Effective Preachin’ (Part Two)

Sheep

Reverend M. T. Vessal of the Church of The Raised Up here again, with the second part of my guide to Effective Preachin’. In case you missed it, repent! (The first part’s here.)

Now we’re really gonna get going, praise the Lord! The tools you’re gonna need for your talk proper are:

Lots of anecdotes (make up ’em up if you don’t know any true ones), specially ones about life- and-death situations. Stories about encounters with people on planes always go down well, as there’s always the chance the plane will too, and accounts of foolish follk who hear the gospel and ignore it, only to die in a terrible accident soon after.

Cod-psychology. That’s the stuff about God-shaped holes, how only Christ can forgive sin and meet all our needs, even though he doesn’t and never said he would. You can add something in here slagging off atheists and anyone else you disagree with.

Conviction. This is crucial. Sound as if you mean whatever it is you’re spouting. Sound as if you really know what the Bible says. Make it sound like it’s relevant and meaningful, even though it isn’t.

Modulation, otherwise known as shouting and dropping your voice. Shout when the argument is weak (and they’re all weak – you’re making this stuff up, remember)) and drop your voice almost to a whisper so that people know you’re being really, really sincere.

Drama. Pace up and down, like ‘Bishop’ T. D. Jakes, and mop your brow a lot. Wave your arms about, like Joseph Prince and show you really mean it. Maybe you could use props, like Beth Moore does, though you run the risk then of diverting the attention away from yourself. Better is to demonstrate what a cool guy you are, even if you’re not a guy, by sitting on the edge of the altar steps or, if you’re in a really cool church like Steve Furtrick’s, the Stage. This shows the congregation/audience just how cool you are.

Whipped up emotion. This is optional but if you lay it on thick about what Jesus has done for the spiritually inferior, how their sin caused those nails to be driven in, then you’re on to a winner. Aim for some arm waving from ’em, babbling in jibberish speaking in tongues and maybe even some crying. Don’t forget to tell ’em that whatever they’re feeling is the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Definitely nothing to do with your manipulating their already fragile emotions. No sir. This here frenzy is divinely inspired.

Finally, get to the challenge bit of your sermon/talk/self-promotion. This can involve an appeal for money. Correction: this will involve an appeal for money. The God who supplies everything doesn’t supply money so you’ll need to lay a guilt trip on your fans/congregation to provide you with the cash to maintain your lavish lifestyle continue the Lord’s work. But it’s not only about money; remember to pressurise/inspire the congregation/audience/fans to go out and harrass their neighbours so maybe they and their wallets will come to church next week. As the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few’!

Above all, though, let everyone leave feeling that they’ve had a good time. Like kettles, they should have had a real great Outpouring and feel well and truly Blessed. Leave ’em feeling ready for more, same time, same place next Sunday.

 

 

What does God think about the Orlando massacre?

Orlando

Let’s see what he’s saying through his spokesmen here on Earth:

According to a minister from the cathedral in my home town, who conveyed this message from the Lord at a vigil on Monday night,

God is just as confused as we are. All the same, he’s full of compassion for those who died and for their loved ones.

Makes you wonder though, if he’s so compassionate, why he didn’t do anything to prevent the murders in the first place. Still, he is sympathetic, which is something.

Oh wait! That isn’t how God feels at all, not according to Pastor Steven Anderson, who knows exactly what the Lord thinks:

…in Leviticus 20:13, God’s perfect law, he put the death penalty on murder, and he also put the death penalty on homosexuality. That’s what the Bible says, plain and simple. So, you know, the good news is that at least 50 of these pedophiles are not gonna be harming children anymore. The bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they’re gonna continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle.

Right. So now we know.

Hang on, though. Christian Today tells us something different again. According to this guy, what God really wants his followers to know is that,

true believers should pray for everyone involved in the terrible events of the weekend and ‘not miss a huge opportunity to build bridges and demonstrate our saviour’s love.’

Phew, glad that’s finally sorted.

Or maybe not, because God has changed his mind again: Pastor Roger Jimenez has this straight from the Lord himself:

The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die… the Bible paints the picture that these are wicked people. These are evil people. God gave them up to their vile affections… they’re not natural… they received a reward for their error… God almighty says, ‘there’s nothing I can do for (homosexuals).’

