Thanks, Everybody!

It’s been an interesting month, and I appreciate having been able to hang out with everyone here on PT Blog. I knew that some of the ideas I’d be expressing would be controversial, to say the least, but thanks for listening, and James, thanks for not censoring.

I don’t know to what extent I’ll be participating here in the coming months. I do have a business to run, private studies, and about ten hobbies in which I’m active. There is quite a bit of emotional involvement, and time and thought that goes into producing articles for a blog site, even as a guest editor. Anyone who can do this for an extended time period has my complete respect!

In the inimitable words of Porky Pig: “A ba beya ba beya, That’s all Folks!”

BB

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Prophecy?

I’ve got an old Iron Maiden song playing somewhere back in the caverns of my cranium as I visualize my Christian brothers and sisters running for the hills to avoid capture by Nero’s soldiers back in the first century. Nero, by this point, was already soaking Christians in flammable liquids, and igniting them to warm and illuminate his lavish parties, a practice which would be difficult to visualize or justify if the life of Jesus Christ had been at that time simply a 25-30 year old bucolic legend based on the story of Mithra.

I know that many things fade with time. They certainly did for me. Also, there are things I’m now learning that I never knew. I thought I’d take some time and share some information, out of love, and in the spirit of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. We’ve entertained the theory that prophecy was written after it had already been fulfilled. There are some notable exceptions to this, and the case of Jesus would seem to be one of them. One resource we have during our own lifespans is proof of the relative intactness of the Old Testament scriptures, at least over a 2,500 year time span, because of the ways in which these compare to the so-called “Dead Sea” scrolls. So, any theories involving Catholic tampering do not apply. There are some fairly specific prophecies, part of the ancient Jewish literature, which pertain directly to Jesus Christ, and were written well in advance of His life, death, and resurrection.

First, lets turn to Luke 24: 44-45, where we read:

“He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

There are two major Old Testament passages which describe and directly apply to the experiences of Jesus. Psalm 22, and Isaiah 52, and 53 contain some amazing descriptive language, and there are certainly others. Bible Scholars have identified scores of references in the Law, Prophets, and Psalms which foreshadow, prophesy, or describe Jesus Christ.

I’m going to highlight, or excerpt these chapters, because I know from experience that if I just list chapter and verse, most people will never look them up and read them for themselves.

Psalm 22:

1. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

6. But, I am a worm, not a human being. I am scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7. All who see me mock me, they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8. He trusts in the Lord, they say, let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.
9. Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me feel secure on my mother’s breast.
10. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

15. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.
18. They divide my clothes among them, and cast lots for my garment.

25. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly, before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him-may your hearts live forever.
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.
29. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship, all those who go down to the dust will kneel before him–those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn. He has done it!

Isaiah 52: 13 See my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him–his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness–
15 so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Isaiah 53:
1 Who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life, and be satisfied by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.


He that hath an ear, let him hear!

In Christian Love,
BB

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The Game

In view of some of the recent comments, I’m going to expose a certain stereotype for the purpose of discussion. It’s a prominent and identifiable one, but what I’m about to share does not apply universally to everyone, so bear with me. I’ve noticed that this game has been played wherever our former religious experiences have been discussed. It starts with:

“Hi, I’m an atheist, and I’m just so intelligent! Let me acquaint you with the only logical method of determining valid information, and the only rational and acceptable way of interpreting it, and then you’ll become an atheist, too, unless of course you are just plain stupid!”

Why don’t more believers take this bait, and cross over? The fact is, people make benefit assessments in their lives, related to purchases, friendships, relationships, career choice, and even their faith. For some, faith provides benefits which non-belief simply cannot replace. In fact, it often acts as an all purpose solution, or a one-stop shopping center for a wide collection of needs and desirables, especially if one is raising a family. How can an evangelizing atheist replace these tangibles and intangibles with something of greater or equal value? He can’t. All he has to offer is a vacuum. Nothingness. It’s like a eunuch going to a dance club to try to pick up women.

