Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Finale: The Hindu Temple of Sri Ganesha

Forgive the formatting of this blog. I've lost internet in my home for the time being, so I had to type this out as a Word document and then post it using my mobile hotspot.

This past Sunday, I visited my very last religion for this blog, Temple Sri Ganesha in South Jordan, Utah. I decided that for my last blog, I would visit the oldest continuously practiced religion in the world.

A Brief History of Hinduism:

The roots of Hinduism are prehistoric. It is believed that a group of the Indo-European people, originating in south central Asia moved into the Indian subcontinent conquering the indigenous people and eventually blending the indigenous religion with their religion about 3,300 years ago.

This led to a period called the Vedic Period of Hinduism, named so for the volumes of their holy books called the Vedas. These books are still considered sacred to this day. As the peoples developed, so did their religion. The next major period of Hinduism was known as Classical Hinduism starting about 300 BCE (BC) and ending around 1100 CE (AD). Classical Hinduism moved from more primitive forms of religion to a very strong pantheistic and philosophical version of Hinduism. From 1100 onward, the Hindu religion has had influence from their encounters with Islam and Western Christianity particularly through the British occupation of India.

Today, Hinduism is the third Largest religion in the world (Christianity and Islam being the first and second) with 950 million members worldwide, most living in India.

With how big this religion is in the world, I find most people I know don't know much about it. Many think of gurus and snake charmers or strange rituals done in devotion to strange animal faced gods. Few actually know what Hindus believe. I've even heard many conflate Hindus and Muslims, though the two religions are unrelated and come from extremely different origins.

So what do Hindus believe? Well that's hard to pin down. Hinduism isn't like Catholicism or Presbyterianism within Christianity where there are clear beliefs and practices. Instead, Hinduism is a collection of religious traditions and belief systems which are often contradictory and diverse. Often Hinduism means something different from one individual Hindu to another.There are three main sects of Hinduism, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism. These three sects have similar traditions, scriptures, and rituals, but have different primary gods and different philosophies and beliefs on how to achieve self-realization. Even within these three sects, there is radical diversity among them.

But before we delve into them let's talk about the basics. Remember, these are generalizations, and vary a lot among Hindus.

Basics of Hinduism:

  • Hinduism has many beliefs about the nature of divinity. Most Hindus believe that there is an ultimate reality called Brahman which is beyond form, consciousness, gender, expression, or comprehension. All things are part of Brahman and the ultimate realization is to realize that you are Brahman. Because Brahman is extremely abstract, most Hindus connect with Brahman through various gods which are expressions of Brahman. Some Hindus believe these gods exist as literal beings others believe in them more symbolically.
  • There are three gods involved in creation: Brahma (not to be confused with Brahman) who creates, Vishnu who preserves, and Shiva who destroys. Each of these gods has a female consort, Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Parvati respectively.
  • Vaishnavites believe Vishnu is the ultimate reality, and from him comes creation. Vishnu preserves the universe through 10 incarnations. Each of these incarnations preserves the universe in a different way, some are mythical creatures, others are men. The the best known incarnations are Krishna (the great teacher) and Buddha (the incarnation of compassion). They are currently awaiting the tenth and final incarnation before the world ends.
  • Shaivites believe Shiva is the ultimate reality and that his destruction leads to creation in an endless cycle.
  • Shaktites believe that the divine feminine, the mother Shakti expressed in many forms, is the ultimate reality. Many Shaktites worship Shiva, but believe all of his power comes from the Shakti and with the divine feminine, Shiva can create universes, but without it, he cannot even stir a pot.
  • In addition to these gods, there are dozens to thousands of other gods, including: Ganesha, Hanuman, Kali, Durga, Indra, Danu, etc.
  • Hindus believe in a concept called Dharma. Dharma is the teachings of life, but also your life's lot. You should do your life's work to the best of your ability.
  • Hindus also believe in Karma. Karma in Hinduism is not a concept of reward and punishment, but rather cause and effect. You do certain things, you can expect a certain result.
  • Hindus believe in an endless cycle of reincarnation. The life you're born into depends on the Karma you accumulated in your previous lives.
  • The ultimate goal is self-realization to lead you out of the cycles of reincarnation. This is known as Moksha.
  • Hindus believe attachment to material things (maya) blinds people to the spiritual realities of the universe.
  • Hindus believe the universe itself goes through many cycles just like we cycle through many lives.
  • Hindus have many diverse and rich religious traditions, most centuries old. Many of these ceremonies include purification ceremonies, weddings, funeral pyres, blessings, meditations, yoga, etc. One of the main religious ceremonies is known as Puja and it is an honoring of the deities as though they were real guests in your home and often involves welcoming the deity, clothing statues of the deities, offering songs of praise, offering food, money or other offerings, etc.

So what was my experience like at the temple?


The temple is located in South Jordan, which is about a 20 minute drive south of Salt Lake City. When we arrived, we discovered that the temple is under construction. Not knowing what to do, we saw others going into the cultural hall next door to the temple. We walked in and saw people's shoes in the doorway, so we removed our shoes. You must remove shoes as a sign of respect in a Hindu temple.

We walked in and saw several people eating in the main lobby. There was an open door to the gym with a sign that said something like, “Hindu Temple.” I looked inside and saw some kind of stage set up. A man with a green robe around him and a bindhi (a red dot signifying the third eye) on his head. He said something to us motioning us into the gym.

We walked in and saw a temporary shrine set up. On it were several statues of deities clothed in expensive robes and each with a bindi placed on their foreheads. In the center was Ganesha, the remover of obstacles and son of Shiva. The temple is dedicated to his honor. On each side of him were three other statues, though I couldn't identify them because the clothing was covering up their symbols. Directly in front of them was a sphere with a bindi on it resting on a statue of a multi-headed cobra (an animal often associated with Vishnu). In the very front were various items: a tray with a lit oil lamp in the center of it which contained various amounts of money, coconuts and other items brought as offerings. There were sweet burning incense which sort of reminded me of the smell of grape vines in fall.

The stage was surrounded by cardboard pillars painted to look like ancient stone pillars in an old temple. It was very elegant proving that even a temporary space put up for little money can be gorgeous and inspiring.

Directly before the altar were carpet squares for people to sit on.

Overall, the atmosphere, though temporary and put up for not a lot of money was quite stunning. I forgot I was in a gym and was instead transported to a temple in India.

The People:

There were a handful of people in the temple. Several were eating food in the lobby. The man with the green robe and bindi was one of the the priests, a priest of Shiva I'm assuming based on the pattern of his bindi.

After the brief blessing we received when we entered the temple (more on that below) we joined the people outside. They gave us a bit of food and talked with us briefly. They were very warm and friendly.

Afterward, we went back in the temple and while we were there, we met another priest, this one a priest of Vishnu, at least I assume so based on his bindi style. He was quite nice and spoke with us for a few minutes. He apologized that they were very busy setting things up, but if we wanted to talk with him and learn more, we could come back in the evening.

Overall, the people were very sweet and accommodating. Nobody seemed to judge us that we didn't really know what to do.

The Service:

So, there's not much to talk about as far as a service, and there's certainly no message that went along with this. The temple is open every single day of the year for about 10 hours a day. People are free to come and go, meditate, pray, etc. The website said that they had Puja at 10 in the morning on weekends. However, we arrived before that and the Puja had already been done. I guess they haven't updated their website and/or they have different hours during construction.

But we did get to see a ceremony. The priest who ushered us into the temple waved us to stand in front of the altar. He grabbed the platter with the money and oil lamp in it and held it in front of both of us. We stared at it unsure what to do. He then grabbed a silver lid with several decorations on it and placed it briefly on each of our heads. All the while he was speaking either Hindi or Sanskrit. After that, he grabbed some sweet smelling liquid and placed it in our hands. He motioned to put it to our mouths. I wasn't sure if we were supposed to drink it or smell it, so I smelled it. He then gave us a banana and motioned for us to take it to the lobby. We later learned that this and the food we'd been given to eat by the others was food that had been offered to Ganesha and was shared as a community meal.

We later saw others who came to the temple get this same ceremony performed for them and saw what we should have done. It's a blessing and an offering to the god. When you walk in, you go to the altar, the priest says a blessing, brings the offering plate to you, you can leave money on it, then you wave your hands over the flame then close it in a prayer position in front of your head. With the liquid, you anoint your head and sip it, then you are handed a bit of food that is offered and eat it with others in the lobby.

I wish we could have seen the Puja ceremony, but just getting the blessing and sitting in the temple for a while was quite an experience and I have no regrets about just getting a blessing.

Overall Experience:

Overall, it was quite peaceful and quite lovely to see this ancient culture in action. I would definitely go back and see the Hindu temple again.

