Religion

The Lord’s Army

Have you ever been to a military ceremony? I’m not just talking funerals – although, unfortunately, that is the most common event anyone not married into or born of a military family will go to – but, if you’ve ever been to a “Welcome Back ceremony” (the frustratingly long ceremony that precedes the big ol’ kiss your about to give your husband/wife/partner after he/she deployed for a year) or an awards ceremony or even a FRG meeting (which stands for Family Readiness Group and consists of mostly stereotypical military wives) you have experienced the prayer.

Ah, yes. The prayer that comes during a government-funded event by a government-funded entity. Nothing more constitutional, eh?

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While the US military is starting to do a better job at being more accepting and tolerant of their soldiers’ religion, gender identity and sexual orientation, they still seem stuck in Christianity and won’t seem to let it go. They hide behind the façade of religious tolerance by expanding the number of religions you can now state on your dog tags and by creating and allowing soldiers to wear military issued Yamakas  and other religious paraphernalia, and yet, they seem to only ever recite Christian prayers to a Christian god at any public event or even, as I am told by my husband, who served in the Army for 8 years, right before going out on a mission overseas. (As a side note, only up until recently have you been able to put “Atheist” on your dog-tags as opposed to just, “None” in the space dedicated to religious affiliation. It’s great that you can now state it, but a bummer that not only did it take a while to be able to do so, but also that it  was allowed around the same time you could state, “Jedi” as your religious affiliation as well… Seriously).

It is one thing to have a government funded military tolerant and accepting of all religions (as I think it should be) but it is quite another for that government entity to then endorse a specific religion by encouraging and leading its members in practice of it. I have been to a lot of military functions and not once has an event started or ended in a Jewish prayer recitation, a Muslim call to prayer, or a devotional Buddhist meditation. Not once.

So what is the point of doing it at all? Why not offer a moment of silence instead, in which anyone can pray or not pray to who or what they want? Or, better yet, why not just avoid the whole thing altogether and let everyone practice their religion on their own time? God forbid that happen. God forbid we forbid god!

Most people who I spoke to in the military never even thought about why they pray at these events or whether they were even OK with it. In fact, the only real reason anyone has even presented to me as to why it is done is that the majority of soldiers and their families (at least in the Army anyways) practice the Christian faith. It makes sense when you think about where, geographically, the majority of the US Army bases are located. They are all over the South and the Mid-West and typically nowhere near either an ocean or a big city (for obvious reasons). These places are known for being in the “Bible-Belt” and have sub-standard education requirements and despicable graduation rates. They breed small-mindedness and encourage ignorance. So, it makes sense that the majority of the people who spend their lives in these places would eventually, if they weren’t already, conform to the lifestyle.

I have never been for the notion or the practice that the “majority rules” and, politics aside, I don’t think that just because the majority of a country or a platoon or a company is one religion, that it should trump all others. You should either do something that pleases all and offends none (which is practically impossible to do) or just do nothing at all (again, not applicable to politics).

The point of not saying a prayer is to respect all people and their beliefs, not to suppress free speech and ideas. It baffles me how people, namely Christians, view the request to omit prayer as a persecution and not a call for respect and compassion. Don’t even get me started on the supposed “War on Christmas” conservative Christians in this country constantly complain about (if you are unfamiliar with this crazy phenomenon, let me know and I’ll enlighten you!).

The most frustrating thing about all of this is that my husband and I have to sit through a Christian prayer yet the military chooses not to practice any other aspect of the religion. Here are just a few examples:

1. Soldiers are often made to work on Sundays.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” Exodus 20:8-10

2. Soldiers in battle are as young as 18 years old.

“So all who were numbered of the children of Israel, by their fathers’ houses, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war in Israel—” Numbers 1:45

3. According to Wikipedia, there have been 848,163 deaths in war since 1776 and 1,531,036 soldiers wounded. (source) And that’s just in America.

“When you go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the Lord your God, and you will be saved from your enemies.” Numbers 10:9

“When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 20:1

4. Newlywed soldiers are not excused from deployment or long-term training.

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“When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” Deuteronomy 24:5

However, when it comes to seeking guidance, they go back to the teachings of Christianity. When a soldier deploys and they have a personal issue they have two choices: 1) Talk to their boss, or 2) talk to a neutral member of their company that isn’t going to start treating them differently or holding what they discuss together against them. This neutral member, however, is the Chaplain. That’s it. Talk to your boss (yikes) or talk to the preacher. Now, if you were an atheist having trouble adjusting to your deployment and the facts of war, who would you go to for help and talk to besides your friends? Probably no one.

I’m completely against any and all endorsements of religion by the US government, whether intended or not. And I am especially against half-assing it. If you are going to endorse a religion, do it all the way. And, if you’re not, don’t even let the thought of any type of religion or religious practice come up in public events or affect others in any way. The same goes for individuals as well. If you are going to say you are a Christian or a Muslim or a Scientologist well then be one! Don’t pick and choose what parts of your chosen religion are convenient for you. And, if you do, don’t you DARE tell me or anyone else that we are in the wrong. That’s just hypocritical.

