who needs reason when there’s personal revelation: god speaks to pat robertson?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a society and government that is based upon personal revelation (that is, the belief that God speaks directly to people, as opposed to, let’s say, a society and government that is based upon logic and reason that is repeatable, testable, and subject to peer-review and critical scrutiny to determine the veracity of claims) is doomed to be disproportionately influenced by religious charlatans and charismatic preachers with money like Pat Robertson.

For what is to stop a wealthy preacher with cable access to claim, for instance, that God has given him a direct, word-for-word revelation?

And in a world based upon revelation (as opposed to reason and rationality) who are you to dispute him? Does God speak to you, and if so, why are you at your desk fuming while Pat Robertson is on TV prophesying?

The Founders had a good idea: separate religion completely from the secular administration of federal government. Anything shy of this is a quasi-theocracy at the mercy of the one whom a religious majority happens to believe is in personal communication with the divine.

Who Does God Love The Most? (via Scotteriology)

I got this from Scott Bailey, who makes me laugh once a day.

Who Does God Love Most?

You can tell it’s not a Church of Christ book, because 1) it would be 12-year old, and 2) it would be full immersion, not sprinkling, and 3) it would say ‘save,’ not love. ;-)

god’s power over time

This cracked me up. So, based upon a tip from James McGrath, here it is:

Power of God over Time

god does not make you catch or drop passes

Steve Johnson Tweetand that’s all i have to say about that. it’s just as much nonsense for steve johnson to blame god for dropping a pass as it is to thank him for catching one. god doesn’t care if you catch or drop a pass. and if you believe that, you’ve got one screwed up, me first theology. seriously, it is good to feel ‘blessed’ that you were able to have success on an athletic field, but what happens when you lose? did god abandon you? did he like the other team better? did they pray harder?

johnson tweeted:

“I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”

if you’re going to employ this kind of ‘us vs. them’ mentality toward god, then it must be maintained in defeat as well, where we see it much less. at least steve johnson maintained a consistent, albeit flawed, theology. besides shifting responsibility and blame away from himself, by blaming god for dropping a pass, johnson is simply playing out the other side of this ‘god blessed me with a great game’ mentality. if god causes you to win or have success in a game, he must be responsible for your loss and/or defeat.

it is this capitalistic, success-driven, health-and-wealth gospel that is plaguing christianity.

god wants you to act like a professional. he doesn’t care if you can catch a ball or not.

excellent article on glenn beck’s call to a generic american civil religion

American Civil Religion

American Civil Religion

Robert Parham, Executive Director of  EthicsDaily.com and of the Baptist Center for Ethics, has written an excellent analysis of Glenn Beck’s recent MLK Day substitute, “Restoring Honor,” in the “On Faith” blog of the Washington Post entitled “Glenn Beck’s Generic God.” It is well worth the read.

Beck’s rally was little more than an attempt to cast himself as the new leader of an American civil religion (similar to how Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan used the 1995 400,000 Million Man March to cast himself as the new leader of the U.S. civil rights movement). Blending nationalistic themes with a piecemeal selection of biblical passages and “American Scripture” (i.e., passages from famous U.S. founding documents and speeches given by U.S. politicians), Beck attempted to craft together an American civil religion that equates belief in God with belief in country – specifically, belief in political conservatism.

The problem with American civil religion is that it reduces faith to a particular brand of nationalism, which is precisely the opposite of the message preached by Jesus and the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. By ignoring passages about social justice and community and highlighting appeals to individual liberties, Deuteronomistic theology, the Exodus, and conquest narratives, Beck attempted to weave together a generic, nationalistic religion that he hopes will appeal to the lowest common denominator of both faith and politics – personal ‘salvation’ via individual liberties – and overlook the more pervasive themes of social justice, equality, and community – which all people of faith are called to do! We are called to live together in community together as one body, not as rugged individuals.

I have no problem with the regular “God bless America” at the end of political speeches, but I suffer a well-concealed apoplexy every time I witness a church worship service that integrates state-related functionaries and activities. I’m all for having religious individuals in the U.S. government, but preying on religion to push a political agenda, or worse yet, blending nationalism and religion to create a diluted religio-political amalgam that equates proper faith with American patriotism betrays both faith and the founding principles of the nation.

It is highly ironic that Glenn Beck, a conservative who regularly appeals to the U.S. Constitution and the writings of the Founding Fathers to make his appeals, had to blend church and state together to make his point. Beck’s political goal is simple: to cast anyone who dares oppose his conservative viewpoint not only as unpatriotic, but as unfaithful.

