Sunday, January 23, 2011

Governor Robert Bentley

I read over twenty blogs where religion is the main focus, which is why I was surprised to see so few posts on the controversy surrounding Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's recent comments. Shortly after his inauguration on January 17th, Bentley was giving a speech at a Christian church and said:

"Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."

Bentley apologized two days later, saying:

"If anyone from other religions felt disenfranchised by the language, I want to say I am sorry. I am sorry if I offended anyone in any way."

However, to me, this apology rings hollows, as it is a typical politician's apology. He is sorry that people "felt disenfranchised" and were "offended". He is not sorry for his words, he is sorry those words offended people and got him into trouble. Look up any news article about a public figure (politician, celebrity, etc) apologizing for something and an overwhelming majority of the time, their apology follows the same format: they are sorry that people got upset, not for what they did or said.

Whether Governor Bentley is truly remorseful about what he said, I do not know. I hope he is. What actually bothers me, however, is the prevalent thought behind his statement. Many people in the Governor's state, Alabama, were not upset by his words.

Governor Bentley considers himself a Southern Baptist, along with about 25% of Alabama's population. This is the same denomination I was raised in for most of my life. One of the primary reasons I left Christianity as a teenager was because of the attitude towards non-Christians I found in Southern Baptist churches. The part about non-Christians burning in hell was deeply disturbing, but it was not actually the worst part. It was the hypocrisy. Time and time again, I heard sermons about "loving our enemies" and "helping those who were less fortunate". Yet, at least when it came to non-Christians, reality did not match. It was almost as if non-Christians were "tainted" with sin and evil. We were indirectly encouraged not to hang around non-Christians for fear that their "badness" might rub off on us and then we too would be "tainted". If an adult found out we had a non-Christian friend, they would push us to proselytize them, something I was never able to bring myself to do. But I saw others do it. I saw my friends do it to their friends. And I saw the pain in the eyes of the rejected when their former friend would no longer play with them. But we were taught to isolate ourselves from these "sinners". We made assumptions about their behavior: they stole, they lied, they disrespected their parents. We feared their sins would negatively influence us and lose our salvation.

Later, in high school, I found myself on the other side. Several times a friend discovered I was not a Christian. They would attempt to convert me, tell me they were concerned for my soul, and beg me to accept Jesus as my savior. Once they failed, as they always did, they would become more and more distant until they eventually stopped speaking to me at all. It hurt. Badly.

The constant proclamation of "love the sinner" had an unspoken caveat: "love this sinner, but only if he/she is willing to convert to our brand of Christianity". This has created an "us vs. them" mentality. They see non-Christians as outsiders, people who must be resisted, sometimes even fought. It is this mentality I believe is behind Governor Bentley's comment. I'm not surprised he does not see non-Christians as his brothers and sisters, when he belongs to a branch of Christianity with this strong "us vs. them" attitude.

God individually created every single human being on this planet. If we have the same Father, how can we not be brothers and sisters? We are siblings, and it's time we started acting like it. I believe that if everyone on Earth treated all others like family, this world would be a much more peaceful and happier place. The "us vs. them" mentality brings nothing but conflict and pain. You cannot claim to love God and yet reject large parts of His creation and you cannot claim to be a good person and refuse to help those who do not share your beliefs.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It's the End of the World!

Or, at least, you'd think it was by listening to the countless groups warning us that the end of days is almost upon us.

A little research is enough to show me that these kind of pronouncements are nothing new. Humans have been predicting the end of the world for thousands of years. Yet, recently, it seems that Armageddon prophecies have become mainstream. It's not just some odd preacher on the street corner commanding you to "Repent for the End is Nigh!". It's a pop-culture phenomena and our insatiable appetite for the last days is fed by books, documentaries, TV shows, and even big budget Hollywood movies.

It began with the Y2K craze in 1999 as people panicked about the imminent failure of all computers when the clocks rolled over to the year 2000. After the new millennium came in with a glaring lack of catastrophes, our fervor only grew. Soon, word spread about the supposed "end" of the Mayan calendar on December 21/22 , 2012. This time, the end of the world is being portrayed through a more religious lens, rather than a technological one. Although exact dates vary, a multitude of Christian groups are preaching that Jesus' Second Coming will occur within the next few years and true Christians must be ready for His return and the chaos of Armageddon. A group of Christians in Nashville, Tennessee is proclaiming that Jesus' return is scheduled for May 21st, 2011, only 4 months away. They believe Christ will then shepherd all true Christians up to Heaven and leave the rest of us to face the horrors of Armageddon, culminating with Judgment Day on October 21st, 2011.

