Sola Scriptura is the Protestant belief that only Scripture matters. Teaching, tradition, and authority have nothing to do with what is to be taken from the Bible. This is an untenable position for a number of reasons: there is the obvious translation issue, as well as the actual context and meanings of words written down 2000 years ago. And that is where the teaching and tradition comes in handy.
If you really believe in Sola Scriptura, that the Bible is infallible and obvious to all who truly seek to know and live the Word, then you obviously wouldn't require a translation, would you? You could just pick up a copy in any language, say Attic Greek or Hebrew or a Latin Vulgate or even a King James English (or heck, why not a Mandarin or Sanskrit?), and it would make sense to you the reader.
Does it? Of course not. So cut yourself some slack and say, "but as long as it's in common modern English, I'll be ok." Will you? Of course not. This is due to the aspects of context and tradition, familiarity with life back when it was written. For example, do you know anyone who works for the IRS? Any tax collectors? How about the County Tax Collector to whom you pay thousands of dollars in property tax each year? Does it seem like a grave, horrible offense worthy of communal ostracism to associate with them in any form, let alone have dinner with them or consider them part of your trusted inner circle? It was for Jews living in Judea around 30AD. So some context is required in order to grasp the impact of Jesus embracing and forgiving EVERYONE, even despised tax collectors.
Martin Luther was a man deeply concerned with the direction the leadership of Church was taking, and he tried to get people's attention and spark some much needed reform. The Pope was aware of this and dismissed it as a "monkish quarrel" (Luther was in fact a German Catholic monk at the time). But the suggested reforms took on a life of their own, and Christians have been divided ever since between those who believe they can figure it all out on their own (all they need is a handy dandy Bible that's been translated into words they can actually understand, even if they don't mean the same thing as the original words written by the original authors) and those who recognize the need for the magisterium, the teaching authority and the tradition of the Church going back to its very founding with the actual followers and companions of Christ setting the example of oral teachings that would eventually be written down decades later.
Have you ever seen a black priest? Catholic priest, to be more specific. I have never attended Mass conducted by a black priest, but I have seen many black pastors, which are the Protestant leaders of congregations. And I've also watched a black "bishop" on t.v., Bishop T.D. Jakes (a famous Dallas-area pastor at a very large, well-known, predominantly African-American church). If there is a difference between a bishop such as Bishop Jakes and a pastor, I don't know what it is. I DO know that in the Catholic Church, we have a hierarchy of clergy, with Bishop being a step up from a Priest.
In any case, watching Bishop Jakes as well as another African-American pastor on occasion always has the same effect on me: I feel energized, I am excited about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, I feel a great sense of urgency to determine what exactly the Lord's plans for me on earth are and to then embark on a journey right that minute to work towards accomplishing those plans, and finally, I feel obligated to give them some money. And I don't get angry at anyone for making me feel that way - I just feel like, right at that instant, something is compelling to make a contribution right then and there, for my own sake and the sake of others. I don't really feel ANY of those things at Catholic Masses, although I do donate every Sunday because, unlike the thoughts I have about the Protestant ministers, I feel like someone's actually accounting for and keeping tabs of my money, and that it will go to appropriate causes as seen fit by the Church. When I see the cars the really successful Protestant pastors drive, the houses they live in, the clothes and jewelry their wives wear (wives who almost never have full-time employment of their own, I have noted), I can't help but make the connection that all of those things are directly paid for by what's taken up in the collection baskets on Sunday. That seems wrong to me.
So what's preferred: feeling inspired by a powerful public speaker who, more often then not, seems more motivated by and entitled to my money than I myself am, or dutifully sitting through the current incarnation of over a thousand years of ritual tradition, leaving it up to myself to be open to the Holy Spirit if and when it so chooses to enter and work through me?
The Abbasids, a branch of Islam whose Imam was descended in a line from an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, overthrew the ruling Umayyad line of caliphs who ruled from Damascus around the year 750. Baghdad became the seat of power for the Abbasids when they took control of the Dar al-Islam ("House of Islam," or the lands ruled by the caliphate). When the Abbasids entered Damascus and the royal palace there, a terrible slaughter ensued, with all who fled being chased by horsemen and cut down as they ran.
