Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Church is a Whore and She's My Mother

I first heard this quote a couple of weeks ago while watching Lord Save Us From Your Followers.  It was attributed to St. Augustine.  When I first heard it, it really set me back.  I had to rewind the movie and watch that part again.  The words whore, mother and church in the same sentence are shocking. It's been on of those quotes that keeps coming back to my mind time and time again.   I only wish I had thought to say it first because it sums up my complicated relationship with the church from the time I was about five years old right up until today.
I would not be the person I am today without the church.  That is something that will never change.  In a sense, the church has given birth to me.  I often hear atheists claim that morality is possible without religion and I suppose it is.  But, whether I stick with the church (or Christianity) or not, I cannot deny or ever change the tremendous impact all of the Sunday school lessons, sermons, Bible reading, etc. have had on forming who I am.  I was taught morality in the church.  I was taught generosity in the church.  I was taught compassion in the church.  I was taught that each person is an image of G-d and therefore has inherent infinite worth.  A couple of days ago a friend asked me who had more impact on my life, Jesus or Buddha.  The answer is Jesus, by a mile.  Jesus has been embedded into my psyche from the time I could understand language.  Without the church we wouldn't have the Bible.  The church has preserved the teachings of Jesus through the centuries.  Without the church I would have never heard the name of Jesus.  So, yeah, the church is my mother.

But, the church has been a whore, both to the world-with its oppression of women, condoning slavery and racism, inquisitions, homophobia, witch hunts covering up pedophilia., etc.  The church has also distorted the "good news" and used it to psychologically torment little boys and girls like me.  The church turned the God of unconditional and unlimited love into a schizophrenic bloodthirsty tyrant .  The god I was taught about wantedto eternally torment for being just what He made me to be .  But, at the same time He sent His Son to be tormented in my stead. The church taught me eternal security in my salvation, unless I backslid, in which case, I was never "saved" in the first place.   The only time I would know I was eternally secure was when I passed from this life to eternity.  The church told me that works could never save me. But, unless I led a good enough life to be evidence that I had truly had been saved, my faith alone was not enough.  Because of the church, I have had a morbid obsession with death.  From as early as I can remember, life wasn't about living for today. This life was only worth anything if you did what it took to get to heaven.  This was a throw-away, a dress rehearsal at best.  It was in church that my panic attacks started decades ago and it's in church where they persist to this day. 

I hate church and I love church all at the same time.
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What If Fred Phelps Ran the United States?

Bild hämtad från http://www.godhatesfags.com P...Image via WikipediaLately, I've been defending Islam so much I think maybe some of my friends are starting to wonder if I'm considering converting. It probably seem sto some that I am a huge fan of Islam. Add that to my criticism of Christianity and church and... well, if you put two and two together, they add up to four. Right? Well, you can be assured that nothing could be further from my mind than converting to Islam. I don't defend Islam because I personally like Islam. I defend it against what I perceive to be unfair attacks and generalizations. I defend it because there are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, most of whom are good peace loving people. I defend it because it's the American thing to do, defend freedom of religion. I defend it because Islam is not so very different from Christianity or Judaism both of which were unfairly treated in the past.

To set the record straight, I'm not a huge fan of Islam-personally. If I had to choose a religion to convert to, Islam would be way down on the list. There are some great things about Islam. Lots of spiritual discipline (praying five times a day, fasting). I like the idea of zakat (giving to charity) that is one of the five pillars. In fact of the five pillars- praying, charity, fasting, there is only one G-d and hajj (a trip to Mecca) I think four of the five are pretty cool. I do have some problems I have with Islam. First, it seems to me like very much like an "earn your favor" with G-d religion. The rituals could easily become dry and rote. I mean praying five times a day, mandatory, on the dot, at certain times? Eating hallal (kind of like eating kosher in Judaism)? Fasting every day for a month? No, not for me. Secondly, I haven't read a lot of the Qur'an. But, I have had occasions to read bits of it. The Qur'an, to me, reads too much like the Old Testament. I have to agree with the Muslim haters out there that, misinterpreted, it could be a very dangerous text. However, I don't see it as any more or less dangerous than the Old Testament. Have you ever really read the book of Leviticus? C'mon. What could be scarier? Lastly, the thing about Muhammad being Allah's last (and I guess that means best) prophet isn't something I could not accept. In my opinion, the Qur'an (which was reportedly dictated by an angel to Muhammad) and Muhammad himself get too high of a status in Islam- similar to the way Christians give the Bible too high a status in Christianity. And similar to the way some Christians equate Yeshua/Isa/Jesus with G-d. Whenever you give a book or even a man too high a status, you're approaching idolatry-putting the written word or the words of a man on par with us individually and continually hearing from G-d. I've run away from it in Christianity, I certainly couldn't embrace it in Islam. I think G-d is still speaking and is always speaking. Declaring a particular prophet to be the best or the last or saying a book (any book) is "THE WORD of GOD" limits G-d and cuts off seeking further revelation which we always need, IMO.