Back when I built and rode Triumphs, there were always Harley guys who acted as if they were bigger and badder, had bigger dicks, and were more authentic bikers, just because they rode HD.
One of the lessons from life’s school of hard knocks is that, no matter our talents, there is generally someone else who has greater talent. Name the criteria. If you start a contest, sometimes you’re going to win and sometimes you’re going to lose. What you have is what you have, and successful people learn to use what they have effectively. There will always be someone with a higher IQ, more wealth, bigger muscles, hotter cars or bikes, more lovers, better fighting skills, or more persuasive and magnetic personality. What is true is that often people will become jealous and resent formidably strong or obviously superior types. Idolization and imitation are not universal reactions by any means.

The WCG was a seeker group. The ministry was dedicated to attracting people who either had not thought much about belief, or were looking for solutions to some of life’s more vexing problems. The church would seek and pick up whatever stragglers they could find, usually by pretending to provide special information which nobody else had, and to use this information to intellectually back prospectives into a corner, leaving them no other logical course but to join up. No matter that the vast majority of the people who heard the message simply tuned it out as being ridiculous. Many ex-members still have retained this methodology, and since it worked at one time on them, they use it in attempting to spread their new ideas, often with missionary zeal.

I’ll concede the fact that many non-believers are indeed happier and better adjusted than those like ourselves who have had or are having a bad religious experience. However, for the most part, Christians have some pretty awesome coping skills, and quite a sense of community. Generally, they help one another, and humanity at large, sharing many of their talents and resources. And, yes you can find these qualities and sense of community elsewhere, if you know where to look. It’s just that they seem to be concentrated in the Christian community. In terms of intelligence, interests, and abilities, believers mirror society at large, making it easy for anyone to find and form friendships. Friendship is also a very powerful motivating factor in keeping people attached to any collective group. It’s one of the major adjustment problems many of the people who left WCG have cited in their lives.

Benefit assessment is the reason why happy believers do not succumb to the charms and persuasive powers of the “Elvis of Atheism” types. Just in case anyone happened to be wondering.

BB

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The Future

One of the first things people seem to want to ask Christians about is what they believe may happen in the near future. Frankly, I’m not sure we know any more than does anyone else. It’s not quite so important to fully understand in advance what God is going to do as it is to realize after the fact that He is always faithful in the fulfillment of His prophecies. But, prophecy was such a hot button issue for those of us who were exposed to the Armstrong problem, because “the end” was used first as a marketing hook to get us or our parents involved, and later as a fearsome cat of nine tails on members once they were inside, always whipping them into shape. Most of us, today, are tired of hearing about it in any form, because of the ways in which it was used to manipulate and exploit us. Oddly, I don’t recall the spectre of the end times being raised by mainstream Christianity until the so-called “Jesus movement” of the 1970s. Yet, who hasn’t heard of the “Left Behind” series these days? It would appear that “the end” has permanently entered the popular lexicon, and not only from Christian sources.

Politicians have jumped on this bandwagon, and although they are not quoting Bible verses, they are quoting statistics related to the accelerated rate of melting of the glaciers around the world, the accumulation of CO2 and destruction of the ozone layer, the radical changes occurring in the oceans, the destruction of the world’s rain forests, and the near extinction of numerous species of animals. While these are all problems which may respond to scientifically oriented solutions, it is unlikely that man would be able to effectively remedy other problems, such as the anticipated reversal of the earth’s magnetic polarity.

The news media also seems to want to weigh in on all of this, selling newspapers and boosting ratings as they go by fanning the flames of avian flu, “mad cow” disease, Ebola, the golden algae threat, the resistance to antibiotics of strains of diseases once thought eradicated, the growth of the atomic club, and other issues. Clearly, we have a growing number of existential threats, and everybody seems to want to audition for the role of Chicken Little.

Some or all of these problems or challenges will end up needing to be dealt with, while others will simply fade into insignificance, dying a quiet and natural death, becoming non-issues. In the intervening time, we can expect people to utilize these issues to mold opinion to their own agendas, whether such agendas be scientific, religious, political, or humanitarian.

