Friday, July 27, 2007

The Devil made me do it

Flip Wilson while playing the character Geraldine and money laundering Reverend Leroy often used the phrase, "The Devil made me do it." as justification of various choices that were made by his characters. His catch phrase "What you see is what you get" was used to describe the new word processors that displayed text formatting exactly as it would appear on paper as opposed to early word processors that used formatting commands. This latter phrase is about a certain truth based on what one sees and the former is about a certain lie based on a fear of being held responsible.

When one reads the various debates about God's existence there is a decided lack of dialog about whether or not the Devil exists. On the one side God is the origin of all that is good and God's motivation is Love. On the other, the Devil is the origin of all that is evil and the Devil's motivation is rather unclear. Some say its jealousy and others say that hate motivates the Devil or others say it is power and control. The story goes that Satan was called Lucifer or light bearer and was the brightest and most powerful of all the angels God created. One wonders how brilliant this angel could be if death and destruction was all that he could come up with.

There’s an ancient myth that says, “If you have the name of the demon you have power over the demon and, if asked, the demon has to give you its name.”

I don’t believe in the idea of evil, but I do believe there are lies and fear. And, in religious terms, the counter points of lies and fear are truth and faith.

I read in the book The Zen Teachings of Jesus by Kenneth S. Leong that in the ancient language of Aramaic there is no word for evil. The word translated as evil is really the word for immature. Tradition has said that Jesus spoke Aramaic and I have done an interesting experiment by reading sayings where Jesus uses the word evil and substituting the word immature.

It creates a whole different feel to many of Jesus’ statements. The ideas presented take on a directive to see the world as one who is becoming mature rather than a directive to be “good.” Rather than condemnation, by labeling someone or something as evil, it becomes an observation that immaturity is the cause of a lot of suffering.

Evil is this mysterious irrational force that has only wants to destroy for no reason. I believe that to be a lie. I don’t believe that evil exists, only ignorance, lies, and fear. Evil is a lie that allows demons to hide and remain nameless, but fear and deception are names we can understand. They are things we can overcome once we name them.

And too often, when someone labels something as evil, we fail to ask the demon its name.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

May the MOST humble win!!!

The picture to the right is the posture for a humble heart in Hula. The topic of humility as virtue can be an oxymoron in itself. This might be illustrated by the following story.

A priest goes before the altar and prostrates himself before it and says, "I am nothing before you God." A rich man comes in after him, prostrates himself before the altar and says, "I am nothing before you God." A beggar comes off the street and prostrates himself before the altar and says, "I am nothing before you God."

The rich man then whispers to the priest, "Look who thinks HE'S nothing."

There is another saying that might be helpful in understanding humility. Humility is not thinking low of oneself, its not thinking of oneself at all.

Sometimes there is a sense that we build hierarchies of humility. To help in this endeavor the Christian Righteousness Advanced Performance Company has developed the following Humility Seminar program.

May the Most Humble Win.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

We understand the need to develop a humble nature within the Christian church and we have provided a seminar to help you do that very thing. We want to help you humbly inherit the earth and all the wonderful prosperity that comes with that.

Here is a sampling of seminar topics...

How to deflect compliments.

The latest humble fashions.

Humble is as humble does.

How to help others to not feel "less than" in your presence. (This is a particularly helpful course for those of you who are advanced in humility. We know it's a hard burden to bear.)

These and many others will be offered in our 4 day seminar.

To guarantee that one inherits the earth, one needs to know how to rate high on the humble scale. So, we have developed a humble assessment test that you will take before and after our seminar. We have a ratio that we call the decihum or dh.

One decihum (dh) is equal to your height (ht) divided by the time it takes you to drop to your knees.(dt or drop time) This will be calculated on the first day of the seminar. (You will get extra credit if you don't use knee pads.) Or

1 dh = ht/dt

Each question in our Humble Assessment Measure or HAM has an equivalent decihum value, making this the most accurate humble assessment tool available. We have documented an average increase of 66 decihums on our HAM scale after taking our seminar.

We have a small sample exam that you can take to see how humble you are. Please answer the following questions

1. If someone compliments your clothing you would say

a. "Thank you I picked them out myself."
b. "The Lord has blessed me with good taste."
c. "I guess I got lucky."
d. "I would not have known how to dress this way unless I read my Bible every day. I must give all the credit to God."

