Monday, August 30, 2010


We modern day Westerners tend to see everything through some kind of dichotomy. You're either this or you're that; you're either guilty or you're innocent; you're either in or you're out; it's either black or it's white.

Many of us - as we get older - become more mature and attain enough wisdom to come to understand that there exists many shades of gray, eventually realizing the possibility that either extreme is more of a hypothetical and that the world might very well be all various shades of gray. However, this is still functioning within the Western-paradigm of Dichotomies.

I believe there exists Harmonious-Dichotomies; polar opposites that not only co-exist, but co-exist in harmony with one another interdependent one another.

The Japanese have a concept called Mu.
Mu; unask the question. It isn't that we need to choose or find the correct answer, but rather, we need to find the correct question. I think the problem we're facing here is that we're asking the wrong questions (or allowing the wrong questions to be asked).
I am beginning to see this Harmonious-dichotomy more and more often.
With an extremely simple example, I first saw it manifested concretely in Taekwon-do.
Either you are striking (let's say punching) or you are blocking.
Either you are striking or defending, right?

The correct way to throw a punch (either technically or practically, as in sparring) involves both.
(Let's say I'm throwing a left jab punch). My left fist rotates, reaches, and strikes forward. However, my right fist moves up and beside my head, creating a block, protecting my head/face.

The Western-dichotic-paradigm might say you cannot be offensive and defensive. You must be either one or the other. The truth of the matter is it is only functional (it is only true) when both are in harmony.

Another perspective is either you are a 'victim' (let's say you are starving) or you are a 'rescuer' (the one who donates the life saving food to the starving victim). Either you are the 'victim' or you are the 'rescuer'.

Really, these two polarities have everything to do with either "service to self" (I am the victim) or "service to others" (I am the rescuer). This fundamental division makes assumptions (deliberate or not).

If you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day.
This is the victim-rescuer paradigm.

If you teach him how to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime.
You have broken the victim-rescuer paradigm. You have not 'saved' him from starvation, but allowed him to rescue himself from starvation. Ultimately, promoted him to your (erroneous) position of 'rescuer'. He is also no longer the victim.
This becomes a Harmonious-dichotomy.

Service to others should be a voluntary gifting rather than a compulsion driven by the belief that one must serve others to be a 'good person'.

We are often taught that in order to be a 'good person' we must be generous and charitable. Therefore, ultimately, we must have the resources to be charitable; we must sit in a position of power. We must be – in one form or another – wealthy.

That forces the need to begin in a position of power and/or authority; we need to fulfill the role of 'rescuer' in the rescuer-victim paradigm, which necessitates superiority in one way or another.

… so what happens if you're not wealthy, or in a position of power, or don't have the necessary resources? I'll tell you what happens. You struggle with your conscious and guilt (potentially becoming a slave to your religion or you 'morality', making you anything but free). Because, from this Western-Charity point of view, you're not really a good person. (How interesting is it that from this particular point of view we must be wealth to be a "good person"?)

We're not to serve others so that we're a 'good person'. We're to serve others for no other reason than simply voluntary gifting. Anything else is self-serving. Call it spiritual hedonism.

I believe this is breaking of this rescuer-victim relationship and I think empowers us to cease being victims, to cease our longing for and searching for a divine rescue (or rescuer) to break the addiction and bonds of religiosity.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


"Insular Christianity has a very serious and crippling disability with modern cultural mythology.“

It is kind of strange and a little bit sad how this piece came to be. I had seen the preview of the new and upcome Christmas release of Aliens vs. Predators: Requiem movie. I had sent out an email to an all men small group that I belong to, basically saying "check out this preview, wow I can't wait to see it!" I added at the end (very much tongue in cheek) that I thought we should collectively watch this movie and discuss, as a topic, it's Christian and/or biblical message. (And for clarity's sake, if you've missed it, the final sentence was a joke).

Knowing the guys, I really didn't expect any replies as excited as I felt we should all actually be. (And again, if you haven't picked up on this yet, I'm a big Aliens fan). Some people simply aren't into it, and that's fine.

