Archives for posts with tag: fundamentalism

I have spent years in personal study of Church history. I left the faith because of it. If Christianity got something wrong then I want to know about it. I will no longer defend it a priori. I will subject it to the same critical investigation I subject any other religion or truth claim to. But that also means I must be willing to accept it if something is proven true about its claims.

Similarly I will not tolerate it when lies are spread about it. Not because I must defend a dogma or am emotionally committed to it, but because I want the truth. Even if the truth of the particular issue does nothing to convince me of her central claims. I spent too many years digging into Church history to give into conspiracy theories and Fundamentalist agendas. I spent too many years agonizing over the sea of contradictions that engulf Christian claims. I want the truth and I will follow that truth wherever it leads. So far it has led me far from the gates of the Church and at this point I see nothing pointing me back there. But I remain open minded.

Brace Yourselves The 'Easter is Pagan' Posts Are Coming

As it is coming up to Easter I am beginning to see the usual anti-Christian “Easter is Pagan” memes. I used to see them promoted by rabid anti-Catholic Fundamentalist Evangelicals (I used to be one). Then I became more moderate and liberal and they died away. But as I left the faith and began making connections with atheists, skeptics and agnostics I began to see them bandied about again. And from the very highest authorities right down to the average skeptic who is just fed up of the bullshit.

it must be said right off the bat that all reliable sources point very strongly to the fact that Easter did originate as a Christian holiday. We have Melito in 150 speak of Pascha as something well established and practiced worldwide by the Catholic Church. This is a mere 50-70 years after it is thought the last Apostle died. One generation. It is therefore clear that it was the central holiday of Christendom since the very beginning. It was simply a continuation and “fulfillment” of the Jewish Passover. This is the most widely accepted theory. The one that fits all of the facts the best. Sure, that version may be wrong, but I generally try to listen to what the experts are saying, and in this case the jury seems to be in. Yes, there was evolution. Christianity has evolved since the beginning and continues to. Another reason I rejected it. The claims are that it is the faith once delivered to the saints. It is supposedly eternal and unchanging, but history tells us a very different story.

The reason I reject Christianity is because of the inherent uncertainty in its historic claims coupled with the absolute demands of the religion under threat of eternal hellfire. The threats do not match the level of certainty and the difficulty level at which its truth claims are discovered. Faith is a completely unreasonable demand upon which to base your eternal welfare on. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have my opinions on the history of Christianity or on the Bible. I rejected Christianity in major part to allow me to fully question and test it without fear of hell. If at some point I come back to believe it is true then well and good. If some god out there damns me to eternal flames for wanting actual evidence for the things I believe then screw that god. And I seriously doubt a being capable of creating this universe is so small minded and simply wicked as that.

Atheists and skeptics are usually the best when it comes to analyzing the claims of religion and demanding evidence in support of these claims. But to often they give into wild theories about the origins of Christianity. Sad to say but this is simply because they want it to be true. Some claim, for example, that the central figures from the New Testament are stolen from previous cultures, Mary/Isis, Jesus/Horus, Lazarus/El-Azarus,” It just shows me how unaware of the facts these people are and how willing they are to believe a lie when it suits their agenda. Perhaps this phenomena is not just a religious one. Confirmation bias can happen to anyone at anytime. The supposed Jesus/Horus connection, which Bill Maher regurgitates in his otherwise insightful documentary Religulous, is completely without evidence in the slightest. There is simply no evidence to suggest any of the things said about Horus are true. I haven’t looked into the other supposed connections, but I have a strong suspicion based on what I do know that they are also made up.

From the beginning the festival was called Pascha (which is derived from the Aramaic word for Passover) and still is in most non-English countries.. The name Easter is of somewhat uncertain origin, but is most likely Northern European and refers to the goddess Eostre, who was mentioened by Bede in the 8th century. Most scholars feel that Bede had no reason to make this up as it did not help the image of Christianity at all. The month that Pascha fell on was “Oestre-month”. Exactly like how Thursday is named after Thor’s Day. There really is not much more to how Pascha got called Easter than that. The connection to a pagan goddess is incidental and only because she had her name attached to a month. So these critics of Christianity have misunderstood where the true connection lies. It refers to the time of the year.

