Sunday, February 27, 2011

Camping at the End of the Universe

I travel a lot, and that means a lot of in-car time; time with a radio and a selection of unknown stations.  I bump into Christian stations often, and sometimes I stick around to listen.  This past Thursday night was one of those nights when I ran into one of my Christian favorites:  Family Radio.  The program that time was a live call-in Q&A session with Harold Camping.

For those of you unfamiliar with Harold Camping, he is the leader of Family Radio, a network of four satellite channels, over one hundred AM and FM radio stations, and two television stations, and in 40 different languages worldwide.  More significantly, a cornerstone teaching of the Family Radio ministry is that the Rapture will occur May 21, 2011, and the end of the world will be October 21, 2011.  That's what makes his ministry so fascinating to me, in an amusing way.

Let's get back to the show...

This was the order of three calls which came in while I was listening.  I'll use quotes, but this is paraphrasing based on my memory:

Caller #1)  "You are going to get a whole bunch of enemas on May 22."
Camping)  "Huh?  What?  May 22?  I'm not sure, uh, what do you mean May 22?  Oh dear, we seem to be having some problems.  Well, thank you for calling and sharing.  On to our next call."

As you may imagine, I had a few good chuckles about that.  But seriously, calling in and harassing a host like that is just immature and rude, even if it is funny.  The thing to keep in mind here, though, is that the perpetrator of this heckling call was a Christian!  No, I can't be 100% certain, but atheists don't tend to heckle Christians like that.  An atheist doesn't argue that someone has picked the wrong date, but rather that they have picked the wrong god, which would pretty much be any of them!

Caller #2)  "I don't know what to do, Mr. Camping.  I have called you several times before to try to get you to stop spreading this false doctrine, Mr. Camping, but you just keep on teaching it."
Camping)  "Which doctrine is that?"
Caller #2)  "Well I guess we are going to have to wait until May 22, Mr. Camping, and see what you do then."
Camping)  "Oh, well, by what authority do you have to say that there will be a May 22?  Can you point to verses in the Bible to make a case that there will be a May 22?  On what authority can you say that?  I have many, many passages in the Bible which collectively all point to May 21 as being the day of our Lord's Second Coming.  Tell me, by what authority do you have to say that there will be a May 22?"
Brilliant!  Just brilliant!  Camping's defense is impenetrable, at least to the Christian.  Despite it being Christian doctrine that Jesus could come back at any time, none of them really seem to live that way, at least not by majority.  They all assume life will go on; day in, day out.  Even those who believe that His Coming is soon, you don't find them emptying their 401k's and giving all their money to the poor.  Yet this caller, despite knowing for certain in his heart that there would be a May 22, could not refute Camping's claim, because who really knows when Jesus is coming back?

Caller #3)  "Hi Mr. Camping.  You know, I am so excited by these Times.  The Bible says that there will be scoffers in the End Times, and callers like that last one just seem to be more and more proof of that.  I am so happy that Jesus is coming soon.  Thank you so much for your ministry."
Camping)  "I can understand that you would be happy that the time is near for Jesus to return, but the Bible tells us that this is going to be a time of great mourning.  All of our loved ones who are unsaved will be destroyed by God's wrath, and those who are already dead will be raised from the grave for final destruction in a final shaming of them.  Oh no, this will not be a time of happiness.  We should be mourning the coming destruction of all of those people and trying to spread the Word as much as we can before that time."
From these calls, I got a new respect for Mr. Camping.  I mean, I gave him some street cred before just for being an engineer by training, even if it was in target building (civil engineering).  ;-) 

Here, Camping handled his scoffers professionally and did not get angry or flustered or retaliatory.  He kept on in his sonorous, steady voice.

Beyond that, though, Camping's motivations seem to shine through, particularly with that last caller.  He's not some quack cult leader in this to stroke his own ego or pad his pocketbook or simply get famous.  He's not bubbling over in the stupor of impending holy glory.  He's genuinely concerned for the imminent fate of the unsaved, and so he is just trying to do what he can about that by spreading the Word.

I get the sense that he's the kind of believer who, upon waking up on May 22 in his own home, is going to first think that he failed God in some way and therefore was not Raptured.  And so, in a way, I admire him.  Even if his beliefs do not align with reality, he is one of the few who is actually compassionately trying to obey the convictions of his faith.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Five years ago...

A little more than five years ago I came out of the atheist closet to my immediate family, minus the nieces and nephews.  My older sister, the most devoutly inclined of the family, tried to pull me back into the faith.  I started firing back with objection in the Achilles heal of Christianity, the Old Testament.  Like most Christians, she didn't really know much about the Bible's foundation, but she did know a guy from her church that did.  So she deferred me to him.  I'll call him Arnold.

Since then, Arnold and I have had a wonderful email debate that still continues today.  It's also been a revelation in a way.  I once foolishly thought that if you presented anyone with the facts, if you got them to pause and think deeply about Christianity, they would ultimately reject it.  Now I know better that it's not that simple.  It's a matter of feeling, not facts.  Borrowing from another faith, if the Bible said that the world was supported on the back of a huge turtle, even today they would still believe because they "feel" something about God.  Probably more on that topic later.

For now, take a peek back in time.  About five years ago I sent the text below to Arnold.  Inspired by Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine, I gave him an argument in skit format, boiling it all down into hyper-simplistic terms.

The setup: a non-theist, someone who knows nothing about Christianity, is approached on a city bus by an Christian evangelist.  The green on the left is the non-theist, while the blue on the right is the evangelist.  Enjoy!

