Plumbers are smarter than I am, and so are pastors


Plumbers make more money than university lecturers. So do pastors.

Americans have some tendencies to equate income with intelligence.

There are outliers who make money by going for the sensational and the glandular, like Miley Cyrus.

As a university lecturer, I might as well have the belief system of a pastor.

Worthwhile knowledge, its retention, and its real-world impacts are nebulous things, terribly hard to quantify. Outcomes are easily attributable to other factors.

Which is why people don’t ultimately accept “knowledge is power,” and why they remain skeptical of the value of education. The monkey with the shiniest toys didn’t necessarily excel in school, and that common observation places a little wrinkle somewhere in the brain.

In the U.S., the annual mean wage paid to clergy is $47,730.

At large churches, however, where they have “executive” positions, which help establish egos and golf club memberships, compensation is at least $110,000.

At other churches, senior pastors (first among equals, some being more equal than others) earn between $265,000 and $1.1 million.

The average U.S. income for individuals is $40,563, and the average family income is $82,843.

The annual mean wage for plumbers is $53,240.

As a university lecturer, I often deal with material similar to what plumbers have to deal with: clogs, stagnation, rust, and excrement.

Only the material I’m exposed to is metaphorically clogged up, stagnated, rusted, or just plain shit.

One thing is for certain. Pastors have a unique position. If your job involves prodding and provoking vulnerable hearts, your income has a shot at being slightly above average.

Move hearts and you’ll change wallets, whether you’re Miley Cyrus or an Executive Pastor.

By the way, everyone should be disgusted by the title Executive Pastor, except no one is, because churches are marketed and operated precisely like organizations designed to make money: corporations.

Some ancient fool said you cannot serve both God and money. Good thing we have plenty of Executive Pastors to straighten Him out.

How some atheists might do circular reasoning


Last week, I introduced “circular reasoning” to my students. It’s not only about bad reasoning; it makes for bad sentences, too!

Before that class, I had searched Google Images for illustrations and cartoon strips related to circular reasoning. So many of the them related to Christian circular reasoning:

The Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says it is the Word of God because the Word of God is the Bible.

That’s just a quick summation.

Not being particularly annoyed with that kind of illustration of circular reasoning, I did become a little annoyed at the sheer number of these things in the Google Image results. The sheer number seemed a little too triumphant, and to my way of thinking, triumphalism is poor taste even when you’re trying to answer annoyingly triumphant opponents.

Then, walking to the library a bit later on that class day, the following occurred to me, about how some atheists might be equally circular:

There is no supernatural dimension or anything beyond observable nature. Unexplained phenomena ultimately have a natural explanation because there is no supernatural dimension because all things have a natural explanation. 

Perhaps crudely put, here in the library during an hour’s break, but the above is basically an operating premise for many atheists, and a circular one.

If you’ve read any of this blog lately, you know I’ve tried to record and analyze the nonsense and unhealthiness in American Christianity. I agree with the circularity of the Bible-is-the-Word-of-God-because-it-says-so. This blog could say it is the Word of God and you could even feel like it is the Word of God, but would that mean anything in any ultimate sense? No.

That circularity does not make an atheistic argument non-circular.

Why say, “My natural senses have never detected anything supernatural; therefore there is no supernatural”? It seems like “natural senses” would by definition not be “supernatural senses.”

Just to be crystal clear, the existence of the word “supernatural” and the phrase “supernatural senses” do not create or necessitate any kind of supernatural realm any more than the existence of the word Narnia creates a real place.

Some tangentially related things bugging me:

  • Why should anything in a supernatural dimension have to meet my standards of natural proof?
  • But if we claim to know there’s a supernatural realm, then our knowing might be based on natural experience, which is manipulable.
  • What is the survival function of our ability to imagine a greater, supernatural realm? What is the evolutionary necessity of believing in an imaginary supernatural realm? (These questions spurred in part by something I once heard Malcolm Guite say at a C.S. Lewis conference.) If the supernatural realm is only a delusion, what evolutionary purpose does a belief in the supernatural — especially such a belief among otherwise sane and intelligent people — serve for survival and reproduction?

The Accidental Vicar


From a post at Randy Cassingham’s ThisIsTrue.com

Simon Reynolds, 50, a vicar with the Church of England, went on trial for stealing “at least” 16,500 pounds (US$25,875) in church money over a six-year period, including fees paid for weddings and funerals. “It is hard to imagine a more deplorable and flagrant breach of trust,” Senior Crown Prosecutor Caroline Tubb told the court, “than a vicar stealing money from his own parishioners.” Reynolds denied the charges, telling police he was “very disorganised” with his bookkeeping, and “certainly had not kept it intentionally.” When court broke for lunch, Reynolds didn’t wait around to hear the verdict: he ran off. Sure enough, his barrister, Alasdair Campbell, said Reynolds “accidentally” fled the country, booking a ticket to Dusseldorf, Germany, when he meant to fly to Dublin, Ireland. After a European-wide alert was issued, Reynolds, who was staying with a friend, returned to Sheffield Crown Court to hear his sentence: 30 months in prison for his embezzlement, plus two months for fleeing.