So, as you can see, I don't defend Islam because I think it's the greatest religion in the world. My personal feelings about Islam have nothing to do with my defense of Islam or the rights of Muslims to practice it without having people protest every single mosque they try to build. My friends keep pointing out to me human rights abuses in Muslim run countries. I don't deny that nor do I shy away from it. Women are treated atrociously in many Muslim countries. Gays are stoned. Non-Muslims are not allowed to worship or to even have places of worship. It's really not good in many ways. However, I have a couple of things to say about that. I don't think we can blame that on Islam, exclusively. Christianity has its own history of abuse of women, blacks, gays, non-Christians, etc., etc. We have burned people as witches. Children are still killed for being witches in Africa. I think the problems we see with Islam around the world are more a product of the abuses that happen when yo have theocracies than they are problems particular to Islam. When Christianity got mixed in with state power, we saw some very ugly things. Imagine if America was run by Fred Phelps or Reverend Terry Jones? Can you imagine those guys waving the book of Leviticus around and writing the 10 Commandments as the law of the land? Some Arab countries are run by some pretty nutty guys who are trying to run things based on a book that they see as the WORD of G-d. What do you think Fred Phelps would do if he had the kind of power some of the Arab Imams have? No wonder we see stonings (also commanded by the Bible), amputations and beheadings. It's what happens when you try to take literally a book written in a completely different era. We are fortunate our Founding Fathers saw this possibility and nipped it in the bud.

That covers Islam in Islam run countries. Now, let's talk about Muslim Americans- who are bearing the brunt of this wave of Islamaphobia. Muslim Americans have contributed and continue to contribute to our society as much as anyone else has. They died with us on 9/11. They fight along side us everyday in Afghanistan. Their spiritual disciplines and their belief in the commandments of the Qur'an makes them excellent law abiding citizens. It's tragic that we associate them with the few nuts in Al Qaeda, allowing a population of probably maybe a few thousand to destroy the reputation and the faith of a population of over 1.5 billion. There are more than five times the number of Muslims in the world as there are Americans; and we judge them on the basis of the extreme beliefs and actions of not enough people to even fill a football stadium or a basketball arena. No one really knows how big Al Qaeda is. But, I've seen an estimate of around 10,000. Sounds like a lot until you divide 10,000 by 1,500,000,000 and realize that maybe around one out of 150,000 Muslims is an Al Qaeda member. Based on the actions of 19 men, on a day 9 years ago, many of us are willing to trash the entire faith of 1.5 billion people. There are only 30 people at the Dove Worldwide Outreach Center (the pastor who wants to burn the Qur'an). How would we feel if the Muslim world judge all of us based on their actions? I'm not equating burning a book with actually killing people. But, what if they even went as far as to go killing Muslim? Would we think it reasonable to judge out entire country based on those actions?
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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

September 11th and Muslim Celebrations

In celebration of Eid ul-Fitr, Guantanamo’s Mu...Image via Wikipedia
In an unfortunate coincidence, the end of Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting) falls on September 10th this year.  Why is that unfortunate? Because immediately following Ramadan, Muslims (understandably) have celebrations.  And any Muslim celebration on or near September 11th is going to be fuel for the fire of Islamphobia because we are going to be told Muslims are celebrating their "conquest" of September 11, 2001.

Ramadan is a month of self-denial where Muslims fast from sun-up to sundown having nothing to eat and drink (not even water).  It is a very difficult spiritual discipline and when it's over, it's time for Eid ul-Fitr (or simply Eid).  