However, one responded (privately and not through a “reply all” return) that he didn't feed it was a good idea and didn't see any edification value to it....

...[insert crickets chirping here]...

“Ahhh...You're joking... right?” I said "It wasn't intended to have edification value but simply some fun."

Nope. Dead serious.
And it was this comment that got me thinking – and not because I had some ulterior agenda to defend the Aliens-franchise that I am such a big fan of, but in defense of our collective cultural mythologies.

Most people tend to think that mythologies only exist in the past, from distant ancient - and usually extinct - civilizations. Mythologies exist in every culture. They are how a society communicates. Literature, movies, music, nearly all forms or art & entertainment reflect the current culture's – society's – understandings, philosophy, loves, concerns, and fears.

To embrace the insular, or isolationism, is to disconnect from these numerous and various richnesses of art & entertainment; it is to disconnect with society.

There are elements of profound truths in fictitious television programing like Star Trek: The Next Generation's the Borg and big screen movies like Terminator, Terminator 2, Terminator 3, and the Matrix movies. Even in Sci-fi literature like Fred Saberhagen's Berserkers we see incredibly deep-rooted fears and concerns about our rampant technological race and our blatant dependency on it manifest themselves in their forms of mythology. The Borg and Terminator are the realization of this technological dependency brought to life in detailed nightmarish quality. Not to mention as a side note our fear of some sort of apocalyptic end of the world.

We see this brutally and disturbingly presented in H.R. Giger's artwork – even as offensive as it can sometimes be. We see the blending of organic creature with machine and we see his art come to life in the Alien-mythology.

Vampires in literature came to the front primarily during the Victorian era. The concern, fear, and realization was twofold with the vampire-mythology. One was the nightmare cognation that we – as human beings – are feeding on one another. The upper elite class surviving and stifling and killing the lower peasant class. The other nightmare realization was that (as an upper class elite) we are nothing more than a monster in a dressed-up disguise of a human being.

Brian Lumley's Necroscope-series (13 volumes) and the whole Wamphyri-mythology poses the haunting question of how far we can sink into depravity before any hope of salvation is lost.

My favourite author, H.P. Lovecraft, writes of forgotten eon-old Elder Gods in blasphemous worship and the insanity of the Spaces where aliens reside. Lovecraft's Cthulhu-mythos voiced the apprehensions and fears in the '20's and '30's of foreign immigration. Although manifested in the fear of discovering their inbred alien heritage, it had the potential of setting the stage for a paranoia run amok to what would become the Nazi's belief in the Aryan purity of the One Human Species, and the genocide of all other subhumans. Thank God it failed.

Even Pornography holds cultural truths. (And if porn itself was a cultural mythology, I would suggest we watch them too.) On a side note, I believe the majority of Christians subscribe to the philosophy of the hedonistic porn addiction. See the article, XXX: Porn for the Soul.

To choose to be blind to these fears and concerns or to entertain them as only intellectual fancies is to arrogantly ignore the plights that surround us.

Movies likes Blade Runner, characters like Data from Star Trek:TNG and the cloned Ellen Ripley in Alien Resurrection all scream the question of what does it mean to be human? What does it truly mean to possess a soul? And more importantly (and disturbingly), maybe some of us don't have one.

Is our society voicing a concern or fear with it's cultural mythology of the Aliens-franchise? I think it is, and strongly.

With all 7 movies, all 10 books (that I read, there are more), and numerous graphic novels, there is a common enemy within each and every one of them. The Wyland-Yutani Corporation. Not the Aliens. Not the Predators. A corporation.

It's okay, alright, acceptable and has edificational value to watch the documentary series The Corporation, in which the central theme is the documentary is an attempt to assess the "personality" of the corporate "person" by using DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders) to label the Corporation as a psychopath. However, when this truth and concern is played out in science-fiction or horror genre, like Aliens, it becomes unacceptable, without edificational value, and "unnecessary and mindless gratuitous violence" (I've been told by another).

