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People Do What They Want To Do, If They Can


DavidD
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In 1992 I knew someone who attended a Reformed church, so I tried that for a while. It was the first conservative church I attended. I learned as much about Calvinism as I ever want to know. There was a favorite author there who wrote a book saying that Christ would return in 1994. It’s easy to dismiss that now, but it was a logical analysis of the 70 weeks of Daniel with the conclusion that the clock pointed to 1994. I didn’t see any flaw in it except the problem of whether there is any clock like that at all. The author said he might be wrong. It is interesting to be in a church where people focus on things like that so much.

 

I attended various conservative churches from 1992 to 2004. The Presidential election that year brought out so much ugliness at that last church, I finally said I can’t do this any more, no matter how broad-minded I like to be. There were always two things to alienate me from those in these churches, people didn’t know science very well, and they did and said things that didn’t seem Christian to me, sometimes.

 

I would wonder why. The science part was easy. People there hadn’t been taught much science and even more importantly there were all these apologetics that seemed determined to support the Bible and oppose anything that threatened that. That’s not a way to truth.

 

People’s behavior was more mysterious, though. For a time I focused on the word “hypocrisy”. Well, yes, but how do people become hypocrites – “pride and idolatries”. And where does pride come from – “human nature”. And where do idolatries come from – hmmm, I’m not so quick on that one, even though to quickly answer the other ones took years. One can say idolatries come from human nature. We need something to fill in our God-shaped void. Whatever isn’t God is an idol, but what makes people stuck on an idol?

 

So much of what I hear from conservatives is anti-abortion, anti-evolution or anti-homosexuality rhetoric. Listen to enough talk about poor, defenseless, innocent unborn children being threatened by our culture of death, and you can understand that at the center of this drama someone has made the unborn child into an idol, whether you would use those exact words or not. The evolution rhetoric is easy – people who should know better have been more interested in propping up the Bible than in accepting science, and everyone else just trustingly follows. But what is it with this constant attack on homosexuality, with long-winded rhetoric that just amounts to, “It’s sin, it’s sin, it’s sin”? By the way, aren’t our sins forgiven?

 

I know how conservatives would answer that, but I want to go instead to the forgiveness of sins, imputed righteousness, substitutionary atonement, not deeply, but just to Paul, where this first shows up. Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians are both big on this. My study Bible says Galatians came first, no later than 58 AD. In that Paul is countering some teachers who came after him and told the Galatians they need to be circumcised. Paul says strongly that is wrong and curses anyone who contradicts him (Gal. 1: 9). He says the gospel he presented them did not come to him from any man, but by revelation of Jesus Christ. He didn’t qualify that to say, “I think”. He then goes through some personal history to get to his understanding that following the Law justifies no one, but faith in Jesus does, as it is no longer Paul who lives, but Christ who lives in him. So Paul was taught directly by Jesus Christ, the resurrected Jesus Christ, one reason it’s important that Jesus was in fact resurrected.

 

How did this happen? Paul makes some arguments in the rest of Galatians that this imputed righteousness makes sense, but they don’t explain it directly any more than the above. In Romans there’s a more formal progression of ideas to get to salvation by faith. He was in Corinth at the time, probably still in 58, a city dedicated to Aphrodite, watching temple prostitutes of both genders, presumably his model for writing the first two chapters that say homosexuality is because homosexuals didn’t worship God, so God made them act like animals. How much were all non-Jews like animals? Of course Paul wasn’t that big on heterosexual sex either, even though he recognized the need for proper marriage to allow for that.

 

So Paul thought Christ living within a person made circumcision unnecessary, but didn’t see that God and homosexuality could mix. I wonder what the dogma would have been if the only converts Paul could have gotten were homosexuals?

 

There is something missing from this story. For one thing, Paul’s initial experience with Jesus did not include any instruction of consequence. That must have come later. That’s how it was with me. That first time was very confusing.

