Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spreading Superstition One Door Knob at a Time

A local Baptist church swept through the neighborhood attaching Lee Strobel's booklet The Case for Easter on every doorknob. It is a bunch of misinformation and superstitious nonsense regarding "evidence" that Jesus' corpse popped out of his tomb on Easter morn.

The punchline appears at the end of the tract:

After all, there's a lot riding on your verdict. If Jesus really is the Son of God, then your eternity hinges on how you respond to him. As Jesus said in John 8:24, "If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins."

Those are sober words, offered out of loving concern. In fact, his love for you is so great that he willingly suffered the torture of the cross to pay the penalty for all the wrong things you've ever done."

In other words, "Believe all of the incredible gobbledy gook I (Lee Strobel) tell you or down the chute to hell, you bad sinner. Happy Easter!"

This is spiritual abuse. Can you imagine the existence of a supernatural being that would require belief in silly things?

One of my church members thought we should place copies of the Jesus Seminar's The Acts of Jesus on all the doorknobs in the neighborhood. A bit pricey of an enterprise, I am afraid. But fun to think about.

I will just have to settle for posting my sermon on my blog, and chatting about hell when I get the chance in the Elizabethton Star. The Star is good about printing our church stuff. Here is what they printed last week regarding Palm Sunday:

Palm Sunday will be celebrated at morning worship at 11 a.m. The theme is "Empire Strikes Back: Peace Through Victory." The text for the service is the account of Jesus's arrest, trial and crucifixion.

Pastor John Shuck in his news release wrote, "According to the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar, the gospel narratives are creative fictions. The authors searched their scriptures to find models for Jesus such as the righteous sufferer in Isaiah and Psalm 22. We know nothing about what actually transpired. From Rome's perspective, Jesus was probably not that big of a deal. He was just another peasant with an attitude who would serve as an example for other peasants with attitudes. Rome sent a message: Don't make trouble or you will end up like these guys. Empire executed Jesus along with thousands of others. Jesus happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The importance of this story is not about the person of Jesus. It is the story of how Empire treats people. When human beings are reduced to collateral damage, when the value of what is under Earth is more valuable than who live on Earth, when unnamed people are trampled under the wheel of progress, the passion of account of Jesus is the story of the trampled."
Suitable for a doorknob.


  1. John, Have you read "The Laughing Jesus" by Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy? Just wonder what you think of it..

  2. Hey Jay, I have read that book. They had a series of three books on the same topic. They bring up some fun ideas, but I question their level of scholarship.

  3. A little off topic, but...


    You offer a link to a faith statement a few years back,


    but the link doesn't seem to work any more.

    Is it still out there?

  4. You refer to his assertions in the book as misinformation and superstitious nonsense...can you be specific?

    Did you read the book?

    Will you be refuting his assertions?

  5. Fortunately, at least being Baptists their theology is consistent.

    Unfortunately, as we see all too often, the same Pelagianism has infected most of our "orthodox" brothers and sisters in the PCUSA.

    And of course, there will undoubtedly be those happy "loving" folks who stop by to chide you for your views, John. But since they're no more "orthodox" than you are, I think most folks are unlikely to take them very seriously.

  6. It's Adel the Creationist. Welcome. I glanced through it. I have a collection of his books I have glanced through. That is all it takes. People like to give me his books thinking I am going to be converted to his true path. It never works.

    For fun, let's take the paragraph I quoted. The bottom line for his argument is that eternal hell awaits those who don't come up with the right verdict. The entire house of cards is based on fear of an invented deity who will punish those who don't choose correctly, like me. No deity exists. Not Jesus Christ, not Yahweh, not Baal, not Marduk, not Allah, not Zeus, not the Flying Spaghetti Monster, not the Wizard of Oz. None of them exist. All figments of imagination. They are fun. But none are worth the spiritual violence they cause.

  7. The sad thing about Lee Strobel is that he completely misses the point of his own conversion experience.

  8. Suitable for a doorknob.

    Not really, if you wish to tell the story of the trampled.

    Everyday, I read stories about people being trampled far worse than Jesus was. If he was just a man then, honestly, he had it easy. Most people who die from cancer suffer more and longer than he would have done.

    Which makes me wonder if you, as a non-realist, have chosen the wrong horse to back. Your secular moral beliefs could probably do with a better story, one that you believe to be true, to illustrate the important points you want to make about life. Perhaps one of the prisoners in Guantanamo might fit the bill.

    In other words, John, you should find the courage to let go of the coat tails of the believers that you believe to be wrong in their beliefs and ditch the Jesus thing all together.

