Donald Andrew Henson II

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

One Month Milestone

In Uncategorized on May 31, 2012 at 12:43 am

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Well, I’m proud to say that American Secularist is off to a good start. I started the blog the last week of April, so I’ve been going for just over a month.

In that short period of time, there have been 900 views – an average of about 30 a day. People from over a dozen countries have stumbled across what I’ve written, and 36 people have decided to follow the blog – thanks to all of you – please share it with your friends if you are enjoying what you read.

I’ve posted a little more often that I thought I might be able to, averaging a post every other day. That might be a bit too much for most to swallow per week, so I may experiment with taking that down to 2-3 times per week; we’ll see – I’ve got a lot to say.

Some of you are following by email, while others are following through WordPress. I personally think that the best way is to ‘like’ my page on Facebook, at  http://www.facebook.com/americansecularist. By following this way, you’ll be notified of posts as soon as they’re published. In addition, I’ll be sharing daily videos, links, and other media on Facebook that is on topic and that I think you’ll enjoy.

If you have an iPad or iPhone, take a second or two to search for American Secularist via your Safari browser, and copy a shortcut to this page – an icon will be created (the handsome photo of Mr. Holyoake, below) that will function as an app to quickly bring up the home page whenever you tap it.

I’m afraid I’m going to be terribly busy for a day or two, so I probably won’t get to write – but I’m looking forward to blogging the Epistle of James next – and I have a few ideas about the relationship between reading and divine revelation that I’m developing as well.

Again, please comment on what I’ve written; I’m hoping to start a conversation, not a monologue!

 

Madagascar milestone

1 Thessalonians 5

In Blogging the Bible, Blogging the New Testament on May 29, 2012 at 12:30 am
Thessaloniki Film Festival

Thessaloniki (Photo credit: Recovering Vagabond)

Read 1 Thessalonians 5 here.

In my previous post, I maintained that Paul’s views on the Kingdom of God may have evolved over time – originally, Christ’s followers appeared to have believed that his return was imminent – meaning measured in months, not years. There wasn’t much need to develop an opinion on what might become of someone who converted to Christianity and then died of old age before Jesus’ return. As the years rolled by and people began to die off, the need arose. I suspect that Paul meditated / prayed /thought it over, and decided that Jesus’ resurrection was a precursor to that of believers – the ‘first fruits’ doctrine that he develops later in his letter to the Corinthians.

Conservative Bible commentaries seem to abhor the idea that Paul may have developed this doctrine later, as the situation arose. Most seem to explain 1 Thessalonians 4.13-17 by saying that Paul was simply telling the Thessalonians something he had neglected to mention to them before. I find this implausible. To teach a resurrected Christ without mentioning the promise of resurrection to deceased believers just doesn’t seem likely.

It seems much more likely to me that his central message for two decades had been Christ’s immediate return to set up a kingdom. I think the part about the dead in Christ rising first was something he came up with as the situation changed. This is not to say he made it up necessarily; if you’re a believer, you might think that he simply received further enlightenment from the Holy Spirit. I’m not sure why many commentary writers feel the need to insist that he had simply neglected to inform his flock of so critical a piece of information.

In chapter 5, Paul again returns to the topic of the return of Christ, and the sparing of believers from the coming wrath. It seems to me that it is a topic never far from his mind as the wrote this letter. He tells them to forget about trying to predict the exact time or day when Jesus would be coming back; it wasn’t something that was possible to do. This hasn’t deterred many of his followers from trying to do so over the centuries. Seems the last guy to do so was sometime within the last year or so.

Basically, Jesus is going to sneak up on everyone – just when they think things are going pretty well, he’ll return. However, Christians are not to be caught unaware, for they are to live their lives in a constant state of preparedness for his return. He may not come back tomorrow, but believers should live as if he will.

Again, I would take issue with those who might neglect their civic duty in a democratic government due to their belief that Jesus is going to come back and fix everything. I believe the problems that we face as Americans are quite fixable, so long as everyone is truly interested in fixing them. If a large proportion of the population feel that the purpose of government is to prepare for Jesus’ return – not to try and create a better society – then America suffers due to their belief. Even if you think Jesus is coming back, you shouldn’t stand in the way of progress. What if he waits another 2000 years?

I’ve found several things in this letter that I think do potential harm to American democracy, but finally, here at the end, is some advice that, if taken, would actually improve it.

Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.  Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

Imagine if we always strove to do what is good for each other and everyone else – what a brilliant democracy we would have. Why is it that we seem to be only looking at what’s best for us personally, or what fits into our particular worldview, instead of what would be good for America? Paul’s admonition to be positive is also not bad advice, as long as we don’t insist that problems don’t exist.

He ends the letter with instructions that prophecy not be treated with contempt; that is, allow people to say ‘thus sayeth the Lord’, but to ‘test’ what they say, and to hold on to the good prophecies and forget the others. However, he doesn’t really spell out what kind of test would be appropriate, and this is troubling. How am I supposed to know when someone is really speaking for God, or when they are just a little stirred up about something themselves? For the average believer, it usually boils down to accepting the prophecies they agree with, and neglecting the ones that might actually require them to change their views.

