Monday, October 18, 2010

The Bread of Life vs. Skittles

If you were watching Fox News a few weeks ago and lighting bolts and hail started flying out of your TV screen, don't worry.  This wasn't a sign of the Apocalypse.  Rather, it was just the perfect storm of pompous moronicism that took place when Bill O'Reilly interviewed Bill Maher on the Irishman's highly rated TV show.

If you would like to watch the clip, watch it.  If not, this is, if you suck all the hot air out of their conversation, essentially what each of them said:

Maher: Believing in the God of the Bible is bad.
O'Reilly: Believing in the God of the Bible is harmless.

At the conclusion of this less-than-productive debate between two less-than-productive debaters, I realized that Bill O'Reilly had just given a very good example of why Liberal Christianity is doomed to die a quiet death and have nobody come to its funeral.

(While O'Reilly may be a political conservative, he is by no means a theological conservative.  As someone who believes that the Bible is not the actual, real word of God, that the stuff described as having happened in the Bible didn't actually happen, and as someone who doesn't believe that salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, O'Reilly can't help but fall under the category of a theological liberal.)

And the great problem with theological liberalism, at least when it comes to Christianity, is that it can never give any compelling reason for its own existence.

You see, Bill Maher is on somewhat of the right track.  Christianity is either true or it's a big, heaping pile of lies.  The Apostle Paul says exactly that in 1 Corinthians 15.  Maher's problem is that he's drawn the wrong conclusion on the resurrection of Jesus.  But in O'Reilly's mind, when it comes to the Christian faith, it's not a matter of true vs. untrue.  It's really a matter of fine vs. not fine.  And Christianity is fine.  It's sweet.  It's quaint.  It's harmless.  It gives people a sense of meaning and teaches them to be good neighbors who love their children and walk their dogs and buy Bill O'Reilly's books.

But the problem with O'Reilly's view is that, instead of viewing Jesus Christ as the Bread of Life, it treats Him like Skittles.  So Skittles are fine.   As long as you're not a fanatic about eating them, they're harmless.  And honestly, how can a person ever be a jerk while tasting the rainbow?  But, in the end, you don't need skittles.  You'll be just fine without them.  And if you happen to find something else that makes you feel just as good and makes you act just as nice, then you're in just as good of shape.

And if that's what the Christian faith is like, then why bother with it?  If Christ is not the Bread of Life, then why partake of Him?  If Skittles aren't necessary for my soul, and I don't particularly like Skittles, why should I eat them?  Why should I go to a church if it can't give me anything better than what I'm offered in a billion other houses of worship or in the temple of my own heart (aka sleep)?  If Christianity's worth is only found in its utilitarianism, why should I believe its teachings when there are other utilitarian religions that won't require me to believe that I'm a sinner and won't ask me to pick up a cross and follow someone other than myself?

Or perhaps look at it this way: If a man and his family were dying, and the only cure was found in the Bread of Life behind enemy lines, that man will scale barbed wire fences and dodge bullets and stare down the barrels of bazookas to get his hands on the only thing that will give him and his family life.  He'll even give up his own life in order to make sure that his wife, his children can feast upon their only salvation, the Bread of Life.

But if a man and his family aren't dying, and the only thing found behind enemy lines is a pack of Skittles that neither he nor his family actually needs, he won't even think about entering the war zone.  Ever.  And so we see that the reason Liberal Christianity is doomed to die a quiet death is because a faith that isn't worthy dying for isn't worth living for either.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Things I'm Not Serious About But Am Totally Serious About #1: The Chanting License

Hi!  I've invented another blog series that will probably be canceled after two episodes, Viva Laughlin style.  It's called "Things I'm Not Serious About But Am Totally Serious About."  These are things/ideas/practices I've joked about instituting that I would never actually institute but would totally institute if I could.  Probably.  Here's the pilot episode:

The Chanting License:

Early on in my seminary education, I took a class called Lutheran WorshipLutheran Worship was a class intended to teach you how Lutherans have worshiped, how they do worship, how they should worship, etc...  It's a nice class.  I really, really, really enjoyed it.

