Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sympathy for the Reverend

A few years back, my wife and I, and one of our closest friends, undertook an adventure which wound up becoming one of the seminal events in each of our lives: we went on a three-week, cross-country road trip. We started in Miami, drove all the way out to Los Angeles, then back. During our journey, we stopped in several major cities -- New Orleans, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Vegas -- but also in the tiniest of tiny towns. It was during the time spent taking-in the smaller blips on the map that most of our fondest memories were created. From an unforgettable conversation with a teenage check-out girl in Erick, Oklahoma -- one that involved my inability to understand the concept of grasshoppers stuck in the grill of our SUV, to stumbling upon an impromptu dance by a group of Native American children in Holbrook, Arizona, to the purchase of a souvenir coconut head in Ocala, Florida, to a drunken 4th-of-July celebration in Odessa, Texas -- the entire experience opened my eyes to the astonishing beauty of my homeland. It's something I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.

We saw so many strikingly different kinds of terrain -- met so many wonderfully different kinds of people.

As we pushed inward from the coast, into the heartland of America, we did however notice one particular image which seemed to assert itself inescapably everywhere we traveled (aside from Elvis, whose face -- thin or bloated -- adorns every kind of memoribilia imaginable from sea to shining sea).

That image, is the cross.

You don't fully comprehend or appreciate America's unquestioning adoption of the Christian faith until you realize that a whole lot of people obviously believe there is no landscape so pristine or flawless in its own right as to avoid being improved upon by the insinuation of the ancient torture device on which Jesus was supposedly executed. Whether on a major highway or a lone, isolated road, crosses can be seen everywhere -- in all variations of shape and size. They are made of wood and stabbed into otherwise empty fields; they adorn the tops of steeples which dot the topography; and in the otherwise unremarkable roadside town of Britten, Texas -- they are made of corrugated steel, and literally pierce the sky at a height of 190 feet.

Needless to say, we had to stop.

My friend would later perfectly articulate the overwhelming sense that each of us had while standing in the shadow of a cross the size of a building. "The effect is fearsome and oppressive, a symbol not of love and acceptance and forgiveness, but of domination. Looking up at it, you expect to see a zeppelin moored to its top, illuminated by giant search lights," he'd write. My mind, on the other hand, couldn't shake a much more succinct term for what we were witnessing in the middle of the expansive Texas plains: Industrialized Jesus. We'd witnessed hundreds of franchises of Christianity throughout our journey, and would no doubt witness many more still; this one just happened to be the biggest -- the Jesus Christ Super-Center.

After the requisite time necessary to fully document the giant cross on film -- on the chance that someone back home might not believe the existence of such an object -- we pressed on, continuing our southwestern route through the United States. This course, took us nowhere near Colorado Springs, Colorado -- a place which might have been a required destination should we for any reason have desired to see the true fulmination of the Industrialized Jesus concept. It's there that we would have found the New Life Church, a mammoth structure dubbed, with all possible lack-of-subtlety, a "Mega-Church." It seats thousands and could be mistaken for a shopping mall were it not for that ubiquitous cross making it perfectly clear that what's being sold inside is salvation. Up until yesterday, it was also the religious seat of arguably the single most powerful Evangelical Christian in the country: Reverend Ted Haggard.

Haggard is a man who has spent the past thirty-four years of his life preaching the gospel of Jesus, and the unerrant truth of every aspect of the Bible. Recently, he was the leader of the 30-million-strong National Evangelical Association, and a personal friend and advisor to President Bush -- even participating in weekly conference calls with the White House. He's also been, for some time now, a staunch opponent of gay-marriage, and has worked tirelessly to support ballot amendments which would ban it in eight states this election day.

And that's exactly why, last Thursday, an openly-gay male escort publicly destroyed Reverend Ted Haggard.

What 49-year-old Mike Jones did, was the figurative equivalent of an assassination: he calculated his actions perfectly and timed his shot to inflict maximum damage not simply to Haggard, but to his cause. He claimed to have proof of a three-year affair with the reverend that included not just sex, but regular use of methamphetamines. Before those who would certainly jump to the defense of Haggard could even get their talking points in order -- before the Rush Limbaughs of the world could power up a mic to cry election-year foul -- Jones disarmed them by admitting that political consideration was indeed integral to the timing of his attack; he wanted to expose the hypocrisy of Haggard and the demagogues on the right and specifically chose the moment that would hurt and disillusion them the most. The truth was -- and is -- simply staggering: the leader of America's Evangelical Christians, exposed as a gay drug-user.

