Oh my Goodness!

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I have examined all the known superstitions of the word, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth. - Thomas Jefferson

Breakfast for a Buck

Arcata First Baptist church holds a 9am Sunday gathering for college students and twenty-somethings called “Breakfast for a Buck.”  The intention of this Sunday ritual  is to provide a place where young adults can meet for fellowship, eat a warm affordable meal, and have an informal Bible study. Located across the street from the Behavioral Science's Building at Humboldt State University, the church and its attached K-8 school rises in tiers up the hillside amongst scattered redwood trees.

 

As the sun marbled through the morning fog I briskly clambered up the stairs inhaling the nostalgic scent of the surrounding sequoias. I made my way across the corridor on the top floor of the tallest building and rounded the corner entering a minor banquet hall. The damp scent of redwoods was replaced with the aroma of pancakes, eggs, and bacon. About a dozen people, ranging from several weeks old to over fifty -- with the average age being in the mid-twenties -- looked up slightly confused by the presence of my unfamiliar face and shaggy hairdo. After promptly wiping sleep from their collective eye they greeted me and started asking questions.
“Have you been to AFB before? Are you a student at HSU?”
I answered no to both, desperately panning the room for coffee. There was none to be found. No matter, I grabbed a plate, the necessary utensils and a few morsels of the generous breakfast. Sitting with the friendly lot of AFB I felt welcome in spite of one pair of uneasy eyes. After a few minutes of forks clanking and scraping on plates conversation arose regarding college pastor Robin Pierce’s toddler son and the funny things kids say. As the meal was seventy-five percent into the digestive process, a timid girl, Sarah, began to lead a discussion.
Sarah read from 1 Corinthians 2:1-16. 

“God knows what we go through as Christians,” she replied, “how we’re beaten down and looked upon -- because we’re different. Especially in college because people are, like, ‘you believe that? Why do you believe that?’”

Considering that 86% of Americans are Christians, to state that Christians are different and beaten down is reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh complaining about being oppressed by the poor black minority. What’s more remarkable, is that when in a higher educational institution, which is purposed to challenge ignorance, one feels threatened by being asked to justify their beliefs.  If one were to walk into a classroom and proclaim their faith that Elvis lives, surly, and rightfully, they will be met with skepticism. If you’re a believer reading this you are probably now thinking to yourself, comparing Elvis to Jesus is not fair. In a way, I agree. No one has been killed in the name of Elvis. Christianity on the other hand has a legacy of violence greater than any other institution the world has yet produced.
Pastor Peirce spoke up saying that once God enters our life everything changes for the good. “The fruit of your tree is changed and what you produce should be good,” he proclaimed.
When asked if nonbelievers are then not as good or moral as believers, he felt that to state so isn’t exactly correct, although he agreed with Sarah that it’s the reason for doing good that changes. According to him, nonbelievers, since not doing good deeds for God,  mostly act altruistically and morally for self-gratification.  He followed with a stipulation that nonbelievers usually think Christians are judging them as sinners, but he wanted to clarify -- all humans are sinners, so it’s not really a judgment merely for people who don't follow Christ.
“You could pull up examples of nonbelievers that have done great things,” he stated, “and there are those who call themselves Christians that have done awful things.”
As always, if a nonbeliever has performed good deeds he’s damned because it wasn’t done in Christ’s name, and if a Christian perpetrates evil, he isn’t really a Christian but using Christ's name as cover. This lack of responsibility and accountability seems to be a defense mechanism central to Christian theology and has so far permeated much of the discourse as I’ve gone from church to church.
This leads us to a proposal by Christopher Hitchens:
“Name one moral or ethical action or behavior committed or carried out by a believer that could not have been committed or carried out by a nonbeliever. Now, name one immoral or unethical action or behavior that has been committed or carried out in the name of God.”
Hitchens proposed this at every debate during his God is not Great book tour. No one has been able to name one true answer to the first proposition, and yet floods of answers come to mind within seconds of hearing or reading the latter.
What it comes down to is that nothing is more selfish than doing “good” in the name of God. Believers will deny this, but to justly deny it would mean to also deny the divinely installed systems of reward and punishment – Heaven and Hell. Acting morally then becomes a conscious effort, one done from either fear of hell, desire to enter heaven, or for the acceptance of others who share this belief. Such a belief system undermines our neurobiology, discredits empathy, and abandons compassion for compassion's sake.

