God's provincial proclivities.
Today, as I rushed through Abbotsford to a job interview, I saw this sign for what appears to be a razed Bar and Grill: "JESUS IS LORD OVER ABBOTSFORD." Even though I was in a rush to get to the interview on time, I felt that I needed to talk about this one. So I did (embedded below).
Seriously. God's obsession with human politics in the Holy Land is absurdly provincial, weirdly local, and entirely irrelevant to people today, or even then. Clearly, the Old Testament is a political text intended to propagandize for particular political ends.
As I mentioned in the video [deleted] above, this bugged me while I was growing up. It was a strange contradiction to me to see how God seemed so political on such a small [provincial] scale while he also happened to run the entire universe. The largeness of God and the minuteness of his prejudices were a contradiction that I never really sorted out, no matter which apologetics I adopted.
What God cares about these sort of politics? From Judges 3,
It just seems unnecessarily petty for a God of the Universe to use tactics like this.
Or how about this, from 1 Chronicles 11 in the KJV?
This is a whole bunch of political jibber-jabber. Why does God need to be involved in any of this? The answer is that He doesn't need to be there. All the characters would do just fine without the presence of a provincial, political, warrior god.
Again, it seems rather peevish of God to care about this. Such an omnipotent God wouldn't be very concerned about who smiteth who, or who rebuilds a city, right?
I love maps and pored over the maps in my Bibles for many hours in my youth. What about this map?
There we see a line dividing two nations. At some times, God liked one of them; at other times, God liked the other one. There's no way to get around the politics of this: clearly the writers of the texts would have a bias towards their own nation. Note that Jerusalem is on the "Judah" side of the line; guess which nation was usually favoured by God? And wouldn't the omnipotent God understand that political borders constantly shift, that they're arbitrary delineations of human tribal social organizations? I'd like to think that God wouldn't even notice our borders, but instead look directly at our hearts.
Again, this bugged me. And it still does. It seems strange to think that political decisions in the United States of America are often based on an interpretation of a 2000 year old political text from a different continent.
No matter what a person believes, I think it's important to have a clear idea of what type of a being they're worshipping. I, for one, was never at peace with the provincial god who takes sides in battles and sends "his people" to be slaves in other countries. This made it easy to adopt more "ecumenical" approaches to Christianity, ones that focused on unity and personal religious experience. Unfortunately for my faith's sake, that made my faith so subjective that I couldn't seem to reconcile aligning myself with the organizations any longer.
Even though I don't believe in that God anymore, the God I once worshipped was way bigger than the God of the Bible.
It's Easter morning at my parents' house. I'm a little anxious as they get ready for the day. Later on, my children will run around and collect Easter eggs in the back yard. Right now I'm kind-of waiting for them to go to church.
There are very few things I miss about attending church. I didn't like most of the people; I didn't like putting on a show; I didn't like the gossip-in-the-name-of-spiritual-health. However, I miss getting to play music to an audience every week; I miss having a place to meet people and make friends; I miss spontaneous getogethers started from some church service or activity. Overall, I'm glad to have left it behind me.
But here, this morning, I'm getting an important reminder of why I've been glad to leave church behind me: time. Church took an enormous amount of time out of my day, out of my weekends, out of my Sundays. It sure feels good to get to use my Sundays as I wish.
Church is an odd beast because it is treated like the pinnicle of spiritual devotion, as the most obvious sign that you're on the right track, or at least trying, to be a good Christian. Even if your life is a mess, as long as people see your face in their community every Sunday, they'll be able to believe that you're on their team.
However, church is boring and artificial. It's easy to attend church when you're not really into it. It's easy to hold on to a community even when you have nothing in common with them. And as an artificial entity full of people putting on a show, it needs to maintain itself.
That's where "para-church" organizations—summer camps, youth groups, college Christian clubs—come in. They're often created under the guise that they will bring people into the faith or keep people involved when they're away from home. I took part in oodles of them growing up: Young Life, IVCF, a summer camp. They were certainly a force that helped keep me connected with "the fold." They did their job. Sort-of.
The problem with these para-church organizations is that they are far more organic and effective than church itself is. The summer camp where I worked from 1996-2001 regularly reminded us to make sure we told campers that church wasn't as fun as camp, but it was very important; when I was part of IVCF at UVic 2001-2003, we were regularly told that we were there to "support the local churches" and that people shouldn't treat IVCF as a church replacement. However, the Christianity at camp made sense at camp, but didn't really make sense in the real world; the Christianity at IVCF was a group based around peers of activity (students) and age bracket, so it was far more relevant than any church service could be.
Perhaps it might have been different if I was ever a large-church attendee. But apart from attending The Place, which took place on Sunday nights, I was always a small-church person. I felt comfortable in small churches because I could be both cagey and private. Perhaps if I attended a larger church, I would have been surrounded by more beautiful women or more fun people. But I didn't, so church could never hold a candle to the joys of para-church activities with my bona fide peers.
Not to mention, these organizations always had activities that were far more convenient than any sort of church service. They took place on Friday nights... like at times when you might go on a date, and they'd end early enough to go do other things. But a Sunday morning service? No way. You have to get up on Sunday morning, wait for the service to start, and by the time you get home, half your day is done.
At least that's how it felt to me.
When I moved out on my own, it was easy to skip church because I lost most of my contact with those organizations. And since the local churches were filled with people who were "not my people," their pulls' artificiality hit harder than it had before.
As I see people getting ready for church, it reminds me of how much I didn't fit in to that context, how much time I tried to spend being a good Christian when really I was something else. I was an unawares agnostic who simply hadn't the guts to admit to his atheism.
And I'm sure glad to get to choose what to do with my Sunday mornings now. And I can skip the tedious special services, like the Easter service, which was invariably the same as any other Easter service. Sure feels good.
Jeffrey Nordstrom: Openly Secular
I'm not a very confrontational person and I've kept pretty quiet about faith-stuff, all in all, for the last few years. My online presence is obviously critical of religion, and I've cultivated a digital sympathy for various atheist-folks and ideas, but I've always avoided saying anything about it myself. As a teacher, I don't want to cause an unneeded ruckus, and I really don't think "what I have to say" is any different or more articulate than anybody else out in cyberspace.
However, yesterday I broke my own general rule and posted a comparatively aggressive video to Twitter:
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