The various divisions within Islam were, and still are, frequently as brutal towards other branches of Islam as they were to other religions. The same can be said of Christianity. It can also be said that these two religions, Christianity and Islam, more than any others, have employed the sword to spread their beliefs to those who did not previously share them. But I believe that fact is more of a testament to the time that these religions took root and the state of humanity at that time than anything that can be attributed to the compassionate belief systems that the religions intended to promote. Although I believe Christ was the Son of God and the Son of Man, who never led any battles or killed another person or sought the death of anyone at any place or any time, whereas Muhammad was a military leader who directed the slaughter of thousands in battle and enjoyed the fruits of that astonishing string of victories, I also know that many (not all) of the teachings of Islam and of Christianity are virtually identical in spirit and in practice. Muhammad was directly responsible for transmitting the words of the Qu'ran to humanity, whether the Angel Gabriel (Jibril) delivered them straight from God (Allah) or not, and for that, at that brutal period of mankind's brutal history, the world owes much thanks.
At various times in the histories of each religion, it was acceptable to proclaim one's belief and be okay with the fact that your neighbor held a different one (even though you felt bad for him and the future of his soul). It is mostly that way today. For this I am grateful, and more than that, I am hopeful.
There is a phrase that has been attributed to various religious combatants in the moments before merciless slaughter of men, women, and children was to ensue, with the English translation of the original languages going along the lines of "kill them all; God [or Allah, or the Lord, etc] will recognize his own." The earliest instance of that sentiment that I have come across has been pinned on my own Catholic Church, at the time of the Cathar heresy. The Cathars were a group in an area of south/southeastern France, Languedoc, that were a thorn in the side of the Church around the year 1200. Theirs was a sort of resurrection of early beliefs, before official Orthodoxy (literally "right thinking," as opposed to heterodoxy or "different thinking") had been established in the first few centuries after the death and Resurrection of Christ, that Christ was actually of two natures: one divine, and one human. The version of Christianity that won out, however, was that Christ was both human and divine at the same time, rather than one at a time.
One of the main reasons that this group was allowed to exist within Catholic communities (remember that this is hundreds of years before the Protestant Reformation, but even the Reformation did not subscribe to this heresy) and why its membership took off at such an alarming rate was that the Cathars actually exemplified what Christians were "supposed" to be, as opposed to the frequently corrupt and wrong-living clergy and Church holy men of the time. Townspeople were rapidly converting to Catharism, believing that they must in fact be the REAL heirs to Christ's teachings and ways, since they were the ones walking the walk, and the Church was having none of it.
So Pope Innocent III (great name) has this great idea to realize the benefits of a "Crusade," i.e. keeping noblemen and fighting busy while promising them land and other spoils of victory, while accomplishing the goal of stamping out this heresy once and for all. At the city of Beziers, on July 22, 1209, surrounded by a Catholic army of the Pope, the mostly Catholic citizenry refused to turn over their Cathar friends, who were but a small minority in the town, for fear of what the army would do to them (burn them all at the stake as heretics). Upon this refusal, the army entered the town with the order to slaughter the heretics. When the question was raised "how will we know Catholic from Cathar?" the reply came to "kill them all, for God will recognize his own."
Over 10,000 and possibly upwards of 20,000 men, women, and children were put to the sword, and the town was burned to the ground. The "crusade" against the Cathar heresy, called the Albigensian Crusade, would proceed until the goal was accomplished in 1255, with no more people claiming to be Cathars.
This is filed under "Religion" rather than "Seeking," as opposed to most of my spiritual searching-type posts which are filed under "Seeking." Why? Because, for some reason, abortion seems to be associated with Catholicism in particular, rather than Christianity or other faiths in general. Again I ask, why? To this "why?", I don't have an answer. Why is it that anti-abortion is a well-known Catholic stereotype (or at least it's supposed to be - there are some that go so far as to claim, from both sides, that if one isn't anti-abortion, then how could one consider him or herself to be Catholic? However, there is far more to Catholicism than abortion, and that's all I have to say about that here), yet not so for other faiths?
