Forced to Worship

worship

Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France. Circa 1193.

You can force people to do many things, with the right amount of “persuasion,” be it threats of violence, death, or harm to loved ones. The notion of forced religious conversion gained prominence during the Twentieth Century, and despite its illogical nature, has actually come to be an accepted truth.

It isn’t.

In truth, “forced conversion” is essentially a myth. You can force someone to do many things, but it’s quite fantastic to believe you can govern their thoughts, faith, or beliefs. Forcing someone to say something, is not even close to actual “forced conversion.” Simply saying, “I worship ____,” is very different from participating in the actual worship of that deity. Likewise, visiting a religious facility likewise in no way constitutes worship by itself. The same could be said of participating in religious festivities.

This is most often used by individuals in modern religions as a reason why humanity flocked to Christianity. It wasn’t because they wanted to, but because of threats of some kind. It wasn’t because the faith placed nobles on the same spiritual level as they were. It wasn’t because they no longer had to sacrifice to distant and hateful gods and their perpetual thirsted for blood. It wasn’t because a light had come to a very dark world.

In a nutshell, no government, no religious body, no group of people, no community, and no nation has ever had the resources to survey each and every resident, member, or participant, to ensure a religious conversion.

Judaism is the most notable example. In the thousands of years they’ve been persecuted, they haven’t converted. Huguenots of France, German Palatines, the Puritans, just about every group attacked in the name of a religion didn’t convert.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” -Matthew 11:28-30

How Does a Religion Grow?

With the idea of a forced conversion out of the way, what urged people to move in Christ’s direction? How could a faith spread without coercion? It’s quite simple. Christianity spread because the “common people” embraced it. They were sick of the violent and hopeless old ways, of the cruel nobility that was “descended from gods,” and could not be questioned. They were tired of giving their loved ones as sacrifices to deities, for causes that only benefited nobles. Above all, they were tired of worshiping beings they had to bribe with blood, just to hear a single request.

Christianity wasn’t just about worship, either. It urged people to see the value in human life, to strive for decency and charity. With it came the hope of education, intellect, the desire to rise above an abject animal life. The faith forbade the butchery of human sacrifice. It brought community structure and organization where there had been none before.

Had the people not chosen the faith, it would not have spread or lingered for any real length of time. It doesn’t matter what nation adapted it, or who had the biggest army. Rome is often blamed with “forcing Christianity” on “peaceful pagans,” but Rome fell millennia ago. When Constantine died, the people had opportunity to revert. As a matter of fact, the Emperor Julian reverted the empire to the old paganism after Constantine. The people didn’t embrace it.

Charlemagne “forced” Christianity on Europe, but Charlemagne died a millennium ago. Christianity did not. The Spanish brutally invaded South America centuries ago, and then their control vanished. The faith they introduced did not.

Lastly, superstition does not constitute religion, although many today make the claim. Many of these irrational beliefs linger from ignorant times. A number of people today believe these illogical fears mean practitioners really “remain pagan.” Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say a portion of humanity really remains ignorant.

Does God Let Bad Things Happen?

bad things

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia. Established in 1561.

This question has caused more Christians to stumble than nearly any other. So why would a loving deity allow any hardship at all to befall his adoring worshipers? Does God let bad things happen? As with most quandaries, the answer is never as simple as the question.

Adults are more like children today than they ever have been. Everything is taken personally, intensely, and irrationally. We can’t express emotion in church, but we scream, hyperventilate, panic, and display extreme fanaticism at the first celebrity sighting or sports event. We can’t donate to worthy causes, but we can throw money away on entertainment.

Far too many of us have spiritual lives that are just as inconsistent. We want a relationship with God, without a relationship. God is just supposed to make himself invisible until we’re ready to talk to him. We can’t mention him to friends, family, or acquaintances because they might think something we don’t want.

We want to know all about him, so long as we don’t have to read his word. We want to display our morality without having morals. God should conform to what we consider polite, or politically correct.

