"The Invention of Lying"
August 29, 2010
Douglas S. Long
Umstead Park United Church of Christ
I saw a news article just a couple years back… actually in 2007:
Seems a woman’s family was suing an emergency room and its staff for negligence. Linda Long (no relation to me, by the way), Mrs. Long, a 48 year-old-homemaker in New London (West Virginia) had been bitten by a poisonous snake and subsequently died. Her family argued that the admitting nurse was slow to treat the victim.
What they did not mention was the great confusion presented to the emergency room upon Mrs. Long’s arrival. The victim had been bitten in the face, while handling the poisonous serpent in a church service.
The victim’s family did not sue the church, or the pastor, or the publishers of the Bible. They did, however, go after the medical professionals who did not deliver them from their...faith.
Hear now, the closing verses of Mark’s Gospel.
Mark 16: 14-20 NRSV
Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.
“they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them”
Most good Biblical scholars recognize this entire passage as a later addition to the Gospel of Mark, but, never-the-less, perhaps Matthew (and almost no one doubts that Matthew actually had a copy of Mark in his possession as one of his primary sources)… Matthew, foreseeing the possibility that some lame brained literalist would misread Mark’s words and actually try to bring a rattlesnake to worship, (and kiss it) Matthew just leaves that Markan detail out.
Now hear the closing verses of Matthew’s Gospel:
Matthew 28:16-20 NRSV
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Ahh… the Great Commission. I learned it this way:
“Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of time."
Whew… thank goodness Matthew doesn’t put anything crazy in there!
Last week I explained that I was incorporating in the next couple of sermons, some catch-up news I had encountered, after I returned from a week of vacation. I skimmed the papers I missed in my absence. I bring three to your attention today.
Among the articles that caught my eye, one from July 29 titled: Man on a Global Mission.
It was a report on the work of a neighbor of ours (collectively) in Wake Forest who happens to be President of the seminary there. From the article:
(Daniel) Akin is known as the architect of a bold new vision for the Southern Baptist Convention.
Known as Great Commission Resurgence, the vision refocuses the nation 's largest Protestant denomination on its No. 1 priority—making converts to Christianity.
Said Akin, “[I’ve seen] up close and personal, the massive lostness of the world."
For Akin, it comes down to the exclusive message of the gospel: "If I believe there is a hell rushing at you, I do you no favor by saying, 'In the end we 'll get to the same place, ' " Akin said. "I don 't believe that. My assignment is to help you avoid that crisis in eternity."
"I 'm trying to raise up Green Berets for Jesus.”
The seminary has about 2,000 divinity students and another 450 undergraduates.
So much for Matthew’s safer version of Jesus’ parting words. Snakes in worship would be less harmful…
Because, you see … Article 2 – It is the orientation of such “green berets for Jesus” among other issues, that led author Anne Rice (The Vampire Chronicles) recently to post on Facebook, that she was quitting Christianity and renouncing any claim to the title "Christian."
"For those who care," she wrote, "and I understand if you don 't: Today I quit being a Christian. I 'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian ' or to being part of Christianity. It 's simply impossible for me to 'belong ' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I 've tried. I 've failed. I 'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."
Rice went on to say:
“I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”
Who among us can blame Ms. Rice for being fed-up with that, shall I say ‘green beret’, version of “Christianity”?
Whether it be handlers of snakes or those who handle the Bible as an exclusive weapon to subdue others, ‘Christianity’, in John Shelby Spong’s famous title, must change or die.
In the 2009 Ricky Gervais movie, “The Invention of Lying” ...he irreverently, but oh-so-humorously in my feeble opinion, lampoons the literalists of our day.
I don’t want to spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it and plan to watch it (nor do I endorse all of its content, especially to those who are easily offended)
But there is one scene that I think is particularly pertinent.
Let me set the stage for it by simply explaining that, here-to-fore, no one in the movie (it’s a comedy), no one in the world for all of history in the movie, has encountered a lie, has been able to lie or even conceive of a lie. Only truth is spoken. (How do I look, honey. Well, you look fat, of course.)
Only the truth is spoken. An advertiser of Coke says buy Coke because...it’s famous. An advertisement for Pepsi says buy Pepsi when there is no Coke.
