L.B.: Enchanting

L.B.: Enchanting November 4, 2006

Left Behind, pp. 228-231

Chloe Steele got up and walked out during the middle of the meeting for "the disenchanted and the skeptics" at New Hope Village Church.

"Do you wonder why I walked out?" Chloe asks. And, yes. Yes I do.

"I figured it was because the questions and answers were hitting a little too close to home," Rayford says, and I wish he hadn't because it only reminds me that LaHaye and Jenkins frustratingly chose to omit that crucial scene, leaving us readers in the dark about what all those "too close to home" questions and answers might have been.

"Maybe they were, but all this stuff about Satan and the Fall and sin and all that …" She stopped and shook her head.

Those ellipses are again frustrating because we didn't get to hear what exactly the Rev. Bruce Barnes said about "all this stuff." One wonders what it was he said in presenting the Christian gospel to the assembled crowd of skeptics. "The Fall and sin and all that" would certainly play some part in such a discussion, although it shouldn't be the only, or the main, point. And Satan really doesn't need to have a starring role in such a talk, so it's strange that Chloe should come away with that impression. I'd guess either that Bruce was engaging in more vicious regress theodicy (it's Satan's fault), or something worse, like perhaps the unfortunately common error that Christ was crucified to give the Devil his due, but again we'll never know because the authors skipped that scene.

The discussion that follows is one of the more realistic bits of dialogue in the book so far. It captures a conversation that frequently occurs between would-be evangelists and their reluctant counterparts. You may recognize this conversation as one you have participated in from one side or the other:

"I know I'm a sinner and that this world is full of them," [Rayford said].

"And you consider me one."

"If you're part of everybody, then, yes, I do. Don't you?"

"Not on purpose."

"You're never selfish, greedy, jealous, petty, spiteful?"

"I try not to be, at least not at anyone else's expense."

"But you think you're exempt from what the Bible says about everybody being a sinner, about there not being one righteous person anywhere, 'No not one'?"

"I don't know, Daddy, I just have no idea."

It's a bit odd that Rayford, who fell asleep before reading Acts and the epistles, is suddenly able to recite a passage from Romans 3/Psalm 14 from memory, but let that pass. He is, for once, fairly accurately conveying something that Christians actually believe: "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:10). We believe, in other words, that the need for forgiveness is an essential, universal part of what it means to be human. And we believe this is true even for those who may not feel or be aware of this need. Those who disagree may, understandably, find this offensive — a kind of passing judgment or, perhaps, a bit of projection, like when your newly sober friend, three months into AA, gives you that knowing smirk after you mention going to a bar, suggesting that you're just in denial about your own alcoholism. I don't want to engage in such projection, so if you disagree with this Christian contention — if you believe that the need for forgiveness is not, in fact, a universal human trait — then I'd simply ask that, rather than taking offense, you take pity. I need forgiveness, so even if you don't believe I need God's, I hope you'll grant me yours.

I've often described evangelism, properly understood, as a form of hospitality — Come on in and take a load off. Hospitality invites and offers; it does not dictate. "Have some tea?" not "[You must] have some tea [or else]."

One of my favorite descriptions of such hospitable evangelism is "one beggar telling another beggar where I found bread." A perfectly legitimate response to such an offer is to say, "Thanks, but I'm not a beggar and I'm not hungry." A hospitable evangelist will not force the issue, as Rayford does here, insisting that yes, in fact, you are a beggar and you are hungry, you just don't know it yet. Nor would such an evangelist take the next step that Rayford takes, trying to prove his point by citing scripture, as though this should settle the matter with someone who has no reason to regard what it may or may not say as in any way authoritative.

One of the things I admire about Billy Graham is his willingness to, like Jesus, extend an invitation to "all who are weary and burdened," without harassing those who may respond, "Thanks, but I'm not." Fair enough, Dr. Graham says, we'll be here if you change your mind.

The alternative to such hospitality is to take the approach that Rayford takes above, insisting to Chloe that you do so need forgiveness, you "selfish, greedy, jealous, petty, spiteful" sinner (talk about projection). I appreciate that many of my coreligionists regard this as a legitimate approach. Rather than getting bogged down here in a discussion of why I find this tack immoral, let me just say for now that it's not particularly wise. "Trust me, you're a filthy sinner," is not the most winsome or promising form of evangelism (and you'd be hard pressed, apart from satires like Jonah, to find biblical models for such an approach).

After this brief flirtation with something Christians actually do believe, Rayford gets back to the main point of Left Behind — the peculiar, heretical eschatology that distorts all of its purported Christianity:

"What did you think of the video? Did it make sense to you?"

"It made a lot of sense if you buy into all that. I mean, you have to start with that as a foundation. Then it all works neatly. But if you're not sure about God and the Bible and sin and heaven and hell, then you're still wondering what happened and why."

Here we see, explicitly, why Bruce Barnes' use of the word "disenchanted" was telling, if not quite precise. What Bruce really meant was "un-enchanted," an apt description of all those skeptics who do not "buy into all that" premillennial dispensationalist foundation.

Chloe seems to be saying here only what every religious believer of any kind would claim: That their beliefs are internally consistent — that they are reasonable conclusions based upon premises taken on faith, and thus, while they may not be proveable, neither can they be disproved. (Here again I would borrow a distinction made by Wendell Berry: religion involves belief in that which cannot be proved; superstition involves belief in that which can be disproved.)

But the foundation, the premise, for the scheme laid on in the ICR video has very little to do with "God and the Bible and sin and heaven and hell." It has to do, rather, with a very strange method of de-coding the Bible and reinterpreting what it has to say about God and all the rest. It has to do with the rapture, the Antichrist, and a long checklist of supposed prophecies cobbled together arbitrarily from a long series of biblical passages ripped from their clearer contexts. If you buy into all that, if you start with that as a foundation, only then does the In Case of Rapture video or anything else in this book make any sense at all.

The problem with this system — or one of many problems — is that it is not internally consistent. It requires adherents to read particular passages in a particular way while simultaneously avoiding and ignoring other passages in such a way that it becomes nearly impossible to discern a coherent hermeneutic, a reasonable set of principles governing why Passage X should be decoded one way while Passage Y and Passage W are not. It does not begin with a set of premises taken on faith and proceed from these to reasonable, consistent conclusions. Instead, it asserts a set of arbitrary conclusions and then works backward to invent or discover the alleged premises.

Accepting this scheme, then, is not really like what Chloe describes. It is not a matter of accepting on faith premises about "God and the Bible … and all that" and then basing reasonable conclusions on that foundation. It is more like what Bruce calls it, a kind of enchantment. Accepting it has little to do with reason or with faith, but rather with a kind of magical thinking.


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88 responses to “L.B.: Enchanting”

  1. The sad thing is, the main reason these two “writers” skipped over this important scene was because they couldn’t imagine what those “questions and answers” might be.
    But oh dear, I do feel sorry for Chloe with such a awful father. Only just converted himself, and already condemning her…

  2. And _how_ is everybody so sure that this is the Rapture, and not something else? I’d expect a bunch of people to be trying to cash in…”We are the Timekeepers from the Planet Remulac. We have taken your children, as well as a portion of your adult population, as hostages. If you do not wish your planet destroyed, place one hundred million of your earth “dollars” in a plain brown bag, and follow these directions…”
    But then, perhaps L+J’s cones aren’t up to that sort of scheming…

  3. But no faith is internally consistent. There are always parts of the foundational text which just don’t make sense now, but probably did 2000 years ago. So believers ignore the egregious falsehoods/anachronisms unless they fit into their current world view. If you can pick and choose the bits you like then is the “Left Behind” interpretation anymore ridiculous than the other more rational versions?

  4. no, really, Colonel, it is.
    most christian scholars (the majority of catholics and virtually all mainline protestant denominations) believe that the apocalypse of st. john, AKA the book of revelations, is an extended metaphor for various events that were going on during early Christian history. at the time they were written. kind of like if, a thousand years from now, someone reads a satire about President Bush and somehow extrapolates it as some kind of prophecy.
    there’s this minority of Christians, however, who insist that Revelations isn’t a relic of ancient history, but a real life prophecy which is destined to come true any day now. except it never does. and it’s been that way for over a thousand years. it never comes true. yet it strangely corresponds, metaphorically, to the end of the roman empire. which is why most scholars regard it, not as prophecy, but as a historical document.
    most religions don’t have anything like that, really. you could perhaps compare the muslim jihadists, maybe hasidim with their rebbe messiahs. the only non-jewish/christian/muslim comparison i can come up with is all the various strands of paganism, some of which are probably more bizarre than the pre-mills. except the rogue factions of pagans are basically isolated bands of misanthropic 15 year olds with no influence on anybody. and most likely, if neo-paganism goes anywhere as a religion, it won’t be based around that juvenile crap.