Eid is celebrated in different ways in different parts of the world.  My understanding is our local Islamic Center wants to have a day at Kings Island to celebrate.  But, in sensitivity, they have decided to work around September 11th (this coming Saturday).  It's too bad they have to even think of doing that.

In the United States, Eid is typically marked by:

Most of the Muslims in the USA take a day off from work and go to prayer in big city Islamic centers, convention halls, or open parks. Muslims from different cultures with multi-national costumes get together for prayers and celebrations. In some cities, prayers are done in multiple times to accommodate all the people. Generally, people visit each others houses on the Eid day. During the weekend of the Eid week, Muslims join big parties sponsored either by Islamic center or a wealthy Muslim in a community. Children receive gifts. Delicious sweets and spicy dishes are served. Wealthy Muslims donate money to less fortunates. Sometimes, Muslims reserve amusement parks or Ice-Skating Rinks for a whole day fun and celebration. 

So, get ready.  Soon we'll be hearing that Muslims around the world are celebrating the murders that took place on September 11th. In actuality, they will be celebrating the end of a very difficult month of spiritual discpline.

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers- Book Review

Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers: No More Unnecessary Biopsies, Radical Treatment of Loss of Sexual Potency may turn out to be one of the most important books you will ever read.  Frankly, this is not a book I would have picked up had I not been given the invitation to review it for Amazon.com.  Fortunately, for me, I was asked to review it. Prostate cancer is fairly common among men, particularly among African-American men.  Within the past couple of years both my father and an uncle have had their prostates removed due to a diagnosis of cancer.  I'm about to turn 50 and the chances of me being diagnosed with prostate cancer increase with each passing year (as they do for all men).  I wish I had read this book before my father was diagnosed.  My father suffered from minor complications from the surgery (as far as I know).  My uncle nearly died from a problem with his surgery, major blood loss.  Unfortunately, we're not the type of family to discuss this stuff in intimate details.  And, the complications from prostate surgery gone wrong are pretty intimate.  So, I will probably never know if they have long term complications. I do know my father suffered from the two most common complications for at least a while after his surgery. Those complications, temporary and permanent, are way too common for my taste.

The book is co-written by an oncologist who works with a lot of prostate cancer patients and a lay person who has lived with prostate cancer for 20 years.  The cancer patient, Ralph Blum, has a great sense of humor and keeps the book light enough to be almost enjoyable reading.  The book is packed with statistics and medical facts, as is necessary.  But, the human side of coping with this disease is never forgotten.  

Before reading the book, I realized that prostate cancer was generally a slo moving cancer.  I had heard that most men diagnosed with prostate cancer in their 60s or 70s will die with the disease rather than from the disease.  However, as I've been wondering how I'd deal with the diagnosis, I knew that my attitude would be a "just get it out of me" attitude.  I don't want to live with prostate cancer, I want to get rid of it.   I know, if I hadn't read this book, I would say "Just get it out of me.  NOW!"  I think that attitude is common among men.  Another common thing for us to do when sitting across from an expert is to ask the question "Doc, what would you do?"  I sat down with my uncle a few weeks ago and asked him to tell me a little about his experience.  He told me that after the urologist confirmed his prostate cancer, he immediately said "OK, if you were me and you had just been told what I was  just told, what would you do?"  What I didn't realize, and I don't think a lot of men really think about is, a urologist is a surgeon.  If you ask a surgeon what he would do and surgery is an option, what do you think he's most likely to say?

Prostate cancer can be divided into three types, low risk disease, medium risk disease and high risk disease.  With current diagnostic methods, you can pretty much determine which type of cancer you have.  Only if you have high risk disease do you need to be in any hurry to do any treatment at all.  On the other end of the scale, low risk disease is probably best treated with "active surveillance".  In other words, no radiation, no surgery, no chemicals, just monitoring it. The book describes treating this type of prostate cancer as a chronic condition and even goes so far as to say it might be better to come up with another name other than "cancer" because of the terrifying connotation of the word cancer.  In the case of low risk prostate cancer, the cure is worse than the  disease.  Whether you go with surgery or radiation, the chances of permanent side effects like impotence and urinary incontinence are extremely high- shockingly so to me (and there are some other pretty bizarre complications that are possible).  Even with the newer ways of doing radiation and with robotic surgery, the chances of permanent side effects are still pretty great.  In most cases, the chances of those complications are much greater than the chance of actually dying from prostate cancer.  When we hear cancer, I think most of us immediately think "death" and anything is better than death. So, when we hear there's say a 60% chance that we'll be impotent for at least 18 months after surgery, we might think "Better to be impotent than dead."  But, what if you didn't have to be either?