I actually had one believer tell me, just today, that when she was unsure whether the ‘voice’ she heard in her mind was God or just her own, she might ask God to give her a sign – through her dog, if I understood her correctly. Pardon me if I sound dismissive, but in a democracy, I’d rather folks use the mind God gave them to make important decisions, and not seek out canine oracles. But I guess if  in the Old Testament, God spoke to Balaam through an ass, he must speak through dumb-asses today.

And finally, I don’t know what a holy kiss is – but I’m glad that’s one custom of the early church that didn’t make it to the 21st century.

1 Thessalonians 3-4

In Blogging the Bible, Blogging the New Testament, Religion and Society on May 28, 2012 at 12:11 am

Read 1 Thessalonians 3 here.

I’ve been distracted this week by events in the news and other ideas I’ve come across – so I’m happy today to get back to blogging the NT.

Many Christians have encouraged me to look at the Bible chapter by chapter, and to ignore the ‘crazies’ like those behind the events in North Carolina over the past few weeks. I’ll agree that the folks making all the news aren’t spending as much time reading their Bibles as they are listening to their leaders – or they are selecting a few favorite verses to support their own pet theories.

The third chapter of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians doesn’t have as much ‘spiritual’ content as the other chapters. Basically, it’s Paul talking about how they were unable to visit Thessaloniki due to persecution, and how they worried that the church might not continue in their absence. Timothy is somehow able to get back in touch, so Paul and Silas are incredibly happy to hear that the church is still thriving.

Paul seems to know what every local pastor today knows as well – faith will flounder if it isn’t talked up on a regular basis. You’d think that such phenomenal revelation of truth would stand up to almost anything. But it seems that if you are left to your own devices for a short time, without any other Christians around, you’ll tend to lose interest. Now I know this can be said of pretty much any group, from bowling leagues to Shriners; the difference is that the gospel is supposed to be powerful – powerful enough to at some point raise us up from the dead. Why does it require a pep talk twice on Sundays and at least once or twice the rest of the week to keep people even minimally engaged?

Paul closes the chapter with another reference to the impending return of Christ – more on this in the next chapter.

Chapter 4 seems to be the real thrust of the whole letter, containing the one or two doctrinal ideas that caused Paul to write the letter in the first place. Timothy must have reported at least an instance or two of sexual immorality between the Thessalonian church members, because Paul seems to be saying, “hey, I know we said that you were to love one another – but that’s not exactly what we had in mind.” He admonishes them to control their bodies when it comes to sexual practices, not to act like pagans. He lets them know that anyone who sleeps around is not disobeying Paul, but disobeying God.

The paralia (promenade) at Aristotelous Square...

Promenade at Aristotelous Square in Thessaloniki

Modern Christians have adopted the idea that your average non-believing Roman lead the life of Caligula – but this isn’t necessarily true. It does seem that citizens of the Roman empire had an obsession with sex, and that many did lead what we would consider immoral lives. However, there are also many Greek and Roman teachers who favored chastity outside of marriage as well – it is not an idea unique to the Judeo-Christian faith.

Believing in Jesus and morality do not necessarily go hand in hand, and Paul knows it. Many of the letters to the churches address the issue; apparently sexual immorality was a big problem – as it is in today’s churches. The power of the gospel doesn’t really seem to help people change to the extent that you would think it could. Adding to this dilemma is the fact that there are people who don’t even believe in God who live lives of higher morality than many Christians.

Some of you will say something about Christians not being perfect or about not judging the church by its worst members or something of the like. But I would respond that if the results are little different from what might be found in any other creed, than the teachings themselves are little if any better.

Paul moves on to encourage his flock to lead a quiet life and work with their hands. Apparently, because they expected Jesus to appear in the clouds at any time, some believers had simply quit working. Why break your back putting away food for next winter if Jesus was going to come back before then? Paul lets them know that they should continue about their daily lives and not become a financial burden to others. This stance might be evidence of the growing suspicion that Jesus wasn’t going to come back as soon as everyone thought.

Bible scholars believe that verse 13 is further evidence of this pivotal shift in early Christian thinking. For two decades, the apostles had been preaching that Jesus was coming soon – and by soon, there’s no doubt they all felt that it was definitely in their own lifetimes. As I said earlier, this is one reason nothing was written about Christ’s life immediately after his death. Now, however, enough time had passed that some believers were beginning to die off – before Christ’s return. This seemed to contradict what they had believed, that Jesus was coming back to set up a new order, and that they would all be part of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

So Paul tells them that he does not want them to be ignorant of what God’s plan is, nor to grieve without hope of the God’s kingdom. He tells them that, upon Christ’s return, the dead believers will rise first, then those who are still alive will rise to meet them. They don’t have to worry that those who died since becoming believers would miss out on anything at all.

Paul’s choice of words in verse 17 make me a bit sad for him – and for the countless others like him as the centuries have rolled by. Notice he doesn’t say that after the dead in Christ rise, “those” who are still alive will be taken up; he says “we” who are still alive will be taken up. There’s no question that Paul was 100 percent sure that Jesus would come back in his lifetime.

I can’t help but wonder how heavily this misplaced faith hung upon him just before the Romans lopped his head off. Or how many others have died in astonishment that Jesus had not come for them.