  5. Ever see the Eddie Izzard bit about Church of England fanatics?
    “You must have tea and cake with the vicar, or you die! You, cake or death?”
    “Cake, please.”
    It’s on Dressed to Kill. It’s great.

  6. Another great post!
    One question I have though, Fred–you said Jeremiah was a satire? I have to admit, I haven’t heard of this view of the book. Could I get more information on it?
    Personally, taking the book straight, I enjoy it not for the whole big fish deal, but because of the end which talks about rejoicing when people turn from the path they’re on which will end in destruction, and the value of appreciating a new brother or sister in Christ (okay, it’s in the Old Testament, but still…) rather than rejoicing in the destruction of an enemy.

  7. Actually he said Jonah was a satire. Now I admit it’s been a while, and that I last read it on Yom Kippur, a time not conducive to good scholarly reading due to hunger, exhaustion and boredom. But I must admit that I don’t recall it as a satire. Teresa Nielsen Hayden once said she thought it was supposed to be funny, though, so I suppose this isn’t an interpretation original with Fred. I wonder where it comes from?
    Picking up another point: it seems to me that that line from Wendell Berry might prove more than one means it to. For example, given the scientific experiments showing the ineffectiveness of prayer — not to mention the whole of human history, I would add personally — it seems to consign as superstition the idea that God ever answers prayer with any actual, detectable actions in this world. Obviously any results in any possible next world aren’t provable or disprovable. But it’s pretty much provable that God doesn’t act in this world in response to prayer.
    (One might demur with the common notion that science can only disprove, but not prove… but to accept that as a standard of proof would mean that literally nothing save Pythagorean beliefs about the rationality of the square root of 2 would count as superstition, and thus make a hash of the entire idea.)
    I’m curious what Fred, and other theists here, think of this. (I actually put up a long post about this recently, if anyone’s interested in a longer discussion of the topic.)

  8. Jonah is definitely funny. Full of irony. The point Fred was making, I think, is this. Jonah goes to tell the Ninevites they’re all going to die because they’re evil. So they repent, including all the animals, and God doesn’t punish them. That’s the model of evangelism Fred’s referring to. But the book isn’t about holding up Jonah’s approach as the way to evangelize.
    Put on your best Bill Cosby voice, and read the first few verses of Jonah this way. And God said to Jonah, I’m ticked at the Ninevites, arise, go, and tell them. So Jonah arose and went… in the opposite direction.

  9. If you buy into all that, if you start with that as a foundation, only then does the In Case of Rapture video or anything else in this book make any sense at all.
    I hope that L&J show us the progression by which Godless, Unchurched, Liberal, Over-Intellectual Chloe comes to understand this foundational system of beliefs before they try to have us believe that she has become a fundamentalist.
    (I’m not holding my breath, though…*sigh*)

  10. I dunno, opoponax, this link suggests that lots of religions have these beliefs about the end of the world.
    Revelation almost didn’t make it into the canon, if I understand right. I really don’t understand why you’d fixate on Revelation at the expense of the Gospels. But people do, and they write books.

  11. The point of The Opoponax’s post, Elvis, was that the Apocalypse isn’t about the end of the world. Of course there are snatches of eschatological teachings scattered throughout the Gospels and Epistles, but you can’t get the LB theology out of that no matter how you read it. (They get the bit about the Rapture as such from 1 Cor 15 unless I’m mistaken, but with a fairly novel reading. You have to misread the Apocalypse to get the rest.)

  12. Re: Jonah–I think any story that has a guy being barfed up by a giant fish almost has to be satire.
    The thing about Jonah and his model of evangelism (“Repent or die!”) that so many people miss is that the story doesn’t end with Ninevah’s repentence. It ends with Jonah sitting under a wilted plant whining about how unfair life is because God didn’t smite those Ninevites after all. I mean, who does God think he is, forgiving those dirty heathens? Jonah is an anti-hero, not only because he first runs in the opposite direction, but because he really wasn’t interested in “saving” the Ninevites from anything at all.
    L&J strike me as exactly this kind of “evengalist.” They’re re-writing Jonah so that it ends how they want it to, with Ninevah unrepentant and destroyed and the Raputured Jonahs sitting on a hill smirking in self-satisfaction at their righteousness and the punishment of the wicked. After all, THEY can’t be blamed. They told us so! (Na-na-na-na-na-na!)

  13. I am curious about one thing. I have always assumed that repentence have to be genuine in order for it to be accepted. No “Haha i killed a dozen infants by drowning them in battery acid and now i repent to Jesus in prayer and go to heaven while Gandhi burns in hell” sort of thing. By that logic i assume many evangelicals, like jonah, probably won’t make it through the pearly gates. Is there theological basis for them to really think differently? Am I off base with that?

  14. Stephen, my take on the ‘prayer experiments’ is that they prove or disprove nothing, because prayer is not magic – it’s not a method by which you can compel a particular outcome. After all, there’s a prominent example in the Bible of prayer not resulting in the person praying getting what they want: Jesus in Gethsemane praying to be spared the crucifixion. He wasn’t, though he was ‘strenghtened’, whatever precisely that means. The point is that prayer is much more like a conversation than a cosmic shopping list.
    There’s also the CS Lewis objection to such trials, in that if people know they are taking part in such a ‘prayer trial’, then their motives for praying for the person (while consciously NOT praying for other people) are so contaminated as to change the nature of their prayer – that is, what they really want God to do is prove that prayer works. Since He hasn’t done so far, I think it’s safe assumption that for whatever reason He doesn’t want to get play that game. But even if you somehow got round the ‘contamination’ issue, the whole experiment idea is still based on a flawed understanding of the nature of prayer.

  15. i would assume most of them believe their hearts are true. even those who do things disingenuously (most of the leaders of the political arm of the evangelical movement, for instance) probably have justified to themselves that somehow it all balances out and they’re doing god’s work. this probably explains a lot of LB’s “i told you so” theology.
    regarding the effectiveness of prayer, from a non-christian theist: i don’t think it’s really something we can do scientific tests on. i’m a huge believer in the biblical notion that He (sic) works in mysterious ways. i’m not sure whether we can know how prayer (or whatever you choose to call it) works in our lives. i know there’ve been times i’ve been desperate for change or to be rescued from a certain situation, and prayed about it, and it’s all worked out somehow in the end. though usually completely differently from how i’d hoped or imagined it would. atheists would probably say this proves prayer doesn’t work: i asked for something. i didn’t get that exact thing. therefore prayer doesn’t work. to me, whether logically or not, it proves prayer DOES. if i wanted something and then just got it, i would be more inclined to think i was simply working toward a goal rather than being helped out from above.

  16. I think the studies disprove certain things about prayer. They seem to pretty solidly disprove the idea of prayer as a way of producing reliable results in the physical world. It provides scientific contradiction to the whole, “You’re sick? You must not be believing or praying enough,” view.
    I’m an atheist, and I’m glad they did the study because it disproves the usefulness of prayer as a substitute for tangible physical help. I imagine most of the Christians on here would agree with that much.

  17. I think that the problem with saying that “prayer isn’t magic” and can’t “compel” an outcome is that it gets the results wrong: it’s not that prayer doesn’t always work or works unreliably; prayer can’t be shown to have any discernable effects whatsoever. I get the ‘it’s conversation and not magic’ idea, but if it’s doing something then it should be noticeable. (And, again, I think the prayer studies are only a formal version of what is clear from actual human history.)
    The “contamination” point is more interesting, but it could be easily gotten around, i.e. you could ask people to pray for a certain person, but not tell them why until afterwards. (I suppose there are ethical issues of a sort, although given that all you’re asking for is someone to pray for someone else, they strike me as relatively minor.) I don’t know if this was done in the actual studies or not, but it seems to me that it would be reasonably simple to actually do.

  18. i don’t think there’s any way to construct an experiement wherein one could prove whether prayer has any discernable effects. let’s say i pray the democrats take both houses on tuesday with no complications. whether it comes true or not, that has no bearing on the measurably effects of prayer.
    if it doesn’t happen that way, maybe there are like 3 times as many republicans praying three times harder in the opposite direction. maybe god was too busy saving babies with leukemia or averting neuclear war in korea to answer that prayer. maybe that particular prayer is unanswerable. maybe my motives are polluted or my heart isn’t in the right place. maybe g-d has heard my prayer and is choosing to answer it in a different and more complicated way that we can’t have the foresight to understand. maybe g-d only answers prayers in the right format, accompanied by the right offerings, on tuesdays and thursdays which are also odd-numbered days of the month during a waxing moon and during GMT banking hours.
    if the democrats do win, that still doesn’t prove prayer had any effect. maybe that was going to happen anyway. maybe g-d doesn’t interfere in such matters at all. maybe that change was effected not by divine plan, but by people going out and voting. maybe it’s karma or astrology or barak obama’s mojo. who can say why a certain event happens the way it does?

