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Dueling for the souls of the ‘true believers’

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Preacher man talking on TV, puttin’ down the rock and roll. He wants me to send a donation ‘cause he’s worried about my soul. He said, “Jesus walked on the water,” and I know that it’s true. But sometimes I think that preacher man’d like to do a little walkin’, too.

— The Charlie Daniels Band

In an old Mad magazine parody, two neighbors are standing at a fence between their properties talking about the beauty of their shared religious beliefs.

One neighbor declares he’s particularly fond of a Bible verse that he quotes. The other shares his admiration of that verse, but he corrects his fellow churchgoer, noting that his recitation is not quite accurate.

The first neighbor does not like being corrected, so he asserts that his recollection of the particular Bible verse is correct. Their argument grows increasingly heated to the point that they almost come to blows. Before stomping angrily away, one declares something to the effect that, “I hate creeps who screw up a beautiful Bible verse like ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’!”

That, sadly, is a pretty good take on religion in 21st century America.

This country’s spirituality has devolved so drastically, it’s not unusual for churchgoers to openly condemn and spew hatred at any religion — or any church within their own denomination — whose belief set conflicts with their own. Add into the mix our country’s open enmity with Islamic nations and the presidential bid of a candidate who is a professed member of a “fringe” religious sect (Mormonism), and religious intolerance here is alive and doing quite well.

I’ve heard so many of the so-called faithful in our region decry the declining interest in their church programs, especially among members of the younger generation, even as they’ve openly condemned those same young people or other groups who don’t meet their high standards. Like the Mad neighbors, so many praise the Lord out one side of their mouths and damn those not like them out of the other.

Every religious sect and denomination, we’re told, holds the key that unlocks the mysteries of God. The only way, then, to secure a better afterlife is to fall in line and adhere to the dogma of those sects and denominations. There’s little wiggle room for beliefs that go against the grain.

It’s also a sad fact that many believers who attend a particular church start to worship the church’s pastor rather than the God he purports to represent. That’s where you’ll find congregations willing to cast ballots en masse for candidates who meet their pastor’s approval — or make a generous donation to his favorite cause — members willing to toss more than their tithe into the collection plate when the right reverend needs a new car or, most dramatically, damaged people willing to gulp down a cup of poisoned Kool-Aid in hopes of finding spiritual enlightenment.

Certainly in a troubled world citizens are likely to seek comfort from the daily grind. In a best-case scenario, they find that comfort in a welcoming house of worship. But somewhere along the way it seems we have forgotten as a nation that religious practices — no matter the denomination — are the dominion of man, no matter that spiritual leaders declare their dogma and beliefs “God-inspired” and argue that they have the answers to true enlightenment.

But only someone who is easily led would accept one man’s — or one congregation’s — interpretation of God’s word as absolutely unchallengeable. And only a religious leader who has set himself up as infallible would condemn others whose beliefs differ from his interpretation.

The next time a supposed sanctified individual tells you his particular belief set is the one true interpretation of God’s will, ask him why Baptist churches only blocks apart have such different “do’s” and “don’ts” that their congregants are expected to adhere to. Ask him how Protestants and Catholics in Ireland — who supposedly worship the same God — proved their piety for so long by bombing day care centers and public gatherings.

I’m always left shaking my head when this paper gets a squawk or a letter or some other such missive that purports to “set people on the right path.” Invariably, such words of wisdom include condemnation for any who fail to see the light.

I can only imagine a chagrined God looking down sadly, wondering how we got it so wrong.

Email Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.

Comments

billybob 2 years, 7 months ago

How can you fault these good people, Carlton? After all, they are following a book that advocates genocide, slavery and death for trivial nonsense. The Bible is a book of stories written by primitive men in the bronze age. If the Bible is truly the inspired word of God, then why is it full of so much nonsense?

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Cartman 2 years, 7 months ago

"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." 1 Cor. 1:18. I will pray for you billybob.

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Spike 2 years, 7 months ago

Me too. Not because billybob needs it more than anyone else but because we are called to love one another and he was made in His image.

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agirl_25 2 years, 7 months ago

........If people are good only because they fear punishment of a God, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed. A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death. Remember the rantings of those like Jerry Falwell: If you gave Falwell an enema, he could have been buried in a matchbox!!! Just another pulpit pimp full of you-know-what, in my opinion.

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Spike 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't disagree with you regarding the hypocrisy. Unfortunately our sinful nature is what spoils it. I may not agree with your other points but I shouldn't feel superior nor should you feel that just because I disagree with you I think you are inferior. People are right/wrong about many things but you can disagree without passing judgment. You are right that all too often a believer looks at a non-believer as subhuman and that's our sinful nature.