Haggard initially denied the accusations -- insisting that he hired Jones for a massage but never had sex with him, and that he bought meth from him but threw it away; although not quite as catchy, both retorts seem destined to become the new "I didn't inhale." Since then however, Haggard has admitted to having a "lifelong sexual problem" -- telling his followers in a letter that he's a "deceiver and a liar," "sexually immoral," and that there is a part of his life which he calls "repulsive and dark."

That sound you hear right now is a whole lot of people gloating with satisfaction.

While the level of hypocrisy and arrogance involved in Haggard's private life versus his self-righteous public crusading is indeed sickening and indefensible -- and there is certainly plenty of legitimate nose-rubbing to be done to Haggard's many intolerant minions -- for some reason, after a reflexive moment of giddy Schadenfreude, the news of this man's downfall and his own reaction to it began to stir a different emotion in me entirely.


Ted Haggard has spent most if not all of his existence living a lie, and he's done so for only one reason: because his unwavering belief in the literal teachings of a 2000-year-old book has taught him that he must. There's a distinct possibility that the reason Haggard found Christ to begin with was because he sincerely hoped that through him, all things were indeed possible -- the suppression of his true feelings and urges being the most pertintent of those things. There are thousands if not millions of Christians out there who hope for the same transformative power of religion. The enrollment in schools which the church claims can "straighten-out" homosexuals is proof of that hope; the success-rate of those schools is proof of its futility.

Many claim that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, does more good than harm; it gives meaning to life and provides its believers a moral compass with which to navigate the world.


Ted Haggard is married, and has five children -- all of whom don't need to concern themselves with angry threats of an impending hell, because they're going through it right now. The person they love and admire the most has devastated them, simply because he could never admit who or what he truly was and is -- because Ted Haggard the fire-and-brimstone preacher has always believed that the true nature of Ted Haggard the man is "immoral, repulsive and dark," when in fact, it is nothing of the kind; it's only the dishonesty that's immoral. A man's relentless submission to superstition has destroyed himself, the family he loves, and more than likely a small part of those who have respected him and held him up as an example.

The biggest tragedy however, might be that Ted Haggard has wasted the one life he was given.

He's done it by lying to himself, and by trying to convince others that they should do likewise.

For that I blame not the believer, but the belief -- the same belief that would lead someone to plant a giant metal cross in the middle of a place that was so beautiful just the way it was.


Prophet of Ra said...

In my opinion, this is by far your best post to date.

Raoul said...

I'm from Okahumpka, paleface!

Stevie said...

Excellent news for the active Atheists among us. I have no shame whatever in seeing one of the God-squad fall from grace and enjoying it hugely. The only people this news hurts are the gay community. The last thing they need is such a pathetic creature being associated with them in any way.

PhillyWenD said...

OK- his is long, but you made me think, so I'll go with it...First of all, way to use the word "Schadenfreude." No word could better describe the guilty pleasure I initially took in this man's downfall. (I feel a little bad after reading your blog though.)
Second, since I've turned my back on organized religion, my biggest criticism is the apparent need of the majority of people to find a "cure-all" faith where every answer to all things that plague the world is absolute. I have a really hard time understanding how the "Jesus loves me" peoples' tag goes hand-in-hand with extreme judgement of those who are "different" to the point that they can't even get into Evangelical heaven (thank you very much Barbara Walters). What's even worse is that these so-called progressive protestants are so obviously politically manipulated that Pope Innocent III would be proud. It's maddening to see a world ruled by manipulated masses.
Finally, you should ask Jayne's family if they've seen the behemoth cross put up in Douglassville since she's left town on the east-bound side of 422. I like to think of a pair of massive hands dropping it down from the sky across from Wawa placing it down with a thud for all to see. All who stop by for a hoagie across the street will hear a thunderous "WORSHIP ME" uttered in their heads before they leave the parking lot, and may even vote straight republican just for good measure.

Anonymous said...

that was incredibly well spoke.

Anonymous said...

"Ted Haggard has spent most if not all of his existence living a lie, and he's done so for only one reason: because his unwavering belief in the literal teachings of a 2000-year-old book has has taught him that he must."

Never in the Bible does it teach us to lie. This man lied to himself because he thought he could deal with his issues privately when a true Christian would have taken the appropriate actions, even if that meant to publicly admit to his own homosexuality. The Bible does not teach us to hide what we are, but always to admit our problems so that we might ultimately better ourselves.

Yes. This man was a hypocrite. He believed homosexuality was bad but could not deny his own desires. Had he been following the Word of God he would not have hidden it away, but asked for help.

