Another 95 Theses

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Another 95 Theses

 3: Even after nearly five hundred years, the church follows Luther’s teachings about personal absolution to a degree that is remarkable, especially considering how little attention it has paid to his writings.

 4: If the “Spirit of truth” Jesus promised to his followers will guide them “into all truth,” it is reasonable to expect that those so guided will not be found in different groups with significantly different teachings.

 5: The church provides a wonderful social environment for most of its members: loving homes, large extended families, lifelong friends, and a sense of acceptance and belonging that fills a deep social need not easily met in the isolation of today’s suburban, technology-driven society.

11: The church’s self-sustaining doctrinal bubble of belief without understanding makes it all just empty devotion, faith in other people who are likewise repeating the old slogans with no more actual knowledge.

12: The church teaches almost nothing about Laestadius, and its members would be shocked at his sermons (almost all of them post-conversion), which were harsh and crude, full of legalism, pagan superstition, and sexual imagery and content.

13: The church teaches that its doctrine never changes, yet its founders entered into “living faith” without the benefit of the very proclamation of the forgiveness of sins that is one of its distinguishing characteristics and central doctrines.

14: The ecstatic visionary mysticism that Laestadius fostered is utterly foreign to what people experience in the church today, yet he considered it an essential indication of “living faith.”

19: The church’s membership comprises about 0.002% of the world’s population; everyone else who is mentally competent and has achieved some vaguely defined age of accountability it consigns to an eternity of screaming torture, a fate that eventually will be shared by almost all of the billion or so of the world’s children.

20: Surrounding every congregation are many thousands, even millions, of people who live out their lives believing in Jesus without ever having the slightest clue about these few hundred secreted away among them who are supposedly the only true Christians.

21: The church reduces Christ’s suffering and death to near irrelevance, making it utterly ineffectual in all but one of the tens of thousands of Christian denominations that would emerge over the next 2,000 years.

22: The church’s members are themselves condemned, in the view of millions in other sects that all make their own claims of being the one true form of Christianity.

23: The church is sustained not by persuasion but procreation, being freed from the need for interaction or even credibility with outsiders by its members’ high birth rate and the effectiveness of childhood indoctrination.

27: If church members really believed that their contact with someone at the workplace, school, gym, barbershop, etc. were the only means by which God offers the gift of eternal life, of avoiding perpetual, unimaginable torment in hell, they would use every opportunity to convince that person to accept this incredibly valuable offer instead of engaging in superficial social interaction and going about their business.

28: In order for some random person among the seven billion on earth to be saved, as the church claims is God’s will for all, he or she must feel a need to depart from the worldview inherited from parents (a rarity), have a personal encounter with a member of a tiny unknown sect, be convinced of the need to renounce his or her previous self as a damned sinner, and join the sect, too.

30: With the exception of the “keys to the kingdom” passages (which have issues) and one other vague possibility, the Bible contains no teaching or examples of people being converted to or sustained in Christianity by hearing the proclamation of the forgiveness of their sins, not even in Saul’s conversion or the case where it would seem most instructive—Peter’s denial of Christ.

31: Profoundly moving religious experiences, including peace obtained from conversion and absolution, offer no support for the church’s truth claims, being widespread among “worldly” religions, too.

32: It is a sad irony that the church insists on conformity and subjugates the individual conscience when its major historical figures—Paul, Luther, Laestadius—were all strong-willed individuals who rebelled against the status quo.

33: Evolution profoundly contradicts the Bible and foundational Christian doctrines, but has been proven by overwhelming evidence, and theological imperative for creationism does not equal truth about science. (See also Price and Suominen, Evolving out of Eden.)

36: The church’s emphasis on “sin corruption” based on an inaccurate view of human origins fosters an unhealthy self-loathing and turns God into a second-rate creator who made “man in his own image,” saw everything that he had made, including man, as “very good,” and then stood by helpless to prevent the serpent—one of his creatures—from corrupting man, the supposed crown of creation.

38: By ignoring the disgusting barbarity, physical and sexual abuse of women, tribalism, terrorism, slaveholding, and human sacrifice of the Old Testament God and his designated servants, and by defending the Bible that describes these atrocities, the church has entirely surrendered its moral credibility to the slavish worship of a book it considers too holy to question.

39: The church has a simplistic and idealistic view of the ancient Israelites as “believers in the promise,” but the evolving religion of the Old Testament never looked anything like Christianity, much less the church’s Pauline grace-and-forgiveness version of it.

40: Contrary to the impression left by the church’s superficial readings, the Old Testament contains no hint of any coming sacrificial Messiah; every single supposed prophecy (including the famous “suffering servant” passage in Isaiah) contains material inconsistent with Jesus and really just concerns events of its writer’s own time.

41: The Old Testament’s depiction of God begins one step removed from primitive polytheism with a human-like deity having physical attributes, limitations, regrets, and insecurities, evolving into a fussy director of priestly regulations and temple worship, then a tribal warrior deity who terrorizes his people and directs the brutal conquest of their neighbors, and finally a distant, hidden God who isn’t much interested in sacrifice or feast days.

