Because The Good News just had to be better than what I was hearing.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

What price,.... Security ?

People don't usually, willingly give away their freedom. And they certainly don't give it away all at once. For most of us it happens in gradual little increments. These increments are shrouded in words like, "wise", "spiritual" and "safe".  The authorities that make these demands are high  and  unquestionable. They are "the ministry", "the oversight", "the Apostle", "the Elders" etc.   Piece by little piece, more often than not, with the absolute best intentions, people give away their freedom. To someone looking on from the outside it can all seem absurd,  even nonsensical. But for those of us who have gone through it , most would testify, that at the time it seemed the perfectly rational, sensible, wise, spiritual, and safe thing to do. In fact because our choices were declared to be so, wise, spiritual and safe, most of us had no idea we were indeed trading our freedom for religious bondage. The more freedom we gave away the more we were deemed to be "growing in the Lord".

So why do we do it? And why do we seem to do it so often in a religious setting. What is it about us humans, that makes us so susceptible to giving away our liberty, individuality, creativity, dignity, gifts, talents and intellectual capacities. What is it that causes us to distrust ourselves, our own capacity to choose, to act rationally, to walk with personal integrity, or to follow Jesus out of our own hearts. What is it that seems even more important to us than even all of these precious things?  What is it that we seem to crave/need so much, that we are willing to pay such a high price?

I think THE, something for which we would, and do give away our freedom  is- SECURITY. And we do it through FEAR. I'll give you a simple example taken from a religious sect I am familiar with. If I told you you were not allowed to have more than six people from your church in your home at any one given time, you'd probably say that was ridiculous.You'd probably say something like- "Nobody has the right to take away my freedom to associate with however many people I want to in my own home." But what about if I told you that over the years whenever larger groups of people gathered, strange and erroneous doctrines seem to emerge and a lot of people had fallen away from the faith and are now bound for eternity in hell. Suddenly in your mind there is a trade off emerging. Yes you love your freedom, but hey you'd rather give up big dinner parties than go to hell. Sadly security means more to most of us than freedom. So we trade off a piece of our freedom for the security of knowing our eternal destiny is "secure".

Religious leaders aren't the only ones who exploit our desire for security. As the cartoon on the left shows, after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.A, Americans were willing to give up many of their civil LIBERTIES for greater homeland SECURITY. Whether it's politics or religion , if you want to take away some aspect of someones freedom just promise them that whatever they're agreeing to will ultimately make them more secure. But since for many people their eternal security is of utmost importance, religious sects have spawned a particularly  insidious breed of what I call "underground bunker salesmen".

FOR SALE - Underground Bunker 

Would you like to buy and live in an underground bunker? One with no windows or access to the outside world? One which is so small that movement within it is quite restricted? What about if living in it meant you would be virtually cut off from family and friends? What if taking up residence in it meant many of your dreams, including perhaps higher education, a fulfilling career, or a move interstate or overseas would become impossible?  What if even after you'd paid for it, and virtually given up everything and everybody to live in it, an ongoing 10% tax was imposed on you; just for the privilege of continuing to reside there. Given current world events almost no one would be beating down the doors to our underground bunker selling business.

 But what if I could produce for you "credible" evidence that a nuclear strike against our nation was only days, weeks, or months away. Given this type of future scenario, perfectly sane, well adjusted, educated and rational people, would suddenly deem virtually everything in, and about  their lives, very expendable; just to own the SECURITY of the bunker.    
Most institutional religion and really all fundamentalist sects are in the underground bunker selling business. They produce "credible" "evidence", and create such dangerous future scenarios that the deep need within most of us for security goes into overdrive. The fear factor causes many to sell off virtually everything just to posses the security promised by these religious underground bunker salesmen. Living in an underground bunker may not be great but it's better than frying in a nuclear holocaust with all those "unwise" people out there.  So often in religious sects, family, friends, dreams, aspirations, careers, passions, are all traded away for the promise of eternal security. 