I do have to say that the ONLY time I enjoyed an Army prayer was during the “Welcome Back” ceremonies. Hundreds of horrible smelling guys (my husband was in the infantry so there were very few, if any, women attached to his units) all wearing exactly the same thing, walking in exactly the same way and standing in the exact same formation made it near impossible to spot my husband’s face in the crowd. As soon as they would announce the prayer though, all the sheep heads would bow in unison and there would be my husband’s handsome face. I could spot him in an instant and run straight into his arms when the ceremony was over. If there’s anything in the world that can get me to look forward to a prayer, that moment is it.

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Ridiculous Religion: Scientology

I had to start another mini-series highlighting some of the other more interesting religions in the world because, let’s face it, Christianity is not the only one! I figured the best way to start this series is with one of the more ridiculous religions out there: Scientology.

What it’s all about:

Scientology was created by a man named L. Ron Hubbard who, after writing a sort-of self-help book called, Dianetics, determined that his findings were the foundation for a new religion. Dianetics was a psychotherapy book which used the method of auditing as a counseling technique to help people recall traumatic events. Through recalling these traumatic experiences, people were then able to become aware of and release their conscious or unconscious, negative responses to them — a process known as clearing. e-meter_0

These techniques are put to practice in the Scientology religion using Auditors and E-Meters. Auditors are higher level operating thetans (otherwise know as OTs) who are trained and trusted with helping pre-clears (those who have not cleared yet) discover their full spiritual potential. E-Meters are religious artifacts that send tiny electric pulses through one’s body, calculate the response and reflect that response back to the machine using a sensitive, reactive needle. The Church of Scientology describes the E-Meter as follows:

“The E-Meter measures the spiritual state or change of state of a person and thus is of enormous benefit to the auditor in helping the preclear locate areas to be handled. The reactive mind’s hidden nature requires the use of a device capable of registering its effects—a function the E-Meter does accurately. Different needle movements have exact meanings and the skill of an auditor includes a complete understanding of all meter reactions. Using the meter, the auditor ensures that the process covers the correct area in order to discharge the harmful energy connected with that portion of the preclear’s reactive mind. When charge lessens, the person heightens his ability to think clearly in the area being addressed and his survival potential increases proportionately. As a result, the preclear discovers things about himself and his life—new realizations about existence, the milestones that mark his gains.” (source)

After a person completes this auditing process and “clears” they then begin to move up to different levels within the religion. Different levels of people know different things and each level provides more knowledge, techniques and answers for why we are here and what we are meant to do. Each level is sworn to complete secrecy and before the records were released as evidence in a court case in 1995, no one really knew what Scientologists actually believed. The church claimed the secrecy was/is to prevent those who were not yet ready from being exposed to the information and taking it out of context. That information? Buckle your seat belts kids because here we go:

I mentioned the word, Thetan previously and you all are probably curious as to what that is. Well, a thetan is you — your essence, your soul. It is “the individualized expression of the cosmic source, or life force.” (source) A long, long time ago, thetans created the material universe for their own pleasure. They did not create it in the sense that it was then physically there, but in the sense that they all agreed it was there and therefore, it was. When the thetans began to believe in their universe and feel that it was a physical reality, they fell from grace and lost their memory of their true spiritual selves. This resulted in the thetans believing that they were physical beings. Thetans never die but are instead reborn when they “assume” new physical forms. According to L. Ron Hubbard, there have been various cosmic catastrophes imparted on the fallen thetans that he refers to as “space opera.”

So, how did humans come to Earth to be assumed by thetans you ask? The answer is obvious:

Xenu, a tyrant ruler of the galactic confederacy, brought billions of people to Earth 75 million years ago on planes, landed them by volcanos and then detonated hydrogen bombs causing the thetans to attach themselves to those humans that were still alive.

I’m serious. You can’t make that shit up. Well… I guess L. Ron Hubbard can.

Anywho, that event was the initial cause of all human trauma and as each thetan assumes body after body, each traumatic event experienced while in that body is brought forward to the next. People who reach higher OT levels are able to tap into all of these traumatic events (the ill effects of the thetan) and release them, allowing themselves to be more in tune with their original spiritual presence. The idea is that they become more and more in-tune with their spiritual presence as they assume body after body. There is even a Scientology symbol carved into the ground in Trementina, New Mexico that marks a spot for loyal followers to return back to when traveling from other galactic locations. This symbol is visible from the air and, buried beneath it, are stainless steel copies of L. Ron Hubbard’s works encased in titanium for preservation.

