Conclusions on My Interview with Harold Camping, the Man Behind May 21, Judgment Day
May 18, 2011

If you haven’t read my interview with Harold Camping on KillingTheBuddha.com, you may want to read that first.

I came away from interviewing Harold with two somewhat differing conclusions, neither of which would have fit well if included in the KtB article. The first was too nice and too characteristic of my wishy-washy agnosticism. The second was too preachy. But some have asked me what I really think about it all after speaking with him, so  I’ll give both conclusions here:

First, I couldn’t help but think of how many of us, like Camping, are so confident in our particular perspectives on truth. And how all “those people” are deceived or stupid or crazy. I also think of the many Christians who, when discussing end-times things, have said something like, “Those May 21 people are crazy!” Of course, the Left Behind series, which seems only different from Harold’s prediction in that it doesn’t give a date, is perfectly acceptable in their eyes.

The fact is, everyone’s views seem crazy to someone else. So where does one draw the line between truth, heresy, and insanity? Who gets to be included in the range of acceptable answers? And who determines that?

While I may not agree with Camping, I’d like to think that all of us, even Camping and his followers, harbor a tiny bit of truth that’s trying to get out. Camping and his followers, at least the ones I spoke with, are genuine, nice people (well, as long as you ignore their anti-women, anti-gay, anti-everything-else theology). And they don’t seem crazy. They have their wits about them and can carry on articulate conversations (something you can’t say about some evangelists). Their particular view of things is certainly not mainstream. It’s quite eccentric, but then again, I also think many traditional readings of scripture are, shall we say, problematic (I’ll get more to that later). But the May 21 folks are real people with real lives and families and fears. Recent videos like the following actually do a good job at showing the human side of Camping. If nothing else, it shows a man who I hope I have as much stamina as when I’m almost 90 (he’s been doing shows 7 nights a week)…

Perhaps there’s a bigger message in all their May 21 efforts, in the billboards and caravans and tracts and radio shows, in all the very intentional actions of those who care enough to warn others—even if what they’re warning of is false. It makes me wonder if God, or whatever you call it, just wants us to see what could happen if, even briefly, we could treat each moment, each day, each interaction, like it’s our last.

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At the same time…and here’s conclusion #2…as I listened to Camping, I realized that he would make an interesting case study of the anti-establishment ethos. A great punk rocker, if you will. He chose long ago to ignore the rules of the Ivory Tower and read the Bible how he thought best. He and his followers really don’t care what people think, because they live according to what they believe is right, which is based solely on his particular reading of Scripture.

And his approach sheds light on the problems that develop when absolute individualism meets absolute truth.

Again, many of us are so confident that we’re right, but worse, we have an addiction to using the Bible as the ultimate support for our claims. Like Camping, many of us have made the Bible our “university” to teach us only what we choose to learn.

Of course, this is nothing new. It’s a natural byproduct of the old sola scriptura principle (that Scripture alone is the ultimate authority for spiritual life) combined with Martin Luther’s “priesthood of all believers” protest (that everyone has the right to interpret the Bible for themselves, without the need of religious authorities). And so whether used for the causes of liberal, conservative, or even the latest spiritual-but-not-religious ideals, the Bible, and our particular reading of it, is held up as the idol to which all others must bow. And we secretly hope that whoever doesn’t bow will ultimately suffer some type of Judgment Day, if even just a little one.

Messages like Camping’s help us see this underlying problem within the foundation of religion, and it’s not just the issue of deciphering who has the correct read on the Bible, or who has the authority to determine that. (Perhaps we’ll know this Saturday, but if Camping is right, it will be too late anyway.)

The problem is that we’ve made the Bible too sacred. As my very wise wife says, it has become our Golden Calf. Because when something—a person, an idea, or a collection of old writings—is declared to be directly from God and granted immunity from questioning, there’s simply no room for balance. And as long as we allow such ideals to hold us hostage, forget May 21; our world has already ended.

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Will the Real Christians Please Stand Down.
September 30, 2010


Who’s really a “true” Christian? It seems every time someone points out a flaw about Christianity, perhaps calling out the questionable behavior of a Christian leader or even something more subtle, other Christians use the defense, “That’s right! But they’re not a true Christian.” Some examples:

When non-Christians speak of the failings of Ted Haggard or Eddie Long as proof that Christianity is worthless, liberal-progressive Christians like to point out how they’re not like that, or even use it as an example of how their form of faith is better. How that (conservative, Charismatic, megachurch) stream of Christianity is not the real Christianity. How real Christianity is about social justice and sound reasoning and such.

Or when people who leave the church explain to Christians that they left it because it was dry, ritualistic, boring, and irrelevant. Those belonging to the more energetic traditions, Charismatic for example, say, “Oh, but that type of Christianity (Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran) is really not what Jesus had in mind… Jesus came to bring life!”

Or when those within the hallowed realms of ancient Orthodoxy and Catholicism claim that, because of apostolic succession, they are the true heirs of Christendom. They criticize protestant churches of heresy. And when they themselves are exposed of oh, I don’t know, sexual abuse let’s say…the Protestants come running to use it as a chance to protest that, because of the priesthood of all believers, they (the protestants) are the ones who the truth has set free.