The point of this post is not to disprove these dates. To be blunt, I think they are all BS. There are numerous reasons I believe this, but that is also not the point of this post. The point of this post is to ask a question.

Why are we so obsessed with the end of the world? The end of the world is not just a curiosity, it is a multi-million dollar business. People don't just want to know when it is, they want to know what it will be like, what to expect. When it becomes an element of a religious belief system, they want to be reassured that their group will be saved and all the "others" will be punished for their lack of faith. A few groups even believe they can hasten Armageddon by helping to fulfill certain events the Bible mentions must occur before Jesus can return. The best example of this are Christians lobbying for the government of Israel to destroy the Dome of the Rock and rebuild Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, an act they presume must transpire before Christ's Second Coming.

Honestly, I think part of the answer is simple: laziness. Our world has countless problems, a majority of them man made. Fixing them is an overwhelming (and sometimes seemingly impossible) task. Wouldn't it just be easier if the world ended? Why should we worry about how our carbon dioxide emissions are warming up the Earth? Or be concerned about the increase in poverty everywhere, from the poorest villages in Africa to the must affluent cities in the US and Europe? Why anguish over the growing racial and religious tensions on an ever more connected globe? Or be anxious over dwindling food and water supplies? These complications will vanish when Jesus returns. He'll fix everything! No need for us to lift a finger.

Except, I do not believe God works that way. The Bible itself says in the first chapter of Genesis that humans were given dominion over the Earth and the living things which inhabit it. This means we are the guardians and caretakers of this planet and the life which we share it with. We can't walk away just because the clean-up job is difficult.

However, I do not believe this is the full picture. There is another dimension to the desire for hastening the end-times: fear. Fear is a powerful motivator because it bypasses reason and logic. Churches preach the end of the world to scare people either into converting or, if they already belong, not sliding into "immoral" behavior. If an individual is truly convinced the world is coming to an end and all he/she is required to do in order to receive a free ride up to Heaven before everything goes down the drain is join a particular church and follow their rules, fear of being "left behind" can quickly overpower you. The thought of being trapped in a hell-on-Earth scenario is terrifying. Combine that with the common images of an angry and vengeful God who wants nothing more than to harshly punish your tiniest sin, and who wouldn't want an early exit?

Please forgive me for being repetitive, but again, I do not believe God works that way. He did not put us here so we can dig ourselves into an enormous hole and sit around waiting for Him to teleport us directly to paradise while billions of other people on this planet suffer. God did not intend for us to live like nothing matters because the "End is Nigh!". I believe He intended us to live like every single day is a new opportunity to ease the suffering of others and learn to become better people. Instead of paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars on billboard guessing yet another "exact" date of Christ's return, those churches should be feeding the hungry, ministering to criminals in prison, and comforting the sick in the hospital, to name only a few more worthwhile activities.

The reason we do not know our end, whether is be our own personal death or Armageddon, is so that we may focus our time and energy to helping those less fortunate. It is a goal we all should strive for every day, no matter if we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, atheist, Buddhist, or anything else. We should not obsess over our end either, or be afraid at our lack of knowledge, because we have nothing to fear. God is not the vengeful, judgmental old-man in the sky, counting down the days and hours until He can punish us severely for the smallest missteps. He is our Father Who loves us unconditionally and Who created us out of that love. He put us on Earth so that we may learn the Golden Rule.  As God, He knew we would make mistakes along the way, but He offers us His instant forgiveness, just as any human parent forgives their wayward child. He does not eagerly await our deaths, either as an individual or as a species, in order to punish us, but lovingly awaits the homecoming of the children he adores.

Fear of Armageddon is nothing but a distraction to living our lives and making the world a better place. Because, who knows how much time we have remaining? :P

Monday, January 3, 2011


I just wanted to let everyone know that I am still around. My chemotherapy is going well. Unfortunatly, it has been much harder on me physically than I anticipated. Consequently, I have not been able to write on this blog for sometime, despite filling a sheet of paper with new ideas for posts. I have one more round of chemotherapy this week after which I will have at least 2 month break before having another cycle of six treatments, so I am hoping that I will be able to get some writing in during the break. Thanks to all my readers who have been patient. I miss writing here and interacting with people who see God the way I do.