The Loneliness of leaving a Cult: the documentary, Sons of Perdition

Two of the boys who escaped the cult

Two of the boys who escaped the cult

Last night I enjoyed the documentary, Sons of Perdition, about people who leave the FLDS, a polygamist Mormon sect on the border of Utah and Colorado. Although the sect in which I grew up was not as cult-like, I found many similarities to the way I was raised and the way I left my sect.

1. Arrogance of the group toward all other groups. They preached superiority: We follow God; nobody else follows God.

2. Isolation. A deliberate effort to keep members separated from the influence of anyone outside the group; keeping members ignorant of the way outsiders think and live.

3. Fear of leaving the sect. Anyone who leaves is going to hell. Anyone who leaves is shunned. Anyone who leaves the sect loses their family.

The bishop and the bishop's father, who was bishop before him, had 70 children.

The bishop and the bishop’s father, who was bishop before him, had 70 children.

4. Obedience to crazy rules is important for many reasons:

     a. Obedience to seemingly odd rules shows that you are willing to obey God even when you do not understand why.

     b. Obedience to crazy rules isolates you from outsiders.

     c. Obedience to crazy rules shows that you are not leaving the group, that you are part of the in-group, can be relied on, and are safe.

5. Lack of self control. The reason they were seemingly self controlled while in the sect was because the sect was so controlling, not because they were self-disciplined. Now that they are out of the sect they can’t make mature decisions for their lives, like resisting crystal meth.

6. Taken in by promises, gullible. They were easy prey to salespeople promising grand things.

One of the boys' family portraits. The women wear ankle length dresses.

One of the boys’ family portraits. The women wear ankle length dresses.

7. Longing for the idealized pieces of their past life they left behind in the sect. They still sang the old songs, they reminisced about the happy times in their large families. They knew only one source of happiness: big families. One boy remembered one happy time with his family together, tickling Dad. Yet family was also the source of their worst memories.

8. Feeling lost spiritually and existentially. They worried about being damned to literal hellfire, and they also worried about not having a literal father and mother to relate to on a daily basis. They had no faith to replace their lost faith, except faith in a future idealized family they would one day have.

9. Having to constantly tell themselves they were not going back. They had to remind themselves of the reasons why they left, and promise themselves they wouldn’t go back. Many of them went back into the sect several times before they could finally decide not to go back anymore. They rehearsed all the reasons they had left, repeating the reasons over and over to each other.

10. Banding together with those who left. They formed tight knit groups on the outside to support each other.

11. Traumatic memories. Those who left were plagued by unprocessed trauma waiting to be sorted out. They seemed to re-create their traumas, finding demanding habits to serve, and getting thrown out of their new homes, so they could once again experience being thrown out. They were stuck in a loop.

I felt sad after watching the documentary. I saw my parents caught up in, and reinforcing, the traumas of the sect I grew up in, shunning and withdrawing from family members who left. I still enjoy the old barbershop four part harmony acapella songs I grew up with in church, and long for an acapella group to sing those songs with. I joined church after church, believing the sad promises of community and faith they promised, as a facade for their nickels and noses agenda.

Posted in cult, Manipulation, Uncategorized, Women's roles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Is the book of Proverbs from God?

Is the book of Proverbs in the Bible a book that should be revered as if it is the words of God?

Solomon was the son of King David, who was three quarters Hebrew, and Bathsheba, who was central African.

Solomon was the son of King David, who was three quarters Hebrew, and Bathsheba, who was central African.

The book of Proverbs, claiming to be written by King Solomon, nowhere states that it is from God. You might counter with the fact that the history writer in the book of I Kings states that Solomon was gifted by God with wisdom. The writer of Proverbs says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, but beyond that, there is no claim that this wisdom listed in the book of Proverbs is from God. In fact it states that some of it was from the wise man Agur and King Lemuel (ch. 30-31). These are not Hebrew names, so they must be wisdom that was gathered from outside of Israel in Mesopotamia/Ur/Uz. Also, the proverbs in ch. 22 are similar to a book of wisdom from Egypt. In ch. 25 Hezekiah is put in charge of gathering wisdom from around the world.

