How the Internet is killing religion – Part 2

John

John Draper is the author of the novel A Danger to God Himself

Network 500

 

In my last post, I said that the Internet is killing religion because of the profusion of information critical of the church. It works, whichever church is church to you. I went on to say that the church reeling most from the Internet was the Mormon Church, particularly because it had a paper trail not found in other monotheistic religions. You can fact-check the Mormon Church on the Internet, I said.

Now I want to move on to the most telling reason the Internet is killing religion—starting with the Mormon Church. The Internet isn’t just about information. It’s about connections. We’ve found truth doesn’t come from On High. It comes from the network.

Here’s how it used to work, pre-Internet:

You were in some religion, probably because you were raised to be part of that religion. (For example, the Pew Survey found that Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion, not because more people are converting to Islam but rather because Muslims have more babies than other religious folks. That means you’re going to have more and more children growing up with the default presumption that they’re Muslims.) And you encountered doubt, as religious folks will, surrounded by swirling enigma, as they find themselves to be. If you were lucky enough to have a fellow parishioner you could let down your happy mask with, you sought him out and you confessed your doubts. More than likely, you got one or more of these reactions:

  • Some things we’ll never understand until we get to heaven. His ways aren’t our ways.
  • I will pray for you.
  • You should pray and read your scriptures more.
  • Do you have some sin to confess?
  • Can I pray for you right now? (C’mon, we’ll go over to this corner where no one will see us.)

And then you walk away, shrug your shoulders, lay aside your cognitive dissonance, and get on with the chore of living. His ways aren’t our ways.

The Internet has changed all that. On the Internet, one thing leads to another. Online, you can express a doubt anonymously. You find countless people who experienced the same doubt you struggled with, persevered through their cognitive dissonance, and then came to an unorthodox answer. Some of them became ex-Mormons or ex-Christians or ex-Catholics or whatever.

Others became New Order Mormons or Progressive Christians or Liberal Muslims.

Yet others ash-canned the whole idea of God, usually not without a lot of huffing and puffing and kicking about of furniture.

Whichever, soon enough, you find you resonate with some of them. You find these people are as decent and well meaning as anyone in your congregation. You see they all have the same experience of the divine that you do—that is, a vague sense of peace and a bemused resignation that God Works In Mysterious Ways. All of them grow vertiginous upon considering the vastness of creation and our utter insignificance. Even atheists. (Between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of atheists who said they felt a deep sense of wonder about the universe on a weekly basis rose a full 17 points, from 37 percent to 54 percent.)

Finally, you see no religion is better than any other religion at producing good humans. We’re all just doing the best we can. No religion really works. Neither does atheism.

Suddenly, you realize how confining the four walls of your local congregation were.

You realize we can’t know the truth—and know that we know it. I mean, sure, some of us may have stumbled on to the Ultimate Truth. It’s about as likely as an army of chimps pounding out Hamlet, I suppose. But we won’t be able to prove it—beyond insisting that we feel really, really sure. Really.

Face it. We’re stuck in a universe of uncertainty, and the best way to navigate our way is not through dogma but by connecting with one another and learning from one another’s apprehensions of the Grand Mystery. That’s what the Internet does. That and porn.

We learn the best we can do is piece together whatever it is we choose to believe by taking pieces from the best of what we learn from the people in our network.

The point is, we don’t have to take the church’s word on anything anymore.

Churches are going to get out of the Telling You The Truth business. The transmogrified religions that survive the Internet age will be religions devoted to mystery, religions devoted to not knowing. We will see a flattening of traditional hierarchies, as it’s foolish to think anyone has a more direct line to God than anyone else. There will be more and more diversity, more and more openness, less credal exactitude. People’s religious affiliations will be more fluid.

This idea rankles orthodox folks. They think dogma is what is most important—because it was “revealed” by God. “Without correct doctrine,” they say, “you could just believe whatever you want.”

