loki1919 asked: what is god, and what is its appeal? I know that thats probably a question requiring a broad answer, but in your answer to the question "why religion?", you basically just say 'because god and my relation to him are important to me', right? And as an atheist since I can remember thinking about it, I have a really hard time understanding what the appeal or relevance of such a concept may be. Is god part of reality as experienced by you? why do you believe in him? why would you need him inyourlive
Hi! Yes, I was aware of this limitation in my answer to goatprince, which is partly why I wasn’t entirely sure what he was asking. You’re right that “Why religion?” and “Why God?” are two pretty different questions, so I’ll do my best to answer the second one here now. (These things tend to work better as conversations though, because of the limitations of language etc!)
God is certainly part of reality as experienced by me. Often when I talk about God I also talk about ‘community’ as an abstract concept, but my experience of God transcends my experience of my faith community. That’s why I’m still Christian even though many Christians I know are still struggling to come to terms with accepting LGBT people and have hurt me and people I love in the process (I’m gay, FYI). As far as the word “person” can be used to describe a deity, God is a person and not, like, *~*~the love I experience when I’m with my church family~*~* or anything like that.
I could talk about the times I have experienced God directly, but I feel a bit weird doing that on the internet. These stories are very special (I would go so far as to say they are holy) and I think they need to be shared in a more personal setting.
Speaking more generally, it’s complicated. On one level I believe in God because he has made himself known to me and I had practically nothing to do with that. On another it’s because I have recognised him in small ways and I am now in pursuit of him in a much broader, deeper way.
As for why I need God in my life? I would say the unsatisfying answer is because he is there. Basically, I am enamoured with him. I’m in awe of the strangeness of him and the bigness and smallness of him. I’m challenged and exhilarated by what he asks of me and where that leads me. The more sensible-sounding answer is that I need God because I’ve come to understand I cannot rule myself, although that doesn’t really cover it.
Haha this has taken me a hilariously long time to write and I’m not sure I’ve even scratched the surface. Anyone can feel free to ask me anything in follow-up to this post and I’ll do my best to answer (it might take me a few days to answer your questions though).
I haven’t read looked into it myself, but I’m very curious about why you think the contradictions in the bible picture is lame?
Made rebloggable by request. This is a post in response to the above question, which references this image:
“A graphical representation of the contradictions in the bible. Each red line links 2 contradicting statements.”
Ugh I don’t really want to look any of them up again, but when I did there was a lot of pairing verses where the first one was a commandment saying “Don’t do such-and-such” and then the second one was a part of a story where a person did whatever that thing was. That’s lame. It’s like whoever made this was just trying to construe the text so they could draw as many red lines as possible, thereby… I don’t know? Trying to prove God doesn’t exist? Trying to prove Christians are dumb? Anyway, it’s just lame.
But anyway, the whole premise of this infographic is dumb. This is not how the Bible works, nor is it really how any text works. This is set up as if the Bible is a textbook or a life manual which tells/shows you How Things Work or How You Should Live, as if you can just open it like some divine self-help book which you draw rules from. In that sense, the Bible contradicts itself.
The Bible is not a text book or a self-help book. It’s essentially a story which is spread over 66 separate works by dozens of different authors, and over time a collection of people have decided that these books compliment each other in such a way that they should be read together.
Like, there are two conflicting creation accounts at the very beginning of Genesis which were written at completely different points in history. One says the world was made in seven literal days and the other one says it wasn’t. There’s also a contradiction in how many people were initially created. That is a REAL contradiction in terms of narrative or facts or whatever, but those two creation accounts were put together like that because they compliment each other. The first talks about how people are good and are made in God’s image, so when you read it you think “Oh this is great! We are awesome it’s like we’re basically all gods!” and then the second one comes in and says “No, actually, you shouldn’t get ahead of yourself, there is something very wrong with the human race and we can see the effects of that in the world all around us every day. Thinking we are the same as God is what got us into this trouble in the first place.”
We need those two stories together because they inform us about who we are and our relationship to God and to each other. CS Lewis said of Genesis, “This story isn’t powerful because it happened, it’s because it happens.”
We read other texts thoughtfully and critically, but for some reason this doesn’t happen with the Bible. That goes for both “Bible-believing Christians” and whoever made this graphic. Like, the thinking that went into the creation of this graphic is the same flawed thinking that leads to Creationism being a thing. That isn’t how the Bible works. You done goofed.
