Which Cable Gets you to Heaven?
I spent my 58th birthday organizing my USB cables and engaging, half-heartedly, in a theological debate on Facebook. I wasn’t “all in,” because you get the sense, sometimes, that some fellow believers just don’t share the same assumptions, even remotely, about the faith, and so there is very little hope of rational discourse. At various points in the discussion, some version of the following arguments were being made:
- Don’t trust anything Paul wrote. Only go by the red letters.
- The “war in heaven” explains the “chosen” people.
- “There’s a particular brand of being ‘baptized by the Holy Spirit’ you will need to experience, and you haven’t had it, if you don’t agree with me.”
- Christianity “evolves” by making mistakes and recovering from them.
- Don’t treat scripture as an “idol.”
One fellow went so far as to describe specific angels who had visited him and their effect, through him, on recent world history. He named three spiritual enemies he was contending with right now — Bael, Yizbael and Asmodeus.
Of course, this could be a troll. But trolls play on remotely credible personality types, and I’ve seen enough strange charismatics to understand that some of them actually mean every word they utter. Once you believe you’re actually taking orders from God, why should you limit yourself to some ancient text? How can the Bible stand against your very inventive prayer life?
Just a few years ago, a former Seventh Day Adventist pastor, Wayne Bent, set up shop in the New Mexico dessert and claimed he needed to sleep with seven virgins in order to usher in the final age. Wayne speaks in a low, kindly voice and gives every appearance of believing every damn word he speaks. That may be why several of his followers offered up their wives and daughters to him. (Claiming to be the new Messiah might help too.)
Of course, it’s easy to brush off outright quacks and cult leaders, but a lot of folks, in the faith, don’t go far enough to make it easy. They draw strength from some assembly of the like-minded somewhere, some golden glitter hovering over the pulpit, and—more likely—a new, secretly understood vocabulary shared by enough people to give it strength. One fellow, in a theological debate, kept referring to “My Dad,” or “My Dad is big enough to” (solve my problems, answer my questions, settle political disputes). Whenever he used the term “My Dad,” I got the feeling he was testing everyone else, to see whether they really had the same God or not.
This could all be dismissed were it not for the fact all Christians share a reverence for the approved miracles — the virgin birth, fishes and loaves, Jesus ascending to the Father. The modern day miracle worker is always ready to question your faith in those miracles if you don’t believe in his.
As I say, it’s easy to knock him off your porch if he’s asking to sleep with your daughter. It’s the subtle, spiritual-pride version that annoys me. The “gentler” version of denominational devotion can be far more difficult to abide: the Baptist who worries about your eternal salvation when you have a glass of wine, the Catholic who internally laments your want of his seven sacraments, the Pentecostal who doesn’t think you’re there if you haven’t shouted something incomprehensible in church. Even among some reformed people, I get the sense they believe Jesus will be administering a series of exams on the various catechisms and expecting a very precise answer on paedocommunion.
Things you ponder over the USB cables..