 

In my experience, those who experience the presence of God not only hear God in their language, but also in the concepts that allow one to say this is God. Read books by people who quote God, from evangelicals to Neale Donald Walsch and his New Age God. One can say they’re all nuts or that one is right, and everyone else is nuts. Maybe, but I’ve read a lot of these, and I don’t think any of them are nuts. I believe everyone is reporting his or her experience fairly well. It just has that ring to it, the same expansive quality of talking to God I experienced first-hand.

 

So what concepts did Paul have when Jesus started talking to him? He was that Pharisee’s Pharisee he talks about regularly. He was guilty about having persecuted Christians, despite being that Pharisee’s Pharisee, maybe because of it. He must have had some sense that the Law doesn’t work, because it hadn’t worked for him, even if he couldn’t say it like that. Yet he must have seen evil as he always does in these lists of sins that cannot lead to heaven, including homosexuality. He must have also known how difficult it would be to convert non-Jews to Jesus if it meant adopting all Jewish laws, wherever the idea came from that Jesus would want non-Jews, maybe from Paul’s background as a Roman citizen.

 

Now someone else might go through these thoughts with an eye toward saying that there was no revelation from Jesus. Not me, if God spoke to me, which He has many times, He can certainly speak to Paul. Yet the idea that God speaks to a blank slate whenever He does that makes no sense to me. If I speak physically to someone, I can say whatever I want, but to go through someone else’s mind, however that’s done, might be much more restricted.

 

I remember many times going through Galatians with conservative Christians. The arguments there apply to any part of the Law as well as to circumcision. So are we free to live our life however we understand God to lead us? No conservative Christian wants to go there. They go to the text where Paul says that Christ certainly doesn’t encourage sin. So shouldn’t men be circumcised? Look, at some point you can’t have it both ways. Well, Paul had it both ways. You’ve got me there.

 

God did let Paul have it both ways, to say circumcision is out, certainly a good marketing strategy, his past failure was inevitable, as the Law isn’t enough, and still there are lists of sins that will keep anyone out of heaven. For years I wanted to say this is not right. There’s a flaw in logic here. If one sin is out, all sins are out, unless there’s some additional principle that Paul failed to report. Many Protestants have seen it similarly.

 

But not about homosexuality. Homosexuality is not the obstacle to church membership that circumcision was. In fact some churches now reason their way as I have that homosexuality is not an issue to God. Sexual addiction might be. Other behavior that hurts someone would be. But not the biological condition of homosexuality.

 

Yet I know what is happening when I feel God’s approval for my seeing homosexuality as not a problem for Him per se. He is letting me say what I want to say, as Paul did. Paul wanted to preserve some part of Judaism. Not me. I want to be ruled by love alone. So I am.

 

I can’t think of a way of life where people don’t do what they want to do, if they can. Conservatives can talk about the absolutes they follow. It seems to me that they are doing what they want to do in that, doing what makes them feel good, self-righteous, whatever. Conservatives may say that they are following God and staying out of hell. That may be, but it’s still what they want to do. They wouldn’t be staying out of hell if I judged them, because I look at Matthew 25: 46, and I see a whole lot of both conservatives and liberals neglecting the needy, which by strict allegiance to the words of that verse leads to everlasting punishment.

 

So people are doing what they want to do, and God has helped them. He has removed oppressive religious laws. He has let them believe something contradictory. Or has He? God says to me that He has. Anyone is free to disagree.

 

Yet God also says He has His limits, that He is not willing to let everyone just do whatever they want to do forever. It’s more than just practical limits, such as my clients have. My clients at the charity where I volunteer can’t do what they want to do. They all have to put everything into surviving each day. Many people do. If everyone did their share to help the needy, that would be different. Why aren’t they? Because people are doing what they want to do.

 

It is so traumatic to force a change in that. When Islam swept out of Arabia, Muslims didn’t worry about whether converts wanted to be circumcised. Men were either circumcised by the sword or died by the sword. Islam is a different sort of religion than Christianity. Many Christians think God must love Christianity best. Don’t be so sure. All sorts of people are allowed to be somewhat different from what God would want, to do what they want to do, somewhat, even if that means maintaining a legalistic tradition.