Although, in fairness, if it hadn't been for one specific session of the class, I would have only really enjoyed it.  The two extra reallys come from the session where we practiced chanting.  You see, many of the men in my class were not what one might call chanters.  Nor would you call them singers.  Nor would you even call them people who have any business attempting to make a musical note come out of their mouths.  And so, when these men were required to stand in front of the class and chant solo-style a few lines from the order of Matins, it was horrible.  Like Carl Lewis National Anthem horrible.  And thus, it was really, really funny.

Like horrifically funny.  One of the funniest things I've ever witnessed in my life.  On a couple of occasions, I had to bury my face in my hands to muffle my laughter.  (I laugh at the embarrassment of others.  I'm sort of a jerk that way.)  And while spending the better part of that half hour smelling the wrinkles in my palms, I thought to myself, you really should need a license to chant.

By and large, I like chanting.  It's an auditory way of highlighting words, of drawing attention to them and enhancing their importance.  But that only happens if the chanting is done well.  If it's done poorly, people don't listen to the words at all.  Instead, they just wonder if the pastor realizes how bad he is and then worry that no one else is going to have the guts to tell the guy that he needs to stop immediately because he's making even the unborn children cry.

So here's my solution to that problem that I'm not serious about but am totally serious about.  Before graduating from the seminary, you are given a chanting test.  You either pass or you fail.  If you pass, then you get your chanting license and you may chant in your congregation.  Chant boldly.  Go on with your bad self.  But if you fail the test, you get no such license and you may not chant.  Ever.  It doesn't matter if you're called to First Nosebleed High Lutheran Church of the Immaculate Chasuble.  It doesn't matter if your chanting will broker peace in the middle east or hasten the Second Coming.  No chanting under any circumstances ever, ever, ever for as long as you live and then two weeks after you're dead.  

I'm thinking of sending a formal request to the academic deans of our seminaries.  Just kidding.  But not really.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Breakfast Cereal and Diddly-Poo

When people apply radically different standards to things that are essentially the same, that's usually a good indication that  those people have gone cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.  For example:

You need a prescription for the birth control pill.  But you can buy the morning after pill (which is just a stronger dose of the birth control pill) over the counter.  You can't, however, get any other drugs over the counter that are stronger doses of prescription drugs.  Since the medical standards for prescription strength and dosage for every other drug in the world don't apply to the morning after pill, I think it's reasonably fair to assert that people are full of diddly-poo if they claim that this exception was based on the principle of "do no harm."

Likewise, I think it's also fair to point out that theologians are full of diddly-poo when they argue in ways that they'd never argue in any other subject, but still claim to be interested in the pursuit of truth.  For example, if Bill were interested in the pursuit of mathematical truth, he would never have the following  conversation with Bob:

Bill: I had ten dollars.  Then I spent three dollars.  After that, I had nine dollars.
Bob: No, Bill.  You had seven dollars.  Ten minus three is seven.
Bill: Well, I think this is really a matter of semantics.  Besides, the most important thing is that I love people when I engage in commerce with them, regardless of how many dollars I have.

If we were Bob, we would never buy it if Bill said he was legitimately interested in pursuing mathematical truth.  But, for some reason, when people make the same argument when it comes to theology, we don't always call them on their diddly-poo.  We don't always tell Bill he's gone cuckoo for  Cocoa Puffs when he engages in the following conversation:

Bill: I think sin is just a kind of weakness and doesn't really separate us from God.
Bob: No, sin is murderous and enslaving.  It places us into the hands of the devil.  That's what God says in Genesis 2.  And John 8.  And Romans 6.  And Ephesians 2.  And 1 John 3.  Should I keep going?
Bill:  Well, I think this is really a matter of semantics.  Besides, the most important thing is that I love people when I preach to them, regardless of what I preach.

Bill, you are not interested in theological truth.  You are interested in you.  You have gone cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and you are full of diddly-poo.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.