Sunday, 30 October 2016

On An Encounter With Fundamentalism. And On The Wonders Of The Human Race.

I chatted with some preachers in Sunderland yesterday.  I wasn't meaning to.  I was just wanting to finish my ice cream in peace.  Damn you preachers, you thwarted my quiet ice cream enjoyment.

But once they began talking at me, and because I am still utterly obsessed about God things and think about them a heck of a lot, and because I wasn't at that point falling to pieces mentally, I talked back.  It's still a novelty to me to be so far on this side of the dogmatic fence.

We talked about a lot of things.  All of them may bore you.  Some of them you may find strange.  Some of them will make you wonder why Christians sometimes don't even love each other let alone non-believers.

I am no longer a Christian.  I'm not.  But I am still fascinated by it all.  It's a special interest.

So as someone with a deep fascination, I've done the talking.  So you don't have to!  There.  Aren't you pleased?  You will know, when you encounter such people, the kinds of things you are happy to be missing by not having a conversation with them.

I have to give this disclaimer:  Not all Christians are like the ones I chatted with.  Quite a lot are very different indeed.  My plans for the day had fallen apart due to my own absent-mindedness, confusion and panic.  But those plans had been to meet with, sit with and relate with a group of Christians.  To talk, share and learn about theology with them.  I'd been looking forward to it too and am sad to have missed out on the experience.  I believe it would have been great.  And I believe that the Christians I didn't manage to meet with would have had nearly as many disagreements with the fundamentalists as I did.

If you did choose to engage a fundamentalist of this variety, a strange choice, what might you talk about?

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I'll start with the more boring bits (history and doctrine) and will end with the most interesting bits (humans and my thoughts about the people I met).  Skip through to the end.  Most of this is not exciting stuff for most people, only strange obsessives like me.  Seriously.  This is long.  And it doesn't even cover the full encounter.  Skip through to the part about people.  Because that's the important thing.

We talked a little of church history.

They said there was a church existing sometimes in secret and sometimes in persecuted groups from the time of Constantine until the Protestant Reformation began.  Theodore Beza, the successor of Calvin, wrote about this history.  That's not an uncommon claim among Protestant fundamentalists but it's a laughable one.  Plus Beza, a man who wrote in defense of burning heretics alive, didn't have the information available to write a reliable church history - which might be why he didn't write one!

They gave some examples of the secret church that upheld the "one true faith."

The Cathars

I was informed that this group were Christians with a beautiful Christian faith, part of the true church. They were persecuted because they held the way of salvation hated by Rome.  This is something I find very funny.  Because the Cathars were dualists - they believed in two Gods.  And they believed in reincarnation.  The Cathars were also gnostics and believed in the ultimate salvation of all people.

In all honesty I don't think the Cathar faith was quite the same as that of these preachers!  I tried to tell them that - because I looked into the Cathars years ago when, as a Catholic, I had the same claims thrown at me.  But no.  Everything I had read and learned was a lie.  Propaganda.  Invented by the Catholic Church.

The Albigensians

I was told that this group were also just like beautiful Protestants.  Bearers of the one true faith.  In fact they were a Cathar sect.  Where most Cathars were pretty ascetic, the Albigensians were more extreme than most.  They also believed that Jesus was just human, not God.  For these people to be held up as models of the true Protestant gospel - the proper Jesus - is crazy.

The Waldensians

This is the funniest of all.  I'll say why a little later.

We talked of other historical documents from the early church.  Reputable ones.  The ones for which we know who wrote them.  And when.  Such as the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch to seven churches, written on his journey to Rome where he was martyred in about AD107.  Such as the two Apologia of Justin Martyr, written to the Roman Emperor around AD150 in the hopes of stopping a persecution.  Those documents contain much that wouldn't fit into the Beza history or the preachers' ideas of the early church.  I know.  I read them a lot before becoming a Catholic for a while.  But no.  All of those documents were fabrications, forgeries from much later, many centuries later, written to prop up a false church.  All such documents that the preachers disagreed with were deemed to be completely non-existent or fake.  I urged them to read these early church documents.  See what was believed by these men of faith and see, especially in Justin, how the early church functioned and how the mid-2nd century Christians worshiped.  I didn't say to follow the way of Justin - just to see for themselves that such a way had been followed by early Christians.