  19. I don’t know if I would find it offensive to be on the receiving end of the “everyone is a sinner” accusation, especially since it doesn’t let anyone off the hook. And I suspect that one reason the Christian message hooks so many people is because just about everyone really does consider himself to be a sinner in some regard, if only because they know they’re not perfect, or because they fail to live up to their own standards. It’s kind of hard to see why Chloe would be bothered by that – she must have been hearing that message her whole life. As usual, the authors give her no good reason to buy into it, other than “you better before it’s too late”.

  20. I confess to being a tiny bit relieved that “prayer experiments” have never worked. The idea that a God exists and is a sadistic bastard who can help but won’t unless he’s satisfactorily “prayed to”, strikes me as the worst possible option: a God like the one supposed to exist in Left Behind. The concept that prayers heal the sick because God hears the believers’ prayers is such an ugly idea, when you think through all the implications.

  21. opopomax, do you mean the story of the Burning Times and ancient matriarchy and the survival of unaltered “Wiccan” religion? I’ve never met any pagan who admits to believing all that.

  22. i don’t really see how the fact that we are ‘sinners’ is meaningful.
    i guess it’s related to the fact that i don’t think of deity as either inherently benevolent or evil, and the idea of a “fallen” world makes no sense to me.
    it’s like, yeah, sure, we all fuck up. we’re selfish and petty. we’re able to justify some pretty awful and immoral behavior, mostly just out of egotism (and sometimes out of pure evil). dogs bark. fish swim. the sky is blue. so what? what does that even have to do with anything?
    what’s the point of getting “saved” if you’re still going to continue right on fucking up and needing constant forgiveness? most christians don’t even consciously try to better people — they just undertand that we’re “sinful” and always make sure to have a foot in the door to cover their own asses.
    which isn’t to say we can stop fucking up. but if we’re going to go to all this trouble to ‘admit’ it, then what? i guess it’s not that i don’t think we’re “sinful”, but that i don’t understand why that leads to the inevitable need to repent in the face of g-d.
    so i really see Chloe’s point of view here. it’s not that she thinks she’s not sinful, but that she knows she’s doing all anyone really can do — she’s trying not to be.
    also, another thing i don’t get about christianity is this: most people are not really that wicked. sure, we never live up to our own standards. and we are petty and selfish and prone to fucking up. but relatively few of us rape, murder, lie (about the big stuff), cheat, steal (in any meaningful way), etc. so when, in the attempt to convert us, evangelizin christians start going on about how we’re all sinful, it can seem a tad silly. unless you’re ministering to criminals, it’s like, “ok, sure, you got me. i piggy back on the neighbor’s wireless connection and sometimes take the last seat on the subway when i know i should offer it to someone who needs it more.” and this is supposed to be the great key to salvation and paradise?
    especially when christians talking about being inherently sinful are generally not talking about pietistic stuff like being wasteful middle class suburbanites when so many in the third world are starving. nobody goes to confession and says, “bless me father… i drive an SUV”. in fact the denominations that tend to stress salvation, conversion, and our sinful natures are the very ones who encourage such consumerist behavior and lately have been insisting that god wants us to enjoy the spoils of capitalism.

  23. HF — yeah, that would be one example. and i do know a few pagans who believe in that sort of thing (they do tend to be on the fringes, though). there’s also the “i don’t believe in the Wiccan Rede and think it’s totally OK to curse people” crowd, the ‘dragons and faeries are real’ crowd, the ‘Wicca means you can believe anything you want’ gang, the “I can be Christian and Pagan at the same time” faction, and on and on.
    even the branch of paganism i’m currently most interested in, the Reconstructionists, sometimes get almost Bush-like in their insistence that whatever god or goddess came to them in a vision and demanded they do a certain thing. and they’re some of the most down to earth and honest pagans i’ve yet encountered.

  24. most christian scholars (the majority of catholics and virtually all mainline protestant denominations) believe that the apocalypse of st. john, AKA the book of revelations, is an extended metaphor for various events that were going on during early Christian history. at the time they were written. kind of like if, a thousand years from now, someone reads a satire about President Bush and somehow extrapolates it as some kind of prophecy.
    I’m sure this is the most reasonable interpretation of the text. My problem is that it is just another interpretation of a human text. If the text is written by us flawed humans then no one has a right to claim they “know” the answers. All that should really be taken from the Bible is the overall message “Don’t be a dick to other people”. Everything else is superstitious hokum. This goes for any religion.

  25. Sue W:
    I don’t know if I would find it offensive to be on the receiving end of the “everyone is a sinner” accusation, especially since it doesn’t let anyone off the hook.
    First, I don’t admit that there is “sin”. That’s a construct of a group of religions that I’m not part of. I don’t care what you call each other, but don’t dump your labels on me.
    Second, everyone fits “Asshole” by Gene Simmons and “Idiot Wind” by Bob Dylan, and I doubt you want to be labeled as either.
    Even within the construct of “sin”, there are levels: as the opoponax wrote, taking a seat in the handicapped section of the subway is hardly the same as driving an SUV into an abortion clinic. I may do things I don’t think are the best, but I don’t need forgiveness from anyone other than those I hurt (and from them I want more to make it up to them); I certainly don’t need it from strangers.
    It seems that to a certain extent, “everyone’s a sinner” carries a certain amount of self-justification: everybody does it (speeds, cheats on their taxes, kills their mother-in-law and buries her in the back yard), therefore, it’s OK for me to do it. I’ll just ask for forgiveness, and it’s all OK. I know that forgiveness involves a lot more for the truly ethical, but it also seems like an easy out for the more human among us.

  26. it’s not about moral right or wrong, or ‘absolute’ statements for everyone. it’s sort of an academic thing. like when all the biologists spend decades testing darwin’s theories and ultimately most of them reach a consensus that he was right (or at least way on the right track). centuries of theologians and historians in just about every different denomination (and a great many from a historical or literary stance who may not be christian at all) have analysed Revelations in just about every way you can analyze it, and 90% of them have agreed it is not prophecy. or at least it’s not an “active” prophecy still hanging over us. this is the sort of thing we very well CAN know about scripture, regardless of it being a “human” text or not. or at least it’s a consensus that can logically be reached and be agreed on by most knowledgeable people as reasonable to the point of virtually being fact. which is all you can ever say, even in the hardest science there is.
    everything a human writes is ‘human’ and potentially flawed. and every text is open to interpretation, from Little Red Ridinghood to last week’s episode of Lost to every major religious and literary text. and yes, many interpretations are just that. but when centuries of scholars across many different disciplines (and denominations, and even those outside religion entirely) look at a piece of text and reach a consensus that it is one thing, then that’s about as close as you can get to fact in a situation like this. and that’s as true for religious writing as it is for just about anything else. nobody is saying Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is actually a painting of a banana. because it just isn’t. you can look at it, and there are a hell of a lot of different possible interpretations, and it’s a nebulous thing to begin with. but one thing scholars across many different fields have agreed on for almost a century now is that it is definitely not a painting of a banana. it has nothing to do with whether you like it or not, or believe in it, or ascribe divinity to it, or whatever. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is not a painting of a banana. just like the book of Revelations is not prophecy.
    now whether “everything else is superstitious [sic] hokum” or what, i don’t know. i happen to have chosen to believe in some kind of god, and to believe that there is something that exists beyond just the most basic material reality. i’m not sure how my beliefs correspond to any particular religion’s scripture. and even if that weren’t true of me, i’m not sure it would be entirely fair to dismiss all spiritual thought as hokum. if not for reasons of faith, then at least because it’s horribly dismissive of others’ beliefs.

