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Reflections on a sermon: “Why we are enemies of god”

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My style of writing often contains a good deal of sarcasm. This is not meant as a way of belittling the ideas presented here, but more as a tool to heighten the contrast in patterns of thought. It is not my intention to be disrespectful, and I hope that through my sarcasm, there is also a glimmer of sincerity. This is a discussion I value, just as I value those who enter the discussion with me.

Sunday 13 June, 2010
Romans 5:6-11

Listen to the sermon .

Already, the direction of this sermon doesn’t sit well with me. When I think about god, or what kind of god I would believe in if I did believe in one, I would think about the positive things. It would be the things I love about the relationship that would be central. Like any relationship, surely we can imagine we have done some things which would “upset” god, although, it is even hard to imagine an omnipotent, all loving being also being upset. “Upset” implies brokenness. That is like first stating “god created man … and saw that it was good” (at least, being the crown of his creation, we might assume he found man to be “good”). But at the same time, and I can’t remember the fancy theological term for it, we are told that god actually must have had “foreknowledge” of the coming fall of man? So we have a perfect god, creating “for all practical purposes” a perfect human being, yet with the knowledge that that human being will “fall”… but I digress.

In my earthly relationships, I certainly fail at being a friend, I fail in loving wholly. But in a healthy relationship, we fail, we are sorry, we are forgiven, we move on… a true friend doesn’t keep “harping” on about how “I forgave you, why aren’t you happy”, and hopefully, the one who was forgiven doesn’t, for the duration of the relationship, feel “beholden” to the other because of that act. Yet, this is what the relationship with god is, or at least the way it is generally presented. It seems like a permanent state of us being beholden (overjoyed, endlessly happy, relieved, secure) to god for the fact that he has taken all our guilt (which we didn’t know we had, but now do, since “pretty good” isn’t good enough) and placed it on his son. And, throughout this relationship, we are constantly reminded that it is because god has covered over our guilt, that we in fact can have “no contribution” towards this fact that we are guiltless (well, if we accept jesus as savior), and all we have to do is be joyful about this “unconditional forgiveness”. I am so thankful (to whom?) that my earthly friendships do not work that way.

What follows are the 5 explanations as to why we are “enemies of god”, along with my commentary:

( I will refer to “you” (the pastor) and “we” (the congregation) since I assume the sermon is for our benefit, but it is not quite clear to whom you were referring in this: each and every one of us, or only those who have not yet understood how god’s unconditional love is extended to them?)

1. “We insist on living our life without reference to god”.

For myself, this is of course true, but that is a consequence of not believing there is a god. But certainly, we all know what is meant here. We live for ourselves, imagine ourselves to be god, think we have all the answers… But it is the following statement I take offense to most: “Even though deep down they know…” ? How do you presume know what I feel deep down? Not even my wife of 20 years can know what I feel “deep down”. Nor my mother or father. If god was there, certainly he could ‘know’ that. So either you have some “godly” insight into people, or you are simply stating something you (want to) believe to be true, since “obviously”, if we didn’t have this “feeling deep down” that there must be a loving god behind it all, there would be no guilt to work with.

You have a congregation of 400+ people, all of whom live their lives in reference to something. In 400 years, you would still not be able to know and grasp each one of our reasons to live, and in reference to what. And so, we get these sweeping generalizations.

2. “We refuse to worship god. We no longer stand in awe of god. We enjoy daily gifts without giving thanks to god”.

Let’s see… so, those of us who do not “worship god” also do not stand in awe of the beauty around us? We don’t recognize the daily gifts that come our way? Or is it just that, although we may feel an amazing sense of awe when we begin to understand the complexity of the life we live, that we are experiencing a very “different type of awe” than that which a believer experiences when they “survey the wondrous cross”? Clearly that would be a purely subjective statement with no possible means of being differentiated. If I am standing at a James Taylor concert, totally caught up in the moment, holding my lighter in the air, feeling a “oneness and connection” to those standing around me and blown away by his amazing lyrics and voice, is that really any different than standing in an APCH service, listening to the praise band, holding your arms in the air, feeling a sense of “awe and wonderment” at the amazing love of God? You might say it is different, but again, that is purely subjective, no different than saying that a McDonald’s hamburger tastes better than one from Burger King. No way to verify it as it is purely based on perception.

I often stand in awe of life around me. I see beauty everywhere. I am constantly aware of how precious life is, and how “blessed” (lucky) I am to be able to face every new day. And yet, I do not feel a need to “attribute” these awesome emotions to god. They are what they are: Awesome moments. Emotions. Part of my human interaction with nature. Inexplicable, yet beautiful. Except for that feeling I have deep down…

3. “We suppress the truth about god. We assume that we are the final judge of what is ‘good and true’. Even at the molecular level, we refuse to see the ‘god of life’ “.

