Posts Tagged “Christadelphian”
Right now, the world is reeling from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And some Christadelphians are excited about it. Just like so many times before. Prophecy is unfolding before their eyes. The end times are here, and the return of Jesus is just around the corner. It’s the fulfilment of God’s great plan, and anyone who happens to be hurt by it is just unfortunate collateral damage.
But that’s not really what I want to talk about. I want to talk about prophecy that really does come true.
Ten years ago today, I was in India, in the final week of my final mission trip. It was my fifth trip, and my longest. I haven’t returned to the country since, though maybe one day I’ll go there as a tourist. Now, looking back on it, the whole endeavour just feels odd.
This year I’ve been reflecting on how much I changed in the 2010s. Some of the changes could probably have been expected given my age and stage of life, but leaving religion in particular wasn’t expected by me or by those around me.
It now makes me wonder how many others there are like former-me: People who are young, indoctrinated, dedicated to their religion. Maybe they’re already facing doubts, or maybe they will in the next five or ten years. Maybe they’re already thinking of quitting, or maybe they just view the doubts as things to be conquered.
If I were going back in time, what might I say to former-me? And if anyone feeling these things happens to be reading this post, what might I want them to be aware of?
As I look back on the 2010s, I see a decade where I became increasingly independent: Moving out of the family home, working, travelling, making my own choices, owning my own ideas and values.
That independence then led me to places and ideas that I would never have expected at the start of the decade, even to independence from the religion that had once defined me.
Growing up, I always liked the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel. Now I see that it shows problems with God.
In the Gregorian Calendar, today is February 29, a Leap Day. It only comes once every four years.
You’ll never believe what it tells us about God!
In the early 2010s, I’m sure my fellow Christadelphians saw in me growing knowledge and ability and a continued commitment to God. They must have thought that I was set for life, and was becoming the spiritual leader I was always meant to be.
And yet, this was the decade I outgrew my faith. My path was only leading in one direction, and that direction was away from religion.
Where did this disconnect come from? How could so many people be so wrong?
In the lead up to the Brexit referendum, several Christian groups claimed that the Bible predicted a Leave vote, including many Christadelphians. When the Leave vote succeeded, they were quick to claim this trivial prediction as a stunning validation of the complete Bible message and a sign of impending Armageddon. However, while Brexit still seems likely to happen in some form, this year has seen it throw the UK parliamentary process into chaos, with no clear end in sight.
While I don’t think scripture makes any statement on Brexit, I do think this saga has some important lessons about Bible prophecy interpretation that stretch far beyond Brexit. It’s all here: A crystal-ball gazing seer, Armageddon, even a reference to my favourite fiction from last year. Some of it is mocking, but I don’t apologise - if Christadelphians didn’t want that, they should have chosen something better than Brexit to nail their colours to the mast over.
Recently, I saw a touring tattoo exhibition at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum. Most of the tattoos shown were beautiful full-body tattoos, particularly the Japanese ones. However, the exhibition also reminded me how much my life has changed since leaving religion.
One of the dubious benefits of having been a lay preacher for over ten years is that Bible passages often remind me of talks I built on those passages. Recently, this happened with Ezekiel’s vision of God leaving his temple in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8 - 11).
Five years ago, I used that as the starting point for my “Dies Irae” exhortation. Ironically, I sub-titled it “Finding our Blind Spots”, but I now see that it was I who had the blind spot: The passage clearly showed the unpleasant behaviour of the God of the Bible, and I was so busy trying to find what we might have done wrong that I just couldn’t see it.
Last post, I asked whether my deconversion was inevitable, and decided that it felt pretty inevitable. However, obviously some people do hang onto their faith much longer than me, and I don’t think they’re being dishonest or stupid.
After quitting, I heard some suggestions from believers of things that might have kept me in the faith. There have also been some things I’ve seen in others that I’ve wondered whether they might have made a difference to me.
This year, I’ve been wondering whether my quitting was really as inevitable as it now seems. I’m sure to my fellow believers it was completely unexpected for an apparently committed believer to quit out of the blue. To me, looking back from outside the bubble, it just seems like an obvious progression from indoctrination to reality. But could a few changes in my life have affected the outcome? Or was someone like me always going to quit?
Yesterday, I wrote about why you should trust my interpretation of the Bible. But I’m sure it wouldn’t be complete without listing some reasons, both good and bad, why you should take my Bible interpretations with a grain of salt.
On this blog and elsewhere, I’ve written articles involving detailed and systematic interpretation of the Bible, most recently in a long series about how Christianity appropriated Judaism. I’m a former Bible student, but there are a multitude of interpreters of the Bible on the web, with perhaps nearly as many interpretations as interpreters. So it’s a reasonable question to ask: What makes my interpretation worth considering?
