Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: January, 2008

Number 5

5) Christianity breeds arrogance, a chosen-people mentality.
There’s no denying that the Bible gives special terms to the people who follow after Christ. Peter calls believers a holy nation and a people for God’s own possession. The Old Testament says that the people of God were his special people, set apart from the rest of the world. It’s obvious that there is something supposed to be special about the people who claim to follow God. But I think there are two big reasons why this should never breed arrogance or a chosen people mentality.

One, the reason God gives his people these names is not so that they feel good about themselves. Look at the context when Peter calls believers a chosen race, a royal priesthood and a holy nation: ‘that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.’ Believers are not special because of anything they have done, rather because of what has been done to them. Neither are they simply chosen and that’s the end of it. They are chosen to live holy lives and bear fruit. If a believer does not live a life of kindness, humility, mercy and love, then he has little reason to take pleasure in his election.

Secondly, the attitude of election should be a vertical one, not horizontal. That is, a believer should never say to himself ‘I am better than the rest of mankind because I have been chosen out of them. I am holy, they are not. I am elect, they are not.’ Rather he should consider his election in relation to God. He should be humbled that God would choose him and not cast him aside. If a believer’s election or position in Christ leads to arrogance he really does not understand it at all.

I cannot deny that many people who hold to Christianity are arrogant in their place and have a chosen people mentality. There is no excuse for this. But I need to point out again that this is a problem with the practice of Christianity, not with Christianity itself. Our position should make us humble, not arrogant.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?

3 & 4

3) Christianity is based on dishonesty
This point is not backed up well. His claim first hinges on Christianity being based on fear, which it is not. Second he points to dishonest clergy, but that is a problem with the practice of Christians, rather than objective Christianity. Lastly he points to Pascal’s Wager (which I think he really misunderstands). It’s dishonest for him to claim that it is one of the most popular arguments for belief in God. Of course the wager, as he describes it, has nothing to do with Christianity. No serious Christian would use such an argument as he defines it.

4) Christianity is extremely egocentric
Religion’s strongest appeal may be the promise of heaven; as I see it, the strongest appeal of Christianity is gaining Christ Himself. Is this egocentric? Is it egocentric to desire the greatest thing in the universe? Not at all. Christianity points completely away from self and toward Christ. It is not centered on Man, it is centered on God. Rewards and gifts and the attention God gives to man does not change this. Christianity does not teach a man to look at himself, but to let self go and run to God.

3 & 4

3) Christianity is based on dishonesty
This point is not backed up well. His claim first hinges on Christianity being based on fear, which it is not. Second he points to dishonest clergy, but that is a problem with the practice of Christians, rather than objective Christianity. Lastly he points to Pascal’s Wager (which I think he really misunderstands). It’s dishonest for him to claim that it is one of the most popular arguments for belief in God. Of course the wager, as he describes it, has nothing to do with Christianity. No serious Christian would use such an argument as he defines it.

4) Christianity is extremely egocentric
Religion’s strongest appeal may be the promise of heaven; as I see it, the strongest appeal of Christianity is gaining Christ Himself. Is this egocentric? Is it egocentric to desire the greatest thing in the universe? Not at all. Christianity points completely away from self and toward Christ. It is not centered on Man, it is centered on God. Rewards and gifts and the attention God gives to man does not change this. Christianity does not teach a man to look at himself, but to let self go and run to God.

The creature his attention was fixed on was rather hard to describe. So hard, in fact, that I’ll not bother trying to describe it. I understand this may prove frustrating for many readers, but such frustrations are ill-founded. In fact, when an author declines to fully describe something it is a bit of a bonus for a reader because he (or she) is given the opportunity to come up with a mental picture of this creature without being hampered by any pre-described notions about it. So please, dear reader, do your best to picture a creature that cannot be accurately described. Picture it, but do not devote too much time to it, because it actually has little to do with this story.

Shan’s attention was completely fixed on this strange, linguistically elusive critter. For a moment everything else he had ever considered in his life ceased to be important. Only this funny little thingy of an animal mattered. It was unfortunate that he placed so much attention on the creature, he soon found out. For the blue rock that he chose to sat near eventually turned out to be no rock at all, but a giant eyelid (scary, eh?)!