The preacher kept on talking about what Beza is meant to have said and how we have to believe Beza and how all the other things were just false and shouldn't be touched at all.  I could see that historically, there wasn't really any wiggle room for a rational conversation.

We talked a little of doctrine.

The Catholics invented Transubstantiation in AD999.  And believes we're saved by works.  And rejects the Bible.  And has a false Jesus.  And a false priesthood.  And Constantine invented it.  And so on and so on.  These preachers don't like Catholics!

I found it strange.  Two days previously I had laid into some of the teachings of the Catholic Church - with full acceptance that I was giving one side of the teaching far over and above the other.  Now I found myself defending Catholicism.  Of course I'm not Catholic now.  But the accusations fundy Protestants throw at Catholics are ludicrous and hateful.

On a personal note, I am condemned for my Catholic ways and if I don't repent of them I will be judged and burn for eternity.  As a non-Catholic learning this came as something of a surprise.

The New Testament was in its final form by the end of the first century because the apostle John made it so.  Er, no.  Just no.

The gospel was preached across the world by the first generation of Christians - because the Bible says so.

This does not include Australia or the Americas because there wasn't anyone there to tell about Jesus then.  I was told that we know there can't have been people in Australia 2000 years ago because the apostolic church didn't go and preach to them.  Honest.  I was told that.

But the gospel was preached in the British Isles in the first century AD.  Oh yes, I was told that.  And I was told who by.  Apparently the Waldensians came here and told the natives about Jesus.  Oh yes, they did.  Now, unlike the Cathars, the Waldensians did have a faith similar to that seen in the ideas that can be seen in the Protestant Reformation.  Some of their ideas and major criticisms of the Western church of their day are not only valid, they are very praiseworthy.

But did the Waldensians bring the story of Jesus to our shores in the first century?  Well, no.  It would have been difficult for them to do so.  Peter Waldo didn't start that movement until the late twelfth century.  It's an interesting story.  But his followers were not time travelers.

On a personal note, I am the antichrist and an abomination.  That didn't come as a surprise to me.  Old news.

We talked a little about ethics and morality.

I was asked if lying is wrong.  I agree, it usually is.  But to me it wasn't a yes/no question.  I posited an extreme situation.  Sometimes extreme cases disprove a rule.  I was in Germany in 1943 harboring a family of Jews under my floorboards.  The Gestapo paid me a visit and asked whether I was harboring any Jews.  I said I would lie.  He said he wouldn't lie and that God would judge me for my sin in lying.  I tried to explain situational ethics 101.  For the preacher the way of righteousness would have been to give those Jews up to the Gestapo - and myself too, I suppose, for protecting them.

We talked about the verses in the Old Testament in which God commands genocide.  He said that he didn't believe God would command his people to commit genocide now because God does things differently now Jesus has risen.  He said that God is holy and commanding genocide was holy.  He said that if God did command genocide now he would take part in it and kill people because it was better to obey God.  I pointed out a group of children who were passing at that moment and asked, "Would you kill those children?"  He replied that he would, if God told him to.

We talked of the times when it's written that God hardened pharaoh's heart after some of the plagues - and so pharaoh didn't let the Israelites like he had planned.  That's in the story.  But that means that the killing of all the first born children of Egypt wasn't necessary.  Which kinda means all that horror is God's fault.  It's there in the text.  If you, like the preacher, want to believe the text.  The preacher didn't like that.  He couldn't accept it was there because it didn't fit into his dogma. Others say God did it so his power could be seen.  Which rather makes God out to be an egotistical monster.

Yes.  The preacher would slaughter the children of Sunderland under some circumstances.  

Holy crap!

We talked of science.

The preachers believe that the universe is 6000 years old.  I asked about the light coming from a supernova 50,000 light years away.  I was being kind to the man giving this number because it's hardly any distance at all in terms of the universe.  Of all the galaxies in this astonishing universe, less than 100 of them are closer than ten-million light years and we have detected supernovae in galaxies far further away than that.   Wouldn't we thus be seeing the light from a star exploding thousands of years before they would say the universe began?  I got the reply that I didn't know what I was talking about because (a) the universe is expanding so the star would have been much closer 6000 years ago, (b) the speed of light is very different in space to what it is here, and (c) there is no time once you leave planet Earth.  Time doesn't exist anywhere else.  I was told that's what science says.

Evolution is of course a lie.  Anything a scientist says that doesn't fit in with the preachers' brand of dogma is a lie given by Satan.

