Friday, February 27, 2009

Ten Things

Ten Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can't Because He Needs the Job!)
Rev. Oliver "Buzz" Thomas, 2007
108 pages.

I do not subscribe to the Christian faith, but I've heard of this book through one podcast or another and decided to read it out of curiosity. The book is written by a Baptist minister and concerns ten controversial issues in the Christianity -- issues that most Christian ministers would rather not visit too much. The ten issues are:
  • How it all began
  • Why we're here
  • The Bible: what is it?
  • Miracles
  • How To Please God
  • Women
  • Homosexuality
  • Other Religions
  • Death and Beyond
  • How it all Ends

Despite his Baptistisity, "Buzz" Thomas is quite open to interpretating the Bible. He begins with a fairly standard "Science and religion aren't in conflict" argument, which on some levels works and which fails on others. As I understand the conservative Christian take on sin and redemption, there were once two real people named Adam and Eve who were corrupted by the spirit-thing of Sin, and that the Rules of the Game dictated that their Sin would be passed on to their ancestors, leading to all sorts of unpleasantness. Then, several thousand years later, YHWH decided to help we poor mortal schmucks out by sending us Jesus, his son/personal avatar, depending on your personal interpretation of the scriptures. The Rules of the Game dictate that sacrifices help out with the Sin thing, so YHWH allowed himself/his son-self to be killed, thus making various things possible -- again, depending on your interpretation. The possibility the conservative tradition embraces is that the spirit of YHWH can enter you and you can overcome temptation. Note you "can", because most people would rather do what they like and chant "Not Perfect, Just Forgiving"

The point of this is that if human knowledge tells you a literalist interpretation of Genesis is flawed, and the basic premise of most Christianity is built on that original sin idea, then the entire system is going to collapse unless the believer is sporting an impression ability to ignore the obvious or compartmentalize things. Without that magic "Sin", the entire religion erodes away to Bible-Jesus being a moral teacher on the level of Buddha -- and at that level, dogma is going to keep evaporating away until religion has just become religious philosophy. I am perfectly okay with that, but most people aren't. They want their religion to be a Religion, something that gives them magic things like eternal life. Moral teachers can't give you heaven -- but God-magic can.

If you take away biblical literalism, you can how the book develops. The Bible is no longer the Word of God: it's a book written by men with agendas and translated by men with agendas. It portrays a primitive society that is still developing civilization, not one that is perfect so long as it is obeying the Word of God. "The Bible" becomes a collection of history, myth, poetry, and laws. Pleasing God becomes not obeying rules, but being nice to people. Women are no longer seen as through Paul's eyes (as subservient to males as males are to YHWH), but through the eyes of the 21st century. Hell? Just a myth,"designed to scare and control primitive people"*. He doesn't really comment on destinies: he just dismisses the idea of a torturous hell.

This book is a work of liberal Christianity, and the liberal Christians adore it. In a way, Thomas shows how progressive and ennobling religion can be if freed from dogma and superstition-- but progressive and ennobling religion is not what humanity wants. If that's what we wanted, the Unitarian Universalist church would be one of the largest. People want strength and security, and the easiest way to attempt to get it is to console oneself with uncompromising dogma. The inner strength of idealism, while serving philosophers like myself and liberal Christians like Thomas well, is not realized by most people in my experience. I wish more Christians thought as Thomas did: the United States would be so much more pleasant. Sadly, though, I think Thomas is quite literally preaching to the choir.

* A phrase not from Thomas, but from George Carlin's "Ten Commandments" sketch.

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