There may be some connection between Eostre and Ishtar. I have not found any evidence as of yet to suggest this. But even if there was it would only suggest that the worship of a pagan goddess made its way from the Middle East to Northern Europe at some point in the ancient past. No big deal there. Scholars since the 19th century have understood there may be a possible proto-indo-european link between the various “dawn” goddesses (Eostre is derived from the word dawn).

Did pagan accretions add up over time? Most likely. The connections are mostly local customs that grew up slowly and quite apart from any official attempt by the Church to “paganize” Christianity.

Much of the confusion surrounding these issues was first brought upon us by Fundamentalist Evangelicals attempting to discredit the Roman Catholic Church and skeptics have simply fallen into it because they think it helps their cause. Many of the connections are simply not there or are misunderstood.

Constantine gets blamed for a lot of things he didn’t do. He didn’t change the Bible, he didn’t introduce the Trinity, he had very little to do with the Gnostics, he didn’t introduce Christmas and he didn’t change Easter from a pagan festival to a Christian one.

The issue Constantine dealt with regarding Easter was one of dates and times. The Quartodecimans celebrated it on the 14th of the month (quarto=4, deciman=10) in keeping with the Jewish Passover, which they believed was the Apostolic practice. Wikipedia says:

“Constantine enforced the prohibition of the First Council of Nicaea against celebrating the Lord’s Supper on the day before the Jewish Passover (14 Nisan) (see Quartodecimanism and Easter controversy). This marked a definite break of Christianity from the Judaic tradition. From then on the Roman Julian Calendar, a solar calendar, was given precedence over the lunisolar Hebrew Calendar among the Christian churches of the Roman Empire.”

If I’m not mistaken the East still celebrates on the Jewish day, while the West celebrates on the Sunday after it. The East says there way is the Apostolic way and is the very day Passover was celebrated, the West says Jesus rose on a Sunday (the change was also encouraged by strong anti-Semitic feeling).

After reading this I’d recommend you read another article called Easter Is Not Named After Ishtar, And Other Truths I Have To Tell You. It’s another critique of the modern skeptical enthusiasm to show the pagan origins of Christianity that simply do not exist.

One rule of thumb is that with any historic claim go to the sources. If someone is claiming to be relying on sources ask to see them and read them for yourself. This usually dismisses most outlandish claims.

As skeptics we must test all claims not just the ones we don’t like. We accuse the religious of confirmation bias and in most cases rightly so. We should therefore not be found guilty of it ourselves.

The Council of Nicea and the reign of Constantine are fascinating subjects, but not for the reasons that Evangelical Fundamentalists and ill-informed skeptics think so.

Constantine changed the face of Christianity and the world. But he did not introduce any religious holidays. He did not tamper with the Bible. He did not invent the Trinity. He did not give us the Roman Catholic Church. He did many things, but he didn’t do any of that.

There are a couple of resources I would recommend. On the top of my list would be A. H. M. Jones’ Constantine and the Conversion of Europe. One of the best books I’ve ever read. Period. A joy to read. I have it in paperback, eBook and audiobook. It’s one of the few book I’ve ever reread.

The next book I’d recommend might be Decoding Nicea by Paul Pavao. If you can pick out the religious leaning then I think that book might be interesting as it deals with he primary sources of the council and addresses the misconceptions and lies that have gone around about it.

I know the author personally though we have parted ways since I left the faith. He doesn’t like engaging with me anymore.

Once you read these two books you could then read the sources for yourself and they should make a lot more sense to you.

The website https://fourthcentury.com hosts all the primary sources for Nicea under it’s councils section.

…keeping the outer cup all nice and clean, but inside is filthy. Maybe if They’d Taken Me Under Their Wing…

I was young in the Lord and willing to learn. They didn’t know one thing about me. And didn’t want to know. I was a brand new babe in Christ. Hungry for knowledge and in love with Jesus. But I wore sports clothes, didn’t have the right accent, born on the wrong side of the city, and I went to a “heretical” Charismatic fellowship. All they seemed interested in was my wife who was “one of us”. Very sad. But ultimately I’m glad. That experience as well as others caused me to not humbly submit to any man’s or group’s opinion but to search out matters for myself. Something I’m sure they agreed was a good idea in theory, as long as the person ultimately came to believe what they did!

woman-caught-in-adultery

You’ll be sad to know they split a family up later because of a member’s sin (I won’t get into the details) and just like the woman caught in adultery they blamed the woman. Except in this case she was blameless. Yet in their misogynistic way, that only Fundamentalist religionists can do, they sided with the man and excommunicated her. What’s interesting is that back then I always had my doubts about their salvation and sincerity, and this woman was the only one in the whole church I didn’t doubt. Such a lovely woman. The only one who took me in and treated me like a human being. Her husband was nice enough I suppose, but I always thought there was something not quite right about him. And I felt he was nice to me because she was. It never felt like she was either shunning me or trying to convert me. She was just treating me with equal respect.

