Friday, June 16, 2006

Why I Am Not a Baptist

As several of you know, I grew up as a Baptist. Not just any Baptist, either. A conservative Baptist. My church didn't belong to any particular Baptist convention because those organized Baptists were just way too liberal (though I think that, after the conservative take-over of the Southern Baptist Convention in the '90s, my old church may have decided to affiliate itself with the SBC). In the intervening years, I've mostly been able to repress the cult-like awfulness (I remember sitting around my Bible class--I went to a church-run school--and singing songs about how I wasn't related to monkeys and chanting that I would not drink, smoke or listen to 'rock music'). Indeed, after years of hard work, I've finally realized the essential silliness of bowing down to a bronze age deity that was "modernized" by a Jewish legalist with a penchant for throwing rocks at heretics.

That said, every once in a while, I receive this horrible flashback to the world that I left behind. Just today, via Andrew Sullivan, I came across this blog by what seems to pass for a liberal Baptist these days. The particular post in question is in response to a new policy requiring absitnence from alcohol among leaders of the SBC. Among my favorite passages:
I teach my children and my church that abstinence is a wise choice for every Christian, and the best way to avoid drunkenness. I wholeheartedly support all believers who have an abstinence conviction. However, I believe the authoritative, inspired Word of God forbids drunkenness, not necessarily the drinking of an alcoholic beverage.
...
However, let me use this "alcohol" issue as discussed by Southern Baptists at our Convention as an example of the overall lack in our convention of sound, Biblical exegesis. The idea that to drink a glass of wine, or any other alcoholic beverage, is a sin against God is so foreign to the teaching of the inspired, inerrant Word of God that for anyone to say to a Christian who has no abstinence conviction, "You are sinning against God when you drink a glass of wine" is a sin in itself. To do so would be to accuse Jesus of possessing personal sin, the epitome of liberalism.

Jesus drank wine. The disciples drank wine. Jesus turned the water into wine. Paul commanded Timothy "Drink a little wine for your stomach." The Biblical prohibition is "drunkenness." The inerrant Bible says "Be not drunk with wine."

And make no mistake: Drunkenness is a sin. It is a scourge on our society. We must sharply rebuke anyone, including the alcohol industry, who minimizes or encourages drunkenness. Our church disciplines people for the sin of drunkenness, and we treat the sin very, very seriously.

However, the sin of drunkenness is similar to the sin of promiscious sex. We don't teach that a man should abstain from sex with his wife because other people are sex addicts. Similarly, we don't teach that individuals MUST abstain from alcohol because some commit the sin of drunkennes.

Likewise we don't DEMAND that those who are single get married, or those who choose to abstain from alcohol drink. Some things are matters of personal conviction and conscience. The pastor's job is not to force those who use sex properly, or alcohol properly, to abstain from either because some others cannot control the lusts of their wicked hearts, but rather, the pastor's job is to teach the Bible and urge God's people to live by Biblical principles.
Well, now, that's some serious enlightenment. I mean really. Since when it is a liberal position to point out that people in 33 CE drank wine? I mean, grape juice?! WTF? Hello, people. Grape juice ferments. Quickly. Especially in fucking Palestine before the advent of, you know, refrigeration.

Sorry, got carried away there. It drives me a bit nuts when people insist on some pre-defined conclusion and then bury their heads in the sand when reality fails to map on to their picture of the world. It's like Cheney and Iraq. English professors and Marxism. Christianists and natural selection. Libertarians and global warming. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Just seeing if you're still paying attention.

More specifically in this case, I still don't quite understand what it is that fundamentalist Christians seem to have against, well, pleasure. It's as if there is some unspoken 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not have any fun. We're talking about a God who bans eating shrimp. I don't think that such a being actually exists. But just ask yourself this. If heaven's all-you-can-eat buffet doesn't include a giant bowl of cold, boiled shrimp, do you really wanna wait in line? I'm sure they've got assloads of shrimp in hell. And I bet they'll let me drink wine until I'm totally shitfaced, too. Really good wine, too. 'Cause you just know that most of the population of France is going to be there too.

If getting into heaven requires a life without booze, R-rated films, good cigars, women in miniskirts, Rage Against the Machine cranked to just below "bleeding-from-the-ears" on the volume dial, porn, the occasional bong hit (and don't forget the shrimp!), then count me out. Gladly. God's party sounds pretty lame anyway.

11 Comments:

Anonymous x said...

Catholics are a different breed. They knowingly sin like crazy but then go to confession so they are pure enough or whatever to take the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Then they exit the church building and start sinning again. Catholics are like most people when it comes to flossing: they are religious about it twice a year.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Joe Miller said...

X,
Certainly I've heard this sort of thing said about Catholics before. Baptists, or at least the sorts of Baptists I knew growing up, were pretty much all convinced that Catholics were all going to hell for very much the reasons that you describe here. How true this is, I don't really know; I've some worries about ascribing exactly the same attitudes and behaviors to the roughly 1.1 billion of the world's Catholics (and that's just the Roman variety).

Still, given that I've just written a post tarring all Baptists with the SBC brush, I suppose I've little ground for critiquing sweeping claims.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

Joe,

As a long-lapsed Catholic who still remembers the bit of theology he learned eons ago, I can tell you that "x" is all wet.