  9. In every field, we rightly expect that the passing of time and ongoing research yield new and different understandings. New findings are incorporated and research proceeds; the new findings do not invalidate the field. The Ptolemaic model of the solar system is discredited but astronomy is still an active field. Only in religion is it assumed by the Lee Strobels and his constituency, that time has stopped and it is perpetually 40 AD and no new understanding or interpretation is permissible. But the world, and the modern Christian Church, continues to learn, and moves on.

  10. Actually, it was quite well understood by most people even in 40 AD that believing in a God who died on a cross and rose again was totally absurd.

    What was it Paul said? Scandal for the Jews and foolishness for the Greeks?

    It has been a crazy idea that goes against everything that makes for common sense from the very beginning.

    Lee Strobel tries to argue that people should come to faith because it makes sense to do so. But he is dishonest, because that is not how he himself came to faith. He does not trust his own faith and tries to make it something it is not, while ignoring what it is.

    The only version of the story that makes any kind of sense, the one that has always made sense, is the version John is telling.

  11. Everyday, I read stories about people being trampled far worse than Jesus was. If he was just a man then, honestly, he had it easy. Most people who die from cancer suffer more and longer than he would have done.

    Of course. That is why making much of his personal suffering misses the point. He can be seen as a cipher for the suffering of others as I mentioned in my sermon.

    In other words, John, you should find the courage to let go of the coat tails of the believers that you believe to be wrong in their beliefs and ditch the Jesus thing all together.

    Thanks for the career advice, but I am happy where I am. For testimonial I mention a woman who told me after church on Sunday that she hadn't been in church in 30 years but found a home with us. Point being, neither I or my congregation is for everyone, but some folks like us.

  12. I didn't say you should leave your congregation. I said that you should give up the rather weak Jesus story and replace it with something more extreme. I'm sure your congregation would go along with you.

  13. That's fine for you to say, but you don't live here. Jesus is very important. It could be that I and my congregation will move beyond it as have others, but for now, it is liberating at least for some of us and not particularly weak.

  14. Jesus is very important.

    But only because of the faith of realists. Otherwise, he really isn't important at all. You are tapping into something you don't believe in and sometimes look down on. Which is what I mean by hanging onto the coat tails of believers.

  15. Some definition may be in order such as "believer" and "realist". I am not sure what you mean by that.

    Whatever you think those things mean and whatever you think I represent (that apparently in your eyes isn't those things), I will stand my ground and claim access to the Jesus tradition as much as anyone else including you.

    In fact, I would think you would embrace the fact that I embrace Jesus because if it weren't for my kind Jesus would be pretty much under the control of the Lee Strobel types. At least because of me more are introduced or reintroduced into the Jesus tradition and may even become "realists" and "believers" despite my heresy.

  16. Being English, and of a certain age, I am usig Don Cupitt's terminology. A non-realist is someone who chooses to be part of Christianity for all sorts of valid reasons, but who does not believe in any of what some people would refer to as supernatural elements (I don't like the term supernatural because I believe that God, if God is real, is as natural as everything else - but I don't know the word for that viewpoint).

    I am pretty certain that Cupitt would agree with me about tapping into the faith stories of believers as he is scrupulously honest about himself. But I would still assert that Christianity as a myth is pretty impotent if you remove the suffering of a real God from the story. There is nothing new in my view as the Unitarians came to the same conclusion a long time ago and acted upon it.

  17. Very good. I would say your definition of non-realist fits me.

    Cupitt would also say that his position is the logical extension of where Christianity is headed.

    The supernatural Jesus really doesn't have much to do. I don't know of anything that a supernatural explanation does better than a natural one for anything. I can't imagine what the "suffering of a real God" could possibly be.

    Coattail riding? Maybe. Another person said to me on Sunday that our congregation is the last stop before people check out altogether.

    Yet a UU friend on a recent post says that she feels exiled in her UU congregation because they won't even address Easter. Something is still valid about that narrative.

    I don't "believe" in Christianity but I do "live" in it. It is part of my symbolic world. As such the Jesus narrative as reframed in an Earthy natural way has resonance.

    There is a great deal to the resistance to Empire narrative that the Constantinian creedal, orthodox church tried to eliminate.

    That to me is the radical (root) story of Jesus, not the supernatural stuff.

    Perhaps coattails. But perhaps recovery of the original impulse. In this view, the Creed (Apostle's, Nicene) was a distortion to firm up Empire.

    Our culture (now I mean Southern Appalachian American Empire) is Jesus-saturated. If Jesus can be seen as something other than a fixation for Empire or a weapon for spiritual abuse and instead perhaps as a pointer to liberation so much the better.

  18. I would guess your friend relates to the supernatural element of the story (a mythology that was around millennia before the Christ Event), even if she is suspending disbelief in order to do so. You, on the other hand, in this post, seem only interested in the moral example of Jesus' ministry and actions. The two of you appear to have swapped places.

