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 Forrest Curo on 10th mo. 1, 2015 at 9:56am

So do you normally bring your weapons and start firing away when you want to know somebody? Whether that's an "Inward" practice or just a pyschological tic, it sounds counterproductive.

The story of Abraham is probably an example of the opposite sort, one where undue reverence has probably distorted the meaning over the centuries -- priests being notorious for that sort of excess. That is, the Hebrew scriptures abound with indications that child sacrifice was a widely practiced custom of that area (including among the Greeks, you might remember) -- so that anyone but a priest or a Believer would probably recognize Abraham to have 1) been trying to do the Right Thing by his god and 2) seen his act of faith to have been not sacrificing the kid. (Traumatizing him for life, well, pretty likely!) Even in stories about David we're talking about legend and patriotic propaganda; and this one is far older than that...

Comment by Kirby Urner on 10th mo. 1, 2015 at 10:13am

So do you normally bring your weapons and start firing away when you want to know somebody? Whether that's an "Inward" practice or just a pyschological tic, it sounds counterproductive.

That's one characterization of my behavior / motivations (likely some others share your view). for which I hope you'll assume some responsibility.

From my point of view, I've challenged Friends to lively debate, plus shared a generous helping of fun info:

  • re Parliament of World Religion adventures (Cape Town) where my family, HQS in Lesotho at the time, were Quaker delegates
  • re Multnomah Meeting happenings (continuing narratives in Western Friend)

-- while continuing themes my loyal readers expect me to pursue (some of them people I already know). 

I'm introducing strangers to QuakerQuaker this way, a context, e.g. strangers with Greater Humanists of Portland (friendly to Friends in my area).  I do appreciate meeting some new people along the way, sure.  I hope I will continue to do so.

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

Maybe it Isn't About You? I just loves criticism myself, and realize that he who lives by the sarcasm is all too likely to fall on his sarcasm in the end... but I don't think anyone here has been trying to say that Kirby Urner is a bad guy, a screwup or a dummy -- but that certain approaches to incoming experience aren't such a hot idea.

Jared Diamond had it that the Scandinavians in Vinland first approached their native neighbors by learning that ~"They bleed a lot when you poke them with a spear." When the Inuit moved into the area, said natives picked up some good ideas for the climate by observing them; the Scandinavians, never. Some practices and orientations work better than others, okay?

Comment by Kirby Urner on 10th mo. 1, 2015 at 11:07am

Putting some English on a cue ball, requires appreciation for insult, without which the game (deadly serious for the sake of argument) would be no fun.  Giving offense, but not resorting to crude / disgusting outward weapons [1] is a way of delivering feedback, and we all know from bio that feedback is essential, positive and negative (assuming there's a difference).

Just being nice all the time is insulting the intelligence of one's betters, we learn that in kindergarten (don't we?  I did).

A skilled diplomat goes to the cocktail party precisely to be offended (not only, but in part), and to give offense on purpose, but it's all in the nuances and behind smiles, sincere in our wanting to get along (in the sense of diplomacy over outward war).  Very like Quakers in a lot of ways, these embassy people with their fancy "diplomas" (hence "diplomats").

Despite all the sparring and repartee, we're still enjoying our mellow drinks and one anothers' costumes (not always so plain) and company.  The code may be so thick it bears thinking about later, i.e. one leaves said party prepared to reflect, and connect.  "What did she mean saying X to Y in that tone?"

Probably my bias, when strangers appear to diss my "people skills" is to wonder what "squid-billy" (fun cartoon) made that noise from the peanut gallery i.e. I'm not super defensive on that score, more casually amused.  I do see a kind of teasing, a questioning of a person's skills, as a good way to get to know them as equals, not as one the other's servant-disciple.   Jesus wanted true Sangha, not slaves or sycophants.  He wanted Friends.

[1]  no, hitting with sticks and stones is not just another form of name-calling i.e. invective is an alternative to violence

Comment by Adria Gulizia on 10th mo. 1, 2015 at 5:45pm

Is it a game if you're the only one playing?

Anger and disgust can be righteous responses to wickedness if animated by the Spirit of Christ, which is love. Is that the spirit that has been motivating you in this conversation?

Invective is definitely preferable to violence, but it can also serve to desensitize us to violence. Not many southern Whites participated in lynchings, but they were not shocking because Blacks were routinely dehumanized and verbally assaulted. Ditto with many marginalized oppressed groups, Jews, Gypsies and handicapped people being obvious examples, women, too, in some contexts.

When we speak or write harshly, we always need to ask - am I doing this to make myself look better? because I'm hurt? because I don't like or trust the person that I'm talking to? to be "funny"? funny to whom - and should I really laugh at others' expense? That is part of taking up the cross, which all Christians are called to do. (I know you aren't a Christian, but since you're on a site whose subtitle is "Primitive Christianity Revived, Again" this may resonate.) To speak from my own experience, I have written and deleted two responses to this thread because they would not have been in the right spirit. We have to guard our hearts and tongues, because wickedness will creep in if we are not vigilant. I'm still pretty bad at this but getting better.

"Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you." Prov. 4:23-24

Comment by William F Rushby on 10th mo. 1, 2015 at 7:49pm

Hello, Adria!  It takes lots of self-discipline to keep one's communications on the right track!  Sometimes, I am pretty good at it and, at other times, my feelings get the best of me, and I shoot off a post without weighing what I write on the scales of Christian love and truth.  Unfortunately, the ease of writing on the Internet makes intemperate communications way too easy!

Colossians 3:8 (ESV) “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” 

Comment by Adria Gulizia on 10th mo. 2, 2015 at 3:03pm

You're so right, Bill! I'm not sure whether it's easier or harder to keep a leash on my tongue on the Internet or in person. On the Internet, you have more time to reflect and refine, but it is a lot easier to be kind when there is a flesh and blood person standing before you.

Comment by Olivia on 10th mo. 2, 2015 at 4:24pm

Hello Friends,

I was thinking:  

Those who find themselves responding to Kirby's pained dynamic may wish to consider this an opportunity to communicate with him by only listening for / watching for the Light within him instead.  I think he does well with that...and I think it shines brightly if you do.  He may naturally invoke your need to practice it.   He also may challenge you to find Light in places that you would prefer to think of as darkness, but either way...we have no obligation to be a part of a dynamic that someone creates.  Sometimes it's good to respond from a very different place and still interact with them....    (Hard to remember sometimes, but it's good).  I-statements are good too, instead of YOU statements.   If playing into a dynamic that feels messed up to you, you always lose.

- I wanted to also say thank you all for the book recommendations. 

- Kirby, my experience of reading the book of Revelation is that all those people who have given us this stereotype of it being about "fire and brimstone" are mistaken.  It just seemed like a book with a different theme.  I'm glad to elaborate but also glad to simply leave this as a teaser if you'd like to check it out and get your own impression.  I would be interested in learning if it struck you as "fire and brimstone" or not.  It was kind of surprising for me how different it felt the message was when I read it, even though the other stuff is in there:  watch what part God plays....           (One you see that, you may determine that you already were in agreement with that...but I'll defer to you since I don't know how it would strike you.)

- Adria, thank you for the thoughts about Revelation and also this:

"Based on the themes of your post, you may want to check out "The Power of Nightmares," which makes a compelling case that Islamic fundamentalism-fueled terrorism and neoconservatism are two sides of the same fear-based coin. It's a few years old now, but still packs a wollop."

yeah!! 

- Ultimately, I've come to have an impression that "end times" is what it looks like to the people whose world is ending. Think about it rationally and you may come to the same conclusion (or not).  To the OTHER people, who are already living in the New truth...I no longer believe that it will look like "end times".   I mean even if the fundamentalists of all stripes want to battle it out to the end and do create rampant destruction, I just don't think it really looks like "the end" when you're of a "New Beginning" mindset (and heartset).  What it looks like for you instead depends I'm sure on your own unique creative gifts, what the Spirit is saying to you, and the powerfully good people around you in your community... because Fire leads to new growth.  Always.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 10th mo. 2, 2015 at 5:49pm

Thanks Olivia.

I'm not sure exactly what's so exacerbating about my comments that people need to buff up their spiritual disciplines before engaging.  What's all the fuss?

I've accepted that the Book of Revelation could be a worthy read, treated as an archetypal Dream (not as a prophecy of literal geopolitical events involving Putin or some state calling itself "Israel" just like in the Bible -- sure, some get confused by that). 

I also exonerated most if not all Quakers from being End Timers of the type I decry, whether Orthodox / Evangelical or Hicksite / Liberal.  That's not what we do in Children's Program, nor in Sunday School either I'd wager (if a gambler :-D).  Anyone want to admit to scaring little children with the immanent arrival of Horsemen?  That's just Lord of the Rings stuff right, just more Santa Claus [tm].


We're not big on writing about the Anti-Christ either (any Pendle Hill Pamplets exclusively thereon?  I couldn't find any in a quick search).  Quakers are not End Timers, by and large.

Aren't we open to admitting that Christianity has a scary side?  Surely we are, because humans, fallen beasts that they be, are plenty scary.  Surely we not about to uphold every aspect of Christianity as above criticism.  That'd be silly right?

When Bishop Desmond Tutu came to University of Portland on invitation of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, he made some comments to this effect.  In a nutshell he said (this is a close paraphrase): "you Christians scare me, you burn women, whereas the Dalai Lama is a good friend" after which he told some favorite "my times with the DL" stories. 

Go Bishop Tutu!  That's a great way to use your top dog position:  rattle their sanctimonious cages!  I keep bringing up South Africa (RSA) because I thinks that's where a lot of the action is.
http://worldgame.blogspot.com/2009/05/time-for-reconciliation.html

Here's from my studies today.  You'll see how I link from my blog back into QuakerQuaker from here and there:

http://worldgame.blogspot.com/2015/10/some-quaker-history.html

I don't see anything offensive, just graphing connections, connecting dots.  Fun stuff!

Comment by James C Schultz on 10th mo. 2, 2015 at 9:40pm

I see this post is winding down so I just wanted to say that I love the Book of Revelation.  I've probably read it less than any other book other than Numbers but it's a great book.  It gives me hope and peace.  When I found myself fretting about Isis and the refuge crisis Revelation 12:15 & 16 came to mind reassuring me that God in us will make a place for the displaced and that evil is not going to win.  Evil wins many battles but I read the end of the book and we win the war.:)

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