So what we have is a very rich and powerful king gathering wise sayings and wisdom from around the world and compiling it into a best selling self help book that has survived through the ages as the book of Proverbs. How would the evangelical and fundamentalist community here in the United States react if someone followed Solomon’s example, and gathered wisdom from all over the world, publishing it as a self-help Christian book for fundamentalists and evangelicals? They would tar and feather him/her and run them out of town on a rail. Yet that’s exactly what Solomon, the man God gifted with wisdom, did.

The proverbs are written for young men. Wisdom and Foolishness are personified as two women that a young man must choose between. Foolishness is an adulterous woman who tempts a young man into destruction, while Wisdom is a virtuous woman who is to be pursued and treasured.

Authoritarian Child Rearingspanking-discipline-kids

Some of the book of Proverbs is clearly authoritarian: Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” (Pr 22:15) Even Dr. Dobson, the great defender of spanking, says that spanking should be an infrequent occurrence, and end at least by age 9. And there is no alternative given in the book of Proverbs about how creativity is in the heart of a child and the person who can feed that creativity is blessed, or that curiosity is in the heart of a child and one should follow that curiosity in order for one’s child to find their God-given gifts and career. dare to disciplineNo, just beat the child, with no limits or boundaries outlined for how young, how old, how often, with what kind of rod, how severely, etc.; just an admonition to beat one’s children with a rod in order to drive foolishness from him. Solomon gives no admonition to hug the child, encourage the child, pay positive attention to the child. There is no admonition to protect children from harm, or to not sell your daughters as wives until they are old enough to have sex. The only child-rearing advice we hear from the wisest man in the Bible: beat your child with a rod.

jesus-blessing-childrenJesus, interestingly, does not quote Solomon on this topic, rather he says, “It would be better for a millstone to hung around one’s neck and one to be thrown into the deep, than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” This is in contrast to the authoritarian way the disciples wanted to treat the children, not bothering Jesus with their presence. Children are low status, take them away. Clearly the disciples had been reading the proverbs: “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” Jesus corrects this lack of wisdom: “Of such are the kingdom of heaven. No foolishness in their hearts, as far as Jesus is concerned, only the kingdom of heaven in their hearts. Jesus sharply departs from the wisdom of Solomon on this point.

Children in the 60s and 70s were taught that their normal needs and emotions were burdensome to parents (foolishness) and that children were to fear punishment. “That doesn’t hurt.” “Stop crying!” “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll really give you something to cry about!” “Oh, give me some real tears, those aren’t good enough.” “I could blister your butt.” “I’m going to tan your hide.” “I could skin you alive.” “I could beat you within an inch of your life!” “Stop embarrassing us.” “If you act up in the grocery store, I’ll take you out to the car and beat you.” “Do I need to pull your pants down and spank you in front of all these people?” As children growing up in fundamentalist churches, we were systematically taught that we were unimportant, that our universal legitimate needs were shameful, and that our normal emotions were dangerous and sinful.

Comfort childYes, child-rearing is difficult, and having the skills and equipment to handle tired and egocentric little ones takes a lot. But once a parent has learned the skills it’s not as hard as our parents and grandparents thought it was. “I know you want that toy right now. I would feel sad, too, if I couldn’t have it. I can see it is very important to you. Do you want a hug? No, you can’t have the toy, but when we get home you can play with your own toys. I know you want that toy.” angry-father-and-daughterFor teens: “I can understand that you want to go to the sleepover, but the answer is no. I know it is important to you, and I can understand why you think I’m being unreasonable. I feel sad when I say no to you, because I can see how sad you are. Children become less whiney when they have a reservoir of comfort to draw from. If they have been safe and nurtured, then they have less meltdowns and less whining. If they have been emotionally and physically abandoned or beaten down, they don’t have much to draw from shopping-cart-tantrum-child_M to comfort themselves when they are upset. Many adults who grew up in fundamentalist churches have a very small reservoir of comfort to draw on when they are upset, and they crumble or blow up under stress or conflict.