    This takes us back to my original assertion. Your friend, even as a non-realist, is well served by the mythology of Christianity. Your despiritualised, liberation philosophy is not. I intend no flippancy when I state that I would have thought Che Guevara or Leon Trotsky would be more appropriate and far more vital martyrs to hang your secular religion on.

  19. I don't think so, you can read her thoughts and see for yourself.

    Actually, Jesus works better than those figures you mention (although those people would be a part of the same impulse) in a lot of ways.

    One way in particular is that Jesus was "framed" by the orthodox. His memory and mission was distorted and misused by the supposed compliment of turning him into a god.

  20. His memory and mission was distorted and misused by the supposed compliment of turning him into a god.

    Maybe. Or maybe the history was invented to give context to the myth.

  21. OK. Then what is "real" the context or the myth?

    Here is my take on real and not real.

    Miracles (such as people rising from the dead and gods who cause that to happen). Not real. Not even particularly interesting. Part and parcel of a superstitious time.

    Empire. Very real. Product of civilization. Could result in the extinction of human life.

    Resistance to Empire. An impulse represented by the Jesus movement and other movements before and after him. Very real. This is what matters, in my view.

    Jesus is tortured and executed by Empire. That is the story. That is what happens. That is real. Not only him, but thousands. That story is preserved in the superstition of the dying/rising god myth. The best they could do. That is the pre-modern shell. Jesus represents resistance and struggle. The church preserves even as it distorts. Task today is to resist, to participate in that movement.

  22. So, according to you...
    1. There is no God.
    2. The miracles in the Gospels (and Acts too I'm guessing) are pure fiction.
    3. Substitutionary atonement is tantamount to abuse.
    4. The Jesus "myth" has to do with political liberation.
    5. And you are the pastor of a "Christian church"

    Did I get that right?

  23. Then, surely, you should be teaching at a university. Churches are for myths, whether real or pure story.

    If you are right then the very place in which you work is a product of what you regard as a distortion - a downright lie.

    No man god - no temple.

    No temple - no congregation - no job.

    Personally I couldn't cope with such compromises but I do admire your perseverance in such a dissonant context.

  24. If you are right then the very place in which you work is a product of what you regard as a distortion - a downright lie.

    A mixed bag to be sure. But also evolving.

    No man god - no temple.

    No temple - no congregation - no job.

    My UU minister friend would disagree. And so do I.

    Personally I couldn't cope with such compromises but I do admire your perseverance in such a dissonant context.


  25. There are many more things to enumerate about me, Adel.

  26. I wasn't attempting to be exhaustive in regards to knowledge of you...only to summarize the points made here and to see if I understood your positions enumerated on this post.

  27. So what do want to do Adel, write a book? I have 4 1/2 years of material on this blog for you. Enjoy.

  28. Please do not take me as critical of what you are doing here. In fact, I find your candor quite refreshing. I appreciate your presentation of "liberal/progressive" beliefs, because you are candid and honest. Thank you.

  29. Oh, please,Adel. Do not equate John's views with "liberal/progressive" beliefs.

    Liberal progressives have beliefs :-)

  30. Wow, John... You have apparently been elected the one and only representative for "liberal/progressive beliefs."

    Congratulations! :)

  31. I really don't care too much about beliefs. I mostly care about life.

    I do find all this mildly amusing.

    I find much of what passes for Christianity to be spiritually abusive, especially the type advocated by Lee Strobel.

    I exist, my friends.

    With all of my inconsistencies, here I am, a minister in a Christian church. And I like Jesus.

  32. With all of my inconsistencies

    Oh, I think you are refreshingly consistent in your thinking. It's your actions that I find unconvincing. Which is my problem not yours.

  33. Thesis:

    The Jesus story is essentially about political and economic and social justice and liberation (kingdom of God).

    The distortion was the atonement theology, dying/rising god theology, and the Empire theology.

    The sin/going to hell superstition is the distortion and the lie.

  34. The sin/going to hell superstition is the distortion and the lie.

    Well, I hope for your sake that you are right :-)

  35. Hehehe, John. You sure know how to get 'em hoppin' at Easter time, don't you?

  36. "I exist, my friends."

    Ah but can you prove that you exist?


  37. Well, I hope for your sake that you are right :-)

    @MP Seriously, in your world of realism, do you really believe God sends people to hell? The bottom line of my post is to call that kind of fear-based religion spiritual abuse. In my context that view is common as dirt. I can't believe you would share it.

  38. @Snad


    "Hippity Hoppity Easter's on its way!"

  39. Seriously, in your world of realism, do you really believe God sends people to hell?

    I don't think I have the right to deny the existence of hell. To do so would entail denying those who have really suffered at the hands of others the hope of justice.

    Also, I am not naturally a loving and altruistic person. I need the idea of hell to persuade myself to act righteously. Of course, to do so out of love is the ideal but to do so out of fear works for those of us who would just change our moral views from moment to moment to accommodate our selfish inclinations.