  27. it’s not about moral right or wrong, or ‘absolute’ statements for everyone. it’s sort of an academic thing. like when all the biologists spend decades testing darwin’s theories and ultimately most of them reach a consensus that he was right (or at least way on the right track). centuries of theologians and historians in just about every different denomination (and a great many from a historical or literary stance who may not be christian at all) have analysed Revelations in just about every way you can analyze it, and 90% of them have agreed it is not prophecy. or at least it’s not an “active” prophecy still hanging over us. this is the sort of thing we very well CAN know about scripture, regardless of it being a “human” text or not. or at least it’s a consensus that can logically be reached and be agreed on by most knowledgeable people as reasonable to the point of virtually being fact. which is all you can ever say, even in the hardest science there is.
    everything a human writes is ‘human’ and potentially flawed. and every text is open to interpretation, from Little Red Ridinghood to last week’s episode of Lost to every major religious and literary text. and yes, many interpretations are just that. but when centuries of scholars across many different disciplines (and denominations, and even those outside religion entirely) look at a piece of text and reach a consensus that it is one thing, then that’s about as close as you can get to fact in a situation like this. and that’s as true for religious writing as it is for just about anything else. nobody is saying Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is actually a painting of a banana. because it just isn’t. you can look at it, and there are a hell of a lot of different possible interpretations, and it’s a nebulous thing to begin with. but one thing scholars across many different fields have agreed on for almost a century now is that it is definitely not a painting of a banana. it has nothing to do with whether you like it or not, or believe in it, or ascribe divinity to it, or whatever. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is not a painting of a banana. just like the book of Revelations is not prophecy.
    now whether “everything else is superstitious [sic] hokum” or what, i don’t know. i happen to have chosen to believe in some kind of god, and to believe that there is something that exists beyond just the most basic material reality. i’m not sure how my beliefs correspond to any particular religion’s scripture. and even if that weren’t true of me, i’m not sure it would be entirely fair to dismiss all spiritual thought as hokum. if not for reasons of faith, then at least because it’s horribly dismissive of others’ beliefs.

  28. the opponax:there’s also the “i don’t believe in the Wiccan Rede and think it’s totally OK to curse people” crowd, the ‘dragons and faeries are real’ crowd, the ‘Wicca means you can believe anything you want’ gang, the “I can be Christian and Pagan at the same time” faction, and on and on.I was with you until the last bit. I think those who consider themselves to be both Pagan and Christian, they don’t belong in the same roundup with others. There’s nothing inherently crazy, dangerous, immoral, or fluffy-bunny about having sincerely arrived at a Christian/Pagan synchretism. The people I know who would describe themselves that way have genuinely reconciled the two sets of beliefs in a way that they find spiritually fulfilling. They often get rejected by both some Pagans (“Honey, get off the fence already”) and Christians (“You aren’t saved until you reject that Wiccan stuff, don’t fool yourself”), so I feel compelled to defend them. As long as they aren’t trying to hold themselves up as some sort of representative spokesperson for Wicca-in-general, there’s just no constructive reason to denounce them this way.
    Now, if what you’re getting at are people who don’t like Christianity, would rather be Wiccan, but are still afraid of going to Hell and hope that including Jesus’s name in their circle-casting God-calling routines will be a Get Out Of Hell Free card… OK, them iz fluffy-bunny. Them does deserve the “Get off the fence” catcall.

  29. “He is, for once, fairly accurately conveying something that Christians actually believe: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). We believe, in other words, that the need for forgiveness is an essential, universal part of what it means to be human. And we believe this is true even for those who may not feel or be aware of this need.”
    Uh huh. I for one am definitely one who does not feel or am aware of a need for forgiveness. Not from a deity anyway; I’m sure I’ve wronged other human beings and, to the greatest degree possible, I’ve been engaged in a lifelong My-Name-Is-Earl-style quest to patch things up with them.
    I’m a pretty fanatical Pullmanist (Pullmaniac?) about this. That is, I consider the Dark Materials books vastly wiser than anything contained in the Bible. I am not existentially guilty for anything; I am in no way complicit for the “crimes” of “Adam” (particularly given that primordial human beings named Adam and Eve can be rather definitively proven not to have existed). I am totally responsible for my actions and inactions–but no more than for those.
    I don’t really claim to have proof for this sentiment beyond the purely intuitive–it’s only how I feel things to be–and so not particularly open to arguing about the validity of my (non)beliefs with people either like Fred or like Ted Haggard. Fred quotes Wendell Berry saying that faith is belief in the unproveable. It’s an intuitive movement; Christians are Christians because they feel Christianity is true. (No, I don’t accept that the Bible is not proof of anything; not even to Christians.)
    I don’t want to sound egotistical but I’m not your average atheist: I don’t claim Christianity religion is, per se, “illogical”. I accept that lots of people believe in lots of constellations of intuitive–emotional, faith-based–beliefs. I only reject the notion that all other such set of constellations are more true than my own.

  30. Oops; that’d be “(No, I don’t accept the idea Bible is “proof” of anything; not even to Christians.)”

  31. Your italic tag, and your bold tag too!! Unfortunately, although I try, I think only Fred can fix it. At which point, he can delete this comment…

  32. Nicole, i feel like there are problems inherent in the concept of being both Christian and Wiccan. which are not necessarily worth going into right here as they’ll interest no one but the two of us. the main point, for me, is that Christianity is by its nature monotheistic, whereas every legit Wiccan theology i’ve ever heard about definitely stresses that Wicca is polytheistic. Though i’m with you in that i really don’t care how people rationalize their own faith. unless they’re dangerous or somehow blatantly incorrect. but once every few weeks someone posts a “no, really, you CAN be a Christian Wiccan” article on witchvox. and i feel like that’s almost on the level of the “no, really, fairies DO exist!” gang or the Christian pre-mills or other completely extra-theological positions. it doesn’t really bother me that some people somewhere think they’re gonna get raptured, if that’s what they want to think. it’s when those people hijack the government, pop culture, and mainstream protestant thought that i get my panties in a bunch. and if the Christian Wiccan crowd was doing the same thing, i’d feel the same way about them that i do about the 700 club types.

  33. J, I’m pretty much in agreement with you on the whole sin and responsibility issue. I have done harm to people, and I consider myself to have three moral duties in that regard.
    1. To the best of my ability, stop harming people.
    2. To the best of my ability, repair the damage that I’ve done.
    3. Try to do positive good for people.
    The idea of third-party forgiveness simply doesn’t enter into it. I’m not trying to offend the Christians here with this, but I literally don’t see any meaning to God forgiving me for what I’ve done to other people. If (supposing for the sake of argument there was a god), I sinned againt God, and he forgave me for that, I could understand it. Even if the wrong I did to other people was also a sin against God, and he forgave that portion, I could still understand that. But what meaning can it have in the harm I’ve done to another person that some outside authority bestowed forgiveness? That doesn’t diminish or mitigate the harm I did to the other person.
    I just don’t understand it.

  34. “That is, I consider the Dark Materials books vastly wiser than anything contained in the Bible.” J — does that include the whole thesis that “the essence of a spirituality is a subatomic particle with a tropism for adolescent sex”?
    ako — remember, for many Christians, “sin” is not the same as “causing harm.” Sin is “falling short”, “missing the mark”, “being less than intended.” Obviously harming other people is falling short of our intended purpose (unless you believe in a very twisted Creator indeed), and it is necessary to make reparation to them and seek their forgiveness, but that is a qualitatively different sort of thing from the repentence and the forgiveness one seeks from God.
    This is of course sheer gobbledygook to one who doesn’t believe in a Creator, even less a personal Creator with a definite intent for every individual. But as for me, I find the notion that “everybody is a sinner” enormously liberating, as Jeff says, although not in the sarcastic way I think he meant it. But if it were POSSIBLE to actually live up to God’s intent by our own efforts, it would be OBLIGATORY — and every deviation, from stabbing the boss to stealing the smallest paper-clip would be tremendously crushing. (This was Paul’s whole idea, about “the law that killeth.”)
    God’s “forgiveness” doesn’t mean “Oh, that’s okay, I don’t care if you murdered your boss or stole a paper clip”; it’s more like, “Hmm, I see you’ve fallen down there. How can we get you back up again?” In a weird way, knowing that I’m doomed to fail on my own makes it possible for me to look for and accept the help I need — from God, from a religious community, from strangers on a message board — to get as far as I can, and indeed inspires me to go further, in joy and gratitude. That’s “the Spirit that giveth life.”
    [shrugs] That’s how it works for me, anyways. Sure, other people use the idea selfishly, or cruelly. Other people manage to be much more generous, patient, and inspirational than I will without accepting any notion of. But the universe is far too big and complicated for anyone to insist that there’s only one good tool to use in approaching it. Just because you’ve got a terrific cordless screwdriver doesn’t mean my pinking shears don’t work at all.

  35. the opoponax: I very much enjoy reading your comments, and I’ve been sitting here with my partner discussing some of your points about the book of Revelation. In all honesty, I was raised a Southern Baptist (been in recovery for a good 15 years now), but my religious upbringing was the sort that didn’t really deal with Revelation in any concrete way. Sure, the Rapture would happen, but there was a lot of vague hand-waving when it came to any details. I’m curious (not in a confrontational way, though I’m afraid it’ll come across that way) for some of your sources in regards to the interpretation of the book as historical and not prophecy. I honestly don’t know very much, and my partner is somewhat skeptical about a historic basis for Revelation. To me, it makes much more sense than 98.7% of all the other stuff I hear…. Do you mind passing along a couple of good references? Here, or you can email me at toxicfur at gmail. Thanks!