Questions that lead to a QUEST.

Ever noticed that the first four letters of the word Question spell- QUEST ?
Quest: noun. - a search for an alternative that meets cognitive criteria. e.g- the answer HAS to make sense!
For Superman it's kryptonite, for vampires it's a cross, for religious sect leaders it's THE QUESTION. There's  NO-thing more feared in a controlling sect environment than- the question. Especially a question that demands an answer that makes cognitive sense. I believe God was serious when directed us to love Him with- "all your heart, with all your soul, WITH ALL YOUR MIND, and with all your strength" Mark 12: 30. But how can you love something with your "ALL YOUR MIND" if its nonsensical, crazy, erroneous, or simply- religious crap?

Although even the strictest of religious sects tolerate some degree of questioning, (especially from  someone newly come to the group), one thing you can never do is question the "answer". My experience was, you may be permitted to question the groups view or stance on certain issues, but what you can never question is their "answer" regarding those views. For example- There's a religious sect I'm familiar with that forbids, (by penalty of excommunication), a member of the group moving away from the locality in which they joined the group. You can of course question the groups view on moving. I did, and the "answer" I was given was- "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called" 1 Corin 7:20 KJV. What they went on to explain to me was that you should remain in the calling/state you were in when you joined the group. A resident of Geelong, REMAINS a resident of Geelong FOREVER. Of course even a cursory glance at the surrounding verses (the context) shows us that although the verses in question are considering many issues ,( including circumcision and slavery*), the place you choose to reside is certainly not one of them. It took me many years to summon up the courage, but once I did, I realised that although the truth does set a person free, so does the persistent questioning religious crap "answers"

*An an interesting sidebar to the thought of someone abiding- "in the same calling wherein he was called". We should consider that although Paul did offer that advice in verse 20, in the case of slavery he goes on to say in verse 21- "although if you can gain your freedom, do so" TNIV. So it wasn't a hard and fast rule/law.  A person was able to change their "calling". or state.


If it looks like crap and sounds like's probably crap.

There's an old adage- "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck." For too many years I heard and saw stuff that looked like crap and smelt like crap, but received it into my mind as chocolate coated truth. I unquestioningly allowed  my mind to become a toilet. A place for the leaders of the sect, to come and dump their brand of religious crap into. As I wrote earlier, our worship of God includes our mind. From the time I genuinely began to include my mind in my worship of God, my release out of religious enslavement began. Sometimes freedom can all begin with a little courage and a simple question.

"It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry" Thomas Paine



Sunday, 24 June 2012

Ties and Tabernacle Furniture

Have you ever talked to someone who is religiously insane? Not the Jesus complex, send for the men in white coats, insane. But that religious insanity where somebody seems to have lost all ability to think, act, speak,  or formulate an argument or proposition with any sort of sensibility, rationality, or reason; let alone spirituality.

 A few years back I had probably the singularly most bizarre conversation I've ever had in my life. It began with a fairly simple question. Was I asking about the Trinity, Post or Pre-Tribulation Rapture, Predestination, God's sovereignty  vs Free Will,....well no, not really. I had been scheduled to give a bible talk to the congregation the next evening and I asked a "pastor" if it was ok  if I gave the talk without a tie on. At the time I didn't think I was launching a new reformation, or proposing a heresy that had the potential to rock the church to it's foundation. As my inquisitor's brow furrowed, face reddened and eyes took on a menacing glare, I realised my request was being treated on par with Martin Luther when he nailed his famous 95 thesis to the church door in Wittenberg. At this point I kind of wished I'd raised something a little more important. Nailing my tie to the church door and declaring - "Here I stand, I can do no more" seemed a little lame.

