So What's So Terrifying About Christianity?

What terrifies people most about Christianity?  Pope Francis is just winding up his tour of the US and from a Quaker standpoint, his call to US Congress to withdraw from the Arms Bazaar (its main activity) and to focus on helping the people (what a concept!) seems entirely benign.  My mom is clucking happily about it, and she's a world famous nuclear abolitionist.  So what's the problem?

Catholicism is still smarting from the Galileo episode when the church was caught squarely on the wrong side of history.  Christianity became too easy to demonize as anti-science, and what's worse, scientists began withholding discoveries (Descartes) or sharing them with others first!  The Vatican could see itself paying a palpable price, and a big one, for its attack on Galileo and his astronomical views.  They were losing the Cold War of their day.

Fast forward and the Vatican has built a state of the art observatory in Arizona (VATT) and its staff astronomers are second to none in participating in contemporary scientific conversations.  The Vatican had as much input into the decision to demote Pluto from full planethood (or did they bring it back, I heard a rumor?) as anyone.  Nor does the philosophy of Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit, make it hard to talk about evolutionary theories of the human being.  Science and the Vatican seem more at peace with each other than ever.

Ah, but what about the Protestants, or lets call them the Sunnis of our Western Civ (Catholics being Shia).  Or shall we go with Tutsi and Hutu? 

Protestants are more like ISIS in wanting a Christian State in the Americas, and what they embrace, in their sectarian core, is their Book of Revelation, a map of the End Times, expected any day now. 

Yes, that's what's most terrifying about Christianity:  the mostly US-based End Timers who want to see God's Will for our planet in their own lifetimes.  For this reason they need those nuke weapons to remain at the ready, as (clearly!) they're to play a role.  Protestant End Timers are pro nuke because they expect God to push the button (through His instruments, his servants on Earth).

You'll notice how Liberal Quakers, even those who allow lots of space for the Bible (including Multnomah, with Bible Study every Monday morning, well attended, well led) still manage to avoid the topic of End Times and the Book of Revelation

If you're shopping around for an End Times church, one that will give you a map to the End of the World, you'll find Quakers of all stripes mostly don't fit that bill.  The hallmark of an End Times church is its people are on the lookout for an Anti-Christ.  Just talking about Christ is not enough.  You'll know you're getting warmer, closer to the radioactive core of Apocalyptic Christianity (the terrifying kind), when you start hearing about the Anti-Christ (and some horsemen).

Like the Catholics, I expect Protestants of this ilk, who alienate their religious peers willy-nilly, by saying we all (or most of us) deserve to die in a fiery all-consuming war -- because we're sinners and God wills it -- will pay a price.  I'll be watching the upcoming Parliament of World Religions in Utah to see if there's any religious leader brave enough to take on the whole topic of Religious Terrorism, including of the Christian variety.

However, I'm not going to take the view of Official Washington and say it's OK to bomb religious terrorists, as that tends to be self defeating.  On the contrary, I believe in religious tolerance and think small communities should be allowed to experiment with alternative laws and customs within their own sphere -- but we need to discuss limits.  I was aghast when Texas took it upon itself to invade that Mormon compound and steal away all the children, what a travesty!  So what if this sect practices polyamory in some form -- that's their religious freedom!

As one of the logistics supervisors (an overseer) for the Occupy Portland operation, I was never under the illusion that we could stay put for long.  This was not Rajneesh Puram and we were not seeking permission to cremate our dead.  The hallmark of a permanent community is it includes taking care of dead bodies.  This is not anything terrifying and all religions deal with that aspect of mortal life.  Occupy was a social movement, not a religion, but we wanted an opportunity to experiment with building community nevertheless.  That's a strong hunger that humans have and we deny it at our peril.

Those practicing End Timer religions should be free to manage clinics, nursing homes, and mortuaries, not just schools.  Bombing ISIS, rather than treating it more like a branch of Protestant, is Official Washington's big mistake.  I'm hopeful the Eastern Orthodox, more cozy with the Russians, will prove an offsetting force that gives Official Washington an opportunity to rethink its dangerous policies.  Don't bomb religious fanatics but don't arm them either.  Listen to Pope Francis.  Find another way to make money.