We are hardly “adoring worshippers.” We are fair-weather friends who ignore God during times of prosperity, but desperately look for him at the first sign of trouble. Too many Christians believe God will take away the consequences of their own choices and bad decisions, and if he doesn’t, they’ll just get miffed at him or stop believing in him. That’s called “pouting.”

We discuss the beauty, majesty, regality, and tranquility of nature, but blame God for her temper. Because of this mind-set, people believe God should grant wishes. He should completely alter the world he’s created to accommodate what we want. He should stop the weather, stop the clock, and perform astounding feats that ensure no one suffers for anything. In short, humans want heaven on earth. They want a place free of poverty, disease, disaster, decay, and any other negative. Scripture is very clear that life here on earth will not be heaven.

In reality, we live in a universally unfair world. In order to create a survivable atmosphere and environments where humans and animals can survive, it must be exactly as it is. The food chain must be in place. We are in flesh, the same as animals, and we suffer from disease, just like animals. The weakest are most likely to suffer in the human world, just as in the animal world. Such an environment also requires changing weather systems. That system entails natural fluctuations, including extreme changes. So, essentially, the complaint is that our world is inhabitable and livable. God indeed created the planet for us to survive.

The only items commonly ascribed to God are horrible. Miracles are attributed to modern medicine, modern science, or some other third party. When wonderful things happen in the workplace, it’s attributed to the individual. Peace is the product of diplomacy and mutual commitment. Prosperity is the product of sound financial policies.

So, yes, God allows the world to continue and for that, humanity should be thankful.

 Scripture:

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” -Isaiah 43:2

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” -Psalm 91:11

“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” -Joshua 1:5

The Trinity

 

trinity

The Aachen Cathedral is in Germany. This beautiful structure began in 805.

This area of Christianity seems to be most confusing for non-believers, and even some believers. What is the “Trinity?” Is it an exercise in paganism? Polytheism? This is actually a simple term that is needlessly complicated by humans. It does not actually imply or suggest three separate deities.

This scriptural support refers to the Trinity, all the way back to Genesis:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” -Genesis 1:26

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” -Matthew 3:16-17

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” – Matthew 28:19

“I and the Father are one.” -John 10:30

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:26

These are just a few instances where the Trinity is mentioned. In scholarly, or seminary, terms the three create the “Godhead,” which is what Christians worship. There is only one.

For the sake of simplification, consider the human body. It contains a brain, heart, and lungs. The body can’t really function without all three parts. Does this mean there are three humans?

A giant oak has three primary areas: the branch system, trunk system, and root system. All three are necessary for proper function. Does that make it three trees?

The Father oversees the universe, the Son advocates for humanity, and the Holy Spirit indwells the human body as a “helper,” according to Christ’s own words [John 14:26 ].

 

When Exorcisms Don’t Work

exorcism

The Cologne Cathedral in Rhine, Germany. Construction began in 1248.

The paranormal is a woefully neglected realm in modern Christianity. Despite so many attempts to mainstream the faith, or to manipulate it so it’s more palatable to non-believers, providing information on the unseen world is an afterthought. This is perhaps more detrimental than we might think. In the mad rush to conform the faith to what the world dictates, perhaps we have overlooked even the most basic element. Our world contains an unseen world that is just as real and just as influential as the seen world.

We can turn on the television and see paranormal documentaries, investigations, and victim accounts by the tens every week. While it does bring about awareness to a subject that needs it, one secondary product isn’t so positive. We have an entire generation of armchair spiritualists.

 

Armchair Spirituality

In the world of armchair spirituality, the paranormal is essentially a toy. It’s something that exists for entertainment. It is a titillating aspect of the universe that surly conforms to our whims, just as faith is supposed to, according to society. If you have a problem, you gather a group of friends or social peers, burn some sage or hold a séance, and the issue is solved. In this imaginary world, the beings that exist in the supernatural world are rational, kind, and often just misunderstood. In reality, this kind of disregard and naiveté can make the problem far worse.