Cassingham includes the Sheffield Star and London Evening Standard as sources.

The Pastor and Priest Fallacy; or, Why Ministries Must Earn Credibility and Trust


I like this guy’s doctrinal beliefs; therefore, he is trustworthy.

Imagine all American Christians understanding why that is a silly way of thinking.

Christian Publishing would collapse, and some ministers would have to do real work for the first time in their lives.

It’s like there’s an assumption running through some preachers’ ministries: “I believe the Bible, and the Bible affirms what I say, so get involved in my ministries, be accountable to my ministries, and give my money to my ministries.”

Because: Jesus.

It’s the magic word that gives narcissists and sociopaths instant power over vulnerable spiritual seekers.

Always, always wait until a supposed leader has earned trust and respect. He must earn it. She must earn it. Do not give any credibility or authority to a person until you’ve seen that person deserve it.

You will lose absolutely nothing by waiting to make a decision to commit yourself to a ministry. God’s got all the time there ever will be.

And He can make more.

I’m not asking for impossible tests for pastors, priests, or other ministers. Clergy can be observably human and humble. They can avoid controlling behaviors and controlling rhetoric. Just be aware. Keep your eyes and ears open. Commit yourself incrementally.

Most importantly, don’t believe a ministry’s hype. Pay attention to its substance — or, more likely, it’s lack of substance.

The story of America is a story of religious entrepreneurship. While I radically support religious liberty and freedom of speech, I know religious entrepreneurship has institutionalized as many dangerous ideas as nonsensical ideas or good ideas.

Read Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. It’s well-worth your time, and you’ll discover some similarities and parallels between some of the Latter Day Saints described in the book and many of America’s unaffiliated, entrepreneurial Protestants.

Look, the megachurches could last well into the future, or they could fizzle, but either way, I don’t need yet another preacher yapping at me from a spectacular stage, especially when I can suffer through the same guy’s sermon on YouTube.

The megachurch sales-and-marketing approach is completely obvious these days. I was in the same relatively small room with the senior pastor of a large church when he said he’s good at convincing people to come to church but not good at maintaining those relationships once they’re coming to church.

It really struck me as a bait-and-switch. You seem like a nice guy! I’ll try out your church! Then, later, I can never seem to have a conversation with that nice guy. Maybe I’ll find a smaller church or just watch Chuck Todd each Sunday morning. 

How bait-and-switch evangelism is a spiritual or even a human way to be, I have no idea.

But it’s also typical. I would generalize that mode like this:

Build the organization. Individuals are simply pawns in building my organization. People are second. I’ll say God is first — my God being my organization. I’ll say I serve the people by building my organization.

With any luck, in time, I’ll build the organization so big, I won’t have to spend any time with any real people. I’ll have secretaries and schedules and an office buried so deep inside an office suite, the mongrel hordes will never find me — and then I’ll escape to my home in a gated community.

You, entrepreneurial preacher, are probably a fraud. You’ll preach about the Holy Spirit without evidence of a single Fruit of the Spirit. You know, those Fruits of the Spirit, the alleged outcome of your alleged faith.

This isn’t important to you, because you’ll push the right emotional buttons next Sunday and keep the climb to fame and fortune alive.

You spiritual and moral fraud.

I wish there was some way other than just academic degrees and resumés and well-marketed books to affirm a person’s reliability and character. Pastor Mark Driscoll is just one example of a widespread problem.

(Driscoll, by the way, once boasted that he could walk from his office to the stage without having to see anyone—an explicit, specific example similar to my above generalized example).

Driscoll is not the only one.

Genuinely. Seriously.

If I really thought the Driscoll-Mars Hill Church disaster was an aberration, I would not have written so many blog posts about it.

I wanted people to learn a methodology from that situation, a way of seeing.

I wanted people to learn a kind of awareness.

I have no real platform to make that happen. I just wanted it to happen, wanted it badly to happen.

I want people to gain a healthy distrust. Don’t trust me, either. Be skeptical. Research and reasoning can prove me a prophet or a clown or something else. This is about you.

Let’s say I’m proven a clown. Throw a party about it. Take a few hours to tell Colin jokes.

Then, afterward, ask yourself how you are going to avoid being used.

Ask yourself how you are going to avoid being used by someone who is demanding your attention, your submission, your time, and your money because he talks about Jesus and your kids like the youth group. This is just a blog post. You can close it at any time. The social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of churches are a bit more tricky. Do you have the confidence and willpower to walk away from your church membership at any time? You need to develop that.

Jesus won’t magically develop it for you.

You’re too weak to navigate unaffiliated, entrepreneurial religion in America.

Most humans are, which is why the predators grow fat.

You don’t necessarily need to burn personal bridges, but you need to have a strong enough sense of who you are and what is right to walk away from a nonsense organization — or an unhealthy organization.

I’m not only focusing on professional clergy. The reality is the Pastor and Priest Fallacy can analyze any politician or community leader. I may really like what someone else says, but that doesn’t mean that person is trustworthy or credible.

People need to learn this, need to “get” it.