Ralph was diagnosed at the age of 58.  He's one of those guys who asked a bunch of questions before undergoing any procedure.  Turns out, that was a good thing. In the 20 years since he was diagnosed prostate cancer treatment has grown by leaps and bounds.  He's had a few treatments over the years but nothing radical.  He's had 20 good years with his wife because of his refusal to rush into treatment.  Sure, there is a chance that if he had the surgery 20 years ago, he might have had a good outcome. But, the chances are greater today than they were than and he has more treatment options.  The treatments available today weren't even thought of 20 years ago.  One of the most important messages of this book is that, if you get a diagnosis of prostate cancer, time is actually on your side.  The advances in treatment are growing at a rate faster than the disease in most men.  For example, there are ways of blocking testosterone (fuel for prostate cancer) that virtually halts the disease in its tracks.

Hopefully, I won't need this book anytime soon.  But, just in case I do, I'm going to keep it tucked away.  There is a ton of information on different treatments, everything from the truly bizarre to the conventional to cutting edge advances.  There is information on the right type of diet to eat should you be diagnosed.  One thing I know for sure now, if and when I am diagnosed I don't intend to panic and rush into surgery or radiation therapy or even a biopsy.   And, I won't ask a urologist "What would you do?"  I recommend that every man over the age of 40 read this book and get informed about prostate cancer.  If there's a type of cancer you do want to have, this is the one.  It's important to make sure that you don't make a mistake and opt for a treatment that is actually worse than the disease.   For any man in your life that's really important to you, this book would make an excellent gift.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lord Save Us From Your Followers

Cover of "Lord, Save Us From Your Followe...Cover via Amazon
I just watched a really very good film called "Lord Save Us From Your Followers". My favorite line from the movie (actually a quote from St. Augustine delivered by Tony Campolo) was "The church is a whore. And she is my mother.". I love that line. The church has done so much damage over the centuries. The church has "broken her marriage vows to Jesus" (as Tony phrased it) and has not been loyal to His ideals. But, if it weren't for the church I would know nothing about Jesus, I would not have the Bible. The church has been vital in preserving the gospel of Jesus. The interesting thing about Christianity is that while there are a lot of people who don't like Christianity or Christians, there are very, very few people who don't admire Jesus.
From the website:
If you were to meet ten average Americans on the street, nine of them would say they believe in God. So why is the Gospel of Love dividing America?
Dan Merchant put on his bumper-sticker-clad jumpsuit and decided to find out why the Gospel of Love is dividing America. After talking with scores of men and women on streets all across the nation, and also interviewing many well-known active participants in today’s “Culture Wars,” Dan realized that the public discussion of faith doesn’t have to be contentious.
Lord, Save Us From Your Followers is a fast-paced, highly engaging documentary that explores the collision of faith and culture in America. After seeing Lord, Save Us From Your Followers, you’ll never talk about faith the same way again!

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I thought the movie would be a hatchet job of all the ways Christians and the church have screwed up (and continue to screw up). I was pleasantly surprised. I think the movie was a good, frank look at the good, the bad and the ugly of Christians and Christianity and there was a lot of good in there. He also takes on the "culture wars" in America and I found that part to be also very, very good. The movie is filled with news clips and interviews from both Christian and non-Christian sources. A couple of my favorite moments were the confession booth that Dan Merchant (the filmmaker) set up at a gay festival. The confessions though were reversed. He confessed to the gay participants in the parade his sins and the sins of the church against gay people. (if you've read Blue Like Jazz you've heard of this type of confession booth before). The reaction of the people was fascinating. Another really cool social experiment was a family feud challenge between liberal/elite types and conservative types. The test was to see how much they each understood about current culture. I won't spoil it for you by giving you the outcome.
Overall, I found the movie to be inspirational and uplifting and I think it's a good movie for both Christians and non-Christians to see. I do recommend it.
p.s.- I think the movie was in theaters last fall. You can buy it on DVD now and you can get a license to show it in your church. I'm cheap. I watched it on Netflix.
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