Religion is Child Abuse and Other Silly Ideas

A common claim on the internet these days is that raising children in a religious tradition is child abuse.

This same notion comes with a related notion that being religious is a form of brain disorder.

If you do not believe me, look this up. Richard Dawkins has claimed that raising children religiously is worse than pedophilia. Sam Harris says that being religious is worse than rape.

I challenge atheists who actually think this way to stop being lazy and perform their civic duties:

  1. To report child abuse in the form of religious education and religious upbringing to appropriate government authorities.
  2. To attempt, as is the duty of any reasonable citizen, to prevent acts of such child abuse as they occur. Who, in his right mind, would sit back as a child is beaten in public?
  3. To treat religious persons as mentally deficient rather than mocking them, find ways to seek treatment for mental disorders connected to being religious.

Until atheists start to do this, it will be clear that their posturing, insinuating of mental inability on the part of the religious, and their accusations of child abuse are empty rhetoric. My hypothesis is that atheists won’t do these things because despite how many of them possess poor social skills due to an inability to imagine how another person experiences the world, (this might also explain why certain Calvinist types have no personal warmth despite espousing an ethical system based on the command to love God and neighbor) they still have self-preservation skills and don’t want their little tribe to become utterly intolerable.

But if billions of children are being abused by being raised religiously and billions of people have psychological problems for which medication and treatment are required, then there is a huge problem in the world and the best solution that has been offered by Richard Dawkins and company is mockery and ridicule.

On Weekly Church Attendance and the Gospel in the New Testament

Why Do People Not Go to Church?
It is very easy to find church attendance unpleasant.

I have enjoyed going to church services since my early teenage years, but mostly because my bent has always been toward the philosophical and sermons offer (when done well) a great deal of food for thought.

But I still remember being in high school and finding the singing, the hugs, and the other bits unpleasant. Some people feel that being there Sunday morning is a waste of time, some would rather watch sports, do chores, sleep off a hangover, or make money on Sunday.

Another reason not to go is if church tries to be “cool.” When I’m around people faking being cool I feel embarrassed for them. It’s worse when it is a person doing something that is categorically weird (giving a lecture on a weekend).

Why Might Christians Not Go to Church?
There is an even deeper issue many of us have with church attendance though. Many times the way that the good news of Jesus is explained excludes the church from being a part of the deal. Does this sound familiar:

If you want to go to heaven when you die, then admit to God that you’re sinful, believe that Jesus died for you, and ask God to forgive you. You don’t need to do special good works, you don’t need a priest or church to say so, you’re a Christian.

Now, I have no doubt that the Lord works to redeem us silly creatures with a very minimal or in some cases highly inaccurate understandings of God and God’s will. The point of John 3:16 is that God did everything reasonable, necessary, and possible to make sure that sinners would experience eternal life.

But, the particular way of summarizing the good news of Jesus in question makes church attendance and membership seem utterly peripheral. Thus, if it is boring, then why even go? There is no warrant to treat it as a duty. On top of that, many evangelical teachers claim that duty and ideals are bad things! How could people not be confused about going to church? If church attendance isn’t a duty, isn’t related to being a Christian at all, and has no entertainment value, then why go?

Last Minute Thought: Some people may avoid church due to pangs of conscience like somebody off the wagon who avoids his NA meetings.

The Gospel Message and the Church Community
On the other hand, let us look more clearly at the way the gospel authors summarize Jesus’ message:

Mark 1:14-15 ESV  Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,  (15)  and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Jesus’ version of the gospel is that God’s kingdom is at hand. This phrase means a lot when you dig into the rest of Mark’s gospel, but for now, let’s focus on one reality related to kingdoms. To look at it requires two questions: Who is in charge of a kingdom? Who lives in a kingdom? If you answered

  1. King
  2. People

then you are correct.

Jesus’ very message entailed that there would be a community of people who lived under God’s rule and reign in Israel and indeed, in the whole world. To believe the gospel message that Jesus preached is to believe oneself a citizen of God’s kingdom and thus, in later New Testament lingo, a member of the church.

Grace and Form
So evangelicals who are zealous to explain how God saves us by grace and not meritorious works, need to learn to explain that the message of grace is given in order to create a community.

Here is a concept that might help. Grace, like any other gift must be received as it is. Grace has form.

To Illustrate: If I am offered a gift card for a burger, and I go in and demand free lasagna, I have misapprehended the form of the gift. To receive the free gift, I must receive that gift. Similarly, if I try to accept God’s grace of salvation, but do not accept the form in which it is offered (entrance into a community), then am I really receiving it? God, in his graciousness, forgives us of many misunderstandings, but if God’s grace is meant to make a “people of his own possession, zealous for good works (Titus 2:14),” then receiving God’s grace without being part of such a community seems like a questionable proposition. Surely it can and has been done, but why try?