On reading the Bible for the first time
Made rebloggable by request
shutupjames asked: Hello! I’m not at all sure how I stumbled across your blog, but I’m very glad I did. I have recently been lamenting how being queer and spiritual has left me feeling excluded, and it’s really reassuring to have found your blog. Thanks for writing in such an intelligent, egalitarian tone. I’ve just started looking to the Bible and was wondering if you have any advice on how to not get lost? Where to start?
Hello yes! I am trying to get to some of these more in-depth asks now as you can see. I think it is great that you are having a poke around the Bible even though Christianity is getting a lot of bad press amongst LGBT people right now. There’s more to it than meets the eye! Stick with it!
The Bible is a pretty cool book in that it is actually 66 smaller books all bound together, and they’re all pretty different so it’s almost like a book in conversation with itself. That also makes the Bible pretty confusing to read sometimes though, if you read the books in order then halfway through Exodus everything gets really detail-heavy and boring. The Mosaic Law is actually really interesting and illuminating once you can contextualise it, but until then I wouldn’t bother.
If you want to start reading the Bible I would recommend starting with the book of Matthew. It’s one of the four Gospels (books telling the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection) and it’s my personal favourite. Once you have finished Matthew, I recommend reading about one chapter from the Old Testament and one chapter from the New Testament every day. That way you won’t get overwhelmed but you’re still getting a bit from each end of the Bible.
I would insert a page break here but apparently you can’t do that when answering asks? K, whatever.
Below are some of my favourite books of the Bible
The New Testament
- The book of Acts is pretty good because it tells the story of what happened in the earliest days of the church after Jesus’ ascension. It’s actually the sequel to the book of Luke, but don’t worry because Matthew covers basically the same ground so you already know that bit.
- The book of Romans is IMO the best reflection on what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection means to Christian life ever written. If you’ve read Acts you can read the rest of the New Testament one chapter at a time in the order it’s given to you if you like, but I have a special fondness for Romans.
- The book of Hebrews is really great to read either just before or just after you read Romans. They cover very different ground but I’ve always found they compliment each other for some reason. This book is attributed to Paul, but he didn’t actually write it.
- 1, 2 & 3 John Not to be confused with the Gospel of John, these three tiny books near the end of the New Testament are often overlooked, but are full of really great stuff, and it’s refreshing to get a different perspective to Paul who wrote most of the NT.
The New Testament finishes with the book of Revelation which I like a lot because it’s really cinematic but it’s also confusing as all hell. Save for later.
EDIT: Valerie2776 points out that the book of James is really fantastic and it SO IS I can’t believe I forgot!
The Old Testament
- Genesis and Exodus are good reading, and they give you a solid foundation about where this all came from.
- The book of Esther is fantastic and it has a woman as its main character, which is a refreshing change.
- The book of Psalms is a staple for Christians and Jews everywhere. It’s a poetry book - really long, but there are some parts that are just so beautiful you’ll never want to forget them.
- The book of Proverbs is actually a major page-turner for me. There’s something about these fortune-cookie-style proverbs I just eat up like popcorn.
- The book of Isaiah is really dark in stretches, but majorly life-affirming in others. It’s divided into three thematically-distinct sections. The last section is one of my favourite parts of the entire Bible.
Also notable in the Old Testament are the book of Judges for being full of hardcore badasses, 1 & 2 Samuel for containing really great stories, Song of Songs for being sexy and the book of Daniel for being all around good reading.
I hope this isn’t really overwhelming! It took me about two years to read the entire Bible the first time, although I was re-reading parts in that time as well. As you read you will find some things you’ll think are really lovely, but you will also find things you’ll think are abhorrent. Reading the Bible is about experiencing both the beauty and the pathos, just like we do in the world today. I found it helped to go back and read one of the Gospels whenever the rest of the book got too much for me because it helped me to re-centre myself and the whole experience.
If you don’t mind spoilers you might find it helpful to read the Wikipedia article for whatever book of the Bible you’re currently reading too because it’ll contextualise it a bit more for you.
Lastly, I recommend getting yourself a modern, up-to-date dynamic equivalence translation of the Bible which doesn’t paraphrase too much, but isn’t too stilted in its language. I prefer the New International Version, but there are other good translations out there too.
Good luck! You are always welcome to leave an ask for me here if you want me to talk about anything you come across in your journey.