I recently read a really good book that I think you would enjoy that talks about some of the very things you mention. It's called "The Reason for God" by Tim Keller. I can send you a copy if you'd like. I promise you won't be disappointed. A lot of philosophy that you'd enjoy.

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tommybeall 2 years, 7 months ago

well said carlton Fletcher & Billy Bob.. nice to see that some people have sense on here...

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Cartman 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't know any Christian who considers nonbelivers to be sub-human. And as for hypocrites in the church - yes, I detest hypocricy as much as anyone. But because you come across a Christian who is a hypocrite - it does not mean that Christians are hypocrites. That's a pretty broad brush. Some of the most kind, loving, and charitible people that I know - are Christians. Any attempt at a discussion of Jesus Christ by a Christian, provokes the knee-jerk response that the Christian is "judgmental". In my experience, there are judgmental Christians and judgmental non-Christians.

You are free to choose. I don't intend this to be snide, but the day will someday arrive that we will see who was right. In the meantime, I will love, feed, and help those who cross my path, regardless of their life choices. And if I mention Jesus, I will probably be accused of being judgmental or be called an "evangelical". So be it.

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billybob 2 years, 7 months ago

Oh good! I love bible-quoting. Let's start with the verses about killing people for arbitrary reasons. What do you want to do next? The verses promoting rape, slavery, genocide? Maybe we can do the talking snake or the talking donkey?
If one curses his father or mother, his lamp will go out at the coming of darkness. (Proverbs 20:20 NAB)

All who curse their father or mother must be put to death. They are guilty of a capital offense. (Leviticus 20:9 NLT)

If a man commits adultery with another man's wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10 NLT)

But if this charge is true (that she wasn't a virgin on her wedding night), and evidence of the girls virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her fathers house and there her townsman shall stone her to death, because she committed a crime against Israel by her unchasteness in her father's house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21 NAB)

There is zero evidence that anything in the bible is true. Christians seem to have the intellect and reason to determine that Santa, Scientology, Islam, Hinduism, etc. are clearly false and absurd, but they abandon that reason and intellect when examining their own faith.

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Cartman 2 years, 7 months ago

There is also no evidence that anything in the Bible has been disproved. You give some good Old Testament scripture quotes. But Jesus replaced the old law. There's plenty more stuff you can use for your next post.

The prophet Elisha is mocked by children for being bald. "And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them." II Kgs 2:24

I won't take the time to look up the scriptures, but there are many slaughters, sword hacking, saw hacking, killing of the firstborn infants in Egypt, complete obliteration of a nation including women, children, and animals, drowning army in the Red Sea, earth opening up to swallow up some fellas who didn't like Moses, etc. It is not my place to question the Lord or why he did what he did. That is one of the lessons of the book of Job. I know that answer won't satisfy the critics, but it is the simple truth.

We are beginning to drift from the original article painting Christians as two-faced, and morphing into a general Christian bashing session. It must be great fun to attack unenlightened Christians and dismiss them as evangelical fanatics. And what I love about religious threads is that both sides get their feathers ruffled, but neither side has a chance of convincing the other. Most Christians I know don't respond or fight back. That's what makes them easy targets.

As for me being better than someone else. No. I fall far short of being someone who could look down on anyone.

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billybob 2 years, 7 months ago

So I guess the 10 Commandments are invalid then. They're in the Old Testament. Of course, Jesus himself said not to disregard the law as written in the Old Testament.

“For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19 RSV)

"It is easier for Heaven and Earth to pass away than for the smallest part of the letter of the law to become invalid."

And yes, Cartman, many things in the bible have been disproven.

All of the animals boarded the ark “in the selfsame day” (Genesis 7:13-14). Since there were several million species involved, they must have boarded at a rate of at least 100 per second.

The flood covered the highest mountain tops (Mount Everest?) with fifteen cubits to spare (Genesis 7:20). Where did all the water come from? Where did it all go? Why is there no evidence of such a massive flood in the geological record?

“The whole earth was of one language” (Genesis 11:1). But this could not be true, since by this time (around 2400 BCE) there were already many languages, each unintelligible to the others.

Jacob displays his (and God’s) knowledge of biology by having goats copulate while looking at streaked rods. The result is streaked baby goats (Genesis 30:37). The author of Genesis (God?) believed that genetic characteristics of the offspring are determined by what the parents see at the moment of conception.

How much more do you want?

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Albanite 2 years, 7 months ago

Don't any of you watch the History Channel? The Bible is an bronze-age attempt to explain the Ancient Aliens who actually created us.