Alan Turing is something of a patron saint for my field. He is also well-known for his prosecution for homosexuality, and his more recent pardon. So when I saw that my local theatre was performing Breaking the Code, a 1986 play about his life, I made sure I went along. I expected to be both moved and upset by the treatment he received, and I was.
As discussed in my previous post, the role of Israel today was one area where I came to different conclusions from many Christadelphians. This led me to accept the much-vilified “replacement theology”.
To many Christadelphians, the return of Israel to their land is considered the go-to argument in support of the Bible. The Christadelphian even has as its tag-line ‘A magazine dedicated wholly to the hope of Israel’. But how does this relate to Israel today?
Seventy years ago today, the British Mandate over Palestine ended and the state of Israel was declared. Christadelphians were delighted, seeing in this the fulfilment of promises made thousands of years ago that one day Israel would return from exile. It was expected that Jesus would soon return, an expectation that was heightened 19 years later by Israel’s victory in the Six Day War.
However, while much has changed about Israel since then, there has been no return of Jesus and no establishment of world government from Jerusalem with compulsory religious teaching. While Israel has religious elements, it is a secular state which has made major contributions to the technology of the world. And one of the consequences of that new technological world is that many former believers, including me, have found it easier to discover the problems with our religion.
Many Christian denominations encourage children to make a commitment to Christianity before they are old enough to make an informed decision. This is then supposed to create a binding and unbreakable commitment to Jesus and often to your particular denomination, with the threat of specially severe future judgement if you ever walk away from it.
Two years ago, I gave my final exhortation at my home ecclesia, and last year I wrote about the experience. This year I’d like to talk about an interesting fact I noticed that I wasn’t comfortable sharing with the congregation.
I have been asked by a number of Christadelphians whether I will ever return. Depending on how the question is asked, my answers have ranged from “I don’t see any path back” to “I don’t rule it out”. But I think it very unlikely that I will ever return to being a Christadelphian. Here’s why.
Here in Australia, it’s Christmas time. The houses sport Christmas lights, the streets have Christmas decorations, and the shops are filled with busy shoppers buying gifts or completing their Christmas preparations.
But, in among the many Christmas traditions, one religion claims to have the true meaning of Christmas: A true meaning that has little to do with all the bustle and confusion. In past years, I made this claim myself. But how does it measure up?
I’ve described how my search for certainty about the existence of God led me away from traditional apologetics to atheism, most recently when talking about the three gaps theory.
However, there was a time when I actively preferred faith to evidence or argument, because it told me so much more about God. At that time you could reasonably have called me a fundamentalist Bible basher, and yet I already knew many of the nuances that would later lead me away from faith.
Continuing my evaluation of the three gaps theory, today I look at what it can tell us about six different reasons to believe the Bible (taken from the popular Christadelphian book The Way of Life).
As with the philosophical arguments yesterday, you can reasonably assume that I do not think any of the arguments presented here are compelling. All I am trying to consider is which gaps each argument could bridge if it were true.
As a believer, I found it difficult to address or dismiss intellectual arguments for God’s existence, even when I doubted his presence. Though over time I did reject some of the arguments, I never did a systematic evaluation. I think I was concerned about whether I would get stuck: What if I couldn’t dismiss the intellectual arguments, but they didn’t help me recover my lost confidence?
One of the things that helped most to evaluate those arguments was a theory that I imaginatively call the “three gap theory”. It showed me clearly why common intellectual arguments couldn’t provide me all the certainty I needed to remain a Christadelphian.
I haven’t been asked this question directly, but I’ve had hints of it and seen others asked it. Those who ask it are in essence saying: OK, great. You had serious doubts, then you quit. And now you’re happier as a result. But it’s all over. Why do you keep dwelling on past experiences? Can’t you just move on?
I find it curious that those with the strongest faith think they know best how people should handle losing their faith. But I think the question is actually a silencing tactic. Believers find it inconvenient when former believers write about their experiences and what they have learned, so they want to shut it off as soon as possible. And, in case this post doesn’t make it clear, I object to the idea of being silenced.
One hundred years ago today, the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration, a statement which supported “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. Christadelphians who expected the Jews to be supported by the British in a return to the land of Israel immediately seized on it, particularly since the British were advancing against the Ottoman Empire through Palestine. They have continued to view it as important, though I’m not sure how much effect it had on the formation of the state of Israel.