Doing “good” via aprioristic suggestion (in this case, the Bible) also lends to lazy thinking by removing analysis and inquiry, which is often more damaging than helpful. For example, Mother Teresa, who is praised as being one of the most charitable humans of our lifetime, worked in Bengal and Calcutta and led one of the largest anti-birth control and family planning campaigns the world has seen. Any thinking person who looks at Bengal or Calcutta doubtfully comes to the conclusion that more people born into poverty is what the region needs. The number one cure for poverty is the empowerment and education of women -- this has been proven time and time again. Until the religious realize this and follow with pertaining acts of social justice, they don’t deserve praise for splashing a drop of water onto a fire they’re fueling.

The breakfast ended and we all cleaned up. Robin and I had a friendly discussion about theology that shifted to a discussion about organized sports, something I care very little about, perhaps due to my stature. Genetics be damned!
Arcata First Baptist's Service 9/26/10
Fifteen minutes after breakfast, as we convened  in the main worship hall, several people, including pastor Denis McGuire and his wife Linda, came up to greet me.
“Is this your first time at AFB? Are you a student at HSU?”
I politely replied, "I haven't been here before, but so far I've met some friendly people." They glanced at each other and smiled. "As for school, I will always be student, I'm always studying,  but I'm not currently attending HSU." After our pleasant interaction I thanked them for their gracious welcoming. When they moved on to say hello to a som parishioners a few pews down, I found myself falling into a lively conversation with the older ladies seated behind me.
The band started to play. An elderly woman slowly walked up and grabbed two large flags from the side of the stage. Compulsory swinging arcs as the music meandered she transcended into a flower power state.
After a long while of melodically and inspirationally undersupplied music (granted worship leader Brian Pilger has an excellent electric guitar tone.  I recognized him from being in Anthony Skinner’s band at Lifehouse. I can tell that he can play beyond what church music calls for, it’s unfortunate that Christianity has a way of sucking the soul out of rock & roll.) A woman, clad in her anti-abortion shirt, led the group of college kids I had met earlier, along with a little girl, up to stage for a demo of her freshly made protest signs.
I was reminded of how many churches within mainstream Christianity often try to apply theories of moral utility (the greatest good for the greatest number) to the world while misunderstanding what the real problem is, because, not only are they too self centric, they have limited knowledge of science and/or the social implications of what they're standing for. The Bible, written before the comprehension of bacteria, is not the place one should go to determine issues regarding health. I don’t know for sure AFB’s stance on abortion in consideration of rape or incest, however, from gathering the fact that they would grotesquely use a child as part of their message, I have a hunch it’s not a stance that's in favor of protecting the woman involved.
Once the parade returned to their seats pastor McGuire took the stage to deliver his fourth sermon in a series on God’s goodness.  I was thrilled that his sermon would flow well with the discussion from breakfast. McGuire is a talented speaker able to utilize repetition and call and response to engage the crowd.
“Goodness is love’s character,” he stated. “God's desire is to fill the entire earth with his goodness. The way he does that is to fill us with his goodness, which reflects his nature and character. God is love. Therefore, God is good.”
This struck me to be a bit new age except for the part of the pastor claiming to know God’s desire.
McGuire then followed, “as a matter of fact, I think I could argue effectively that the goodness of God may very well be the supreme doctrine in all theology, because if God is not good -- all the time -- nothing else about him matters. Does it? So the goodness of God is the character trait that applies to every other attribute of God. God's wrath is Good. God's holiness is good. God's righteousness is good. God is good in his entirety. There is nothing about God that is not good. God gives to his children that which is only good. He withholds no good thing from us. There is nothing God intends or accomplishes that is not good.”
Well, pardon me, but actions done in the name of God cannot be separated from the atrocities done in his name. Centuries after the Bible was canonized, from the early raids on the Jews, the oppression and attempted genocides against nonbelievers, the Crusades, French religious wars, the Spanish Inquisition, the Witch Trials, the terrorism and torture of millions that continues to this day – from the dawn of Constantine through the building of America -- “God’s goodness” has been one of the most monstrous forces in the world.  (If anyone wants, I will post a blog detailing the history of the destruction done in the name of Christianity.) To dismiss this as not part of Christianity, or that it was God’s wrath and thus good, is either supreme ignorance or surely evil. Christianity owes the world an apology for the “goodness” of its God.
This video is a little dramatic but it details some of God’s "goodness" from the Bible:
 

