Category Archives: Sin

Russell Brand – The Naked Prophet

When Russell Brand came onto the scene several years ago, I immediately dismissed him as a disheveled, misogynistic douche-canoe based on the roles he played in movies, interviews he’d given, and the bimbos he dated (and married).  But, I have to admit that my opinion of him changed after stumbling across his YouTube vlog, The Trews,  and hearing his commentaries on news, politics, religion, society, etc.  His posts are intelligent, witty, and insightful.  Like Jon Stewart, he has a knack for showing the absurdity of the typical bi-partisan, black-and-white thinking that tends to dominate the media, and does it with a flair of comedy.  (I also respect any man that makes vlogs from his bed, half-naked.  Fully naked?)

His recent post regarding the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon and how it relates to pornography is a good example of how he cuts through the bullshit and speak honestly about this subject:

What Brand demonstrates is an effective way of discussing difficult subjects in a way that conveys the truth of the matter, but doesn’t come across as preachy or judgmental.  Brand is open and honest about his own struggles with pornography and how it has effected him.  He takes full responsibility for his own actions and isn’t trying to shift the blame to the porn industry or beat the war drums on a “crusade against porn“.

I’ve talked before about pornography and how the most common method of dissuading Christians (and non-Christians) from engaging in it is simply to label it a “sin” and move on.  This has, of course, proven ineffective and I’ve argued that the word “sin” is archaic, has lost it’s meaning, and should be dropped from our vocabulary, even in religious circles.  Telling someone not to do something because “IT’S A SIN!” is like your parents telling you to stop doing something because, “I TOLD YOU TO!” – it’s a lazy cop-out that fails to give a valid explanation.  That’s why appreciate Brand citing the studies in his post – they give real-life, tangible reasons to be cautious about pornography.

As the father of a teenage son, the easy availability of porn is a big concern for me.  Brand talks about how when he was younger how difficult it was to get a hold of porn, but how easy it is today.  As he describes it, there are now “ice-burgs of filth floating through every household on wi-fi.”

The first time I saw pornography, I was around 10 and a friend and I found a Playboy in the magazine rack at a convenient store.  We ducked behind the rack and started flipping through the pages.  Until the store clerk caught us and kicked us out of the store.  I was absolutely mortified!  The friend and I vowed to never tell anyone about what happened and I never went into that convenient store again.  It was years before I saw another pornographic image.

Today, however, my son can access porn of any flavor imaginable, from his damn phone!  This is deeply troubling to me.  I know how easy it is to become desensitized by these images, it’s addictive nature, and the negative impact it can have on the relationships and intimacy you have with real people.  Videos like this are a great resources I can use in teaching him about pornography and the effects it can have. The video is entertaining, it speaks a common language (no “sin” or “purity” jargon), and it doesn’t try to use shame or fear to get the point across.  I applaud Russel Brand for sharing this video and as the effects of constant exposure to pornography become more apparent, my hope is that will be other sources like this will become available.

 

Cake or Death?

The other day, my wife and I received a letter in the mail informing us that we had won two round-trip plain tickets to anywhere in the states and two nights hotel stay.  Sweet!  So, I call the number to claim our price and find out that we had to attend a 90 minute presentation on how we can save big money on future vacations!  Ah, yes, this old game.  Well, the wife and I did end up going and receiving our free gift without being duped into spending $9500 dollars on a travel club membership.  (BTW, if any of you end up going to one of these, we found out that all you have to do to get out of their sales pitch is say, “Dave Ramsey says I can’t afford this right now”.  They will loose. their. shit.) 

I’m a pretty stubborn person as it is and with the years I’ve spend working around prisons inmates, I’m use to having people try to trick, manipulate, or talk me into things and have developed a very acute bullshit detector.  So, going to this presentation didn’t really pose much of a challenge and it wasn’t a hard decisions to make on whether or not we should go.

Now imagine if when I had called the number, the person that answered told me that when we attended the presentation we would have two choices:  to either accept the membership that they were offering (for the low, low price of $9499.99!) and have a lifetime of exclusive deals on vacations, or we would both be drug into the next room and beaten within an inch of our lives.

Umm…  No, thanks.  I think I’ll pass.  You can keep the airline tickets.