And then you have Emergence Christianity, which seems to be trying to get beyond the labels, but is having a hard time doing so. One reason is that everybody else calls them heretics.

And Emergents often respond by calling the traditional churches “narrow-minded modernists” who are too tied to their traditions that they don’t leave room for Jesus.

And the next time Pat Robertson makes an idiotic statement on international television (and he will) or another televangelist misuses money (and they will) or another priest is said to have molested boys (it will happen) or another deep-south pastor with a dozen congregants makes inflammatory protests about gays or Muslims (and they will), the “other” “real” Christians will come to Christianity’s defense.

Now it’s definitely a good thing when the “other” Christians, the silent majority, speak out against extremism. But there will always be “the other Christians,” the ones who consider themselves to be the “real” followers of Christ. And what gets me is all the talk about who is and who is not a “real” Christian. Every single denomination thinks they’re the ones who got it right.

Of course this is nothing new. It’s been going on, literally, since 1 AD (and before), and it will most likely continue. There were even the Gnostics, who believed they had received the secret, the real truth. And it seems every denomination today believes that same way.

And for years people have been complaining that because of the fact of Christianity’s countless divisions, it’s just not worth the trouble, and it’s proof of the religion’s illegitimacy. To which the Catholics would respond, “It’s the protestant’s fault…without Luther we’d still be one Church (capital ‘C’), except for those pesky Orthodox kids in the East who caused the Great Schism.” To which progressives and Emergents would respond, “But it’s not division… It’s diversity!” and on and on it goes.

Jesus talked about this problem with someone from another religion. He even brought the conversation beyond Christianity, into the debate about which religion (in general) is right. To the Woman at the Well, a Palestinian and declared unclean by the Jewish religious authorities, Jesus said something to the effect of: “Your religion says we should worship God one way, and mine says we should worship God another way. But there will be a day when we’ll all worship God together, from the heart, sincerely, beyond all these arguments.” (John 4)

That day has yet to come. Christians claim that Jesus was the one who brought that day here, 2,000 years ago. But apparently, seeing as we’re not all Universalists or Baha’i or anything, that’s not the case. And I won’t pretend to have an alternative. But one Jewish writer did touch on something that may be helpful, when he said, “True religion is this: Taking care of the widows and orphans and guarding against corruption.” (James 1:26-27)

And Jesus himself hit on it with the advice that he said sums up all the religious rules. Unfortunately, many Christian leaders might say that something like it is too vague, too nonspecific, and not clear enough for the average person to put into real practice. It was Jesus’ primary directive: “Love God. Love others. That’s it.” (Matthew 22:36)

It just seems to me that no Christian tradition has still, after 2,000 years, never really mastered both of those two simple things. Especially if all the blaming and bickering is any indication.And when so many Christians say that they’re simply being persecuted for righteousness sake…I think it’s more accurate to say it’s for self-righteousness.

But if that’s what Jesus meant by what true spirituality is — just loving God and loving others — perhaps all of us still have some growing (and loving) to do.

Until then, would all you “real” Christians please… Shut. Up. You’re giving me a headache.


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Check This Out:

  • To get the idea behind what I’m getting at, read my older post, God the Elephant.


Frontier
July 25, 2010

This is for Rick (and anyone else, of course). What started out as a paragraph became several, and maybe a bit too abstract. Sorry if I rambled too much. Just some thoughts.

Many think we are just selfish relativists who want to have our free will without any responsibility or consequence. We are seen and described as non-committal, apathetic-yet-verbose idealists whose primary desire is to buck the system to conform to and justify our own fleshly desires. We are perceived as having near-demonic repulsion to the holy absolutes handed down by wise, God-fearing prophets, teachers, and/or apostles. We may be seen as naïve. Or if we demonstrate that we are not naïve, we are declared as bitter malcontents whose hearts have been darkened by such sins as pride or rebellion.

These are some of the justifications given for declaring many of us heretics, among many other descriptors. And we know these all quite well. In spite of this, and not merely in quick reaction to it, I think the best way to respond is with words such as those spoken by Dean Thomas Ferret, one of the first Protestants who was burned at the stake during a Scottish inquisition: “I am confident my cause is just in the presence of God, and therefore I am not concerned about the consequences.”

I use that quote not because I piously think of myself or others in similar position as martyrs. I wouldn’t dare compare myself to someone who was questioned by an established regime of Christians who were so confident in their specific form of faith that they felt it okay to literally judge the faith of others. Okay, well, maybe I would. Because in the same way that it has been happening for centuries within Christianity, people have felt so determined to defend “the” faith, or at least their form of it, that they have named “their” faith “the” faith. And to this day the inquisitions live on, albeit softly, through various forms in all denominations of what the Catholic church has progressively re-named from “Inquisition” to “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” the task of which since 1965 has been defined as “furthering right doctrine rather than ‘censuring’ heresy.” And I think such soft-pedaling is disingenuous.