I pray only that people would be more understanding. That both Atheists and religious alike would be less hateful. The Christians gain nothing by hating the homosexuals and the atheists gloating on this matter only further encourages hate from both sides.

Chez said...

Fine points all, and very well-articulated. I have to ask though: given the brand of Christianity that Haggard himself was endorsing, exactly what sort of help do you expect he'd get from his peers, were he to have asked for it? Tragically, more funadamentalists than not seem to believe that homosexuality is a disease of the soul which can be "cured" through prayer. This is absolute nonsense.

I also agree with your hope that a certain level of respect and understanding can be reached between the two sides of the fence when it comes to this issue.

I happen to think that the gloating coming from the left on this one is nothing more than an understandable reaction to the feeling of being trampled underfoot by fundamentalists for the past several years. If neither side had such a heavy upper hand, there might never be a reason for such a violent backlash.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about this in the days and months to come. I have strong opinions on the subject and it always seems to provoke a healthy discussion.

Eric said...

I honestly can't feel sad for this man. I feel sad for his friends, his family most of all, and his church for following him down the road of lies and "biblical truths" that serve no purpose but to deny who we are and confuse people with ideas of what morality is and should be.

Chez said...

And that is exactly what I'm saying.

JBS said...

I believe in christ, but I detest the evangelical/fundamentalist mindset. I cringe at the word christian these days to be honest. I feel that those that attempt to force their beliefs down everyone else's throat and redefine a religious belief as science can not possibly be in the same category as me (and they wouldn't want to be anyway, lol).
On one hand, I feel sorry for this man's family and for all of the people that will feel pain and suffer because of his lies. I think it's terrible that a fanatical mindset has that much of a hold on our culture that people feel the need to lie about who they are.
I feel bad that he would have enough self-hatred to be so hateful about gays; I think he most likely blamed his orientation on satan or the so-called attack of satan on our culture. I think it is terrible that any religion uses a couple of verses from an ancient book (taken completely literally with no regard for historical context, culture of writers, or its original language) to attempt to force people to change something about themselves they can not change because it makes them uncomfortable.
So I almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
Then I think about how this man took his own guilt and self-hatred and tried to hurt other people with it. He's done his best to make it hard for the people who are open and honest about their sexuality while he lied about his. I feel there was more to it than his religion or his beliefs. I think he hated himself and most likely was either jealous of or disgusted by other gay people that refused to be fettered and allow guilt to keep them in hiding. I guess what I am saying is that I could feel more sympathy for this man if he hadn't gotten involved with politics. I believe in Jesus but you don't see me going around trying to tell everyone else what to do. I'm not trying to force our government to become a theocracy, and I don't try to make life miserable for people that committ sins that I hate myself for. It's one thing to hate yourself and suffer guilt for something you can't help, it's another to work actively against other people like you that don't.
You can't just blame his religion; I grew up in a VERY conservative fundamentalist church and have managed to become an adult that has both religious beliefs and the ability to use my brain (in spite of all the attempts of said church to prevent this).
So in the end I must confess I really don't feel much sympathy for him. He made the choice to continue to have those beliefs, and he made the choice to become political. I feel bad for his wife and children though.

Crummy S. Esq. said...

This always seems to happen, not just to religious people, but to anyone who takes something that they feel is "dark" or "evil" and try to suppress it, instead of acknowledging and coming to terms with it. The drugs aren’t so much an attempt to help him forget his sin, but instead a kind of self medication, an effort to replace the constant sense of well-being that comes with following the dogma of a religion. It’s not his fault that from the day he was born, everyone in his social circle hated who he really is. All these people who followed him all these years never really loved him, they only loved the rules they thought he lived by.

Anonymous said... wrote "Never in the Bible does it teach us to lie. This man lied to himself because he thought he could deal with his issues privately when a true Christian would have taken the appropriate actions, even if that meant to publicly admit to his own homosexuality."

Why is it that most people with power in the church (Read - the ones believed to be true Christians) have to be caught in a scandal of Homosexuality or Pedophilia before they 'admit' their problems? There are a few of those in power who openly admit their homosexuality and are ostracized or kept at 'arms length' because of it. That sounds like an entire system preaching a lie to me...Maybe the Bible doesn't say to lie but the Powers within Christianity do.

VOTAR said...

crummy (et al):

The drugs -- in this case meth -- might not necessarily rise to the level of "self-medication" in the context of Mr. Haggard's predicament. Meth, to oversimplify, just feels good.