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Why it’s harmful to society:

Uh… do I really have to go there? It’s completely ridiculous, that’s why! Ok, ok. Believing that a virgin in the middle east birthed a white baby that walked on water, and healed the sick and dying/already dead, died a mortal, torturous death nailed to a cross but was somehow later strong enough to not only return to life but move a giant boulder away from his grave door (couldn’t use that strength previously to push his way past his prosecutors and torturers to freedom and safety) to float up into the sky and save everyone from the sins that his own father made them commit is just as ridiculous! So, fine. I’ll go there. 🙂

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Arguably the most harmful thing about this religion is that it was thought up entirely by one man and yet gained so much trust amongst its followers that it rapidly grew and continues to grow today. The scriptures consist solely of the writings of L. Ron Hubbard and the teachings/sermons during Sunday services are meant to only help one understand them, not interpret them. Christianity is harmful in the same way except that, at least in this case, we know who the author of the book is and with no room for interpretation, there can only be one sect of Scientology!

Because of its rapid growth and acceptance, Scientology has been regarded (and rightfully so, I believe) as a brainwashing cult. It is by far the most expensive religion to be a part of as each audit, and each OT level require a HUGE amount of money to complete. This tends to be why it appeals only to rich people, including celebrities. Hubbard actually decided early on in the creation of Scientology that celebrities would play a key role in the dissemination of his religion and had his followers go after specific celebrities to initiate conversion.

Scientology is not recognized by some states internationally as being a genuine religion and was even stripped of its religious organization status by America in the 1970’s. It was later reinstated in the 1990’s with its religious, tax-free affiliation after a long, drawn out legal battle ensued. The fact that any state or country would even waiver on the decision of whether a practice is actually a religion or not should be a huge red flag to any potential follower. Religions are wacky anyways, but if it is so wacky that a country won’t even recognize it, you should be even more hesitant to join.

Another harmful idea born out of Scientology is their belief that the practice of psychiatry is harmful and should be abolished. They believe that psychiatrists can not adequately and responsibly help their patients retrieve traumatic experiences and that they are even less capable of helping them deal with these experiences appropriately and in manner that won’t cause further harm to the patient. Scientologists feel that psychiatric practices are abusive and therefore do not seek help from professionals if/when they should.

Why it’s not as bad as the others:

This quote is direct form the Church of Scientology website:

Scientology believes Man to be basically good, not evil. It is Man’s experiences that have led him to commit evil deeds, not his nature. Often, he mistakenly seeks to solve his problems by considering only his own interests, which then causes trouble for both himself and others. Scientology believes that Man advances to the degree that he preserves his spiritual integrity and values and remains honest and decent. Indeed, he deteriorates to the degree that he abandons these qualities.” (source)

Ultimately, the view that humans are basically good is a beneficial one that can only positively progress society. It still holds everyone accountable to themselves, but not just for themselves, for the greater good. The focus of this religion is to become more in-tune with yourself in order to be a more useful and effective member of society. It talks a lot about helping others and making a positive impact on the world.

The Church of Scientology has been responsible for several human rights movements centered around non-discrimination of race, color and creed in either government sanctions or otherwise — which is a good thing. However, their creed talks only about the rights of “men” and makes no real mention of any of the more active human rights campaigns today (i.e. homosexual marriage, women’s equality, etc). So, while they might be on the right track, I doubt the Church of Scientology will be spearheading the success of any big human rights campaign.

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Crazy Christianity: Pentecostalism

What it’s all about:

Pentecostalism was born out of a nine-year movement in Los Angeles called the Azusa Street Revival in which people, led by a preacher named William J. Seymour, experienced dramatic inter-racial worship services that included speaking in tongues, and spiritual experiences involving miracles. (source) Just about every Pentecostal church traces its roots back to this Revival, however, some left the movement with different ideas about the doctrine of the Trinity, leaving the Pentecostal Church largely divided between Trinitarian and non-Trinitarians. Each church is self-governed, however, many are affiliated with the Pentecostal World Fellowship. The latest research (conducted by the a Pew Forum in 2011) “found that there were an estimated 279 million classical Pentecostals, making 4 percent of the total world population and 12.8 percent of the world’s Christian population Pentecostal” making it “the largest Protestant denominational family.” 44% of all Pentecostals are found in Sub-Saharan Africa while 37% are found in the Americas and 16% are in Asia and the Pacific. (source)

The Pentecostal faith, like most Christian faiths, centers completely around the Bible and its inerrancy. The core of their beliefs lie in the Gospels in that through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, all sins can be forgiven. It is a requirement that all Pentecostals be born again through Christ in order to be “adopted into the family of God.” (source) A part of the born again process starts with a baptism, however, the Pentecostals practice three distinct types of baptism. One is the baptism into the body of Christ which turns a believer into a part of Christ’s body through the Holy Spirit — the Holy Spirit is the agent, Christ is the medium. The second one is called a water baptism and is the most recognizable by other Christian faiths. The water baptism is representative of dying to the world and being reborn in Christ. The third method of baptism is called baptism with the Holy Spirit. This method is similar to baptism into the body of Christ except that it is the reversal of methods — Christ now becomes the agent and the Holy Spirit is the medium.