  36. In terms of forgiveness, I think many of the posters are dividing the issue into two facets: (1) forgiveness from those to whom I have done harm; and (2) forgiveness from a not-directly-involved (if not neutral) third party supernatural being. There’s a third facet here, for me, at least, and that’s forgiveness of myself. I’m snarky at my partner, I say I’m sorry, and I’m forgiven almost immediately. However, I can’t let go that easily. The worse the offense is to me, the harder it is for me to forgive myself. One thing that asking forgiveness from God does is to provide a ritual of forgiveness that I can apply to myself. I can start to let go of the time I got drunk and took advantage of a guy’s feelings for me. Or I can let go of the time I cheated on my ex-girlfriend. Or I can let go of the time I told my mom that she was a terrible mother. I’m much harder on myself than the people I hurt are (and I told each of them that I was sorry, and I believe that each one forgave me. It took a lot longer for me to forgive myself. In fact, I’m still working on it.

  37. “Trust me, you’re a filthy sinner,” is not the most winsome or promising form of evangelism (and you’d be hard pressed, apart from satires like Jonah, to find biblical models for such an approach).
    Um… you’ve read the Old Testament, right? I recall it being full of bearded hermits proclaiming that since the Israelites were such faithless, stiff-necked people that they deserved that invasion, exile, plague, or what have you. Only when they repented, generally in a profligate and demonstrative fashion, would they once again be allowed into THE LORD’s holy graces. But first: fiery serpents!
    I agree that Jonah was certainly a satire, but in fairness to the man it’s not like there was a lot of precedent for THE LORD saying “Yeah, yer a right wicked bunch, but I’m letting you off with a warning this time.” Most OT “warnings” were meant to make an impression upon the survivors.

  38. I honestly don’t know very much, and my partner is somewhat skeptical about a historic basis for Revelation. To me, it makes much more sense than 98.7% of all the other stuff I hear…. Do you mind passing along a couple of good references?
    http://www.preteristarchive.com

  39. “That is, I consider the Dark Materials books vastly wiser than anything contained in the Bible.” J — does that include the whole thesis that “the essence of a spirituality is a subatomic particle with a tropism for adolescent sex”?
    Adolescent sex isn’t what saves the universe in The Amber Spyglass: It’s the embrace of knowledge over blind faith. There are only 2 forbidden trees in the Garden; one gives knowledge, the other, immortality. Both of those are unmitigatedly good things. And yet “god” is angry when we start in on eating from them. In fact, he tries lying to us to scare us off (“If ye eat of it ye shall surely die . . .” etc.). Pullman articulated something I always believed but never found the words for: “The Fall” was really “The Rise” (or maybe “The Awakening”, but that doesn’t do justice to how vitally GOOD that moment was).
    “Remember, for many Christians, “sin” is not the same as “causing harm.” Sin is “falling short”, “missing the mark”, “being less than intended.”
    Right. Yeah. ‘Cause that’s what Christians are always talking about: Not living up to our potential? Oh wait: NO IT ISN’T. Sin to “many Christians” seems pretty reliably to be about sex or science or failing to be adequately ethusiastic for our current war.
    That’s why churches burn heretics, right? ‘Cause they were “falling short”?
    “This is of course sheer gobbledygook to one who doesn’t believe in a Creator, even less a personal Creator with a definite intent for every individual.
    Pretty much, yeah.
    And as I posted here numerous times, the idea that God has “a plan” for everything is pretty gosh darn incompatible with a physical universe that includes anencephaly.

  40. [folky and up-tempo; acoustic guitar accompaniment; best if sung as a campfire or drinking song]:
    You Can’t Win With Original Sin
    Courtesy of Dan Barker
    You can’t win! You can’t win with Original Sin.
    It doesn’t even matter how intelligent or kind you may have been. You just can’t win.
    It was all over before it began
    You were doomed in the fall of man. You can’t win.
    I was dead-I was dead before my life had begun.
    I was dead, because of something my great-great-great grandparents had done.
    Adam and Eve didn’t do any wrong
    They were set up by God all along. They couldn’t win.
    I’ve been told I must believe on Jesus Christ to be saved;
    But first, I must admit that I am totally depraved.
    Before you go pointing that finger of blame,
    Just remember that Eve Was Framed! She couldn’t win.
    The kind of God who’s so insecure that he needs to send me to hell
    Is the kind of God who’d probably get a kick out of damning all the Christians as well!
    It was all over before it began –
    I was doomed in the fall of man.
    But as a skeptic I must insist,
    Adam and Eve didn’t really exist,
    And neither does God, then, for that matter,
    And until the day that old myth is shattered,
    We can’t win. No, we just can’t win.

  41. Er, reading some of the comments above, I’d like to qualify my snarky post by distancing myself from some of the people who seem to believe that Christianity is basically “Catholicism’s Darkest Moments” alongside “Fundamentalism’s Most Heinous Hypocrites” in a special “Gullible Morons” DVD 2-pack. I have a great respect for the quiet majority of religious people who are just trying to live and understand as best they can.

  42. Something that’s always bothered me about the whole “Original Sin”/”Total Depravity”/”Salvation” concept (or concepts) is the idea that I need to seek forgiveness for something I had no control over. I understand apologizing and making amends for things that I’ve done wrong and could have done right. But, the concept that “there is no one righteous, not one” says to me: “You are incapable of being good” and “You must prostrate yourself and beg for forgiveness (to which you are not entitled) for this inability.”
    Why, by any stretch, should I be held accountable for something I had no control over? If I am completely incapable of being righteous, why am I taken to task for not being righteous to the point that I must beg forgiveness? And why should I be so incredibly grateful for being forgiven for not being something that it was never within my power to be?
    And why did this forgiveness need to be bought with a blood sacrifice?

  43. I just watched the documentary film about the Burning Man festival in Nevada. It contains an odd modern version of forgiveness: towards the end, an artist from California (I think his name is Mark Best) walks around and personally delivers forgiveness to total strangers by saying this one sentence to them: “It’s not your fault.”
    As he himself points out, some people he approaches are very moved, and others think he is an asshole.

  44. “What will be, will be! The future’s not ours to see.” “Witchcraft vs Prayer” “Good vs Bad Prayer.” “We’re only a product of Our God”
    Which of these above should I post next?
    Come on victor, can’t you just be a little coherent?
    Ok! I believe that God looks into all our hearts and no one can fool Him, not even the ones who don’t believe He exist cause He’s above all of US whether we be male, female human and/or animals.
    Although I don’t read the bible, I’ve picked UP enough Faith to hold me for another forty years and to tell you that there is a God and a Satan but why do we need to know any of that for sure?
    Maybe Jesus was who He said He was or there’s a awful lot of liars who wrote those books but I’m sure that someone out there might have a much kinder explanation like maybe “Dreamers?” “Nightmares?”.
    Maybe Jesus really did chose His apostles? For example,let’s say that Jesus called one and later said, I’ll call you Peter but let’s not forget that Satan was also on the side line and probably thought to himself and said, something like, by the time I get through with your peter, most people in the twenty first century will have a different peter in mind and will think that he’s only just a tool which will peter out now and then.
    If there is really a Judgement Day and it started before Christ was crucified and after we die and it is the end of this world for you and you are about to be judged. We simply need to say something like, Give me a brake Lord, I really didn’t believe that you truly existed cause no body could have been as cruel as you were.
    Were you not told that I, Your God was Good and Satan was the bad one?
    But I don’t believe in him either! Why did you not get help from the Bible? Which Bible Lord?
    What do you believe in, tell me?
    I believe that what You’ve done for others, You’ll also do for me!
    To be honest Lord, I really did have my doubts about You and I figured that I would wait until You contacted me just like you did for your apostles but you simply need to look into my heart and you’ll see The Truth.
    Satan appears and then ask this body what part he or she wants broken?
    What are you talking about? Well you’ve kissed UP so much that God wants to give you another chance but I’m not convinced of your sincerity! I do also want to give you a break cause when Christ paid me a visit after His Death, let’s just say that I know what’s best for me now but remember no body can con a con. Hey! God could have taken me out of circulation but He also gave me a brake so what will it be? True I’m guilty of being a little zealous at times and I’m sure you’re noticing this in your world but what can I say except that I’m just being myself.
    You’re not being coherent at all victor just zealous also that’s all!
    You’re not Satan are You? (lol!?)
    Come on you guys and gals tell victor what you really think about his views!

