So today I'd like to discuss another of the lovely UCG booklets - this one on "Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion". This lovely little pamphlet explains how you know whether or not you (or more likely your neighbor) are a "true Christian" or whether Jesus will say "I never knew you". As a once-thoroughly converted Christian and current happy apostate, I'm eager to begin.
First, readers are told that conversion is
a miraculous, lifetransforming process - a process that is impossible without the direct, active intervention and participation of God.Then we get the "free will" argument (that God values our free will more than he values our salvation, or preventing us from spending eternity being tortured in a hell he created) presented thus:
Although He clearly encourages humans to "choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19), God does not force anyone to make the right choice. But, as we shall soon see, the consequences of our choices are enormous.Ah, the "mercy" of Gawd is evident all around us. Now we get to the heart of the matter - an introduction to the step-by-step process of conversion, and the end result.
The process beings with God's calling, followed by the key steps of repentance, baptism, and the receiving of the Holy Spirit - finally climaxing witht he return of Jesus Christ, when the dead in Christ are resurrected to immortality and given eternal life. That is the ultimate transformation, being changed from a mortal to an immortal being! (emphasis added)
Repentance is a big favorite in Christianity, because the entire theology is based on the presupposition that we are all guilty of something which requires forgiveness (or atonement, or death, depending on your denomination's interpretation of Scripture). And of course baptism gives the clergy early inroads into the lives of their follower's children. The oddest thing about baptism to me is its early roots in death and drowning (which is why some groups still prefer a good ole fashioned dunking to the sprinkling of infant baptisms). I myself was baptized in a swimming pool when I was 7, after begging my mom to let me do it. My sister had been baptized in the lake behind a friend's house the summer before, and I was definitely jealous. Looking back, that doesn't seem to be the best of all possible motives for a baptism, but hey what can you expect from a 7 year old?
As for receiving the Holy Spirit, I gotta say I tried my hardest but the damn spook just wouldn't show up. I cried and prayed, fasted, read my Bible, yadda yadda. Basically none of my rain dancing for Yahweh yielded so much as a drop of spiritual renewal. I was quite relieved to discover that the non-existence of the Holy Spirit probably had more to do with this failure than any lack of faith or effort on my part.
But the mortal -> immortal aspect is one that wasn't taught in any denomination or church I belonged to. In fact the exact quote that was used (ad naseum) by my grandmother was, "We're all gonna live forever. Somewhere." So the idea that only converted Christians will experience immortality kind of flies in the face of the hell doctrine, don't it just? I think here's one the Mormons would really disagree on. (See Chatting with Mormons 5 for a discussion on the eternal nature of man from an LDS-persepective!)
After the introduction, we get warned that not all Christians are True Christians(TM).
Most groups that profess to be Christian represent themselves as having a "calling," as being the "chosen" of the Lord. Even many non-Christian religious groups regard themselves as divinely chosen.I love the absolute conceit - wow even non-Christians think they're chosen by god! Of course they do. What religion would anyone take seriously that claimed to be NOT chosen by their preferred deity? Who would attend the church or mosque or synagogue that advertised "God doesn't visit here"? The authors reassure readers that we can discern which groups have it right, "If we are willing to take an honest look at the facts and accept the truth revealed in the Scriptures". sadly, accepting scripture as truth, and taking an honest look at facts, are inherently antithetical propositions. The "facts" put forth by the pamphlet are
Jesus Christ is real. He was resurrected. He is alive. And His impact on the world has exceeded that of every other man who has ever lived.
Wow - all the unsupported claims you can throw a stick at! (Is this a Southern-only phrase? I happen to love it, in part because it makes so little sense.) Okay, so as my atheist readers have surely yelled at their monitors by now, yes of course, none of those are proven "factual" at all. I don't personally care if Jesus existed as a historical figure or not, but the mere fact that it is unprovable is interesting.
Now we come to an example of the inherent contradictions of the gospel message.
God's desire is to give salvation - eternal life - to all mankind. "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17)Sounds groovy, right? Eternal life seems cool (till you think it through) and a benevolent god that wants to save us all sounds rather giving as well. Oh, but wait! There's a bait-and-switch up ahead.
To become acceptable to God, all must recognize and accept God's Word as the main source of truth.Hmmmmmm... So, he wants to save you, but only once you've become "acceptable" by taking a bunch of really outlandish supernatural and scientifically and statistically improbable stories as your main source of truth. Since the Bible gets a pretty large FAIL grade on Science, I'm gonna have to stay unsaved.