All these mixed messages, and all supposedly from the same Person! Compassion, punishment, love, abandonment; that truly is one confused, mixed-up deity you worship, Christians. You’d be confused too, I guess, if one nutjob after another put words into your mouth. Just who’s the ventriloquist here and who the dummy?

When, Christians, are you going to stop deluding yourselves that arses like Anderson and Jimenez know anything about what God thinks? When are you going to stop pretending that anyone knows what he thinks? When are you going to recognise that a God who ‘speaks’ so inconsistently through simple-minded ‘intermediaries’ is not God at all?  When are you going to stop deluding yourselves that there even is a God?

Religion poisons the well. Again.

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The shooting in Orlando of people in a gay night club (50 dead, 53 wounded) is yet another example of religion as the antithesis of human flourishing. Not Christianity this time, of course, but that other ‘great’ religion, Islam, the religion of peace. But Christians cannot distance themselves from atrocities like this, carried out in the name of God, when the influence of even moderate religion is a pervasive, unhealthy presence in our society.

It’s true that Christians don’t, as rule, rampage in the streets or fly planes into buildings but they do contribute to the medium in which more extreme forms of religion grow:

Westboro Baptist Church, for example, with its own peculiar brand of Bible-based homophobia – ‘God hates fags’ and all the rest – is, like it or not, an expression of Christianity;

Right-wing evangelicals who interfere in the churches and governments of Africa and South America, actively encouraging them to take a homophobic stance and to pass anti-LGBT laws, are equally culpable; Scott Lively, Pat Robertson, Sharon Slater, you too are people filled with hate;

Likewise, those Catholic bishops who use their influence to denounce gay and transgendered folk as ‘mentally disordered’;

Christian bloggers who trot out the old, ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil’ (Isaiah 5.20) and misapply it to homosexuality, together with those who quote Leviticus 18.22 (‘abominations!’) and Romans 1.26-27 (‘unnatural and indecent!’)…

All of these contribute to the animus directed towards fellow human beings whose ‘sin’ is merely to be different. Religions, or more specifically their adherents, contribute significantly to the levels of misery in the world today, though Christians will cry ‘foul’ here (or ‘persecution’ even, because how they love claiming they’re being persecuted when asked to demonstrate some empathy and a little love.) After all, it wasn’t a Christian who gunned down the people in the Pulse nightclub this weekend. No it wasn’t. But every time religious bigots –

tell others what despicable sinners they are,

misrepresent and denigrate minorities,

promote ‘gay cures’,

attack same-sex marriage,

add quotation marks around the words gay and gay marriage, as if they’re somehow not real,

assert homosexuality and transgenderism are synonymous with ‘moral decay’,

claim natural disasters are God’s response to gay people’s very existence,

boycott businesses that support equality,

‘take a stand’ against transgendered people using the appropriate restroom and

refuse to serve gay couples –

every time, in short, they say LGBT people are evil, sick or worthless, the self-righteous prepare the ground for individuals like Omar Mateen to do what he did in Florida on Sunday. Religious leaders condemning such atrocities after the event is too little, too late, when they’ve failed to take charge of their acolytes and  do nothing to stem the tide of hatred flowing from their churches, mosques and temples. 

To those of us on the outside, religions are all of a kind; harmful superstitions. If a ‘faith’ entails belief in supernatural beings and puts allegiance to such imaginary figures above fellow human beings, it is without merit. It is the evil among us.

Less religion, not more

Welby

A bloke in a pointy hat and posh frock thinks there should be more religion on television and radio. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, says that religion merits as much air time as politics, sport and drama.

The Archbish makes it sound like there’s nothing at all on TV and radio already about religion. In fact, in the last few months in the UK we’ve had a full schedule of Easter programmes; Simon Reeves’ The Ganges on BBC2 (looking at India’s religious heritage); Channel 4’s Unreported World and Dispatches, which regularly consider religious issues; Clare Balding’s trite Good Morning Sunday on Radio 2; the weekly broadcast of church services and daily Thought For the Day on Radio 4; the weekly dollop of worship on Songs of Praise on BBC1 and the 24-hour Christian ‘ministry’ of Trinity Broadcast Network and other God channels for those who just can’t get enough mumbo-jumbo.