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agirl_25 2 years, 7 months ago

Is that what Scientology believes? That ancient aliens came here and infiltrated their bodies and they actually will live forever? I once Googled Scientology but became bored (and was laughing too much to be honest, that anyone actually took it serious as a religion started by a science fiction writer). I don't watch shows about religion on TV. Too confusion. I choose to believe what I choose to believe. The End.

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Cartman 2 years, 7 months ago

Just because you do not believe - does not equate to disproven. You left out some good stuff like: Carbon 14 dating, Creation vs Evolution, flying machines in Ezekiel, God stopping time, etc. You look for logical explanations from me. I confess that I am inadequate to explain except on faith. Jesus is MY Lord, King, and Savior. I accept the Bible as the truth. For those who do not, this all sounds like it is foolishness. Thus, the quote in my initial post. I understand. We have two different beliefs and will not change the others mind.

Billybob, I do stand corrected unless I just can't put my finger on the correct verse. Jesus said "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." Mat 5:17 It is the verse just before the one you quoted. It comes from the Sermon on the Mount. The rest of that sermon holds his followers to an even stricter standard. It also admonishes us to "bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" Matt 5:44.

So I will do so. Good night. I'm off to church.

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Jacob 2 years, 7 months ago

Sounds like something is bothering our left winged opiner. Could it be that a burden has been laid upon his heart? There is something out there to fill that hole in your heart, and it ain't the Beetles anthology. Just ask, He will answer.

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Cartman 2 years, 7 months ago

Just got back home from snake handling at church. I don't mean to overspeak, but I wanted to clear up one thing. Jesus' blood sacrifice supplanted the Levitical law (not all of the Old Testament laws and prophecies). The Levitical laws were those laws which governed sacrifices and use of the Tabernacle, handed down at the time of Moses. These were no longer necessary when Jesus died on the cross. That is also shown by the tearing of the veil at the time of his death. Just wanted to clear up my statement that "Jesus replaced the law". That's it. I'm done with this thread.

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Outtahere 2 years, 7 months ago

Cartman, I am very impressed with the way you posted on this thread. I agree with you 100%! As Christians we are not perfect and sometimes, like you said, we do not excell at making our point loud and clear on these threads because we chose not to argue back and forth with non-believers. However, NO ONE can change my mind - Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light! Agirl-55 may think that religion has nothing to do with ethical behavior, but I'm not buying it!

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billybob 2 years, 7 months ago

I was once a believer until I really started trying to grow in my Christian faith. Once I really read the bible and researched the early Christian faith and church, my eyes opened to the fact that it can not be true. Most non-believers were at one time believers. A careful, open-minded examination of the Christian faith can yield only one outcome. It is as false as Islam, Bhuddism, Norse paganism, Shinto, Hinduism, etc. Clearly, they can't all be right despite all having millions of followers, ancient texts (some older than the bible), etc. But they CAN all be wrong. Almost every non-believer I know will allow that they are open to changing their mind if presented with solid evidence of that deity. However, when I ask Christians, "what would change your mind?" Almost universally they say that no evidence would. That is mind boggling.

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Outtahere 2 years, 7 months ago

See that's the thing you need to be careful about - "open minded examination"! No one can possibly comprehend all that is necessary to sort all types of religion out. Our minds are not that capable. I do not put trust in man (including myself). Here is something that helped me and I pray that it helps you too billybob: My logic teacher is college put it like this: Faith and logic do not coexist - they cannot! When logic ceases to explain, my faith steps in and I believe. I cannot or never will be able to explain everything but I chose to trust God anyway! The Holy Spirit always comforts me and I hope he comforts you too! God bless!

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billybob 2 years, 7 months ago

Here is the thing: every Christian is an atheist or non-believer where 1000 other religions are concerned. Every Muslim is an atheist where 1000 other religions are concerned, etc., etc. A true atheist just believes in one less god. No Christian believes that the angel came to Mohammed and dictated the Koran and took Mohammed on a winged horse to heaven. They wold say that's absurd and the billion plus and counting Muslims are delusional. They would say the same of Joseph Smith finding golden plates describing Jesus coming to North America and and ancient Jewish civilization in North America, in the Catskills and translating the plates by staring into his hat. Millions of Mormons actually believe that despite the fact that there is no evidence of the plates of the Jewish civilization. So using reason and logic, Christians can plainly see the absurdity and delusional beliefs of other religions, yet they refuse to use those same critical thinking skills when examining their own faith even though the claims of Christianity are just as absurd. It is because they have been indoctrinated.

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TamewRod 2 years, 7 months ago

Amen, Mr. Fletcher. Best thing you've ever written.

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agirl_25 2 years, 7 months ago

Maybe not THE BEST but an excellent piece and it sure made for some very good and well written posts, doncha think? The kind of posts that are enjoyable to read.

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