Not to glorify its use by any stretch of logic, but it's easy for me to forgive that relatively minor detail of this event. We inhabit bodies that are specifically designed to experience the world around us. We react to visual images of beauty and violence, we record and conjure memories by way of various smells and sounds and tastes, etc. And, we have body parts that are meant, by nature, to feel good when they are touched.

Now, Mr. Haggard apparently has a predilection to have said parts touched by another male of the species. So be it. Somewhere along the way, he was also introduced to a chemical substance that enhanced that experience. Again, so be it.

(Anyone who thinks I might be lauding Haggard's use of meth had better never drink a soda, or a cup of coffee, or eat a candy bar or a turkey sandwich, or take an aspirin, ever again. Mind-altering substances, all of them, by definition.)

Up to this point, I have no argument with the man. Hell, here in Miami, you can't walk down the street without tripping over a gay guy on drugs. So what? Maybe I'm more of a hedonist than I previously thought, but I find it easy to forgive people for simply wanting to do what feels good and natural to them, and I find that so long as it does not interfere in my life, I don't give a damn what they are doing.

The alien element here, once again, is religion. Where it all breaks down, is in the introduction of a system of beliefs designed specifically to deny the average human being the very basic behavioral experiences we were born to enjoy. Haggard's "sins and evil deeds" get labeled as such, by and because of, the arbitrary system of rules, restrictions, and "commandments" we've inherited from a rather small and otherwise historically insignificant tribe of our ignorant ancestors.

Where it stops being about a personal and private hypocrisy, as you nailed it exactly Chez, is where religion treats sexuality in general -- and homosexuality particularly -- as a disease requiring cleansing. So it is here we find this guy, indoctrinated to believe -- and to FORCE others to believe -- the exact opposite of his own true nature. Thus in some small way, I can see Haggard in the context of Nazi war criminals, attempting to justify the suffering they unleashed by declaring that "they were just following orders."

Equally unforgivable. If for no other reason than if they succeed in curing all the homosexuals, it'll be harder to buy the really good drugs.

Peter L. Winkler said...

This post is superb thinking, one for the ages.

I admire you for going beyond a reflexive reaction to find empathy for the individual and cutting to the core issue: how damaging a blind adherence to faith can be.

Anonymous said...

Robo - Certainly the "Powers within" have established a reputation of doing exactly what the Bible teaches us not to do, which is to outcast those who admit their follies publicly. Again, a true Christian would greet the homosexual/drug user/pedophiliac/fill-in-the-blank with open arms and with understanding.

If that person had been a pastor or an authority of some sort before, I think it is understandable that such a person would not continue in that position for the time being. The church certainly cannot endorse such behavior as they believe it to be a sin, but that person should still be accepted in the church and should feel able to do so. That is the ideal, true church.

In real life, we have people with pride, like this Reverend. He was too proud to admit to his homosexuality. He was too afraid of losing his position in the church. He was too deep in lust to stop his homosexual affair. Ultimately, he was not living a true Christian life and in that I feel sorry for him. Had he admitted his true feelings he might not have been the most influential reverend in the nation, but he would have avoided this ridiculous downfall and all of the pain and suffering it is going to cause. And he would have dealt with his issues and a different, hopefully a true, honest, humble Christian would have taken his place as Reverend of that church.

The one thing I am grateful for, out of all of this, is that this man, although not of his own will, has admitted what he has rejected for so long and he has a great opportunity to come to terms with it: to accept his homosexuality or to humbly ask for help from his peers. The truth will set you free.

But also, on a side note, I do believe that religion as an institution has a huge potential for corruption. The structure of religion can become so systematic; so impersonal. Christianity is meant to be a personal religion, where you read the bible, you ask questions, you find answers. Not where you go to church, blindly accept what you are told from the pastor, and force what you got from church down everyone else's throat. Learn for yourself. Read the bible. Find someone who knows what they're talking about and ask them why they believe what they believe. Find out why it is that there is a whole religion based on the life and teachings of a single man, born 2000 years ago.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at But know that I am still a baby in Christianity so I don't have all the answers. I also suggest a friend of mine. The Rain City Pastor - He is humble and wise and understanding. There is no hate in this man.

Chez said...

The question of course is, could you lead a good and just life -- one in which you sought and found answers to some of life's larger questions -- without having to depend on superstition?

If you claim that Christianity has an intrinsic value simply because you find it to give your life meaning and it comforts you, that's fine -- but I've said this before and it bears repeating: it in no way makes your belief real. Children believe in Santa Claus for roughly the same reason, and that remains nothing more than a fairy tale.