Furthermore, if an omnipotent leader capable of miracles controls the world then destruction by definition must be his doing as well, and as pastor McGuire stated – God’s wrath is “good.” Is it really though?  Only from naïve privilege can one claim that such a celestial dictator accomplishes only good. I dare anyone to utter such nonsense to the Rwandan families, still refugees, 15 years after 800,000 of their brothers and sisters were brutally murdered as the Catholic Church turned a blind eye to the initiated genocide.  State that it’s God’s love flowing along the streets of Yemen where refugees from Ethiopia and Somalia, more often than not victims of female genital mutilation, have ended up to live the rest of their short lives as HIV positive sex workers.  Or how about in the impoverished neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Detroit, or really any major city in our so called developed nation, where illiterate children must sell drugs for survival often still receiving physical and emotional abuse by those who God requires them to compulsorily love. I wouldn’t be surprised if such foolishness was whispered into the ears of infants as Spanish conquistadors smashed their heads on rocks because they were conceived by way other than the missionary position. To call this love, is madness. So I would have to agree with the good pastor, if God is not good all the time, nothing else about him matters.
Some argue that these actions are the actions of men. Yes, these actions are the actions of men, and as McGuire's sermon continued he claimed that Christians are God’s hands, his body, and his heart.
Psalms 27:13 was invoked, “that is exactly my thoughts and my prayers for HSU,” McGuire proclaimed. “I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe with my whole heart that one day this university going to see and here and experience the goodness of god in the land of the living.” McGuire states this with sincerity and warmth. It’s as if he means well, but is completely unaware of how ludicrous and lost his message is to people with a basic grasp of history, or those who are not of a white middle to upper class world that wishes to be living in the fifties again. Perhaps that’s why his audience, though containing a spectrum of ages still consists more of people over 45 and is not, and will never, become the official doctrine of HSU.
McGuire then brought faithfulness into the picture. Faithfulness he describes as loves dependability, faithfulness is an attribute of God. “Let it be seen that not one generation has passed who has not seen the faithfulness of God.”
McGuire brought forth five areas of faithfulness that must be adhered.
Faithfulness to the:
1. Message of the church
2. Ministry of the church
3. Members of the church
4. Mission of the church
5. And to model Christ likeness in the church and the world
As he wrapped up his sermon he made sure to remind us that there will be supreme blessings for the faithful but a supreme judgment on the unfaithful.
“A faithful man will abound with blessings as will a faithful church. His mercy show follow us for all the days of our lives.”
Afterward many friendly folks stopped and chatted with me. If one ignores the stupidity of the sermon and simplifies it to mean "just be kind," then many of these folks shared that with me. If that is all the pastor really said then I would have found nothing wrong with the sermon. Unfortunately that was not the case. 

Stepping into the aisle an elderly couple who felt as though I needed Jesus in my life, asked if they could pray for me. I told them that if it makes them feel good, they could do so. They grabbed my shoulders and for a moment mumbled to themselves. I suppose it was a nice gesture no matter how ineffective.

Passing through the doors of the chapel  I got a couple patronizing “Jesus Loves you” from folks who I told about this blog before the sermon had begun. Overall it wasn’t as dark or intentionally fear provoking of a message as the one at Calvary Chapel Arcata, though it was unprecedentedly naïve.

Here's a link to the sermon on 9/26/10: growing together in God's love pt4
So where do morals and goodness come from? What can science say about the issue of morality and human values? Stay tuned for a blog post on this fascinating subject.