Anyway ALL of his kids have run off into the world. Like really worldly. She is not allowed back in the assembly. But that was a really liberating experience for her I believe. She was forced to go to another fellowship where she was exposed to Christians other than herself and suddenly realised women who wore trousers were definitely “saved” and many times more devoted than the women she knew, even herself. It was a good experience. And him? Still faithfully attending his Gospel Hall with all his Brethren… No wife, no kids. but oh, so theologically correct and upstanding before his brethren and his god.

People can say what they will, I gave Christianity 110%. I gave my all. All that I could. And I wept and beat myself because I could not give more. Because so much was held back by “the flesh”. I was hardcore. I was an Evangelical Fundamentalist extraordinaire. Yet my endeavours got me nowhere. I believed in Christianity deep down in the core of my being. I believed it was true on every level. I only needed to find the truth. If I didn’t find it one denomination I’d find it in another. I knew man had made a mess of it, all I had to do was uncover it. I could feel the Holy Spirit working inside me and this was my assurance that in spite of the fact I didn’t have answers now I would have them if I kept searching. Yet, the more I dug the more dirt I found. No treasure. What I did get I could have gotten in any religion: good living. Heck, even “ungodly” philosophy extols the virtues of clean, healthy living, positive mindsets and all that. Yet the truth of Christianity, that thing which separates it from all other truth claims, I could not find. The answers were always elusive yet claimed to be held by everyone I turned to. Even though they all disagreed sharply about precisely just what that was and how to obtain it.
 
Here I am now after only one year of the same intensity with my business and I am on the cusp of success. Not meaning to boast, it’s just the contrast is striking as far as I am concerned.
 
The more I gave to my faith the less I got in return. The more I give to my business the more I get in return. In the end my faith was toxic and life destroying. I had to give it up to save my sanity. I understand my business could get in the way of living and I may have to give it up and pull back, but my belief (based firmly on the NT words of Jesus) was that the more I gave the more I would get in return, and that even family must be sacrificed on the alter of service to God. But the only promise of return was in the world to come. The promise while on earth? Suffering. Rejection. Humility. Poverty. Death.
 
Sure a simplistic Evangelicals faith would have been wonderful and I think if a person remains humble and loving toward all of humanity then there is nothing wrong with holding ideas that are most probably wrong. But when someone grows proud, boastful, dangerous even to the point of blood over beliefs that are inherently unverifiable then this must be stopped.

Some Christians manage to live with the dichotomy of myth and science. Accepting Genesis 1 within its cultural limits. Others, like me, struggle to find the relevance of a book that Christians admit is full of error, written by men, does not contain accurate history and is open to diverse modes of interpretation, each of which are mutually exclusive and contradict the other.

Only dogma maintains a strong faith. The actual evidence undermines it or changes it to the point it is no longer recognizable. This very transformation calls into question the legitimacy of the dogmas of inspiration and revelation.

If our faith is evolving and if it depends on the knowledge man himself can figure out, then of what value is it to say that God has revealed his will by divine inspiration? We can’t seem to even agree on what it means…

I have been accused at different times of reading back into history something that is not there. So I have called pre-critical Christianity Fundamentalistic, to which it was said that Fundamentalism can only refer to a movement started in early 20th century America by men like R. A. Torrey and A. C. Dixon and continued on by others such as H. A. Ironside up to people like Jack T. Chick and his ilk today.
 
I have also been accused of ignorance because I refer to the text used by Jews in the first century as the Masoretic.
 
All I can say is that my only crime was not adding the prefix “proto-” to these ideas. I still hold to the undeniable reality that pre-critical Christians were fundamentalist in thought and action and that the Jews in the first century read from a source that closely resembles the Masoretic we have today. While Christians in the first few centuries before Jerome read almost exclusively from the Septuagint.
 
So let me say this instead. Christians, before the advent of modern science were proto-fundamentalists. Jews in the first century read, what scholars call, a proto-Masoretic text.
 