I happen to subscribe the Sam Harris's assertion that although all people are deserving of respect, a belief which is completely irrational in no way deserves consideration. If someone came to me and said that they doubted this thing called gravity, I'd think they were crazy -- not coddle them and respect what was obviously nonsense.

Just because thousands of people believe something, doesn't mean they're right. Stephen Colbert brilliantly called it "Wikiality," the idea that something is correct just because enough people say it is. Christianity -- like all faith-based religions -- is nothing more than a fallacy that's been afforded credibility simply because enough people believe it.

Anonymous said...

I highly suggest Lee Strobel's book "The Case for Christ". It shows how very true the existence of Christ really is. Believe what you want, but Christ existed and he said these things.

Certainly many people have gotten Christianity wrong, and stand as terrible examples to the world, leading people to believe that all Christians are corrupt hate-mongerers. But this is not what Jesus taught. This is what selfish, prideful, hateful people have created despite the teachings of Jesus. Obviously you see Christianity as a superstition and you've had some bad experiences with some bad Christians and it is understandable that you would hold some reservations against Christianity as a whole. But I haven't yet seen any evidence from you that would support your idea that Christianity is complete nonsense. You've definitely brought forth an example of how people of this faith can do wrong; of how not everyone is impenetrable to lust or desire. But you have not given evidence against the faith of Christianity except to say that you believe it is a childish superstition. What is it that led you to believe this?

Also, I would agree that religion isn't the only path toward being a good person. There are millions of great people out there who are not religious. There are just as many "believers" who are simply bad people. Both sides have their goods and their bads. The issue isn't whether Christians can be idiots, because they most definitely can, but whether Christ taught the truth. I believe that he did.

I do believe I will check out Sam Harris' book so that I can see both sides of the story. I suggest you do the same.

Anonymous said...

In your last post you said,
"Just because thousands of people believe something, doesn't mean they're right." But that goes for the "thousands of people" who DON'T belive in Christianity, as well.

You love to compare Christ with Santa Claus, which in my opinion shows how much you'd probably like to be wrong in what you believe, or beliefs you've adopted from Sam Harris' "Bible." For most, Santa Claus brings belief, anticipation, happiness and more importantly--hope-- whether it's true or not.

I don't care what belief or religion affiliaton a person has, but when some tragic situtation takes place, whether it's the death of a loved one, 9-11, cancer, feelings of lonliness and depression, etc. -- it's interesting how quickly one is to want to belief those that already do. Hope in a higher being and the want to know ones purpose on this earth is given to all of us, religious or not.

VOTAR said...

"But I haven't yet seen any evidence from you that would support your idea that Christianity is complete nonsense."


Wow. Where to start with that. Pardon me if I step on your moment a bit, Chez.

Here's an exercise we can all do. Take every sentence of Anonymous's last two posts, and for every instance of Christ or Jesus, substitute the word ZEUS.


All yours, my friend.

Chez said...

I don't claim to have all the answers, and I discount nothing. The reason is because I'm human -- and it's that very reason that whenever any other human tells me that he or she knows the path to heaven, I tend to think that they're -- pardon the term -- full of shit.

As for the "thousands" of those not subscribing to religion running the same possibility of being wrong -- that's way off the rails. It's quite a bit like saying, "I don't believe the city of New York is in the state of New York; I think it's in the Ukraine." The true location of the city isn't up for debate. Some things are true, simply because they stand up to the same evidentiary standards we apply to everything else in the known universe. There is only one thing which millions upon millions give a pass to and require zero evidence to believe -- and that's God.

Now then, did Christ exist? I can't know for sure -- but I know that it's possible, and that he was a great, great man. There's a difference between a belief in Christ and Christianity. Christians accept Jesus's divinity. I don't; I simply think he was probably a great man and role model in many ways.

I'm happy to read any literature which contradicts my opinion on any subject; my typical attitude when choosing polemicist reading material is "tell me something I don't know." But keep in mind that I actually have read the Bible cover to cover. I'm very familiar with the book which lies at the foundation of the Christian faith -- what all arguments must come back to -- and I haven't exactly been swayed.

Incidentally, for the record, please understand that I'm not arrogantly sitting on high, angrily spitting out invective at everyone's faith. I would love to believe that there's a God who is patiently waiting to take me into a wonderful afterlife (well...); it would certainly be better than the alternative of fading into nothing at the very end. I would be stupid not to say that that dream isn't an enticing one. Unfortunately, it simply sounds preposterous.