Additional Notes:

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. This blog has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I've had so much fun, met some interesting people, made some new friends, had some amazing conversations, and learned a lot. Much of this is because of people like you who have read this. None of this would have been possible without you.

In the next week, I'll be posting an announcement for an evening in a coffee house. All are invited. I just want to do it to meet you guys and say thank you and you can ask me any questions or say anything you want to me.

Stay tuned for the details on that.

I normally say, “Until next time, peace be with you,” but this time I'll say something different. It's been quite the journey with all of you!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sunday with the Sikhs

Yesterday, I was going to go to the Mennonite church in Tremonton, Utah. However, it proved nearly impossible to contact the Mennonites to find out when their service times were and they don't have a website. So, I considered alternatives, and after ruling out many churches which would seem like deja vu, I opted for a religion I hadn't considered attending before: Sikhism. It seems odd to me that I would overlook this relatively large religion that comes out of India, especially since I looked into other much smaller religions.

History of Sikhism:

While Sikhism is a major world religion, it's not well known in the West. Sikhism started in the early 16th century in the Punjab region of what is now India and Pakistan. Guru Nanak began the religion after rejecting both Hinduism and Islam, the two dominant religions of the Indian Subcontinent.

After Guru Nanak died, there were 9 additional gurus which followed him. The 10th and final guru, Guru Gobind Singh, was a heavily influential guru. He compiled a the scriptures of the Sikh people, known as the Granth, and declared that after him there would be no other human guru, but instead the Granth would be the Eternal Living Guru. As such, the Sikhs now refer to their scriptures as Guru Granth Sahib, roughly meaning the Master Guru Granth.

Guru Gobind Singh also created the Khalsa, a religious and military order all initiated Sikhs belong to. The Khalsa acts to defend the Sikh people and faith as well as act as a community for fellowship. In times past, the Sikhs did face actual military violence from both Hindus and Muslims in the region who wanted to wipe them out. Therefore, the Khalsa served much more than a ceremonial function being a military organization, but served as a real life defensive military to which all Sikh people belonged.

Today, Sikhs still largely remain in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan; however, many exist in other countries worldwide including large pockets in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Beliefs and Practices of Sikhism:

  • Sikhs are strict monotheists. Sikhs believe in one God who is without form or gender.
  • Sikhs believe that all mankind has access to God without the need of an intercessor.
  • All are equal before God, regardless of gender, creed, background, caste, etc.
  • God's presence can be seen everywhere and in all things. They believe God resides in all of us, therefore, good exists in all of us no matter how wicked we seem and thus all are able to change.
  • Sikhs believe in reincarnation and Karma like Hindus. That is that ones actions lead to cosmic consequences from one life to another. Sikhs believe that the ultimate goal is to liberate oneself from this endless cycle of rebirth and join entirely with God.
  • Sikhs believe that God's grace liberates mankind from the endless cycles of rebirth. Sikhs, similarly to Protestant Christians, believe that this cannot be earned by mankind. However, they do teach that living righteously helps mankind draw closer to God which allows God's grace to reach them.
  • Sikhs are bound to do three things: keep God in mind always, earn an honest living, and charity.
  • The following are considered vices which obstruct our relationship with God and continue us on the constant cycle of rebirth: lust, greed, attachment to material things, anger, pride.
  • In addition to these vices, Sikhs also do not participate in nor financially support gambling, alcohol, drugs, or tobacco.
  • Sikhs will only go to war for self defense.
  • Sikhs perform weddings, funerals, and baby blessings.
  • Sikhs are initiated into the Khalsa (Sikh community) through a baptism ceremony called the Amrit Ceremony, which involves them drinking a mixture of blessed sugar water and being blessed with the water.
  • Sikhs which have undergone the Amrit Ceremony are required to wear the 5 K's as a sign of their commitment. Men and women both wear these items. The 5 K's are ceremonial things which distinguish Sikhs as members of the Khalsa and must be worn at all times for the rest of their lives. The 5 K's are:
    • Kesh - Uncut hair on the head and body. This hair represents accepting what God has given you as it is and also represents adopting a simple lifestyle. Because of the need to keep their long hair clean and tidy, Sikhs wear a distinctive turban on their heads.
    • Kangha - A wooden comb carried with the person representing grooming and caring for God's body which has been given to you.
    • Kara - A steel bracelet which represents servitude to God.
    • Kachera - Cloth underwear which look like boxers with a draw string. This represents chastity.
    • Kirpan - A sword or knife representing a willingness to defend those in peril and the faith.
  • Sikhs do not seek converts but welcome those who wish to convert.
  • Sikhs strive to live in harmony with people of all ethnicities, creeds, castes, gender, background, etc.
  • Sikhs do not have priests. Anyone from the community who is able to do so may lead the services.
  • Men and women are seen as equals in Sikh society. Women are allowed to lead the services and fully participate in all aspects of religious life and have been allowed to since the beginning. They are not seen as spiritually inferior to men.
  • Sikhs don't believe in ritual and blind ceremony. Therefore they do not have a set liturgy, candles, bells, religious artwork, or incense, nor do they fast or make pilgrimages.
So what were the Sikhs like?


The Sikh temple is located in Taylorsville, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. My phone was acting up, so I couldn't get a picture of the outside of the temple. It's located next to a strip mall and is a fairly basic white bricked building which says Sikh Temple of Utah on a blue awning over the doorway and several smaller blue awnings over the windows with Punjabi writing on them.

When you first walk in the doorway, there is a little area with cubbies to put your shoes in. Sikh customs state that you must remove your shoes and cover your head when you enter the temple. So we took our shoes off and placed them in the cubbies. We then walked over to the box which had bandannas and other head coverings you could borrow. By the time we got to it, all of the good head coverings had been taken and we got the left over rags. After picking through a few, I found a goldenrod colored bandanna that was a little tattered but in decent shape. I put it on and my friend said I looked like a bar wench. But I found the experience kind of fun.

Just past the foyer for your shoes were two sets of stairs, one leading up and one leading down. It was unclear which we were supposed, but most of the activities seemed to be taking place upstairs. So we followed a couple people upstairs and ended up sitting by a group of men in the back.

The main hall was a large room with two large crystal chandeliers. Everyone was sitting on the floor cross legged. There were clusters of women sitting together and men sitting together, but no clear distinction that they had to be separated.

At the front of the hall were two main areas, a raised platform with a band playing bongos and sitar music with another man chanting out hymns and scriptures in Punjabi. Occasionally, the words of the hymns would be projected on a screen behind him with an English translation. On the other side was an ornate altar with a blue canopy over it. The altar was a raised platform with a table covered in an expensive pink and white cloth. On this altar is a copy of their scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib. This is the holiest part of the temple and should be treated as though you were in the presence of a living breathing guru. Directly before this are a series of small platforms that have a number of Khandas (several interlocking swords, the official symbol of their faith) and a few swords. People would leave offerings on these platforms throughout the service.

Overall, the atmosphere was interesting. It didn't feel much like a house of worship so much as a large contemporary building with an altar in the front. It sort of reminded me of an Indian version of an Evangelical church with the area for the choir with a projector screen and simplicity of design.

The People:

Most of the people were Indian or of Indian origin. Most of the women were wearing traditional Indian clothing like the saris and head coverings, all very colorful and ornate. The men were mostly wearing traditional western clothing, but had beards and turbans on their heads.

Few talked to us, a couple of people at the end gave us some pamphlets, said they'd be happy to answer any questions if we had them. I asked if we could take some pictures. They said that we could absolutely take some and even had a man pose for the picture I took above. Had my phone not been acting up, I would have taken a few more pictures.

Overall, not a very talkative bunch, but very warm and kind to us nonetheless.

The Service:

There will be no message section of this blog. The reason why, every word of the service was in Punjabi, so I have no idea what was said. When we first came in, they were playing music on the bongos and sitar and someone was chanting along. We sat and a hymn was playing talking about the death of Guru Nanak. The lyrics were pretty talking about how everyone was mourning when he went away.

After that, the man who had been chanting said something for nearly 45 minutes. I have no idea what he was saying, but while he was talking, another man was accompanying him on the bongos.

They then sang another hymn about what your mother's ultimate desire would be, that you remember God all the days of your life. After this, everybody stood and recited a prayer together. At one point in the service, everybody knelt and touched their head to the ground as Muslims do in their worship, before they stood up again.

Once the prayer was over, everyone sat back down on the floor and the man who had been chanting went up to the altar and uncovered the Guru Granth Sahib. He opened it to a random page and began reading from it. This apparently is a tradition and it's decided from randomly opening to that page it is what the lesson of the day should be. 