  45. everything a human writes is ‘human’ and potentially flawed. and every text is open to interpretation… but when centuries of scholars across many different disciplines (and denominations, and even those outside religion entirely) look at a piece of text and reach a consensus that it is one thing, then that’s about as close as you can get to fact in a situation like this. and that’s as true for religious writing as it is for just about anything else.
    Truer words have never been spoken.
    Well, ok, maybe there’s an article by Umberto Eco, but still, you nailed it.

  46. Louis,
    But, the concept that “there is no one righteous, not one” says to me: “You are incapable of being good” and “You must prostrate yourself and beg for forgiveness (to which you are not entitled) for this inability.”
    You know, this reminds of those standup routines based on the difference between “what men say” and “what women hear”. In this case:
    I say “There is no righteous”, you hear “YOU are incapable of being good”.
    I say “NOONE (including ME) is good ALL THE TIME”, you hear “YOU are NEVER good”.
    In the aforementioned standup routines, this phenomenon is (if at all) explained by the inherent difference between men and women. I’m afraid it’s not the case here, so I’d like to know why you hear what you hear. I suspect the Rayford approach to evangelism Fred talks about has something to do with it.

  47. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is not a painting of a banana. just like the book of Revelations is not prophecy.
    Let’s try a slightly different example: Mona Lisa is definitely not a banana. Nor is it some sort of code left by a member of an ancient order of Illuminati. Yet it just might be a self-portrait of Leonardo. What it definitely is – and it’s obvious to anyone properly equipped (in this case, with two eyes and a brain) – is a beautiful painting of a woman.
    Likewise, the Apocalypse definitely is a book describing certain events of early Christian history, which is, again, immediately clear to anyone properly equipped (here we’re talking about some basic knowledge of history). Yet it might, just might, be a prophecy, too. As the Muslims say, “all?hu ja?lam” – God knows best.
    Ultimately, it all comes down to one thing: millenarianism (chilliasm). While some may argue that this doctrine is based on Apocalypse (say, chapters 20 and 21), that’s definitely not true in case of L&J and their bullshit. They may insist that what they believe is based on the Bible, but in fact, the opposite is true: they do not use the Bible to learn about the end times. They (mis)use the Bible to prove that what they already believe about the end times is true – with complete disregard to the actual text, let alone any rules of exegesis.

  48. Friends,
    This is a pet peeve, but also a bit of a crusade for me. The last book of the Bible is
    “The Revelation of St. John”. It is NOT
    “Revelations”. To call it such shows ignorance or unfamiliarity and undermines any argument with serious biblical people.
    I have the same difficulty with calling someone a fundamental Christian. They are Fundamentalists. There are many “fundamentals” of Christianity. But Fundamentalists accept a certain set of beliefs that are not necessarily common to all Christians or at least not in the same order of importance. I Hope for some of you this is a help.
    Jon

  49. towards the end, an artist from California (I think his name is Mark Best) walks around and personally delivers forgiveness to total strangers by saying this one sentence to them: “It’s not your fault.”
    I’m wondering – is this really forgiveness? Sounds more like a cheap knockoff.

  50. This is a pet peeve, but also a bit of a crusade for me.
    You’ve come to the right place. Welcome :o)
    The last book of the Bible is
    “The Revelation of St. John”.
    Actually, the last book of the Bible is ?????????? ???????. But we get your point. Don’t we, gang? *looks around menacingly*
    To call it such shows ignorance or unfamiliarity
    No. To call it that shows that not only a lie, but also a mistake can travel far. No more, no less.

  51. They often get rejected by both some Pagans (“Honey, get off the fence already”) and Christians (“You aren’t saved until you reject that Wiccan stuff, don’t fool yourself”), so I feel compelled to defend them.
    Yeah, leave poor C.S. Lewis alone. The other objections seem odd to me as well. Although certainly a revelation does not, by itself, give you a moral reason to follow instructions. (LINAD stands for Life Is Not A Debate.)

  52. Also, while we’re being nitpicky here and correcting pet peeves, it seems like this is something some people are getting a bit confused so, all Wiccans are Pagans, not all Pagans are Wiccans.
    I DON’T believe in the Wiccan Rede, for instance. Because I’m not a Wiccan. I’m sometimes only arguably a Pagan, but that’s a completely different issue. And just about the totality of the ChristoPagan argument seemed to be about WICCAN theology, when the original was about being a Christian and a PAGAN.
    Sorry, this is MY pet peeve.

  53. I think Jesurgislac makes an excellent point. Any omnipotent, omniscient being would have to be a right bastard, given what happens in our world.
    Also, when you look at Christian prayer from outside the faith, it doesn’t make much sense. In fact, I’d think praying for something would actually be blasphemous, if you believe in the god of the Bible: he knows everything that will ever happen, including the contents of everyone’s thoughts. So presumably he already knows what people want. He also allegedly has a plan, and has shown very little tolerance for questioning his will. So by praying, you’re deliberately asking God to change what he plans to do – pretty presumptuous.
    I know many people object that they don’t treat prayer like a letter to Santa, and instead it’s a conversation with God, or giving thanks. Nevertheless, there are plenty of prayer requests and prayer lists out there – even to the point of a show on the radio intoning, “God, please heal a woman of a pain in her abdomen,” and so forth. I think it’s an example of people holding conflicting beliefs because they do not allow themselves to analyze this topic too much.
    As for salvation, I was struck the other day by the outright weirdness of the “magical incantation” brand of Christianity. Supposedly there’s an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God who loved humanity enough to torture and kill his son for us – BUT, you only get the forgiveness if you say the magic words! I’d think it’d be below an omnimax god to play such petty headgames. But then again, people seem to believe without ever thinking about the belief.

  54. It’s interesting seeing the difference made by the different interpretation of ‘sin’. If the sin in hurting someone isn’t the harm you do them, but they way your actions fall short of divine expectations, then it makes a lot more sense to worry about divine forgiveness. Since I don’t believe in any kind of god with a plan for me, then it’s not a concern of mine, but I see what’s intended.
    The confusing part for me is that I rarely hear this distinction. I’m not sure if it’s an outsider’s view on religious language, or if a lot of Christians don’t draw that line, but generally I hear sin presented as the harm or the injustice. Which is why I never found “Everybody is a sinner” to be liberating. A lot of Christian teachings on sin always sounded to me like, “You hurt people and treat them unfairly, and you’re going to keep doing that your whole life, because no matter how hard you try, because you’re just that bad. Because of this, you’re bad enough to deserve to be tortured forever, but beg the supreme authority for mercy, and you’ll get eternal happiness instead.”
    I could see there had to be better qualities, but I never saw why. Now I do. It’s not persuasive, for me, but I can see how the actions of some of the admirable and compassionate Christians I’ve seen fit with their beliefs now.
    Bulbul? I get the distinction you’re trying to draw. What you mean by righteous (good all the time), isn’t what springs to mind immediately for me, or, I suspect, for a lot of people. I hear the word righteous, and I tend to think more of basically, or fundamentally good, which changes the interpretation of the statement.
    And “No one is ___” includes “You specifically are not ___”. So if someone tells me there’s no one righteous, part of what they’re saying is that they’re sure I’m not righteous. Even if their main concern is for their own righteousness, they are telling me I’m not. Which goes back to what the listener thinks righteous means.

  55. ako,
    What you mean by righteous (good all the time), isn’t what springs to mind immediately for me, or, I suspect, for a lot of people.
    Then let’s forget that stupid word. I’m sticking with my version for one, I’d be also willing to accept something like “we’re all prone to making mistakes”. Let’s not get hung up on a (bad) translation.
    And “No one is ___” includes “You specifically are not ___”.
    True. But it also includes “I specifically am not”. The funny thing is that the latter meaning is the first casualty of any debate.

  56. I heard a guy once say, “If you’re a parent, you have failed your children, or you’re going to. This is inescapable; it’s part of life. One day, they’ll want you to be there, and you won’t be. They’ll call and you won’t come. They will need something you won’t be able to provide them. They’ll ask a question you can’t answer.”
    He wasn’t speaking of sin here, at least not consciously, but I always took it as a great metaphor for sin. No matter how hard I try, I can’t help everyone; I’m going to fall down on the job sometime. The best I can do is to do my best, and to ask forgiveness when I do screw up.

  57. Louis: Why, by any stretch, should I be held accountable for something I had no control over? If I am completely incapable of being righteous, why am I taken to task for not being righteous to the point that I must beg forgiveness? And why should I be so incredibly grateful for being forgiven for not being something that it was never within my power to be?
    And why did this forgiveness need to be bought with a blood sacrifice?
    If you’ve got time on your hands, here’s a long answer.