That said, Richard Dawkins (the man the righteous love to hate right now) -- in this week's Time magazine -- said something I've always, ALWAYS believed.

Paraphrasing -- he said that if there is indeed something beyond our own consciousness (which I absolutely believe there could be), it is something so vast and so powerful that our minds can't even begin to comprehend it. To believe that it specifically adheres to any one of our 2000-year-old holy books is laughably provincial.

VOTAR said...

I may have to make another attempt at my own blog again, just to debate religion; this is sometimes too much fun for words...and this is afterall, your blog Chez and not mine. My apologies.

To be as accurate as any of us can logically be, perhaps the best way to frame the position is: Was there a man named Yeshua ben Yusef, a jewish carpenter who lived in Palestine? (Yes, I happen to gots a little book learnin' too). There probably was. Did he travel around teaching people? Perhaps. Is it a historical fact that the occupational government of that Roman province executed him, at the insistence of the Sanhedrin, for political insurrection? Could very well have happened. The prosecution so stipulates.

Was he god?

The correct answer is: I DON'T KNOW. And neither does anyone else, anonymous, Lee Strobel, the pope, or otherwise. Anyone who offers any other answer to that question (including, don't get me wrong, atheists), is flat out lying, or delusional, or at the very least, utterly ill-informed.

Arguments by religious scholars, offered up as "proof of the existence of god/christ/etc." naturally arise in the context of a presupposition of the existence of the subject matter. To refute that is to admit that these arguments are about as accurate as a book about dragons. These arguments also violate a number of the rules of logic. It's been a few years since AP Philosophy, so I don't remember exactly, but I think it's called "Begging the Question," where you assert the conclusion of an argument embedded in one of the argument's premises. "God is omnipotent, therefore, God exists." Any argument that includes a premise containing the words "...god is..." is structurally unprovable.

Another common defense of superstitionists is to ask us not to "judge the religion based on the behavior of the bad apples among us." What other standard could there possibly be? What possible function does a set of beliefs have without a resultant set of expected behavior? The behavior of religionists is a direct consequence of the teachings of the religion; actions stem from belief, which stems from indoctrination. All of it in the context of the fallable human mind. I judge everyone based on how they behave. To understand one's behavior, one must look to the source(s) of information about the world that have encouraged that behavior.

Yet another common retort is the challenge: "If you don't believe in god, you'd better be right!" To which we have to ask, is that the pillar of your faith? A 50/50 flip of a coin? THAT is the measure of the veracity of the stories you've been told? I maintain the possibility that there is an existence after what we call death, and that perhaps at least one of the many religions on earth might be accurate in its discussion of it. I do also hope that a just and forgiving god will indulge my questions when I arrive. I'd like to know how I can be held accountable for questioning the benevolence of a deadbeat father who hasn't spoken to his children for 5,000 years.

Anonymous said...

That last post by "anonymous" was not the same anonymous as before. Just to clarify.

Anonymous said...

Why is it about the book being 2000 years old that makes it automatically so unbelievable?

genevieve said...

First of all, you already know I believe in God, I've said that before. But I don't believe every word of truth in the Old Testement, and as for the New Testement, I believe Jesus existed (there are outside sources from the time that say he did) but not that he was divine.
I don't think it's the AGE of the book that renders it partially or wholly unbelievable-- it's the HUMANITY of the book. Even if the Bible was 'God-inspired', it was still written by the people of the time, and its words reflect that. People aren't perfect, therefore the Bible isn't perfect.

JBS said...

votar said -
"Another common defense of superstitionists is to ask us not to "judge the religion based on the behavior of the bad apples among us." What other standard could there possibly be? What possible function does a set of beliefs have without a resultant set of expected behavior? The behavior of religionists is a direct consequence of the teachings of the religion; actions stem from belief, which stems from indoctrination."
This statement seems to imply to me that you believe all people that fall under a particular religious banner have the same doctrine in the first place. There are many different mindsets and theologies that consider themselves to be "christian" just as there are for any other religious group. So asking you not to define all people that believe in the deity of christ by the actions of the vocal extremists is entirely logical and fair. You are not really going to notice believers that don't feel the need to force their religion down your throat as much because they aren't the type that would get your attention by confronting you. I personally don't care if you believe my faith is logical or not; I totally agree with you that religious faith is NOT logical and I've said so before. I think many religious people that claim to have such strong faith don't really believe what they are saying because they get so easily offended and insulted; if you really believe something is true it doesn't matter so much whether everyone agrees with you or not. I have no problem believing in something that doesn't make sense logically; that is what faith is about.
My only reason for responding to any religious sorts of issues like this is to point out that there are believers that are actually deeply offended by the behaviour of the extreme religious right.
You can not say the behaviour of all people that believe in a god or deity are the same.
I could very easily find hard core athesits that are just as despicable, extreme, and hateful; does this mean I should judge all who don't believe in a god by the behavior of these? Those are the ones I notice most sometimes because I don't push my religion in ppl's face - so the ones I see are those that are most vocal and hateful toward anyone with faith.
Human beings don't need religion or a lack of religion to be evil; if you got rid of all religious belief and no one ever felt the need to believe in some sort of deity there would still be violence, hatred, and intolerance of those outside of one's group identity. There are plenty of other excuses human beings come up with to hate one another besides religion.