As the conversation progressed, this "pastor's" lament for steady decline of tie wearing in general society reached new insane heights. Apparently newsreaders, Prime Ministers, and Presidents all of whom were increasingly being seen in public without ties were all "signs" of what he called the - " the degradation of Israel" (a euphemism for the God's elect nation). It seems that Sunday morning TV images of an open collared John Howard or Barack Obama were "signs" of our country's steady decline into some sort of hellish Mad Max -Beyond The Thunderdome future scenario. At this point a couple of verses out of Proverbs popped into my mind- Proverbs 26: 4-5 TNIV  "Do not answer fools according to their folly or you yourself will be just like them"-  "Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes." Before I could decide which course to take on this particular occasion, the gravity of my request was made very clear to me. Apparently what I was proposing was akin to moving the furniture of the Old Testament tabernacle, into places where God had not commanded it should be placed. I was told in no uncertain terms that it wasn't my place to make such pattern altering decisions. Only the "apostle" could make such monumental changes to the church's "vision" or "pattern". I believe the direct quote was- "when the cloud moves, we'll all move"- referring to the cloud that lead the nation of Israel through the wilderness on their exodus from Egypt.

 Hang on a minute- The cloud is now a man?? A tie is comparable to the Tabernacle furniture??  A fashion accessory has become an integral part of the New Testament pattern?? This was getting weirder by the minute. Then when I thought I'd heard it all he pulled out an analogy that proved to me that this man was in deed certifiably religiously insane. He told me a pastor wearing a tie was akin to the governors of Israel riding on white asses.  Judges 5: 9-10 "My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the Lord. Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgement, and that walk by the way" KJV. I think the analogy was supposed to suggest  wearing a time makes one more honourable. As I looked disbelievingly into this man's face, I had to admit the "white ass" part of the analogy did seem to fit rather well.

Religious Psyche Wards

Why am I writing about such an inane topic? What's the point? Well you see when someone through a mental illness becomes a serious and aggressive threat to either themselves or other members of the community, they can find themselves detained in a hospital psyche ward. In the institutional church world the opposite is often the case. Religiously insane "pastors" detain people in Religious Psyche Wards. It literally is - the lunatics in charge of the asylum. People become the prisoners of their "pastors" religiously insane ideas. Of course wearing or not wearing  a tie ultimately is a pretty benign and laughable matter. But what about issues that really impinge on a persons liberty in Christ?  What about issues that are insulting to the dignity and intelligence of every human being? Here's a brief list of some insanities that have many people I've known over the years locked away in their "pastors" religious psyche wards.
1. No more than 6 members of the church (including yourself) are allowed in your house at any given time.  2. You are never allowed to move from the city you originally became a member of the church in. 3. A member of the church in Australia is forbidden from marrying a member of the same church denomination if they are from Singapore, India or the Philippines. 4. If you have a friend in the church who is living in another city and you would like to attend their 21st birthday/wedding etc, you must ask your "pastor" first. They can refuse your request.  5.Unless you give 10% of your income directly to the church your life will be cursed and even the money you have you will lose.  6. An unmarried male and female member of the church are not permitted to be in the same house, tent, caravan, or car alone .Etc etc etc. 
 I'd like to revisit this list of absurdities along with many others in future posts and explore why so many of us submit to this degree of ridiculous spiritual enslavement?

Freedom of Choice?

Over the years I've seen so many people seemingly voluntarily give over their freedom and become captive to their "pastors" insanities. I say seemingly voluntarily, because it only looks voluntary to someone looking on from the outside. You see something is only truly voluntary, if there are in the mind of the person choosing, genuinely viable alternatives. But what about if your "choice" is put to you like this- "You CAN leave this city and move elsewhere, even to a place where one of our assemblies exist. But if you DO you will be thrown out of our church, lose your salvation and go to hell." In this type of circumstance, can it really be said that  they are able to exercise true freedom of choice? Particularly if they only really joined the church because of a fear of going to hell. Throw in a "thus saith the Lord" or an "it's in the Bible" and you've literally given someone an offer they cant refuse.