After that, a group of men went and washed their hands. While they did that, children went around handing napkins to everybody. The men then came around with bowls giving handfuls of something to everyone. I learned later that this stuff is called Karah Parshad and it's a mixture of equal parts semolina, clarified butter, and sugar. It is blessed and symbolizes hospitality and should be taken as though it were given directly by God or the Guru. To turn it down is one would be quite an offensive thing to do. It was rather tasty and I enjoyed eating it.

After the service is a community meal. This meal is an important symbol of charity and Sikh temples offer food to anyone who needs it completely free of charge as well as having it be part of the community celebrations. My friend who was with me had a family dinner he needed to go to afterward, and so didn't want to join in. We were getting ready to live and an old lady with a thick accent asked why we weren't staying. She insisted we go down and join in and that it was free. I've never been able to turn down the guilt trip of an old woman, so I went down and got a small bowl of Indian food and a piece of naan. My friend didn't and was waiting for me outside, so I took the bowl and left.

We both probably committed a big cultural faux pas in doing that, him for not partaking in the meal at all, and me for not eating with everyone, but instead leaving with the food. I kind of feel bad about that, but given that my friend was on a tight schedule, we didn't have much of an option.

Overall Experience:

Overall, other than not understanding what was going on, it was a fun cultural experience. The music was very upbeat and traditional Indian music, the food was good, the people were very warm, and the atmosphere was nice. I would definitely return again to the Sikh Temple of Utah.

Additional Notes:

Next week is the last religion. I've decided that the best way to end my blog is to go with the oldest continuously practiced religion in the world, Hinduism.

I want to say to everyone thank you from the bottom of my heart for following me in this journey. It's been so amazing and I have loved the entire process.

To say thank you, I'm going to have a coffee clutch with anyone in the Northern Utah area who wants to get together and talk to me and my friends about this journey and answer any questions you may have. I'll have more information on that in my next blog.

Thanks once more!

Until next time, peace be with you.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sunday with Friends (Quakers)

This past Sunday, I visited the Salt Lake Society of Friends (Quakers), part of the Friends General Conference.

Quakers are a historical religion beginning in 17th century England. A man named George Fox became disillusioned with the Church of England and other religious movements in England at the time. He believed he received revelations and discovered that God and Christ could be directly experienced by mankind without any intervention from clergy or symbolic sacraments. He also believed in a priesthood of all believers.

Through the years, the Quakers were pushed from the British Isles to the New World where they were ran out of colony after colony until they settled a colony called Pennsylvania as a safe haven for them.

Today, there is a spectrum of Quaker beliefs ranging from old school Orthodox Quakers, Evangelical Quakers, and Liberal Quakers. However, there are some uniting characteristics among Quakers.

General beliefs and practices of Quakers:

  • People can experience and commune directly with God without the intervention of priests or sacraments.
  • Belief that Christ's inner light resides within all mankind and can be accessed and experienced by everyone.
  • Rejection of creeds which are binding to members of the faith.
  • Priesthood of all believers, as such there often will be no clergy in a Quaker meeting, but instead the church will be run in an egalitarian way.
  • Pacifism and a commitment to nonviolence.
The Friends Meeting I went to falls on the liberal end of the spectrum. So how was it?


The church is located in Murray, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. The church is a blink and you'll miss it building. I know that because I did miss it. But, once you see it, it's quite a pretty little brick building with a ramp for the main entrance and several signs out front, one of which says, "Torture is wrong."

Once inside, there is a table with pamphlets on how to help climate change, pacifism, caring for the earth, Quaker beliefs, etc. Underneath the table is this sign that looks like it has been out on the lawn before.

Leading into the chapel are two wooden doors with this sign telling you to be quiet as the meeting is in progress.

The chapel is lined with a few simple but well made stained glass windows.

The chapel itself is a simplistic room with a sanctuary that contains a piano. However, most of the space is taken up with chairs forming a circle. This is where the services take place. More on that below.

Overall, simplistic but very warm and traditional environment. I enjoyed it a lot.

The People:

The people were silent during the service, however, afterward there was a coffee hour. There I got to talk to people. It was interesting to speak with them. They were all quite friendly and asked a lot of questions. I learned many were involved in social work jobs and seemed to be very focused on the community.

They were diverse in age and background. Some were teens, some young adults in college, several older people, and a number of middle aged people. They were very welcoming, everyone asked my name and why I was there. They were very intrigued by the idea of the blog and had a number of questions.

Overall, very kind people.

The Service/Message:

Quaker services traditionally are quite different than most church services you'll encounter. Though many Quaker meetings have started to have more traditional services with hymns and a sermon, known as programmed services, the traditional Quaker services are unprogrammed. The unprogrammed service is simply a group of people sitting in silence in a room. While in this silence, they meditate and pray. There are no songs and no sermons. If a member feels inspired to, they will stand and deliver a short message on a topic they were meditating or praying about. These messages are not necessarily for everybody and not like sermons telling you how to live your life.

This meeting was a traditional, unprogrammed service. The members were already in progress at the time I got there. I walked in and they were sitting in the circle in complete silence. The service went on in silence for about 10 minutes before a woman stood up and told a story. She mentioned how she works with refugees and how a woman from Somalia had locked herself in the car and when the police officers came, they asked if she had pulled the lock button up. She hadn't and was able to get out once she was told about it. She said that she found it interesting because sometimes what seems so obvious to all of us isn't obvious to someone else who's not had the same experiences as you.

After that, there was more silence. I watched the people meditating and enjoyed the silence for a bit before getting a little bored. Finally, an elderly man stood up and gave a small speech about how discovering the light inside of us is like opening the curtains and realizing there were hidden bad things that you have to work on inside yourself that you didn't see in the dark. At that moment, the sun started shining brightly through the window. He looked at it and said, "Well, with that sun coming through the window, I guess it's time to be silent."

There was then more silence. After an hour of it, the silence was broken by everyone shaking hands, then members going around the circle sharing their names and any announcements they had.

Overall, the service was slightly boring  being completely in silence for an hour, but it was nice to experience silence for a bit and just unwind at the end of a stressful week.

Overall Experience:

I really enjoyed the Quakers. The service wasn't exactly my taste, but it was calming and peaceful. I really enjoyed the people and all the things they stood for, peace, nonviolence, environmentalism, and living in harmony with others.

I would definitely visit a Quaker service again.

Additional Notes:

Only 2 left. I'm planning on visiting the Mennonites and the Hindus. I have two additional announcements. Check out the upcoming blogs for that.

Until next time, peace be with you!

Stewardship at First Baptist Church of Ogden

First of all, I want to apologize for not blogging the past couple weeks. I have had some issues with my apartment and finances that have caused me to be temporarily at a couple friends' apartment. Hopefully all of this is sorted out soon. At any rate, I'm back for the blog.

The Sunday before last, I went to First Baptist Church, part of the American Baptist Churches USA. The American Baptist Churches USA traces its roots back to the 1600's in Massachusetts. The church is considered a mainline church and historically a progressive church in regards to race relations.

Beliefs of the American Baptist Churches USA:

  • Belief in the Trinity.
  • Belief that Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Christ's death and resurrection saved mankind from sin.
  • The Bible is the Word of God and final authority on matters of faith.
  • Belief in the priesthood of all believers.
  • Avoid the use of creeds and allow members to be guided by the Spirit with interpretation of the scriptures.
  • Believe in the autonomy of the local church.
  • Practice a believer's baptism by immersion for those old enough to understand the sacrament.
  • Practice open communion using bread and grape juice as symbols of the body and blood of Jesus.
  • Ordain women to the ministry.
In addition, this congregation is united with the local Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), another mainline Protestant church which currently doesn't have a church building they meet in. This church doesn't meet separately with the Baptists in Ogden, but instead has merged it's congregation with the Baptist congregation. As such, I'm not going to include the additional information of this congregation as the service looked exclusively Baptist, and that is the main identity of this church.

So how was it?


First Baptist Church of Ogden is a stunning example of Federal architecture. The building is large, the only religious structures that dwarf it in Ogden are the Ogden LDS Temple and St. Joseph's Catholic Church. It's a red brick building that looks like it fell out of New England onto Utah's soil.

The interior was large and very traditional looking with white washed walls, pilasters, crown molding, dark wood pews, a simplistic sanctuary with room for a small choir and a pulpit. The sanctuary had a screen down to project the lyrics for the hymns.

Overall, the atmosphere was stunning. I would definitely go back just for that.

The People:

We got there right before the service started, so there wasn't much chance for people to mingle with us. The usher was nice, a few people introduced themselves and were nice to us. The congregation was mostly made up of middle aged to elderly people and children and were mostly white. They seemed really nice for the most part.

I wish that we could have interacted with them more, but given the lack of interaction, I still felt welcomed.