Fortunately, there are still paranormal experts who hold a healthy respect and emphasize the need for qualified advice when dealing with the paranormal. It is important to keep in mind that even when you ask a proper spiritual councilor for advice, it isn’t a guarantee of relief.

The most common ritual practiced in Christianity to eliminate dangerous or highly negative spirits, or demons, is that of exorcism. An exorcism is a last resort because it requires such resources, not only from the church, but also from everyone involved.

Here are several reasons and considerations that should be understood about exorcisms:

 

An Exorcism must be conducted by a Qualified Individual.

Exorcisms will not work if they aren’t performed correctly. There were some situations (as noted below) where even Christ’s disciples could not exorcise the demon.

 

Do Not Burn Sage

If you are facing a situation serious enough to warrant considering an exorcism, a little sage will not help. If that were all that was needed, most people would cleanse their home every time they cooked breakfast sausage or Thanksgiving stuffing.

Do not invite paranormal investigators into your home unless you know them. Far too many paranormal groups today are only minimally invested  and see it as more for entertainment. They don’t know what they’re doing and can make any issues in the home much worse.

 

Exorcisms Can’t Be Performed out of Hate or Fear

Hate and fear are both tools used by the adversary. An exorcism is performed out of love for the victim and the family. The primary goal is to bring peace and relief to the household affected. You can’t fight that kind of battle using the same tools as the adversary, without empowering the adversary even more.

 

Not all Exorcisms are the Same

Lastly, Christ noted that not all spirits could be dealt with in the same manner. Just as no situation involving a demonic spirit will be exactly like any other, any exorcism should likewise be tailored. The perfect example is mentioned in Matthew 17:14-21.

 

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.

 

Conviction

conviction

Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset, England. The old structure was founded in the 7th Century.

This term is most common for its legal ramifications. In simple terms, a conviction is a successful prosecution in a court of law. When you are convicted, the court has decided you are indeed guilty for the crime you’ve been accused of committing.

In spiritual terms, “conviction” carries much of the same meaning. This is used to describe an innate sense of guilt or culpability. Both non-believers, and former believers, can endure these feelings of guilt or negativity when reminded of their current spiritual state.

Many seemingly intelligent people go into irrational fits of rage when faced with anything religious, be it a message or simply a religious icon. One thing is certain, any glimpse or hint of the spiritual sends them into an outright panic. Many of these same individuals can develop what appears to be outright hysteria just from glimpsing a plaque of the Ten Commandments.

One recent example of this is the irrational and unwarranted backlash is regarding a film titled God’s Not Dead.

Note: This is not a film review and does not contain spoilers (but many of the reviews do). Likewise, it is not an endorsement for the film which none at the Scholar of Christ has viewed. It is cited exclusively because of the tone and animosity in the reviews at the IMDB website.

The reviews are perfect examples of rampant spiritual conviction.

First and foremost, the title is God’s Not Dead, which alone implies the film will be about the belief in God. This also implies it is written by those who believe in God. We can read such a title, and know with relative certainty it will be a spiritual movie related to Christianity, as the title does not use Allah, Vishnu, or Buddha. We do not assume it is a film about terrorists, natural disasters, secret agents, fraternity exploits, ghosts, vampires, or the drama surrounding lost loves. Evidently, the title said something altogether different for many of those viewers.

The irate reviews are typical, citing everything from, “they’re using a straw man argument,” to “it’s religious propaganda!” It is no surprise at all because desperate people (who’ve taken Debate 101) usually try to throw around miscellaneous logical fallacy accusations to the point that any opposition is unable to reply in any way. This is, in essence, a “cheating” technique used to silence opposition.

This is to be expected when people face a “God” who is not the modern, celebrity version. Those in the secular world today want God to be a politically correct conformist.  Religion is a hobby, not practiced for any other reason than to make one feel good about oneself. They don’t want to acknowledge any faith that might have commandments or guidelines. Many people today don’t even like to read God’s word, instead they envision a god who bends and bows to their arbitrary whims.