Recently, I''ve been reflecting on my own experiences in a strict legalistic Christian sect and on the lives of many people I have known over the years. Now we humans are incredibly complex beings, so there are probably many reasons why we are so prepared to give away our freedom. However in my experience there are two main ones. A deep need for SECURITY and a FEAR of the unknown. These two reasons alone can be used by some religious leaders to get people to sign up for, or sign away almost anything. Knowing this, I sometimes ponder whether some religious leaders are really religiously insane or perhaps narcissistic, power hungry manipulators. In my next post I hope to explore these issues a little more and write about the means God used to free me from a religious psyche ward I was in.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Born Again....again

What do you do when you find yourself being "born again"....again? What do you do with that experience, when it challenges almost all of the strongly held views of your church, apostle, (yeah that's what he called himself), pastors, brothers, sisters, family and friends? What do you do when some of your most firmly held beliefs just melt away in the radiance of God's love. What do you do when all of this is happening within the walls of an ultra conservative legalistic fundamentalist pentecostal sect? What do you do when you've spent two decades climbing your sects religious ladder, only to get to the top of the wall and realise that you were on the wrong wall the whole time?

To quote Shane Claiborne (a disciple of Jesus I really admire) - "The more I get to know Jesus the more trouble he seems to get me into" Anyone who has ever started on the journey of getting to know Jesus, knows exactly what Shane is talking about. A few years back, when I started to take seriously the words and the life of the man who said- "Follow Me"- my troubles really began. Troubles that in hindsight I wouldn't swap for anything. Although at the time they came with a lot of pain and inner turmoil.The last few years have been a time of embracing those troubles, making sense of the last 26 years, and living in God's love and enjoying the love of family and true friends.

The title of this post is Born Again....again. You might wonder why....again? Well that's a long story. A story I hope to add to in future posts. You see I felt I was already born again. I had testified to that fact, in a highly scripted manner literally hundreds of times over the years.      " I'd like to praise the Lord that I've been baptised by full immersion in water and have received the Holy Spirit with the bible evidence of speaking with other tongues"- was pretty much the standard way I expressed my "born again" experience. As with many members of fundamentalist groups, to live out my born again-ness, basically all that was expected of me was to follow the sects rules and guidelines, both written and unwritten. To be fair certain changes were also expected to take place in the way I lived, but more often than not these changes were little more than superficial religious window dressing. The thing about window dressing is that all you ever produce is well dressed dummies.

The Raising of Lazarus
 For me being born again....again was not an instantaneous experience. I didn't throw myself on some church altar with tears and snot streaming down my face and then testify to some miraculous instantaneous change. In reality it wasn't so much a matter of being born again...again, as it was an awakening and liberation, of something that had been created within me many years earlier. A resurrection from a religious tomb through the immeasurable love of God. To best describe it I'll quote from an essay about famous artist Vincent Van Gogh.    "In Vincent's copy of The Raising of Lazarus by Rembrandt, the image of the sun replaces the figure of Christ. He copied this painting essentially to console himself during a time of intense discouragement due to his painful seizures. In Vincent's version, the sun is shining upon Lazarus as he awakens in his tomb- and Lazarus' face has the unmistakable resemblance to Vincent himself. The sun symbolizing the source of all Being, has the power to heal and resurrect, to germinate new life. In that force called Love, God is present."    To put it simply, LOVE set me free and Love brought to life what was so full of potential, yet had been imprisoned within a religious box for so long.

Martin Luther said in his Lectures on Romans that true spiritual progress was "always to begin again" He said we must daily "embrace the love and kindness of God......and daily exercise our faith therein; entertaining no doubt of God's love and kindness"  I like the way Martin Luther puts it-"always to begin again" - in the sense of becoming alive moment by moment or day by day to the agape/love of God.  Is life outside the box of institutional religion easy or perfect every day? No, but it is one thing that it could never fully be before- REAL. Anyway as time permits I intend to post about those times of awakening, life outside the box and the BETTER NEWS that has become the centre of my life these days.