No one ever, has ever said anything but the literal truth. All words are completely literal in the movie… Except for suddenly, the befuddled and somewhat bumbling main character...and so this kind and really good guy, in an effort to comfort his dying mother (who is visibly horrified by the prospect of nothingness) in a very natural attempt to assuage her despair says to her as she is taking her last agonizing breaths…
“No mom, death is not nothingness for eternity. It’s not that at all. It’s wonderful after you die.
It’s beautiful…” and because the literal is always embraced in the world of this movie, instantly his anguished mother’s countenance changes. She smiles. She relaxes… she is at peace
...and then she dies...happy.
And when the main character looks up from his dead mother, he finds himself surrounded by astounded nurses and doctors who, having overheard his conversation with his mother about the afterlife, plead with him, “Tell us more! We didn’t know!”
The next morning he finds throngs of people outside his home. News reporters, TV crews… all clamoring to hear more about this new and amazing revelation...and so, again in an effort to comfort the crowd, the fellow spends the rest of the day and the next night writing feverishly a systematic theology, if you will. He steps out the next morning with his 10 revelations...(They are taped to pizza boxes. This is a comedy, folks.).
I toyed with playing this clip for you this morning, but some of the language is not considered appropriate for Sunday morning worship. (It’s on Youtube, about 7 minutes...just search via 'Invention of Lying ' and 'Man in the Sky. ')
Here is a portion of the dialogue:
Our befuddled main character, now the center of EVERYONE’S attention, steps out to his front porch and addresses the throng of people outside his house.
“I’m going to explain to you everything you need to know,” he begins.
“Number 1-There 's a man in the sky that controls everything. Number 2..."
And suddenly the questions of this world of literalists start coming from the crowd...
[Note: The protagonist 's answers are in parentheses.]
-Whoa...what does he look like? (Tall, big hands, good head of hair)
-What ethnicity? (A new ethnicity, a mixture of all our ethnicities)
-Does he live in the clouds? Can we see him? (He lives high in the clouds, too high to see him.)
-So he 's in outer space? (No, not that high)
-So, in the thermosphere? (Sorry people, I 've got a lot to get to here, can we just go on?)
Number 2- When you die, you go to a really great place.
3-In that place, everyone gets a mansion.
-What kind of mansion? (The best mansion you can think of.)
-Oh no!!… I was thinking of a horrible mansion. (Well no, don 't think about that! The best mansion you ever have or ever will think of.)
Number 4- When you die, all the people you love will be there.
-Will they have their own mansions? (Yes.)
-But what if I want them to move in with me? (Well, they can.)
-What will happen to their mansions? (I don 't know… they go back on the market.)
[Number 5 is about free ice cream 24 hours a day.]
Number 6- If you do bad things, you won 't get to go to this great place in the sky.
-Where will you go? (A terrible place, the worst place you can imagine.)
-What constitutes a bad thing? (...awful crimes rape, murde...)
-Is punching someone bad? (Yes.)
-What if there trying to hurt you? (Well, then it 's fine.)
-Is cursing bad? (No.)
-What about if you forget to feed your dog?
-If I do just one bad thing, do I go to that bad place?
(No...you get three chances. Three bad things and you 're out.)
Anything else? (whole crowd raises hands)
Can we just move on?
-No, we have to know everything that 's bad.
-Is it bad to wear pants?
(Two hours later…)
No… there is no hairstyle that can put you in the bad place.
We 've been through this… the main ones are like hurtin ' people, physically, on purpose, takin ' their stuff, doin ' things to people they don 't want done, murdering people, on purpose,
OK. Number 9. The man in the sky who controls everything decides if you go to the good place or the bad place. He also decides who lives and who dies.
-Does he cause natural disasters? (Yes.)
-Did he cause my mom to get cancer? (Yes.)
-Did he cause that tree to land on my car last week? (Yep.)
-Did he kill my dad with that heart attack? Pause (Yes.)
Crowd is stunned, looks around at each other, and then a fellow booms
-“I say -BLANK- the man that lives in the sky!” He didn’t say ‘blank.’
Crowd roars… YEAH…
“Yeah, that guy 's evil.”
“He 's a coward… hiding up there doing bad things to us. Why doesn 't he do it to our faces?”