Christians have been portrayed as everything from stupid, to downright evil, for decades, and yet when a movie emerges that reverses the roles, many go ballistic for no other reason than the production has broken the status quo. They were convicted by watching the film, and their often-bizarre reaction is proof. In most of the reviews, the usual movie qualities aren’t reviewed at all. Not the acting, writing, script, effects, setting, or production, it was simply the message that went against the grain of what is typical.

What is Evil?

evil

Bayeux Cathedral in Normandy, France. Constructed around 1077.

Evil is a subject most people don’t like to consider, but it’s a valid concern in the Christian life. Much of popular culture in the world around us regards any attention to the presence of evil as somehow detrimental. An awareness of evil is “antiquated” or the product of fear. Do such inattention, indifference, and apathy render the negativity harmless? Or does it actually allow the force to gain strength and spread?

 

Context

Our entire universe is a compilation of opposites. For light, there is darkness. Gravity surrounds objects, while the vast emptiness of space lacks any gravitational pull. Since we do have so many positive elements to the universe, kindness, selflessness, and empathy, it’s only logical for there to be an opposite, which would be the force of evil.

When a government detects a threat, they investigate. It doesn’t matter what type of threat it is, a simple verbal “bomb threat” will be investigated and pursued as aggressively and as thoroughly as an actual explosion. Does this make that government one of cowardice for maintaining a proactive position? Would such a government be unreasonable or “hysterical” for seeking intelligence on an adversary? Not at all.

The same principal applies to people and such forces as evil. In the theater of battle, you fight an enemy with knowledge and strategy just as much as any physical force or brute strength. The Christian’s fight may not be against a flesh-and-blood adversary, but it is indeed a battle.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” -Ephesians 6:12

Just as the lines separating good and evil have become blurred through time, we see the lines blurred in modern media. The only way to fight evil is via Christianity, but Christianity has become the villainous force, as seen in so many films and television series. There’s no such thing as “evil,” just religious fanaticism.

We can blame modern society for such a shift, but in reality, it’s to be expected. A typical serial killer enjoys the fear and panic he creates, but he doesn’t actually want to be apprehended. A serial theif may enjoy thwarting modern commercial or residential security systems, but doesn’t want to be jailed. Similarly, evil does not want to be noticed. It prefers subtly and reinforces the notion that humans are the only source of evil in the universe. It reassures that there is no such thing as a devil, demons, or negativity beyond the human element. It can’t spread and infect among those who anticipate it, or who see what it is.

 

What is Evil?

In our vastly secular Western world, the concept of evil beings or their destruction may seem like fodder for a cheesy film. Unfortunately, this contemporary notion leaves a sizable portion of the population simply vulnerable to such forces.

Evil is not cartoon red devils or staged theatrics from horror films. It isn’t even human defiance or excess, although both can play a part. Evil is destruction, confusion, chaos, and fear. Above even those qualities, it is insatiable, a parasitic infection that will stop at nothing to locate new hosts to destroy.

There are vengeful spirits in many parts of Asia called “hungry ghosts.” They are said to be the spirits of the departed who died in extreme want of food, money, or something else. According to their lore, these spiritual beings have lost all sense of earthly reason or whatever humanity they once held. Now, they exist only to consume. The consumption, however, is never-ending, just as sin and evil. Both are never-ending hungers and both only have the capacity to spread. Why does evil target humans? Because angels aren’t in the flesh, although evil does tempt angels as it did during Lot’s time*. Angelic beings are not subject to the same weaknesses creatures are who live in the flesh.

* “And they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.'” -Genesis 19:5

Evil can only spread because it can’t be fulfilled, satiated, or appeased. It will never know contentment or gratification. It can only spread its malcontent to as many as possible.

 

Conclusion:

Evil is a spiritual parasite that can only be warded off via awareness and knowledge. In opposition to popular assumption, Christians do not fear evil and have no reason to. They’re simply more aware of it. Awareness does not give negativity power, ignorance does. Ignoring evil doesn’t remove its power any more than ignoring a virus removes its capacity to infect. The evil in the world existed long before any of us were born and has had no regard for what we did or didn’t believe at any point.

