Sermon

I’d Rather Be Godless Than Godly

Lately I have found within myself a strange, masochistic yearning to read through sermons. I say masochistic because, generally, they do nothing more than make me mad- someone actually taught this crap to an entire congregation of people?? But, I still enjoy reading them to a certain extent because they offer a sort of validation for me that I made the correct and logical decision in becoming and remaining an atheist, despite potential backlash from friends and family. So, this morning I came across a sermon entitled, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Godlessness” by Joel Smith, a pastor of a Baptist church.

You can read the entire sermon here, but basically it is about how easy it is to be an atheist. Now, I think that assertion is up for a whole different debate, but I want to focus on the part that disturbed me the most: He spoke of atheism as a way of life in which god is not present which, to a certain extent, is true. However, he claims that even though many of the congregate members sitting before him believe in god, they do not allow him fully into their everyday lives and are, therefore, atheists.

Holy shit did that offend me!

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an atheist as, “one who believes that there is no deity” NOT “one who believes there is a deity but does not welcome it into their daily lives like they should”. I am very proud to be an atheist and I will be damned (by no god in particular) if this pastor can just go around asserting that perhaps atheists do believe in god, they just do not welcome him into their lives! No sir. He is not welcome in my life BECAUSE HE DOES NOT EXIST.

After Joel introduces his new definition of atheism, he goes on to explain how to be an atheist:

“Why does Genesis tell us that Cain built a city?  Nice info, but so what?  The reason Cain built a city was protection.  Prior to this he killed his brother Abel and God cursed Cain for it.  He was cast out of the area where his family dwelt and into a harsher, crueler world.  He would have even less of God’s provision and protection than his parents.  Therefore Cain built a nice little fortified wall around a collection of houses and other buildings – the first city.  It was the absence of God in his life that led him to this.  Keep in mind that Cain believed in God, but he lived his life apart from the Him.  In his mind he was a believer, but in his practice he was an atheist, without God. This gives us our first principle in becoming a practical or practicing atheist. Focus on insulating yourself from the harsh realities of life on earth… Not only do the godly refuse to insulate, they refuse to worry about the harsh realities of life.  They look to and call on the God who is more than adequate to meet their needs.  They live lives of adventure as God takes them from one assignment to the next.”

Atheists “focus on insulating themselves from the harsh realities of life.” Just let that stew in your brain for a bit… After that stews for about 2 minutes, add this next ingredient:

“That’s the outworking of godlessness: self-reliance rather than dependence on God.  The godless person relies on their own wisdom, experience, skill, and strength to navigate life.  The godly person, on the other hand, admits their inability and seeks God’s help more and more.”

Now, let that cook for the rest of your life and take pleasure in knowing that you are self-sufficient and can rely on your “own wisdom, experience, skill and strength to navigate life”. (For extra sweetness, add a dash of uncontrollable laughter and disbelief- I did and it turned out great!)

Before I end up disclosing all of my secret recipes in this one post, I’ll move on by saying that this guy is completely bat-shit crazy. Since when has it become a bad thing to live your life based on experience and wisdom and skill? Shit, you can’t even get a job without skill and experience! And how are addicts supposed to accept the things they cannot change without the wisdom to know the difference?? Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for admitting inability. If I ran into someone on the street needing emergency brain surgery, I would immediately admit my inability to perform that task and then proceed to wonder how this person even knew they needed emergency brain surgery to begin with. Although, given the rationale of Mr. Smith, perhaps if I just prayed that I could help this person, my hands would magically know what to do!

“I sometimes think God probably love[s] my wife Laura more than any other person I know.  She constantly cries out to Him.  If she has a big or little decision, she seeks Him.  She teaches Drake and Anna Gray to cry out to God if they’ve lost something.  If it’s dark or rainy at Wal-Mart she cries out for a parking place and gets it.  She even cried out for His direction on which watermelon to buy.  Two summers ago she cried out when we were at a financial and emotional breaking point and God gave me a new job.  God answers people who admit their need. “

God gave this guy a new job, gave his wife a good parking space so she wouldn’t get too wet and he even offered his almighty guidance on which watermelon is best. Now, I know what you are thinking: “But, Missy! What about those poor people out in the rain that day down the street from that Wal-Mart with no car or no home to run to for shelter?” The answer is simple, my friends: they are not praying correctly. They may believe in god, but they are not asking him to be present in their everyday lives, therefore he is turned off to them. Instead of filling out job applications and wasting time in interviews, they should be praying and leaving it in god’s capable hands! Until then, he has more important things to worry about! He can’t just let Laura buy that dingy looking watermelon!