one of the anonymous people said -
"Why is it about the book being 2000 years old that makes it automatically so unbelievable?"

This is the reason I have a problem with insisting on taking the bible literally; parts of the book are even older than that and are written by people from a civilization that was entirely different from ours.
HUMAN BEINGS in various sects decided what would be accepted as inspired scripture in different versions of the bible (that alone is enough to grapple with without considering all the times the source material has been translated into various languages). The people that wrote the scripture may have had inspiration from God, but they were very limited in their ability to understand whatever they were being told in the first place.
Read almost anything written thousands of years ago and you will understand just how limited knowledge was. Chez is right when he says that any being powerful enough to be God would be impossible for us to grasp and completely comprehend. Believing that everything there is to know about God is in that book and that all of it is meant to be taken literally is stating that you believe those people were actually capable of truly comprehending the nature of a being we believe to be omnipotent and infinite. I'm not saying I believe the bible is garbage, but I do believe it only partially grasps some of the aspects of God and that much of it needs to be read while keeping historical context and the culture of those who wrote it in mind. I believe many of the concepts that are taught in it, but you really truly can't logically argue a case for faith in anything. Faith is the belief in things unproven and unseen.

Chez said...

Let's see -- the world was created in six days. Woman came from man's rib. Methuselah lived to be 969-years-old. Jesus was born of a virgin and was resurrected three days after being killed.

Some of these very easily may have been parables -- but if so, who gets to interpret what's literal and what isn't? And the initial point of this column was that Haggard and his fundamentalist brethren believe that all of it should be taken literally. They believe not only that the Earth is only 6000-years-old, but that science proves it (Haggard said this during a taped interview with Richard Dawkins). This is positively delusional.

The Bible condones slavery. It demands that you kill your child or anyone else who attempts to lead you away from God. The first of the commandments is not the universally moral "Thou shalt not kill;" it's "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

Once again, who decides what to follow and what not to?

The fact that certain tenets of the Bible are now widely disregarded, even by the faithful, in no way means that faith -- or the basis for it -- has changed throughout the years. It means that the people who believe in the teachings of the Bible have had no choice but to give way to 2000+ years of human advancement.

VOTAR said...

jbs said:
"This statement seems to imply to me that you believe all people that fall under a particular religious banner have the same doctrine in the first place."

You could not be more wrong about that. You ignore the very next sentence: "All of it in the context of the fallable human mind." I'm keenly aware, as a student of history, of the many and varied masks that this hysteria wears throughout the globe, fueled by millenia of mis- and re-interpretation, translation, and adaptation.

The contention that "there are many different mindsets and theologies that consider themselves to be "christian" just as there are for any other religious group" does nothing to support a claim for the validity of the belief. It does, in fact, do everything to fragment any chance of it being considered seriously as a guideline for behavior. And, sorry to say, it automatically sets you up as a target for so-called "true christians" who would be outraged at your suggestion that there is any room for anything but LITERAL interpretation of every word of the judeo-christian bible.

Which side of that debate would you choose? Did the dinosaurs drown in Noah's flood, or not? Or is it acceptable to admit that a woman transmogrifying into a pillar of salt is, well, metaphorical, but the divinity of a barefoot jewish preacher in Galilee is irrefutable? If there is so much room for reasonable doubt, resulting in so many excusable "mindsets and theologies," then these stories, parables, and morality plays, are as instructional as a copy of Aesop's Fables. Except, people aren't killing each other over the proper interpretation of The Salt Merchant and His Ass.

I'm as doubtful of the cloistered humble monk as I am of the fire-and-brimstone evangelical who gets in my face. It's not the method I question, it's the message. Yes, there will always be violence, hatred, and intolerance, and of course you should not judge the people who question faith by the actions of "hardcore atheists;" but it is worth noting that their despicable, extreme, and hateful demeanor has one less root cause than that of religionists.