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Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 29, 2015 at 12:32pm

Yes Adria, I've seen "The Power of Nightmares" and liked it a lot.  Here's my blogged review, which I link back to from other posts quite often:

'Why We Fight' is another favorite:

Thank you for the other references.  I'll take a look and post something to QuakerQuaker about them when I've studied them more.  Might be a few weeks (I'm about to take a vacation from this unpaid hobby, but I'll be back).

I find Quakerism probably the least offensive and most packed with wisdom of the many Christian sects, however going forward I see no reason to list "Christian" as but one of several ingredients on the label, even if the leading one. 

"Christian" is the new "high fructose corn syrup" of junk religions (End Timer and so on) so it's not always good PR to boast of it as top ingredient, at least not in Pagan circles, big in Portland (so many bumper stickers at Intel, saying Clergy with witch's star).  Better to use "Christian" sparingly, as spice.  Definitely take responsibility for the past in some way i.e. don't sweep it all under the rug, as if that ever worked!

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 9th mo. 29, 2015 at 9:12pm

Thank you for your post, Adria. 

I was part of a Quaker Bible study that was not afraid to take on Revelation. Read with an open mind and a bit of background, it's not nightmare.

For an excellent Quaker perspective, I recommend Apocalypse of the Word: the Life and Message of George Fox by Douglas Gwyn. In particular the last chapter. 

The Angels of the Churches of in Revelation can be seen in Walter Wink's Powers Trilogy. There is also The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 30, 2015 at 12:48am

I'm looking forward to perusing more titles! 

As long as no one in the room says "Anti-Christ" and "Putin" in the same sentence, or otherwise tries to tell me "what it all means" in terms of unfolding events, I'll probably stay and listen. Otherwise, I reserve the right to not waste my own time, short enough as it is.

Those who see the Book of Revelation "coming true" on the news every night are the ones I have no patience for.  It's a free country, so I'm not apologetic about tuning out such testimony as irrelevant to my own practice of Quakerism.  I also reassure non-Quakers there exist Friends of my ilk, who don't subscribe to any brand of End Timer expectation.  Subgenius X-day is as close as it gets for me (i.e. making fun of such expectations is perfectly OK in my view).

In contrast, I embrace Stewart Brand's Clock of the Long Now, a clock made of precision parts of long lasting materials, designed to tick away accurately for at least 10,000 years.

Such machines help counter a myopic perspective as they radiate a quiet confidence that Apocalypse is not just around the corner (a debilitating mental condition that a strongly positive religion helps one escape -- including Christianity when not debased).

[typos fixed version]

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 30, 2015 at 10:22am

Some people prefer to imagine that the present organization of human life is viable; others prefer messages that match our intuition that it is rightly doomed.

Dmitri Orlov likes the analogy of an engineer (He's one) inspecting a bridge and finding it badly made with substandard materials, worn out by use and abuse, supported only by termite nests in the wooden bits. When the engineer says "It might last 10 years," well, it might last twenty. It isn't likely to fall tomorrow, but it might. The likelihood of it lasting 25 years is measured in Snowball Units.

That has been the state of the world for many years now. It's unlikely to collapse without a major dieoff and a lot of suffering. So people have to be suffering a lot, or to be incredibly unimaginative, to look forward to that. But there are many people suffering that much. (We should treat each other nicer, if we weren't collectively too scared!)

Jacques Ellul's take on the book -- not as a schedule but as a symbolic reflection of the present world and an announcement of God's ultimate intention for it -- is that there are no human beings lastingly harmed in the performance of this piece. It's the Powers and Principalities that get tried and condemned.

It is a bit of a Rorschach, of course.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 30, 2015 at 10:36am

"The present organization of human life" is in many dimensions doomed but anyone reading a little history sees that's always been true.  No one is living like an ancient Mayan right now, nor an ancient Egyptian, nor am I implying these civilizations were in any way insufficient merely for not lasting until now.  Building a long-lasting clock and setting it running is really not a statement about the status quo somehow having settled down, when in recent times (since Jesus say), events have been accelerating.  We call it future shock or just "the future" if we're not all that shocked.