Many popular preachers define grace as “unmerited forgiveness.” A better definition of it is “unmerited gift.” Even then, this short-circuits its meaning in ancient culture. Grace by definition was offered freely, but receiving grace came with an expectation of loyalty or at least of thanksgiving in return (see DeSilva Honor, Patronage Kinship, and Purity). As Dallas Willard would say, “Grace is opposed to earning not to effort,” or in this case grace is opposed to earning, not to responding and receiving.

Now, the form of grace  that Jesus offers in the New Testament is an invitation to be Jesus’ disciple with Jesus’ people. One could also say that grace is offered as an invitation to believe Jesus’ message because it comes from Jesus, who is completely trustworthy. So, to receive the grace Jesus offers is to receive Jesus. To receive the message of God’s kingdom is, by implication, to accept the invitation to become citizens of God’s kingdom or members of God’s family.

Reframing the gospel message to include what Jesus and the gospel authors say about the gospel is very important for helping people to understand why going to church is important. Church attendance is important because we believe the gospel message. The gospel message offers entrance into a kingdom filled with God’s people. No people, no kingdom; and no kingdom means, no gospel. The people of God meet for church services every week to offer praise to God and to build one another up. The church is and does more than weekly services. But the church is not less than it’s services. To believe the gospel is to agree that barring impossible circumstances, we will be with God with his people regularly.

Did Jesus come to make bad people good?

A common evangelical slogan, which I think comes from a Ravi Zacharias sermon is:

Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, he came to make dead people live.

While I think I agree with the main point of this phrase (Christianity is not mere moralism), methinks that it often ends up being a slogan that actually contradicts the mass of New Testament teaching and ignores common sense definitions of being morally good.

For instance, Dallas Willard defines a good person as:

The morally good person…is a person who is intent upon advancing the various goods of human life with which they are effectively in contact, in a manner that respects their relative degrees of importance and the extent to which the actions of the person in question can actually promote the existence and maintenance of those goods.

A good person then:

  1. Is intent upon advancing the good of human life such as health, sustainable pleasure, beauty, knowledge both physical and philosophical, romance, family cohesion, showing honor and gratitude to whom it is due, and so on.
  2. Aligns their intentions to advance those goods with respect to which of those goods are most important and most appropriate in various circumstances.
  3. And focuses their efforts upon the goods that he or she can actually accomplish (a math genius who is awful at being with people should avoid hospital visits).

Now, look at these New Testament passages about why Jesus came:

Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, (12) training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, (13) waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, (14) who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Romans 8:3-4 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, (4) in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

1 John 4:9-11 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. (10) In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (11) Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

This is just a smattering of the New Testament witness to Jesus having come to transform our character, but I think the point is well made. I typically do not buy into proof-texting, in the sense that quoting Bible verses with no context does not necessarily prove this or that dogma. But I think that if we wish to utilize slogans that are meant to summarize the Christian approach to life, like the one above, they should have ample support in Scripture.

In the case of this particular slogan, there is a false dichotomy proposed and it confuses people. It would make more sense to say, “Jesus came in order to make bad people good because he came to raise them from death to life with God.” But then the quote doesn’t sound as hip. Also, why not just use this slogan, “Christianity is not mere moralism”?

It’s Only a Symbol

One of the staples of Baptist piety is that the Lord’s Supper is “only a symbol” or “just a symbol.” So, every time that gospels are quoted saying,

Mark 14:22-24 ESV  And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” (23)  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.  (24)  And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

one might receive a stern reminder, “this is just a symbol.”

I understand why Baptists do that, but I think that they’re mistaken in so doing.

Here is a thought experiment:

Think about a stop sign. It is just a symbol? Or is the authority it represents merely symbolically defended by the local government? Will the, “it’s just a symbol for the need to stop” defense work in court for those who do not stop?

Similarly, is a letter from a dear friend merely a symbol for your friend’s love or a mediated example of your friend’s love as well?

Are marriage vows merely a symbol, because they are words?

The iconoclasm and direct correction of Roman Catholic dogma concerning the sacrament is understandable, but it is wrong headed. The Lord’s Supper, by virtue of its institution by Jesus himself, has all of his authority behind it and thus his presence is mediated in the event of taking the Supper. The body of Christ, the church, mediates God’s presence to each member who partakes of the bread which is called the body. The symbol is that the bread, though bread, is taken to remember Jesus’ death despite its being bread. The symbol is that not, “this is merely bread therefore Jesus has nothing to do with it because it is bread.” The bread, is meant to be taken as a way to receive blessings because Jesus commanded us to take it and eat it. And Jesus makes it clear that following his commands is precisely how we receive his blessings.

So, my point is that the Lord promised to be with his people as they made disciples until the end of the age (Matthew 28:16-20). Why would that be less true during the Lord’s Supper than during other times? The best answer many Bible based Christians can give is: because that’s what we traditionally have said.