 

But God has limits. He says He’s not sure what they are. He doesn’t deal in hypotheticals, only real situations. Then He pushes things as He pushes certain individuals. He reassesses the situation as it goes. And in so doing He is often letting people do what they want to do. A good parent knows to do this, within limits.

 

This is now how I understand things conservatives do that I don’t think are Christian. Yes, they have pride and idolatries, but everyone does some. What’s important is to try to fill our God-shaped void as much as possible with God. That’s what works best. It’s another way one could define God if it were more than a metaphor.

 

It’s not just conservatives. Some years ago I realized there were always two things to alienate me from those in liberal churches, people didn’t know science very well, and they did and said things that didn’t seem Christian to me, sometimes. Hmm, sounds familiar. I believe God’s solution is to let people do what they want to do, within limits. He’ll do what He can to get what He wants despite that, a life of growth and happiness for those who would follow Him instead of lesser things. I don’t think He’s worried He’ll lose.

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"I attended various conservative churches from 1992 to 2004. The Presidential election that year brought out so much ugliness at that last church, I finally said I can’t do this any more, no matter how broad-minded I like to be. There were always two things to alienate me from those in these churches, people didn’t know science very well, and they did and said things that didn’t seem Christian to me, sometimes."

 

David,

 

I appreciate your experiences in the conservative/evangelical church. Hal Lindsey was one of those eshatalogical guys who made a big hullabaloo about nothing with that prediction stuff. My perspective comes from my dad who told me that Revelation was written in a way that would encourage every generation to feel the pressure of Christ's return so that none would grow lazy or unconcerned.

 

My friend from the U.K. mentioned that in a lot of the conservative evangelical church, issues like women in leadership, consumption of alcohol, and evolution are not issues much at all. I find this curious because much of argumentation is contained within the bounds of our direct culture and not balanced with the understandings and perspectives of the world.

 

I have been and still am curious about the growth of the 3rd world church. The pressure of the Nigerian Episcopal church on the carrying on of the North American Episcopalians is a case in point of the growing influence of the more conservative branches of the mainline denominations. I am anticipating a growing shift in religious influence from other parts of the world.

 

Later,

 

Caleb

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I'm having trouble understanding if there is an overall point you're trying to make here. If the situation is as crazy as you say, how do we find the guidance of God through all this. If we can't trust the revelations given by the structured religions, how do we find our way?

 

Ah, good question. We find our way from God and everything that comes from God, which unfortunately in my experience, is not everything. That is one point that I would make from what I wrote here, though I'm not writing here about how to live, but instead explaining my thoughts about whether God ever has dictated words to anyone. What I wrote this morning about finding my way through prayer and developing a relationship with God is more about how to live, in the discussion about even liberals wanting God to do magic.

 

I would have made this longer to be equally about liberals and conservatives, but it's 4 pages as it is, which I hope doesn't make it unreadable, even at that. It does come from a real moment of insight I had that the friction I have with liberals is the same friction I have with conservatives - they don't know science, and they sometimes do and say things that don't seem Christian to me. The details are different, but one reason I noticed the similarity is that I did go through the progression I describe, from "hypocrites", which mostly I felt toward conservatives who somehow don't take Matthew 25:31-46 seriously despite claiming absolute belief in the Bible, plus whatever hate and indifference I saw in them, to "pride and idolatries", which is a deeper explanation of that, and something I could see easily in everyone, including me, to where to go from there.

 

One place to go from there is to understand that no religion is perfect. One can conclude that by looking for something for oneself, as I did, and finding contradictions and failure everywhere, though for me once I had that road-to-Damascus experience 17 years ago, I had a connection to God that has never failed me, confused me a lot, but never failed me. One part of understanding that is to think about the process by which prophets have heard God's words, from Old Testament prophets to Paul to Mohammad to traditions not about Abraham. what was going on there. Of course I've thought about what was going on there in me for years, so I have read so many books about people who hear from God in words and make my conclusions as I state in the original message here.