The eye opened and looked at Shan. Shan didn’t really notice, busy as he was trying to describe the indescribable critter (silly boy). For a while the eye just looked. It had malice in its eye, but it lacked the power to do anything about that malice, being only an eye after all. It tried winking angrily at Shan, but it had no affect. It tried throwing rocks at Shan, but gave up as soon as it realized it had no arms. It almost tried to come up with an elaborate plan to capture and eat Shan, but gave up after decided it possessed neither the brain with which to plan nor the mouth with which to eat. So it mostly just sat there, winking in utter anger and frustration.

When Shan scoured the island in search of materials for an ultimate weapon, he didn’t pay very much attention to the fact that other sentient beings could be on the island too. In the shallow recesses of his mind, right below the general concept thinking, but on the other side of the fiery concept called analyzing, rested the dull, much-abused concept of memory. For you see, Shan’s memory had had a rough little existence. It was born in a weak sort of way, which is to say that its conception is rooted in fairly painful and bizzare circumstances. Literally. His first memory was of his entire body being covered in gooey Hythranian boogers after he and a few of his friends had upset a Hythran nest. The strange thing about Hythranian boogers are that they sting like hot chili’s and immediately erase any and all previous memories from one’s brain.

(In recent years scientists studying the Hythranian biomolecular structure developed a way to reverse engineer the function of the organ responsible for producing the gooey boogers, effectively restoring lost memory. This was eagerly marketed to the elderly and with great effect. However, there has been an astonishing number of complaints and lawsuits against pharmeceutical companies who manufacture Mem-X who demand a refund or a drug which reverses Mem-X’s effects. The basic nature of the complaint is that they really didn’t want to remember as many things as the drug allowed them to. [In some rare instances Mem-X has been known to draw from the brain memories at pre-conscious periods, such as circumcision])

Needless to say the painful re-beginning of Shan’s memory was a significant factor in its currently sub-par performance. The other significant factor is the regular abuse his memory receives from the concepts Perception and Will; mostly it is just Will. These two things, coupled with frequent visits from Mr. Forgetful of Doubting Lane, are the main contributions to the current state of Shan’s memory. So it is not suprising when, having called to memory for aid to determine whether there were any significant life forms on the island, Shan was given a blank stare followed by a brief eye-brow raised about a quarter-of-an-inch above the eye.

So he treked off across the island once more, having decided (quite shrewdly I think) to leave the sand where it lay, apply the itching powder to his ailing scalp, and call out in general statements of “Hello there!” by means of the rubber plunger head. After several hours, Shan sat down by a blue rock in the middle of the deepest part of the forest. His eye was drawn to a tiny creature climbing a tree two yards away.

Marvelling at this newfound life, the first thing Shan did was to reach in his green pants and pull out his blackberry which, miraculously, had survived the incineration. There was only one thing on this crazy island that was for sure. . .he needed to check his schhhedule (with the sch pronouced shh, as in shhheep.)

“Hmm,” he said aloud to himself. “According to this electronical planning device(or EPD), the first thing I have to do is fashion a rather large weapon with which I can unleash particularly devasting critical attacks against my foes,” Shan said the words slowly to himself, making sure to enunciate. “Perhaps if I scrounge around long enough I can come up with the materials needed to make one, with which I could quite possibly become the deadliest person on this island.”

Shan spent the next few days looking everywhere for the perfect ingredients. However, at the end of it, all he had managed to come up with was the following items: Lots of Sand, Gold-bond medicated itching powder, and the rubber part of an old toilet plunger. He also found some twigs. . .but they weren’t dry enough to be fatal.

At that moment, Shan came to the painstaking realization that the only thing he could make with these ingredients was a weapon of minor annoyance. .capable of unleashing only very unworthy attacks.

He needed to find a friend. .fast.

