Monthly Archives: September 2014

And So It Begins…

So a government ethics committee in Germany is arguing that incest is a “fundamental right” and should be legalized.

From the Telegraph:

Laws banning incest between brothers and sisters in Germany could be scrapped after a government ethics committee said the they were an unacceptable intrusion into the right to sexual self-determination

I remember getting into an argument with a woman on Facebook about a year ago. I pointed out that the reasons for legalizing same-sex marriage LOGICALLY lead to legalizing other types of relationships including polygamy and incest. I did NOT say same-sex marriage is evil, sinful or anything. I simply pointed out this logic. Apparently, pointing out this logic makes me a religious bigot. Isn’t that just great.

Sooner or later, we will be seeing challenges to polygamy and incest laws here in the U.S. Oh wait… it’s already happening.

Thanks to Patriactionary for bringing this up.


Why I Don’t Like Modern Worship Music

If you know me well at all, you’ll know my opinions on modern worship music. Those of you who read my previous posts, Jesus Romance and Gay for God? are likely figure out why as well. I figured it’s about time I get it all out in the open. So here are 4 reasons why I dislike modern worship music.

4. The music sucks

I don’t know how other people approach their music, but for me, the music itself is by far the most important part of a song. If a song has amazing lyrics with crappy music backing it up, I’m out. However, even a song with lame lyrics can be redeemed by awesome music. Thing is, the music itself is a very important factor in deciding whether I like a song or not. Just ask my wife. She’ll tell you how I ramble on about a certain guitar solo or instrumental section of a song. Half the time, I don’t even know what the song is a about (usually because the lyrics are in another language) and yet I love the song because of the music itself. That might also be why the vast majority of the songs in my collection have little to no lyrics

The problem with worship music is that it’s cookie-cutter, unoriginal and all sounds the same. If you hear one worship song, you’ve heard them all. They all have the same beat, same guitars, drums, etc. The music is just uninteresting and I don’t like listening to it. You might say, yeah well, it’s the lyrics that matter, so forget the music. Sure, I’ll do that when every Christian decides to start singing acapella; then you might make me believe that the music doesn’t matter.

3. The lyrics suck

A bigger problem I have with modern worship music is the lyrics themselves. They are very shallow and poorly written. All you have to do is write few lines about loving Jesus and the joy he brings you and boom, you have 75% of worship lyrics down.Every other worship song I hear is pretty much “My Jesus, Jesus, my Jesus“. Just look at the famous worship song “I’m trading my sorrows“. The entire chorus is two words. Two words! Yes and Lord. That’s it. Oh wait, it ends with “amen”. That makes it all good. Look, I’m not trying to be rude, but these are crappy lyrics. Sure, they may convey awesome truths or whatever, but that doesn’t make the writing any better.

You want to know what I consider good lyrics? The song “Whatchu Goin’ Do?” by The Ambassador. Check it out below:

Funny thing is, I’m not a fan of rap music, Christian or otherwise. I don’t even agree with everything the Ambassador writes in this song, but I can’t deny the brilliant word-smithing. We have some genius uses of metaphor, good flow with some very catchy rhymes and some of the most original imagery I’ve heard in Christian music. The writer clearly spent some time thinking and writing the lyrics. If Christian musicians spent more time actually writing good lyrics like the Ambassador above, I might actually reconsider worship music.

2. The lyrics are shallow

This point ties in with number 3 above. In addition to being poorly written, modern worship songs are shallow. They  don’t get much deeper than describing feelings. Most worship songs talk about feelings: feeling love, feeling blessed, feeling joy, feeling romance, or whatever. Because of this focus on feelings; the lyrics themselves don’t really describe anything deeper. Let’s compare two songs. Here are the lyrics for the popular worship song “Here I am to worship” and the above song, “Whatchu Goin’ Do?” Open up the links and skim the lyrics over side-by-side. Now tell me, which song has deeper lyrics. I’ll give you a hint; it’s not the song most Christians sing. It really isn’t even a competition. The Ambassador song is deeper than many sermons I’ve heard and even alludes to a bible verse using some really clever metaphors.  I really hope that worship songwriters start taking themselves seriously and writing lyrics deeper than a baby’s bathtub. But until then, count me out.