The Service/The Message:

The structure of the service wasn't the typical structure I'm used to in Baptist services. The pastor himself said that it was a unique service for that Sunday to highlight that it was Stewardship Sunday.

Because of the unusual structure of the service, I merged these two sections together as there wasn't a distinction between the two.

First they talked about how we show stewardship for creation. The pastor read from Genesis where God gave man dominion over all the earth. He then talked about how we have a responsibility to the earth and must care for and conserve it. This was followed by a hymn praising the Lord's world.

After this, they talked about how we must steward our talents. To demonstrate this, the pastor showed a quilt that was going to be given to the homeless. They sang a hymn about giving all your service and future to God, then the pastor dedicated the quilt. During the prayer, he said we didn't know who it would go to, whether they were believers, or of a different faith, or even an atheist. He didn't seem as comfortable saying the atheist statement, but nonetheless included it in the prayer.

After this, they talked about stewarding children. The youth pastor brought the kids of the congregation up and gave each of them a piggy bank with ten pennies. He told them that it was their choice what they did with it, they could take the stopper out and take the money out or put money in it. He said if they brought the bank back unbroken, there would be a reward later. After this, they sang another hymn about blessings.

Next, they sang a song about offerings and talked about stewarding finances. The pastor talked about how silly it is that people don't have an issue giving money to a movie theater, sporting event, concert, etc. But they're not happy to give money to the church and see it as a burden. He then said that investing in the local church was the  best investment you could ever do in this life or the next. He said it was a privilege to pay tithing. I hate this argument. They make it seem like there's nothing more important than giving money to the church and that giving money to this organization is the same as giving to God. Of course, what better time to take up a collection than after this message? And that's exactly what they did.

They then sang the Protestant Doxology, they took up another collection for the needy for Christmas, then the pastor asked for various concerns and celebrations from the people in the congregation. After he'd collected all their concerns, he gave an impromptu prayer talking about the needs of the community.

After this, there was another hymn and served communion. Communion was done using matzo crackers and grape juice. The pastor said the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and the deacons passed around the crackers, then everyone ate it together. Afterward, the pastor said the words over a chalice of grape juice. The deacons then passed small, plastic cups of grape juice to the congregation and then everyone drank it together.

After this was another hymn and then a benediction over the congregation.

Overall, it was an interesting structure for a service. I enjoyed seeing it, and the communion portion was like a hybrid of Catholic and Baptist traditions which was interesting.

Overall Experience:

Of the Baptist services I've been to, it was the nicest one and the most uplifting. The people were friendly, and the messages, for the most part, were lovely. However, I've grown very weary of Baptist and Evangelical services in general and am not planning to return to one for a very long time.

Additional Notes:

Only 3 religions left! Stay tuned for some awesome announcements!

Until next time, peace be with you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My Bible Special

I've been promising this blog for a while, so I am finally doing it. Ladies and gentlemen, here is Chad Warner's Bible Special.

I felt a Bible special was appropriate because, though most people claim to believe in the Bible, most haven't read it through all the way, don't question anything in it, nor really know much about its origins or functions throughout history.

As most of you know, my background is in Christ centered faiths. I was raised LDS (Mormon) and left that faith officially when I was 18, then I converted to Catholicism a year after that and wanted to become a priest. I've studied the Bible and religion intensely. Ironically, it was the study of the Bible itself that led me out of Christianity.

In order to give this piece some structure, Let's start with the most complicated topic.

Where did the Bible come from?

Contrary to how it seems to come across from the pulpit, the Bible didn't simply fall from Heaven into the hands of mankind fully assembled and ready to go. Nor did angels or the Spirit of God descend to men and speak the words of it to them and poof, ready to go. No, it's a lot more complicated and interesting than that.

To really get down to it, let's divide this into three subsections, the Torah, the rest of the Old Testament, and the New Testament.

The Torah:

The Torah, also called the Pentateuch, are the first five books of the Bible. They are known by other names, the Law, the Books of Moses, etc. These books are the very foundation of modern Judaism. Jewish Law and much of the Jewish identity are found in these books. The five books of the Torah are: Genesis (the creation and early history of the world), Exodus (the story of the Jewish people enslaved in Egypt and fleeing it), Leviticus (the laws of the Jewish people), Numbers (stories of the Hebrews time between Egypt and the Holy Land), and Deuteronomy (additional laws of the Jewish people).

Tradition holds that Moses received and wrote the entire Torah on Mount Sinai. This is why the books are called the Books of Moses. However, there are issues with this. The biggest problem is that the death of Moses is described in Deuteronomy chapter 34. If Moses supposedly wrote all of the Torah, how did this get there? Some say that it was added after. But if others can add to the books, how much of it was added to?

It turns out, there were no original books Moses wrote. In fact, I'm going to say something that will upset many Christians, but it is an easily verifiable thing to research on your own. In the decades upon decades we have dug, studied, and researched the Bible and nations mentioned in the Bible, there has been absolutely no archaeological evidence to prove the existence of Moses or anything in the Exodus story. In fact, there's no evidence Hebrews were ever even slaves in Egypt. This isn't like someone denying the Holocaust. Seriously, do your own research on it from various accredited universities and religious scholars and they will all tell you that the Exodus story is at best legend on par with King Arthur and Greek heroes.

So, if there was no Moses to write these books, where did they come from? The current theory accepted by most religious scholars is that there are various authors of these five books ranging over the span of nearly 1,000 years. Nobody knows exactly who these groups were, but scholars have identified at least four different sources: the Yahwists known as J, the Elohists known as E, the Deuteronomists known as D, and the Priestly source known as P. Each of these groups wrote and added to the Torah. Their writing styles are different. Just like English, Hebrew changed a lot over the centuries and the Torah has older sounding Hebrew next to newer sounding Hebrew. It is believed that these groups wrote different parts of the books for different reasons and often rewrote entire parts of the same story stitching them into the older narratives.

For an excellent example of this, you only have to look at the first two chapters of Genesis. You have two creation stories in Genesis, one through chapter 1 and another completely different creation story beginning in chapter 2 verse 4. The two creation stories contradict each other in the order and method of creation. Most Christians are unaware of these two stories and read them as one story glossing over the contradictions. But they are there. The second story appears to be the oldest story written by the J source. The story in chapter 1 appears to be from the E source and is much later in origin and shares similarities to creation stories of the Babylonians.

The rest of the Old Testament:

The rest of the Old Testament includes diverse writings over hundreds of years and are traditionally divided up as: writings, greater prophets and lesser prophets. The writings detail Israel's history and include the poetry and wisdom books. The greater prophets detail the prophecies and lives of the most influential prophets. The lesser prophets detail the prophecies and lives of the less influential prophets.

Strangely, we don't know who wrote any of these either. The history books usually don't name their authors, and some like books of Kings and Chronicles contain much of the same history, but with differing emphasis and contradicting details.

The prophecy books often name the prophet who wrote them, but it was common in the ancient world for people to write books in the name of other people, particularly celebrated people. Isaiah is a great example of this, because the book as we have it prophecies events that happen over several centuries and contain two different writing styles. This has led scholars to believe there are two separate authors claiming to be Isaiah in the book that comes to us now.

Back to the earlier point I made that there's no archaeological evidence for Moses or the Exodus. This is true of pretty much all characters in the Torah. There's no archaeological evidence for anyone existing in the Bible up to King David. Anything after David we have better evidence for.

The New Testament:

The New Testament has three parts to it: the Gospels, the epistles, and the Apocalypse or Revelation of John.

The Gospels are four books detailing the life of Jesus. These were written anywhere from 40 to 100 years after the life of Jesus. Three of the Gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke have lots of similar details and are called the Synoptic Gospels. The fourth Gospel is the Gospel of John which is wildly different with contradictory details to the Synoptic Gospels. Mark is the oldest of the Gospels and the other two Synoptic Gospels borrow heavily from it. It's also theorized that there is a lost book known as the Gospel of Q which Mark and the other sources borrow from as well. Though to date, this book has never been found. None of these are believed to actually have been written by the authors mentioned in the names, but instead it's believed they were written by others in the names of these individuals or later attributed to these men.

The epistles are various letters to local churches, individuals, or just for a general audience. These letters are written by Paul, James, Peter, and John. Most of the books are attributed to Paul, and indeed, he's the most influential early Christian figure. These books are meant to be guides for the early church as well as general statements of proper belief.

The last book is attributed to the apostle John, but this is doubted by most scholars as the writing is so wildly different from the Epistles of John. This book details the end of days expected to happen either in the lifetime of the author or shortly after it, and it borrows heavily from old testament apocalyptic literature.

Now that we have talked about where these books come from, let's tackle the next question.