We talked about other Christians.

Because there are Christians I love who have a faith that's attractive.  They said that these people aren't Christians at all and certainly haven't got the right Jesus.  They said that these other Christians need to repent or burn.

The Protestant Church was going well because it had the Authorised Bible.  But then people started making non-authorised translations from the wrong Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.  And then the Protestant Church went wrong.  Any church using the false Bibles hasn't got Jesus.  Any Christian with a false Bible probably isn't a Christian at all and if they are they desparately need to repent and find the true Jesus in the King James Bible.

On a personal level, I am a fool.

We talked of judgement - and inevitably talked of sexuality.

Please note that I didn't bring this up.  They did.

God has judged and condemned nations in the past.  And he's going to judge this one and condemn it if it doesn't repent, especially from the sin of homosexuality.

On a personal level, I am condemned for my sexuality.

And we talked about other human beings.

They told me this of the human race:  All people, from birth, deserve to burn painfully in Hell for all eternity.  All people are at root evil because of sin.  There is no light in them.  Nothing of God.  Nothing of hope.  Unless they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (and exactly the right version).

I have a confession to make.  I used to believe that kind of thing.  I thought the Bible said so.  And I wanted to believe the Bible.  I wasn't as extreme as the preachers I met yesterday.  But I believed quite a lot of things that I now find either embarrassing, shockingly reprehensible, or both.  I don't blame myself.  I know the reasons why I came to believe as I did.  But I regret many things.  I accepted Christ in a fucked up state.  And in many ways was fucked up further by my Christianity.

As I talked with those preachers I felt myself more filled with light than I possibly ever have been before.  I did.  And why?  Because when I looked at all the people around me, ordinary people from Sunderland, I saw light.  I saw beauty.  I saw magnificence.  If God is light then I saw God shining from each and every person on that shopping street and saw it as plainly as I could see their physical forms.  It was an amazing experience to have that clarity.

Now, I believe that humans are basically good.  No matter what they do, what they've suffered, what they've been taught to repress or embrace.  No matter what they're going through.  They're basically good.  All humans.  Every single one.

We all make mistakes.  We're all imperfect - or perfectly imperfect.  And sometimes we muck up bigtime or embrace views and beliefs that we later may look back on with a sense of regret or shame.  We all hurt other people sometimes.  We let each other down sometimes.  And all of us may become people who say or do horrible things.

All of that is admitted.  We screw up!  We hurt.  We may be in need of healing.  We may be hungry.  We may be scared.  We may be lonely.  We may act badly out of insecurity.  We may get raised in an environment in which we are taught racism or homophobia or some other prejudice.

But.  We are all basically good.  I believe that.  I know I can be rubbish at social skills at times.  I know I can fail to act in love and light - out of laziness or out of my own woundedness or out of lack of resources.  But I do believe all human beings are wonderful.  Yes, even the suicide bomber.  Even the preacher!

I looked yesterday at the people of Sunderland and I saw shining lights.  And it was wonderful.

And I was being told that all those shining lights were evil.  Dead.  Deserving of eternal torment.

And that for me, beyond history and dogma and science and all the rest of it, is the saddest thing about those preachers.  The saddest by far.

As I think about those preachers I feel this:

Sadness for the years of my life in which I would have gone along with at least part of what they believe, including that view of a fundamentally evil human race in need of salvation from Hell.  Sadness for the relationships I missed out on because of my faith.  Sadness for the times I hurt people because of my faith.

Gladness that the rest of my life will not be spent following such a path.  Gladness for all the things that happened in the last five years - some of them very painful and difficult - which have brought me to this point in my life.  Gladness that I have been "set free from the law of sin and death" which I lived under as an evangelical Christian.

And as for those preachers, I pity them.  And I feel deep sorrow for people in their lives who become affected by the results of their dogma.  I won't be leading the preachers out of the darkness in which they now unwittingly stand.  I hope that they find their way, just as I have been learning to find mine.

My other sadness was that the woman I talked to - because she was answering back to a preacher and had really cool hair and seemed nice - didn't have time to come for a drink with me.  And she really didn't.  Lots of shopping to do before a six hour Megabus journey this morning.  She says if I see her again, to ask again.  I think it would have been quite fun to drink tea with this stranger whose life I completely butted into.  It wouldn't be the first time I've done something like that.

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