Updated Old Post: The four interpretive natures of God

This is a post I had written prior to my blog purge. This is one of the posts I actually regret deleting. I thought I had it preserved elsewhere, but I guess I didn’t. One of the issues that come into play when discussing religion are the different ways believers and nonbelievers (regardless of one’s beliefs) actually picture God in their head. From my perspective, I’ve seen four versions of God thrown around in debates with some occasional overlap. While we as believers cannot truly know the nature of God, we cannot assume that we are all talking about the same one. For nonbelievers, please pay attention to the term “hypothetical”. When you level with a Christian and you describe (or criticize) God what idea of God do you have in mind outside of nonexistent  (ie: Dawkins referring to God as a bully).

1. Complete physical transcendence:

God exists beyond time, space, and human comprehension/imagination. There is nothing known or understood by us that God has not grasped. Oftentimes people feel this version of God is too distant and alien, but it seems to be the go to for most monotheistic believers in debate settings.

2.  Sub-universal level:

God is within human understanding, however God still exists on an immensely broad level that has yet to even be grasped by mankind. Take the size of the observable universe for example: Jupiter’s red spot is the size of the Earth, the sun is vastly larger than Jupiter, and other stars like Betelgeuse make our sun look like a speck. As humanity evolves so will our potential understanding of God.

3. God exists within human nature:

This is the version of God seen in many polytheistic faiths. God is like one of us and is subject to our emotional baggage and weaknesses. God may have power that transcends human ability, but humans have an experience that God does not have and cannot relate to while in the heavenly realm.

4. God as a thought form:

The lowest level of God existing without going into non-belief. At this level God “exists” because people believe in a God. This construct of God is subject to change, interpretation and potentially extinction through the collective will of mankind. While this version of God is imaginary, adherents to this version do not doubt God’s power over people.

The downward trend in these interpretations illustrates the power humanity has over God. This distinction is extremely relevant if God exists as a person’s moral authority. There is overlap between these interpretations. Many monotheists would probably declare that God is somewhere between 1 and 2; here God is beyond our comprehension yet certain small things are revealed to us. Atheists tend rhetorically argue for three, yet their actions reflect a belief 4. Like the Richard Dawkins example above, those who take a number three view repudiate God’s alleged moral shortcomings.

Progressive believers, especially in the university setting, take a sort of amalgamation of 1 and 4. Not much in between in this case; God is both within and beyond our control and comprehension. Humanity has a sort of political relationship to this version of God. God represents the executive branch of a metaphysical government and humanity takes the role of a judicial and legislative branch. We tell God what is morally or philosophically right and God enforces our instruction. If people disagree, they can take it up with God. This view is also taken by the fundamentalists with some “3” mixed in as well.

Once hopefully this post will generate the discussion my previous one had.

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Mini Post: “I fear for the republican party”-Self-Righteous Democrat

If you didn’t already know, Representative John Boehner has announced that he will step down as speaker of the house on October 30. As such, many of the quasi-moderates on the left see a more rightwing aligned republican party as one that is unwilling to negotiate with the democrats. My issue is that the modern left’s definition of compromise is capitulating to the demands of the left. Take an issue like abortion and planned parenthood funding for example. The “extremes” argue either no abortion at all or free, safe, on-demand abortion. The moderate position used to be abortion only in the case of rape, incest or the mother’s health and no partial birth abortion. However that has now become a rightwing position to many. However I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt.  In what areas are people on the left willing to compromise? Not necessarily “giving it up” but rather granting a concession to the other side.

Affordable Care Act

-Extreme position: repeal the act

-Moderate concession: Force politicians (congress and executive agents) to fully participate in the act as well.
-Moderate concession: Don’t force people to pay for things they don’t want or need.

Planned Parenthood/Abortion

-Extreme position: Ban all abortion, defund PP

-Moderate concession: Abortion only in the case of rape, incest or mother’s health
-Moderate concession: Incentivize and expedite adoption, refocus planned parenthood’s efforts.

Religious Liberty (in light of same sex marriage)

-Extreme position: Reverse the supreme court’s decision
-Super Extreme position: Reestablish sodomy laws

-Moderate concession: Don’t force businesses to participate in a ceremony that would compromise their beliefs.