Anonymous asked: I wanted to know whether E(e?)vangelicals believe that people who do not believe in Jesus Christ will go hell. I have some people in my family who are evangelicals, and they believe that believing in Jesus Christ as the Lord, and Savior will give you instant access into heaven, and anyone who doesn't believe, or is not Christian is guaranteed to go to hell (I personally wouldn't know much about evangelicalism since me, and most of my family are Catholic)
Evangelicals aren’t from a single denomination, so they are not necessarily all on the same page when it comes to the intricacies of heaven and hell. Rob Bell, who is generally understood to be evangelical, was recently accused of being a universalist because of his book Love Wins (I haven’t read it yet though, so I can’t comment); C.S. Lewis, a darling of evangelicals everywhere, was pretty clearly inclusivist in his theology of salvation (The Last Battle in the Chronicles of Narnia is basically one long narrative explanation of his beliefs about heaven and hell); Mark Driscoll on the other hand, in keeping with his belief in predestination is strictly exclusivist in his theology. These are all evangelicals who hold very different views about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.
I would hazard a guess that the majority opinion is what you have described, but really all you can safely say of evangelicals beliefs about salvation is that:
- It is unmerited
- It is by grace alone, not by works (although this is actually a simplification)
- It has been achieved for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
It’s also common to hear evangelicals talk about people ‘rejecting Jesus’ as a cause of not being saved (that is, going to hell is a consequence of a decision we make ourselves) rather than as a punishment dealt to us by God for bad behaviour.
Personally, I’m pretty close to C.S. Lewis on this one. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it, but I don’t think there’s a solid Biblical case for universalism. However, I think the Bible is pretty clear that in the end there is going to be a big upset: There will be folk who thought they knew they’d get in, but they will miss out. In the same way, I think evangelicals need to be prepared to accept that God’s grace will also extend into unexpected places, reaching unexpected people.
Annon asked: How do you define evangelical? Like, what do you actually mean when you say you are one? Sorry if that’s a stupid question.
(Made rebloggable for the sake of letting people comment if they wish.)
That’s a fair question because ‘evangelical’ is a bit of a nebulous term. The problem is that evangelicalism isn’t a denomination, it’s a movement within Christianity (actually, Protestantism) composed of members of many denominations of differing beliefs. This lack of codification means evangelicals are a completely self-identifying group; there’s no way of objectively telling who is an evangelical and who isn’t*, which makes things confusing for people on the outside.
Just so folk don’t unnecessarily rustle their jimmies, identifying as evangelical does not mean I’m:
- Politically conservative
- Against same-sex marriage
- A misogynist
- Anti-abortion (although I have complicated feelings about it)
- A creationist
I felt pretty ambivalent about identifying as evangelical until I moved to Iona and realised just how evangelical I really am. It’s a pretty uncomfortable label to wear sometimes.
That being said, I identify as evangelical because:
On calling ‘traditional marriage’ advocates “bigots”.
Scott Stephens is the Religion and Ethics Editor for ABC Online. I gather he’s a somewhat contentious figure but I find all his work really engaging and thought-provoking, especially when I disagree with him. He just wrote a new blog post, part of which deals with the ongoing debate over same-sex marriage in Australia. I made a comment that I’ll also post here so it won’t actually go to waste:
I am also pretty tired of people who oppose marriage equality being automatically described as “bigots” because, as someone who used to hold that view, I understand that for many people this is not an accurate description. However, it’s also pretty clear to me how this perception has taken hold in the pro-LGB group: the most vocal anti-LGB lobbyists use arguments that are clearly bigoted and homophobic, and there is no real admonition of these views by the less vitriolic “traditional marriage” advocates. Does this mean the “traditional marriage” camp tacitly approves of what comes out of the mouths of the likes of Jim Wallace? Maybe - I can’t actually tell. And that’s not good enough.
The blog post sparked a lot of other thoughts concerning LGBT issues which I’m trying to form into logical sentences. I’ll post them later on today.
Oh, that reminds me of some thoughts I had while at VidCon
So like, Iona is a pretty safe place to be gay and Christian. Like, out of anywhere in the whole world right now Iona is a tiny, far-flung sanctuary away from all the criticism Christians and LGBT people fling at each other. On Iona my sexuality is pretty unremarkable, so sometimes I forget it’s a problem in some of the circles I mix with at home. Living on Iona, my identity is bound up in Jesus, just like it ever was, not because I’m trying to hide my sexuality, but because it’s just not something I have to confront very frequently.
Going to VidCon was really interesting, because it was the first big, non-church thing I’ve done since I came out. I attended some really interesting panels about content made by LGBT people and there was an electric sense of togetherness in that room. It was one of the rare occasions LGBT people outnumbered straight people. Almost everyone there shared something, were fighting for the same thing.
I also had the very strange experience of having to ‘come out’ as Christian. I work in an Abbey, so after explaining what I do the question is natural: “Wait, so are you religious?” I said, “Well yeah, I identify as Christian. I’m a Christian.” Working for a Christian community means I haven’t had a conversation like that in years. On Iona everyone assumes you are Christian unless they’re told otherwise.