Because I do not believe in god, or don’t recognize that “feeling deep down”, am I suppressing the “truth” about god? Here, we run into a similar problem again. I in fact do assume that I am the final judge of what is “good and true”, but only in my life. Further, I make that assumption with the knowledge that someone else might have better reasoning than mine, and that, based on their reasoning, my definition of “good and true” may change. If the “god of life” was clearly involved, even at the molecular level, than that would be a truth which would make itself known. In fact it doesn’t. It remains a matter of conjecture (a proposition that is unproven but appears correct and has not been dis-proven). Or more simply, it clings on to what remaining real estate it has in “unanswered questions”. And that market won’t be drying up any time soon.

4. “We are ignorant of god. Like a set of glasses colored in a way that is ignorant of god. Distorted by ignorance”.

These all seem to be variations on a theme. We live without reference to god. Refuse to worship god. Suppress the truth about god.  And why wouldn’t we, when we apparently have the wrong glasses on. Well, I’ll be! Who “in the world” gave me those glasses? And why didn’t I get the “special” glasses. “We” all got the standard issue “coke bottle” glasses, which distort our vision of what is “good and true”, while a chosen few apparently received top grade “X-ray glasses” with which, among other things, they can see how I feel “deep down”…

I traded in my coke bottle glasses for the looking glass of science, and “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone”.

5. “Deep down we know god wants a relationship with us but we ignore or refuse it. “

Here it is again, “deep down”… This strikes me more like cold reading. If we dig around long enough, we will all find feelings “deep down” which are unsettled. And if someone can show us, make us understand, that exactly that feeling, that yearning, That “problem looking for an answer”, that is a longing for relationship with god which you are ignoring. Funny, even my psychologist wouldn’t assume to “know” what those “unfulfilled yearnings” actually are.

“God is opposed to people who reject him. Opposed to those who do not praise him, even though he still gives them his gifts.” My kind of friend. Not.

“Does Christianity stop there? ” (I wish it did, but alas….)

“God took the penalty from us and gave it to his son. While we were yet sinners”. With “no contribution on our part” to achieve my salvation. So he still makes us feel bad since he has received us with “no contribution on our part”, meaning that if I ignore that fact, I must be an idiot. Even the fact that we might be “pretty good” or even, god forbid, “really good” doesn’t count, as there is no way for us to contribute to our salvation. But we are “pretty good enough” to be forever thankful and accept this great gift. We are apparently “pretty good enough” to “live like we know it” and learn to forgive one another, stop living at odds with loved ones. But I do that already also… Oh yeah, … “no contribution on my part”. So does that just make me self-righteous and smug?

This whole sermon feels like preying on peoples insecurities and fears. Looking for any area they may feel ambivalent and pointing a finger saying “see there , that is that ‘deep down feeling’ that you need god”. This sermon has succeeded in underlining what I still see as the most powerful, though well “smoothed over”, motivation to believe in god. Fear. Of course, you would strongly object to that statement. You would insist that it is because, once we become aware of the awesome gift we have received from god, with no contribution of our own, and the realization that, though we may be “pretty good”, that clearly is not up to god’s standards, so once again, god removed the guilt, and all that is left is the pure joy in that knowledge. That is why there is no fear. There is nothing to fear with god. Right?

You end the sermon with a prayer, and the service with a blessing. During the prayer, you used these words: “Thank you that we no longer have to fear our final enemy”. Fear? Final enemy? And then again, in the blessing: “God go with you… Do not be afraid, do not be afraid. ” Fear? What would make us think that?


Written by Philoman

June 14, 2010 at 9:37 am

Posted in Bible, God, Religion, Sermons

Reflections on a sermon: “I believe in God the Father Almighty”

leave a comment »

My style of writing often contains a good deal of sarcasm. This is not meant as a way of belittling the ideas presented here, but more as a tool to heighten the contrast in patterns of thought. It is not my intention to be disrespectful, and I hope that through my sarcasm, there is also a glimmer of sincerity. This is a discussion I value, just as I value those who enter the discussion with me.

Sunday 25 April, 2010

Psalm 135

Listen to the sermon here

This mornings sermon was one which, in my mind, brought up more questions and ‘incompatibilities’ than answers, and I can’t help but wonder if I am the only one who tries to listen critically to what is said? Or could it be that as a non-believer, I am really just in the wrong place with the wrong expectations? Are we to criticize church leaders? Aren’t they trained to know more than we ever can? Do they really see the “truth” any clearer than the rest of us? Or, do I really just not pray and read my bible enough?