While baptism as viewed by most Christian denominations as being vital to one’s closeness to god and their ability to be “saved”, most Pentecostals do not view baptism as being essential for salvation. Pentecostals also view other things, like the sacraments, much differently than most Christian denominations as well. They refer to the sacraments as ordinances instead as they do not believe that these rituals instituted by Christ are meant to impart grace, but rather to keep a closeness with god. For example, communion is a ritual completed because it is a command given by Christ in order to remember him. An interesting fact about Pentecostal communion is that they reject the use of wine as the blood of Christ and will use grape juice instead. Sorry, kids! No under-age sipping allowed for you!

Laying-on-of-HandsTwo other distinctive beliefs are that of divine healing and divine gifts. Divine healing occurs when a person either prays for himself or another person to be healed. When praying for another person to be healed, the common practice is for the preacher and others to put their hands on that person to represent the healing Jesus imparted while healing others. Another common practice is anointing the sick with olive oil.

Divine gifts can be given to anyone at any time but are most commonly received after one’s baptism. Gifts include the ability to speak in tongues — a gibberish language meant to be a direct line to or from god.

“According to Pentecostal theology, the language spoken (1) may be an unlearned human language, such as the Bible claims happened on the Day of Pentecost, or (2) it might be of heavenly (angelic) origin. In the first case, tongues could work as a sign by which witness is given to the unsaved. In the second case, tongues are used for praise and prayer when the mind is superseded and “the speaker in tongues speaks to God, speaks mysteries, and … no one understands him”. (source)

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A divine gift that can sometimes go along with the gift of tongues is the gift of interpretation by either the speaker or someone else to be able to understand what was just said. This can be important because most Pentecostals believe that sometimes people who speak tongues do so because they have been given the gift of prophecy. While Pentecostals do believe that anyone is capable of receiving a legitimate prophecy, those spoken by people are not regarded as always being the truth; in other words, they realize that those prophecies are susceptible to error. These prophecies are rarely, if ever, predictions of future events but merely spontaneously spoken words meant to give guidance and comfort.

Another gift is the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge. When the gift of the word of wisdom is given, the receiver has a “revelation of the Holy Spirit that applies scriptural wisdom to a specific situation that a Christian community faces.” (source) The gift of the word of knowledge entails the ability of the receiver to know god’s intentions in the life of another person.

 

Why it’s harmful to society:

slain_in_spiritWhile practicing the gift of healing, many preachers will put their hands on someone and violently push them back causing them to fall backwards. Sometimes this is exaggerated by the person being healed so as to imitate “being slain in the spirit” and other times, the preacher literally pushes so hard that they fall. I think this is bad for two reasons: One — people get so wrapped up in this ritual that they make themselves fall backwards (risking injury), convulse on the ground and speak in tongues. All of these are not natural or supernatural occurences but merely the actions of a desperate person acting out what they have seen others do. It’s all fake which makes watching it all the more disturbing. And, imagine being a child and seeing this happen to your parent! How scary that would be! Reason two — these people actually hurt themselves doing this (or allowing it to be done to them)! Sometimes people actually faint and lose consciousness! I think watching this strange practice would be both interesting and disturbing.

A lot of the practices found in the Pentecostal church have made their way into other Christian denominations. Things like lifting your hands in praise to the heavens during prayer and song, speaking in tongues and spontaneously shouting words of praise during sermons. One of my most vivid memories as a young child was being very ill at my grandmother’s house (a self-identified, practicing non-denominational Christian) and having her put her hands on my head and pray over me in tongues. I was so scared because I had never seen my grandmother act so strangely before and I was very confused as to what was going on. It made me very uncomfortable and I have never forgotten that moment. I think experiences like that can be very harmful and scary to children and should either be abstained from around them or explained thoroughly.

Some Pentecostal churches in the southeastern region of the United States practice snake handling during their worship services as a literal interpretation of these verses in the Bible:

“And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” (Mark 16:17-18)

“Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19)

Numerous preachers have been severely injured by the poisonous bites and others have even died from them. While this practice is not very common, it is gaining ground and growing rapidly, forcing states to legislate laws concerning the un-guarded presence of venomous animals in public spaces for their own protection.

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Why it’s not as bad as the others:

Pentecostals believe that baptism is not vital to achieve spiritual salvation which compliments their practice of a “Believer’s Baptism”. This type of baptism is done only to the willing after a profession of faith in Jesus has been made. I think this is good because it gives people the choice to enter into the religion. I have never agreed with infant baptisms (I was baptized as an infant) because I feel that they are presumptuous and selfish. Infant baptisms are for the benefit of the practicing parents, not the child, whereas adult baptisms are for the individual as a profession of and commitment to what they believe in.