This is where the masochism comes in to play. SOMEONE ACTUALLY SAID THIS TO A BUNCH OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM TO SHOW THEM THE WAY TO BE CLOSER TO GOD AND UP THEIR CHANCES OF GETTING INTO HEAVEN (yes, I just screamed that at the sermon). Joel Smith says it is godless to depend on your wisdom and experience or on your skills and strengths and advises that they do none of these things, that instead they rely solely on god. For to be unknowing of the world is to be closer to god. This kind of teaching is EXACTLY why people trash the earth and remain ignorant to the horrible things happening in the world today. Not only ignorant, but uncaring and unyielding. THIS is why there are churches out there teaching their children to protest dead soldiers. Sure, they are extremists, but aren’t sermons like these where it all starts??

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Offensive

I was reading a blurb from a sermon by Tim Keller on Preachingtoday.com (sermons can be quite interesting) in which he talked about how the Bible will inherently contradict and offend every culture at least once. I was incredibly intrigued by this as I have trouble reading the Bible and not being offended myself. Here is what he had to say:

“Many of us read a certain passage of Scripture and say, “That’s so regressive, so offensive.” But we ought to entertain the idea that maybe we feel that way because in our particular culture that text is a problem. In other cultures that passage might not come across as regressive or offensive.

Let’s look at just one example. In individualistic, Western societies, we read the Bible, and we have a problem with what it says about sex. But then we read what the Bible says about forgiveness—”forgive your enemy;” “forgive your brother seventy times seven;” “turn the other cheek;” “when your enemy asks for your shirt, give him your cloak as well”—and we say, “How wonderful!” It’s because we are driven by a culture of guilt. But if you were to go to the Middle East, they would think that what the Bible has to say about sex is pretty good. (Actually, they might feel it’s not strict enough!) But when they would read what the Bible says about forgiving your enemies, it would strike them as absolutely crazy. It’s because their culture is not an individualistic society like ours. It’s more of a shame culture than a guilt culture.

Let me ask you a question: If you’re offended by something in the Bible, why should your cultural sensibilities trump everybody else’s? Why should we get rid of the Bible because it offends your culture? Let’s do a thought experiment for a second. If the Bible really was the revelation of God, and therefore it wasn’t the product of any one culture, wouldn’t it contradict every culture at some point? Therefore, if it’s really from God, wouldn’t it have to offend your cultural sensibilities at some point? Therefore when you read the Bible, and you find some part of it outrageous and offensive, that’s proof that it’s probably true, that it’s probably from God. It’s not a reason to say the Bible isn’t God’s Word; it’s a reason to say it is. What makes you think that because this part or that part of God’s Word is offensive, you can forget Christianity altogether?”

Tim Keller, in the sermon Literalism: Isn’t the Bible Historically Unreliable and Regressive?, PreachingToday.com

Really good stuff there. Stuff I hadn’t really given much thought or consideration before. I would agree with Tim that various cultures interpret the same text differently and may have more or less qualms about particular parts than others might. I would even take that a step further and, instead of comparing North American culture to Islam (which is really like comparing apples to oranges) I would compare different regions of America itself. The south has a far different culture than the west. California girls are much different from southern belles; They hold different values and insights about the world and the way it ought to be. So, to this degree, I believe Tim is absolutely right. However, the things that I take offense to in the Bible are not about culture to me- and that’s not just my culture talking either!

The things I take offense to in the Bible are about the infringement on universal rights, no matter what, whom or where. When the Bible describes a woman as being unclean and inferior and the origin of all sin, people should take offense because it is so blatantly hateful and wrong. Now, are men in the Middle East likely to agree with the Bible on this one? Sure. But does that make it right? Absolutely not. Not even one hundred years ago, we as Americans were hardly offended by the passages in the Bible about slavery. In fact, the Bible was used as a defense of it! Nowadays we have laws forbidding it but who’s to say that if those laws were to somehow magically disappear that we would not resort back to it? Would that be considered a cultural opinion? Shouldn’t everyone be repulsed by the idea of “owning” another human being? Cultural or not?

I think the problem with this sermon is that it had a good foundation for an argument, but fell severely short. Just because a book says something that offends some but not others based on their cultural beliefs, does not make what the book is saying right or just. As a human species, as a whole, we should not ever be unaffected by inequality, rape, murder, social injustices or anything of the like, regardless of cultural background. People should always be treated with respect, no matter their differences, and we should NEVER, under any circumstances, turn the other way when they are not. THAT is what the Bible should be about. There should be nothing in it that can be viewed as “regressive” because if an all-knowing, omnipotent god spoke it, it should outlast the test of time and be relevant in any age and in any culture. This is what makes me think I can “forget Christianity altogether”.  And, it’s what made me do it.