Not polar opposites: The similarities between fundamentalist and progressive Christians

This post might go over a few people’s heads, mostly because I tend to overestimate my ability to articulate my points. Before going into detail, let’s get some vocabulary out of the way:

In the categories set forward I am defining the terms according to their connotations rather than their denotations. For example, a fundamentalist literally could represent anyone who feels they are following the essential doctrines (ie: fundamentals) of the faith. However fundamentalism tends to implicate a radical, haughty and judgmental attitude.

For the sake of this post, fundamentalist Christians are going to be defined through the lens of critical theory: racist, sexist, homophobic, and “stuck in the past”. Their bigotry is reportedly justified through scripture. Their sins are largely justified self-righteously or swept under the rug. Just to be clear, I would also distinguish radical Christians from fundamentalists. Though there is arguably some ideological continuity between the radical and the fundamentalist, the latter should not be presumed to be as violent as the former.

Progressive Christians are going to be defined specifically through these issues (ie: things concerning the LGBT community, contraception, abortion, and sexual liberation). The role of scripture in their justification varies heavily. Their sins are always justified or redefined as not sinful.

Also I am defining a “true” Christian with descriptor “Essentialist”, mostly to contrast from the fundamentalist. This person actually follows the essential doctrines of the faith, EVEN AT THEIR OWN EXPENSE. They can identify their own actions as sinful when they come in conflict with the will of God.

As St. Augustine said, “On essentials unity, on nonessentials liberty, and on all things charity [Love]”.

I’ll set the stage with an anecdote:

On labor day, I came back to my home town for a church picnic. An itinerant minister was one of the invitees from outside of the “church family”. He was one of the street preachers you tend to see on college campuses etc. Complete with a backpack full of his gospel tracts criticizing those outside of protestant Christian orthodoxy. I’m not formally trained in the world of theology, but the knowledge I did have impressed him so he stayed around me and my immediate family. Another person in my church family came up to me after a while. Whenever he’s around we discuss politics, something I enjoy doing. Eventually the itinerant minister came into the conversation when Hilary Clinton was brought up. Long story short, the conversation escalated onto the topic of same sex marriage.

My church family member took on the progressive argument (full disclosure: I wouldn’t necessarily accuse him of being a progressive Christian, but that’s the argument he used). He first mentioned that he does understand that the Bible condemns homosexuality (really homoeroticism), period. However he questions how the Bible was compiled, and feels that by denying these rights to the LGBT community you are limiting the power and grace of God. The itinerant minister took on the fundamentalist argument; citing the passages in Corinthians and Leviticus (ignoring the fact that my church family member understood the Bible’s condemnation). He pretty much remained steadfast on his argument. He broke down the Corinthians passage identifying “abusers of themselves with mankind” as “the queers”. He assured that his words were spoken in love when he saw my expression.

When I finally had a chance to speak I brought up Matthew 16:24, where Jesus instructs all those who wish to follow him to deny themselves first. My point being, that the issue with same sex marriage was a lack of self-denial (best made evident in Romans 1: 20-27). The minister immediately gave a caveat to my point defending heterosexual acts in the realm of marriage. This led to a discussion of how the topic of marriage had changed from God’s design (from their perspectives). Interestingly, they both believe that polygamy is God’s design. The idea of monogamy is man’s perversion. For the progressive argument this meant that Christians have an ideological precedent to change, and for the fundamentalist argument it meant there’s an ideological point from which Christians must return.

I tried to argue that monogamy is God’s ideal, citing Matthew 4-6 and the fact that polygamy is always presented as problematic in scripture. Both the minister and the family member disagreed. The minister at least believed I had a good point, but still said I was wrong. Citing the fact that God “gave” King David his wives, yet it also states in Deuteronomy that men cannot have multiple wives in places of authority or if they are Deacons in the New Testament. Interesting that he would use David as an example and then address the Deuteronomy condemnation; they both became literalists at this point to justify polygamy for men.

