Yesterday while at church I had a strange thought about religion…
One thing that has always bugged me about organized religion (i.e., going to a church) is the strict limitations the church seems to impose upon your belief and your relationship with God. I was raised Roman Catholic and all my Masses were in either Latin or Spanish (living in Southern California during your formative years will make you bilingual even if you don’t want to) and it always felt too “strict” in terms of a healthy relationship in your worship. What I mean by this is that people oftentimes put a limit on just how you can go about worshiping God.
Let me explain.
Our pastor (good guy, always up for a spiritual debate, and is very accommodating for my random bursts of insanity :D) was preparing for church yesterday and one of the leaders (I should know what they’re called but I can’t think of the name off the top of my head) was asking us to let Jesus into our hearts before the service began. I got to thinking about that and wondering just how in the Hell they believe that we have the power to not let God into our hearts. Then the idea of limitations came to mind and while the pastor was talking about Joseph and the trials of life, my mind was off to the races.
Now, I know I’m not the easiest Christian to deal with (that’s gotta be the understatement of the year) since I ask questions about everything. I also would admit that I can be trying to anyone’s patience. All those warning labels aside, even I know that humanity tends to impart its own mental limitations and biases on God. It’s almost like we can’t accept God as God and we have to mold and shape Him, that we are unable to simply bask in a love that even we can’t fathom how deep it is. So we make restrictions and limitations, require people to let an all-powerful deity into our lives when He’s already there.
I’m a trained historian (I hate that phrase but it’s the only want I can say “I went to school and learned lots of historical stuff so I know what I’m talking about” without sounding too snotty) so I know just when and how the bible was written. I also know that fellow “trained historians” removed pieces of the bible to fit their own narrative bias of the time. Some even changed the meaning of the Greek words to fit something else (hence “Thou Shalt Not Suffer A With To Live” causing the freaking Salem Witch trials) which has caused a few hundred years of grief. Again, human biases and nature in action.
I got into a huge argument once with my girlfriend awhile back about whether or not people of the Jewish faith would get into heaven or not. She insisted that they wouldn’t and I got a little upset, so I started lobbing in some cheap shots. I asked if a Jew lived a blameless life and worshiped God, then how could they not be allowed into heaven? Even an atheist, if they lived a life without traditional sin, should be able to gain entrance into heaven. I mean, if Bertha Better Than You can get into heaven, why can’t the atheist who lived without sin?
This is where mankind’s own sense of limitations comes into play. I feel that since God is all-powerful, then it shouldn’t matter what people choose to worship so long as it leads to living in a manner much like Christ. Think about it. If an atheist, a Jew, a Muslim, or a Hindu all live lives where they help the poor, treat their fellow man and woman as an equal, and love all, then why does it matter whether or not they’ve “opened their hearts to Jesus”? Their actions alone show that they are being Christ-like, which is something we all should strive for.
Human limitations. That’s where religious hangups all come into play. Our own misconceptions and personal beliefs warp what God truly is. At lunch yesterday my girlfriend mentioned that what we see in the power of God is just a sliver. I actually agreed with that because humans, at the most basest of levels, need limitations in order to even begin to wrap our brains around anything. If a pastor, imam, rabbi, or priest all catch a bare glimpse of the true power of God, their own biases and understandings will temper and shape that word into something that they can understand. This can be good and bad, but either way it’s still a limitation.
I think once we as a people quit throwing our own preconceived notions onto God we can truly begin living in a manner that we’re supposed to, which is to love and cherish one another and strive forward to better ourselves without condemning anyone else. If we are to survive as a species then this has to happen. If we can’t, then perhaps at least we can try not to blame others for mistakes of our own. Perhaps then we can take baby steps towards becoming the humans we were meant to become.
Everyone should be able to agree with that.
3 thoughts on “That Old Timey Religion”
You and I have much the same thoughts! I always got terribly upset and still do when people say Hindus and Muslims won’t go to heaven when some of the people I grew up with, truly good men who literally gave up most of their lives to work and toil and not see their families for years at a time, just to provide a better life for them, were so much better people.
There’s a lot of theology around what you’ve written. (I’m sure you’re soooo surprised at that.) My advice… don’t read the bible without access to a few things
A concordance – basically the dictionary – that addresses the problematic translations
Access to exegisis – what others have assessed in biblical context of what a passage means
An understanding of the historical context
Your example of “suffer not the witch to live” is a great example of why not. Exodus 22:18
Masoretic text: :מְכַשֵּׁפָה לֹא תְחַיֶּה
mĕkaššēpâ lōʾ tĕḥayyeh
You shall not allow a mĕkaššēpâ to live.
Septuagint: φαρμακοὺς οὐ περιποιήσετε
pharmakous ou peripoiēsete
You shall not keep pharmakous [plural] alive.
The word “mĕkaššēp” is used elsewhere in the bible both masculine and feminine: The Hebrew term appears here as a feminine singular form; elsewhere (Exod. 7:11; Deut. 18:10; 2 Chr. 33:6; Dan. 2:2; Mal. 3:5) it is masculine (3× plural, 2× singular).
While the word is used outside, the Bible, we’re asked to look at it as it defines itself for context. To that end, an important text for evaluating the wider question is Deuteronomy 18:9-14, where a number of illicit and prohibited wielders of supernatural power are listed in v. 10-11. The term, mĕkaššēp, is the last one listed in v. 10:
“10 There shall not be found with you anyone who makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices sorcery, or an enchanter, or a mĕkaššēp, 11 or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a wizard, or a necromancer. 12 For whoever does these things is an abomination to Yahweh.” (translations vary).
These area all terms and actions associated with a) people who do not worship God (Yaweh), b) dedicate their children to other gods (passing through fire) and c) are malicious or consort with familiar (evil) spirits. The exegisis on the subject agrees. So historical context is appropriate
So… suffer not a witch to live looks to be an appropriate English translation. But the people acting on it were WRONG. (Confused yet?)
Now, the THEOLOGY!!!! (Which I am going to totally oversimplify because this post is already wall of text)
The New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant – basically, the Old Testament is context for understanding the New Testament. Perhaps the best statement I’ve found on it is:
“The New Covenant is also mentioned in Ezekiel 36:26–27, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel lists several aspects of the New Covenant here: a new heart, a new spirit, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and true holiness. The Mosaic Law could provide none of these things (see Romans 3:20).” –https://www.gotquestions.org/new-covenant.html
Basically, even the Old Testament acknowledges that it’s a harsh system and that some day God will allow people to use the laws of God written in their hearts (love) in place of strict legalism.
It’s a very beer worthy conversation to have if you’re up for it.
It depends on if you believe that the word “God” refers to a real thing or just an idea in the mind of human beings.
If Christianity is true–not just a psychological ideal, but a literal description of the state of the universe and its Architect–then it follows that Christ was sui generis and human salvation is through Christ alone.
I happen to believe that Christianity is true. I was not raised Christian (in fact my upbringing was openly hostile to Christianity) but my researches into the nature of the universe have convinced me that Christianity is the theory that best fits the facts. I could be wrong, of course, but if I am wrong it is because I misinterpreted the evidence.
I don’t claim to fully understand the faith, but what I have been able to verify convinces me that what I can’t verify is most likely true. I don’t like many of the doctrines, but my liking them or not is irrelevant.