  40. I guess you would fit right in with Lee Strobel's religion. Hell is a big stick. I call it spiritual abuse invented by control freaks who with their censors, robes, bibles, and magical incantations fill people with guilt, fear, and shame. Others rationalize this barbaric notion in other ways.

  41. Do you ever actually read the comments, John?

    I never use the concept of hell when talking to others. It's something that informs my behaviour. But my point about the concept of hell belonging to those who have been subjected to hell by others is a good one. I know that by the way you completely avoided it in your answer preferring to liken me to somebody I have never heard of. Perhaps if you believed in hell you wouldn't be so nasty.

  42. Oh please. If you happened to read my original post you would understand what I am doing here. But instead you come in without any acknowledgment or awareness of my context claiming I am riding on the coattails of the "realists" (you I presume) with the not so subtle invitation to leave the church (teach in a university). I think it is a bit galling to come over here and tell me what to do. I expect that from my fundamentalist opponents who come here and do that but not you.

    But, apologies for being nasty.

    Now as far as hell is concerned, it makes little difference if one applies it to oneself or as a fantasy of cosmic vengeance for the oppressed, it is still in my view, a barbaric notion. The sooner we do away with it the better. Its detriments far outweigh any benefits as I have witnessed throughout my life and career, which was again the topic of this post.

  43. You are being paranoid and completely ignoring your existing knowledge of me. When I say you are riding on the coat tails of realists I'm not on about your employment, I am talking about how your non-realist use of the Christ story relies on the faith stories of realists for its power. You take away the supernatural narrative and you are left with a weak example to preach your moral message from.

    And you cannot have church without divine worship. What you are talking about is a meeting room. If I call a banana an apple it is still a banana. So, if you have moved out of the church, a university lecture room would seem to me to be the place you would serve people best. ThatI think you capable of such a position is a compliment, you wally!

  44. I had to look up "wally".

    Who calls people that?

    All right then, feathers settled.

    Both me and my weak Jesus love you.

  45. It's an affectionate form of abuse like "you silly bugger." Perhaps it's an English thing. Foreign commentators are always saying that we have a unique habit here of insulting our friends in casual conversation.

  46. It's an affectionate form of abuse like "you silly bugger."

    That is what I thought which is why I still like you, Beavis.

  47. One thing I would emphasise is that I don't disagree with your conclusions about religion. I cannot because I cannot prove you wrong or my understanding of religion right. And you explain your position well. It's just that I like talking about the stuff that surrounds our decisions in life and our beliefs. I do so on your blog occasionally because you are a satisfying debater.

  48. Thank you. I appreciate the debate with you, too! Pardon me for taking it too personally.

    In my darker moments I fear you may be right about my reconstructed historical Jesus not having the traction to pull the church's load. For me and many like me, embracing the supernatural is not an option even if we wanted it. Jesus is a fading photograph and Cupitt's path is what lies ahead. What keeps me at it is that Jesus has not faded away in America but has become an aggressive, corporate-sponsored militant. I am not ready to hand him over without a fight.

    Besides, I still have an attachment to the silly bugger.

  49. Geez Louise. I have a lot of questions about this, but I feel like I'm interrupting foreplay, here.

  50. I know I can ask YOU, John, and I don't have to be on a blog to do it.

  51. Yes, but Cupitt has an attachment to the ritual and (wrong word) mysticism of religion, seeing it as necessary for human beings. My comments about coat tails is something he would admit to and embrace. To be honest a high proportion of Church of England clergy are probably in the same place he is but keeping quiet about it. My impression of you is that you are more down to earth than he is - a disciple of liberation theology but without god(s). Correct me if I'm wrong.

  52. Down to Earth is good. Matthew Fox's Creation Spirituality is a resource for ritual. Liberation yes. I am ambivalent about god(s). I am not consistent. At times I am comfortable with the language about them. It feels very transitional, unsettling, yet exciting in a way too.

  53. You believe nothing. I believe everything going. If belief is a doughnut, we could reach behind us and shake hands.

  54. I believe in lots of things. I believe in love. I believe in you. I believe in the creativity of humanity that can create all of these gods in the first place.

  55. Well that was fun.

    So at the end of the day, what is important, my friends?

    Believing in gods and their supernatural tricks or is it trust that the qualities we project on to these beings are really in us if we open ourselves to that possibility?

    The stories are pointers. That is what religious myth does. It points back to us.

    Jesus isn't here to counter the lies of Empire for us and to love our enemies and to die rather than kill. That is our task. It always has been.

    These stories can assist us. They can remind us of who we are and who we might be. We can project our highest ideals and aspirations onto Jesus or God. That is OK for awhile. But we are also invited to embrace those ideals and aspirations in our own lives.