Five hundred years ago today, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenburg, defiantly signalling the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and the end of the Catholic Church’s domination of the Christian world. Forthwith, believers would be free to study the scripture by themselves, and to be reconciled to God by faith without requiring the Church as an intermediary. Now is a time for believers to celebrate the importance of the Reformation and the advancement of the unity of the gospel.
That’s the story, anyway. Like much history, the reality is perhaps a bit more prosaic. Some thought Luther went too far and worked to have him excommunicated, while other reformers thought he didn’t go far enough and retained too many Catholic inventions. My own denomination thought that the Reformation wasn’t far enough back, and that we should return to the teachings of the first century church to better reflect True Christianity. Holy Wars were kindled, and an earnest desire for truth led to division (a story that has played out many times since).
Many Christians say that the worst thing you can do when encountering difficulties is to stop attending church and cut yourself off from the community. And there is probably some sense to it: you don’t want to give up at the first hurdle.
But this philosophy kept me bogged in damaging doubts for years. My whole foundation had crumbled, and nothing made sense any more. I was still attending, but my doubts were so strong that no message in the church had the power to move me. Any weak arguments would remind me of the problems I saw and drive me further away.
Eventually it became clear to me that hanging on was useless as it couldn’t return me to faith. A sense of community was no substitute for truth, and I needed to leave to be true to myself.
Last month I attended an Australian Youth Orchestra concert. It included a performance of the Compassion song cycle by Nigel Westlake and Lior Attar, which is music I would highly recommend (their album won the 2014 ARIA Best Classical Album award).
The song cycle includes Arabic and Hebrew texts on compassion, drawn from the Tanach, the Mishnah, and the Hadith. As a result, some have suggested that it could reach across barriers in the Middle East, and remind Jews and Arabs of their shared values. But that got me thinking: How much can a few brief passages really express the main message of a sacred text?
Fifty years ago today, on the third day of the Six Day War, Israel captured the Wailing Wall, the Temple Mount, and the Old City of Jerusalem, giving them complete control of Jerusalem (which they retain to this day). At the start of the war, Israel’s existence had been threatened, but they came out of the war with a much firmer control of the entire area.
This may have been the high point of Christadelphian apocalyptic expectation. A mere 19 years before, Israel had returned to their land, and now with Jerusalem captured the time of the Gentiles was fulfilled. Everything was in readiness for Christ’s return, which must surely happen soon. There was a sudden spike in numbers of baptisms as young people rushed to make sure they would not miss out.
However, all these events happened long before I was born, and fifty years on there is still no return.
On this day last year, I wrote a formal resignation letter, bringing an end to 14.5 years as an officially baptised Christadelphian member, and even longer as part of the Christadelphian community. Tonight I’ve been trying once again to get a feel for what the whole process meant to me.
I have much to say, but it’s late and I can’t get control of it now. So for now just a brief response (well, brief for me). Past history suggests I may come back to this at great length, or I may never get to it.
Well, I’ve talked about the resurrection narrative, and I’ve talked about the birth narrative, so now seems a good time to talk about the trial and crucifixion narrative. This is mostly for completeness: unlike the birth and resurrection, the stories contain few supernatural claims, and it doesn’t seem so surprising that someone claiming to be the Messiah and upsetting established authorities might end up being crucified.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been talking about my experience speaking at BibleTech in 2010. One of the biggest problems I had was trying to cover too much. In my talk I spoke about Bible software and usability: Why we should care about personal notes and why Bible software couldn’t just replace paper.
What I want to discuss in this post is my own personal vision: What I had already implemented in BPBible, and what my future plans were. Though it was meant to be an important part of my talk, none of it ended up covered at BibleTech.
From mid-2012 to mid-2016 I was the editor of Salt Cellar: a magazine for Christadelphian young people in Melbourne. One year ago today, I produced my final Salt Cellar and wrote my final editorial. It contained an important message about seeking out truth, though that message was concealed behind scriptural wording. Now I can reveal the real message behind the editorial.
In my last post, I mentioned that I spoke at BibleTech:2010 about user annotations in Bible software. In this post, I want to talk about why I felt support for personal notes was important, and why it wasn’t enough to just use someone else’s notes.
One year ago today, I gave my last exhortation at my home ecclesia (and it had nothing to do with Valentine’s Day…). Now that time seems a world away, but here are some reflections on that exhortation:
How I could give an exhortation at all while very near to quitting.
Reflections on the importance of careful and accurate Biblical exposition, a puzzling Bible contradiction, a failed Psalm, Biblical propaganda, generational change in Melbourne Christadelphia, and fighting the long defeat.
Every year is a new adventure and a step into the unknown. For me, though, 2016 was less of a step and more of a leap into a completely different world. So here are some thoughts on what the year meant to me.