Interesting to me is the fact that, all my life, I have had  a great dislike of “note taking” during a church service. Now that I have dropped all religious pretensions, but for now remain in attendance, I find a natural desire to take notes, and really try to understand what is going on here. Not because of any doubt I have in my decision, but more due to the reality that neither party (believers or non-believers) are willing or even able to comprehend why the “other” can’t see “their” truth.

The sermon began with prayer, and in this prayer, these words: “… Sovereign god, have your way with us, do what you please …“. Now, most believers would hear these words, and quickly file them away, thinking along the lines of “Since god always chooses the best for us, it makes sense to let him have his way”. A good god would never allow the wrong thing to happen. But when I really look at what those words are saying, in worldly terms (We live in the world after all), there are not many times that I would say that to anyone, that I would give anyone that kind of leeway with my life. Maybe my parents (if I truly believe they only have the best in mind for me). My partner (Ditto)?
You could say, ‘but this is just playing with words. You can’t take everything so literally’. However, I feel it goes deeper than just taking things literally. I see two possible problems with this “model” of god. First, we all know how believers tend to place the pastor/priest/pope on a level just under/almost equal to god. No, I am not talking about what the reality is ..I am talking about what people “do” regardless of the “reality”. Just in the same way that generations in the past often thought of a doctor as somehow having a certain “higher authority”. These were people who knew more, understood more and were to be respected more. Well, the step from “Sovereign god, have your way with us, do what you please” is not far removed from “Good priest, have your way with me, do what you please”, and the result of such a view of a god who only has the best in mind for you is perfectly clear when we see today how the church tried and still tries to cover up all the abuse (sexual and other) “sanctioned” within its walls. It is not only fear that keeps things “hush hush”, but also the desire on “our” part to believe that the “other” really does have our best interest in mind. Such are the places where dangerous teaching and thinking can get us.

The second problem I have with a god who “does what he pleases” is this: If god indeed does what he pleases, and god indeed only has the best in mind for us, then there is no way to explain how thousands of innocent people die each and every day of … what? a mosquito bite… oh no wait, sexual molestation/rape… oh no wait, malnutrition… oh no wait, falling in love with the someone of a different religion… oh no wait, religious (as most are) disputes and wars… oh no wait, for being something other than heterosexual… and it doesn’t stop. Outside of claiming “spiritual innocence” by saying “gods ways are not our ways” (not at all an “explanation”) one can not seriously believe that all these innocent people are 1) truly and deeply loved by god, a god that 2) “does what he wants” and 3) always has our best-will in mind. If you are even able to read this text (educated,literate, access to a computer…etc), then you are most likely someone for whom it is easy to think that god has your best-will in mind, but is there any way to imagine all these millions of victims “raising their voices in praise of a loving god” except for possibly being thankful that they can leave their own personal little hell behind? And I am also not referring to those unique stories of people who, although faced with unimaginably tough circumstances, still managed to retain a faith in god’s “plan”, even unto death.  I am talking about all those millions of stories which we never will hear, which have been hidden away from us, or simply never came to light.

It is my firm belief that science has a lot of answers for why the world is the way it is: A combination of history, psychology, evolution, and cultural anthropology will give us some solid answers, which in my opinion, are much more solid than any bible passage.

Next we are presented with some “characteristics” which we tend to equate with god:

1. God as “the loving old man” watching from a distance – do your best or grin and bear it.
2. God is not the almighty father, but just “one of us. Just a slob like one of us”.
A god of fatalism or determinism: whatever gods will is, that will happen. Inshallah!

As we are beings in this world, we are of course limited to imagining a god within the terms of this world. In that sense, all these “characterizations” seem pretty logical to me, though I have chosen to abandon all of them. If you choose to believe in a god, you must characterize that god somehow, and no  matter how, it won’t be correct. The nature of a god is such that one cannot really imagine what it is exactly. How could we possibly know?

But, these characteristics do not describe the “real” character of god. If we read the Bible or better yet, if we pick “ literally any page in the bible”, we will see that god is really a god with a plan: “One goal, one purpose, reconciliation of his people through his son. You don’t understand history if you don’t understand gods plan for humanity”.