Regardless, what I want people to know is that most of us really are, on a heart level, confident that our “cause is just in the presence of God.” And while some might say that one who is sincere can still be wrong, which just makes one sincerely wrong, I think the crux of the matter is that Christians have come to define a relationship with God with too tight of terms, including “right” and “wrong.” I know this may get into the whole relativism-versus-authority debate, but I’ll avoid that by just pausing to say that one way I have come to define my faith is with the same words of those who established the Christian Biblical canon: “This ‘seems’ right to us and the Spirit.” In other words, it’s all a guess. A hunch.

Whatever label some try to put on me, I am holding fast to this proposal: Faith is not faith if it doesn’t involve uncertainty. If it doesn’t involve some trepidation, mistrust, struggle, fear, blindness, and dare I say, doubt, it’s no faith for me. And if my version of God is a god whose deadly “justice” needs defense, that god must die, because he is apparently too weak to stand on his own. And if, in order to further the legacy of such a faith, I must reject any perspectives that question, deconstruct, or defy established doctrines, that’s a legacy not worth continuing.

So these views might make me an outsider of sorts. A wanderer. A lost “prodigal.” But in this sense, I’d rather wallow and share slop with my fellow pigs than return to a house that promises an inheritance. Because, in this case, the inheritance is conditional upon my acceptance of too many house rules based on imagined certainty, and such an inheritance, in my view, is fools gold. And many have made that house and that inheritance into more of a self-proclaimed kingdom. But it’s an insular kingdom, an incestuous monarchy.

For these reasons, I am content with my wandering. But I am intentional in wandering. It’s part searching and part enjoying the ride. Part sailing, part motoring, and part drifting. Part communicating and part staying silent. And a lot of listening. A lot of sniffing the air and licking my finger and testing the breeze. And occasionally putting one foot in front of the other, not on a staircase that brings me higher, but on a wilderness trail with lots of blind turns. And I’ve grown comfortable in the discomfort of that. Confident in the contradictions.

It’s like I’m suspended somewhere in-between, but not like walking a tightrope, trying to traverse from one side to the other and calling it a success. More like the neon suspended in a glass tube, happy when the twilight comes. The time when the world occasionally realizes that night and day are different for each time zone. Because that’s when I begin to see that I’m not the only welcome sign in our lonely town. With each flicker of light here and there, little signs popping on, I’m reminded of the beauty in the art of divine randomness. It’s the beauty of holy chaos. Reds and yellows and all sorts of colors blinking on, some in steady, predetermined  patterns, some of them stuttering for a while until they’re warmed, and some haltingly flashing, barely humming in their own discouraged dimness. But we all light up our own little portions of the solitary road, letting travelers know that they are welcome to stay a while, to exit the busy highway and rest.

God the Elephant
January 23, 2010

I think it would be helpful if we all admitted we are blind. Then maybe we could work as a team. You know…Coexist. Share our perspective and admit that’s all we know…our own perspective. Nothing less, nothing more. None of us have the full picture of God and Truth. That’s my take anyway.

My friend Melinda shared a beautiful comment on another friend’s Facebook wall in response to a political discussion, and this is sort of related to my last post here as well (about prejudice). Melinda is a wonderfully talented musician, writer, poet, mother, human. She has a depth and peace about her, and I think what she wrote deeply and beautifully puts into words my thoughts on a lot of this God stuff and church stuff and relationship stuff:

I have this sense that we are all the same, all one. Poor and rich, haves and have-nots, criminals and saints, wives and adulterers, ignorant and intelligent, god-fearing and lovers of darkness.

There is nothing that makes me superior to you in character or deed or status or behavior or genetics or culture or gender or race or belief system. Nor you to me.

If I behave toward you as my brothers and sisters, fathers, mothers, friends, self, then my judgments of you ring hollow– for where I see your weakness in one area, you inevitably transcend me in another.

To eliminate the idea that *I* somehow have the experience and wisdom to judge *you* is what I strive to do, and I hope for you to do the same of me.

A fair, impartial judge could take a look at my life in its entirety and FAIRLY condemn me to hell for my vast character defects (I have so many). Yet, that same judge could raise me up as an example of courage and fortitude and beauty (I have these, too). In the end, my wholeness is inherently “good” and “evil”, light and dark, blending me to an awareness of God through my mistakes, allowing me to minister to others in my good choices.

Love, love.

(re-posted with her permission)
Please don’t dismiss this as idealistic. This is real. This is possible.  And yes, this is very hard. I mess up and I fail at this. I’m prideful. But I think it might be worth a shot: Let’s share what we’ve found, without defending it like a treasure. Let’s share what we fear, without taking advantage of the fears of others. Let’s share where we struggle.  Let’s share the load.
And when I said we should work as a team…Maybe the goal is not to work as a team so we can figure it all out, to clearly define the nature of God, truth, the universe, whatever. Maybe we’ll find that merely working as a team was the point in the first place. Then maybe the Elephant would say, “Now you’re getting it.”