Tom Pittman's WebLog

2018 July 17 -- The Nature of Religion

I have a few minutes to spare before I head off to today's session with the kids. Actual count seems to be about 14 -- there is some unavoidable flux -- which pretty much fills every chair at the table in the tiny room assigned to us, so I spent the whole day yesterday walking around. Probably again today.

Anyway, the church I went to on Sunday would not have been on my short list, all things being equal. Last year I asked the pastor of the church I go to in GP for a list of churches of the same denomination in Portland area, so I could find something low-risk to go to (last year). He passed the job off to one of the young people in his church, and I guess she Googled the generic denomination name. Last year the closest on the list to where I was, was the same denom. This year the camp director put me up two blocks from the campus building where we're meeting, so I picked another church from the same list within walking distance -- about the same distance I walk to church in GP. The music was more familiar than the church in GP, the offertory solo was moving, but the sermon was... odd. I gather he's a recent hire (interim pastor), and this might have been his first sermon, which he titled "Living on the Brink" (his name is Sam Brink). His text was Mark 3:20,21, where the family of Jesus came to get him because he was acting "crazy." The pastor's point seemed to be that we should be "crazy" for God. Not a bad goal, but a little thin on content.

They had Sunday School classes, but they were unannounced anywhere. This was the first Sunday they tried eliminating the bulletin, so I couldn't look there either. After the service I mentioned to the senior pastor how useful bulletins are to newcomers like me, and he handed me a mini-bulletin that they'd only made a few of. It didn't mention SS either, but one of the older folks mentioned a SS class "up the stairs." There were only older folks in the room, so I'm guessing the tradition is dying out, and when the last of the geezers is gone, there will be no SS classes any more. You see that in churches where the tradition (as well as the traditional theology, you know, where God is God and He makes the rules, and if you don't like it, tough) is dying out. I only have four (maybe three, if my friend in Spokane extends another invite) weeks and then I'm outa here.

There were maybe four or five couples in the SS class, and the teacher announced his topic as "The Exodus," which he discussed only generally, no specific Bible references to look up -- some of the incidents I knew where to look, so I looked them up anyway, others I hunted around but didn't find, or more often found long after he had moved on to some other incident. One of them concerned the numbering of the Israelites at about 600,000. That figure is actually in Numbers, two books later. Anyway this fellow allowed as the Hebrew word did not necessarily mean "men" but could have meant "persons" (unspecified gender) and I was really curious what Hebrew word that might be. I had my Hebrew Bible, so I looked. The word used in reporting the actual numbers is derived from the verb "PQD" ('pakad') usually translated "visit" but also with a wide range of meaning, like to say David's place at Saul's table was empty, and sometimes in military contexts where it is translated as "muster" or "arrange" (in battle array). This context is clearly military, because the sentence goes on to say "all those able to be part of an army" for each of the tribes as numbered. Sending women to war is a modern idea among atheist countries (including now both the USA and Israel, which is probably the same thing), certainly not in cultures where combat was hand-to-hand and women on the average were no match for men. Ancient cultures like in the Bible had better science than the feminazis of today, so the Biblical head count is necessarily adult males only, not women and children, and the total number of people in the desert was probably closer to 2 million. Archeologists have not found evidence of 2 million (or even a half million) people trekking across the desert some 3400 years ago for 40 years and leaving their dead bodies there -- every one who came out of Egypt, except Joshua and Caleb, died in the desert. Me, I think the dates are wrong, and the location is wrong: Somewhere I saw images of Egyptian chariot wheels littering the bottom of the gulf of Aqaba, not the marshy Sea of Reeds west of there.

One of the other guys piped up and said it just isn't possible for that much water to come out of a rock in the desert. I suspect he didn't really want to be there in the class, but came because his wife insisted, and he wanted us all to know it. I said "God can do anything He wants to." A woman across the circle from him and me said "You are looking at it from the human perspective, [not God's]." The teacher said nothing to his remark, and moved on to his next point. When I got home and read through the denominational flyer, which grants to their members "freedom of conscience" or something like that, I can see why he couldn't say anything. That's also why I could never be a member there. People can believe any silly thing they want to, but Christian church membership should be limited to those who "confess Jesus as LORD" -- meaning He (Jesus, not we) gets to decide what God can or cannot do.


So I got to thinking about this guy and the nature of religion. The joke had it that "Religion is believing what you know ain't so." From the outsider's perspective, there's a lot of truth in that. Turn it on its head, it becomes a very good definition of religion, which is to define what is really true irrespective of contrary evidence (see my blog post "InfoQuake" last month). Obviously, a person with a different religion will have a different idea about what is true, but Truth is not a personal opinion, it's what really is. Most of us are wrong about some things, and some of us are willing to correct our mistakes (when we know about them), the rest of us "have religion."

This guy's religion does not include any gods. That's not happenstance or accident, nor does it rescue him from having a religion: the existence of a Creator God confers on that God the right to tell His creation what to do, and many -- perhaps most -- of us don't like to be told what to do, so we choose a religion (which defines for us what is really true) that excludes gods with that right. When it's a conscious choice, it's self-deception. I like to believe that most atheists did not so much choose to ignore the facts of the universe, as they were deceived by the gatekeepers. It's much harder to change your religion late in life, but people do it. Earlier is better.


"Establishment" is a word we no longer use with the meaning it has in the US Constitution, which is the government setting the standards of what is True. All governments do it, and the Founders did not want the new US Government telling the State and local governments how to set that standard. Now, almost 230 years later, the new King (Scotus) insists that's exactly what the US Government should be doing. So Congress is now required to Establish a particular religion (as a national standard of what is True), which includes among other things, the nonsensical and contradictory notions (a) that intelligent design and behavior is the result of time, chance, and natural causes (see my essay "Biological Evolution"), (b) that "gender" is a state of mind, unrelated to a person's DNA, and (c) that anybody who believes otherwise is an idiot, unworthy of participating in the process of running the country. It's even harder for governments to change their religion than individuals, because so many people in the government, their jobs depend on preserving the status quo.


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