Maybe that’s not as much as sport, but then there’s hardly anything on TV that has as much coverage as sport. (Bad news too for those of us with little interest in watching others running, jumping and hitting things; there’s even more to come in the shape of Wimbledon, Euro 2106 and the Olympics.)

Do we really want religion to have the same level of coverage? Are people really as interested in belief systems as they are in sport? Or music? Or art? Or comic book franchises? Even if there are, why is it up to television – the Archbish singles out the BBC as the broadcaster he thinks should indulge his fantasies – to provide it? Isn’t it, rather, up to churches, mosques, temples and other centres of superstition to promote their own particular brand of nonsense?

Make no mistake about it, this is what Justers is proposing; the promotion of religion – ‘religious literacy’ he calls it. He is not, we can be fairly sure, looking for programmes that are critical of religion (unless it’s other people’s). He wants, he says, to see more programmes that give us a better understanding of religious belief. What he means by this are proselytising programmes that create greater empathy for those who subscribe to delusion.

He isn’t advocating, for example, documentaries that explore the irrationality of faith, or ones that show the slap-dash, deceptive ways in which holy books came to be compiled or ones that demonstrate how most adherents to faith fail to live out its exacting demands. Nor is he suggesting programmes that focus on the appalling misery religion brings to some, or shows that give a sympathetic hearing to cults, sects and extremists. I would have no objection to programmes like these (except those that are sympathetic to extremists) because the ugly underbelly of religion deserves to be exposed, like Channel 4’s The Untold History of Islam of a few years ago, taken off air after its presenter was threatened with violence by those who didn’t like its critical perspective.

But these are not the kind of programmes the Archbishop is proposing. The religious literacy he wants us to have is of the cuddly side of faith, the supposed deep spirituality of the obsessive and what he regards as the positive contribution religion makes to the world; a one-sided picture already more than adequately covered by the nation’s broadcasters.

Thankfully, despite the recent political interference in the BBC, the Corporation is still required to present balanced and impartial views of its subject matter. If the Archbishop, who sits in the House of Lords and so is not without influence, is successful in forcing the BBC and other broadcasters to increase their coverage of his obsession, then we should also be able to look forward to programmes that are critical of religion too.

No broadcaster is obliged to promote religion nor to proselytise on its adherents’ behalf. Shame on the Archbishop, with his smiles and pointy hats, for suggesting they are.

Dear Christian

Christians

Dear Christian,

Jesus said treat others as you like to be treated (Matthew 7:12) so why do you treat them with abuse and unpleasantness?

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Jesus said turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29) so why do you respond with insults?

Blog191(1)Jesus said don’t judge unless you want to be judged (Matthew 7:1) so why do you constantly judge and condemn?

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Jesus said love your enemies (Luke 6:27) so why doesn’t it happen?

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Jesus said don’t call anyone a fool (Matthew 5.22) so why do you call them far worse than that?

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Jesus said don’t pray in public (Matthew 6.5) so why do you pray in public?

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Jesus said sell all you have and give the money to the poor (Luke 18.22) so why don’t you?

Jesus said you cannot serve God and money (Luke 16.13) so why are some of you so obscenely rich?

CrouchHinn'sJet

Jesus said deny yourself (Matthew 16.24) so why do you indulge and promote yourself above all things?

Blog191(8)OsteenPope Francis waves to the crowd, aboard the popemobile in Mexico City's main square, the Zocalo, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. Pope Francis kicks off his first trip to Mexico on Saturday with speeches to the country's political and ecclesial elites. The pontiff's five-day visit will include a very personal prayer at the Virgin of Guadalupe shrine. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Jesus said ‘be perfect’ (Matthew 5.48) so why don’t we see you trying?

Sick

Jesus asked why you call him ‘Lord, Lord’ and yet don’t do what he tells you (Luke 6.46). Evidently he didn’t understand, as you do, just how many of his commands are optional. Thank goodness you know better than he did.

Are You Doing What Jesus Christ Says?