I am not the type of Christian who claims to have all the answers, or to use information to manipulate people. I did not appreciate being kept on edge about many of these things, in a perpetual state of limbo by WCG, because this kept me from enjoying the peace, tranquility, and many blessings that Christian living is supposed to bring to us on a daily basis in the here and now. Of course, it could be argued very persuasively that we never were Christians, as WCG members, but it is not until we begin to experience some of the good and wholesome things which were obviously missing from WCG culture that we can fully appreciate their value. I don’t believe that God intended for us to be continuously whipped into a state of anxiety over what we see around us. I believe that He wants us to trust Him and not focus on “the wind” (remember Peter’s attempt to walk on water?). Conversely to WCG teaching, I also believe that God wants us to get involved in helping ALL people (not just members), and helping to minimize whatever societal problems we can. Christians, right in there, at ground zero, helping others, and helping them by example to make sense of it all! Isn’t that what “let your light shine” is all about?

There are some general theories floating about, some of which may or may not have a bearing on our future. Though the ACOGs have largely missed this one, because they believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the “Great Whore” of Babylon, one could almost conceptualize a revival of the Roman Empire nations, doing the many things they say it will do, if another “Great Whore”, (Islam) were to take root and become the dominating political force there. Jihad co-opting all of the might of Europe would not be a pretty sight. I never could see the Catholics attacking us, but I can most definitely see radical Muslims doing so.

There is also the theory concerning the prophetic sprouting of the tender branch, supposedly representing the rebirth of the nation of Israel. Now, the presence of Israel is actually required for the end time prophecies in Revelation to take place. If in fact this theoretic interpretation has validity, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the time period is linked to the “baby Boomer” generation, since Israel was reborn as a nation in 1948. So, for all of the younger people here, the baby boomers should nearly all be gone in about twenty years, placing a bit of a timeline on this theory. You’ll know a bit more by then……..or not.

The Christian community in which I participate is aware of possible end time scenarios, but is not hung up on them. We’re more concerned with our daily Adventure with Father God, and the blessings and education we are experiencing. Building a “kingdom” skill set. In the past several years, I’ve participated in several high profile events where the focus has been prayer for a spiritual awakening, a healing and revival in our nation, and around the world, returning our nation to the largely Christian principles and practices on which it was founded. We believe that the current economic crisis has caused many people to turn to God, and frankly, considering the volatility of past decades, that in and of itself is counter intuitive. It is amazing that we are not experiencing massive civil unrest in response to the hardships people are experiencing. But, in fact, many of our core crime statistics are actually trending downwards.

We may be in the end times, or we may not. So, to me, the only way to live life is to do it in as ethical and loving way as possible. Frankly, that’s good advice in any case. Be on the side of good, part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Think of each act in terms of its implications for those around us, be they individuals, animals, or other nations, or our planet.
I don’t believe that we have any stupid people on these blogs and forums. Opinionated, yes. Stupid, no. Back when I was a non-believer, in a discussion about the end, I said something which I feel still makes good sense, and bears repeating: If the events outlined in the book of Revelation suddenly begin unfolding in an unmistakable or undeniable way, exactly as they are written, I believe that all of us, be we believer or nonbeliever, will at that point know exactly what is happening, and what to do.

BB

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Fallacies Which I Used to Find Comforting

We often accuse the Armstrong movement of “proof texting”. What does this mean? Well, let’s take history as an example. Person A is a legitimate history scholar. He knows precisely what happened in given eras, and there is noticeable depth to his comprehension. He can share incredible detail. When history is being discussed, his overview and insights become invaluable. Person B may or may not have a basic, very general idea, and knows the names of some individuals, or locations, as well as some of the events which transpired during a given period. In a discussion, in support of his side, he knows enough to go back, find a quote which supports his particular contention, and in many cases, this makes him appear equally authoritative. However, his knowledge is not as deep, and because of this, he sometimes misses information which directly counters or reverses what he has posted as his “proof text”. One guy knows it cold, the other scurries around looking for information to support his contentions. Who would you trust? How could you ascertain whether there was an agenda at play, guiding the evidentiary trail? Most of us realize that there are fewer Person A types than there are Person B types, yet in a highly polarized environment, it is usually the Person B types that get the “high fives”. (Hooray for our side). The problem is that both believers and non-believers do this. It is embedded, learned behavior, a hangover from our Armstrong days.