However I don't think shifting gears and morphing, new civilizations arising, new religions (lots of new religions) has any necessary correlation to vast die-offs e.g. plague, famine or war.  Lets call those Biblical situations.  So I'm saying I think continuing change is a given, and yes, earthquakes and tsunamis, hurricanes -- those are given -- but that doesn't make me Biblical in the apocalyptic sense about humanity's future.

Looking at history, it seem Anglo-English speakers especially are obsessed with Apocalypse just around the corner.  As an engineer of sorts, this gets me looking for bugs in English itself (the language).  It could be that English is what needs to morph most, but that will entail less outward violence than if it persists in such a broken state.

Anyway, I think what people tend to bleep over in their own thinking is massive die-offs occur routinely in that we're all mortals and no one alive today was alive 200 years ago (precious few even 100 years ago).  One generation is not a carbon copy of the next, even if it goes in cycles in some dimensions.  What makes humanity and other species so brilliantly adaptable is death.  Adults give the kids the benefit of much experience but then don't stick around to try running the show.  One of the most blessed features of the human being or any animal, at the individual level, is that it times out.  This design benefits the species enormously and is what gives me hope for the future.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 30, 2015 at 6:54pm

"Apocalypse" does not mean "bloody disaster" but "unveiling", ie an effort to see 'what God means by all this.'

For people living on the short end of a civilization likely to finish like Napoleon's retreat from Russia -- an army of hundreds of thousands  ending up as wolf chow and compost while himself drives home in a fast carriage; and only a handful of his troops manage to walk out -- It doesn't take a glitch in the language to make "bloody disaster" a more plausible prediction than "life as usual only better."

The book itself is not a prediction; but like a dream (which it resembles) it's a reflection of life andhistory as people experience it, with the addition of a better resolution after we've struggled through some nasty collective karma...

Those people kvetching under the Throne, wanting to know when God is going to get up and kick butt -- are martyrs, understandably eager to see that resolution. Sometimes I encounter people who think "Sin" means "young women wearing short skirts" --

but what people are shown in the news -- and the worse crimes we aren't shown there -- really do constitute a collective condition of Sin --

which might be described as behaving like Nasrudin's neighbor. Nasrudin comes home one night, sees said neighbor sitting in a tree, sawing off a branch.

"If you don't stop that pretty soon, you're going to fall down," he says. The neighbor, unwilling to listen to such a load of pessimistic crap, just keeps sitting on his branch and sawing...

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 30, 2015 at 9:27pm

I go back to my blog post on the meaning of "liberal" in my brand of Liberal Quakerism [1] and what it means to me.  Since "Apocalypse" means highfalutin things to an inner circle, well-versed in the shoptalk, then so might "Liberal" mean something special to the likes of me (an inner circle of one -- go Army). 

If only "religious-minded" meant exactly that:  flexible as to interpretation, open to new readings.  Funny how that sounds oxymoronic, given the paragons of religious rigidity I associate with Orthodoxy of any kind. 

And anyway it's not just me who connects Liberal with Open (as in Open Source).  I have lotsa geek friends -- we could even say co-conspirators (back to my question whether Jesus was in the middle of one, I'd say pretty deeply... and more than one [2]).

I agree that a child surviving her neighborhood and family getting pulverized, whether by a Syrian Air Force "barrel bomb" or a USAF "Hellfire" missile etc. [ not so kosher to mention the latter on neoliberal NPR given "we're the good guys" with USG funding -- good to flip over to RT sometimes, Al Jazeera... lots of sources is better than one ], who sees her way of life, her future, ended... that child might as well be the "frozen soldier" at the tragic end of some Napoleonic misadventure.  Like, who isn't bombing in Syria?  Seems to be a shorter list every day.

The cruel harsh existential torture of some hapless Job is eternal (Biblical).  Professor Kaufmann of Princeton used to ask how any of that torture was forgivable, just as he asked us to consider that Abraham was a dangerous psycho even after he put the knife down thanks to his "burning bush" experience.  Just saying "I had a vision" is no proof of sanity, not even if at Annual Session.

Gnosticism says Planet Earth is more of a botched amateur project by a lesser God, much as we may idolize and fear "Him" (sources vary its gender).  Subgenius takes the same view. 