What I don’t understand is gods logic. Logic, a science that we, his deeply beloved creatures have “discovered”, and are destined to be enslaved to, and yet, god doesn’t have to adhere to rules of logic… after all, his logic is of a different complexity than ours.  First we have to understand gods plan for humanity, ( which we really can’t understand since gods ways are not our ways, but with the help of learned men and woman…well, mostly men… it can be explained to us ) and then we can understand history. This seems so backwards to my mind. I would expect that a historian or researcher would first look at history in order to try and discover a “plan” or “meaning”, or to connect the dots, establish a trend. etc. But here, we are told, no, first you have to understand gods plan for the world. Once you understand that, then you will understand history. Once you understand that god “is in heaven and does as he pleases”, only then can you understand why so many people come into this world, and perhaps they were born in too arid a spot, or arrived in the middle of a war, or were blessed to parents who really wanted a child to love, but couldn’t afford a mosquito net, and before their lives are even off to a start, they are “reconciled” back to the lord. And they are the lucky ones, because they were taken young. Oooh…Kaay…??

An even more important question might be: “How do we come to know gods plan for the world?” Sounds easy. Read the Bible, it is “literally written on every page”. But uuumh, … on a lot of those pages are a lot of other little pieces of text which seem to be contradictory in nature, so how do we know which part to read “as is” and which part to read “in the context within which it was written” or better yet within the context for which it was “meant”. Which part on which page has to do with gods plan for the world? I mean, we are going to have to pick and choose, so how do we go about doing that? Once again, we turn to the church, in the form of the pastor/priest/pope. They must be much more able to discern the real will  and character of god, right? But then again, the church has been discussing, deciding, including, excluding, arguing and splitting for 2000 years, and…well, if this plan of god is so clearly written on every page of the bible, wouldn’t they have figured it out by now? Even after 2000 years? It seems to come from the pulpit sunday after sunday, as clear as could be, but I begin to wonder how clear things are when I need to be reminded on a weekly basis what gods plan is for me.

… He not only feeds you every day, he feeds every single living thing in the universe every day“.
Huh? How can we say and believe this when it is simply not true?

…He holds all kinds of evil at check?? All the time.
You are simply saying that all the bad things that didn’t happen but could have, didn’t happen because he “kept them” from happening. Hard to (dis-)prove of course. But worse, if god is keeping all that evil at bay all the time, why does he let some of it slip through? He loves us deeply, and so even though he could hold the evil at bay all the time, he decides to let some evil take place because…to remind us that there is evil, …to teach some of us a lesson, …because he gets bored sometimes, … well no, we brought evil into the world (god created the devil, but ignore that little detail) because we are so useless on our own, so it’s not gods fault that evil happens, but since he does as he pleases, he “keeps evil in check **, … or (since there doesn’t seem to be a logical answer to this question) lets just say, in this one case, gods “plan for humanity” is simply to complicated for us to understand every facet of it. ( but…we just stated that his plan is written on literally every page of the bible). Hmmm.

Are you miserable? “
No, at least, not in general. Some days maybe. Actually, before I started taking my Anti-depressants, I would say I was much more miserable. Now I am much less miserable. But if god is supposed to keep us from being miserable, than it might follow that if I ask you, “since you believe in gods plan for your life, you must be happy?” , your answer would be “Yes, all the time!” But in fact, just as I am not always miserable, you are not always happy. I’m just sayin’. I don’t believe in god, and you do. What is the difference? Or is your “happiness” of a different caliber than my “non-miserableness”?

When you child is in the ER, does it help to have a vision of god?”
No, not really, unless,… and here you have hit the nail on the head…making me feel better counts as “help”. For some people (many or most) it (seems) to help. In and of itself, that is OK. That makes the idea of a caring god “satisfying”, but not “true” by a long shot. If I have a cold, I might feel a warm bath helps me get over the cold quicker (or at least makes me feel better) but it really doesn’t say anything substantial, certainly not medically speaking. Of course, lying in a bath to cure oneself of a cold is quite harmless.
So what exactly is the difference? You feel better, even if your child dies, because “God does what he wants”.  (you are not in charge) … Whereas I simply accept that this is part of life on earth, part of the randomness of evolution and human intelligence, and that I can do nothing about it (I am not in charge). Religion becomes a “feel good” bandaid.

What is too hard for god? Stuck in Illinois having to get to a conference in the next state. Is that too much for god?”
Lets see, not too much for god if…at the last minute, you receive a message that the conference got canceled anyway…or…they were able to switch your speaking slot with someone a day later…or…you just “happened” to run into a business man who operated a private jet and…but what about the lady who was booked next to you on that same canceled flight and desperately needed to get to a dying parent at the same destination. She didn’t happen to run into the business man with the private jet, and it seemed keeping her almost expired parent alive for just one more day may have been simply too much for god. But fortunately, getting you to your destination fell within the realm of “not too much for god” because otherwise you couldn’t have fulfilled your role as guest speaker at the Annual Atheism Conference 2010!

Picking and choosing. Taking the best, leaving the rest. Not very logical.

** except when he decides not to.

Written by Philoman

April 25, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Posted in Bible, God, Religion, Sermons