I’ve always said that I am not a good welder. But, I do recognize good welding when I see it. And, I believe most of us have a certain gift of discernment. Something deep inside of us tends to either validate, or reject incoming information. But, we’ve also got the ability to “override” those gut feelings, if we have a preference as to the outcome.

Over the past years, we’ve all encountered people who lift various myths, personalities, and other little clues from history to support the theory that Jesus Christ never existed. Some have stated that He was either loosely based on some mythological character who in fact predated Christianity, or on a composite of teachers, magicians, or alleged do-gooders or miracle workers from the period, or from word of mouth legendary tradition that would not pass Snopes if we were discussing a possible contemporary character. However, it should raise a cautionary red flag that the broad majority of legitimate historians do not question the historicity of Jesus. There is much dispute over whether He was who He said He was, but little doubt that He existed. In fact, there is a documented progression of teachers and students, one having taught the other, extending from Antenicene Fathers of the first, second, third and fourth centuries back to the original disciples and Jesus Himself. The proto-Catholics, and later the Catholics were incredible record keepers, preserving what they felt was an oracle, much the same as were the Jews before them. Though they can’t be the entirely secular sources that non-believers would prefer, the Vatican has amassed and preserved, in addition to the Bible, an incredible number of period documents. The Antenicene Fathers were very prolific writers. And, church historians documented the minutes of council meetings such as Nicea and Laodecea, decisions which were made, and often the activities of those considered as exemplary or leaders. There are some “fringe” or radical historians who have advanced theories involving the non-existence of Jesus, but these are not considered to be completely credible. They bear more similarity to our modern holocaust deniers, or those who believe that the astronauts’ walk on the moon was actually faked on some back lot of a movie studio in Burbank, California.

I recently watched an episode of 7th Street Theater, in which a young woman had gotten a speeding ticket, but insisted that she was not going over the speed limit. As she agonized over how to approach this in her court appearance, with the help and commiseration of her theater group, a discovery was made. While driving on the freeway, and keeping pace with the freeway traffic, she noticed that her speedometer stuck at 51 miles per hour. So, she ended up paying her fine rather than asserting her innocence in court. As the story developed, her breaking of the speed limit had been caused by reliance on wrong information, and the consequence was that she was still legally accountable. Of course the moral lesson of the episode was that one must be sure that one’s sources are accurate, especially when making critical decisions!

How could one possibly have been part of WCG without having been primed to be receptive to conspiracy theories? HWA actually set the blueprint up for this type of thinking via his Simon Magus theory, in which the first century Gnostics were accused of having hijacked the original teachings of Christ, morphing it into what eventually became the Roman Catholic Church. I think it might behoove us to look at the concept of conspiracy theories, and what they do. In many cases, originators of these theories base them loosely on certain facts, draw conclusions, and then extrapolate wildly, imputing sinister and very scary intentions to people perceived as being in power or control. Often, the people advancing these theories utilize them to leverage conventional wisdom or commonly held opinions, and to alter peoples’ intentions. This can be very effective, as we’ve all witnessed, in destroying individuals’ confidence in one thing, and subsequently redirecting that confidence to another. It’s usually done to combat a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, and is not unlike a magician’s sleight of hand. Right now, breaking news has the Securities and Exchange Commission taking Goldman Sachs to court, allegedly for conspiring, putting together, and selling packages of worthless investments, partially causing the recent meltdown in the global economy. Whether or not they did what is alleged remains to be proven in a court of law. Some astute observers find the timing of this SEC suit questionable, in that it seems to be happening just as Congress considers a new package of regulatory legislation pertaining to banks and investment firms. Thus, speculation as to leverage has already begun!We can nearly guarantee that, regardless as to the outcome of the lawsuit, if this is leverage, it is going to further erode trust. And, this erosion of trust is bound to influence the public’s perceptions, and the pending legislation. Just seeing how a conspiracy theory works, I am not encouraged to buy into any of the conspiracy theories which people concoct in support of the alternative origins of the Bible, or of Jesus. For one thing, there are far too many of them! Overkill tends to make me suspicious.

