Religion, Cults, and Why I Believe What I Believe

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Editor’s Note: Fellow WordPress blogger Bluepearlgirl’s World recently started a conversation about religion, with a special emphasis on religions vs. cults. She reblogged my post “Joseph Smith, Con Man Extraordinaire” on her site, for which I’m grateful, and I told her that I’d like to join her conversation with a post on my site. Plus, my wife recently made the great suggestion that in addition to all the posts I’ve been writing about other faiths and how they compare to Christianity, it would be nice for me to write a post explaining what I believe and why. So consider this a “two-birds-one-stone” type of post.

To give just a brief background of my “faith history”: I was born and raised in an American Baptist church and gave my life to Christ at a young age, but I didn’t really make the faith my own, apart from my parents’ or anyone else’s wishes, until my early 20s. Since then, I’ve continued to learn and grow and serve as a Christian, these days as a member of a Presbyterian congregation.

As someone who’s spent a lot of time studying other belief systems as well as my own, a couple of things immediately come to mind regarding the issue of religions vs. cults, and whether there’s a difference between the two.

1) Cults are secretive. For example, non-Mormons are not allowed at Mormon weddings. I went through this experience twice; two of my friends from high school were Mormons, and I was invited only to their receptions—not because they didn’t want me at their weddings, but because I wasn’t allowed. There are many things, in fact, that Mormons are told to not share with the outside world, and some Mormons get quite angry when ex-Mormons write about any of these things. Scientology also seems to keep a lot of its practices on the down-low. … On the other hand, my current church and my former church have nothing to hide: you can attend our services, participate in any of our activities, read our reports, even sit in on meetings of the congregation and various church boards—in fact, the only thing a nonmember can’t do is vote, but the reasons for that, I think, should be obvious.

2) Cults TAKE your money, literally. The only way to advance in Scientology is to pay ever-increasing amounts of money—this is why most Scientologists are celebrities: they’re about the only ones who can afford to belong. And to be a member in good standing of the Mormon church, you HAVE to give 10% of your income to the church—church officials even check your financial records to confirm that you’ve paid done your duty. … On the other hand, at the two churches I’ve been a part of, giving (whether money, time, or other resources) is 100% voluntary, and you’re not penalized if you don’t give, or if you give less than others.

Regarding the issue of religion more generally, and why I believe it’s necessary …

Yes, I was born and raised in a church. Yes, I was told what was true and what wasn’t, what’s right and what’s wrong. Yes, my parents hoped, even if they didn’t expect, that I would follow in their faith footsteps. And yes, I’m glad for all these things, and each of them surely had an impact on me … but none of them is the primary reason why, as an independent adult, I choose to still have this faith in Jesus.

And make no mistake: it is a choice. However you’re brought up, you have to take ownership of your decisions at some point, for they are yours alone. And what I’ve chosen is based on what I have gone through in my life. As I mentioned earlier, I accepted Jesus into my life as my savior and lord at a young age, around 8 or 10 (my memory’s a little fuzzy), but I didn’t fully embrace this faith as my own, didn’t really enter into a daily, personal relationship with Jesus, until my early 20s. The catalysts for this transformation were a couple little things called anxiety disorder and depression; to make a long story short (if you care to know more details, just ask), I suddenly found myself, through no wish of my own, in a very dark place, and though I was confused and hurt and scared nearly to death, one thing seemed clear: God was telling me that after I’d spent years of being a “cruise-control” Christian—not taking my faith as seriously as I should, and not being all that intentional in my relationship with God—I needed to make a choice: Was I going to live for God? Yes or no? That part of it, at least, was that simple.

It was clear to me, through this experience and through other, less-traumatic ones in my earlier years, that God was real. I had seen Him move in my life, seen Him take actions that were designed to bring me closer to being whole (as in “healthy”), as He’d always intended me to be. I’d also seen Him move in the lives of others. I’d seen Him prove His faithfulness, confirming what I read in the Bible. In other words: I’d seen more than enough.