Billboard

Dale McAlpine, sometime commenter here and fanatical street-preacher in these parts, has posted a tasteful little video on his web-site – that’s the smugly named Repent.com if you’re interested – called Are You Doing What Jesus Christ Says? Take a look at it over on Repent.com or on YouTube; it’s ludicrously melodramatic and wonderfully over the top. You’re sure to enjoy its typos and spelling mistakes too.

What’s remarkable about it apart from these things is that, despite its title, it makes little reference to what Jesus is supposed to have said. Instead, it’s all about how you’ll go to hell if you don’t repent and accept him as your saviour; but Jesus never said this. It says you’re a ‘vile, wretched, hell-deserving son or daughter of Adam’ – Jesus didn’t say this either. It also insists you should let his cross ‘disrupt the very centre and citadel of your life of self’ (whatever that means) and guess what? This wasn’t part of Jesus’ teaching either. In fact, none of these claims were part of his ‘good news’.

Of the things Jesus did say – go the extra mile, sell all you have to give to the poor, turn the other cheek, avoid judging so you won’t be judged, give to all who ask, give away your shirt as well as your coat, feed the hungry, visit the sick, clothe the naked and love your enemies – the video makes no mention. Funny that. Maybe that’s why we don’t see Christians doing them very often.

So, Christians – and Dale too – are you doing what Jesus said or are you, like the video, only interested in pointing out others’ supposed sins and shouting about how they need to join you in your delusional mumbo-jumbo?

Yes. Thought so.

In the Wrong Body

prayer3What to do about those people who feel they don’t belong in the body they were born with? Those who disparage the vehicle that carries them through life? Should we ban them, shun them? Prevent them from using the same bathrooms – to use that ridiculous euphemism for places never known to include baths – as those of us who accept the body we’ve got? Should they be side-lined, castigated and ridiculed?

Well, no. Let’s go easy on Christians who believe they are somehow separate from the bodies that house them; who regard their bodies are inferior to the spiritual being God intends them to be. Christians who look forward to the day when they’ll be relieved of their physical bodies, which will then be transformed into spiritual ones, and who, in preparation for this miraculous change, claim to resist the demands of the body – the lusts of the flesh as the Bible puts it (1 John 2.16). Yes, those Christians, the same ones who disparage people who find themselves in the wrong bodies and want them to conform to the sex they know themselves to be; transgender people.

The Christians are wrong on every level of course:

  • They are not designed to be spiritual beings;
  • None of us is separate from our bodies;
  • The illusion of the self is a product of the brain and wider society, and we demonstrably do not have souls or spirits;
  • Bodies, while frail and susceptible to illness, injury and ageing, are all we’ve got; they don’t survive death and are not refurbished or replaced after it.
  • The demands of the body can be managed but not entirely ignored, not even by Christians who eat, drink, have sex, sleep, defecate and generally indulge their carnality in the same way the rest of us do.

Still, none of this prevents Christians from thinking they’re prisoners of a temporary yet  strangely inhospitable body while here on Earth. You’d think that would make them empathetic to people who are also in the wrong bodies, but you’d be wrong. They ridicule them and tell them that they’re sinful aberrations; they object to their use of the ‘bathroom’ that corresponds to the gender they know themselves to be.

What was it someone once said? ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’. There sure seem to be a lot of sinless Christians about these days.

The Stuff Christians Say… (part three)

DoorToDoorAtheists are aggressive/militant/unreasonable: The Christians might’ve got us on this one. After all, it is incredibly irritating when we atheists start preaching in the town centre or invade others’ events to tell them what to believe or dish out loony pamphlets or turn up at people’s doors when they’re just about to have their tea. And what about all those meeting places we have, on just about every corner of the city, with smart-arse posters about Adam and Steve on the board outside? And let’s not forget our readiness to blow up ourselves and others in the name of our great cause. Now that’s ‘militant’! Yes, we atheists really do have too much freedom to push our views on others. No wonder we’re so insufferable. (Note to self: check you’ve got this right.)