There is what is known as oral law, or oral tradition. The Jews have this, in the form of their Talmud and Cabala, and the Catholics have it as well, supposedly the cumulative effect of the primacy of Peter. The Protestant Reformation was all about shedding much of the Catholic oral tradition, and getting back to the Bible as the basic core or source for human actions, rather than the authority of the church. Coinciding with the Reformation was the translation, mass printing of, and availability of the Holy Bible to the masses, so that each individual believer could be responsible for doing the due diligence required by their faith. In the early stages of this, people were actually killed for making the Bible accessible, because it was seen as eroding the power of the church, and even that of secular Kings and Queens.

There are questions and theories regarding the authenticity of the Bible. The Old Testament was available during Jesus’ time in the form of the Septuagint, and today we have the Dead Sea Scrolls, which differ very little from what was available prior to the discovery of these scrolls. That is probably a factor as to why there are more questions and theo

ries surrounding the New Testament than the Old. It becomes difficult to imagine, however, how we, two thousand years removed from the selection and canonization process, would be in a better position to make some of the related decisions today than those who were actually part of that process. Those compiling Christian documents treated the materials at hand very reverently. They felt they were preserving an oracle, and did evaluate them very carefully and even agonized over them! We know this based on conflicts such as that between Marcion and Irenaeus. Canonization seems to have been a gradual process, but regardless as to the timing, those actually involved were closer to the time period of the actual early Christian events which the books and letters describe than are those of us living today. They had testimony, materials, and criteria available to them which have long since been lost to antiquity. So, in many cases, the absence of evidence which seems to pose great problems for us today was not a problem for them. For believers, the authenticity of scripture has an additional basis. We believe it to be Spirit protected.

Because Christians have oft cited Josephus as an authority, his account of Jesus is frequently attacked as having been inserted later, and not conforming to his general writing style. And, frankly, this may or may not be true. But, the bottom line is that Josephus is just one of numerous resources. Jesus most certainly does not rise or fall just based on Josephus. You see,
we don’t just need to deal with Jesus, but also with Peter, John, Paul, Pilate, the Ossuary of James and other archaeological artifacts, Egyptian Christian traditions, the Antenicene Fathers, the Jewish Talmud and associated historical records, and even the apocryphal gospels and people attacked as having been heretics. They all, in their own way, give testimony of Jesus’ existence. If this were all a huge, global conspiracy, can you imagine all of the people who would need to have been complicit? Even the detractors! Plainly, there are odds and the laws of probability in play here, with both believer and non-believer alike placing their bets. Some derive encouragement from the so-called Dark Ages, and cite it as support for the idea that there could have been an all-encompassing black out and control, but the Dark Ages were not global! Some nations existing today never participated in these Dark Ages! Mohammed and the entire early Islamic movement were seen as being on the cutting edge during this era, as compared to the Catholic nations. It is difficult to imagine this today, but apparently they were quite advanced (Incidentally, they also believed in Jesus! They just saw Him as being a prophet)

And, speaking of some of these other nations, I used to ask, “What about the Chinese people? There are some areas of China where nobody has even heard of Jesus. Would a loving god hold them accountable?” This was supposed to be another one of my escape hatches, but the flaw lies in the fact that it applies to the Chinese, not to me regarding my own situation or salvation. It is nice to have brotherly concern for others, but their plight is their plight, and I am responsible based on my own conditions. Lack of knowledge amongst Chinese people is not something which I could logically present to God on judgment day, and expect Him to cut me some slack!

All of the above was at one time used in constructing my “wall”, a protective structure which I had built following my exit from Armstrongism. It was designed to keep me from being fooled and hurt again. Judging from discussions and comments on forums and blogs, I believe that others have also used some or all of these in their own walls of non-belief. As one comes in from that deadly and dangerous “road to Damascus”, one’s perceptions change. My hope is that there are some nuggets here that might either provide food for thought, or perhaps help some other people, those who may also be in the midst of some important decisions in their lives. Non-belief isn’t a bad intermediate stage. It serves as an excellent neutral buffer, and helps clear out all of the old baggage. My opinion, though, is that it is not altogether optimal or satisfying as a final stage.

BB

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