Which sort of leads to my next point: Whatever is true in life, I want to follow it. It seems to me that the wise and life-giving thing to do is to go after whatever is true, whatever is real; if there’s Someone out there who gave us life, who’s the author of our existence, then He’s what’s real and true. And why would I want to follow after something that’s a lie, anyway? I don’t want my life to be a lie, and I don’t want to pattern my existence after a lie. In much the same way that mechanical devices don’t work properly unless they’re operated and maintained according to how their designers intended them to be operated and maintained, no one’s life is going to “work properly” unless it’s patterned after the One who designed it. Obviously, I believe that Jesus is what He called Himself: The Way, The Truth, and The Life. So that’s another reason why I follow Him.

I also follow Him because I believe that I really have offended Him with several of my behaviors but that He nonetheless gave His life in exchange for mine, paying the penalty I deserve, and so He’s worthy of my gratitude for what He’s done for me, and the best way to “pay Him back” is to pledge my life to Him. This is in addition to the fact that if He is God (which I believe He is), and if He brought me into existence (which I believe He did), those two things alone make Him worthy of my devotion and allegiance.

And now, just a bit more concerning what I believe about God and Jesus. In short, I believe what the Bible says about them, and only what the Bible says about them—because I also believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God, delivered to us through men but coming directly from Him by the inspiration of His Spirit working in these men. I also adhere to what Christians have adhered to for two millennia: The Apostles’ Creed, which is as follows:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

I also believe in the Trinity—God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit, and that these are three representations, or three modes of being, of the same God. I realize that this is one of the hardest doctrines for nonbelievers to grapple with, and I don’t claim to fully understand it—I’m not sure anyone does this side of Heaven—but I feel I understand it enough to know that it’s not only possible but true.

How do I know the Bible is trustworthy? I’ve read it a lot, and I know that what critics often refer to as “internal inconsistencies” in the Biblical text are, upon close inspection, perfectly reconcilable. I’ve also done a fair amount of studying regarding the historical facts of Biblical texts—who wrote them, and when, and whether their motives were valid, and whether these people were in a position to speak authoritatively about the events described in the Bible. As you no doubt surmised, I believe that the factual, historical evidence points to the Biblical texts being authentic, reliable witnesses to the story of God and of Jesus Christ.

And even though God requires us to have faith, He also gave us brains and logic and the capacity to reason, and I believe that it is perfectly possible for a sane, reasonable person to follow the Christian faith and believe what I believe. I see no reason, in fact, why reason, science, or “rational thought” hinder someone from coming to faith in Christ.

A Few Other Points

There were a few specific points in the Bluepearlgirl’s World (BW) post that I want to address. First, she shares a quote from Yahoo! Answers that basically says the only difference between religions and cults is that religions are old and cults are new, so anything now considered a religion is just a cult that’s been around a long time, and anything now considered a cult will one day, if it lasts long enough, be considered a religion. I think, however, that the person who wrote this is guilty of two things: 1) believing the lie that only so-called “religious people” are religious; and 2) failing to realize that for people such as myself, “religion” is not a matter of following a certain set of principles or a certain list of do’s and don’ts, but is instead about figuring out what the truth of reality is and following that (it’s not that religion is a compartment of my life, but that following the truth is my life). I addressed the latter part earlier, and as for the former, it’s my contention that every person has a set of beliefs about life and existence, and that set of beliefs, whatever its constitution and however it’s labeled, is that person’s religion. Religion doesn’t have to be an organized affair such as Christianity; if you worship nature and believe that aliens seeded life on Earth, then that is your religion.