I mixed with Christians at VidCon too though, and I guess that’s where I’m trying to go with this: I moved easily between my gay friends and my Christian friends there, and I did it with integrity. It wasn’t always comfortable; I don’t always feel at home amongst either group, truth be told. Still, embracing a queer identity alongside a Christian one was something I wasn’t entirely sure I could do. I’m not going to lie, my faith comes first.
But even though addressing issues of religion and sexuality is laughably distant from its real purpose, VidCon made me feel like I can express gay pride. I am fully gay and fully Christian. It’s weird, and I know that statement is going to be misunderstood, but it’s part of my story and I have a duty to bear witness to it.
I tried not to say this because it’s the interweb and peeps get offended on the interweb, but let’s just say that Obama made me do it.
So here I go
When anyone mentions human rights these days everyone jumps up in arms either for or against gay marriage. It’s…
Oh, trust me, I am angry about all those things. The fact that the government is reneging on their promised increases to foreign aid is partly what got me thinking about it. I completely understand the suffering of LGBT people, especially for non-religous people who are having to conform to a religous viewpoint that they don’t hold. What I’m frustrated about is that I’m having a hard time finding people who care enough about abolition to do anything about it, yet the streets are lined with rainbow posters. I don’t think it’s the media that’s the problem. I live in the middle of Sydney and the struggle for gay marriage is ingrained more in the social agenda than in the media agenda.
Belittling the fact the fact that the gay community feels ostracised or alienated is definitely not my intention. I do believe the Christian message is one of love and tolerance to a point (but that’s a conversation we should have in real life). But I still don’t think that the issue of feeling ostracised should be spoken about louder than the issue of freedom.
As for the fight for gay marriage helping us to understand people who are different from us, are they that different? I thought this was about seeing us all as the same. If we want to fight for social justice, why should we go along the path that edges closer to abolition instead of just directly targeting abolition.
In a perfect world, society would have the attention span for more than a few issues at a time. In my fight for social justice I’ve heard some horrific things; like stories about sex slaves who died when their building caught fire because they were chained to the wall, one of my friends was trafficked as a domestic slave in Turkey and escaped after an ordeal that she still can’t talk about. I’ve seen seven year old girls offering grown men blow jobs so they wouldn’t have to have sex with them. 70 percent of the sex workers at Kings Cross, in Sydney are slaves, often brought here with the promise of paid work.
I hear what you’re saying, but I can’t change my standpoint, even if I’m standing alone. I think freedom is more important than acceptance. That’s not to say acceptance isn’t important, but we need to prioritise.
The reason you can find people who are passionate about same-sex marriage but nobody seems to care about abolition is because either,
- People assume slavery is something we’ve already solved
- They don’t know any slaves, or they assume slavery/sex trafficking is only a problem in places like Thailand
but you know some of these women; they’ve told you their stories and you’ve taken on their pain. You are compelled to do something about it because it’s an injustice that has made itself apparent to you and you want to see it come to an end.
The same holds true for LGBT activists, they either know people who are LGBT or they are part of the LGBT community. They know about the injustices suffered by LGBT people and they want to see them stop. Same-sex marriage isn’t about seeing everyone as the same, it’s about being inclusive towards difference. Support for same-sex marriage in Australia is somewhere around 60% of the population, but LGBT people only make up 4%-10% (depending on who you ask) - that’s a lot of people that have come to empathise with a group experiencing something completely alien to the mainstream.
This is helpful to you because that’s a lot of people who have already been through the difficult process of putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. I’m not pretending that the gay rights movement is going to usher in a golden age of justice and prosperity, but in many ways gay rights are only possible because of civil rights movements that have gone before it: for labourers, women, people of colour, etc. Justice builds on itself. It’s unwise to try and tear down one civil rights movement supposedly to benefit another group you think are more important or deserving.
Slavery has been part of the human story for more than 8000 years - an absolute eradication of it could take hundreds more. If LGBT people and their allies aren’t supposed to campaign for equal rights until this time what are we expected to do? Telling LGBT activists to wait reminds me of what Martin Luther King Jr wrote on the topic of black/white segregation in his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
Usually I think equating the LGBT experience to that of segregated ethnic minorities is missing the mark a bit but in this case I think the comparison is fair. The time for equality for same-sex attracted and transexual people is not later, it’s now. We can do something about this now. You should never be content to see an injustice and let it remain.
I tried not to say this because it’s the interweb and peeps get offended on the interweb, but let’s just say that Obama made me do it.
So here I go
When anyone mentions human rights these days everyone jumps up in arms either for or against gay marriage. It’s something of an issue du jour.