My favourite philosophy is Existentialism. Philosophers have identified various thinkers throughout history as proto-existenialists. Augustine of Hippo would be one example. And this without much controversy. You can find the list near the bottom of this page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_existentialists.
The practice of ascribing to earlier generation a title that is unquestionably of later origin is fine within proper boundaries. Augustine was not an Existentialist. Hell, most existentialists were not Existentialists! But it is still perfectly acceptable to ascribe certain beliefs of his as existential in nature. What later philosophers described rather exactly, earlier thinkers saw in more vague terms.

At the same time I totally agree that it is possible to read something back into history that isn’t there. To illustrate this I will refer you to this article: http://trinities.org/blog/weasel-talk-about-early-christianity-and-the-trinity/
It’s a fine line to walk. We have many Restorationist Christian groups such as Anabaptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Church of Christ, Baptists, Mormons, Plymouth Brethren, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Protestant splinter groups.declaring to be in a long line of dissenters against the Roman Catholic Church. The worst case I have ever seen is Jack Chick’s “Did the Catholic Church Give Us the Bible?” It is full of lies and half-truths and pure fabrications. If you are not easily led I recommend reading it for a laugh. Many of the groups mentioned have thankfully distanced themselves from earlier attempts by Church historians tying to find genuine links with every group possible that had any disagreement with the Catholic Church. So we have the absurd situation where Baptists are trying to claim Gnostics, such as the Paulicians, as their spiritual and doctrinal forefathers.
My point is this: genuine connections in thought or practice are possible to find, without turning these into a type of absolute lineage akin to the idea in Catholic theology of Apostolic Succession. Pretty much the only thing many of these groups have in common is their opposition to the main body of Christians. Even their reasons for disagreement are often radically different.
The same can be said for the Catholic and Orthodox. Physical lineage is not the same thing as actual agreement with the doctrine and practice of the early Church, especially the Ante Nicene Christians. Calling yourself Catholic and showing some supposed unbroken lineage proves very little. The changes (especially in Catholic theology) are so vast as to make something like Newman’s Development of Doctrine absolutely essential in this critical age. yet Newman does exactly what I am accused of. Reading into Church history something that simply isn’t there. So what does he do? He looks for any old scrap of similarity and says it was a “seed” that grew into a great oak tree in his own day… Yeah right Newman, pull the other one please…

I believe I fall somewhere along the more conservative end of the broad spectrum of Neo-Anabaptism, with an eye on the Ante Nicene period of the Church. To me, a Neo-Anabaptist is someone who holds broadly to the core fundamentals of historic Anabaptism1, while rejecting many of the apparent problems with the original movement and the accretions of later centuries.2 It is someone who seeks to carry on the spirit of the original Anabaptist movement, which was to do away with unhelpful traditions of men, and get back to an emphasis not just on faith in Jesus which the Reformers did; but like the Ante Nicene Church, that of obeying Jesus. This may mean that in some instances a return to what may be perceived as something closer to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy is called for.3 Or for something unknown and unpracticed in any of the churches since the days of the Apostles. But of course it may mean remaining as we are if things are as they should be.

For me an emphasis on the Ante Nicene writers is helpful in this regard as they knew the Apostles personally or were only one or two generations removed, and thus in a much better position to ascertain the faith once delivered to the saints. Of course this does not exclude the possibility of error creeping in even at that early date, and so discretion is used and a reminder is given that final authority (not sole) is given to the Bible starting with the words of Jesus. To say that sole authority is not given to the Bible is simply a recognition of the many ways in which we may be instructed regarding the faith. This may include but is not limited to Apostolic traditions, the later Church writings, modern Church writings and commentaries, early and modern scholarship, the individual’s conscience and so on. Of course none of these methods are infallible, while by faith we believe the Bible is. Each believer is ultimately held responsible before God for what he does with Jesus and the written word, while not stripping the Church of its God-given right to judge.4

A Neo-Anabaptist is someone who takes seriously the teachings of the NT especially the words of Jesus, while not getting bogged down in theology and wrangling over words. This does not mean a rejection of theology, but rather an awareness that an overemphasis can lead to division rather than unity. It means putting non-essentials where they belong: in the non-essentials category of the Statement of Faith. It is recognizing that what makes a Christian is a minimum of theology (nicely summed up in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed for example) and a whole lot of Jesus. It is someone who is not afraid of the hard questions, but does not ask them just for the sake of contention. It is someone who seeks for unity in diversity rather than unity in blind submission to human opinions or traditions. While saying that, it is also someone who recognizes that there is value in human traditions and thus seeks to maintain and honour them in their own right whenever the Bible and/or circumstances permit. Above all it is someone who seeks to be like Jesus.