How did we get these books?

Well, there's no shortage of books that could have made it into the Bible. Some were always stronger candidates than others, but the number of books that didn't make it is astonishing.

Let's start out with a big statement, there is no single agreed upon Bible in Christianity. There are several depending on the Branch. Protestant Bibles include 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The Catholic Bibles however include 7 additional books in the Old Testament as well as additions to the books of Esther and Daniel known as the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books. There are also additional books recognized as canonical or at least inspired books in the various Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches.

In addition to these, there are other books not included in any canon of the Old Testament known as the Pseudepigrapha. These books are generally seen as books with sketchy origins written by people falsely claiming to be biblical authors.

With the New Testament, there are 4 gospels that made it into the canon, but there were dozens of other gospels at the time. Many were written by a long since gone collection of Christian sects known as the Gnostics, though others were debated and went in and out of the canon until it was solidified later.

Same with several of the other books in the New Testament, in fact, the books of Hebrews and Revelation almost didn't make it into the final cut.

Which books got included in the Bibles we read today and which ones were excluded were largely decided by books being commonly decided they were inspired books by custom and tradition, as well as councils of men getting together and deciding centuries after the books were written which were and weren't inspired scriptures. In other words, the Bible you know and love today in your living room comes to you after centuries of debate and books floating in and out of it.

Which leads me to the last thing I want to talk about.

What nobody is going to tell you about the Bible:

1. The Bible is not filled with sunshine, rainbows, and inspirational stories. Most of the Old Testament is filled with harsh stories and archaic laws that are hard for modern eyes to read.

Some examples:

  • God commands the Israelites to commit genocide against the Canaanites in order to take their land and dedicate it to God.
  • There is a man in Judges named Jephthah who offers his daughter up to God as a human sacrifice in exchange for him winning a battle against the Ammonites.
  • In Judges, there is a priest who gives his concubine up to a mob to be gang raped, then when he finds her dead, cuts up her body and sends it to the Twelve Tribes of Israel starting a war against the City of Benjamin.
  • Lot offers up his virgin daughters to an angry mob so that they don't rape his angelic guests. Later in the story, Lot's daughters get him drunk and sleep with him to get pregnant.
  • Several kids make fun of the prophet Elisha for being bald, so he calls upon God for vengeance and a bear mauls the kids to death.
  • If a child is rebellious, the parents are to have the child executed.
  • Gay people are to be stoned to death.
  • People who work on the Sabbath are to be stoned to death.
  • A woman betrothed to another man, if raped in the city, must marry her rapist after he pays the woman's father.
The New Testament, while less dark than the Old Testament, also contains parts hard for modern eyes to read.

Some examples:
  • Jesus commands his followers who look on someone with lust to pluck their eye out and cast it away.
  • Jesus tells his disciples that those enemies of his whom didn't want him to reign over them should be brought before him and slaughtered.
  • Jesus encourages some to make themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • God requires Jesus to be a blood sacrifice and to die an excruciating death to make up for how imperfect mankind is.
  • The Book of Revelation depicts the slaughter and torture of most of mankind through supernatural events, plague, and man made disaster. Much of this is carried out by angel's at God's request. 
2. We do not possess a single copy of any of the original manuscripts for any of the books in the Bible. Not one. All we have are copies of copies hand written decades to centuries after the originals were written.

In addition to that, we see a lot of variation in the texts we do have. In fact, for the New Testament alone, there are more variations between the copies of texts we have than words in the whole New Testament. Some of the stories you know and love are not in any of the earliest manuscripts we have, but added centuries later. For instance, the story of the woman caught in adultery and Jesus saying, "Let he among you without sin cast the first stone," is a much later addition. Also, the resurrection story in Mark was added much later and there are two versions of it.

3. Many of the doctrines claimed to be biblical in origin actually come centuries after the books were written. While these doctrines are inspired by the text, they're not original doctrines of the text.

Some examples:
  • The doctrine of the Trinity has roots in early Christianity, but doesn't come into its present form for several centuries afterward.
  • The belief that Christ had two natures, fully God and fully man was hotly debated in the first few centuries of Christianity, and indeed never accepted by the Oriental Orthodox Christians.
  • The belief that mankind's nature is totally depraved and all worthy of Hell from birth develops nearly a millennium after the life of Jesus and is still not found today in the Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox churches.
  • Belief in the Rapture and Tribulation doctrines develop in the 16th and 18th centuries. To this day, the Rapture is largely an American belief or a belief of those who's churches have strong ties to American churches.

There's a lot more that can be said about the Bible, but these are some things I felt more people should know about a book by which they swear their lives and rely on for their beliefs. I don't want people to simply take what I say about the Bible as the gospel truth, so to speak. Instead, I hope I inspired curiosity about the book and will have more people reading up about it.

If you want to learn about the Bible yourself, here are some excellent sources I've enjoyed over the years:

A PBS Nova documentary called, The Bible's Buried Secrets: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/bibles-buried-secrets.html

And the following books:

A History of God by Karen Armstrong

The Complete Gospels by Robert J. Miller

Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman

Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman

And of course, the Bible itself. Some good versions of that are

The New Revised Standard Version

The New International Version

The English Standard Version

and my two personal favorites:

The Oxford Study Bible

The New American Bible: St. Joseph's Edition. This is a Catholic Bible with dozens of notes, pictures, charts, and explanations of archaeology, customs of the people, the ancient understanding of the world and the origins of the Bible.

That's all for now. Until next time, peace be with you.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Grace Presbyterian Church

Last Sunday, I went to Grace Presbyterian Church in Layton, Utah. Grace Presbyterian Church is part of the Presbyterian Church in America. The Presbyterian Church in America is the largest conservative branch of Presbyterianism in the US, and the second largest Presbyterian Church in the US after the more liberal Presbyterian Church USA.

To avoid giving my readers a headache from the very long and convoluted history of splits and mergers that is the Presbyterian Church in America, let me give an extreme simplification of it. This follows the pattern of a number of churches in America. There was a mainline church which began modernizing in the early 20th century. Many in the Church disagreed with this modernizing. One group split early on and formed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (which I blogged about earlier). In the 1970's conservative Presbyterian bodies that had split from the mainline bodies merged into the Presbyterian Church in America which continued acquiring several other conservative bodies. Meanwhile, most of the mainline Presbyterian churches merged into the more liberal Presbyterian Church USA.

This lead to the common pattern we see in many churches in America of a moderate to progressive branch (in this case the Presbyterian Church USA), a strongly orthodox and conservative branch (the Orthodox Presbyterian Church), and a church that falls somewhere in the middle (the conservative Presbyterian Church in America being this church).

Beliefs of the Presbyterian Church in America:

  • Belief in the Trinity.
  • Belief Jesus is the Messiah and second person of the Trinity fully God and fully man.
  • Mankind is sinful and totally depraved due to Adam's first sin. All of mankind is born worthy of Hell and damnation.
  • God has chosen people from every nation and time to save through his own mercy. These sinners are undeserving of God's mercy.
  • Christ's death and resurrection atoned for the sins of those he would save.
  • The Spirit sanctifies those who God has chosen to save.
  • Those whom God has chosen to save are saved by grace through faith alone. They will endure to the end and lead lives pleasing to God.
  • The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God.
  • At death, the souls of the saved go immediately into the presence of God. All others go to Hell for all eternity.
  • Baptism by pouring, sprinkling, or immersion for infants and adults. Sign of entering into the Covenant with God.
  • Christ will return.
  • Practice communion as a means of grace.
  • Sex outside of marriage is sinful.
  • Homosexuality is sinful and contrary to God's will.
  • Divorce not permitted except in the case of adultery or abandonment.
  • Abortion in all cases is wrong.
  • Women may not be ordained to the ministry.
So what was a Sunday like at Grace Presbyterian Church?


Grace Presbyterian Church is a beautiful, modern building. Originally the building was a Lutheran church but was sold to the Presbyterians. They have maintained the beauty of it. The exterior is a white brick building that is spiraled like a nautilus shell. There are lovely gardens outside which include trees and flowers.

The building has a couple stained glass windows. This one is my favorite.

The interior of the chapel was lovely. I'm sure when the Lutheran church was here it was probably slightly more ornate. But Presbyterians being Calvinists, simplicity in worship spaces is always the order of the day. But this chapel proves that simplicity doesn't mean it can't be pleasing to the eye or elegant. I loved the shape of the room, the lighting with both natural and artificial light, the cross on the wall behind the sanctuary, and the overall appearance of the room.

Overall, very elegant and simplistic atmosphere with lovely design.