Parham’s conclusion hits the nail on the head:

No amount of Bible reading, sermons masquerading as prayers and Christian hymns can cover up Beck’s civil religion that slides back and forth between the Bible and nationalism, between authentic faith and patriotic religion.

He treats the “American scripture” – such as the Gettysburg Address – as if it bears the same revelatory weight as Christian Scripture.

What is important to Beck is belief in God – God generically – not a specific understanding of God revealed in the biblical witness, but God who appears in nature and from which one draws universal truths.

Not surprisingly, Beck only uses the Bible to point toward the idea of a God-generic. He does not listen to the God of the Bible who calls for the practice of social justice, the pursuit of peacemaking, the protection of the poor in the formation of community. Beck has little room for God’s warning about national idolatry and rejection of fabricated religion.

For Beck, God-generic is a unifying theme and religion is a unifying force for what appears to be his revivalist agenda for Americanism – blended nationalism and individualism.

jason boyett on the creepiness of guardian angels

guardian angelmy friend jason boyett has a great post on the creepiness of guardian angels. it’s quite good. if you don’t follow jason’s blog, you should.

of course, i don’t buy the concept of guardian angels at all. the last thing christianity needs is a larger pantheon. somehow we went from the monotheistic concept of ‘one god’ to a trinity, then to angels, demons, saints, and now to personal guardian angels to serve us individually in our consumer-based, me first, ‘spiritual but not religious,’  ‘i can be religious without the church/community’ world. the espousal of guardian angels is the pinnacle of a self-centered christianity and betrays one’s concealed doubt that god alone is not big enough to do the things the faith traditionally says he can do.

as always, boyett communicates his thoughts with a smirking sense of humor, making it all the more enjoyable. check it out.

michael shermer on how and why we are wired to believe

Michael Shermer has given an excellent talk at TED offering an explanation as to why we believe. Shermer argues that belief is based upon our nature as a pattern-seeking animals. Our brains have evolved to seek out patterns and relationships between objects and events.

Specifically, Shermer argues that animals make two types of errors in cognition. A Type I error is a false positive, that is, when we believe a pattern is real when it is actually not. A Type I error is when we find a nonexistent pattern. A Type II error is a false negative, that is, when we don’t believe a pattern is real when it actually is. A Type II error is when we don’t recognize a real pattern.

Humans tend to make more Type I errors because they are less costly. His example is that of standing in the jungle and hearing a rustle in the grass. If we believe the rustle in the grass is something that is going to jump out and eat us, then we are cautious and move away. If it turns out that the rustle was just the wind, then there is really no cost to us except for the time we spent moving out of the way and being cautious.

However, if we make a Type II error and we don’t believe that the rustle in the grass will harm us, and it actually was something that can do us harm, we’re dead. Those individuals that gravitate towards the Type II errors tend to die out over time, while those that trend toward the Type I error survive to pass on their genes. Over time, this process results in a species of animals that are more likely to see patterns that are not there (Type I error) because it is selectively safer.

The cost of making a Type I error is less than making a Type II error. Or, to put it another way, it is safer to believe in something that doesn’t exist than it is to not believe in something that does.

Shermer argues that this is why so many people are still very religious, or at least believe in a god, despite our movement towards a scientific world that is regularly disproving many of the myths contained in accepted religious literature. He argues that ‘agenticity,” or the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention, and agency, often from the top down with invisible agents or beings is responsible for the development of religion. This explains angels, demons, and gods, but also a belief in aliens and in government conspiracies.

This conclusion should also speak to scholars, who tend to look for patterns in texts or archaeological evidence that simply aren’t there.

I like Shermer’s explanation. It explains the single most prevalent, yet least-spoken reason why so many people are religious: they’d rather live a religious life and be wrong about hell’s existence than not live a religious live and be wrong about hell. The Type I error results in a life that believed in a superstition, and perhaps that loss of a little “fun.” The Type II error, however, results in eternal damnation.

That is to say, many people believe in a god and follow a religion just in case

This reasoning does not make for good people of faith and explains why so many people are looking to do the bare minimum “to be saved” instead of living a life of service to their fellow humans.

Of course, the next appropriate question is: what is driving us to do good for one another if there is no god? Attempts to explain this question are at the heart of the secular humanist movement and others like it.

Shermer makes some other very interesting comments about cognitive priming and other psychological phenomena. My personal favorite is when he states:

I want to believe and you do too. And in fact, I think my thesis here is that belief is the natural state of things. It is the default option. We just believe. We believe all sorts of things. Belief is natural; disbelief, skepticism, science is not natural. It’s more difficult. It’s uncomfortable to not believe things.

Regardless of your point of view, this is a fascinating lecture and is worth a listen.

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