Saturday, January 03, 2015

Unchurched in the Bible Belt

A friend I've known for 20+ years grew up here in the Dallas area without going to church.  I was surprised to learn this about him since we live in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and pretty much everyone goes to some sort of church on Sunday.  If they don't go to a place to worship God, then they likely go to a big arena worship service known as the NFL.  Those who can't afford the admission price for Jerry Jones's house of worship where the Cowboys play just watch along on TV.

My friend's father had a devout Roman Catholic mother who was "more religious than the pope," so when his dad and uncle left home they decided they didn't want religion to be part of their lives.  My friend's mother was nominally Lutheran, but she left the family when he was a toddler, so he was raised along with his brother and sister by his non-religious father.  Out of the 17 different "nannies" his father hired to help raise his three children there was one who took him to church a few times.  He said he remembered feeling out of place on those few occasions.  Now that my friend is in his 50s, he's taken an interest in the religion that surrounds him.  He acknowledges we live in a country founded by Christians, and he appreciates the good moral teachings of Jesus, so last February he embarked on a project to read the Bible.  He's making good progress.

The problem with a lot of professing Christians is they haven't actually read the Bible, which is a travesty.  I admire my friend for taking up the mantle that even many Christians haven't taken on, actually reading the Biblical text.  He's plowed through the books starting with Genesis and going straight through.  He's in Ezekiel right now.  We've had some brief exchanges about his reading experience, mostly through text messages, but I sat down with him for two hours this morning and was fascinated by his perspective.  It was interesting hearing how my friend viewed the Old Testament as a non-churched reader.

My friend views the God as revealed in the Old Testament as capricious and bloodthirsty, and he says most of the Biblical books he's read so far sound like an "insane" story cobbled together by a bunch of scientifically ignorant and mostly illiterate middle eastern Bedouins who have a God playing "war" with the various tribes and nations in the middle east.  My friend simply cannot imagine why the Supreme Creator of the Universe (if there is such an entity) would behave in the ways described in the Old Testament.  His view is that an all powerful God could do a much better job of revealing his identity to the human race he created.  If he were God, he said he'd do things much differently.  I look forward to more discussions with my non-believing friend.  Getting a perspective from someone who holds to most of the same core beliefs I do about politics, family, and morality, but who does not share the same beliefs about God, is fascinating to me.

Original Sin is a particularly sticky wicket because he says that pretty much casts all humanity in an impossible position of being without any options other than obeying this capricious tyrant.  He equated this to North Koreans who may know that their leader is a nut case, but they have to obey or risk being sent to starve in a work camp.  My friend also has what I believe is a very rational perspective on the horrors of the sacrificial system of the ancient Israelites.  I think a lot of professing Christians fail to grasp how bloody that was since most of them have never even seen a cow slaughtered so they can enjoy their steaks and hamburgers.

Our agreement is that we are engaged in a dialog to discuss the facts, evidence, and reasons for either believing in God or not believing.  We're not debating.  We're just talking.  I think that is a worthy pursuit for truth seekers.  My friend has had people tell him he is going to Hell for not accepting Jesus as his personal savior.  That wasn't a compelling reason for belief for him.  I can see why.  That pretty much makes God out to be who he is seeing in the Old Testament, a capricious God committing genocide and telling his chosen people of Israel that they better obey or die.  From his perspective, it is like God putting a gun to his head and demanding obedience.  It doesn't allow any sort of free will if the option is to obey or be punished for eternity in the lake of fire.

1 comment:

  1. All these are normal reactions to a reading of the Bible from people today.

    If I were to try to sum up a general response briefly, it would be this: Christ's coming to our world 2000 years ago has already changed the world so much that the "Old Testament" background has now become completely non-PC. But it was written principally for people with that ancient mindset.

    The religious background of animal sacrifice practiced by all the ancients, and what tribal people needed to survive in that earlier world, surrounded by stronger nations, were completely different from today. But God accommodated himself to that ancient way of life, both in the sacrificial system initially used and in being the literal national Savior that people needed to survive. And through His choice of that one people and the lessons drilled into them, the need for something better was made clear. Jesus became the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, ending the sacrificial system, and it became clear that we can't reach God through either our sacrifices or our actions, but He has reached us.

    So today people react against the primitive mindset that Jesus and his teachings have been changing.