It's an unanswerable question, in that it should not even BE a question of whether religious beliefs dictate support of choice or non-choice, regarding whatever "choice" is in question. This is a question of life or death - not of when life begins, or when intelligent life begins, or when consciousness arises, or when the formation of a soul occurs, for these are also not knowable - at least not in the foreseeable future. It is, quite simply, a question of whether one believes that a human being can decide to end the physical existence of another human being for the sake of economic or lifestyle convenience, or for the possibility of the avoidance of a non-conventional life to be led by an as yet unborn person that will have a physical makeup that is different from that of "normal" human beings. It is also not a question of whether a person ought to be allowed to protect herself from the possibility of physical harm that may arise from carrying a pregnancy to term and giving birth; that point is readily conceded by all sides of the debate, and rightfully so.
Were primitive societies morally correct in their practice of discarding newborns who were deemed unfit to live and exist in their societies? Were later societies morally correct when they decided that life didn't begin until the baby was born, allowing the unborn child to be killed at any time up until birth? Are WE now morally correct in deciding that babies can be killed in the womb for any reason (or for no reason at all), provided that they haven't been alive long enough to really count as human being, say, just a few months? That the timing or method of killing them is the real issue, rather than the actual act of killing?
The wording I choose to pose these questions, as well as the questions themselves, amply reveals my beliefs in this area. I hope you agree with me, and if not, I hope you are offended or even angered by this post, because this is an issue that, clearly, people cannot "agree to disagree" on, as it is the issue of life itself.
Right off the bat, Pope Benedict XVI said some controversial things about Islam and its contribution. And it definitely rubbed me the wrong way; would Pope John Paul II have made such remarks? How could those words help bring together the two faiths? As it turns out, in my view, those were not relevant questions to be asking of this Pope. He is not Pope John Paul II, and he is likely not interested in bringing together the two faiths. In fact, some of his actions could be taken as "hostile" to any attempt at reconciliation between the faiths, and that just seems wrong, doesn't it?
Not necessarily. First and foremost, this Pope (judging by his spoken and written words, which are voluminous both before and during his Papacy) seems to be extremely well-read and well-versed in not just Catholicism, not just Christianity, but also Judaism. He cites Christian, Jewish, and Muslim thinkers in his work, and does so in a thoughtful, even admiring manner. The levels he delves into regarding the thought processes of other scholars and of the writers of bible are truly astounding, seeming to encompass several lifetimes worth of study and thought on the subjects. In his view, it's probably not necessary to reconcile faiths; in his mind, their is only one true catholic and apostolic way, and it is the way of the Church. The others are really not of interest to him, outside of what they can lend to his understanding of his own faith (in the case of the Old Testament) and he does not always take great care to hide that lack of reverence for other traditions. Can he be faulted for this? Here is a man who does all he can to understand what is of the greatest importance to him and to mankind, including considering all sources of knowledge and exegesis, yet who is not humbled by viewpoints outside of the Church, since to him they are of little consequence.
As different from John Paul II as he comes across, I must conclude that both men were/are true and worthy leaders of the Church, and I cannot help but embrace both of their styles and efforts for what they are and what they represent. It does present some difficulty for me, being a person of excessive reconciliatory nature, to take a path that does not encompass all - but the exclusion is not my choice, it is theirs. I will treat with respect, benevolence, and even love, all of those who will have it, regardless of belief or religious views; however, I continue to believe what I believe in matters of faith in God and His only Son and the tradition and authority of the Church as handed down by Jesus of Nazareth and established by Peter and Paul after the death and Resurrection, and this belief says that while I can and will enjoy my time with a multitude of "different believers," I am none too confident in how things are going to work out for them when their time on earth is through. Their choice, not mine.