Authoritarian child rearing raises wonderful Nazis. My friend, Wolfgang, was born at the end of WW2 in southern Germany. He said all the kids in his town hated Christmas, hated Christmas! Because on Christmas day Father Christmas (Santa) and Hans Muff (black clothes, black mask) would arrive at the door of each house, and a list of the good children would be read out, who would each receive an orange, and the one bad child’s name would be read out, and that child would be beaten with a stick by Hans Muff. Then Father Christmas and Hans Muff would go to the next house. When Wolfgang told the story we would laugh with horror! Wolfgang never laughed with us, ever. He still hated the story. There was nothing funny about it to him, even after decades. So that is how you create Nazis: just be cruel to the children. That’s all it takes.

stanford prisonSeveral psychologists, some of them Jews who escaped Germany, studied anti-Semitism, authoritarianism and cruelty in the United States after WW2. They found that about 65% of Americans, by and large, make great authoritarians (i.e. Nazis). Authoritarians are somewhat paranoid about the government, extremely obedient to authority figures, competitive with peers, cruel to those beneath them, are a little racist, very concerned about sexual goings-on, see things in black-and-white, punishment and guilt, are a little superstitious, and concerned that the world is getting worse, not better. In contrast Norway has instituted a prison system which is mostly just an education and social skills training center, the opposite of authoritarianism.

King Lemuel in Proverbs 31 has a high view of women: not only did his mother impart wisdom to him, but a valuable wife buys real estate, improves the real estate, goes into business and makes a lot of money for her family.

So for a book that does not claim to be the words and wisdom of God, the fundamentalist church has taken it to heart, except for chapter 31, women going into business. A fundamentalist wife, when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, was taught to stay home and take care of her children and family.

What I am noticing as I re-think the Bible, is that Jesus picked and chose what he wanted to use from the scriptures. If he thought something was foolish, he ignored it. If he thought something was valuable, he paid attention to it.

So where did Jesus get the idea that children were valuable, and needed physical touch, attention and blessing? We can find many stories in the Bible about how valuable children are, but I think the most important one is not specifically about children. I think it is the story of creation, of Adam and Eve, created in God’s image, given the task of taking care of the garden of Eden, with God walking and talking with them in the cool of the evening about all of the accomplishments they had done in the garden.

Adam and Eve by Jan Gossaert

Adam and Eve by Jan Gossaert

I read dignity, empowerment, value, companionship, relationship, purpose, gifting, all in that one story. And it applies to every human being. Perhaps that is where Jesus got the idea to value, respect and empower children.

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I will be speaking at this workshop in April

Recovering from Religion:
Toxic Theology, PTSD, and the Road to Healing

April 6-9, 2016
Minneapolis, MN

This workshop is sponsored by MICAH, Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing. Price to be determined.

I will be presenting a portion of this workshop, focusing on issues that are central to people who have left the hard line fire and brimstone Churches of Christ.

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How to be a Famous Preacher

Joel Osteen

Joel Osteen

1. Be a good public speaker. Express emotion: either be very good at anger, or weep copiously, or smile successfully. Wear the right outfit for your target audience: a Rolex,  leather, tattoos, an Armani suit, whatever cardboard caricature impresses your particular constituents and will make them quit changing channels and watch you. Use a stage set that is part of your presentation: The most successful Christian TV show in the 1980s used French provincial living room furniture with an ornate staircase.

PTL Club

PTL Club

Another successful goateed speaker of the 1980s, Francis Schaeffer, dressed in early 20th century knee breeches to hike across Europe and speak about how the great European artists preached their version of religion, juxtaposed with the true Christian religion.