Lastly, evil is not about the individual. The human race has an arrogant and self-centered perception of evil. It’s a force that wants you to embrace sin, not solely because it’s immoral or against scripture, but because the embrace will destroy others through your actions or choices.

For example, the force would want a man in a bar to overindulge, but not just to get him intoxicated. Because he’s driving home and will hit a minivan filled with people. The tragedy resulting from that collision will follow the van occupants for the rest of their lives, as well as land the drunkard in prison. In this scenario, a number of lives have already been terminally devastated by a single form of sin that only lasted a few hours.

It would want a wife to engage in an extramarital affair, not solely because it’s immoral, but because it would destroy her spouse and children. Her children will grow up in a broken home and suffer the traumatic effects of that instability for decades. Two out of three will see chronic divorces in adulthood and one of the three will become a substance abuser.

There’s very little we do, in regards to sin, that will not affect others, and often it’s many others. Evil is indeed a parasite, but it holds very little threat to those who know its purpose and its presence.

 

 

 

Dietary Restrictions in the Bible

dietary

The Archbasilica San Giovanni (St. John of Lateran) in Rome. This church began in 324 AD.

Many people are often surprised to find scripture regarding what to eat in the bible. This has often caused much confusion and question among believers, as well as non-believers. Why did the bible discuss food? Why were there dietary laws?

The reasons are actually very simple. Most of the things discouraged in scripture are done so for valid reasons, as we will discuss on this blog. In scripture, maintaining a healthy diet is a way of caring for the body. The physical body is described as a holy place, a temple [1 Corinthians 6:19, John 2:21].

We must also consider how primitive food hygiene affected people. Eating the wrong meat, or just improperly prepared food, could have fatal consequences. Many pioneers as recent as the American frontier suffered terrible deaths due to dysentery, flux, or bloody flux, which are just terms for food poisoning.

The practice of cautious food consumption is actually found all over the world. Buddhists often have vegetarian or vegan diets. Taoist priests also use a form of “simplified eating” that is akin to vegetarianism. Vegetarianism is also an integral part of Hindu life.

 

The Change in Diet

Dietary requirements and restrictions underwent a great change in the New Testament. It is believed this change came about as humanity developed better methods of preparation and food storage. The main scripture regarding this can be found when Peter was in Joppa [Acts 10:9-15 English Standard Version]:

9. The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.

10. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance

11. and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth.

12. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.

13. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”

14. But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”

15. And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”

What Does it Mean?

 

Many people today still follow dietary restrictions for their religious convictions. In truth, many are likely far healthier than those who have more mainstream eating habits. Your diet, however, does not have any spiritual significance beyond promoting good physical health.

For Reference

 

This set of scripture details the Old Testament’s dietary laws.

3. You shall not eat any abomination.

4. These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat,

5. the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep.

6. Every animal that parts the hoof and has the hoof cloven in two and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat.

7. Yet of those that chew the cud or have the hoof cloven you shall not eat these: the camel, the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud but do not part the hoof, are unclean for you.

8. And the pig, because it parts the hoof but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch.

9. Of all that are in the waters you may eat these: whatever has fins and scales you may eat.

10. And whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean for you.

11. You may eat all clean birds.

12. But these are the ones that you shall not eat: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture,

13. the kite, the falcon of any kind;

14. every raven of any kind;

15. the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind;

16. the little owl and the short-eared owl, the barn owl

17. and the tawny owl, the carrion vulture and the cormorant,

18. the stork, the heron of any kind; the hoopoe and the bat.

19. And all winged insects are unclean for you; they shall not be eaten.

20. All clean winged things you may eat.

Deuteronomy 14:3-20 [English Standard Version]

Further Resources on Food

 

 

 

 

 

Christian discussions in a secular world.