There are a couple of pop culture atheists that are in vogue now. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are their names. They belong to a group of people that, for the most part, annoy me: people that are famous for railing against and attacking good things which others hold dear. The following instances are only hearsay, as I was not there personally and have only read about them on websites, but they seem to agree with each other about Mr. Dawkins (Mr. Hitchens sounds more even-keeled and reasonable from the limited reading I've done about him). One episode had Dawkins berating an airport employee about a necklace she was wearing because it had a religious symbol on it, which he claimed was an affront to his intelligence or something to that affect, and then demanding that she remove it immediately. I won't bother to detail the other account of a different episode, but it contained a similar sentiment combatively expressed by the Darwinian disciple.
Why do Dawkins and Hitchens attempt to convince people of faith that their faith is unfounded? Is it any of their business? And why do they display such gleeful enthusiasm (at least Dawkins does) when they come across statistics that show a potentially higher number of atheists among the general population than initially assumed by the people who measure such things, and talk about winning the battle? I understand why religious people passionately attempt to convert non-believers to their way of thinking: they believe they are saving souls from eternal damnation. But what motivation would an atheist have of convincing people that there is no God? If it's simply about educating the stupid masses, then why not engage in teaching something useful, say, literacy or mathematics? If it's not about that, then what is it? And why the verbally abusive reaction to a cross necklace, or Star of David, or something similar? I'm struck by the zealous atheist, as I am used to see them hold their beliefs privately. It's just weird to me, and slightly unsettling for some reason.
I need to explore a theory with you, with others, and independently: that people should be called to seek the ultimate truth, to know God, to follow Jesus [or insert your spiritual belief here], but NOT to be spiritual leaders of others. I am coming to believe that only the individual, along with the guidance of and attraction to the spiritual entity and ultimate truth they seek, can be their own spiritual leader, and not another person. That rules out churches and preachers and imams and all of that bureaucracy! If you desire fellowship and camaraderie with other seekers who are further or not as far along the developmental continuum as you are, that's fine. Do it if it works for you - but don't put the development of or passion for your faith in the hands of another human being. This theory, developed over the past few months, calls to mind all of the times over the years that I've heard various friends and family members talk of switching congregations or even denominations because "something's missing". To me, it's not about the church or the pastor or the ritual, it's about your own spirit and soul and its connection with God. If something's missing, don't go looking for it from other people or buildings or organizations: look for it first from God and then, or actually simultaneously, within yourself. That's where it is. Individuals can be motivational or inspiring (or quite the opposite in many cases!), but that's a cult of personality, not God. If you seek Him, you will find Him when you are ready, and not before, and not by getting jazzed by words from someone who's a gifted public speaker who would be just as effective at getting people fired up about a big ballgame or a political rally. If you're really where you want to be spiritually, you should be able to be just as connected and fired up about God all by yourself in a remote forest as you are when listening to Pastor Pump Us Up in an amazing facility packed in with 3000 other people singing and dancing and yelling. Same thing with churches that are kid-friendly: I welcome messages and activities that make the life and teachings of Jesus more understandable to kids, but that doesn't mean I need to "be" a Baptist or Methodist or Catholic or whatever. It means people have different levels and capacities of understanding, including children, and little children can't be expected to understand or pay attention to materials drawn up for adults, and if I find a way to make the message more understandable to them, I'll try it. I see how you may point out that this logic could also apply to adults: why not go to a place that facilitates my understanding of the message? Again, I have no problem with seeking clarification or better understanding from those who have a solid grasp of the message as it applies to them, and their being able to assist you in its application to your personal existence. Just don't come to depend on them or lean on them in place of your own spiritual and mental efforts and development, which is what tends to happen when you stay in one place for too long - and this goes for any of life's endeavors, be them spiritual, professional, intellectual, you name it.
We know that one of the most effective attractors of colonial America was the freedom of religious expression. Puritans, Quakers, Calvinists, you name it - all were welcome. This doesn't really appear to have been tested to a great extent by those of Jewish and Islamic faiths, but there does not seem to be any record of persecution of these groups, so it would seem the only serious "religious" persecution was centered around the Salem witch trials (which were actually probably politically and civilly-motivated, but spun to make it an issue of witchcraft and Satanic dealings to get the public behind it).