Francis Schaeffer dressed for his video series on humanism

Francis Schaeffer dressed for his video series on humanism

2. Be able to take a conversion or an answered prayer story and tell it dramatically. Tell only the details that support your premise. Leave out the details that disprove your premise. Don’t be above exaggeration. Edith Schaeffer wrote how their prayers as missionaries in Lausanne, Switzerland, after WW2 were miraculously answered, sometimes down to within a dime of the amount of money they needed to purchase their first L’Abri property.

Edith Schaeffer

Edith Schaeffer

Her son, in 3 heavily autobiographical novels, tells about how an American missionary family in Lausanne, Switzerland, having purloined the mailing list from their new denominational headquarters in Pennsylvania, sent out glowing reports of their work converting young college atheists in Switzerland, and begging for money for a camp for their evangelism. The denomination demanded the American missionaries cease and desist from using the denomination’s mailing list because their donations dropped precipitously while the L’Abri donations sky-rocketed, but the Schaeffers won the popularity contest and the denomination had to back down.

Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts

3. Be able to ask for money easily. Like Rick Warren, be able to make people feel a little bit guilty for not giving money to the mission to convert poor non-Christians in Russia. Pretend you are not begging. “I’m not begging for money, I’m just letting you know how much your contribution to my ministry means to the little orphans in Africa who benefit from it.” Make sure nobody can check on how the money is spent overseas. God told the famous radio preacher, Oral Roberts, that he had to raise 8 million dollars in 3 months or God “would take him home.” He raised the 8 million dollars, which temporarily rescued Oral Roberts University and City of Faith Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma from going under.

Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell

4. Look like you already have lots of money, and make your ministry look successful. Like the trainer at Edward Jones financial planning said, “Fake it ’til you make it.” When you are becoming a financial planner, nobody wants you to invest their money unless you look like you already invest lots of people’s money. So the trainer advised: “Fake it.” One famous TV preacher (Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University) always told his TV viewers that he was speaking to a packed capacity crowd, even when there were very few people present. When speaking to reporters he would over estimate his donor pool mailing list by 300% to exaggerate his influence and the power of the Christian right in the 1980s. Conservative Christians are trained to be loyal and to look the other way when one of their heroes exaggerates (lies).

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker

5. Have a successful looking spouse who looks like he/she is fascinated by what you say. Make sure she isn’t too high strung, so that she can look supportive and fascinated for years, through thick and thin, through unbridled boredom, for richer for poorer, through unfaithfulness and humiliation. Like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, have your acts of penance ready for the bumps in the road.  And like Jimmy Lee Swaggart, act out your contritions in high melodrama with tearful appeals to God for forgiveness. Don’t be afraid to be so outlandish that your lives will be parodied on Saturday Night Live. Your constituents operate at a 7th grade level, emotionally and intellectually. Whatever worked in 7th grade, will work to make you a successful pastor. Face lifts are almost required for the TV preachers and their wives over 50.

 Jimmy Swaggart , 1987.

Jimmy Swaggart , 1987.

Rick Warren

Rick Warren

6. Pretend you’re not bragging. “I don’t want any of the glory for myself, I’m just telling you what the Lord has done in my life.” “I pray four hours per day.” Rick Warren: “My book, The Purpose Driven Life, sold more copies than the top 10 New York Times best sellers combined.” Nevermind that biblical scholars are horrified at how Warren used the scriptures out of context to mean things that the scripture clearly did not mean, the book still was wildly popular.

7. Preach about things that your listeners already believe in. Do not challenge the status quo. Your supporters will be in Fowler’s stage 3 faith, trusting that you will be leading them into the center of the faith. Use the catch phrases and evangelical  or pentecostal lingo that let people know they are part of the in

Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson

crowd. Like Pat Robertson, find a niche: Create an “Us versus Them” scenario that your supporters can feel righteously indignant about: In the 80s it was abortion and humanism. In the current age it is old evangelicalism versus post-evangelicalism. Or Covenantal Calvinism versus the God who learns as time goes by. Or New Age Buddhism versus the God who cares for us personally.