Exactly. I mean, if God was so concerned we believe a certain set of facts about Himself, He could have been a hell of a lot plainer.

But He wasn’t, so we’re left with mystery.

And really, it’s mystery that deserves worship, isn’t it? Something we have figured out . . . well, we have it figured out. Move on. But mystery . . . Mystery stirs us at our core.

The new religion is coming. Get ready.

Photo: Network by Rosmarie Voegtli CC BY 2.0

 

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What role should God play in your life?

John

John Draper is the author of the novel A Danger to God Himself

God on throne

So I wrote my first novel. It’s about a Mormon missionary who goes insane on his mission. And in the interest of research, when Mormon missionaries would knock on my door, I’d invite them in, every time. It usually didn’t end well. Invariably, they’d bear their testimony heatedly and storm off in a huff, insisting I had a “spirit of contention!”

They were probably right.

Anyway, this one missionary sticks in my mind. I named my novel’s protagonist after him.

Let me set the scene. Things were getting dicey. You know me—push, push, push. Elephants in pre-Columbia America. The Book of Abraham papyrus. Joseph Smith’s wandering wangdoodle. All that. Every time I’d push, they’d bear their testimony. This corn-fed missionary clearly had spied my book shelf, heavy with “anti-Mormon” books and DVDs. He glared at it with resolute menace.

“You and your frickin’ videos!” He barked. “You have no concern for the things of God!”

Are you a fool?

Frickin’. That’s really harsh for a Mormon missionary. Usually, the closest they get to an F Bomb is flippin’. It was righteous indignation, I guess. His was the biblical view: The fool hath said in his heart, “There is no God.” Fools aren’t just dumb. They’re evil. Morally fatuous, if you will—all because they won’t orbit their existence around God and are left with no recourse but self-centeredness. Stupid is as stupid does.

And I was one of them, in his mind: a frickin’ degenerate.

Little did he know. I was actually on a mission from God at the time. I was an Evangelical hell-bent on skewering Mormonism through my debut novel—every bit as zealous as himself. Joke was on him. I wasn’t godless. I was, I guess, god-ful. The difference was I was worshipping the right Jesus.

Joke was on me: I ended up losing my religion through the process of writing my novel. So it goes.

What’s the greatest commandment?

Still, though, I understand where he was coming from. I still have ready access to the religious worldview. In that worldview, unbelievers are fools, as noted above, morally crippled by their self-centeredness. Our salvation, as the corn-fed missionary believed, was in centering of lives on the Things of God. To be the humans God wants us to be we must focus on God.

That was Jesus’ view. Asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said it was To Love The Lord Your God With All Your Heart And All Your Soul And All Your Might. The second most important commandment was to Love Your Neighbor As Yourself. The only reason we can’t serve others is we have our eyes on ourselves and off God. We can’t be good without God. Everything must be done for the Glory of God. The Bible refers to the good deeds of the ungodly as filthy rags, unclean because of their essential selfishness. If you’re not focusing on God, you’re left with no other recourse but to focus on yourself. Vanity of vanities!

Which circle best describes your life?

When I was in college, I joined Campus Crusade for Christ. As a member of that organization, I was expected to “witness,” which consisted of approaching students on campus and sharing the gospel. (Yes, I was a missionary, I guess.) Specifically, we would come up to unsuspecting people sunning on the lawn in the quad or eating lunch in the student union building and ask them, “Have you heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?”

Law 1: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

“However,” we’d ask, “why is it that most people are not experiencing God’s plan for their life?” That led to . . .

Law 2: All of us sin and our sin has separated us from God.

“We were created to have fellowship with God,” we’d say, “but because of our stubborn self-will, we chose to go our own independent way and fellowship with God was broken.” That led to . . .

Law 3: Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for our sin. Through Him we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our life.

“However,” we’d say, ‘it’s not enough just to know these three principles,” leading to . . .

Law 4: We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.