42: The church laments the way “God’s Word” is being questioned but has no answer for the Bible’s multitude of undeniable errors and contradictions, which are not just quibbling details but significant problems with the biblical accounts of creation and the natural world, God’s nature and desires, and a lot of the Jesus story—when and where he was born, his attitude about his own divinity, whether he taught entirely in public or kept some things secret for his disciples, the ideals of his preaching versus his own actions, and almost everything about his resurrection.

43: The New Testament provides no reliable historical witness of Jesus, just a few vague references by Paul and some accounts written by other devotees decades afterward that contain a great deal of copied material, significant contradictions, and mistakes about history, geography, and customs of the time.

44: The preachers who supposedly channel the Holy Spirit to offer the only truthful Bible interpretation reveal little but ignorance and sectarian cheerleading in their sermons and writings, citing notoriously inauthentic passages, favoring mistranslations, twisting texts for doctrinal convenience, disregarding inconvenient contradictory passages, and naïvely treating every book as if it were part of a single consistent, unquestionable “Word of God,” which even Luther didn’t do.

45: The Bible sits somewhat uneasily on a pedestal, revered as the “Word of God” yet not a book whose words can really be depended on for instruction, obedience being expected to whatever “faith” and “God’s Children” say that it says.

46: It is absurd to claim that an omnipotent (all-powerful) God is perfect despite having needs and creating an imperfect universe, is loving despite allowing a world full of suffering, hates sin despite allowing it to flourish, and is righteous despite creating most people as fodder for the flames of hell.

47: God cannot be omnipotent and omniscient (all-knowing) because knowing the future makes him helpless to change it; the omnipotent ability to choose whether to make a change in course defeats the omniscient ability to know whether it ultimately gets changed or not.

48: For a jealous God who demands that people follow a very particular path to reconciliation with him, this God is certainly not exercising any omnipotence to clear that path, since almost nobody manages to get saved unless they have the good fortune of dying during childhood.

49: An omniscient God doesn’t need to try anybody’s faith—not with the cruel stunts that the Bible says were inflicted on Job and Abraham, not by allowing temptations, not by inflicting trials.

50: An omnipotent God could just overlook human faults by divine fiat and grant salvation to everyone (which is what various Bible passages say he wants), and an omnibenevolent (all-loving) God would not hesitate to do so.

51: It is meaningless devotional fawning to praise as “gracious” and “loving” a God who carried out the Old Testament atrocities, has allowed untold billions of people to die of starvation, disaster, war, and disease, and condemns billions of people to eternal torture in hell, which—depending on the preacher’s inclination—is even part of the divine plan.

52: God remains hidden to almost everyone, leaving them in the supposedly erroneous belief that they have experienced some sort of correct understanding or revelation of him, and allowing them to go to their graves damned by that false consolation.

53: According to the church’s Trinitarian doctrine, God in the First Person made a blood sacrifice of himself in human form (the Second Person) to appease his own displeasure with what he had created; the Second Person proceeded from yet was somehow co-eternal with the First, incarnated into a man by a Third Person of God (the Holy Spirit) impregnating a virgin after thousands of years of monotheistic worship.

54: The portrayal of Jesus expands in the decades over which the Gospels were written, beginning in Mark as a temperamental teacher and miracle worker with limited powers, no claims of divinity, and a great deal of angst about his execution.

55: There are no Greek or Roman records of Jesus, not even a mention until the second century; the only Jewish records outside the New Testament are two passages written by Josephus around 90 A.D., the most descriptive of which is widely discredited as at least a partial forgery.

56: The Gospels describe Jesus performing extraordinary miracles, sometimes before throngs of people, and say his fame spread through the land, yet none of the authors and observers of the day—Pliny the Elder, Josephus, the hundreds of anonymous writers whose personal letters and mundane records have been preserved, even Paul—had any of those events brought to their attention and thought them worth recording.

59: The church makes Satan far more powerful than God, controlling almost all of human culture, all religious teachings including every form of Christianity but one unknown sect, and the souls of everyone but children who die in childhood, the mentally incompetent, and a “truly believing” portion of a hundred thousand or so sect members, who live in fear of the daily temptations he throws at them.

61: The church says the purpose of the law is to bring the knowledge of sin to unbelievers, but its instruction about the multitude of things it considers sinful is directed to its own members, not outsiders.

62: The law is neither preached nor effective, comprising a multitude of harsh and often baffling commandments made to a tribe of Bronze Age desert nomads, having little applicability to today’s society and largely unknown to everyone including the preachers of the church.

63: If God gave the law to awaken people to the knowledge of sin and ultimately lead them to the church, it’s hard to imagine how he could have failed more spectacularly, with perhaps a few million out of the seven billion people throughout the world even being aware of this sect and only a tiny fraction of them showing any interest in converting.