9. Drop names of famous people you have met:

Billy Graham and President Richard Nixon

Billy Graham and President Richard Nixon

entertainers, politicians, business owners. Like Billy Graham, remain loyal to President Nixon until he turns out to be a sleaze. Like James Dobson, support popular wars and the lost blue collar young men that die in them. It is interesting that Jesus was almost anarchic in the absence of name-dropping of the rich and powerful.

10. Hint at a hierarchical competitive Christian ladder that your listeners can attempt to climb in order to grow in status in the Christian community. “She prays 8 hours per day!”

James Dobson

James Dobson

11. Promise your listeners tacitly that if they follow your teachings their lives will be full of faith and promise, their marriages will be full of love, their children will grow up productive, happy and faithful churchgoers. Make it seem like life is hopeful, predictable and manageable, like all they have to do is reject a couple of popular books, movies and TV shows, or wear the appropriate uniform, or go to the right seminars and their lives will become easy, joyful and successful, maybe even promise them they will be successful in their careers and wealthy, or that all their diseases will be healed.

12. Don’t be too soft hearted. The most successful pastors in America today plow through volunteers and “leave the wounded in their wake” as Christianity Today magazine described James Dobson and his Focus on the Family ministry in the early ’90s. An exterior of a tough Christian pastor that protects a wounded child interior is the best recipe for a successful ministry. A couple of diagnoses from the DSM-V are helpful to the successful pastor as well, the most popular being Bipolar II, and Narcissistic Personality, with a wife who has Histrionic Personality. At the very least you need to be the adult child of an alcoholic parent, even better if the parent was suicidal.

13. Preach hard against sexual sin, but it doesn’t hurt to adopt a little sexual deviancy yourself. Rolling Stone Magazine (1986) reported that a male employee said Jim Bakker extorted blow-jobs from him, and Jimmy Swaggart’s prostitute said she wouldn’t want her kids hanging around Jimmy Swaggart because of the sex acts he liked (mostly watching). This came out after Jimmy Swaggart exposed his main competitor in Baton Rouge for committing adultery. 69% of evangelical men admit using porn in the last month, and 25% of pastors report they are currently having an affair with a member of their congregation.

13. Use your kids as illustrations in your lessons and books. It’s okay to punish them in front of the entire congregation. Make sure they are angry drug-addled sex addicts who want to follow in your footsteps.

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Recovering from Religion: Toxic Theology, PTSD, and the Road to Healing

April 6-9, 2016

Minneapolis, MN

Religion plays a major role in the lives of millions, especially in our early formative years. Sometimes this formation is positive. But far too often it’s not. Toxic theology, any theological system that fosters trauma or abuse, is all too common in the Christian Church experience. Some of the hallmarks of toxic theology are:

  • A violent image of God
  • Threats of torture and punishment in Hell for all eternity mentioned in almost every lesson
  • Focus on the basic badness of humanity and our personhood: an example being that the majority of sexual feelings are considered sinful. Almost no skills given for dealing with sexual feelings, just threats of punishment.
  • Rejection of certain types of people by God with slogans, sarcasm and condemnation from the pulpit.
  • Black and white thinking: either you believe what we believe or you are an atheist, nothing in-between.
  • Hierarchical relationships: No questioning allowed. No thinking, exploring or coming to terms with your own faith.
  • Symptoms include: Avoiding people from one’s old church in the grocery store or the mall. Dreading family gatherings. Searching in vain for a bridge to relate to loved ones. Expecting people at work to relate the same harsh way people at church related. Feeling adrift and cynical. Endless searching for a better church.

Come join us as we explore the destructive role of toxic theology in our lives: its negative impact on our health, and the ways in which we can heal from this trauma.

Using a variety of learning styles, Recovering from Religion will engage our hearts, minds, and bodies allowing us to address what may well be the number one cause of PTSD in our country: repeated exposure to toxic theology as a child. Through lectures, panel discussions, artistic presentations, and contemplative practices, we will address this important issue and explore ways to recover and heal.

