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:

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.