  58. hapax wrote: God’s “forgiveness” doesn’t mean “Oh, that’s okay, I don’t care if you murdered your boss or stole a paper clip”; it’s more like, “Hmm, I see you’ve fallen down there. How can we get you back up again?” In a weird way, knowing that I’m doomed to fail on my own makes it possible for me to look for and accept the help I need — from God, from a religious community, from strangers on a message board — to get as far as I can, and indeed inspires me to go further, in joy and gratitude. That’s “the Spirit that giveth life.”
    That’s beautiful. Thank you.

  59. Also, when you look at Christian prayer from outside the faith, it doesn’t make much sense. In fact, I’d think praying for something would actually be blasphemous, if you believe in the god of the Bible: he knows everything that will ever happen, including the contents of everyone’s thoughts. So presumably he already knows what people want. He also allegedly has a plan, and has shown very little tolerance for questioning his will. So by praying, you’re deliberately asking God to change what he plans to do – pretty presumptuous.
    Jesus even comes right out and says that at one point, doesn’t he? Matthew 6, as the lead-in to the deliberately generic and humble Lord’s Prayer?

  60. One of my favorite descriptions of such hospitable evangelism is “one beggar telling another beggar where I found bread.” A perfectly legitimate response to such an offer is to say, “Thanks, but I’m not a beggar and I’m not hungry.” A hospitable evangelist will not force the issue, as Rayford does here, insisting that yes, in fact, you are a beggar and you are hungry, you just don’t know it yet.
    I guess my response, as an atheist who grew up in a predominantly Christian culture, would be something more like “I’m perfectly aware that I’m a beggar, I’m hungry, and I already know about that bread, but I have some reason to believe that the bread you found there is adulterated with poison–a poison that some people are able to metabolize without getting too sick, thereby taking advantage of the bread’s nutritive value; but that is damaging to others, and that everyone might even be better off without. So be aware that while I’ve taken the existence of that bread under advisement, I’m not going to scarf down the whole loaf and will continue to look elsewhere.”

  61. Why, by any stretch, should I be held accountable for something I had no control over?
    That seems as much a question for a psychologist as a theologian. Why should a child feel guilty if a parent falls ill or dies, or simply considers them a burden and wishes they’d never been born? Why should an adult feel guilty if a child darts out in front of their car leaving them no time to swerve, or a flight delay prevents them from reaching a friend’s death bed in time? Knowing there’s no logical reason to feel guilty under these circumstances doesn’t seem to help much. Maybe God doesn’t hold me accountable for such things, but some part of me does.
    It’s kind of hard to see why Chloe would be bothered by that – she must have been hearing that message her whole life.
    An excellent point. Are we supposed to believe her holy mother never mentioned a word about Christianity? Why for that matter, in talking to Chloe about this stuff, does Rayford seem to rely on the standard ‘Evengelical script’? She’s his daughter, not some stranger he stopped on the street. If nothing else, the loss of half their family would provide a common experience for him to build on. Instead of “we’re all sinners”, why not something like, “When I realized your mother was gone, I thought of all the ways I’d fallen short as a husband. There were so many things I wished I’d said or done, but it was too late. When I turned to God, he lifted that burden from me.” Either L&J are more interested in writing a chick tract than a novel, or that’s a severely emotionally disfunctional family.

  62. I think “We are all fallible,” and “We are all incapable of being good all of the time” are both reasonable statements. They fit with my observations of human nature, and it would take substantial evidence to persuade me otherwise. So I agree with that.
    When it comes to people ascribing faults to me (particularly on short aquaintance, and little or no evidence), it never seems particularly relevant that they’re claiming the same qualities to themselves. I don’t mind being accused of imperfection, fallibility and moral weakness, because they’re reasonable. Saying “I have these flaws too,” doesn’t have much to do with it for me. In fact, if (hypothetically) someone who had proved to me their own continuous goodness said that I suffered from occasional moral failings, I’d take them more seriously.
    Context has something to do with that, of course. Most of the conversations I’ve heard of where Christians bring up unrighteousness (or imperfection, if that’s a better term), tend to be along the line of sales pitches. In these circumstances, “Everyone is a sinner,” is a way for a person who doesn’t know you that well to insist, “You are sinful and you need to do what I say to fix it,” Rather like Fred said about insisting that you are hungry, and you need this bread, even if you’ve just eaten or are allergic to wheat. That does leave a lot of people with an unreasonably bad impression, mostly because it’s an excuse for being presumptious.

  63. PK, I hope you don’t actually believe that crap. It makes a mockery of God’s justice–apparently he literally doesn’t know me from Adam, and holds each of us individually responsible for (or at least guilty of) Adam’s sin. In his wondrous mercy God offers a plan to correct the damage to God’s ego that we’ve caused with our sin. (Though not the damage to each other, or to the rest of the creation, which should tell us something about God’s priorities.) The plan is to take an innocent man and nail him to a tree, thus fooling God (who, remember, can’t tell individual humans apart) into thinking that all humanity has been duly tortured to death for its crimes, and thus paid its debt to Divinity.
    Shorter Calvin/Piper: “God is a blind, stupid, corrupt egomaniac. O praise Him, hallelujah!”

  64. Mat – My apologies. I personally am aware of the differences between Wicca and Paganism (I’d better, being Wiccan and all), but I did speak sloppily in my post. For what it’s worth, I have heard Christopaganism argued about both from the specifically Wiccan point of view as well as from the “non-denominational Pagan” point of view. And then there are other “denominations” under the Paganism umbrella which enter into the discussion–I’ve heard personal accounts of Christian/Druid and Christian/Asatru synchretism, for example. And of course Voudon (sp?) is almost by definition a synchretism of Christianity (usually Catholicism) and one or more faith traditions from various areas of Africa. So the issue really does reach all sorts of corners of Paganism. But that doesn’t excuse me being sloppy and coming off like I was using “Wicca” and “Paganism” as synonymous terms. Sorry about that.
    the opponax – I think actually I share your impatience with articles entitled “Yes you CAN be a Wiccan and a Christian!” and I would view them similarly to “Yes faeries DO exist!” However, I have a lot of compassion for an essay that begins, “I know it’s kinda fringe, but I genuinely do consider myself a Christian Wiccan. Here’s how that works out for me…” And I would view that similarly to “You know, I actually do believe that the Sidhe exist. I have interacted with them. I don’t expect you to believe me, but in case you’re curious, here’s my story….” People simply sharing their own belief narratives deserve no animosity, I’d hope.
    In other words, I get really pet-peevey about anyone forcing their beliefs on anyone else, whether it’s a self-described Christian Wiccan attempting to be taken as a spokesperson for either Christianity or Wicca… or a Wiccan taking it upon themselves to lecture a self-described Christian Wiccan about how wrong their personal beliefs are.
    Now, all of the above is the cosmological/theological fringe, and should be kept in an entirely different mental box from the ETHICAL fringe, such as self-described Wiccans who poo-poo the Rede entirely, or that guy who purported to be a Wiccan priest offering to “initiate” pre-teen girls into the Wiccan mysteries via his penis, or wanna-be bad-ass kids threatening parents and teachers and friends with hexes, curses, and violence… Which I guess is the more important argument against your orginal post, which appeared to lump the ethical fringe into the same pile with the theological fringe. Struck me as similar to the Catholic parallel of lumping a priest who rapes the altar boys together with a priest who’ll perform the sacrament of matrimony for a same-sex couple.

  65. Eric the Read:
    If you’re a parent, you have failed your children, or you’re going to.
    We all agree that we fail others (our children, our SO, ourselves). To the extent that that failure hurts them, we apologize, try to repair the damage, and try not to do it again. That’s “bad” things, and I don’t think anyone here denies that they do bad things sometimes.
    But if I’ve failed my partner (I don’t have children, but I do have a partner that I fail from time to time), I need her forgiveness. I don’t need the forgiveness of anyone else. There’s a difference between “doing bad things” and “being evil” and “sinning”, at least for me.
    ======================================
    Since I saw a reference to My Name is Earl, I hope a fair number of Slacktivites saw last week’s episode. It was about doing good, and what your reason for doing good was. If you need a Sign, or an external force, or if you need neither, it really doesn’t matter — the only thing that really matters is doing good. (Now that Earl realizes he doesn’t need Karma to do what’s right, I hope he can hook back up with his Professor friend.)