BW also addressed the idea of morality, that she is not without a values system and that she doesn’t need a church to instill morals in her. I see a lot of atheists and other liberals these days making a similar claim, essentially saying that people can be moral without God. I disagree. In a Godless scenario, there can be no other legitimate arbiter of morality than the individual, with each person deciding for him/herself what’s right and wrong; in such a situation, there can be no objective, universal standard of right and wrong, and thus no morality—every belief, every action, simply is, and if you don’t like what I do or say or believe, oh well. Tough luck for you. So even though today’s liberals say that they can be moral without God, what they are in fact doing is living Godless lives while borrowing quite a lot from the Judeo-Christian moral ethic. Otherwise, they could make no claims about morality; they could make no statement about what people should or shouldn’t do. Should or shouldn’t according to whom? is what I’d like to ask them. If I tell you that abortion is wrong, I can at least point to the Bible and God’s emphasis on valuing innocent life, but when the atheist or other liberal tells me that “what women do with their bodies” is none of my business, on what authority are they saying that? None but their own, and since they choose to live apart from God, their claims are nothing more than opinions with no foundation, and thus worthless.

BW believes that an entity such as a church can be dangerous if it has too much power … but so can anything else. I think Barack Obama is dangerous and has too much power. And certainly there are plenty of individuals and corporate entities outside of churches that have too much power and are thus dangerous. As I’ve said elsewhere, religion, like anything (money, fame, etc.), is a tool that can be used for good or evil, and the real problem with people is not religion but the corrupt human heart. So you’ve known Christians who did you wrong—hey, as much as we’re supposed to be examples of Christ, even the most sincere Christian sometimes falls, and there are many people who aren’t Christians but merely call themselves that. You should really be looking at Christ, not at fallen man, because ultimately you’ll be judged based not on what you think about Christians, but on what you believe about Christ.

BW questions whether Jesus even existed. Obviously I believe He did, and as I stated earlier, I believe that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), not to mention Acts and the letters of Paul and other apostles, are legitimate, accurate, authoritative texts, and thus constitute plenty of evidence that Jesus did exist (not to mention that Jewish historian Josephus also wrote about Christ).

Some Quick Hitters

Comments from BW, followed by my short responses.

“There has been more death, bloodshed and abuse thanks to the untouchable-ness of organized religion.” … The 20th century was the bloodiest in the history of mankind, and nearly all of it was due to the horrible acts of atheistic tyrants such as Stalin and Pol Pot. And I would argue that even a lot of the deaths in so-called “religous wars” throughout history were at the hands of people who didn’t really care about any particular religion but were simply using religion as a tool to gain the domination they sought.

“I have to listen to all of the “god” talk that permeates my every day life” … No offense meant, BW, but you live in San Francisco; how much God talk really goes on there?

“No memorizing scripture that is redundant to curent society.  I think maybe cults have figured out that their teaching needs to fit into the times.” … If something is true, then it’s timeless. The Bible is not a dusty relic but a word picture of reality—a reality that’s never changed and never will. Times have changed, yes, but people are as fickle and corrupt as ever, and as much in need of the Truth as ever.

“I think Jesus Christ must have been an incredible speaker with a lot of chrisma and taking people who feel disenfranchised to join his cause.  …But that IS how most cult leaders are seen by their disciples.  Jesus WOULD have been a cult leader back in his time.” … No doubt some people in Jesus’s time thought he was whacko, a cult leader, but Jesus and His original followers were not isolated, cut off, from the rest of the world like cults are, nor did the Apostles relinquish every earthly article or cease living the lives God gave them—we know, for example, that Peter still owned a home, and that he and Andrew and James and John continued their vocations as fishermen.

I do agree, however, with Christian author Josh McDowell’s statement that when it comes to Jesus, you really have only three choices about what to believe: He was a liar, He was a lunatic, or He really was (and is) the Son of God. Well, He had nothing to gain by lying (His horrible death and empty bank account proved that), and if He was a lunatic, none of what He said should be believed (including his moral teachings, which even many liberals call “good”), so I can see only one possibility: He’s the Truth.