Strange. It's acceptable to label a Corporation as a psychopath, but when we play it out to it's logical conclusions, it becomes unacceptable. However, when a Christian friend of mine felt compelled to read a fire-and-brimstone preacher's sermon describing in minute, shocking, and disturbing detail, the very nature of the brutal tortures of hell, it was justified, apparently, out of a "necessary" to better motivate us to evangelize.

Am I the only one seeing the hypocrisy here?

When we look at this tiny slice of our society's cultural mythology that I provided as an example, we see that our non-religious - our secular society is painfully aware of our collectively fallen, or "condemned" state. It is manifested in our art & entertainment. We are aware of it, concerned about it, worried about it, and even frightened of it.

We do not need Christians preaching the heresy of Bad-News-First-Evangelism (as the French philosopher Jacques Ellul puts it). We do not need to be convinced or convicted of our sins or condemnation. The Spirit of God moves and lives within the secular world; they just don't see it and too often Christians just won't recognize, acknowledge, or allow it. The invisible Spirit of God has already convinced them of their "condemnation" through their cultural mythology. God is at work.

Evangelical Christians who subscribe to the One-Two-Punch method of evangelizing (first the Bad News and only then the Good News) really have an agenda all their own. It isn't good enough that society acknowledges it's own "condemnation" through it's own cultural mythology. No sir! It must recognize it's fallen state through the Christian Subculture's Mythology. Christianity is not reaching out to people in a context they can understand or relate to. Christianity has stopped speaking the language of the people. Call it the new-Latin if you please.

So I ask you, are watching these movies, viewing these artworks, listening to this music, reading these books have an edification factor? I don't know. In a postmodern world, I think understanding it's numerous cultural mythologies is quite valuable.

Is it really any wonder why church attendance and membership is dropping? Is it really surprising to find the Institutional Church slowly dying? Is it really shocking to discover that the Christian Subculture is so rejected and viewed with such contempt and disgust?

Our society is simply ripe for the 'Good News'. The problem is the subculture of Christianity is too blind and self-obsessed to deliver it.

The proof is in the pudding. The Religion of Christianity has failed. I find its obsessive desire of becoming insular very sad.

But maybe I'm wrong. I've been told this whole "rant", this entire "diatribe" has been for no other use or purpose than to fulfill my love of a movie. I guess I'm the hedonist.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review of Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos

From a work of pure fiction, this book is great!
Entertaining and comical with a healthy splash of seriousness and even tears at times!

It was a lighthearted and pleasant read.

...however, I can't help but wonder to what degree of seriousness is truly intended.
I think, quite a bit. (Spoiler alert) As much fun as it to laugh at the numerous imaginary Jesus' in mockery of various forms of ridiculous Christian beliefs there are out there, we inevitably come across our imaginary Jesus and our brand of belief... and somehow it just isn't quite so funny.

I can't help but wonder if this piece of fiction is meant to be something a lot more serious than it would appear on the surface. I wonder what deeper theological thoughts swim just beneath the calm and comical surface.

It made me ask a question; Exactly how do we know – or know of – Jesus?
After a bit of thought, I've come to believe there are only 4 ways to 'know Jesus'. (And I am not speaking of the Born-Again-Evangelical kind of knowing-Jesus).

1) There is the Jesus we know through historical texts (which is precious little).
2) There is the Jesus we read of in the gospel accounts, each flavoured to a certain degree by its author. (which – interestingly - leaves the 'real Jesus' veiled or hidden 'beneath' or 'between' the gospel accounts. Inaccessible; having become isolated and hidden between the pages of history and gospel).
3) There's the Jesus that we meet through good Christians – truly embodying the Body of Christ concept,
4) and finally, there is the Jesus of our imaginations. (And it really should be noted that something that is make-believe and something that is imaginary are not necessarily synonymous).

Ultimately how we 'know' Jesus is shaped to some degree by all four 'ways'. I cannot help but believe it is our imaginary Jesus that plays the largest and strongest part.

After all, I doubt many professing Christians really want to 'meet' and 'know' the real Jesus.