Progressive Christians often will tell stories about how they used to be “super conservative” before they became more progressive. They describe this transition as being very difficult, but a part of their growing up process in the faith. This only makes sense if we define their conservatism as fundamentalism. For both the fundamentalist and the progressive, Christianity comes in tandem with their own perception of reality. This perspective is really predicated through their personal sense of liberty. The fundamentalist believes they alone have the freedom to do what they want (and sins are defined by what bothers them personally). On the issue of homosexuality in the church, they prefer passages like Leviticus and Corinthians. This preference is because, unlike Romans 1, they don’t analyze the symptoms and causes of the issue, the scripture just presents a condemnation. For the fundamentalist, they believe they are closer to God by sharing in his disgust. As the world becomes less homophobic, the fundamentalist remains in denial of this social change.

Progressive Christians, by contrast, extends individual liberty to everyone; believing that they’re taking the reasonable pathway by reducing the definition of sin. Arguably it does seem as if the progressive is taking the more reasonable path. Instead of believing God’s grace and mercy only extends to the hypothetical fundamentalist, it would extend to all of God’s creation. The progressive’s argument only works if the “other” Christian is a fundamentalist. The progressive will speak of “fairness”, but not when it means sharing a responsibility to give up the things we want.

Another similarity between these groups is their emphasis on extraneous doctrine. Issues that tackle church history, the power and thought process of God, and church organization. The Episcopalian church brags about being super progressive in their doctrine and practice, however the church has a very strict schedule and organization. The candles must be lit in a certain order, the priest comes in at a certain point in the service wherein the congregation recites specific liturgical rites. During my undergrad the progressive Christian students generally were in agreement that a person must be Baptized in moving, rather than stagnant or artificially moving water. One isn’t truly baptized unless it’s in a natural body of water. Yet ordaining LGBT priests isn’t a problem for them. Fundamentalists will get into conflict about predestination, evolution, other religions and the age of the Earth. I’ve spoken to Armianists and Calvanists who, despite agreeing on most issues, parted ways and condemned each other for being “incorrect” about the nature of God. On these doctrines I look to James 2:19, which states that belief in God is “good” but the devils also believe and tremble. This was in context of faith and works (faith without works is dead), meaning Christians ought to put more priority on their individual actions within their faith.

I’ve also noticed a fire and brimstone type of rhetoric from the mouths of some progressives. Like the fundamentalist, these progressives take their ideology as gospel and condemn people to hell for disagreeing. This is despite the fact that their ideology is knowingly based on a deconstruction and uncertainty towards church doctrine. On this point I usually say that the progressives take the “easier” side than both the essentialist and the fundamentalist. By human nature, I would argue that people tend to lean towards fewer restrictions over more restrictions. The fundamentalist will be convinced once their hypocrisy in only granting liberty towards themselves is confronted. As the fundamentalists naturally convert to the progressive side, genuine believers are going to be accused of being false converts. This is why these distinctions must be made.

TL;DR

Progressives and Fundamentalists both define Christianity through the lens of their own self-righteousness. A fundamentalist will become a progressive when they are convinced to change the way they individually perceive Christianity. The progressive side is the easier side. Essential “True” Christianity is not about want the adherents want to be true, but what “is” true within the context of the faith.

Racism and Christianity: Has Christianity previously changed its mind? Or is something else in play?

(Via Facebook)

I would personally argue that Christianity leans heavily in favor of racial equality. However, that is mostly due to an in depth reading that many people (believers or otherwise) aren’t willing to do. Not to mention I’m an African American raised in a predominately African American church. I’m also willing to accept that I might have missed something, so I’m putting this forward as an open question/post. Once again, the theme mostly surrounds Christianity, but anyone can participate as long as they stay on topic.

Why aren’t the scriptural condemnation against racial mixing accepted anymore? It’s not as if they are rejected, so much as they are ignored or reinterpreted. Skeptics and critics of Christianity are often knowledgeable of scriptures once used to justify racial division and racism. Here’s one of the more popular ones:

Genesis 9:24, 25

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him,
25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”

In context Noah’s youngest son Ham had “saw the nakedness” of Noah when he was drunk after the flood waters receded. He went and told his brothers what he did, who subsequently covered their father up and told him of Ham’s indiscretions. Noah cursed Canaan, Ham’s oldest son and symbol of Ham’s descendants, to a life of servitude under the authority of the descendants of his brothers Shem and Japeth. From here you get this quasi-anthropological presumption, largely defunct today, stating that Ham’s descendants became the various groups in Africa and part of the Middle East. Shem’s descendants became the Israelites, the Russians, and the Europeans. Japeth’s descendants became the East Asian, South East Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American groups.