In any case, as my wife and I prepare my own children for their own formal religious education (we're Catholic), and as I continue my philosophical and religious explorations throughout my adult life, I'm wondering what would happen if my kids said "no" to church. Would they have the protection of the Constitution on their side? What would the Supreme Court hold, assuming the sensational case would eventually ascend to their wise judgement? As their parents, we are responsible for their physical, educational, and moral upbringing, and though moral behavior exists with or without religion, the two are frequent companions.
So it would seem that it would be well within our parental rights, even responsibilities, to expose them to, or force upon them, whatever religious indoctrination that we deem appropriate. If this seems like a harmless supposition (after all, Catholics as an organization haven't brutally harmed other groups en masse in CENTURIES, or at least decades, not including defenseless child victims of sexually abusive clergy), then take it a giant step further: what if the parents were not Christian? What if they weren't monotheistic? What if, even more shocking, they were Satanists? Would you then afford those parents the same "religious freedom" protection to force that indoctrination onto their 5, 6, or 7 year old children? Of course not. But what about a gray area that exemplifies the non-black and white term perfectly for most of us, since we don't really know anything about it: what about Scientology? Many people think it's a bit nutty, maybe even financially harmful to its adherents, but not associated with illegal physical harm or anything of that nature. Are those parents allowed to force their beliefs on their children, against their children's will?
Fortunately, my wife and I share a strong religious faith and it is very appealing to our children at this point in their lives, so there are no conflicts. But what if they refused to believe? What if they refused to even enter the Church? Who could they turn to for help or protection, and what would that authority say to them? What would our courts say?
There was a story a few days ago on Digg (it's still there) that I Dugg. It was about the director of the Titanic movie being involved with the documentary of an archaeological find that's being publicized as Jesus's coffin. The story I Dugg still only has single-digit Diggs, whereas another story about the exact same subject is on the Most Popular Last 24 Hours list with thousands of Diggs. The message is the same in each, but it doesn't matter for one of them because the headline and summary were not written in an interesting enough way to get people to click through to the story.
Same thing happened in church today. Last week, at one of the 2 churches I split my time between, I could have told you every single detail about that day's message - and I did, to lots of friends and family. Today, however, at the other church, try as I might, I couldn't make my mind stop wandering to other thoughts, chores, the rest of the afternoon, last week's posts, etc. After he was done speaking, I asked my wife what he was just talking about, and she told me about the Bible verse he started with (which I DID remember), but couldn't tell me what exactly he was talking about in relation to that verse.
Be interesting, say interesting things, write interesting words, and people will remember what you attempted to communicate. Otherwise, your message will be forgotten, or never even seen or heard in the first place.
About 10 years ago in a marriage preparation class, our instructor was a religious historian. This was just before the days of being able to look up anything and everything online in a matter of seconds, so not a lot of people knew the story at the time.
Being a Christian was not cool in the early years of the religion - in fact, being one was reason enough to be devoured by lions in the Colisseum (this was before they had football, hockey, or even lacrosse). Going to Church on Sunday wasn't something you did out of peer pressure; one had to risk one's life to even attempt to find out if someone else was a Christian. So what you did was this: walking along the dusty streets and common areas, you might have come across someone and started chatting. You would then casually draw a meaningless arc in the dirt. If the other person did nothing, you could just scratch it out or keep doodling or whatever; however, if they other person ALSO drew an arc in the dirt, beginning at a point of your arc and then overlapping yours to make a simple fish symbol out of the 2 overlapping arcs, he would clandestinely have just identified himself as a Christian. And you, also being a Christian, would then know it was safe to discuss such things with him. If you weren't a Christian yourself, you wouldn't have thought twice about the other person making a fish symbol out of your arc.
Supposedly the Romans never cracked this simple code, making it one of, if not the, longest uncracked code in history (of course, there may be other uncracked codes that are still secrets and date back to an even earlier time than 100 AD, so if you are a member of one of those secret orders/brotherhoods/societies, feel free to share your secret handshake here with our community. I won't tell ANYONE.)