I like when Matt Mikalatos' protagonist (...or is it really himself?...) voices a concern about the real Jesus:
”...he can do whatever he pleases. Who knows what he might ask of me? I can't control him. I can't box him in with my own beliefs and philosophies...”
If we're honest enough with ourselves, we would have to admit that the Jesus we want will – at least to some degree – bow to our beliefs, and bend towards our philosophies. I honestly believe it is impossible to do anything else.
It is when we use and abuse our imaginary Jesus – bending it to our agendas – that the real crime and harm occurs. That is where the danger lies.


I'd love to do Matt Mikalatos' Imaginary Jesus in a group study. I'd love to see if and how biblical literalists struggle with the truths that are present within a piece of pure fiction.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Review of The Gospel You've Never Heard by David Rudel

I'm going to approach this particular book review, as I was invited to, by a comparison with Andrew Farley's ”The Naked Gospel”

Where I was suspicious of Andrew Farley's ”The Naked Gospel's” intent (fearing that the author may have been a Conservative Evangelical Christian with a subterfuge agenda of repackaging and remarketing the same old religion) this suspicion and accusation absolutely cannot be made of David Rudel's ”The Gospel You've Never Heard”. He leaves little to the imagination when he expresses the hope ” break the hegemony [of the] evangelicals”, pg. 170. He also goes on the clarify that by “evangelicals” he means “Conservative Evangelicals”, recognizing and apologizing for any overgeneralizations (pg. 7), then goes full-steam ahead.

Where in Andrew Farley's ”The Naked Gospel” I had asked ”who exactly is this book aimed at?”, David Rudel's answers point-blank. ”I've tried to make the book meaningful to evangelicals, liberal Christians, and non-believers.” (pg. 2).


Although ”The Gospel You've Never Heard” by David Rudel is a man after my own heart – namely biblically and theologically 'gunning' down the Conservative Evangelical – I have to wonder whether this is a good or healthy position to begin with. I mean, wouldn't it seem like little more than a debate or rebuke against a preexisting position; a contradicting shadow against another's position? But once this book is gotten into I've found very little evidence to support this concern. If anything, this apparent anti-Conservative-Evangelical angle is little more than a segue to enter David Rudel's topic at hand.

Having said this, maybe comparing this book to Andrew Farley's ”The Naked Gospel” isn't such a good idea. I'm going to inevitably paint a picture otherwise! But Andrew Farley makes some pretty flawed statements (presented as facts) and leaves himself wide open. He states, ”If we accept God's blood-only economy... blood sacrifice is the only action that results in forgiveness and cleansing. This was true in the Old Testament and there's no exception today.” Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel, pg. 135.

Well... if you, my gentle reader, will allow me to use this expression, David Rudel tears him a new one on page 160 in ”The Gospel You've Never Heard”.

He begins by addressing the defining differences between expiation and propitiation.
”There is also a need to address God's wrath that exists in reaction to... sin. The cleansing and removal of sin is referred to as expiation and the addressing of God's wrath is referred to as propitiation.”, pg. 160
Regarding Vicarious Punishment, he says, ”Strictly speaking, this is not even propitiation, which refers to wrath being cooled due to a change of disposition... The Vicarious Punishment... does not provide actual propitiation. It simply claims the wrath was vented on someone else.”, pg. 162.

He then (I believe somewhat comically) cites and example of ”When God relented of the wrath in store for Nineveh (Jonah 3:10), the Almighty didn't have to blow up one of Jupiter's moons to exhaust the pent-up anger”. pg. 163.

Once again, David Rudel cannot be accused of speaking in Christianese (as Andrew Farley has). He is using certain terms and terminology, but clearly defines them.

Andrew Farley's ”The Naked Gospel” previous quoter's point being that sacrifices have always been and must always be of blood and that ”Jesus' blood sacrifice on the cross was the once and for all blood sacrifice” provides the appeasement of God's wrath now becomes, at the very least, questionable.

Now add to that the numerous biblical examples Rudel provides of non-blood sacrifices.

