Chapter two – be smart
The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking. ~J.K. Galbraith
As you continue to read this you may notice something quite strange, especially if you’re used to reading “Christian” books. What you are going to notice, if you haven’t already, is that I will seldom, if ever quote directly from scripture, or from any source for that matter. The reason for this is that I am not attempting to say that my writing is “biblically” sound or that I happen to have the best and most enlightened interpretation of what Jesus or others had to say. No instead I want you, the reader, to look it up for yourself. It’s high time we as believers began to use one of our most neglected faculty, our mind. You see, the problem begins with why the church teaches what it teaches. It is an unspoken rule in most churches that “you shouldn't question God” or “you shouldn't question the priest or minister.” In reality, that is exactly what you should do. All forms of religion are simply man made interpretations of what little information has been gleaned in mankind’s long term existence about spirituality.
Every religion and the various denominations within that religion perceive that the information that they hold is “the” truth. This is really a sociological and cultural issue in that no matter who you are or where you are from, the only truth that anyone of us knows is that truth which we have been exposed to. Suffice it to say that if you have grown up in a particular church or religion, you really cannot help but be influenced by that religion’s thought and dogma, and those concepts then become the building blocks for what you perceive as the truth. The problem then becomes that every perception we have comes through the lens of those building blocks, and when we are conditioned, as we are, to hold in high esteem some priest or minister as the interpreter and final word on those perceptions, it becomes very hard to think for ourselves.
The truth of the matter is, most of us are just too lazy, too complacent or feel that we are too stupid to understand all of this religious mumbo jumbo, and so instead of tackling the task of really learning and understanding what we believe we just allow ourselves to be spoon fed whatever the church happens to be peddling. If you have problems believing this is true, look at your local churches, watch how the parishioners dress, talk and act alike. There is no diversity within our congregations, those that think, question or have varied concepts of belief are quickly made to feel unwelcome and rarely stay in a congregation for long. Stand outside of your church or any church on any Sunday afternoon and begin asking congregants as they leave the service what it was exactly that the lesson was about that day, most won’t be able to tell you and the ones who do will simply repeat the same tired phraseology that was just regurgitated for them from the pulpit.
Years ago when I took my first biblical interpretation class I remember being shocked by what the professor had to tell us. On the first day of class the professor stood before us and said something along these lines; “all of you are young ministers who have come to learn how to interpret the bible. The things you will learn in this class may not mesh entirely with what you have long held as deep seated beliefs, and you must be warned that much of what you will learn in this class cannot be openly talked about with your congregations as it could be damaging to their faith.” My jaw dropped open I’m sure, and I really couldn't believe what I was hearing. I thought our faith was about truth and openness, and I was sure that every Christian knew the deeper truths of the bible. As the class went on I began to realize what exactly it was that we were not supposed to tell our congregants. We were not supposed to tell them that the religious dogma they were basing their entire lives on was simply a bunch of opinions, based on a passed down tradition of opinions, based on a book that we don’t even have any original copies of any of the works within it. Now before you begin to see me as a bible basher let me clarify some points. First of all I believe that the bible is a useful and wonderful book for teaching about the human condition and why it is we need God and those concepts like faith, hope and love that God wants to teach us. On the other hand I do not believe, even for one second, that the book we currently call the bible, is in any way, error free or God breathed or any of that sort of malarkey. The book that we call “The Bible” has been created from many, many translations, from its original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek roots, through Latin, German and later English languages, our bible is a nightmare of translation problems and inherent bias from various corners of religion. Otherwise why would we need so many different translations and why would there be so much argument as to which translation was best or most accurate? The earliest manuscripts of our new testament don’t even exist any longer as far as we know and the manuscripts that we use to begin translation were not written till at least 300 years after the life of Jesus or anyone who actually knew him in the flesh. The bible is a beautiful and useful ancient text, but it is not something to base one’s life around. Jesus came to lead us away from the need for intermediaries, to lead us towards personal and internal relationship with God. Putting anything in front of that, whether it’s a book, a priest, a building or whatever is a ludicrous notion.
It is vitally important that you, the congregant, the believer, know what it is you believe and why you believe it. This is exactly why the church doesn't want you to know these things, because you will begin to doubt, and that doubt will, or at least should, lead you to dig deeper and seek more understanding about your faith, and eventually it will lead you to being an autonomous thinker who can and will question the status quo and damage the churches hold on power. In the long run that is exactly why the church would rather have you ignorant, because as long as your ignorant they can control you, they can set rules and ideals that will decide how you run your life, and they can use their power to guilt you, shame you, or coerce you into doing whatever it is they want you to be doing.
Karl Marx wasn't wrong, religion is the opiate of the people, and it’s addictive and tranquilizing power keeps us in line, its take away our freedom to grow and change and understand God on a personal and deeply spiritual level. So, get smart! Whatever it is you currently believe begin to question why it is the way it is. This will mean getting out of your comfortable rut, and shaking yourself and others up. Question everything, the bible, the preacher, the dogmas, and most of all, question yourself. Why do you believe what you believe? What has led you to this point in your life and what influences have pre-determined how you will see the world? Christians spend a lot of time learning things outside of themselves but very little time learning about those things inside themselves. “Know thyself” is an ancient maxim but it is just as true today. Don’t be afraid to learn, to research to look up and attempt to understand religious and spiritual concepts. Step out of the box the church has made for you and expand your knowledge and experience. Visit other churches, or better yet other religions, and make friends that don’t believe what you believe, these friends will challenge you and help you grow your own spirituality. Once you begin doing this be prepared, others around you will get uncomfortable, because as you begin to grow, you will begin to change, and if there is any great fear the modern church has, it is a fear of change. Don’t stop there though, take these new things you learned back to church with you, pass them around, help others to begin to understand their systems of belief. Set up classes, open discussions or internet groups to help get the word out that every person is responsible for their own faith, and for how that faith affects their lives. Don’t settle for less, you have the power to understand, learn and teach. You don’t have to be a minister, a priest or even have been to college. All you need is an inquiring mind, a library card, an internet connection, and the will to explore and learn.