To whoever has hung in there with me thus far, thanks for reading. Like BW, I mean no disrespect to anyone, but I gotta say what’s on my heart. =)

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bluepearlgirl's world
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 00:06:18

    Wow. That was quite a lot to take in…. First… who is BW? Next, this is exactly what i do not like about christians and their approach. I personally stated some of my beliefs but i also stated others. It IS the minority stance i understand this, however, if you feel so strongly in your beliefs, why must come off as being such a stanch bully (so, really? No one in San Francisco has any moral worth? Is that what you are saying? I dare not ask where you reside… but it is NOT on the west coast i would bet 50 cents!) Now, next. How is it that without believing in YOUR god, i could not ever know what a moral compass is or have it instilled into me? I am actually quite offended by this. MY FAMILY AND MY RESPECT FOR ALL THE LIVING THINGS AND BEAUTY ON THIS PLANET IS HOW!! Having me learn about a dude that was alive while the ancient Greeks and Romans were at their height. The Chinese empire held court up until around this time ruling a huge portion of civilized earth as well as some of the most complex cultures thriving in South America. AND before this time there was the Assyrians and the Babylonian and Mesopotamian societies not to mention the Olmec and the Sumarians. Are you really telling me that they must have had nothing to believe in because Jesus was not born yet? And let me ask you… a real christian, which one is it… The new testament or the old? And what about the Koran and the Jews? What about Buddha? I just think you are talking one thing but preaching (and yes i mean preaching) something very different. How come it is so hard for christians allow and accept that other gods are believed in by other people that are just like you and me. You have absolutely no knowledge of any of these “non believers” around the world, so how could you know that they are soul-less? I do not like it when people push their ideas onto you as if there is a right to force feed anyone your belief system… and if they arent buying it, push it harder. I do not mind that people believe in a snake and an apple or a dude that was a prophet 2000 years ago if that is what they need to see the beauty in life. Why cant you accept that we have our own beliefs that are not yours and we are just fine with that. Think about how strongly you felt to respond to my posting with that much gusto. I feel the same gusto for my own belief system. The difference with us is that i do not think that i already have all of the answers and that is ok with me. I also want to ask you about paganism. It was a completely viable religion maybe even being more prevalent than catholic based religions. They got pr’d out of the mainstream and now are seen more like a cult than a religion.

    To sum up. It is just fine if you want to believe that writings that were written 300 years after your god died is the law of curent society, that is all groovy. Just dont tell me that i am wrong if it is hard for me to follow for my own beliefs? If we could accept the fact that each of us has the right to believe what we believe and god pushers whatever god they represent are crossing into very personal territory and have no right to tell one they are wrong. They are not wrong. They just dont think like you do. And that is what is so great about human beings. We can all think for ourselves. (AND everybody has to take responsibility for their actions whatever they believe. That is how we are able to live with morality and without Jesus Christ!) As insulted you i am sure felt that i was condemning religion (not just yours but yes yours) I am insulted that you so overwhelmingly insulted me by most of what your assumptions of me are. I guess we will have to agree to disagree. If you can do that in your religion, i can do that in my own belief system (too individual to be organized thus far).

    Thank you for having a real discussion with me about this stuff though. I mean it too. I am not being patronizing. I know that if i am going to talk about religion, i am going to get some passionate responses. I am glad that you feel so strongly for what you believe and it helps you be the better person that you are.

    Sincerely,
    Bluepearlgirl

    Reply

  2. bluepearlgirl's world
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 00:07:12

    Oh… i get it… b(luepearlgirls) w(orld)! Never seen it like that before. Didnt know you were talking about me at first… My bad! 😉

    Reply

  3. bluepearlgirl's world
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 00:08:18

    Reblogged this on bluepearlgirl's world and commented:
    Here is Jason Drexler’s blog response to my posting about religion vs. cults. You should weigh in on your thoughts too! 🙂

    Reply

  4. Trackback: No God = No Morals; or, Gettin’ Preachy Wit It « Jason Drexler Writes
  5. Trackback: Toxic People | Two Different Girls

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