Exodus 30:15 made through silver. Numbers 16:46 made through incense. Numbers 31:50 through jewelry. Lev. 5:13, Exo. 32:30, Numbers 8:21, 2 Chronicles 30:18. (He even offers the possibility of sacrifices being for a purpose other than expiation or propitiation, ”...passages like Leviticus 19:20-22 suggest the guilt offerings were actually the punishment itself. Rather than a bribe or payoff of God, the sacrifice is more like a fine designed to deter sin”., pg. 162)

Let me just finish off my comparisons between these two books. Andrew Farley's ”The Naked Gospel” at approximately 70,000 words put me past my 'allowed' time frame of 30 days to read and write a review on, while David Rudel's ”The Gospel You've Never Heard”, at over 85,000 words (estimate) took about 12 days.

What's interesting is that I – personally – like Andrew Farley's “gospel” (not book) better. It's a truth I would prefer. David Rudel's “gospel” (again, not book) isn't as attractive to me, but more convincing.

This book addresses difficult issues that I know I have (and continue to ) struggle with. The author identifies apparent conflicts between Old Testament and New Testaments. He identifies apparent conflicts between the teachings of Jesus and Paul. He attempts to broach these difficult issues by redefining our understanding of salvation and judgment and presenting the possibility that these two issues may not be intrinsically linked, but separate issues.

He presents the idea that “salvation” be something less juvenile and more mature than simply making it to Heaven, or avoiding Hell; both somewhat spiritually hedonistic endeavors!

One of the most memorable (and continuing to echo in my conscious) questions he asks is, ”What gospel can Christ and His apostles preach if Jesus forbids them to tell anyone He was the Christ, and His disciples do not realize He is going to die after He tells them in private?” pg. 98. It would seem to very strongly suggest the gospel has nothing to do with Judgment or post-Judgment “bliss” (heaven).

In Dead Off-Center I voiced a view and a concern about an option outside of either the Law-only or Grace-only dichotomy. Andrew Farley's ”The Naked Gospel” does little to explore these concerns, but really – more or less – confirms this dichotomy. David Rudel's ”The Gospel You've Never Heard”, however, seems to identify with my similar concerns. He gives a great analogy – a parable perhaps – of three artists in Budapest running orphanages for artistically talented children (pg. 77-79) demonstrating there are other options than legalism or licentiousness.

This book also brought to light a challenge for me. Although I had said I agreed with Andrew Farley's ”The Naked Gospel's” point regarding the Law of Sabbath Observance and Tithing (calling it the church's modern day Membership and Revenue Stream) as relating to the (now defunct) priesthood of the Old Testament times. However, this does not and cannot “write-off” all observation of Mosaic-law. This does not give us carte-blanc to become antinomian.

When Jesus is asked which is the greatest (Mosaic) Law, he answers to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself (Lev. 19:18). Although we are not bound to tithe we are to help the poor (Deu. 15:7), the orphans, and the widowed (Deu. 24:20).

This is not the abandonment of Mosaic-law...
”Christians marginalize these laws because we, quite frankly, don't like being told what to do and feel we deserve more from God than a list of rules. Furthermore, there is an unfounded idea that the revelation of God in the Old Testament is somehow no longer applicable.” pg. 113
...but simply not the abuse of it:
”Christians often suggest the Jews erred by focusing on the Law. But the problem was not that the Jews were too focused on the Law. (It is hard to say what else they could have focused on!) The problem was that their leaders abused scripture to give themselves political power. They warped the Torah to their own devices by selectively picking which scripture to emphasize and which interpretation they liked – the Christian church arising afterward did the same.” pg. 113
If forces me to at least question my own motives. Do I use the defunct Tithing “law” to possibly justify not helping the poor, or orphan, or widows? I can only hope not!

We underestimate the Torah.
”The Gospel You've Never Heard's” good news is a people-orientated one. It has precious little to do with the hedonistic and gnostic Heaven of eternal bliss of the Afterlife.
This gospel is much more practical and one of live and caring for your fellow man.