1. The songs are feminized

I’ve talked about this one before so I won’t go into this one too much. But one thing I’ve began to notice is that most, maybe 95%, of modern worship songs are written to be sung TO God. The songs are geared to stir the emotions of the singers and to get a “spiritual high” as they sing TO their God. This focus on emotion, feelings and intimacy is a feminine one. The lyrics are full of feminine imagery: a rose trampled on the ground or a desire to touch Jesus.I’ll go out on a limb and say that this sort of imagery does not appeal to most guys, especially the more masculine ones. It certainly does not appeal to me.

I looked through the older hymnals my church has and I noticed a big difference. First, these older hymns don’t seem to be as focused on feelings and emotional highs. The lyrics of these old hymns are less personal; they are not so much written TO God as they are written ABOUT God. In addition, I notice a lot more military imagery. Just take a look at the popular hymn “Battle Hymn of the Republic“. In these older hymns, God is not a “rose trampled on the ground” but a hero with a “terrible, swift sword” who “honors the brave”. These older hymns are written in a far more masculine style with more masculine imagery. These are the sorts of songs that appeal to the guys a lot more than songs talking about intimacy with God and desiring to touch Jesus.

Just my two cents on worship music. So until the musical talent of worship music approaches the lyrical and musical genius of this song, I’m not interested.


Hive Mind

“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” – Japanese Proverb

In my last post, I wrote about the individualism of Western/American culture and how it affects the way we look at the world. I want to take some time to compare this “culture of self” with a different one: the collectivist culture. Simply put, a collectivist culture is one that views the community and not the individual as the bedrock of society.

In the book, The Samurai, one character, a missionary says this about Japanese culture:

The Japanese never live their lives as individuals. We European missionaries were not aware of the fact. Suppose we have a single Japanese here. We try to convert him. But there was never a single individual we could call “him” in Japan. He has a village behind hi. A family. And more. There are also his dead parents and ancestors are bound to him tightly, as though they were living beings. That is why he is not an isolated human being. He is an aggregate who must shoulder the burden of village, family, parents, ancestors…. When the first missionary to Japan… began his labours… this was the most formidable obstacle he encountered. The Japanese said, “I believe the Christian teachings are good. But I would be betraying my ancestors if I went to a Paradise where they cannot dwell.

Japanese culture was and still is a collectivist culture. The individual is tightly bound to the group he was born into, his family and ancestors. This is not just some small, superficial difference. The collectivist culture greatly affects the way the individual person feels, acts and sees the world. The collectivist person views the family or group he or she belongs too as the most important part of life. As a result, the collectivist person does what the group/family wants. Conformity is the name of the game in a collectivist culture; individual people are expected to conform their behaviors, beliefs, opinions to that of the entire group. Failure to do so leads to shame and embarrassment of the entire group. The American looking in on such a culture would be horrified; preserving our individuality is so important to us that we believe individuality necessary for a “healthy identity”, whatever that means. We are encouraged to be true to ourselves and to do our own thing. Such an attitude would be considered harmful and dangerous in a collectivist culture. Below is a handy chart that lists a few important differences between the individualist culture of the United States and the collectivist cultures of other countries.

 

Collectivist Chart

from the “Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels”

There is much more to a collectivist culture than this chart can illustrate, but this gives a good, basic understanding of the differences between our individualist culture and the collectivist culture.

Well, this is all very interesting, but what does this have to do with the Bible? Good question. Simply put, the culture of the Biblical world was a collectivist culture. Paul, Jesus, David, etc all lived in it. Individualism as we know it did not exist at the time. Therefore, if we want to really understand what the Bible teaches, we need to stop reading the Bible with individualist lens and start looking to the ways the original audience would have understood the Bible.