Number Two

2) Christianity preys on the innocent
It is quite true that Christianity reaches out to children, though I would hardly call it preying on them. “Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them, for such is the kingdom of heaven.” It seems that the Bible, in many ways, favors children over adults.
To me, the word prey signifies the goal of causing damage and distress. Christianity certainly does not have this attitude toward children. Sure, there are many warnings given to children, but the end is not to push the child down but to bring him up. I give stern warnings and punishments to my son, but not because I enjoy doing it. Neither do I give them because I want him to conform to a certain mode of behavior. I do it for his joy. I make him cry sometimes so that he will cry less in the future. If he never learns to fight against the wrong impulses that live within him he will never be happy. Cruel people are rarely satisfied people. When we live in opposition to God we are rarely happy in life. If he steals something today the natural consequence will be very small. But if he steals when he is sixteen the consequence could be very great. So I intensify the consequences of his actions now so that he won’t make a big mistake when the stakes are higher.

In dealing with children, if the end of our actions is to make the kids conform to a certain way of thinking or way of living, we are misguided and perhaps even preying on the children. But Christianity’s goal is not this. It is holy happiness. A happiness that can only be achieved through Christ. I discipline and teach Joseph toward this end. If I were to teach a class of children I would do the same – guide them toward better lives, not toward acting right. Right living is more a secondary goal or a symptom of the main goal. The main goal is the happiness of the individual and the glory of God. And in the end these two goals are almost one, if we find the real happiness.

From the ashes

In a forest island surrounded by a deep river was a massive pile of ashes. There was nothing very special about the ashes. You couldn’t tell by looking what the ashes had been back when it had been anything at all. You would not have been able to tell there was a Jedi named Shan (pronounced Shane) who wielded a light-katana and had crazy adventures. You would not have been able to see any of his adventures because his makers had decided to burn him and his friends away, never to be seen again.

But years went by and the authors stopped checking the pile of ash. They stopped wondering if it would ever be rebuilt. Of course nothing could come from the ashes, the reasoned. But they were, all of them, deceived.

The pile heaved and shook. Groans deeper than the earth whispered from the pile. Slowly it took shape. The tiny pieces of ash joined together and were changed at the sub-atomic level. Burnt leather became skin tissue. Charred cloth morphed into hair follicles. Dead batteries changed into eyes – deep green eyes like the wood after a rain. A form stood, clothed in a simple vest and green trousers. He stretched like a man awaking from a long sleep. He looked around at his surroundings, satisfied and pleased to be alive and no longer an inanimate pile of ash. Life was just about to begin.

20 Reasons

I came across a website the other day that caught my interest. 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity. I read through them and decided that they should not remain unanswered. So here’s my answer to the pamphlet’s first supposed reason to abandon Christianity.

1) Christianity is based on fear.
I don’t think the main motivator used in the Bible is fear. It seems to me that God uses positive encouragement more than negative. That is, he encourages us to obey by offering reward more than he does by threatening punishment. I did a quick search and found that hell is mentioned 13 times in the Bible and punishment 23 while reward is mentioned 55. Although I understand that my reading of the Bible is biased, I honestly think that joy and pleasure is used more often to prod us to doing good than a fear of hell. Here’s some examples off the top of my head:

…in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16:11)
…your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt. 6:4, 6, 18)
…that your joy may be full. (John 15:11, 16:24)

I could go on, but I don’t think I need to. I contend that the chief motivator used by Christ and the Apostles is not fear, but joy. We speak of the Joy set before us, not the hell we flee behind us. It is true that many times, however, God uses threats to convince us to follow him. I don’t see how this is a bad thing, though. I use threats with Joseph, too. Sometimes I know that a promise of reward won’t motivate him properly. A threat is not a bad thing, so long as threats are not my only means of getting obedience. Love is a much better motivator and God uses that most, as far as I can tell. Many preachers, it’s true, only use fear to keep their congregations in line. But I think it is unfair to use them as the standard for judging the faith of Christ.

I think one of the unique things about Biblical Christianity is that the primary motivation for obedience is union with God. Not a fear of hell or a promise of carnal pleasures in a man-centered heaven, but walking with God. God is the chief attraction and the main motivator. Christianity is not based on fear. As I see it Christianity is based on love and joy.

Virtually Educational

I was wandering around iTunes the other day and I came across iTunes U. It seems that certain Universities post audio and video of their lectures and you can download them for free! I was especially interested in the History of Christianity I found from Reformed Theological Seminary. I downloaded three courses from them. Check it out.