The People:

There weren't a lot of people in this congregation, maybe 20 to 30 at most. The congregation was mostly white and people of every age, though primarily older. When we first entered the building, there was a man, who later turned out to be the pastor, who came and greeted us. He gave us a quick tour of the church and welcomed us. Most people didn't really go out of their way to talk to us, but a few did and nobody seemed to question why we were there or not want us there.

Overall, the people seemed warm and friendly. Not much else to say about them.

The Service:

The service was fairly basic, and what I've come to expect from traditional Protestant services. The really nice part about it was the music. I'm amazed that of all the churches I've visited, that violins and cellos haven't really been utilized. But instead of a contemporary music band up front, they had people playing string instruments and violins in a very traditional manner.

They sand a traditional hymn, the pastor offered an opening prayer, announcements were made, a few more hymns were sung, and a collection taken. There was then a confession prayer done. This was pretty much just the pastor up in front praying to God explaining to him all the horrible things we do as people, but assuring that God's grace will save us.

Afterward, the pastor gave the sermon, per usual, more about that in the next section. After the sermon, there was another hymn and a blessing given from the Bible.

Overall, very basic service. The music was amazing. I wish I could hear more violin and cello music in churches.

The Message:

The sermon was part of a series on the Ten Commandments. This week's sermon was on the sixth commandment, "You shall not murder," or more poetically in the King James Version, "Thou shalt not kill."

The pastor started by saying that very few of us have ever actually killed anybody and that this commandment often seems the least relevant to our lives. But, that this commandment has a lot of relevance to us today.

He said that children witness thousands of murders before their eighteenth birthdays and most of these simulated on television. He said that we are a culture obsessed with violence, death, and murder in our entertainments. He talked about how we become very desensitized to these acts of violence to when we see them in reality, they often don't carry the same amount of shock that they should. Indeed, it takes more and more violence to shock us in our entertainment.

He borrowed a phrase from Pope John Paul II that he feels sums up our society, he called us a culture of death. He said that this persistent violence has caused us to cheapen life. But that this isn't anything new. He talked about how ancient cultures all had prohibitions against murder, but that these cultures often had laws about vengeance that were brutal and often involved murder. But that the Bible puts human life on a pedestal and God truly values life as this commandment says.

I have to say, this is complete rubbish. The Bible doesn't put a strong value on human life. There's the commandment not to murder, then there are plenty of offenses that are capital offenses. Among them are:
  • Working on the Sabbath.
  • Not being a virgin on your wedding night.
  • Being a rebellious child.
  • Incest.
  • Cursing the name of God.
  • Murder.
  • Adultery
The Bible also has God commanding genocides, allowing people to slaughter entire towns and take up wives from the surviving inhabitants. The Bible puts no more value on life than any other ancient culture. We've just grown accustom to not reading the Bible or looking at unsavory details of it through rose tinted glasses. The Bible's morality is far more brutal and inconsistent than our modern morality. It's an ancient book with ancient values that are very troubling to our modern sensibilities and have to be explained away to most audiences.

He then talked about how we all are guilty of enjoying violence in media. He even listed some of his favorite shows that were violent proving he's not above this. He didn't offer a solution to this. He said that we can't just live in a world where all we do is watch The Andy Griffith Show and pretend everything is fine. But that we need to address just how much we have come to glorify violence.

I liked this part of the sermon. Whether you agree with him or not, he does touch on a very real issue with no easy solution.

He then lost me with this statement. He said that our culture allowing things like abortion or teaching evolution cheapens life. When you're just another rung on the latter, life is meaningless so it's easy to not value life.

For the sake of a shorter blog, I'll leave the abortion portion of that out. Abortion is a very complicated subject with a lot to talk about and I can see where he comes from on that. But evolution, no. We're going to talk about that. I talked about that with the Seventh-day Adventist blog, but evolution doesn't cheapen life. Not for most. Evolution doesn't just say we're another rung on the latter. Characterizing this is a misrepresentation of evolution. Evolution simply says that over time, species change in relation to their environment. Those most suited to their environment survive in larger numbers and survive. Those not well adapted to their environment die out over time. That's it. We're not progressing towards something greater and greater with some end goal of a perfect species. We're simply adapting to our current environment. Humans are able to control our environments allowing us to adapt to diverse environments, but we adapt nonetheless using air conditioning, heating, farming, etc. A polar bear isn't any better than a lion. Both would die in the other's environment because they're not suited to it. But in their native environments, they flourish because they adapt to it.

I hate that he had the nerve to say believing in evolution was on par with accepting murder. Evolution is just a scientific truth we've uncovered. It has no moral teaching in and of itself. But for me personally, evolution doesn't cheapen human life. Instead, it makes it more meaningful for me. Instead of thinking we're these creatures God put here to subdue the earth, I realize now that we're just one species among many, and we rely on them because we're part of their web of life. All life becomes meaningful at that point. The fact that we're the survivors to this point together is pretty remarkable.

American religious culture has this horrible habit of painting evolution and any science that disagrees with a very narrow view of the Bible as evil and murderous. If you believe in these things, you're evil and no better than a murderer is what is said from the pulpit. Of course people aren't going to investigate this stuff. They're scared of losing their souls or that they'll become monsters. Most only parrot what the church or pseudoscience literature say about it in order to keep their faith strong. They're not truly interested in science, but in maintaining their beliefs at any cost. This has got to change. Science isn't the enemy. Science has helped us extend our lifespans, visit space, create medicines, expand our populations, live in places once considered uninhabitable, etc. These advances are due to the same things that led us to understand evolution, in fact, much of modern medicine depends entirely on our understanding of evolution. Denying science is a death warrant for sliding back into another dark age.

Overall, other than the evolution comment, I felt that this was a good sermon to bring up because people do need to talk about things like this. Whether you agree or not, at least the discussion is being had.

Overall Experience:

The church atmosphere was good, the people friendly, and believe it or not, I even liked the sermon and found it engaging. I had a good time at Grace Presbyterian Church. I don't know that I would go back, but it was rewarding to go.

Additional Notes:

Only four more religions left! It's so exciting being at this point. I have something special planned for all of you after this blog is done, but I need to get more details on it. Thanks to everyone for everything so far.

Until next time, peace be with you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Halloween Special: Satanism! My interview with a Satanic priest.

Satanism. The very word itself conjures up images in most people's heads of men in hooded robes gathered around altars adorned with candles made of baby fat ready to sacrifice virgins, babies, and animals. Many envision deals with the Devil, Satan appearing in monstrous forms, and wild orgies while blaspheming Christ and his saints.

It's hard not to see this image when it's the subject of so many Hollywood movies, was all over the news in the 1980's and early 1990's, and news stories about satanic murders popping up every few years or so. In fact, only a couple weeks ago from the time I wrote this, a couple in North Carolina was arrested after two bodies were found in their back yard. The couple are alleged Devil worshipers and the crimes are being labeled as possible satanic sacrifices.

Is this Satanism? We all have heard of The Church of Satan, and lately, another Satanist group, The Satanic Temple has been in the news seeking to erect statues of Baphomet in Oklahoma and wanting to distribute Satanic literature in public schools. Are these groups seeking to honor Satan on our government properties, teach kids how to worship Satan, and lead to more things like the atrocities mentioned above? What is Satanism?

That's a good question with a lot of diverse answers. While there are individuals who have done horrific things in the name of Satan, this isn't typical of Satanists. It's no different than a woman killing her children because she said God commanded her to. People do truly evil things in the name of God and in the name of Satan, but this is not typical of either group.

There are some groups and individuals who do worship Satan as a literal being, either the fallen angel who rebels against Heaven, or as a quasi-god or God himself with the Christian God being a deceiver and wicked. These people are Satanists, but aren't what Satanism has become known for. These people are what are called Theistic Satanists. However, there's another more common and philosophical version of Satanism known as Atheistic Satanism. This is the subject of our blog today as this is the typical form of Satanism.

Let's begin with the part that will probably shock most of you, Satanists don't actually worship Satan. In fact, Satanists don't believe in God or Satan. Most Satanists are atheists or agnostics. Satanists instead use Satan as a metaphor for mankind's carnal nature and various other aspects that are traditionally associated with the figure.

Satanism as we know it today started with Anton LaVey in 1966 when he founded The Church of Satan. LaVey's Satanism focused on individualism, mankind being an animal sometimes better often worse than other animals, indulgence, and vengeance against those who had wronged you.

Other Satanic organizations appeared over the years including, The Sect of the Horned God, The First Satanic Church, The Church of Satanic Brotherhood, The Satanic Temple, and The Temple of Set (though this group isn't recognized by all as a Satanist group).

Now, many of these groups promote different things and have diverse beliefs and practices just like various Christian groups.