One area this comes into play is the way we think about the church. Due to individualist assumptions, Americans tend to view the church as a social club. I’ve heard too often of someone leaving a church for another because they weren’t “getting fed” at that particular church. I’m not getting fed, I’m not growing, I don’t like the sermons, etc. Needless to say, this is a very self-centered attitude. The focus is on the “I”. However, this is not biblical. To the early Christian, simply getting up and leaving was not an option. Paul uses the metaphor of the body to get this point across and warns that “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!‘” The average American Christian is ready to leave the local church when things are tough and he or she “isn’t getting fed”. This sort of complaint would have likely been looked down upon in the early church because of the focus on the individual. What matters is the body or church as a whole and if the individual members simply leave when the going gets tough…. well, I can’t think of  faster way to weaken the local church than this sort of thinking.

I believe that Christians will gain a much better understanding of the Bible if they began to read the Bible the way its ancient audience did instead of reading it like a personal letter from God.


A Culture of Self

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud” Coco Chanel

If you had to describe the core of American culture in a single quote, what would it be? Think about it for a second. Personally I find the above quote to be a pretty good one. The idea of thinking for yourself is ingrained into the minds of Americans; it would be hard to find anyone who disagrees with the idea. This notion is a product of our culture. For better or for worse, American/western culture is entirely an individualist culture. We view the individual as the bedrock of society. It is the individual that matters above all else. Children are encouraged to stand out from the crowd and not go along with what everyone else is doing. People are advised to “just be yourself” and forget about what others think. We must make our own decisions and god forbid that anyone make them for us. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who has lived for some time in the U.S. or some other western country.

This DOES explain the rise of the selfie, though.

We view the world and everything around us through the lens of individualism. It is so ingrained within us that we do not even think about it. Arranged marriage provides a good example of this. The thought of someone other than ourselves deciding who our spouse will be is a terrifying one to the American. We don’t choose to be horrified at the concept of arranged marriage; our individualist assumptions do it for us.  Think of all the movies and books where the female protagonist is forced into an arranged marriage with someone she does not choose; it’s always portrayed as a negative thing. This mentality crosses over into our search for jobs. We are encouraged to find a job or career that suits us. The person who becomes a doctor or lawyer because that’s what his family tells him is looked at with pity and disdain because he doesn’t choose for himself. Everyone of us is told to forge our own path and follow our heart (the advice given to the love struck female in pretty much every romance movie). We are expected to form our own opinions about things and we look down on anyone who just “goes along with what everybody thinks”. All this is the result of the culture we grow up in. We don’t even think about this.

In essence, the individualist culture is largely a culture of self. We prize uniqueness, independence, and nonconformity and doing what we as individuals think is right. When a crime is committed and the defendant brought to trial, the only thing we care about is whether this individual did the crime. We look on in horror at those criminals who do not seem to have a conscience or feel internal guilt. All this is the result growing up in an individualist culture. Remember, I am not writing this to condemn individualism. I’m only trying to describe how it affects the way we think.

This individualist mindset also affects the way we interpret the Bible. Many Christians look at the Bible as a book God has written to them. Many take this idea further and see the Bible as a personal letter from God to each individual person. Because of this view, American Christians tend to look at individual verses and attempt to apply it to their own individual lives. A big one is Jeremiah 29:11.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

This is the verse that I see everyone quote and why not? Who doesn’t like the idea of God having plans to prosper them? The American reader looks at this verse and sees it as if God was making this promise to each individual person. Yet the rest of the chapter clearly show that the entire passage is addressed to the the people of Ancient Israel; it is NOT addressed to each individual reader that opens up his or her bible and stumble upon the verse. This is usually ignored because of the individualist expectations the reader has. Because of these assumptions, the  reader cannot understand how a verse can be in the Bible but not be addressed to him or herself. The verse has to be addressed to me, why else would it be in the Bible? This sort of thinking is the product of our individualist culture.