JBS said...

I find this subject very interesting. My state voted to ban same sex marriage by 78% yesterday. All the signs up advertising the amendment before hand had things like "vote Yes for marriage" on them. It is ridiculous that anyone could see those signs and not realize how stupid and manipulative they were. I feel so conflicted about the place I live; I love it in many ways, but I also loathe it when things like this happen.

But I don't believe this is all based on just believing in a God; I believe religious beliefs are the excuse that many people use to do something they are inclined to do anyway. I don't believe that a belief in God is the root cause for wars for instance; I believe it is used as an excuse because to some insanely stupid people it sounds like a better reason to go to war than "we are feeling greedy and want their land, wealth, or power" - which is the real reason war occurs. People have a natural tendency to form group identities and show favoritism to those in their own group.

It was ridiculous and despicable, but many people in the south tried to justify racism during the era of the civil rights movement by saying the bible told them black people weren't as good as the rest of us. Now many members of the older generation that I know still have prejudice toward black people but do not use the old religious argument. They hate them because they are different. Some religious people say they are afraid of gays because the bible says it's wrong, but they don't spend nearly that much time and energy trying to fight the existence of other groups that live lifestyles that are wrong according to scripture. I believe they use religion to justify their hostility toward anyone that makes them uncomfortable. They can't logically argue a reason to be this way, so they use religion as an excuse because hey - who can argue with God?

I find it hilarious myself that the many people here in the south that advocate taking every word of the bible literally (and spending a huge amount of time on the old testament - which even most Jews themselves will tell you is not literal) LOVE southern bar-b-que which consists mainly of pork - big dietary no-no in the bible.

Votar - I was not arguing the validity of my faith with you - I have no desire to beat my head on a metaphorical brick wall. LOL I was attempting to make the point that belief in God is not the root cause of this type of behavior - human nature itself is. I personally do not feel that I know more about God than anyone. I just have this belief. I feel that your spiritual beliefs are a personal thing, and to be honest I am just as angry about the way people are manipulated by organized religion to do despicable things as anyone else here. I just think these kinds of things would still happen if there were no religions; those inclined to manipulate the masses would simply use another tool. I attended rabid fundamentalist independent baptist churches as a child; I am proud that people with that mentality would not consider me a "true christian". I wouldn't want to be the type of person that would win their approval. I have many friends and aquaintences that believe in the deity of Christ that would be burned at the stake for heresy if they had their way.

A rabidly religious republican told me I should be shipped to France with no air holes in the box because I argued for the seperation of church and state. He said if I don't always vote only for republicans I have "serious problems with the bible" (I bet he isn't very happy this morning, lol). I didn't bother to point out that I have problems with it anyway. To me this is a huge part of what's wrong with our country right now; people like the members of Haggard's church are so manipulated by their religious leaders they let religion decide who they vote for. I don't really claim to be a great christian or anything; I just want to point out that not everyone that subscribes to a religious belief has the same mentality, and some of us find the mentality as disturbing and disgusting as you do.

I hope I'm not annoying anyone by posting all these comments here; it is just a topic I find very interesting and important. I enjoy reading the opinions here even though I do not agree with them. As a child I grew up in a world that didn't allow alternate opinions or questioning, so I find it refreshing.

Anonymous said...

jbs said "A rabidly religious republican told me I should be shipped to France with no air holes in the box because I argued for the seperation of church and state. He said if I don't always vote only for republicans I have "serious problems with the bible"

I consider myself a fairly devout Christian. I go to church as often as I can. I follow the Bible as I believe it is to be followed. I tithe. But I cannot stand that kind of blind, ridiculous political stance. There is so much hatred behind that. That person is not a good Christian.

tony said...

I've got an alternate theory.

Ted doesn't give a shit about the bible or its teachings. It's just his product. He's been selling it a long time. He doesn't believe in it, he just uses it.

When he gets busted, the only possible spin is to claim weakness and ask for forgiveness. Just like the book says!

His family still gets screwed of course. But not because of his blind faith, simply because he's an asshole.

JJ $ said...

Well...belief is the strongest force of all.

Haggard was exposed as a stunningly egregious hypocrite, but the power of his scrambled beliefs is pretty plain to see.

He's gay. Period. He liked meth.

I want to continue, I want to sum this up into something that makes sense, but I can't even describe the depth of the self-delusion and selfishness here.