“Receiving Christ involves turning to God from self and trusting Christ to come into our lives to forgive us and to make us what He wants us to be,” we’d say.

Then we would show them this diagram:

Four spritual laws

“Which circle best describes your life?” we’d ask. It was like asking somebody, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” No one wants to admit they’re selfish—and we were telling them the only alternative to selfishness was God-centeredness.

If they chose the Christ-directed circle, we’d lead them in The Sinner’s Prayer, the capstone of which is “Take control of the throne of my life and make me the kind of person You want me to be.”

In other words . . . we can’t be good without God, But what does that mean? How does one love God with one’s whole heart, practically speaking? How do you put Christ on the throne of your life on a daily basis? By reading the Bible? Please. You hear His voice? Call the folks from the Funny Farm. How can you focus on an invisible, silent being?

You can’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying God doesn’t exist. If you’ve raced to that conclusion, you’re mistaken. There is a thing called God that created space and time. He’s just not accessible.

Not to sell God short, but . . .

Religious folks cry, “Not true! God acts in my life.” Really? If you probe these religious folks about how God acts in their life you’ll find two things:

  • First off, most of the acts of God in a believer’s life are perceived in hindsight. God really taught me something through that trial or I can see there was a purpose to it all now. And so on.  If God does act in our life, we can’t recognize Him doing it, for the most part. It’s so incremental so as to imperceptible, like the continents sloughing off into the ocean.
  • Secondly, when they can point to God acting in the present it’s always through humans. God really touched me with that song or God brought you into my life or God spoke through you.

So what can we learn from that? I think God’s intention is clear. He knows we can’t focus on Him, so he wants us to focus on each other. That’s the whole point—the point of life. The second commandment is actually the first commandment. Jesus was wrong. Turns out, the Things Of God are the Things Of Men.

I don’t want to sell God short. Nothing would exist without God. We owe God not just for our creation but for every second of our existence. As the Bible says, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (There is truth in the Bible.) We only keep on keeping on because God holds reality together. In fact, He’s the only Necessary Thing. Nothing has to be. We’re certainly not necessary. The fact that there’s something rather than nothing is a clue that there is a Necessary Being to bring all this unnecessary stuff into being and hold it together.

But God is totally unnecessary in crucial one sense—when it comes to how we lead our lives. Let me be more plain: We Don’t Need God. We don’t need Him to be good. We don’t need Him to be selfless. God doesn’t act in our lives. He can’t act in our lives. That’s not the way things work.

So what good is God? Well, as I said, He holds reality together—no small matter, that—but, past that, we’re pretty much on our own. That’s why we need each other. That’s why a life focused on self is . . . foolish. Not because we’re not focusing on God. Rather, because we’re not focusing on others. Therein lies our salvation.

Photo: Christ as Judge 3 by Waiting for the word CC BY 2.0

Who lays claim to the true gospel?

John

John Draper is the author of the novel A Danger to God Himself

gospel
Everyone says they bear the true gospel. Mormons say it. (They call it the Restored Gospel.) Pentecostals say it. (They call it the Full Gospel.) Holy Rollers say it. (They call it The Foursquare Gospel.)

And so on.

What they’re all saying when they make this claim is “We believe in the gospel that the first apostles believed in!” (For example, Mormons claim that after the last apostle died, there was a Great Apostasy—the gospel was lost and the priesthood power withdrawn from the faithful.)

Everyone wants to be like The First Christians.

The whole effort’s wrongheaded, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not even sure the First Christians were Christians. I think they thought they were Jews—Torah-observant Jews. The only difference between them and their fellow Jews was their devotion to Jesus, who was very adamant about observing the Torah. The early church was based in Jerusalem and headed up by James, the brother of Jesus, who wouldn’t let you in the club unless you got circumcised. Without anesthesia. Ouch. How’s that for being born again?