Another effect of this individualist mentality is that readers of the Bible often ask “what does this verse mean to me?”. If you’ll notice, the focus is on the self. What does the verse mean TO ME. The question isn’t simply what does the verse mean, but what does it mean to each individual person. This is incorrect. The words that form the verses of the Bible only have one meaning; they do not have different meanings for each individual person. A verse that can mean a million different things ultimately means nothing. Such a question turns the focus from the text to the subjective feelings and thoughts of the person reading the text. This too comes from our individualist assumptions that we grow up with.

Because this mentality runs so deep, we believe everyone thinks the way we do. We develop an unconscious arrogance and expect everyone throughout history have thought the way we do now; after all, how can people think any different? We read Paul’s letters or the Gospels and expect Jesus and Paul to have thought the same way we do now. Thing is, they didn’t. As I mentioned many times before, the Bible came about in a completely different culture. One vast difference, is that the people grew up with a collectivist personality as opposed to the modern individualist one. I will write more about this collectivist culture in my next post. Remember, our culture influences the way we interpret the Bible far more than we realize.


Laws of Savages Part 2

This is the second part of my series responding to hessianwithteeth’s comments on Deuteronomy. You can catch the first part here. Because no intro is needed, we’ll dive right in.

hessianwithteeth says “Moses then says ‘Do not follow other gods.’ More polytheism”

Many skeptics and atheists believe verses like this  teach polytheism as opposed to monotheism. Now, there is a grain of truth in that the Old Testament does not monotheism. The Old Testament doesn’t teach that only God exists so much as only God is worthy of loyalty and worship. It may come as a shock to some Christians, but ancient Judaism wasn’t a necessarily a monotheistic religion. And this isn’t just me making things up; many biblical scholars have written on this subject. Michael Heiser states that the word “monotheism” is an inaccurate description of ancient Judaism. Biblical scholar Larry Hurtado writes that the issue for the ancient Isrealities was who they worshipped and were loyal to not strictly belief in the existence of one god. Peter Haymon states that the thing that mattered for the ancient Jew was that God be the sole object of worship, not the sole divine being in existence.

hessianwithteeth says “Taking and raping non-Israelite women is acceptable if you find them beautiful…so long as you marry them first”

I’m assuming the passage hessianwithteeth takes offense to is Deuteronomy 21:10-14. Once again, this objection reads the text through modern eyes and gives no thought to the conditions that might give rise to such a law. Let’s sketch a brief picture here. Imagine for a second a young woman whose city has been overrun by the Israelite army. Her family was killed and the man she would have married was killed as well. What exactly does hessianwithteeth expect her to do? Her home was destroyed and anyone she knew most likely killed. The nearest city was 25 miles away. Finding refuge in a city would have been out of the question. Walking the road to the nearest city would place in in danger from roving bandits and marauders who would most certainly brutalize and rape her. Assuming she somehow managed to get to the nearest city, what exactly could she do? There would be a high risk of abuse and molestation (being alone in a city with no police, no relatives can lead to this sort of thing). The notion of the independent woman striking out on her own and succeeding is a purely modern one. If she stayed in the ruins of the city, she faced a slow and miserable death from starvation, thirst, disease, etc. That is, if bands of marauders and slave traders didn’t find her first and sell into slavery after raping her. This is the situation the woman faced.

Now imagine an Israelite soldier finds her, sees she is still young and reasonably attractive and decides to marry her. This passage would require the man to first take her and allow her some time to mourn her family for a full month. Don’t forget that the man would be obligated to support her her with food and shelter during this time of mourning; who else will? Afterwards, she would be married to this man who would continue to provide her with food, shelter and the possibility of a future family. Furthermore, the the man did not like her, he was FORBIDDEN from selling her into slavery or take advantage of her. He was required by law to let her go wherever she pleased; she would be a free citizen. If this is the situation the woman faced, then you tell me what you think she would have preferred. This sounds like the law was made with the captive woman in mind.