What kind of sales pitch is that?  Who in their right mind would actually be interested in this?

It reminds me of another sales pitch I’ve been hearing for year from certain people:

“Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior!  If you don’t, you will go to hell where you will suffer for all eternity.”

That doesn’t sound too enticing either, does it?  Yet, that’s exactly the message, whether directly or implied, that many churches are using to “evangelize” people.  I’m not going to get into the different theologies regarding hell, but I am going to say that people need to stop using it as tool to try and control, manipulate, or influence people.

Here’s the deal, if you really want people to have a relationship with Jesus, quit using fear as a motivator.  Who wants to be in any kind of relationship where fear is a dominant factor?

Quit twisting Jesus’s message of love, peace, and acceptance and turn it into a cattle prod to corral people into your social club.  Jesus’s primary focus was on this life, not on the afterlife.  When he spoke of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, he was referring to establishing a kingdom of peace and fulfillment here on earth.  While Jesus would often refer to Hell, it was always in the context of saying, “You won’t be a part of my kingdom here on earth if you choose to continue on the path you’re going.”  It’s also important to remember that he saved his harsh critiques for the religious leaders who thought they knew who was “saved” and who wasn’t and who tried to use their religion to control people.

Quit talking about this “God of Love” and then make him out to be some psychotic, angry lunatic who’s hell-bent (no pun intended) on punishing people for all eternity who don’t believe the right things about Him.

Because guess what; it isn’t working!

4000 churches close their doors every year.  More and more people, especially young people, are leaving the church and no one is coming in to fill their spots.  The “turn or burn” message is falling on deaf ears.  Maybe it’s because people can see the glaring contradictions.  Maybe they can see the hypocrisy of it all.  Or, maybe some people are just tired of being told they’ll be punished forever for not living up to some person’s or religion’s expectations.

If your god is loving one second and cruel the next, if your God will punish people for all eternity for sins committed in a few short years, not amount of clever marketing or compelling language or good music or great coffee will be able to disguise that one, true, glaring, untenable, unacceptable, awful reality. – Rob Bell

I’ve heard it said that we need to tell people about hell and tell people about the consequences of their actions.

No, we don’t.

We need to respect people and the decisions they make and be ready to give them some help along the way if they need it.  There are consequences to sin, certainly.  But those consequences are already felt by all of us, every day, as we live in this broken world.

I find it interesting that people where so drawn to a lowly, Jewish peasant that they were willing to give up everything to follow him. When he spoke to those around him, he gave a message of hope a better life here and now, not after we die.  The message of Jesus looses all it’s power if it’s reduced to nothing more then a question of who get’s into heaven and who doesn’t.

Redifining Sin

Every month a group I started, The Armistice Project, holds a meeting at the local library where people from all backgrounds, faiths, and sexual orientation come together and discuss the divisive topic of faith and homosexuality.  At one of our last meetings I posed the question, “Using non-religious language, how would you define sin?”  This proved harder to do then one would think.  Anyone who has ever spent any amount of time in a church or around religion instinctively links the word “sin” with God and/or the Bible.  In fact, even the dictionary states that sin is defined as “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.”

While parts of the Bible, such as the Ten Commandments, may be universally excepted as a golden standard of moral behavior, very often a sin is considered anything that a particular church, pastor, or person doesn’t agree with.  Growing up, everything from drums in church to people mowing their yards on Sunday were considered sin.   Talk of sin, whether from the pulpit or from your parents, is usually wrapped up in language of guilt and shame and seems more intent on controlling or repressing peoples’ behaviors, as apposed to being simple moral guidelines.  Yet, when one takes a close look at the statistics of divorce rates, domestic violence, and teenage pregnancy amongst people who go to church, it becomes obvious that all this sin-talk does little to make religious people any more moral than the rest of the world.