Another great aspect of Pentecostalism is the lively church service. Spontaneity is highly regarded in worship which leads to (in my view) hilarious outbursts and interruptions in the middle of sermons and songs. Also, lots of members are “moved by the Holy Spirit” to dance because they are so enraptured with god’s presence. This leads to lots of movement in the aisles with everyone going pretty much bat-shit crazy over the Lord.

Diversity and inter-racial worship is a highly regarded attribute to the Pentecostal church. They believe that no matter race, gender, ethnicity, social class or religious background one is, they are all welcome to worship together and should be treated as one in the same. The downside to this is that they do not include sexual orientation in that list of anti-discriminatory practices and they hold a very strong position in the defense of traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

Crazy Christianity: Seventh-Day Adventist

What it’s all about:

The Seventh Day Adventist church arose out of a movement that took place back in the 1840’s led by a man named William Miller. Miller was a Baptist who self-converted to Adventist after his thorough reading of the Bible led him to discover prophecies of the coming of Christ. He focused mainly on a passage in the book of Daniel:

“Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said to that certain one who was speaking, ‘How long will the vision be, concerning the daily sacrifices and the transgression of desolation, the giving of both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled underfoot?’ And he said to me, ‘For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.’” Daniel 8:13-14

Daniel 8:14 became his obsession (I added verse 13 for a little context) as he tediously calculated (via the very popular day-year principle) that 2300 days really meant 2300 years. He determined that the start date would be 457 B.C. when the decree to rebuild Jerusalem by Artaxerxes I of Persia took place. It was 1818 when Miller made the discovery, through his calculations and interpretations, that the second-coming of Christ would be in 1843. He spent the next few decades honing in on his discovery and eventually began lecturing the public on his findings in 1831. (Source) He gathered and attracted many followers (known as the Millerites) but, after the prophesied date came and went and others attempted to predict new dates based on different calendars and those dates came and went without issue, most of the Millerites fell off the bandwagon and went back to their initial religions.

chmillhpSome Millerites did stay, however. These people decided that the text did not intend to show us the exact date or year in which the coming of Christ would occur, but merely when the cleansing process would begin. These people became known as the Adventists due to their emphasis on the imminent second-coming and later, became known as the Seventh Day Adventists due to their strict observance of the Sabbath Day. The church really took off when a woman named Ellen G. White had a spiritual vision in which she realized that the church needed international expansion. She created a missionary program and “by 1945, the church reported 210,000 members in the US and Canada, and 360,000 elsewhere; the budget was $29 million and enrollment in church schools was 140,000.” (Source)

The problem was most people viewed the church as a cult due to its unorthodox belief systems (the sabbath day is now on a Saturday?!) and its strangely large amount of church leaders living by Arian doctrine. But, after the church adopted the Trinity in the early 20th Century, all was good by the protestants and it began to take an even stronger foothold. (Source)

Today, the Seventh Day Adventist church preaches mostly about how much god loves you and how safe you are in his hands. Their website says things like, “God keeps a family album-and your picture is in it. God loves you and has a plan for your life.” (source) and is constantly reassuring its readers/followers that god is always there for them. They still put a huge emphasis on the Sabbath Day with many of its followers never doing anything secular, whether for leisure or work, on Saturdays outside of church functions and gatherings (I should note that certain things like nature walks and family activities are encouraged on sabbath days). Also, the second coming of Christ is still central to the church in many ways. They teach that death is only a “peaceful pause before the resurrection” saying, “death is almost like a wintery promise of spring.”  (source) They believe (similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses I talked about here) that when you die you are simply awaiting the return of Christ to take you home and the “millennium” of the 1,000 year reign of Christ over Earth will be a time in which all the wicked will be judged.

Some distinctive teachings include the doctrine of an investigative judgement, in which god will individually look back on all the things you have said and done in your life to determine whether or not you are worthy of being saved and continuing on to heaven.

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Also, they include foot washing in their practice of partaking in the Lord’s supper. This is supposed to symbolize the commitment to love others as Jesus loves them. (source) They only initiate the practice of taking the Lord’s supper about 4 times a year, however, and they are made to segregate themselves by gender in order to complete the ritual (although, some married couples are allowed to participate together).

Baptisms are completed with a full body dunk to symbolize “dying to self and coming alive in Jesus. Seventh-day Adventists practice full immersion baptism because by being fully buried beneath the water [they] symbolize that God’s grace fully fills [them] with His new life for the future.” (source)

Why it’s harmful to society:

Seventh Day Adventists are living in a state of constant anticipation for the coming of Christ. I would argue that living in this state would be scary and stressful, especially for children who have a limited understanding of the doctrine. Imagine growing up thinking that your death is imminent and could happen at any moment! Not that this isn’t the case with or without religion, but who in their right mind would remind their children of that? Also, wives are commanded (by the Bible, of course) to be completely submissive to their husbands, however, the church is much more lenient on things like birth control (as long as its intended use is not for abortion purposes) and even abortion if it is being considered for reasons other than birth control, convenience or gender selection.

starving_childrenAnother cause for concern is how rapidly they are spreading. Today, missionaries are reaching people in over 200 countries! As of June 2011, the church was said to have 17,214,683 members with only 7% of them residing in the United States. It is one of the fastest growing religions in the world because of its missionary efforts in developing countries (mostly in Africa and in the Central and Southern Americas). (Source) Is it just me or does it seem wrong to travel to developing countries offering much needed medical attention and food while indoctrinating the people with your religious beliefs? If I was poor, starving, sick and uneducated and someone came offering a remedy to my misfortunes while speaking about the second coming of Christ, I think I would start believing, too!