Lots of great stories out there, with the Bible an enshrined anthology, another hodge-podge (good thing we have some even better books by now, yay, Good News!).

The present is full of survivor-refugees from the past, the world as they knew it already ended.  Apocalypse Then, Future Shock Ongoing.

May God be merciful (despite all evidence to the contrary).


[2]  My point:  what else have we but conspiracies (?) and wasn't Jesus and his disciples (as distinct from his apologists and acolytes) not one?  I'd say they were.  Conspiracy: "to breathe together".  Marshall McLuhan to Bucky:  "I have read your books and I am ready to join your conspiracy."

Comment by William F Rushby on 9th mo. 30, 2015 at 11:00pm

Hello, Kirby!

 To be very specific, it was Moses, not Abraham, who encountered the "burning bush." Ex.3.  Using the metaphor of the burning bush in a broader sense, Abraham certainly had such experiences, and not just once.  Gen.12:1 is one example.

Interestingly, John Woolman also experienced epiphanies.  Once, he woke up during the night and saw a light nine inches in diameter, five feet in front of him.  "As I lay still looking upon it without any surprise, words were spoken to my inward ear, which filled my whole inward man."

Other Friends, notably Ann Branson of Ohio Yearly Meeting, had quite vivid epiphanous experiences.  In early adulthood, Ann experienced herself being carried up into the heavens in a manner similar to John the Revelator.  She saw things there "not lawful to be uttered," or words to that effect.

So, if Abraham was a "dangerous psycho," some of our most beloved Friends were also!

My prayer for you is that the Lord may appear to you in a day of visitation, imploring you to lay down your head trip and resistance to His truth, and drawing you to His beloved son.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 10th mo. 1, 2015 at 1:39am

"Apocalypse" wasn't jargon back in the day; it was simply their word for an unveiling, a peek behind the scenes to check out what was going on. Not everybody had that sort of experience; and for most people that was likely a great relief.

Since much of what got revealed looked like abusive Daddy rampage -- there are people who think it translates as "Bad Guys Get Theirs At Last" but that's not the construction you need to put on it; I don't think it was the Intended Message -- no matter how much it seems like 'a feature' to some readers. People go with surface readings until they take a closer look; and that might take an incarnation or two; but that doesn't invalidate what is there.

William Stringfellow wasn't exactly a fan of Divine violence (or any other kind) and he found much contemporary political reality mirrored in the book -- not as "fulfillment of Prophecy" or any such nonsense, but an expression of a certain existential reality in the human condition so far.

Job just needed a little challenge to knock him out of the rut he was in -- so that he could at last "see with my eyes" instead of clinging to hearsay.

As you've said yourself, people who've found the Thing Itself are a lot less stuck in interpretive ruts -- and so 'religious minded in that sense does mean 'open.' But habitual dismissiveness & contempt are no more 'open' than compulsive credulity.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 10th mo. 1, 2015 at 2:26am

Right, not literally a "burning bush" in Abraham's case, I realize. 

The other visions seemed more benign.  I'd not apply "dangerous psycho" to just anyone who sees burning bushes a lot.  William, I found your argument unpersuasive.

I do believe in testing leadings as a part of our practice.  When someone has a vision, like Jesus telling them to be Christian instead of Buddhist, that's an opening gambit, not an endgame maneuver.  All testing doesn't come to a halt because a "vision" or "epiphany" was had.

It's easy to announce visions and have these great varieties of religious experience.  Some are just a red pill away.  Deriving authority therefrom is something many try ("false prophet" is a cliche), but in Debate World won't likely win you many points from the more fair-minded judges. 

In my world, healthy debate is indeed an alternative to violence.  That's how I'd characterize these threads -- more Rabbinical Quakerism.  That I sound off against doom-saying End Timers for their self-fulfilling prophecies is just something I do, no need to change a thing.

Who knows how many revelations and epiphanies I've had, right?  Probably could fill many books. But no need to get into those on QuakerQuaker I don't think.  Not in this chapter.

Never will I agree that forsaking outward weapons means dropping such defenses as scorn, disdain, disgust and so on. These inward weapons are not "anti-Quaker" and I have plenty of historical sources at my disposal to make that case, but it's not a case I feel needs making.  Too obvious.


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