS. Gun control does not equate with taking away guns; it means massacre prevention.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the Second Amendment. I think it’s archaic and has long passed its usefulness (the ratio of innocents killed by guns to tyrants overthrown in the US is pretty high). When the Founders passed it, guns were unreliable, took ninety seconds to reload (if you were practiced at it), and were just as likely to blow up in your face as they were to fire accurately. The Founders did not anticipate the existence of assault weapons, nor that such weapons would be used to murder two dozen children. Then there’s that whole “well-regulated militia” thing; a lone gunman in a school or a shopping mall do not a well-regulated militia make, and neither does the NRA. Of course, the Second Amendment will never be repealed and the NRA will always be a potent political force, so the whole question is moot; but, in summary, I believe that gun ownership ought to be considered an earned privilege, like driving, rather than an inalienable right.

However, the biggest issue related to the Sandy Hook massacre is, of course, access to mental health care. It’s hard for poor people to get access to affordable mental health care in our country, of course. It just seems that it’s easier to get guns. I disapprove.

God. On Sunday I attended the Christmas Cantata performance at the Dixon United Methodist Church. The Cantata was entitled “A Night of Rejoicing”, and the title was appropriate. The music was joyful, full of good cheer, and really brought home the message that Christmas is a time of jubilation, and not materialistic commercialism. And this made me think: Christianity really ought to be a religion (and not a “philosophy”, as Bill O’Reilly put it; and in spite of my background in philosophy, I feel this statement really sucks the spirit out of the faith) of rejoicing and cheer, gladness in the presence of a God who came down to Earth to become one of us, just for awhile, and who weeps with us when tragedy strikes.

Unfortunately, it seems that Christianity, as it is most loudly practiced in the United States these days, is a game of “Us Vs. Them.” When faith goes from being an expression of one’s spirituality to a weapon to be used against people who disagree with you or live in ways or do things that you disapprove of, you end up diminishing your relationship with God, not enhancing it. As they say, God loves everyone, even those you don’t like. Remember Jonah, and how his story ended*; Jonah desperately wanted to see the people of Ninevah smited, but God ended up not doing so, much to Jonah’s irritation. I suspect that sort of thing goes on all the time.

One of the most odious things that came out of the Sandy Hook massacre was Mike Huckabee’s statement that it happened because we have kicked God out of the public schools. It’s certainly true that public schools are government institutions and therefore cannot favor one religious faith over another (to do so would be a violation of the First Amendment, which I am a big fan of); but individual students are perfectly free to pray or express their own faith in ways that don’t infringe on the rights of other students to do so. As others have said, as long as there are final exams, there will always be prayer in public schools.

I don’t know for sure what God’s up to, but if the Gospels are any hint, then a lot of people are going to be surprised — and possibly even disappointed or outraged — when they get to Heaven and see who else managed to make it.

I have a lot of thoughts about religion and faith, but this seems like enough for now. But given these thoughts, is it any wonder that I’m an Episcopalian?

Beer. Not much to say here. I brewed up my first batch in fifteen years on my anniversary, and it came out pretty good. I’m going to brew another batch, possibly a vanilla stout, on Christmas Day. And that’s it.

Conclusion. As the great ones said, “Be excellent to each other.” That’s all I have to say.


* Note: I’ve been pondering for some time writing a novel that would be a retelling of the Book of Jonah. I don’t know. I just think he’s the funniest of all the prophets.

Litany of Humility

I’ve never made a secret of my faith as a Christian. I found this prayer today at Street Prophets, and it addresses some issues I’ve been having of late.

Feel free to ignore; it’s just important for me to keep it in mind, which is why it’s here.

Continue reading Litany of Humility

Why I am (apparently) not a Christian

In 2004, I had the following conversation in the parking lot of a Safeway supermarket.

WOMAN: Jesus loves you, you know.

ME: That’s great. I love Jesus too.

WOMAN (pointing to my car’s bumper sticker): Then how could you be voting for John Kerry?

At the time, I wanted to reply with something like, “Because Jesus isn’t on the ballot,” but I’d already seen this type of person — the kind who equates voting Democratic with being anti-Christian — in the wild, and I knew that engaging would have been a mistake.

That wasn’t the first time that I have found my faith being called into question by people with similar inclinations. It’s come in various forms over the years:

“You have gay friends? But you’re a Christian!”

“You believe in evolution? But you’re a Christian!”

“You’re voting for John Kerry? But you’re a Christian!”

“You’re taking a philosophy class? But you’re a Christian!”

“You’re reading a Harry Potter book? But you’re a Christian!”

“You play role-playing games? But you’re a Christian!”

And, of course, my favorite of all time (from my college days):

“You go to an Episcopalian church? But you’re a Christian!”

Sigh.

Normally I don’t feel the need to rant on about this topic. In 2004, I found that conversation with the woman in the Safeway parking lot a source of amusement and pointed to it as an example of everything that I thought was wrong with politics in the 21st century. It was annoying, but also kind of funny.

What really brought my annoyance to a boiling point though was a sign I saw outside of Dixon, California last night. It read, “Prop 8 = Religious Freedom”. This has demonstrated, to me, the very sad marriage of “Christ-speak” and Orwellian linguistics that passes for popular religious discourse in America these days. “Removing the right of gays to marry is a victory for religious freedom” doesn’t make sense, unless you accept a really unusual definition of religious freedom which doesn’t apply to people who, for religious reasons, believe that gay marriage can be sanctioned by god. I really want to track down the people who made this sign and hung it up and ask them what in the world they really mean by it, and perhaps even demonstrate to them that they’ve hung up a sign which is essentially linguistic nonsense.

It wouldn’t do any good, though. If, to them, religious freedom means removing rights from others, then they’ve already bought into a slew of accompanying myths. The myth of the persecuted Christian, for example, or the myth of America as a country founded upon Christian principles, or the myth of the literal interpretation of the Bible (a myth I particularly love, especially when you start getting into the various literal interpretations of the Bible which all contradict one another). It’s a very complicated structure of mythology which rests, ultimately, on a foundation which is essentially a need to control in order to remove fear.

As a Christian who believes that same sex marriage should be legal and doesn’t pose any sort of threat whatsoever to traditional marriage (however you choose to interpret that loaded phrase), I find this sort of thing reprehensible. I’ve already made my political reasons for voting No on 8 plain (because in a democracy, you don’t get to vote on who gets what rights), but my spiritual and religious beliefs also tell me that voting no on 8 is a bad idea. Even if I believed that homosexuality was a sin, a lifestyle choice rather than a biological attunement set before birth, it wouldn’t be upon my shoulders to judge the people who are gay. I’m not qualified to make that judgement. Neither is anyone else. The Bible tells me that I am not God, much as I want to be, and that trying to be God or even to try to be like God is a sin, and that my call as a Christian is to accept and love others as they are (I have much more to say about this, a topic I’ve given a lot of thought to, but I won’t go into it here).

The point is, I don’t buy into the overarching myth of the persecuted Christian, or the myth of America as a Christian nation. I don’t buy into any of it. God can take care of Himself. What we are called to do as Christians is to demonstrate God’s love for us in our love to our neighbors, which usually means service to others. But not buying into these myths allows me to free up my mind, to vote for Barack Obama or vote no on Proposition 8, or accept that God has chosen a process (evolution through natural selection) that looks random to our human intellect to grow our universe.

I’d go on, but sadly I fear I’m falling into incoherence. Suffice to say that despite my refusal to buy into any interpretation of Christianity which calls me to act based on irrational fears of the unknown or a fear of losing control over anything, I may simply not be a Christian at all.