(Note: While this can be explored independently, I’m more concerned with the scripture’s role rather than modern anthropology for the time being.)

In addition to this view, we see throughout the Old Testament that the Israelites were barred from mixing with the other nations. It didn’t stop them (more on that later) but this rule was also utilized to justify anti-miscegenation policies in the United States. All of a sudden, this sentiment seemed to have dropped off. Sure, I suppose if you look hard enough you might find people using scripture to justify their beliefs but they are most certainly the minority. However, this does not stop modern progressive thinkers (both from within and outside of Christianity) from bringing it up. Stating, “the church changed its mind on racial issues, why can’t it change its mind on ________?”

On Theology I think St. Augustine summed up my point the best:

“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”

Essentials are defined as the tenants and concepts “fundamental” to Christianity. There is some debate as to what is essential or not, but it’s generally agreed that the Bible is included within that category. Though some would argue that while the Bible is essential in our use, only some passages reflect essentiality (the New Testament).

Non-essentials are generally understood as church and some denominational traditions. Some churches still have relationships with each other despite them following the tenants of different denominations. A Baptist minister can be a guest speaker at the Church of Christ or a Methodist church or a Lutheran church, etc. Related to what I said above, some scripture could be considered non-essential from a Christian viewpoint. This generally includes most of the Old Testament that reflects a world prior to Jesus’s death and resurrection. As well as some of the Israelite exclusive traditions (holidays, feasts, etc.) I would argue that the church is generally free to “change its mind” on these issues.

In all things charity means our actions as believers are done in love. Love for God, love for our neighbors (and enemies) and love for our siblings in the faith.

First you have slavery. If you combine the “curse of Canaan” position with the fact that the Bible presents rules on how slaves and masters should treat each other (Ephesians 6-9 for the New Testament), many people at the time could have considered the “right to slave ownership” to be essential. However, the Bible (new and old testaments) really takes a passive approach to slavery. It acknowledged slavery as a part of life and presented rules for following it. The passages on slavery can be removed from Christianity and Christianity would remain intact. So were minds changed on slavery? Yes, but they were free to be changed.

After slavery you have racial discrimination and anti-miscegenation laws. I already broke those down before, however there is another caveat to be considered. You see, in the scripture you have passages that tend to validate racial equality. These include John 3:16 and Galations 3:28 which states”

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Other passages include the parable of the Good Samaritan as well as Jesus’ genealogy (which goes into the Old Testament). In the Old Testament you have women like Rahab and Ruth (as well as the wives of Joseph and Moses) who were not Israelites but accepted into the fold by accepting the Israelite’s God. Additionally, you have the entire book of Jonah where God warned the people of Nineveh to repent before he destroyed them. At the very least, it could be argued that both positions presented an impasse when scripture was involved in the policy regarding race. I would argue that, through a detailed reading, it’s tilted in the favor of acceptance.

However, that still does not explain why the church has largely forgotten its past on this issue. So much so that even the infamous Westboro Baptist Church resents the KKK for using Christianity to justify racial hate. (NOTE: KKK isn’t even immune as they publicly present themselves as no longer being anti-minority. It might be different behind closed doors, but if scripture were by their side they wouldn’t need to superficially change).

So when even the KKK will not read scripture in order to find justification for racism, why was there a change? What do you all think?

Not yet a Christian

This may seem controversial, I don’t really mind though.

What is a Christian?

Depending on your personal beliefs, this question will be answered very differently. Especially when you consider the role Christianity has played in shaping the western hemisphere.

What, if any, are the qualifications?

What is expected of a declarant believer? Should the scripture be accepted in its entirety? If so, what does it mean to “accept” the scripture? What role does Jesus Christ play in the discussion? What about the church itself? Does the church hierarchy hold authority apart from scripture?