2. If someone asks you, "What is your best trait?" you answer

a. "It's a toss up between my brilliant mind, my good looks, and my great athletic ability."
b. "I don't have a best trait."
c. "My Bible is my best trait."
d. by pointing to the sky with one finger.

3. If someone asks you, "Are you a proud person?" you answer

a. "No, I have never had a proud moment in my life."
b. "Sometimes."
c. "Only when I win. So I try to be a loser"
d. by silently pointing to the sky with one finger while closing your eyes.

4. If someone sees you walking around with your Bible and says, "Wow you must be a dedicated Christian" you

a. get a smaller brightly colored Bible.
b. answer, "Yes, this Bible is my sword and I plan to use it."
c. answer, "Yes this was the most expensive Bible I could find."
d. point to the sky with one finger while closing your eyes and bowing your head.

5. If someone sees you give a big offering and says "Wow, you are a very generous person!" you answer

a. "I want a gold plate on the church with my name on it."
b. "I'm just returning almost all I own to the Lord."
c. "Oh, this little ol' check."
d. by pointing to the sky with one finger, dropping to one knee, bowing your head, closing your eyes and saying quickly, "Thank you very much."

To score the test, just give yourself how many decihums you think you deserve for each question. If you scored

0 - 50 You really need to work on your humility. This seminar would be the perfect thing for you. Did we mention you get a certificate?

50 - 100 This is a little better. This seminar would still be perfect for you.

100 - 200 This is an average score, but if you wanted to become a truly exceptional humble person this seminar would be just the thing to do it for you.

200 - 300 This is an above average score. Subtract 100 points if you told someone your score. You know you have told, or are going to tell, someone. So, this seminar is exactly what you need.

300 - 400 Now your just bragging and overestimating your humility. You really need this seminar.

Some other features of our seminar that you will find most humble are

We are very careful to publish only the lowest scores allowing those of advanced humility to maintain their anonymous humble status.

We allow you to retake our seminar at double the price so that those of true humility can maintain their humble means.

We have a very unique certificate system based on our Humble Assessment Measure (HAM) that many church leaders have found useful. If you go through our seminar you receive a certificate that verifies you are a truly humble person. We certainly don't want non-certified HAMs leading out up front.

Our certificates are printed in black and white, not color, so you will not draw too much attention to yourself. We have saved an old Corona portable typewriter to type these out with. We then copy them with an old mimeograph machine. It has a truly vintage humble look to it. (Make sure you don't leave it laying around. Some one might throw it away.) And we don't even capitalize the first letter of your name. (This comes in handy since the shift key on the Corona is broken.)

If you would like to take your Christian humble experience to the next level, then this seminar is exactly what you are looking for.

So, maybe humility isn't a virtue. Maybe it's seeing ourselves and the world around us in a way that gives us a clear perspective, so we can avoid living a life of comparisons and live in grace.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Ruling a nation God's way?

I like to dialog in many different settings. I have been participating in a couple of dialogs lately. In one particular dialog I have been talking about the basis of morality and ethics. For the most part it has been interesting. Sometimes, when a religious dialog gets to a point where there doesn't seem to be any common ground I will get a response like the one I received recently. I've included a link to the dialog at the request of Wes, who I was dialoging with. Wes is probably a really nice person. He has a nice looking family with three boys. There are some very nice pictures of his family on his blog and they look like fun people. Now I would like to contrast that with his response to my idea that ethics doesn't need God to order us to be good but can be based on doing no harm or that which causes pain. I even referred to Jesus who said to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, pointing out that even Jesus used a self-referenced ethical saying. Here is his response...

"BOTTOM LINE. You want to love your sin and the things you want to do then bend the knee to God. But unfortunately for you Richard if you don't bend the knee before you die you will be bending your knee in hell and praising Jesus Christ anyways."

For those of you who are not familiar with hell, it is a place created by God for sinners to be burned alive for all eternity. Now the picture that Wes presents here is one where not only am I burning alive, but I am forced down on my knees to sing praises to Jesus. I'm not perfect, but I have a hard time coming up with anything I could possibly do that would deserve this type of punishment for all eternity and still be considered just and loving. Its also hard to conceive of any possible motivation for a God who claims to value justice and love to maintain this sort of place for all eternity. What is disturbing is that this type of solution is considered to be moral and ethical behavior by God.