65: It is just a case of Stockholm Syndrome, not genuine devotion, to praise God for the “gift” of faith when its value cannot be questioned and the consequences of rejecting it are social ostracism in this life and an eternity of torture in the next.

66: In an obvious and desperate effort at special pleading, the church claims that human reason doesn’t apply to its teachings or the Bible, despite Paul’s “reasoning” with the Jews and Felix, Luther’s voluminous writings, and its own written materials and instructional camps.

67: Reason is considered a gift from God that is useful for everything but objectively considering the most important question of your life, the answer for which you must accept without reservation from largely uninformed preachers of a single tiny sect that doesn’t even entirely follow the teachings of its predecessors.

68: By inflicting the fear of hell for unbelief or “sins unto death” on impressionable children and limiting their social development to its narrow confines, the church maintains a membership of doubtful coerced worshipers who have no real freedom to question the beliefs that have been imposed on them.

69: The church tries to sanitize doubt by focusing it on uncertainty about one’s individual salvation and by blaming the “carnal mind,” making the attribute of critical thought about very real doctrinal problems into a source of additional guilt for which it can offer forgiveness, thus deflecting scrutiny of its doctrines while perpetuating a cycle of dependency.

72: Few of the rules have any biblical basis, and some (e.g., against alcohol, dancing, and earrings) are frankly contradicted by the various parts of the Bible that the church hardly ever mentions.

73: The rules seem primarily motivated by authoritarianism, Christian asceticism, the fundamentalist need for societal differentiation and keeping people within the fold, selective adherence to biblical edicts, and maintaining ample material for the all-important forgiveness of sins to work with.

76: The church allows for no other means of forgiveness than the proclamation of absolution, contrary to the Bible’s examples of forgiveness by prayer and baptism, and the teachings of early Christianity and Luther about forgiveness by prayer, baptism, and Communion.

79: Prayer offers only the illusion of influence to the one praying, since an omniscient God knows both the future and our innermost thoughts, and his perfect will about the course of the universe is not subject to change by the typically self-centered petition of some puny human.

80: Preachers pray for the repentance of unbelievers, to a God who has either predestinated everyone from the beginning of time or has proven unable (perhaps unwilling) to do anything about all the damnation that is going on, despite many prayers from the seeking and the self-satisfied alike.

81: Neither the church nor early Christianity has consistently taught the Real Presence, despite Luther’s insistence in belief that the body of Jesus is bodily present in the Communion wafer, a body that physically ascended to heaven two thousand years ago and has been parceled out in churches around the world ever since.

83: With its claims about divine foresight and direction in conception, marriage partners, and (sometimes) eternal salvation, the church makes God into a puppet-master who stage-directs the universe down to its tiniest details in an inane drama whose uncountable trillions of acts and final ending are all pre-ordained.

85: The church’s efforts at “sowing the seed” are almost entirely focused inward, dedicated to proclaiming the Word over and over again to those who have grown up hearing it and enforcing conformity within the fold.

86: With its preachers flying around a world that wasn’t supposed to be round, in jet aircraft burning fossil fuels from reservoirs that weren’t supposed to be millions of years old, immunized against microbes that aren’t supposed to be evolving, the church and its predecessors have lost every one of their battles with science, and “faith” is in full retreat from its former position of authoritative teaching about the natural world.

87: Ever since Laestadius, the church’s preachers have been anticipating an imminent end of the world in their time, misled by the same shortsighted apocalypticism as Luther, Christians of the first centuries, Paul, and yes, even Jesus.

88: The God who was constantly making threats of bodily harm against his chosen people and fussing about endless details of their behavior declined to offer a single warning about any eternal punishment until late in the Old Testament, leaving ambiguity about the subject even into the New Testament; he allowed it to appear that there really is no hell at all, not even really an afterlife, with several different parts of the Bible describing the end of human existence in the grave, of good and evil all going to the same place.

89: Preparing an eternity of horrible torture for most of the people you have created, without providing any means of avoiding it or rehabilitation once they are there, is the worst possible evil, an act of the most unimaginably cruel and pointless sadism.

90: If the predestination taught by Augustine and Luther (less consistently by the Bible and the church) were true, then all of the church’s preaching and forgiveness would be utterly futile, since none of us puppets can change the outcome of God’s scripted show.

91: Both the Bible and the church contradict themselves about predestination, saying that God is omnibenevolent (all-loving) and wants all to be saved, yet at the same time saying he is omnipotent and reveals salvation only to his elect, chosen few.

94: Contrary to the church’s doctrinal requirements, there is no historical evidence whatsoever for any special group of believers passing along the keys of absolution in an unbroken chain from Jesus and the disciples; rather it is clear that there was a slow evolution of Christian thought—over many painful centuries—about the nature of sin, whether it might be forgiven at all after baptism, and the limits and means for obtaining such forgiveness.

95: The church’s exclusivity claims are utterly irreconcilable with Luther’s teachings about the broad scope of the Christian Church and the means by which it may be identified, his criticisms of efforts to identify it as being restricted to one particular organization, and his defense of other types of Christians in different areas.