The conference is appropriate for healthcare professionals, clergy, and anyone whose life has been touched by a negative religious message, either personally or though the experience of a close relationship.

More information to come. Watch this page for more details and registration!

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Bait and Switch Evangelism

I was sent a survey recently by Focus on the Family. (If you click on the link you will be taken to a page that says they are currently experiencing a 1.85 million dollar shortfall, adn would you like to donate money to strengthen families?)

I am a psychotherapist and all the psychotherapists that FotF uses as referrals received this anonymous survey. The first question was: List all of the continuing education you have done in the past year. I opened my CE file and copied and pasted for about ten minutes in between answering the phone and following up on messages. Then after the next few questions it was clear that I was not taking a survey. I was reading a hard sell advertisement for Focus on the Family services disguised as a survey. They now have a marriage retreat weekend that couples experiencing trouble can go on. They fly to Missouri or Georgia, enroll in the weekend, come back and they have an 80% rate of couples staying together for 2 years after the retreat. The retreat is so expensive that they don’t tell you the price on the website. You have to phone and talk to a salesperson.

I was furious. In fact I still am furious. They lied to me: “Take a survey.” If they had said: “We’re going to pretend to give you a survey that takes 20 minutes, and in reality we are going to try to get you to refer your couples to us so we can charge them a lot of money to come to a marriage weekend,” I would have clicked delete. But instead they tricked me. So I responded by looking for spaces that allowed me to reply. I found a couple. I responded with some coarse language calling them liars and money grubbers.

Focus on the Family is the second most successful para-church ministry in America. The most successful is Young Life.

Young Life asks for Committee members to volunteer to help the employees of Young Life evangelize to non-Christian youth. Young Life has fun

Young Life Camp evangelism

Young Life Camp evangelism

 once a week and then take as many teens as possible to luxury camps where they hear an hour to two hours of preaching and devotions per day for a week. If you volunteer for Committee you are expected to go to one training per year, about two hours’ drive away. The first year I was on Committee the training was on the topic of raising money. I felt uncomfortable, but I was fascinated by the techniques used: Always thank a donor seven separate times. Have a personal relationship with each donor. Find out the motivation behind each donor’s gift.

Booster ClubThe second year I had a slight fever and wasn’t feeling well, but decided to take the two hour drive anyway. The topic this time was on raising money. What? I was furious. Was that all there was to learn about being on Committee? When I phoned my brother to complain, he explained we were  Band Boosters. “What’s that?” I asked. That’s the club of parents of the high school band members, assigned to raise money for uniforms and instruments. “Oh! Now I get it.”

Young Life raises the most money of any para-church ministry, having passed Focus on the Family 15 years ago.

What do these two organizations have in common? Manipulation. In fact that’s what all evangelical and fundamentalist churches and ministries have in common: manipulation and dishonesty. I went to a wedding last year. The wedding couple and the minister took the opportunity to preach for an hour about marriage and God to a captive audience. Did we volunteer to go hear them preach? No. We volunteered to go encourage our relatives to have a happy marriage together. They used that time to manipulate us into listening to their viewpoint, to evangelize us.

How many times have you been invited to a church play or concert, only to be heavy handedly asked to commit your life to Christ, or convert to a new denomination?

Jesus never did that. The apostles never did a bait and switch technique of evangelism. They never preached to those who weren’t interested in what they had to say.

This is another facet of how the American version of evangelicalism, pentecostalism and fundamentalism is not an accurate reflection of Jesus.

Posted in Dishonesty, Evangelical Church, Evangelism, Manipulation | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Inerrancy of the Bible

bibleDoes the Bible claim to be inerrant? Evangelicalism, and fundamentalist Christianity is based on the claim that the Bible in its original manuscripts is the inerrant word of God for today.

Is this what the Bible claims for itself?