I do have some concerns about the possibility of people, who believe this way, taking over the justice system in the United States. As I have read about various Christian organizations and their goals to reform the justice system in this country I have wondered how far they really wanted to go.

There has been a resurgence of Calvinism in recent years among young Christians according to the blog Church Matters. While I doubt any of these young people would endorse many of the things that Calvin did, I think it might be important to observe how Calvin applied his beliefs.

From this article "John Calvin: His Life in Geneva" we find the following summary...

"(The following information can be found in the book CALVIN: A BIOGRAPHY, by Bernard Cottret, published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, copyright 2000. Page numbers are included for each entry.)

1. (page 128) 1536 - CALVIN PROPOSES "a confession of faith" for the Genevans

2. (page 128) November 10, 1536 - Confession of faith presented, entitled "Confession of Faith, which all bourgeois and inhabitants of Geneva and subjects in its territories should swear to keep to and hold." - This document granted the right of the government to excommunicate offenders and protect the innocent by chastising the guilty.

3. (page 128) January 16, 1537 - Geneva authorities approve the Confession of Faith and the separate articles PRESENTED BY CALVIN.

4. (page 129) 1537 - One provision of the Confession of Faith and its articles included that pious images kept in people's private homes must be destroyed.

5. (page 129) March 1537 - Anabaptists were banished. (Anabaptists were primarily defined by their rejection of infant baptism.)

6. (page129) April 1537 - At CALVIN'S INSTIGATION city officials including captains and district wardens were commanded to go from house to house to ensure that the inhabitants subscribe to the Confession of faith.

7. (page 129) October 30,1537 - There was a final attempt to obtain a confession of faith from all who had been hesitating.

8. (page 129) November 12, 1537 - District by district, all those who had not made the confession of faith were ordered to leave the city.

9. (page 180) February 1545 - "Freckles" Dunant dies under torture without admitting to the crime of spreading the plague. His body was then dragged to the middle of town and burned.

10. (page 180) 1545 - Following the incident with Dunant, several more men and women were apprehended including a barber and a hospital supervisor who had "made a pact with the devil."

11. (page 180) March 7, 1545 - Two women executed by burning at the stake (presumably for the crime of sorcery, i.e. spreading the plague). CALVIN INTERCEDED apparently to have them executed sooner rather than later after additional time in prison. The Council followed his directive happily and urged the executioner to "be more diligent in cutting off the hands of malefactors."

12. (page 180) 1545 - more executions, tortures carefully watched to prevent death. Most of the tortured refused to confess. Means of death varied a little to include decapitation. All under the crime of spreading the plague. Some committed suicide in their cells to avoid torture, afterward the rest were handcuffed. One woman then through herself through a window.

13. (page 208) 1545 - CALVIN HAD the magistrates seize Belot, an Anabaptist (against infant baptism) for stating that the Old Testament was abolished by the New. Belot was chained and tortured.

14. (page 180) May 16, 1545 - The last execution concerning the plague outbreak, bringing the total dead to 7 men and 24 women. A letter from CALVIN attests to 15 of these women being burned at the stake. CALVIN'S only concern was that the plague had not come to his house.

15. (page 189) April 1546 - Ami Perrin put on trial for refusing to testify against several friends who were guilty of having danced. She was incarcerated for refusal to testify.

16. (page 190) July 1546 - Jacques Gruet was accused of writing a poster against Calvin. He was arrested and tortured until he admitted to the crime. He was then executed.

17. (page 177) November 22, 1546 - CALVIN DRAWS up a list of names inappropriate for baptism (i.e. inappropriate for naming children). CALVIN'S position insisted that a name appear in the Bible, or it was inappropriate.

18. (page 217) February 13, 1547 - CALVIN WRITES to the man who would preside over the burning of Michael Servetus. In the letter CALVIN WRITES, "For if he [Michael Servetus] came, as far as my authority goes, I would not let him leave alive."

19. (page 189) Thursday, June 23, 1547 - Several women tried for having danced, this time including Ami Perrin.

20. (page 192) September 23, 1547 - Francois Favre was prosecuted for having said that Calvin had proclaimed himself bishop of Geneva. Favre, Perrin, and his wife were again imprisoned.

21. (page 184) September 27, 1548 - CALVIN REPORTS his brother's wife to the consistory on suspicion of adultery.