Many scholars have concluded that such a law was a step up from the practices of surrounding cultures where the captives were killed, raped, brutalized and/or sold into slavery. Researcher Glenn Miller writes that biblical scholars find the legal provisions here to be “exceptionable, remarkable, compassionate and even humanistic!”. It’s easy for the modern reader to chafe at such a practice, having grown up in more luxury than ancient kings. But when the surrounding context of the passage is taken into account, these legal requirements show a compassionate lawgiver who is concerned with the plight of the captive woman.

That’s all the time I have to write today; in fact, I think I hear my homework calling…


God: The Divine Therapist

So apparently,  many teenagers are following a “mutant strain” of Christianity and the parents are to blame.

“More American teenagers are embracing what [the author] calls ‘moralistic therapeutic deism.’ Translation: It’s a watered-down faith that portrays God as a ‘divine therapist’ whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem.”

Most teenagers see Jesus as some kind of hippie who just loves you, maaaan. All he wants to do is make your life better and fill you with happiness. You’ll be healthy and wealthy and never feel down again if you just ask Jesus into your heart. You’ll see just how much he wants to give you. Forget rules, dude. Forget your duty; that’s just your legalism talkin’.

Check out the story and think about what you are teaching the teenagers in your church.


Jesus Romance

A while back, I talked about the misgivings I had about the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus“. Too often, this talk of a personal relationship with Jesus can veer in to very uncomfortable waters for many Christian guys, myself included. This is true of much of the schlock that gets passed off as worship music nowadays. Just take a look at this winner of a song that I found.

Dance With Me by Jesus Culture

Just listen to the second chorus; the lyrics go “Won’t You dance with me, Oh/ Lover of my soul/ to the song of all songs?/ Romance me, Oh/ Lover of my soul/ to the song of all songs”. Really? If this isn’t romance language, then I don’t know what is. The singer asking Jesus to “romance” him, calling him the “lover of my soul”. Even the music itself is smooth and mellow like all romance songs. This is literally a love song to Jesus. Go ahead and listen to the rest of it if you can stomach it. I lasted about 2 minutes.

This romance theme runs through so many worship songs and I’m not the only one whose noticed. In fact, this romance theme is all over the place. Many Christian women view Jesus as their boyfriend/husband/romantic partner. Just check out this Christian bestseller.The book is titled Falling Love with Jesus: Abandoning Yourself to the Greatest Romance of Your Life. Apparently, this book is meant to help “women discover a life-changing intimacy with Jesus” because “in developing a deep, love relationship with Jesus” leads to an abundant life. The description goes on to say that “No matter your age or marital status, you are HIS bride, the object of his affection”. There is a lot that I can say about this.

First, this kind of talk is creepy. To all the ladies reading this, if you like talk about Jesus like he is your husband/groom, be prepared to stay single for a long time. I can’t think of any guy that would want to get into a relationship with a woman “married” to Jesus.  Think about this for a second. If every woman is the bride of Jesus, then every woman regardless of age or marital status is a bride of Jesus. I guess that makes Jesus equivalent to the polygamist husband with a harem of women.

It’s been my observation that the the women clamoring about Jesus being their boyfriend/romantic partner tend to be the single women, the women that want to be married but aren’t. Huh… I wonder if the two are connected. In the book I mentioned above, the author writes about a promise found in Isaiah 62:5. The verse states that “As a bridegroom rejoices over a bride/ so your God will rejoice over you”. Of course the author never bothered to read the context of the verse. The entire chapter the beloved in question is ISRAEL. Not women, not me, not you. You can’t stretch the verse and apply to your own life by saying “Oh, I guess this verse is telling me that I’m a bride of Jesus”. No, it isn’t. These kinds of ideas are not biblical.

Ladies, Jesus is not your ultimate boyfriend/fantasy husband. He was never meant to be. Jesus wants us to follow him, not lust after him.