It is someone who is willing to leave unresolved or difficult issues as they are: unresolved; rather than come down hard on something that simply has not been revealed to us or is still open to further inquiry or to a number of positions. This means a rejection of the infallibility of the Church or the Pope and of Fundamentalism as developed in the early 20th century and still carried on today. This means in practice a rejection of the infallibility of our own opinions (even if we say, along with those who hold opposite views, that those opinions are simply what the Bible clearly teaches). It means an acceptance of other Christians who may have differences of opinion of issues we feel strongly about, but which are unclear or silent in Scripture and which the Church historically (especially the very early period) was either silent about or divided over. It is an acceptance that you will be called a liberal unbeliever by some, and a closed minded, bigoted Fundamentalist by others.5

A Neo-Anabaptist is someone who uses their head as well as their heart when sifting through the issues of faith and life.It is someone who is devoted to faith in Jesus but not given to emotionalism or irrationalism, thus it is also someone who is devoted to empirical reality, while not lifting this above faith. This is a difficult balance to keep and therefore much leeway is given to those who differ with one another on issues touching this.6 This means an acknowledgement that faith in Christ is just that: faith. Faith is not built on facts and figures. Facts and figures can and should be used to substantiate the claims of the Bible, but a Christian does not rest on that.7 Abraham is the prime example of this.

It is someone who seeks to answer the difficult questions of faith and practice in this generation as posed to us by a sin-sick world, modern skepticism and scholarship, and by fellow believers seeking real answers that are not sugar coated or tampered with by Christians who are scared to face reality. This means not being afraid to come up with answers that seem liberal, and at the same time not being forced into positions that seem conservative. It means not being scared of being misunderstood and rejected by those whom you thought would understand and support you.

It is someone who seeks to live the faith, rather than explain it first and foremost. I am still a long way off this ideal and there are many brothers and sisters in the faith, past and present, who have done far better than me at living the faith out in daily life. There is also much else to say regarding what a Neo-Anabaptist is such as social action, evangelism, finances, morality. But these are issues I feel less equipped to speak of, so I will leave that for someone else more capable than me to deal with.

1 Many excellent introductions exist describing the Anabaptist movement, but I will suggest only three. First is “The Anabaptist Vision” by Harold S. Bender, who was himself an historic Anabaptist. Second is the scholarly but very readable “The Anabaptist Story” by William R. Estep who was not an Anabaptist but was sympathetic. Third is “Conservative Anabaptist Theology” by William R. McGrath, which is very hard to find, but written by a 20th century convert to Anabaptism.

2 Some of these issues would include the strict dress codes for women, closed communion, beards, permissible articles of clothing, permissible forms of activity and employment, never ending splits over secondary or tertiary issues etc. These and other issues all stem from the various statements of faith and practice, which a “proving member” must agree to before full membership is granted. All of the various rules and regulations of the Old Order Amish stem from such documents, which are heralded as being Biblical in nature, but which very often make null and void many of the teachings of the NT.

3 An example of this in earlier times would be the Plymouth Brethren movement. Most Evangelical churches today do not practice weekly communion services, and they certainly do not make such meetings the central point for which they gather. This is very often perceived as a Catholic thing to do, yet enter any assembly hall on any given Sunday and that is what you will see. A solemn gathering of men, women and children all seated around the bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus. Read Justin Martyr’s description of a church gathering in 160 AD and it will seem very similar.

4 Matthew 18:15-35

5 Matthew 11:16-19

6 Examples would include creation vs. evolution, conspiracy theories and KJV Onlyism. The first touches on science. The second touches on history and politics, and the last touches on history, faith and textual criticism. All of these position require a faith position even if proponents deny it. Creationism starts with faith and seeks to interpret the evidence that way. Most conspiracy theories are lacking in solid evidence and thus never seem to be able to show anything conclusive. KJV Onlyism starts and ends with faith and has no footing in historical fact whatsoever.

7 Matthew 11:25-27 & 16:13-17