It takes more faith to be an atheist than a Christian: It takes no faith to recognise there are no supernatural beings. It takes no more faith not to believe in God – or to acknowledge that there is no God to believe in – than it does not to believe in Santa Claus, Poseidon or Ra. Christians themselves require no great abundance of faith to dismiss these characters. Is it so difficult to understand that atheists disregard the Christian pantheon of fantasy figures in exactly the same way? Or are believers practising their dishonesty-for-Jesus again? There is no faith involved in being an atheist. On the other hand, believing in an omnipotent but suspiciously inactive God, a super-hero Saviour, a magic Spirit, angels, cherubim, seraphim, demons, Satan, resurrected saints, Heaven, Hell and all manner of powers and principalities – this requires faith in delusional quantities. No atheist could possibly compete. Nor would they want to.

The Stuff Christians Say… (part two)

Balaam

Atheists don’t behave as evolution says they should: This ridiculous accusation is often slung at atheists by Christians who seem to see it as some sort of stinging rebuke. Answers In Genesis is very fond of it; the Hamster’s drones and other Christians seem to believe – without ever thinking it through (plus ca change) that because those who acknowledge the veracity of evolution don’t behave according to its principles they are somehow inconsistent in their ‘beliefs’ – hypocritical even. They seriously propose that because natural selection and the survival of the fittest (not one of Darwin’s phrases) are cruel, uncaring processes, then that is how, for the sake of consistency, atheists ought to behave too. We shouldn’t care, they say, when a child develops cancer or someone dies. We shouldn’t attempt to cure illness or work to prevent suffering because these are nature’s way and part of the mechanism of evolution.

While it’s true they are, it’s been a long time since our behaviour, our existence and continued success as a species has been solely determined by what nature does. Humans regularly override its mechanisms, natural selection included; every time we use birth control, show compassion for the weak, heal the sick, develop medicines, engineer genes and preserve life. And so we should.

Christians seem unable to comprehend that evolution is not a pattern to be followed. It is not a set of instructions for living, a prescription or a set of (a)moral guidelines. It is the best explanation, supported by considerable amounts of evidence, of how life developed on the Earth. As such it makes no ethical claims nor does it demand that its principles be blindly followed (that’d be religion). Are Christians truly unable to detect this difference?

Atheists have no reason to be moral: I’ve looked at this ignorant claim before. Of course we have reason to behave morally. We’re human, we live in human society. Morals help us do so while doing the least damage to ourselves and others. They may also enable us to bring some happiness or comfort to those around us. Atheists don’t look to an imaginary God to tell us how to be good; our morals come from our culture, upbringing and education. Christians’ morals do too, whatever else they may claim. They certainly don’t get them from that most immoral of books, the Bible.

 

to be continued…

Do No Harm

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If religions took ‘do no harm’ to heart (as the Hippocratic Oath does) and their adherents were made to comply with it, what a better place this world would be. There’d be –

No more religiously-motivated suicide bombers and terrorist atrocities;

No more murder in the name of the Lord (whichever);

No more children molested by priests and pastors;

No churches attempting to cover up their crimes;

No more child deaths as a result of ‘faith-healing’;

No religiously-sanctioned denigration and abuse of women;

No more ritualistic mutilation of children’s and young women’s genitals;

No more religious scams and shams;

No more religiously-inspired vitriol directed at gay and transgender people;

No more barbaric executions of ‘minorities’, like gay men, women and those of other faiths.

Of course, even without these, the world would still not be perfect. Awful things would still happen. But the principle of doing no harm would eliminate much of the trauma inflicted on people by the proponents of irrational superstition.

On paper at least, the Abrahamic religions have expectations that are more demanding than simply doing no harm:

Love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; Judaism);

Love your enemies; treat others as you would like to be treated’ (Matthew 7.12 and 5.44; Christianity);

…compete with each other in doing good (Surat al-Ma’ida, 48; Islam).

However, these are just too damned hard for so many religionists. They disregard them and opt instead for the spiteful paranoia of the same holy books. Perhaps the simpler injunction of ‘do no harm’ would be easier for them. But until the preachers of judgement and hatred find it in themselves to promote such a principle, we will all continue to suffer the destructive effects of the ‘great’ faiths.

So, how long until the next terrorist attack? The next church child-abuse cover-up? The next rape scandal? The next persecution of gay people?

      Not long at all.

           Praise the Lord (whichever)!