Another bummer, although not detrimental, would be the sabbath observance on Saturday as opposed to Sunday. Pretty much everything is already closed on Sundays anyway (heck, you can’t even buy a car in the state of Colorado on Sundays!) so wouldn’t it be easier to follow the strict sabbath rules? Think of all the things they are missing out on! But, I guess that isn’t really the point, now is it?

Why it’s not as bad as the others:

Seventh Day Adventists put a huge emphasis on health. Most follow strict diets, with about 35% of members adhering to vegetarianism. They abstain from all foods listed as “unclean” in the Bible as well as alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. They are encouraged to get adequate exercise as well as plenty of rest to take care of their bodies and, because of this, research is finding that Adventists live significantly longer than most people do.

“Research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has shown that the average Adventist in California lives 4 to 10 years longer than the average Californian. The research, as cited by the cover story of the November 2005 issue of National Geographic, asserts that Adventists live longer because they do not smoke or drink alcohol, have a day of rest every week, and maintain a healthy, low-fat vegetarian diet that is rich in nuts and beans. The cohesiveness of Adventists’ social networks has also been put forward as an explanation of their extended lifespan.” (source)

This is a really cool side effect of a really strict doctrine in which I see nothing but good coming to society as a result. Another positive aspect of the Adventist religion is their tolerance for other religions and their firm stance on religious liberty. While some have criticized their seemingly exclusive behaviors, the church has time and time again rebutted with its beliefs that all Christians are doing their best to worship the same god. And, while they may not agree with other practices or interpretations, those religions should be granted the same respect and freedom all Adventists desire. (source)

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Crazy Christianity: Jehovah’s Witnesses

What it’s all about:

Jehovah’s Witnesses are arguably the most strict practicing Christians in today’s society. They believe themselves to be the “true” Christians and reject many popular ideas in other versions of Christianity. They do not believe in hellfire, or the inherent immortality of the soul. They believe that when you die, you are in a state of nonexistence — both physical and spiritual.

armageddonThey believe an Armageddon will occur when satan attacks Jehovah’s Witnesses and god is forced to step in and destroy all governments and those people that do not follow him. Witnesses believe that Armageddon will be triggered by the United Nations (you can’t make this stuff up…) which is represented by the scarlet-colored wild beast of the book of Revelation chapter 17 in the scriptures (source). After Armageddon, god will choose 144,000 of his most loyal, trusting Witnesses to help him lead the Earth which he will transform into a paradise similar to the Garden of Eden and they will serve on his council of government. Those that have died before the Armageddon took place will gradually be resurrected and judged based on their current actions (rather than their past deeds) for a thousand years. After that thousand years has passed, Satan will be sent to Earth one last time to test those left and “the end result will be a fully tested, glorified human race. Christ will then hand all authority back to God.” (source)

Which leads me to the next big difference between Witnesses and most other forms of Christianity: Witnesses do not believe in the trinity. They believe that God (or “Jehovah” derived from the biblical name given to God in the Tetragrammaton JHVH or YHWH) is the creator of all things, the “one true God”, and is therefore the only thing worthy of worship. Jesus, or Christ, is God’s only direct creation and the holy spirit is God’s power in the world. They also believe Satan to be a fallen angel, once perfect in the kingdom of God who now comes to Earth to mislead people and create evil and human suffering.

h2E92B97DWitnesses do not celebrate birthdays, Christmas, Easter or any other “typical” holiday as they believe them to be derived from Pagan rituals and, therefore, not properly representative of their Christian faith. They also refuse to pledge allegiance to any country, take part in any nationalistic celebration or song and vehemently refuse to serve in the military. They do this because they feel that Christianity has no nationality and one’s allegiance should only ever be to God and nothing or no one else. “They consider secular society to be morally corrupt and under the influence of Satan, and most limit their social interaction with non-Witnesses.” (source) This places them in a state of segregation from everyone else (including fellow Christians who are not Witnesses) by choice, until they are called upon to evangelize. All members are required to evangelize and each must submit a monthly log of their activity. If you do not, you can be considered inactive and eventually be “disfellowshipped” and shunned by the community — an act highly dreaded by those that faithfully follow.