Astonishingly ignorant and manipulative people are running American Christianity and American politics.

Ancient Mystery Religions and Their Influence on Christianity: Adding Some Expert Testimony


Quick Background

A professor writes a book. Another professor reviews it. The reviewer is critical of the book, but he begins with points of agreement.

As he goes through his points of agreement, the reviewer touches on some key points in the book and in the process provides some recent grounds for an argument I’ve been exploring: that ancient mystery religions influenced and helped shape Christianity.

Expert Testimony

At the time of the review, the reviewer, Paul Hedges, was a “Reader in Interreligious Studies at the University of Winchester, UK.”

Hedges reviewed Influences: How Ancient Hinduism Dramatically Changed Early Christianity by A.L. Herman for a 2011 edition of the Journal of Religious History.

While the question of ancient Hinduism’s influence on Christianity is not my interest at the moment, I think it’s worth noting that Hedges begins his review with, “Bunkum!”

But then, three short paragraphs later in the review, Hedges writes:

“I start with my points of agreement. These include his [Herman’s] arguments that: (1) Christianity is not uninfluenced, which affects claims of absolutism and supremacy; (2) Christianity was influenced by the mystery religions of the Greco-Roman world; and (3) there were significant currents of influence between Asia and the Mediterranean world” (boldface added).

Disclaimer

In a previous post, I excerpted four books to present some evidence for the claim that ancient mystery religions probably influenced Christianity.

I realize this is not my field of professional expertise, so I’m relying on the work of others. I’m also not well-versed in the fields that could support or deny the claim that ancient mystery religions influenced and even helped shape Christianity, so I’m just adding excerpts and information as I find them.

Upcoming

At some point in the near future, I’ll compare what two major Bible dictionaries say about ancient mystery religions and their influences upon Christianity. In at least a rhetorical sense, the two dictionaries differ in what they emphasize and how certain they are in their assessments of available evidence.

‘IRS Getting Pressured To Crack Down On Televangelists Following John Oliver’s Segment’ — CBS DC


From IRS Getting Pressured To Crack Down On Televangelists Following John Oliver’s Segment ‹ Reader — WordPress.com:

WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — The IRS is getting pressured to begin cracking down on televangelists following a John Oliver segment on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”

Oliver blasted televangelists this past Sunday for what he called “seed faith,” where they tell donors they will reap the rewards by giving money to them.

“They preach something called the prosperity gospel which argues that wealth is a sign of God’s favor and donations will result in wealth coming back to you. That idea sometimes takes the form of seed faith – the notion that donations are seeds that you will one day get to harvest,” Oliver said in the segment.

He continued, “The argument is ‘sow your money into the ground, you will reap returns multiple times over,’ except as an investment you’d be better off burying your money in the actual ground because at least that way there’s a chance your dog may dig it up and give it back to you one day.”

Read the rest at IRS Getting Pressured To Crack Down On Televangelists Following John Oliver’s Segment ‹ Reader — WordPress.com.

Note: In the other half of the article, CBS DC includes a quotation from Ole Anthony. While Anthony is a self-styled watchdog for religious fraud, he has been accused of operating a cult. Please see this excerpt of I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life In A Dallas Cult by Wendy Duncan.

‘The Spirit of Abstraction’


“As soon as we accord to any category, isolated from all other categories, an arbitrary primacy, we are victims of the spirit of abstraction.” — Gabriel Marcel, in Man Against Mass Society

Gabriel Marcel was a French philosopher and playwright.

I have Marcel’s book Creative Fidelity, an essay collection that I’ve wanted to read it for years, but when I dip into it, I rarely get very far due to fatigue or interruptions. I found the above quotations here, in a clear, interesting, and I might even say theological, article on Marcel’s life and work.

Marcel’s work is rich, but here I decided to focus on “abstraction” because it is precisely what I was worried about when I was thinking through the rhetoric and points of reference used by some evangelical leaders to address or comment on ministerial scandals during the past two years.

(I attempted a concrete example of such abstraction from Christianity Today editor Andy Crouch in this post written in the early days of the Mark Driscoll scandal. The above quotation from Marcel would have fit nicely in the post.)

If you’re as curious about Gabriel Marcel as I am, you might like these web portals:

Rockhurst University in Kansas, Mo., has a Gabriel Marcel Society.

Neumman University in Aston, Pa., is home to Marcel Studies, an online, peer-reviewed journal.

The University of Texas at Austin’s Henry Ransom Humanities Research Center has an online Gabriel Marcel inventory of materials available at the center.

I might as well end with another good Marcel quotation, this one challenging my affinity for Stoicism — and, more importantly, reminding us that hope is communal, that hope takes place in community. From his book Tragic Wisdom and Beyond:

“No doubt the solitary consciousness can achieve resignation [Stoicism], but it may well be here that this word actually means nothing but spiritual fatigue. For hope, which is just the opposite of resignation, something more is required. There can be no hope that does not constitute itself through a we and for a we. I would be tempted to say that all hope is at the bottom choral.”

What a great way to think about a genuine community: hope embodied, a choral hope.