Some things most of these groups ascribe to:
  • Individualism is seen as virtue.
  • A strong focus on your individual will.
  • Indulgence is seen as a virtue. Those who abstain often obsess over various vices or commit them in private while hypocritically denouncing them in public. With Satanism, there's no issue with indulging in your desires, provided they don't intentionally harm others or yourself, and they don't become compulsions as compulsions take away your free will.
  • Strong emphasis on science, knowledge, and learning. Belief in the supernatural is discouraged in most groups.
  • Focus on knowing how to interact with, charm, and work with people to achieve desired outcomes, called Lesser Magic in some groups.
  • Some participate in rituals that they believe help purge them of unwanted feelings or help them focus their desires and will. Most do not believe there is anything supernatural about these rituals, though some believe in the Law of Attraction. These rituals are called Greater Magic in some groups.
  • A willingness to accept and use the darker parts of one's personality to their advantage rather than cover them up and pretend they don't exist.
Aside from The Church of Satan, the other primary group I'll be referring to in this blog is The Satanic Temple. The Satanic Temple is a relatively new, but already very well known Satanic church. While The Satanic Temple draws inspiration from The Church of Satan they differ from them in several ways.

Differences in The Satanic Temple and The Church of Satan:

  • The Satanic Temple eschews the more selfish and Social Darwinism tendencies of The Church of Satan, instead focusing on compassion, social justice, and individual freedom.
  • The Satanic Temple has a very strong emphasis on science, believing that science shouldn't be manipulated to fit beliefs, but the other way around. Many in The Church of Satan believe in Law of Attraction or other things that render spells effective and are encouraged not to doubt their magic or they'll lose what they have gained. Though this isn't the case with all members of the Church of Satan by far.
  • The Satanic Temple doesn't have as strict of a membership entrance nor strong demands on their members. The Church of Satan has a very in depth process to become a member and members are expected to hold to the tenants of the faith found in The Satanic Bible, a book written by Anton LaVey and other church sources.
  • The Satanic Temple's strong focus is on social activism. They have proposed a Baphomet statue in front of the Oklahoma courthouse in response to a monument of the Ten Commandments being placed there. The Satanic Temple sees this as a violation of the separation of church and state and demands that other religions, including Satanists be represented equally as the state cannot favor one religion over another. They also have done similar campaigns generally in response to religious favoritism from government bodies. The Church of Satan doesn't engage in campaigns such as these.

Now, I visited Grace Presbyterian Church on Sunday, which is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, a conservative branch of Presbyterianism. But, I am holding off on that blog to bring you guys a very special Halloween edition of this blog. Last night, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zach Black. Zach is a Satanist with quite a long background in Satanism. Zach has the following credentials under his belt:
  • Member of The Church of Satan from 1994 - 2010.
  • Priest in The Satanic Temple.
  • Member of The Sect of the Horned God.
  • Member of The Church of Satanic Brotherhood.
  • Featured in a Comedy Central skit about Satanism.
  • Been a guest on several podcasts talking about Satanism.
  • Written several news articles on the subject.
  • Been featured on several news outlets in reference to Satanism.
  • Has two YouTube channels on Satanism with 40,000 subscribers between the two of them and over 3,000,000 views.
  • And founded and currently runs a Satanic social network called the Satanic International Netowrk, or SIN.
So, without further adieu, onto the interview.

I asked Zach what initially led him to Satanism. He told me that he grew up in a home that wasn't strongly Christian, but he would go to church with his dad some weekends and became disenchanted with Christianity at a very early age. Around age 10, he says he considered himself an agnostic leaning towards atheism. He said he started studying other religions and philosophies. Eventually, his studies led him to Satanism which he said was like looking into a mirror as to what he had always been. At age 18, he officially became a member of The Church of Satan.

I asked him if there's anything he wanted people to know about Satanism. He said that he's not out to educate people about Satanism, that most are content with their Hollywood image of it and you can't educate people who don't want to learn about it. He said that if he had to choose something, it would be eliminating the common misconceptions, that Satanists are evil, that they do evil things, or worship the Devil. All of that is untrue.

I asked him what led him away from The Church of Satan. He said that the leadership after Anton LaVey, particularly the new leader of the Church, Peter Gilmore, are much more militant and strict and he didn't like the direction the Church was moving in. He stated he felt that some of the writings of Peter Gilmore were way over the top and not practical guides for life in the modern world.

I asked him how he sees himself now. He said that he identifies as a self styled or modern Satanist. I asked him for an example. He explained that The Church of Satan discourages drug and alcohol use as it can lead to compulsion and harms the self. But he doesn't see an issue with indulging yourself in drugs or alcohol as long as you don't harm yourself and they don't start taking over your life. It goes back to personal gratification which is a tenant of Satanism, though it must be done responsibly.

I asked him how he became involved in The Satanic Temple. He said that he learned about them when he did a comedy skit on Comedy Central about Satanism. The people in the skit thought he was a member of The Church of Satan, but he wasn't and that they thought The Church of Satan was involved in the monument in Oklahoma. After this, he sought out The Satanic Temple and started getting involved with them. Prior to that, he had been working with The Sect of the Horned God, of which he is still a member.

I asked him to talk a little more about The Sect of the Horned God. He said that they're an educational group focused on teaching, mythology, and ritual, but that I'd have to talk to the members of the Sect for better information on it.

This led me to ask him if he practiced rituals himself. He said he did when he was younger, but hasn't since he got older, with the exception of a Blood Moon ritual he did with The Sect of the Horned God earlier this year. The ceremony was patterned after traditional Satanist ritual, but largely their own creation and involved writing intentions and burning them. He wouldn't go into much more detail than that.

He said that that's about to change, however, and he and other members of The Satanic Temple are going to go on tour across several states to perform reenactments of historical Black Masses for educational purposes. The Masses aren't intended to be magic rituals, but historical reenactments to help people better understand the history behind Satanic rituals. I'm excited to hear more about that, personally.

He also said that he finds that Satanism is misunderstood a lot by society, and briefly touched on why, the same reasons I mentioned earlier in this blog. He says it's easy for people, like serial killers to justify their actions by saying that the Devil made them do it, and many will see this and latch onto it. He said this isn't the norm for Satanists. But then again, Satanists aren't necessarily the nicest people you'll meet. There are extremists and awful people in all religions and philosophies. For Christians, you have groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, for example. The same thing applies in Satanism.

This was really the end of the interview. I spoke with him a little more afterward. He seemed like a very sincere individual with a very strong, dominate personality and strong opinions. He was very nice to me, and he seems like he is very big on education, dialogue, and questioning authority and the status quo. I really enjoyed speaking with Zach Black and would definitely love to hear from him and other Satanists in the future.

Additional Notes:

We now have only five groups left to investigate! I wanted to thank my readers so much for all they've done and sticking with me through this. I have a big announcement for all of you soon. I will have the blog on Grace Presbyterian Church up soon, and this weekend, I'm visiting a Quaker service.

Until next time, peace be with you.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sabbath greetings at the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Ogden

On Saturday, I visited the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Ogden. Let's right to it and see where the Seventh-day Adventists come from and what they believe.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the largest branch descended from the Millerite movement founded in the 1830's. Founded by William Miller, Millerites believed that Christ would return in 1844. Miller gained a huge following of people who believed that Christ was about to come. The day of Christ's predicted return came and went like any other day, and the event is now known as The Great Disappointment. After this, the movement still continued, but eventually split into different groups, including: Christadelphians, Branch Davidians, Church of God General Conference, etc. The most well known (other than the infamous Branch Davidians) and by far the largest is the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Beliefs held in common with traditional Protestant Christianity:

  • Belief in the Trinity
  • Belief that Jesus is the second person in the Trinity, the Messiah, and Savior of mankind.
  • Mankind deserves eternal punishment for their sinful nature. 
  • Grace is a free gift of God made possible through the atonement of Christ and accepted through faith alone.
  • Believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and completely free from error.
  • Believe the Bible is the sole and final authority in matters of faith and practice.
  • Belief in the Ten Commandments and that they are still binding on Christians today.
  • Practice baptism by immersion.
  • Practice communion. For them it is done quarterly using unleavened bread and grape juice. A foot washing ceremony is part of this service.
  • Adherence to traditionally conservative stances: abortion not condoned except in cases of the health of the mother or severe congenital defects in the child, homosexuality condemned, modest dress encouraged, any sex outside marriage condemned, swearing discouraged, belief in a literal six day creation, etc.
  • Christ's return is imminent.
Beliefs not shared with other Christian faiths:
  • They don't worship on Sundays like most Christians. Instead, they hold to the traditional Jewish Sabbath believing that Christians are still obligated to observe it. This begins from sunset on Friday evening and goes to sunset on Saturday evening. Members are encouraged to limit activities and focus on God and Bible study on the Sabbath.
  • Mankind is an indivisible unity of mind, body, and spirit. There is no immortal soul and mankind is unconscious after death. (This belief is shared with the Jehovah's Witnesses, who were influenced by the Millerites.)
  • Immortality is conditional. The wicked will not go to Hell, but instead be annihilated on the last day. (Another belief held in common with the Jehovah's Witnesses.)
  • Mankind is involved in a Great Controversy between God and the Devil. There has been an ongoing war between the two factions since Satan first rebelled against God and mankind is in the middle of this war.
  • They believe the date of 1844 was correct, but that it wasn't referring to Christ's return to Earth, but instead him beginning the cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary, preparing it for the End of Days.
  • They believe that since 1844, the judgment of professed Christians has been ongoing to determine the salvation of all mankind since the beginning of time.
  • There is a remnant of people in the End Times who will remain faithful to the commandments of God.
  • Prophecy continues into the modern day, though prophecies must be tested against the Bible for validity.
  • It is recommended members adhere to a vegetarian diet often following kosher laws. Members are also recommended to not partake in drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, and many members abstain from coffee, tea, and soda.
And now, onto my time with the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Ogden.