Worship involves frequent church meetings on the local level as well as national/international meetings that are more like conventions . They prefer their own translation of the Bible called, New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, and are taught how to read the scriptures by a governing body composed of all men (surprise, surprise) called, The Watch Tower Society. These men create publications that are to be given as much weight as the Bible itself and are not, under any circumstances, to be re-interpreted or challenged in any way (to do so would result in their being immediately disfellowshipped). If one publication comes out as being in disagreement with a previous publication, it is said that God is gradually revealing his will to the Watch Tower Society and they can, therefore, only publish what they know, when they know it.

Why it’s harmful to society:

Jehovah’s witnesses are incredibly strict and un-wavering in their approach to a faithful life and can sometimes take it too far. I was watching a television show in which young, talented musicians were given the opportunity to be the opening act for some of the biggest artists in the music industry. One young man was selected to open for Nikki Minaj, giving him the opportunity to live out his life-long dream and potentially make a name for himself. As a part of the show, they would fly out the family members so that they could be there to share in their child’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with pride and support. However, this poor young man had to experience the happiest moment of his life without the approval of his mother (who happened to be a Jehovah’s Witness) as she refused to take any part in the demonic, worldly concert. She chose a distorted worldview over the happiness of her own son and as a result, he felt abandoned by her and ashamed of his dream. No parent should ever make their child feel this way.

Another thing Witnesses vehemently oppose are blood transfusions. Receiving a blood transfusion is grounds for expulsion from the religion and should always be rejected — even in life and death situations (?!?!?!). They base this belief on their interpretation of Acts 15:28-29 which states,

“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.”

There is zero tolerance for sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, drunkenness, gambling, illegal drugs and tobacco. Witnesses must dress modestly and follow a strict patriarchal home-life in which divorce in only permitted in the case of adultery (per the Bible). Any divorce not a result of adultery (a scriptural divorce) or a legal separation due to excessive abuse or disdain for the union (“absolute endangerment of spirituality”) is considered illegal and any re-marriage considered adultery. “Marrying a non-believer, or endorsing such a union, is strongly discouraged and carries religious sanctions.” (source)

This leads me to the reason I believe the Jehovah’s Witness style of Christianity is most harmful to society: segregation. They segregate themselves and their children from the outside world and all others that are different from them. Their children are never given the opportunity to learn about the world and make decisions about it on their own which causes a great deal of intolerance and un-acceptance. I believe we become better, more fulfilled people when we are surrounded by people who are different from ourselves. I believe that is the only way we can truly learn and grow. Strip that away and we are nothing but the product of our parents and a slave to their ideals.

Believing you are living the “one and only” truth and being completely un-accepting of other beliefs is never a good thing. It’s arrogant and ignorant and when both of those traits come together it almost always spells disaster.

Why it’s not as bad as the others:

(for Violetwisp 🙂 ) Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the only Christian religions that I know of to take the Bible and the teachings of Christ almost completely literally. They jumped in head-first and committed to the entire sha-bang. There is no scripture plucking, no hermeneutics, no personal ideologies, just one way — God’s. As much as I disagree with their worldviews and their decisions to take literally a book filled with awful, harmful things, I have to admire their commitment to a less than wonderful lifestyle all for the sake of what they believe. You will never come across a Jehovah’s Witness apologist, and I like that.

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Crazy Christianity: Christian Science

In an attempt to highlight the many, many different branches that have grown from the tree of Christianity by way of human interpretation, I have decided to start a little mini series spotlighting some of the most interesting ones. I wanted to start with Christian Science since it happens to be one of the most interesting I have come across in quite a while.

What it’s all about:

MARYBAKEREDDYThe Christian Science religion was founded in 1879 by a woman named Mary Baker Eddy. She was sickly most of her life and after suffering a fall that inflicted internal injuries in 1875 she turned to the Bible for answers about her healing. It is at that time she claimed to have come to a working understanding of pain, sickness and injury through reading the scriptures which lead to her speedy 3-day recovery. She wrote a book describing her experiences and revelations, started preaching and putting to practice her new-found healing methodologies and the church was built 4 years later.

The basic premise of Christian Science is that the immortal, material world is an illusion in which we fall victim to suffering and illness. Matter is not real; only the spiritual world is real and can be accessed through prayer. They believe that “sickness and death are illusions caused by mistaken beliefs, and that the sick should be treated by a special form of prayer intended to correct those beliefs, rather than by medicine.” (Source)

These beliefs, as you can imagine, are incredibly controversial and potentially very dangerous. In fact, “between the 1880s and 1990s the avoidance of medical care and vaccination led to the deaths of a number of adherents and their children; several parents and others were prosecuted for manslaughter or neglect, and in a few cases convicted.” (Source) The modern Christian Science church takes a different stance on healthcare today in which they do not advocate for the complete non-use of medical treatment, but instead advises its followers to pray about what option they should take and make a decision that best fits their family’s needs (which almost always leads to a decision not to utilize modern medicinal treatment).