Well Richard Dawkins has come up with a solution that will have part of the church cheering victoriously and the other part rending their clothes like an Old Testament Priest. Mr. Dawkins describes himself as a secular and cultural Christian. He states that he appreciates the artwork and much of the ceremonial liturgy of the Anglican Church. He actually compared his Christianity to cultural/secular Judaism. Many Jewish people consider themselves racially or ethnically Jewish, but not theologically. Mr. Dawkins has effectively extended the definition of a Christian to a majority of westerners.

Ironically, the same people who will complain about violations of separation of Church and State, will love the idea of Christianity being extended to westerners by virtue of being a westerner. Christianity becomes defined by what society thinks Christianity ought to be about.

(Note: The following is mainly a theological statement not a political one. This isn’t intended to make a strong argument in favor or against any interpretation of the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution or Jefferson’s letters to the Baptist convention.)

Christianity is not a democracy nor is it even a dictatorship; it is a constitutional (2 Timothy 3:16) monarchy (Matthew 21:5) for its followers. Said monarchy cannot be abdicated, usurped, or inherited by another (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8). Likewise, the constitution cannot be amended (Numbers 23:19) (note: clarification and translation is encouraged (2 Timothy 2:15)). Christianity also presupposes that its followers have a relationship with the monarch (Matthew 22:37, Deuteronomy 6:5, Mark 12:30)). This relationship is supposed to lead to feelings of peace (Philippians 4:7, John 14:27) and blissfulness (Psalms 34:8) while on Earth that will be even greater in the afterlife (Matthew 6:20, Matthew 16:19, Revelation 21:1-4). “Statutes” written within the constitution are supposed to guide followers in strengthening their relationship to the Monarch (Luke 9:23) and sharing feelings of love, peace, patience, etc. (Galatians 5:22-23) among other followers (siblings; 1 John 2:9-11) and outsiders (neighbors; Matthew 19:19, Mark 12:31, Matthew 5:43).

With this largely psychological expectation (Philippians 2:4-6, Proverbs 3:7, 2 Corinthians 10:5) set forth in Christianity; it should be fairly clear why Christians ought not to fight against statements like “Separation of Church and State”. Believers are supposed to make the decision to accept Jesus Christ on their own, without force. When Christianity becomes politicized, it becomes clear that you can’t force somebody to mentally (or spiritually) take on the necessary change.  In contrast, forcing some behaviors and condemning others without sound doctrine becomes sufficient for political growth. So many Christians are following teachings without knowing what they mean or where they come from (Hosea 4:6).  This is particularly noted among people in the “religious right”. Many of us “know of scripture” without knowing what it means or where it’s found. Our knowledge is limited to what someone else told us instead of doing our own research (2 Timothy 2:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:21). Because we CANNOT force people to believe (Matthew 10:14, Luke 9:5), you get a very different, often times hateful, religion when Christianity goes on the offensive.

As a result we have progressive (liberal) Christianity as an offshoot of the union of Christianity and political influence. The apostate is oftentimes more intellectually honest the “progressive” reformer. The progressive reformer takes what they dislike about Christianity, and “pushes it somewhere else”. Whereas the apostate (whether through ignorance or personal preference) simply does away with their belief altogether. What’s perhaps the most hypocritical however, is that the progressive and the apostate criticize the religious right for imposing religion on society, when both of them do so when it’s convenient for them (see: Pres. Obama’s glass house quote and John Kerry on environmentalism to name a few).

I would argue that those who believe Christian to be a sacred title ought to go on the offensive by declaring that they are not yet a Christian. To be a follower or Christ (or a “little Christ”) should be seen as a much bigger responsibility than we give to it.  We ought to follow the Apostle Paul’s example when he states that he presses toward the mark of the prize of the high calling (Philippians 3:14). In other words, becoming a Christian ought to be seen as an ongoing journey rather than a set destination. You continue to grow until you reach the end wherein we become “perfect” (Matthew 5:48). For believers, we must reevaluate who we believe we represent. Don’t allow Christianity to be a term that can be defined by those who aren’t invested in it.

Hopefully this sets the stage for my subsequent posts. I believe that Christian standards are achievable, but seldom seen due to confusion and pride on the part of believers. I don’t believe I’m better or more spiritual than anyone else, but I will not bring Christianity down to my level. If I’m wrong, I welcome correction on this front.