The Seventh-day Adventist Church of Ogden is a rather unremarkable building from the outside. You can tell it's a church, but it's a very simple red brick building without much adornment or anything that would set it apart from other churches in the area.

I forgot to snap a picture of the interior while I was there. The interior is a basic chapel with pews, mint green walls, and a pretty standard sanctuary with a place for a band to perform, a screen down to play a video at the beginning of the service, and a pulpit. The most unique part of the chapel were the small sections on the sides of the chapel. These sections were separated by an arcade (row of arches) from the rest of the sanctuary. The Sabbath school lessons were given in this part of the section, and some of the elderly members remained there throughout the service. I didn't see any crosses in the chapel, but there were a couple of lovely metal cutouts of angels sounding trumpets on either side of the sanctuary.

Overall, very simple and traditional style atmosphere. Nothing of major note, but it was done well.

The People:

The people were friendly, though rather reserved. A few came up to us and introduced themselves. One very nice girl hunted us down after the service and said that she was so excited to see someone our age because most of the people there are children, teenagers, or older and that few are college age.

Everyone was very well dressed, men in suites and ties, women in skirts or dresses. The congregation was pretty diverse. There were a number of white people, but also Asians, Latinos, among others. The people all seemed to get along pretty well and seemed to be a very tight knit group,

Overall, the people were nice. Fairly typical of a lot of other churches I've visited around here.

The Service:

The service was sort of like an Evangelical service, but a little more traditional than modern Evangelical services. It began with announcements, then the Praise Team got up and sang a song together with the congregation. The music was traditional hymns accompanied on piano.

After that, there was a video that featured an attractive young man showing clips with ominous music of Halloween scenes. The young man said that Halloween has a dark history and basically called it Satanic. But then he said, it doesn't have to be and encouraged the congregation to purchase pamphlets and hand them out as they go door to door trick-or-treating this year. Or if you're not going door to door, hand them out to trick-or-treaters instead of candy. 

It's starting to really annoy me hearing these churches talk about turning every single thing into a way to proselytize and spread their message. Can't we have a fun holiday with candy and costumes that doesn't have to be about Jesus and spreading the Good News? It's like church and Jesus consume every part of some of these people's lives with no balance outside of it. There's a lot of complex layers to life. Letting one aspect of it dominate every other part just makes me sad. Not just with religion, but with everything. If alcohol, weed, sex, church, God, a hobby, your job, anything is taking up so much of your time and thoughts that it seems that it's what you're living for or it's taking away from other things you love, then you probably should consider cutting back, diversifying your life. and enjoying different things more. There is so much out there to waste everything on just one thing. And we're all guilty of this from time to time, but it's important to sometimes step back and reassess things in your life.

After this they sang another hymn and took up an offering. Like in most churches, the deacons came around with collection plates and took money, but children also went around collecting money in their hands and bringing it up to the front. This was interesting to me. I think it's cute to get the kids involved, but nobody seemed to really be watching them. I know if I were a kid, it would be very tempting and easy to pocket some of that money. I think there should be a little more monitoring of them, but that's just me.

Afterward, there was a children's sermon. A lady told the story of Moses parting the Red Sea and related that to what she called a miracle in her uncle's life. He was driving a big rig and a herd of animals came out in front of it, but they parted miraculously when he was driving and he didn't hit any. This is a pretty low scale miracle to me. Animals have a survival instinct and most will dart out of the way of a moving vehicle. It's nowhere near as impressive to me as say if somebody were actually able to make waters part.

After the children's sermon, there was a lovely song sung by two men playing acoustic guitars. It was very pretty and I enjoyed it

After that, there was a community prayer. The worship leader and several other people got up front and got on their knees and gave a long prayer about the needs of the community. While they did this, some members of the congregation knelt at their pews while others just bowed their heads.

This was followed by a brief scripture reading, then a sermon. I ducked out during the closing hymn, but the bulletin said there was just a closing hymn and a closing prayer. I had had my fill of the service by then, so left.

The service was a traditional style Protestant service, but pretty slow paced and went on much longer than I thought it would.

The Message:

The sermon was pretty hard for me to sit through. It started out with the man quoting the scripture that we were to test everything by whether it taught us that Jesus had come in the flesh. He then said that there were three big Satanic teachings that were the spirit of the Antichrist that were popular today: Darwinism, pantheism, and spiritualism.

He said that Darwinism is the belief that everything just happened and that the universe evolved out of a Big Bang and that life just happened on earth and that there's no reason for it. He said this kind of thinking devalues human life because we're just an accident and there's no reason to live. He said that this teaching is appealing because things seem really old and there's a mountain of evidence like giant ice sheets, radio carbon dating, etc. But then he said that it was mathematically impossible, and that it contradicted the Bible.

Christians, please, for the love of God, don't talk about things you don't understand! If you want to talk about evolution, the Big Bang Theory, natural selection, etc., you had better have read actual scientific textbooks and material on the subject, and not just stuff that the church handed out to you or you found on a creationist website. Because more often than not, when I hear Christians talking about evolution and how it's evil, they explain evolution to me in a way that is not scientific and that is not taught in science classrooms. First off, evolution has absolutely nothing to do with the Big Bang Theory. Those are two separate theories in two separate branches of science. Evolution is part of biology, and the Big Bang Theory is in the realm of physics.

There is no such thing as Darwinism, this is a term created by those who teach Intelligent Design to malign people who teach evolution and other scientific theories that are contrary to a very narrow interpretation of Christianity. Evolution isn't the enemy of Christianity. Many millions of Christians the world over accept the Theory of Evolution with no consequence to their faith at all. It is accepted by the Roman Catholic Church, many Anglicans, many in liberal Lutheran churches, many Eastern Orthodox Christians, most other Mainline or Progressive Christians, etc. In fact, outside the United States, in Christianity, the denial of evolution and the Big Bang Theory are only upheld by a minority of Christians. Intelligent Design is not supported by the scientific community as a whole, populated heavily by Christians, and is largely an American phenomenon.

He then said that Darwinism wasn't created by Christians nor is it really believed by Christians, so he focused on another Antichrist teaching that has permeated the Church. He said pantheism was an Antichrist teaching because he said that it equated God with everything in the universe, which would mean suffering, sickness and death were part of God too, and that's not right. He talked about pantheism, but what he actually was talking about was panenthism. Pantheism is the belief that God is the universe, that everything in it is God. Panentheism says God is the universe, but that God also exists separately from it, which is how he described pantheism.

He then said that a final Antichrist teaching that is popular is spiritualism, which is the belief that matter and spirit are separate and that spirit is all that matters. He said that this is contrary to the holistic teaching of the Church which is that mankind is mind, body, and spirit and that there is no separate immortal soul. He said that this was a popular belief in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern Religions, but was gaining popularity in Christianity, too. Essentially, he called Hinduism and Buddhism Antichrist religions, which is a nice roundabout way of demonizing Eastern Religions.

Overall, I found this message really ill informed and spread some very upsetting messages. I did not enjoy the sermon and couldn't wait to get out of the church throughout the whole thing.

Overall Experience:

The service was slow paced but pretty, the people were lovely, and the sermon was awful. I wouldn't return to the Seventh-day Adventist Church again as it made me very uncomfortable to hear a message like that being preached to people who don't understand that much of what is being said is misinformed and misguided. A person giving a sermon like that perpetuates misinformation and creates a vicious cycle in which people just accept what they hear as the Word of God and anything outside of it is seen as satanic so they don't investigate it and then they pass on this misinformation to everyone else creating a culture of fear around something so integral as education and research.