22. (page 184) October 16-18, 1548 - Anne, CALVIN'S SISTER-IN-LAW is freed and had to kneel and ask forgiveness from both her husband and CALVIN (for apparently damaging his reputation.)

23. (page 210) October, 1551 - Hierome Bolsec imprisoned for his opposition to predestination. There he was immediately interrogated.

24. (page 211) December 23, 1551 - Bolsec sentenced to banishment on penalty of public whipping if he returned.

25. (page 223) Spring, 1553 - Proofs against the heretic Michael Servetus were gathered in Geneva in CALVIN'S ENTOURAGE.

26. (page 223) April, 1553 - Catholics were provided the evidence. Servetus is interrogated but escapes.

27. (page 223) August 13, 1553 - Servetus arrives in Geneva and is arrested and imprisoned.

28. (page 223) September 15, 1553 - From prison, Servetus writes a letter to the Council complaining that Calvin was deliberately prolonging his stay in the worst prison conditions. He complains of being eaten alive by insects and having no suitable clean or mended clothes to wear. The official charges, 1) denial of the Trinity 2) rejection of infant baptism.

29. (page 223) October 27, 1553 - After refusing to confess, Servetus is burned alive at the stake. Calvin apparently tried to change the manner of death to something other than burning at the stake, but he was unsuccessful.

30. (page 198) February, 1555 - Elections favorable to Calvin.

31. (page 198) May 16, 1555 - A riot ensues after the elections. Perrin (a leader of the opposing faction) seized the baton, which symbolized the office of Syndic giving the appearance of a coup d'etat. Perrin flees along with his associate Philibert Berthelier.

32. (page 198) After May 16, 1555 - CALVIN CALLS for repression.

33. (page 198) Monday, June 3, 1555 - The guilty are judged in absentia. Perrin is condemned to have the hand of his right arm cut off (the hand with which he grabbed the baton.) He and his accomplices were condemned to decapitation, then the heads and Perrin's hand were to be nailed up in public and their bodies cut into four quarters. The brothers Comparet received the sentence of decapitation and their bodies are to be quartered. All who didn't flee were executed. Two other men, Claude Galloys and Girard Thomas were put in a sort of pillory in two different parts of town. Galloys also received the sentence of having to carry a torch and ask for mercy. Berthelier's brother Francois-Daniel is among the victims of the repression. CALVIN JUSTIFIES the severity of their sentences.

34. (page 253) March, 1556 - Those who broke measures barring the mixing of men and women were subjected to public humiliation in the collar (a sort of pillary).

35. (page 253) December 31, 1556 - Jacques Lampereur was imprisoned for having made strong statements against the edicts last proposed on fornications, saying that we are under the law of grace and that is would be judaizing to condemn adulterers to death.

36. (page 184) January, 1557 - CALVIN'S SISTER-IN-LAW was imprisoned again for having committed adultery.

37. (page 180-181) October, 1568 - A pair of men were executed for sorcery after CALVIN EXHORTED his contemporaries to pursue sorcerers in order to remove all of them from the earth.

38. (page 181) 1568 - Another sorcerer admits his guilt under the torture of having his feet burned. He later recants his admission and is banished forever from Geneva.

From this survey of the life of John Calvin, we find that 38 people were executed during his time in Geneva. Some were burned alive. Others were decapitated and quartered afterward. Most were tortured first. Many more were imprisoned and tortured. The great majority of these people were accused of sorcery for spreading the Plague. For at least two men, the crime was little more than a public denunciation of Calvin himself. And in cases such a Michael Servetus, Calvin's premeditated determination to kill was made readily apparent by a letter written six years before Servetus had ever been brought to trial."

I think it is important to remember the history of religious intolerance. Calvin would be considered mild compared to other Christian theocracies of the time. What is bordering on insanity is the application of these types of measures to insure a "good" society. This might bring some insight into why Christian culture finds sexual sins far more disturbing than violence. The other insanity is the ability of Christianity to condemn radical Islam without condemning its own radical history of violence.

A picture of a god who tortures people for all eternity in a most horrific way is obviously a myth made up by men to manipulate and control other people. What is puzzling, as in many understandings about the nature of humans, is the ability of such an insane belief to propagate itself over so many generations.

I can understand why a tyrant would want to use fear, absolute obedience, restriction of information, and the threat of violence to maintain control of a nation. What is baffling is why, in a country defined by freedom, we would want to worship one.