Mood Music

Over at voxpopuli, Vox posted on mood programming music. I would not have chosen most of his choices, but he apparently was in the band psychosonik (I’m pretty sure they made music for the Mortal Kombat films). I shouldn’t expect his musical tastes to be similar to mine or even to standard humans. His categories are:

Best 5 fire-it-up songs

Best 5 philosophy songs

Best 5 get-off-the-canvas songs

Best 5 romance songs

I thought this was a cool idea. Here are my thoughts:

Best 5 fire-it-up songs (for the weight room or punching bag anyway)

  1. Fuel by Metallica (S&M version)
  2. Animal I have become by Three Days Grace
  3. Mars the Bringer of War by Gustav Holst
  4. The Crowing by Coheed and Cambria
  5. Black Wind, Fire, and Steel by Manowar

Best 5 philosophy songs (songs about philosophy or songs for reading philosophy?)

  1. Every Thought a Thought of You by mewithoutYou
  2. Somebody Told Me by The Killers (this might be about the Gettier Problem)
  3. Vesuvius by Sufjan Stevens
  4. Carnival of Souls by Saviour Machine
  5. Ready to Die by Andrew W.K.

Best 5 get-off-the-canvas songs

  1. Can’t Stop by The Red Hot Chili Peppers
  2. Defy You by The Offspring
  3. Harder Better Faster Stronger by Daft Punk
  4. FMZ4 by Mortal (this might be about revenge against a vampire from space)
  5. Here We Are Juggernaut by Coheed and Cambria

Best 5+2 romance songs (I like more romance songs than I thought…)

  1. Pearl of the Stars by Coheed and Cambria
  2. George Romero Will Be At Our Wedding by Showbread
  3. Does this Inspire You by Josh D.I.E.S.
  4. Burn by The Cure
  5. Dance Dance Christa Paffgen by Anberlin
  6. She is Beautiful by Andrew W.K.
  7. Nightcall by Kavinsky

What does it mean to “have faith in Christ?”

What is faith?

What is Christian faith? I don’t mean “what is ‘the Christian faith’?” I mean, when I Christian has faith in Christ, what does ‘faith’ connote? Many Christians carry a meaning of the word faith around in their heads that leaves them with no actual ground to stand on for living the good life hinted at in Deuteronomy 30, the Sermon on the Mount, Micah 6:8, and Romans 12-15.

Dallas Willard on the most basic form of Christian Faith
I think that Dallas Willard has a very import insight into this specific issue:

“Jesus’ disciples are those who have chosen to be with him to learn to be like him. All they have necessarily realized at the outset of their apprenticeship to him is, Jesus is right. He is the greatest and best. Of this, they are sure.” Willard, Dallas (2009-02-06). The Divine Conspiracy (p. 318). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

This is a good way to see things. Christian faith is a particular stance in life vis-à-vis Jesus as he appears in the four gospels and in the preaching of the earliest church. This faith is, of course, a seed that grows up and discovers more explicit answers to hard questions but it must start with the simple admission and recognition that Jesus really is a wonderful, competent, reliable to guide human life, really is clever enough to save you from sin, and really does know what God and his kingdom are like.

Gary Black, in his book The theology of Dallas Willard, elaborates upon Willard’s brief description of Christian faith in Jesus:

Willard asserts that confidence in Jesus should proceed from trusting him as a competent, verifiable master and guide into the vagaries of all human existence and endeavor. This would include placing confidence in Jesus’ own claims regarding his divinity and his resurrection. But belief in only these two propositional doctrines is not, in Willard’s view, positioning confidence in Jesus as the holistic Christ offering a total whole life soteriology proclaimed in Scripture.” Black Jr., Gary (2013-08-06). The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith (p. 123). Pickwick Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Faith in Christ is not simply right ideas about Jesus. Faith in Christ is a particular way of respecting Jesus as a person in relationship to yourself.

In all toil there is profit

In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.
(Proverbs 14:23 ESV)

The proverb above is one I have always associated with one particular type of talk: talking about what you’re going to do instead of doing it.

I think that this aspect is true, but incomplete. I have overly limited the meaning of talk.

Here are forms of talk that are justifiably included under this heading because they replace labor and thus prevent profit:

  1. Being critical of others to the neglect of self-reflection or self-improvement
  2. Being a whiner, complainer, or malcontent
  3. Making excuses and being a wimp (we’re all going to die anyway)
  4. Talking about other people’s accomplishments without accomplishing anything yourself
  5. Talking about how other people messed up your life
  6. Talking about what you would do if only you had this or that
  7. Talking about theology instead of praying, reading Scripture, learning Greek/Hebrew, or putting the words of Jesus into practice.
  8. Talking about what other churches do wrong instead of fixing your own church
  9. Complaining about your neighbors instead of ordering your own household or picking up garbage when you go for a walk
  10. Complaining about the government without knowing local politician’s names or platforms or voting
  11. Preaching sermons but not praying, meditating, or otherwise attending to matters of personal spiritual care
  12. Having endless meetings at work but doing no work
  13. Being a part of dozens of Bible studies but not studying for your calling
  14. Being a part of dozens of Bible studies but not memorizing or reading any of the Bible
  15. Talking about your crush and never asking him/her out

I’m sure that this isn’t comprehensive, but I hope it helps.

Any other aspects of “mere talk” that distract from actual labor and therefore from profit?