When I was about 13, my mom finally decided it was time to talk to me about sex.  (Little did she know, I already knew a great deal about sex thanks to the Glamour magazines she kept hidden under her bed)  Her talk went something like this, “It’s a sin to have sex before you’re married, so don’t do it.”  That’s it.  No explanations,  no rational dialogue, just a blunt, black-and-white statement with a little Bible talk thrown in.  How well did it work?  I started having sex in high school and had gotten a girl pregnant by the time I was 20.  I’m not trying to blaming my parents for my actions, but their riveting speech gave me no motivation to abstain from sex.  Current studies would suggest that my story is not an isolated one as 9 out 10 church-goers have sex before they’re married.  Yet, churches still keep pushing the same mantra of premarital sex being a sin against God, a sin against your future spouse, “true love waits”, etc.  What’s that old saying about insanity?   It’s repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting different results?

Another issue the church is trying to tackle is pornography.  I’ve heard this addressed more times then I can count, but the speech is always the same; pornography is a sin against God, against your spouse, against your future spouse, etc.  From my experience, this does nothing but pile on the guilt and shame that people who struggle with pornography already deal with, and shaming is never an effective deterrent for negative behavior.

I think what’s missing is proper explanations as to why some things are immoral or unhealthy behaviors.  When asked what constitutes a sin, most will open up their Bible and point to a verse or two, but how effective is that today?   How effective is ancient Bible text in a world that has information at it’s fingertips?  Is the Biblical language of sin, which people thought of as being the cause of natural disasters and mental illness, still applicable in our post-science worldview?  I think a new understanding of what constitutes a “sin” is needed if people of faith hope to remain relevant in our modern world .  We need to search for more rational, universally excepted reasoning when engaging in dialogues regarding peoples behaviors.

Maybe if my parents would have explained to me what a huge responsibility sex was, I might have listened.  Maybe if my mom had explained to me how emotionally attached a women gets when she is intimate with someone, I might have reconsidered who I slept with.  Maybe if my dad had explained to me how sex makes you willing to overlook negative qualities in someone that your with, I would have gotten out of bad relationships sooner.  I’m not saying any of this would have stopped me from having sex, but it would have been much more useful information to have in making decisions then any of the Bible-talk that I received.

If I had an atheist buddy who was really into pornography, what good would telling him it’s a sin do?  But, what if I explained to him the addictive nature of porn and how it affects the brain the same way as drugs do?   What if I told him that constant exposure to porn could alter how aroused he got when around the real thing?  I could explain to him that, more then likely, his significant other felt disrespected when he looked at porn and might even feel like she’s being cheated on.  He would be far more likely to hear me out then if I started preaching at him.

While looking at immoral behavior from a rational standpoint, it’s important that we also see the flip-side of the coin.  What about some of the long-standing stances the Church has taken on certain “sinful” behaviors?  Could they still be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in light of our current world-view?

Today, women are CEOs, doctors, lawyers, scientists, serve in government, and serve in the military, yet are still barred from serving in positions of ministry in many churches.  Is there any rational reason why women can’t be in ministry?  If your only explanation is a couple Biblical verses written in a time where women were considered nothing more then the property of men, then it’s time to dismiss this case and move on.  Thankfully, many denominations have moved past archaic ideas of women needing to “remain silent” in church and have appointed women to all offices of ministry, but I think there is still progress to be made.

The Church is also in desperate need of a more rational discussion about homosexuality.  The stance of most Evangelical churches is that all homosexuality is a sin and LGBTs have no choice but to remain celibate and hope that God will make them straight.  This stance is based on an ignorant view of human biology and a misunderstanding of a handful of verses written at a time and culture that had a very different world view of gender and sexuality then we do.  Yet, I’ve never heard a rational explanation as to why two people of the same sex can’t be in a relationship.  To expect gay people to remain celibate is not only cruel and unrealistic, but it’s an ugly representation of the Church’s obsession with trying to control people’s behaviors.  No where in the Bible does God call anyone to celibacy or a life of loneliness.  To make such demands of our LGBT neighbors is reminiscent of the religious leaders of Jesus’s time who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”  

The use of the word “sin” has for too long been used  to control people through guilt and shame.  Maybe it’s time we start looking for language that builds up rather then tears down.  Maybe we should start focusing on people’s good qualities instead of focusing on where they fall short.  Or, maybe we should just leave this whole business of judging sin up to God and get on with the task of loving people.

 

(NOTE:  I realize that there is a lot more to the arguments regarding faith and homosexuality, far too much to put into one post.  Rest assured, I will be addressing some of these arguments in future posts.)