Regarding the need for repentance, our author reminds us that
Peter explained that every human being bears responsibility for Christ's death - not just the Roman soldiers or the small group of Jews who arrested and brought Jesus to trial.Peter almost sounds like as much of a dick as Paul here, doesn't he? I've got a 3 year old. He's responsible for a lot of mayhem in my life and my landlord's - flooding the bathroom, coloring on the walls, throwing food off his high chair - but he certainly bears no responsibility in the public execution of a possibly fictitious rabbi thousands of years ago. That's a bit of a heavy burden for such a small guy, and it continues to be preposterous as we age. But hey - when did religion make sense?
Satan is credited with a whole host of accomplishments.
Satan has wielded tremendous - but not absolute - power over humanity (2 Corinthians 4:4). His role in shaping our world's entertainment, education, politics, advertising, and moral standards has been enormous.Kind of makes God seem neutered, doesn't it? I'll never again comprehend the position of an all-powerful God getting his ass kicked on a daily basis by one of his own creations. (And then there's the whole, why doesn't he just annihilate Satan already?) Now we get into the issue of repentance.
When we repent we stop doing what is wrong and start living in harmony with God's ways and laws... Repentance should include a sense of sorrow and shame, but genuine, heart felt repentance is much more than simply an emotion. Our lives much change.This is probably why I was such a shitty Christian. Sinning is just way too much fun! Besides, sorrow and shame are pretty crap emotions to have over the course of years. I can't tell you how many Sunday mornings I spent crying in church over the fun I'd had the night before.
The next section of the booklet, "What is Sin?" will clarify for my readers exactly why I enjoy sinning so very much. According to UCG's pamphleteers, sin is
[God] says that sin is trangressing His holy, spiritual law (Romans 7:12-14). Breaking that law - crossing that divine boundary, that limit God set for us - is sin.God has a lot of laws, according to the Bible, including how to treat your slaves (but no prohibtion against owning other people), when to stone your children (when they don't obey you), how to treat rape victims (force them to marry their rapists!), and the penalties for working on the Sabbath (you guessed it - death, unless of course you're Jeezy Creezy).
A comment box within this section attempts to answer "What is Wrong With Our Human Nature?" by proposing
- Our fleshly desires get us into trouble
- We look for ways to justify our wants and actions
- "We have a natural tendancy to resent having our fleshly desires limited by rules"
Next we get to baptism. Here the death-yen of Christianity becomes apparent.
[Baptism] represents death, burial and resurrection - both of Jesus and ourselves. Baptism shows that we accept the shed blood of Christ for our sins and pictures the death of our former life in the baptismal grave.Cheery stuff, eh? Kind of thing you want to expose your children too, right? Their need to die to become acceptable? Yeah, me neither.
Finally we get to the Holy Spirit - the missing part of my own conversion. (Side note: I first said the sinner's prayer in my grandmother's bedroom at the ripe old age of 3, and after responded to at least 20 alter calls I can distinctly remember at revivals, Bible camps, youth events, and church services. Yet the spook never showed.) Now the UCG folks apparently aren't believers in the Trinity Doctrine. The booklet author points out that the word "Trinity" doesn't appear in the Bible, and states
One cannot prove something from the Bible that is not biblical. The Bible is our only reliable source of divine revelation and truth, and the Trinity concept simply is not part of God's revelation to humankind. The Holy Spirit, rather than a distinct person, is described in the Bible as being God's divine power.Huh, so maybe I really was saved! Oh wait, duh, never mind. So, rather than being imbuing Christians with one third of God's own self (like I was taught, as a good little Pentecostal), the Spirit supposedly
- Keeps us in contact with God (and maybe the Tooth Fairy, while he's at it)
- Makes sense of the Bible (oh come now, no one can do that!)
- Makes all things possible (how about hiking the Mariana's Trench without gear?)
- Produces Godly fruit (see my thoughts on Spiritual Fruit here)
- Provides comfort (but not food for starving children in third-world countries)
In conclusion, the author urges us to read our Bibles. Now I honestly don't know any Christians who read their Bibles as faithfully as your average atheist. And a lot of former-Christian atheists like myself will point out that reading the Bible is exactly what led them to disbelief in the first place. Bible contradictions can be found here, here, here, and here. And that was just with one Google search. If I had more time (and didn't need to pee) I'd include more.
So once again gentle readers, we find that propaganda requires no proof, and claims of "facts" go unsupported.
And here is the rest of it.