As best as I can recall it, here's the answer to the canard than "x" repeats so blithely: A person has not made a "good confession" who (a) deliberately goes to confession with the intention of sinning again after taking Communion, or (b) has fallen into the habit of sinning again after taking Communion. The taking of Communion under those circumstances is a cynical sacrilege, and a grievous sin in itself.

Tom

3:00 PM  
Anonymous x said...

Oh yes, Tom, I agree that taking Communion under those circumstances is cynical sacrilege, I'd say morally abhorrent, and that's among my reasons for not taking it. However, my experience in Catholic majority and Catholic enriched cities that I've lived in for most of my life has nonetheless shown me the truth in my claim -- for people of all ages. What percent of Catholics only go to Church on Christmas and Easter? How many go to pander to their parents?

3:23 PM  
Blogger Adam Johnson said...

In comic form no less

I also grew up in Baptist home (my dad a minister no less), but luckily enough it doesn't seem quite so hardcore as yours was. My rejection (this word is a bit too harsh for what I'm getting at, but I can't think of anything else) of religion was based on the incompatability of Christian theology and logic rather than gross distaste for the social workings of the Church itself. Indeed, many members of the church I was a part of as a youth I think would qualify as 'good people' completely external to any theological considerations. Shrug, maybe I just got lucky.

2:05 AM  
Blogger Thomas said...

Perhaps "x" is right about his experience, but it is markedly different than mine, which came at a relatively innocent time and in a small Midwestern city. It is nevertheless hard to take seriously such hyperbole as this: "Then they exit the church building and start sinning again. Catholics are like most people when it comes to flossing: they are religious about it twice a year." "[M]y experience in Catholic majority and Catholic enriched cities that I've lived in for most of my life has nonetheless shown me the truth in my claim -- for people of all ages. What percent of Catholics only go to Church on Christmas and Easter? How many go to pander to their parents?"

There was little of any of that in my experience. But that experience was acquired in the days before Vatican II -- when Catholics were much more in awe of the Church and its teachings.

Anyway, I guess that the point "x" is making is this: Catholics generally have more "fun" (some of it "sinful") than do Baptists -- in part because earthly absolution is available to Catholics. So the lesson for Joe is this: Become a hypocritical Catholic, "sin" like mad, and still go to heaven (which, however dull, might be better than the alternative). But be sure that you're struck down right after making a passably good confession.

In the end, I rejected Catholicism (and religion) for the reasons cited by Adam Johnson. I simply woke up one day and acknowledged my intellectual disassociation from religion. I then walked away from it without second thoughts. It didn't take years, and it wasn't an act of belated adolescent rebellion. Perhaps it was easy for me because -- although I had been a devout (and usually non-hypocritical) Catholic -- I had arrived at my devoutness on my own, not because of my family's (rather tepid) religiosity.

In any event, I am mystified by the vehemence of Joe's reaction to his upbringing. Those who choose not to have "fun" are making themselves happy in a different way than those who have "fun". Who am I to pass judgment on their view of happiness?

Yes, it's true that children are "indoctrinated" into believing a lot of weirdness. But -- like Joe -- they can nevertheless grow up to be happy, productive agnostics and atheists, in spite of their indoctrination. Live and let live.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Joe Miller said...

Tom,
Actually, I didn't really reject religion because of some belated adolescence or because I wanted to wallow in physical pleasures. I find some parts of Christianity odd in their rejection of all physical pleasures (as a friend said to me last night, we're all paying the price for Augustine's guilt over his youthful indiscretions).

My rejection of Christianity is based more on the fact that I can't see any good way to square the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being with the existence of evil in the world. So while I think that Anselm's ontological argument shows that if God is possible, then God exists necessarily, I think that the problem of evil is ample evidence that God (defined as the greatest conceivable being) is not possible.

I wasn't intending to argue that Baptists ought not exist or that it's impossible for someone brought up a Baptist to learn to think for him/herself. My point was only to say that one ought not be a Baptist. There are all sorts of reasons I have for thinking that. The total rejection of pleasure is one of those reasons, but far from the most important. It's just the most irritating. And the most fun to write about.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous x said...

Don't mess with Texas ;-)

6:13 PM  
Anonymous jamie mccall said...

Well then, you answered my email without me even knowing it.

Out of curiosity, how do you deal with the typical response from Christian theology regarding the problem of evil? From what I would gather, the response entails saying that "evil" is simply the result of God allowing men to have free will.

Or at least I think that is what the response would be - I should probably brush up on theology before commenting on it, but I’m curious...

6:47 AM  
Blogger Joe Miller said...

Jamie,
The problem I have with the free will defense is that it assumes that free will is actually possible. I'm not convinced that free will and omniscience are actually compatible. How can I be free if God already knows what it is that I will do tomorrow? If God knows that I'll do A, then how can I possibly do not-A? If I can't choose not-A, though, then I'm not really free when I do A. So I don't think that free will gets an omniscient God off the hook for the problem of evil.

10:25 AM  
Blogger sdRay said...

My name is Ray and I just started a new blog about ladies confession. Its a place where you can chat about ladies confession confidentially. I hope you will come and check out www.MySecretConfessionSpace.com. Thanks for letting me post on your site.

6:30 PM  

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