But there are 27 million people in slavery who don’t give a crap whether you’re married or not.
When we talk about human rights why are we talking about the right to marriage instead of the right to freedom or the right to not be snatched from your bed and made to fight someone else’s war, the right to not be raped innumerable times a day because you had the misfortune to be noticed by a sex trafficker, or the right to a fair days wage. You sit there and talk about your right to marriage while the clothes you wear are made by slaves, and your shoes and your chocolate, your coffee and (for some) your porn.
I’m not saying don’t talk about gay marriage. I’m saying prioritise. Let’s talk about it later when there are no more slaves, when trade is fair and when our wealth does not oppress the poor.
Oh Ali, no. I see where you’re coming from but we absolutely can’t “talk about it later”. There are a couple of pretty big problems with this line of thinking:
- Being committed to achieving marriage equality for LGBT people doesn’t prevent someone from being committed to achieving a genuine, global abolition of slavery or seeking universal trade justice. I get that there’s only so much space in the news cycle and not everything can be talked about all the time, but a focus on LGBT individuals until equal marriage is established is helpful to achieving justice in other areas because it forces us to think about the experiences of people who are different from us. If you’re angry at people focusing on the wrong things, get angry at newspapers for getting riled about whether or not there is a surplus in the budget rather than the second intervention currently taking place against Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. Or get angry at celebrity culture. Or reality television. Don’t get angry at LGBT people.
- The issue isn’t marriage specifically. The stigma attached to being gay won’t vanish when gay people can get married, so what we’re really working towards is removing those prejudices and the ways we discriminate against LGBT individuals on a day-to-day basis. The natural question that arises from this process is “If we’re trying to stop people from discriminating against Jane in the workplace or John when he is talking with his friends, why do we discriminate against them at all, including if they can get married?“ Marriage equality is symbolic of a struggle that will go on long after Parliament allows same-sex couples to tie the knot. It’s really about creating an environment where people who have previously felt ostracised and excluded from society can be loved for who they are, rather than who they pretend to be. Enabling same-sex couples to marry says “There is a legitimate place for LGBT people in this society.” That is not an unimportant thing.
This might not seem important to you, but it is vitally important to me and my future. By telling me to “talk about it later” you are denying my experience of feeling alienated in the communities in which I participate. There are people suffering in the world and there are massive injustices happening all over the place, but that does not make me selfish because I want to get married someday.
A year and a day ago
One year and one day ago I stepped off the ferry and arrived on Iona for the first time. I came to volunteer with the Iona Community, the folk who I now work for for full-time. When people think of the Iona Community today they think of Iona Abbey, a building that stands on the site of the original Iona Abbey which was founded by St Columba. Columba is barely remembered as a man but only as a saint, whose experience is elevated high above any of our own; but from what we can piece together historically he was (despite his noble background) an ordinary man. In his life he made some big mistakes, and because of them he was driven from his home.
He founded a community here which grew into a centre of art and devotion, an envoy to the Pictish kings and the crux of Christian life in the British Isles.
So it is easy to romanticise this place. George MacLeod, who founded the Iona Community in Glasgow said Iona is a ‘thin place’, where the veil between the spiritual and physical is drawn thin. People come as pilgrims from all over the world because they experience God here. This place is elevated, much like the life of Columba. To them it is sacred because for a day or a week they have come to this special place where God resides, with its sacred hills and holy buildings, where their everyday life stops and the transcendent becomes apparent to them.
But for me this is my home. This is where I live and work. My ordinary life is spent here, typing, praying, eating and sleeping. But the guests are right: this place is sacred. Not because of its specialness, but because this is the place of my life and work. It is the place I have laughed with people, I have argued and been hurt, been understood and embraced, been overlooked and ignored, been cared for and nursed - all here.
It is on this island I grew in confidence that I could do a job well, that I could adapt to new situations and that I could follow through on my word and use my initiative. I’ve eaten toast here with friends. It is here I came out, telling my parents and friends about my sexuality. I drank wiskey for the first time here, and it is here that I’ve come home from a good, uplifting day at work knowing that if I don’t take a holiday soon I won’t make it another month.
There is nothing holy or magical about any of this, but it has been exceptional in its ordinariness. I have been frustrated by the organisational decision making at my work and on the same day been inspired by and ministered to by those same people. They have noticed when I am upset or exasperated, they have celebrated with me and made fun of me with me, laughing alongside me. All that is experienced by people every day in all sorts of places and that is where I have felt God draw near.
This island is an ordinary place where people come and look for God, and so God is among us, always ever just below the surface, should we only dig a little deeper.