Friday, May 7, 2010

Interesting Read on Perceived Religious Persecution

An interesting post from an evangelical Christian at Baylor University in Texas. It is interesting how these so-called religious leaders twist the truth to garner power within the political ranks. England is still, indeed, somewhat of a church state, and it was that church state that had become too liberal that the early Puritans left for the "freedom of religion" in the New World. They, as we know, wanted the "freedom" to persecute in their own way.

Franklin Graham is playing to the perceived fears of evangelical Christians in this country in order to continue to build his political power. Where his father ministered to presidents, he apparently wants to be a political minister. There is no persecution of Christians in this country. Every time I drive around town I see another empty store front that has been converted into a church, and I'm not exaggerating. Fortunately, as the blogger writes, we do have a constitutionally protected freedom of religion in this country. If it is in danger, it is because there are those like Graham, who would force a particular brand of religion into power in government. Then, like the Puritans and the Church of England, anyone who worships differently, will be in danger of losing that right.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Where Do You Belong?

As a kid growing up in the Bible Belt, I often heard the question, "Where do you belong?" It was a simple question, asked usually in an early conversation with a new acquaintance. It was not a philosophical question. It was quite simple and direct and it meant, where do you go to church, or more directly, where is your church membership. The answer would be, "we belong to the Baptist Church."

In our small town and lightly populated county, the churches were primarily Baptist and Methodist. There were a very few other denominations, usually "holiness" or Church of God. These were assumed to be the "holy rollers," who shouted and were yelled at by their preachers. The preachers would "honk" every few sentences to get their breath and give the listeners' minds and ears a slight respite from the din. At the same time, if the listener were trying to make sense of what the preacher was saying, he might use that few seconds to try to figure out what was just said.

In our church, the Methodist Church, the preachers calmly brought their message on Sunday morning, occasionally raising their voice to make a point. They were normally well educated in seminaries and their sermons were well organized and delivered. Emotional outbursts from the congregation were unknown. The choirs wore robes and the pianists played classical preludes prior to the service.

Whatever the case, it was assumed that you "belonged" or at least attended a church. Only the lowest of the lowest did not at least darken the doors of the church occasionally. Our church would be packed at Easter as the married children and their families came home and a few husbands made their annual visit to the church. Some people "belonged," but only came to church at major events, such as the aforementioned Easter, Mother's Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

As most did, I went to church and Sunday school regularly. As I got older I had to be coerced by my mother, on occasion. Poor dear, she had an awful time, between my not wanting to go and my sister getting up and ready at the last minute. We gave her fits some Sunday mornings, but we got there on time and sat in the obligatory Sunday school class, then through the sermon. My sister made it through easily because she loved music, and ultimately became a music director of several large churches.

Today, I rarely go to church. I don't "belong," although my wife continues to try to get me to help her find a "church home." Frankly, in the last few months as my therapist has gotten me to look inward, I have begun to think about what I believe and who I am. When it comes to religion, my beliefs probably do not mesh with the majority of Christians. At least I do not think so. My guess is that there are many out there like me who never really question themselves as to what they truly believe. Many are probably afraid to question their own religious beliefs, fearing that they will be condemned to hell or worse, ostracized by their peers. Others simply do not think to ask questions. Religion is something they have grown up with and were expected to accept. They assumed it to be the absolute truth.

As a realist and, even as a historian, I have problems with much of the Biblical story. Did Jesus exist? Surely. Was he crucified? Surely. Did he arise from the dead? I rather doubt it. Did he perform miracles? I rather doubt it. The Bible tells us these things, but it was written by men well after the fact. They had a religion to spread and a man to deify, much like authors such as Samuel Weems, who concocted stories to create the early American heroes. In Weems' case it was George Washington. In the case of the writers of the New Testament it was Jesus.

At the same time, I cannot positively say that all those things did not happen. I just do not believe in the supernatural. How did these things happen one time, but never again since? Because there has only been one Jesus? People often ascribe happenings to God. Certainly miracles seem to happen on occasion. But, on the other hand, many happenings that are explained as God's will are far too inconsistent. How does God tragically take this child, but spare this one. Both are just as precious. Because their parent's "sinned?" Because there was not enough prayer? Why punish the child for something the parents did or did not do?

Jesus' teachings, as described in the Bible, are wonderful lessons. They are, if truly followed, a fine prescription, for living one's life. Yet, they are often used to condemn and ostracize. Preachers preach eternal damnation and condemn people with whom they do not agree or do not understand. Religion is often used more in a negative way than in the positive way that Jesus taught. Words taken out of context, either in ignorance or in spite do great harm to the Christian religion and to the memory of Jesus. I belong? Probably not, at least in the minds of many who might read this. I believe in some of the Biblical happenings. Others are not proven to me. Do I say they absolutely did not happen? No. Do I say they absolutely did happen? No. It has not been proven to me. Agnosticism is what it is called. Those who condemn would say it is Atheism because they only see black and white. You are either "saved" or condemned to Hell. There is no middle ground for them. It is my life. I try to live in a good and positive, some would say Christian, way. I will deal with the consequences...if there are consequences. If not, then does it really matter?