Hello friend! Did you know that everyone needs to be Saved?
Saved? Saved from what?
God's wrath.
So what did we do to invoke God's wrath?
Sin. Everyone has sinned.
What is sin?
Sin is transgression against the will of God.
Why did we sin?
It's in our fleshly nature.
Why is it in our nature?
God designed us to have an affinity for sin.
So unless we are saved, God will hurt us for doing what He designed us to want to do?
Well, that's a fine kettle of fish!
It's fair and just, the Bible says so.
This God character seems masochistic.
Not at all. He loves us very, very much.
Yet we need to be saved from Him?
Yes, and God loves us so much that He Saved us from Himself.
That's a relief! So He forgave us for succumbing to the nature He gave us.
Not exactly.
No, a price had to be paid for our sins.
Paid to whom?
Paid to God. He demands reconciliation be paid for our sins.
Oh, and what was the price?
The blood from and death of an innocent man.
That's horrible!
No, that's divine justice.
So He's killed billions of innocents to save each one of us?
No, one innocent man's death covered everyone.
Everyone? Past, present, and future?
Well, that's a little better, I guess.
It's amazing grace! Praise God!
Who was this innocent man?
Jesus! He was the only innocent man, ever.
How did he remain innocent?
Well, God became a man in the form of Jesus.
So Jesus was God? That would make it easy, because then, by definition, Jesus could not sin.
No, not at all. Jesus was still tempted to sin just as much as you and I.
So it took God's power to resist the affinity to sin?
No, God gave up His powers as a man.
If Jesus was God, and Jesus died, then God is dead?
No. God will never die.
But wasn't Jesus God?
Yes. It's beyond comprehension. Our ways are not His ways.
Obviously! So, then, with this price paid, I guess I am saved already?
Jesus is dead, right?
No, He is alive.
Um, so when will He be killed for our sins?
He already has been killed for our sins.
Then how is Jesus alive?
He was raised from the dead by God.
Ow, my brain!
Yes. It's beyond comprehension. Our ways are not His ways.
So you've said. This temporary death paid the price for our sins?
Paid in full?
Yes, paid in full.
Then, why am I not already saved?
You have to believe that Jesus died for you.
OK. Then will I be saved?
You also have to admit to God that you sin and deserve His wrath.
I deserve His wrath for giving in to my affinity to sin?
The affinity He gave me?
Why is that?
Because you chose to sin.
Isn't that entrapment?
No, you sinned by your own free will.
Um, OK.
You should admit the need to be saved from His wrath.
So if I believe in Jesus and admit I need to be saved, then I will be saved?
Well, if you really believe this, you will live your life differently.
I will?
Yes, according to God's Word, to praise Him and avoid sin.
And if I continue my life as is?
You will not be saved.
Why not?
You would be sinning by not showing your repentance of your sin.
But I thought my sins were paid for.
They are, but you must repent.
Repent from sins that are already paid for?
Sins that were paid for in full?
Yes, paid for in full.
It doesn't sound fully paid to me.
Well, they are. I know it's tough to understand, but you must remember that our ways...
Yes, yes, our ways are not His ways. You've given me much to think about.
By the way, you haven't blasphemed the Holy Spirit, have you?
I don't know. What's a Holy Spirit?
It's God, but it could be anything, like a burning bush.
Um, OK. I don't think I've blasphemed It. Why?
That's the one unforgivable sin.
Why is it unforgivable?
That's what God says. Our ways...
...are not His ways. I've got it.

A little while later, our non-theist does some reading...

Hello again. Hey, I started reading the Bible.
That's great news!
I've read about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
They would have lived forever there if they didn't sin?
And the wages of sin is death?
And because Adam and Eve sinned, they eventually died?
Jesus paid the wages for our sins through His death?
So if I am saved through Jesus, I will live forever here on Earth?
No. You will still die.
You heard correctly, you will die.
But I thought my sins were paid in full by the blood of Jesus.
They are, but you will still die.
That's odd.
Not really, because you will live forever in the afterlife.
So we will die, and then we will live forever?
I wonder if you if you ever listen to the words coming out of your mouth.
What? What do you mean? These are God's words.
Never mind. I'll just sort it out when I meet God.
But that will be too late, my friend!
I think I'll take my chances.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

God Is Tempting Me

God is tempting me.  I'm sure of it.  If you're reading this first post, you probably know that I've got another blog, The Wise Fool.  There you'll find semi-deep exegesis through the Bible, particularly focusing on the Torah and the Gospels.  But you know what?  I don't always feel like posting every week; meeting my personal commitment.  Why is that?

Within Christianity, many believers think that Satan is alive and well, and that he is doing everything he can to pull people away from God.  Besides presenting an array of sinful temptations at your weakest moments, Satan is often also credited with keeping Christians out of God's Word, the Bible.  Because if people know God's Word, then they are well equipped to battle temptation, and, more importantly, they develop a deeper love for God.

Yet, for me, just the opposite has happened.  I've lost that love of God.  The more I read, the more I dig into God's Word, the less I believe.  And the less I believe, the more I post to show others why they shouldn't believe either.

If you look at the Christian version of Satan's Play Book, this has got to be one of his favorites; cause spreading apostasy.  I'm sure some Christians might even see what I do, and assume that I am possessed, or that I am in some other way a direct agent for that master of temptation; Satan.

So, if Satan is somehow leading me to the Bible for his cause of apostasy, who is tempting me otherwise?  The times when I get bored of pointing out God's hypocrisy, or when I feel I that I'd rather play a game, or would rather do some research for an upcoming vacation, who is drawing me away from God's Word?  It must be God.  Who else would try to influence me against Satan's will?

Or maybe, just maybe, distraction/pleasure seeking is a human trait which is completely independent of invisible, supernatural superpowers.