First of all, the Bible never speaks of itself as the Bible, never speaks of itself as a whole, or with one voice. Jesus spoke of Moses, the Prophets, the Law, or the Scriptures. Jesus referred to Scriptures many times, referring to them as “commandments” (the 10 commandments), calling the writers “the prophet Isaiah”, or “the scriptures” (literally, “the writings”). This last term, “the Writings”, is closer to our term “the Bible” than any other term used by Jesus. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus keeps saying, “You have heard it said”.  Jesus never makes any particular claim of inerrancy about the scriptures he quotes.

burning bush

Fresco, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican

There is at least one argument Jesus makes that indicates he had a high view of the accepted Hebrew scriptures, at least the book of Exodus, when he argued with the Sadducees (who did not believe in life after death) and told them that God said of Himself at the burning bush, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and JacobHe is not the god of the dead, but of the living.” Indicating that the recorded present tense of God speaking to Moses was important to Jesus in believing in the after life. God did not say, “I was the God of Abraham.”  So Abraham must have been still alive in some manner if God said, “I am the God of Abraham…”

However this reference to God using the present tense in the burning bush falls short of Jesus claiming absolute inerrancy for the book of Exodus. The words of God to Moses in the burning bush are a turning point for the nation of Israel. Those words are some of the most important that the Hebrews based their faith upon. Jesus was saying, “If you believe in any of the great promises of our heritage, then you have to believe in life after death. Those promises are based on God being the God of a living Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, even after their deaths here on earth.”

Jesus never states that the Hebrew scriptures are the inerrant word of God.

My father loved to quiz the children at church on Sunday evenings. He would call them up to the first two pews and ask them Bible questions for five minutes. Three of his favorite questions were: How many books are in the Bible? Answer: 66 books. How many writers wrote the Bible? Answer: About 40 writers. Over how many years was the Bible written?  Answer: 1500 years.

The Torah

The Torah

The Hebrew oral tradition was eventually written down, an expensive and time consuming process. All of the papyrus or leather they were written on had to be hand made or hand tanned. The ink and quills had to be hand made as well. Each synagogue would save up money to buy their own copies of Moses and the Prophets, as they could afford them. Very few people could read. As the study of the Law was commanded by Moses, so reading became an important part of a Hebrew boy’s education. Later tradition was that at age 13 each boy was to prove he could read the scriptures to the synagogue, then he was accepted as a male member. Bar MitzvahThe apostle Paul instructed Timothy not to neglect the public reading of the writings, because people didn’t have the Bible at home. They had to gather together and hear it read out loud by someone who had been taught to read.

The fundamentalist’s and evangelical’s favorite passage about inerrancy is the one penned by the apostle Paul writing to his protege Timothy that all of “the writings” that he had been taught from a child were “God-breathed” and “profitable for teaching,” etc. (II Timothy 3:16). Notice that none of these “writings” included the gospels or the letters of the Greek New Testament. Paul was of the opinion that believing in and following Christ was firmly rooted in the Hebrew writings, and that Christian congregations were more or less synagogues that had been enlightened. The officers of the church that Paul encouraged Timothy to install in each city (elders and deacons), were the same officers that existed in the synagogues of the day. When Paul uses the term “God-breathed” he is referring to the creation of Adam out of the dust of the ground, “And God breathed into him the breath of life and he became a living soul.” Just so Paul viewed the Hebrew writings as living and breathing.

stand for reading the gospelNotice also Paul does not say these writings that are God-breathed were the inerrant word of God, with zero mistakes, and no human opinions mixed in. (This argument makes no sense to fundamentalists and evangelicals. Either the light is on or off, it can’t be some dimmable dining room light.) The Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and some Lutherans have usually had no problem with degrees of god-breathedness. For instance, they have seven extra books in the Hebrew Bible that they include in their canon, but they don’t view them as highly as the rest of the writings. However, they usually ask the congregation to stand whenever they read from the gospels, regarding the gospels as more God-breathed than the rest of the writings. Evangelicals and fundamentalists get upset when discussing this, but when you get them off on their own and relaxed, they will tell you that they have favorite passages that they read, because those particular passages speak to them more than other passages. It could be argued they are saying that  some passages of the scriptures are more God-breathed than others. These same fundamentalists and evangelicals will also point to current writers, hymns and choruses that they find breath the word of God, without being inerrant.