  66. Beth: An excellent point. Are we supposed to believe her holy mother never mentioned a word about Christianity?
    Well, of course, if the LB authors had wanted to write intelligently about how someone like Chloe might feel and think, Chloe might be reacting because all this evangelical Christian stuff reminds her too poignantly of her mother. Maybe when her mother was alive and going on about it, it bored and annoyed Chloe, and she kept wishing her mother would shut up, and stop bringing God into everything. And now her mother’s dead, and Chloe walked out of last night’s meeting because it was that or burst into tears because everything that wimpy little pastor said sounded like something her mother had said, and although it bores and annoys her she really wishes that her mother was saying that to her, instead of this dreary man with the grey voice. And she misses her mother so much, and her dad doesn’t seem to want to talk about it, he wants her to watch this creepy video which says she should be glad her mother’s gone. So she walked out halfway through and walked home, and cried a lot of the way home, but when her father got back he didn’t seem to notice. And now instead of asking her what’s wrong, he wants to bother her with more God-talk. Is he going to disappear too?
    That’s the kind of thing LB would have written if they’d actually been thinking about Chloe as a person, instead of a stock figure to be redeemed from sin.

  67. “You know, this reminds of those standup routines based on the difference between “what men say” and “what women hear”. In this case:
    I say “There is no righteous”, you hear “YOU are incapable of being good”.
    I say “NOONE (including ME) is good ALL THE TIME”, you hear “YOU are NEVER good”.
    In the aforementioned standup routines, this phenomenon is (if at all) explained by the inherent difference between men and women. I’m afraid it’s not the case here, so I’d like to know why you hear what you hear. I suspect the Rayford approach to evangelism Fred talks about has something to do with it.”
    I think it’s along the lines of the following quote:
    “You hurt people and treat them unfairly, and you’re going to keep doing that your whole life, because no matter how hard you try, because you’re just that bad. Because of this, you’re bad enough to deserve to be tortured forever, but beg the supreme authority for mercy, and you’ll get eternal happiness instead.”
    But not entirely.
    “I say “There is no righteous”, you hear “YOU are incapable of being good”.
    Doesn’t no one being righteous (i.e., good) include me? Is it such a mystery that, whether it includes the speaker or not, I would hear that as a claim that I am not righteous (and cannot be). Why would I focus on the supposed unrighteousness of the speaker when my own righteousness is the only thing I have any hope of affecting (and I’ve just been told that I don’t even have a hope of affecting that). And for the record, I have never heard it phrased, “There is no one who is perfect”. Word choice is important.
    I say “NOONE (including ME) is good ALL THE TIME”, you hear “YOU are NEVER good”.
    But it’s never said that way (in my experience). So, why are you hearing it that way?

  68. Is it such a mystery that, whether it includes the speaker or not, I would hear that as a claim that I am not righteous (and cannot be).
    Yes, it is. Especially that “cannot be” part.
    But it’s never said that way (in my experience).
    Now that’s bad. Not bad as im “awww I’m so sorry”, but bad as in, well, “bad”. Get out of there, wherever “there” is.
    Why would I focus on the supposed unrighteousness of the speaker when my own righteousness is the only thing I have any hope of affecting
    So if I understand that correctly, you hear an accusation.
    So, why are you hearing it that way?
    I am *reading* it that way, because that is what the text says.

  69. I don’t know if I would find it offensive to be on the receiving end of the “everyone is a sinner” accusation, especially since it doesn’t let anyone off the hook.
    It’s the unstated assumption that too often accompanies this type of statement. Like:
    “Everybody is a sinner” [but I know it, so I’m still better than you are]
    or
    “Everybody is a sinner” [but, I don’t really believe that I am because I feel really pious right now]
    or
    “Everybody is a sinner” [and that means you. I can remember when you …].
    Somehow, I think that when Rayford says this, those unstated messages are firmly attached and his daughter knows it. If he followed his sanctimony by apologizing to her for all the ways he had failed her, she would a) probably faint in astonishment and b) possibly believe that he is sincere instead of finding yet another justification to feel superior to other people.

  70. It seems to me that the only time we hear “I’m a sinner” is when someone’s been caught doing wrong. Otherwise, it’s almost always “everyone’s a sinner”, never followed by an apology. For those of us who cannot sin (because we don’t believe in sin), it comes off accusatory and hypocritical.
    I’m not saying it always is like that, but that’s the majority of my experience.

  71. Personally, I think “None are righteous” is supposed to be hyperbole. Still, it might be taken as meaning “Therefore, all need to be reconciled”. I’m reminded of how Romans 6:23 (I think) is translated in my copy of the bible: “For all have sinned, and do need the glory of God.” Granted, you could interpret “need” as “lack”, but this way, it sounds like Paul is prescribing a medicine than being a faultfinder.

  72. Going back to Jonah, he preached a fiery sermon, then he sulked because the people repented and there would be no fireworks. Anyhow, what ties Jonah and Rayford & Chloe together is that, wasn’t Jonah-the-shouter the only prophet who succeeded in his mission? Rayford yells, and poetically speaking he spent a few days in the belly of … okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor … before he gets saved. And as with Jonah, the fact that Rayford got with God’s program didn’t, itself, mend all Rayford’s flaws. There’s still a lot of “mine! me! my way!” in Rayford. He may be saved, but he’s still a rich man accustomed to getting his way. It probably doesn’t help matters that Chloe — self-sufficient enough to cross the country alone in a disaster — regresses a bit at home. (An alpha male + post-teen who calls everything “gross!” = one-way conversation.)
    Chloe has more fire a few pages from now, when Rayford decides to tell her about his lustful thoughts for Hattie. Certainly there are verses in the New Testament urging believers to “confess your sins to one another” … but Rayford is still working on “confessing,” “testifying” to fellow believers in a praise service, “witnessing” to nonbelievers, and the differences between them. He often confesses his sins to nonbelievers, having no believers in his life (other than Bruce and Loretta) to confess to. It’d be interesting to see a fresh take on whether Rayford blurs the line, and what effect this has on everyone, including himself.

  73. So if I understand that correctly, you hear an accusation.
    So, why are you hearing it that way?
    I am *reading* it that way, because that is what the text says.
    I think I liked yer stuff better when you weren’t “listening” and “understanding” in an effort to start the “healing”. :)

  74. “Yes, it is. Especially that “cannot be” part.”
    So you do not understand that “no one is righteous” includes the concept that I, specifically, am not righteous?
    You may be one of the few who do not get the “cannot be” part since much of the theology I hear with regards to this passage is the type that says men (including me) are fallen and cannot choose to be good. If you hear it differently, good for you.
    “Now that’s bad. Not bad as im “awww I’m so sorry”, but bad as in, well, “bad”. Get out of there, wherever “there” is.”
    I live there, I just visit “all mankind is evil-land” out of curiousity.
    “So if I understand that correctly, you hear an accusation.”
    I hear a statement that says that I (and, of course, the person speaking) are no good. Do I feel accused? Maybe, but I hardly take it seriously since that is not what I believe.
    “I am *reading* it that way, because that is what the text says.”
    The text does not say: “NOONE (including ME) is good ALL THE TIME”. Why are you reading it that way?

  75. Something that just occurred to me. Why are they acting like is a new argument?
    Wasn’t Irene part of this church? Wouldn’t she have tried to save her family? Wouldn’t there have been many a long night of her trying to bring her beloved husband and daughter into Christ the -right- way? Theological debates, arguments over ethics and philosophy? Screaming, crying, the slamming of doors?
    Did she never say -anything- about this? Shouldn’t Chloe be having a “It didn’t work when mom said it, it’s certainly not going to be working now.” reaction? Shouldn’t Rayford be taking a “I know we thought she was being a moralistic snob, but she’s gone and we’re not, and she predicted that would happen. Shouldn’t we rethink all of this?” tactic?
    I know, I know. Bad writing. But seriously, it would be so much more powerful of a passage if they just spent five minutes of thought on it all.

  76. Actually, they do have the crying. Early in the novel (I forget the page number), Irene concludes a religious argument by crying. The text says something to the effect that Rayford envies her her conviction. About page 160, Rayford wins an argument with Chloe’s drinking by almost crying. Perhaps that’s why Chloe never really considers converting until Rayford has used up all his angry words and starts to choke up emotionally (about 200 pages from now). Irene cries, Rayford wilts; Rayford cries, Chloe melts. It’s just their family thing (like their fondness for cookies). I expect there’s a reason they have to fight dirty until then, but at times it’s a puzzle.
    Chloe has put a little more distance between herself and the old arguments, having been at college 1.5 years (she’s a sophomore & it’s February/March).
    If it helps, Irene does manage to convert one member of the family: her replacement, wife #2, Amanda White Steele (volume 2). And I distinctly recall that there was no screaming, crying, threatening, or brow-beating involved. Based on Amanda’s description, it was genuinely hospitable.