I believe that what is promoted as apostolic doctrine by most churches is not what the apostles taught. For example, what mainline Christians believe as “gospel” is the dogma introduced by Paul, which he called “my gospel”—I think to distinguish it from the pro-Torah “gospel” pushed by James and the apostles in Jerusalem.

Paul was the one who invented the whole “salvation by grace through faith” idea, not Jesus.

The First Christians weren’t about grace. They were about strict observance.

Problem is, strict observance sucks as a Rule of Life. Whether or not you believe in God, it’s best to give yourself grace. Allow screw ups. Have a fried egg sandwich now and then—with bacon. Realize that when you try to learn something new, you’re going to suck at it at first. Stop being your worst critic. Rules—enough with all the rules! Everyone who has found peace by following rules, raise your hand. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Stop trying to be like the first-century church. They were just as lost as we are. If you want to have religion in your life, let your religion evolve—improve. Stop looking backward. Let’s keep learning and growing, throwing away the rules that don’t get us anywhere.

That’s my gospel.

John Draper is the author of the novel, A Danger to God Himself.

 Photo: Prepare for the end of this world by Stephen McCulloch  CC BY 2.0

All Christians will accept homosexuals — and soon

John

John Draper is the author of the novel A Danger to God Himself

Fag nation

Well, maybe not all Christians. Probably not the Westboro Baptist types and the snake handlers. But other than that, yes, I think everyone who believes, in some fashion, in Jesus and the Bible will come to embrace homosexuals. Oh, yeah, and the Mormons—they’ll probably never budge on homosexuality either. (Don’t be so sure, though. The LDS church is infamous for flip-flops on doctrine.)

Right now, it’s pretty much only progressive Christians who accept homosexuals. In my experience, they back up their acceptance with faulty interpretations of the Six Killer Verses About Homosexuality in the Bible—for example, “abomination” didn’t mean, well, “abomination;” it meant “taboo.”

More about biblical interpretation later, but first let me explain why I think all Christians will soon embrace homosexuals.

I think that eventually The Church will come to accept homosexuality, but it won’t be because they adopt progressive Christianity’s’ unorthodox biblical interpretations I mention above. Rather, it’s going to happen because, more and more, believers are encountering gays at work and elsewhere and they’re learning that they’re just normal people. They’re coming to find out that gays aren’t “wicked” or some such thing. They are moral and they just want what straight people want: happiness, healthy marriages, security, etc. It’s a Virtuous Circle, I think: As society becomes more accepting of gays, gays are emboldened to “come out” at work and in their neighborhoods. And as gays come out, their straight peers are finding that they are actually likable, which results in more societal acceptance, which results in gays being more emboldened to come out. You get the idea.

And that Virtuous Circle is going to force Christians to adopt a new attitude toward scripture. What do I mean? I mean the progressive Christians don’t go far enough. We don’t need new interpretations of scripture. We need a new understanding of what we mean when we call scripture “inspired.” The Bible—or the Koran or the book of Mormon or any “holy” book—isn’t the Word of God. It’s the word of humans, and, as such, it’s prone to all the limitations of the human authors.

The truth is the Bible is an adamantly heterosexual book. It assumes heterosexuality. That’s because it was written by ancient people—mainly men—who weren’t particularly enlightened. When the Westboro Baptist types insist that the Bible condemns homosexuality, they are right.

Let me be more plain. The Bible was wrong about homosexuality. Paul was wrong about homosexuality. Jesus was wrong about homosexuality.

In this coming gay-friendly Christianity, believers will still read the Bible but they’ll do so more cautiously. They’ll pick out the wisdom and disregard the nonsense. They’ll realize that all truth is God’s truth.

Or maybe they won’t. Who’s to say? But if the Church doesn’t change its stance on homosexuals and on scripture, it will die.

John Draper is the author of the novel A Danger to God Himself.

Photo: Westboro Baptist Church in Madison by Cometstarmoon CC BY 2.0