 

Why else might no religion be perfect? My understanding is that part of it is about who people are, as in that word "pride". People do what they want to do. God either works with this or kills us all. The Law doesn't work. Paul says God says so, though he does it in this confused way where Paul still wants to keep the Law, too. God says to me Paul was right, and has shown me in general how people hearing from God influence what they hear, not because they're making anything up, not because there is a devil creating false religions to tempt people from the one true faith. Why would God put up with that? Look at the people in whatever faith you might propose as the one true faith. They are hypocrites. They are Pharisees. That part I knew as soon as I read the gospels as an adult. People are motivated not to see that for the exact question that you wrote. If not this way, then how do I live? People would rather live with some contradiction and hypocrisy, paved over by the best that apologetics can do, but such fig leafs don't fool everyone.

 

They didn't fool Jesus about the Pharisees. I follow Him, not any book, not any doctrine, not any ritual, not any man, not any church. Think about how God must feel about those who claim they follow the Bible, but don't follow Matthew 25: 31-46 in the least. Read how angry Jesus got in John 8. If you've seen Jesus, you've seen the Father. So why hasn't God just stopped the heart of every hypocrite, let them fall where they are, and have one great revelation that He means what He says? Well, God has seen the problem for a long time, so He tells me. His perspective is different from there being one religion, and He helped me write some about that, as confusing as it may be. There is one way, Him. Jesus is that way. Whatever else is that way is indeed that way, but there's no chance that every way leads to God. Yet God works with that.

 

I have become less judgmental the farther I have gone with this. The hypocrisy is clear for those who name their standard of behavior, but then don't follow it. But their standard is not God's standard. Understanding that has helped me be less judgmental, for which I thank God.

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I have to admit I got a bit lost somewhere in the middle of the op, but I think that we all connect with our divine spark, aka God, in our own way regardless of creed or doctrine.

 

I suppose it's too big a topic to fit into even the four pages that I thought I should make its limit, but what I was trying to say wasn't about one creed connecting to God and not another. When I say it bugs me that people aren't being Christian, I mean it bugs me that people aren't being good. It's about everyone being human and the problem in that, which I would summarize as people do what they want to do, regardless of creed or doctrine. So conservatives hate homosexuals or people who disagree with them, while liberals hate people who hate or people who disagree with them. I really have found that my tendency to judge people has gone down by trying to look at God's standard in this instead of the internal contradictions and hypocrisies people have. Matthew 25:31-46 says it is as vital as can be to help the needy. Conservatives say they believe the Bible absolutely, but then hardly help the needy at all. It can be infuriating, but it helps to realize that the standard conservatives quote is not God's standard. God works with the fact that people do what they want to do, and leads them anyway.

 

It's not just a trivial thing. I see the clients where I volunteer, and the world is awful to them. It's not this hopeful thing that my fellow liberals often see, that everyone is connecting with their divine spark, as you say. That's not what I see. I see people doing what they want to do, some of them with some awareness of the divine, but it's not changing their behavior much.

 

I've come at this a lot with the idea that the needy need more help. I don't know that that reaches anyone. This time I tried something more involved and personal, and I see how it's confusing. Part of the problem though is that people are so used to defending themslves. Conservatives have their apologetics and a huge church that believes just as they do to say there's no problem. Liberals have principles such as the one you mention to deny that there is a problem. No, there is a problem. I'm not just being a jerk when I say neither liberals nor conservatives are being that Christian. If they were, I would have no needy clients.

 

It may be that I'm learning that there is no way to reach people in groups about this. My clients are more ready to change. Adversity does that to people. Maybe God knows this, too, that the problem of people doing what they want to do is mainly fixed among those who face hardship and therefore want to change.

 

I wish there were a way just to fix it all, though.

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I'm having trouble understanding if there is an overall point you're trying to make here. If the situation is as crazy as you say, how do we find the guidance of God through all this. If we can't trust the revelations given by the structured religions, how do we find our way?

 

 

IMO, by recognizing that structured religion is wrong about 99% of the time ;) Sometimes you just have to go the other way!

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