Their second favorite passage on inerrancy is II Peter 1:20.

“No prophecy or Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

What does Peter mean by “Scripture”? Is he including the Greek letters from the Apostle Paul to the churches? Contrast this with the Apostle Paul writing,

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

12To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him…25Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is.”

Pardon the lengthy passage, but notice that Paul repeatedly tells the Corinthian readers, throughout the passage, which items are from the Lord and which items are his own opinion, not the Lord’s. So how can every writing be prophetic, when Paul clearly states he is writing something that is not from the Lord?

The Hebrews referred to the Ten Commandments as the “Ten Words”. In contrast in the prologue to the Gospel of John, Jesus is “the Word”. When we refer to the Bible as “the Word” we are not being biblical. Jesus is the Word, and once we accept that, we have begun the move away from the elevation of the book, to the elevation of the Man.

The writing of the scripture was so expensive and so difficult and rare, that the very act of recording something on papyrus or vellum, and preserving it in a scroll, elevated that writing to a level that we cannot comprehend in our society. In our society there is so much writing, not just in bound books, or magazines, but unimaginable volumes on the internet. To us all writing is suspect: “Where did you read that? On the internet?” We approach writing from the viewpoint of a sceptic. If someone wants to write something, she has to prove what she is saying.

printerWhen did this shift occur? The major shift of looking at the scriptures from a skeptical viewpoint occurred when Gutenberg invented the printing press in the mid 1300s. And what did he print first? The gospel of Matthew, what else? It was still hard to print books. They carved words onto a block of wood, rolled ink on the wood, then laid a big sheet of paper on it. On top of that they laid wool blankets, and screwed a big press down onto the paper as hard as they could press, thus the term: printing press. Then they unscrewed it, slowly peeled off the paper without tearing it, and hung it up to dry. So books were expensive and relatively rare. But not nearly as rare as hand copied manuscripts had been before the printing press.

When movable type was invented, things started to heat up, but books were still held in high regard. A heretic was usually defined as someone whose false teaching had been published, or printed in a book, and therefore had to be opposed. Most people who just went around spouting false doctrine were ignored. It was usually those who printed their false teachings that had to be burnt at the stake.

William Tyndale was burnt at the stake for being the first to translate the Bible into English

William Tyndale was burnt at the stake for being the first to translate the Bible into English

The reformers followed closely upon the heels of Gutenberg, publishing book after book, including many translations of the Bible into the vernacular of the people, rather than the traditional Latin of the Roman church. Within 400 years most people learned to read for themselves, and there were so many books and so many opinions that people began to view books with a more skeptical attitude, a distant forerunner of today’s skepticism.

It was at this time that people revived the study of the writings of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures with a more critical eye. The early Christians discussed back and forth which books to include in the canon and which books to leave out. Now in the Renaissance, with so many opinions in print, that discussion was revived, and each claim made by each book had to be proven. The result was that most Protestants have fewer books in their Hebrew Bible, rejecting the seven books of the Apocrypha.

I knew a United Methodist preacher who had a high regard for the account of the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, but did not accept the virgin birth of Christ. I asked him how he looked at the scriptures and decided one miracle was true while another was not. He said he held the books of the Bible up to the same scrutiny he holds any book or account to. If a claim has corroborating evidence, then it is more probably true historically. Whereas if it does not have corroborating evidence, then it might not be true historically. That was a radical idea for me: to read the books of the Bible with the viewpoint that the writers had to prove themselves.

Ironically evangelicals insist that their sermons are not inerrant, their hymns and songs are not inerrant, their prayers are not inerrant, their self-help books and commentaries are not inerrant, even their Bible translations are not inerrant. But they insist the scriptures in the original manuscripts, are all inerrantly God-breathed. Catholics, and other hierarchical churches, on the other hand, insist that nothing is inerrant, but the church’s decisions are the most authoritative.

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