"We have to stop that evil -bully- before he kills us all." She didn’t say ‘bully.’
Crowd roars yes…. and the main character responds emphatically:
“Wait, wait, listen the man who lives in the sky and controls everything is also responsible for all the good stuff that happens!"
-He 's the guy that saved my life on the fishing trip when the boat capsized? (Yes.)
-Did he capsize the boat?! (…yes.)
-He killed my grandmother and left me those millions of dollars? (You betcha!)
10- Even if the man in the sky does bad stuff to you, he makes up for it by giving you an eternity of good stuff to you after you die.
-As long as you don 't do any of that bad stuff that you mentioned, right? (Yeah, of course.)
-So it 's kind of a test? (Yeah.)
"Well that 's everything I know."
-How do you know all these things?
"Because the man in the sky told me."
That gets us to one last article I read in my catch-up pile of papers:
August 2nd… Pastor sticks up for modern view of God
Duke 's campus minister for the United Church of Christ, the Rev. Mark Rutledge...does not believe in a supernatural God with supernatural powers.
"The cosmic guy in the sky is not a credible image of God," he said.
At 76, he says he has never concealed his views from his denomination, the liberal-leaning United Church of Christ, or from Duke, which pays him a $55-a-month stipend for his part-time duties.
Rutledge says he still believes in God, but not the God who sits on a throne in the sky.
To Rutledge, God is a process of mysterious cosmic creativity that makes for greater love and justice. He thinks of God as a force working within human beings and nature, and he sees his role as trying to imitate that divine character whose greatest exemplar is Jesus.
And the ensuing 'comments ' on the N&O online? There were many… literally scores. Here 's a sampling:
He is a humanist and nothing more. … society deteriorates and some wonder why.
Wow. A Pastor who doesn 't believe in God. He fits right in with our President, and 4 of the 9 Supreme Court Justices who don 't believe in the Constitution.
Ahhh ... the United Church of Christ ... the very same home of the virulent, hate-filled racist "Rev" Jeremiah Wright.
No true Christian should be a member of this denomination, which accepts outright heresy.
But there other opinions and points as well. I especially liked this one:
If being a "good Christian" means that I get to spend eternity with the vile commenters on the N&O website, then thanks, but no thanks, for that bridge to nowhere....
And then finally...
Very interesting article. I had no idea that people like this existed. I 've never met a person who broke free of the brainwashing, but still stayed within a church. Most people, when they come to their senses, either run away screaming, or never talk about it again from embarrassment. This guy has an interesting take on life.
Said Alfred Korzybski, philosopher and scientist,
There are two ways to slide easily through life;
to believe everything or to doubt everything.
Both ways save us from thinking.
We’ve must choose to think … or our faith will die.
… not to mention the spiritual lives of those who only hear the Christian message proclaimed as a superficial and arbitrary man in the sky.
...which leads me to one last article (I said three. ..but here’s an ending bonus.)
I have rephrased an excellent piece by Michael Rowe in the Huffington Post in which he explains how faith does die… actually, how it is murdered. Listen:
-You murder faith, he says, the same way you murder love: one bruise at a time, with small, daily cuts, with grinding contempt, with neglect.
-It dies a little bit more every time a gay or lesbian teenager commits suicide because they 've been taught to hate themselves because God "loves" them but hates what they are.
-You murder faith by exposing it to bullets inscribed with Bible verses that kill Afghani and Iraqi children.
-You murder faith by linking it to greed, to the "God wants you to be rich" movement which marinates in loathing for the poor and needy, in defiance of Christ 's commission to care for them, and then have the gall to call it "good for America."
-You murder faith by exposing it to any number of atrocities wrapped up in an inviolate nationalism that claims divine authority as its basis, with no room for dissent, and no mercy for dissenters.
Snake handling is almost universally looked down upon in the Christian world, but distorting the Bible through selective literalism...that is par for the course.
Anne Rice says she rejects Christianity in Christ 's name, and will follow Christ instead. In the words of John 13:35, "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
It’s time to show the love, folks.
There are an awful lot of people who need it.
Even now, as she tosses off organized religion, Rice posts that she 's still
... an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God ... Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.
And I say,
Amen to that.