The_First_Church_of_Christ,_Scientist,_BostonChristian Science churches do not have pastors or reverends as typical Christian churches do. Actually, Mary Baker Eddy ordained the Bible and her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, as the pastor of the church. There is one main church located in Boston (called the Mother Church since it was the first location) and many branches throughout the world. Each week, every church studies the exact same lesson from the Bible. They meet on Wednesdays to discuss with each other how the lesson has affected their lives and to share stories about how the lesson has healed them in some way. Then, they meet on Sundays for a church service in which that particular lesson is read aloud; there is no personal sermon given by any leader.

Ultimately, the followers of this religion believe that Jesus was able to heal people and even bring them back to life because of his closeness with and un-wavering trust in God. They believe that if they pray and develop a closeness with God as well, that they will then be able to heal themselves and others. While they know that they will never achieve the kind of closeness Jesus had to God, they believe that they can certainly approach it.

Why it’s harmful to society:

This religion requires complete trust in god to heal and prevent all illnesses which can and have lead to more than a few very avoidable deaths and/or complications. Many children suffer the consequences of not being vaccinated or actively treated for their illnesses in the appropriate ways causing their otherwise well-meaning parents to be accused of (and rightfully so) neglect.

This is one of those religions in which someone had an idea about the Bible and wrote their own supplementary text with the intention that they be read together. These authors, while most vehemently deny any parallels or comparisons between themselves and god, almost always believe that their writing is just as important as that of the Bible. I find it strange that someone with the capacity to believe the Bible to be a divine text with all of the answers one will ever need in it could also believe that some random person has the ability to write a guidebook or a partner book that describes the correct interpretation and how you should live your life accordingly.

A lot can be said for the healing powers of the mind. Many studies are being published about the affects one’s mindset can have on that person’s ability to heal and many cancer patients can attest to these seemingly miraculous cures. We already know that things like pain can be attributed almost entirely to that particular person’s idea of it which explains why some people enjoy hanging from the ceiling with hooks stuck through the skin on their backs and others can be completely crippled by a stubbed toe. However, to attribute these natural brain phenomenons to a divine deity is incredibly ignorant and dangerous. For minor illnesses and injuries I believe it is perfectly acceptable to resort to any type of treatment one feels is best for either themselves or their family, whether natural, homeopathic, divine, medicinal, etc. However, for life-threatening illnesses and injuries I believe, especially in the case of children who are unable to make medical decisions on their own, the power of healing through one’s mind (or prayer as the Christian Scientist will believe) should be used in conjunction with any and all modern remedies and solutions available; anything less is just plain irresponsible.

Sleepy Jesus

This Jesus character in the Bible was one hard-working dude. With non-stop miracle-making, parable telling (and explaining), interviews with the press and recruitment of new fans, Jesus worked day and night doing everything any celebrity would do short of opening a Twitter account. So, it’s no wonder that he was exhausted! I mean, Jesus had to sleep too and when he slept, he must have slept hard. Like, dead to the world hard. In this story, however, it is debatable whether Jesus was actually exhausted or if he was just stoned. Unfortunately, we’re unable to complete an autopsy and do a drug test due to the fact that there is no physical evidence of Jesus ever existing at all. But, these are minor details and I digress.
my-weed-fuck

(Moses thought god burned his weed when in reality god used fake flames (you know, like the ones used in The Hunger Games) to make Moses think it was unusable so he could save it for his son’s future consumption. I mean, it was some good stuff — the best. And who deserves the best more than the son of god? That’s right — no one.)

Here’s the story:
“On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, ‘Let us cross over to the other side.’ Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’
 
Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, ‘Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?’ And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, ‘Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!'” Mark 4:35-41
So, basically Jesus is asleep (or passed out) on a boat that is being whipped around so much by the wind and the waves that water is actually overflowing into the boat. It is overflowing into the boat so much so that the others that are on it are afraid for their lives and believed death to be an imminent threat. So what do they do? They wake Jesus up, of course! After all, how could he just let them all die? So, Jesus wakes up and tells the wind and the sea to cool it, and it does (as a side note, I wonder what the other fishermen in that sea must have been thinking when the storm instantly stopped like that…).
Either way, instead of Jesus turning around and saying, “Woah, sorry guys, that got way out of hand. You see, with all this life-saving I have been doing lately, I am just completely wiped. My bad.” he says, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”. This obviously does nothing to calm their fears (they are still fearing “exceedingly” at this point) and instead puts them in awe of him.
And, I get it — they just watched a man completely and instantly stop a raging storm. That’s impressive. BUT, if they hadn’t awoken him, there is a very good chance that they would have all been dead at the bottom of the sea while Jesus simply stood up and walked his way back to shore.
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Is that what is happening these days? Is the “savior” so tired from all the stuff he did on Earth 2000 years ago that he is just passed out somewhere while all of these natural disasters kill people? And how do we wake him up so he can make it stop? What should Oklahoma have done? Or New Jersey and New York? What about New Orleans? Or Japan?
Jesus, if you exist, this had better be the best nap you have ever had.