The Problem with Religious People

rob-bellThe former pastor and founder of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., made the comment during a guest appearance this past Sunday at The Forum at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to discuss his new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God.

Grace Cathedral is the Episcopal Cathedral of the Diocese of California and describes itself as “an iconic house of prayer for all” and is home to an “inclusive congregation.” The congregation’s dean, the Very Rev. Dr. Jane Shaw, moderated The Forum discussion before a live audience.

When asked by Shaw if he was in favor of “marriage equality,” the politically-charged term used by some who want “marriage” redefined, Bell said:

“Yes, I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think that the church needs to just … this is the world that we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.”

-Nichola Menzie
“Rob Bell Supports Same-Sex Marriage, Says He Is for ‘Fidelity and Love'”
March 18, 2013 | 2:42 pm

As for Acts 15, this is not a set of different instructions for Gentiles. But salvation is by faith, for Jew and Gentile alike. We believe they will be saved the same way we will be saved. The Torah is not the yoke that we nor our fathers have been able to bear, but rather, specifically, the Torah “according the custom of Moshe.” So it is that Paul recalls his words to Peter in Galatians, that Peter did not live “like a Jew.” The followers of Messiah Yeshua inherently cannot submit to all of the traditions of Judaism. To do so would be to disobey the Master and the Commandment of God. In separating himself from the Gentiles, Peter was submitting to Jewish halachic rulings that are not in step with the gospel, and requiring Gentiles to do likewise. Gentiles should start with the four prohibitions in Acts 15—which people are cut off from Israel for breaking—so that they can join the assembly and learn the Commandment of God, which is read in every city every Sabbath. They do not need to become Jewish and submit to the Oral Torah, they simply need to have faith in God and His Mashiach and let obedience to the Commandment working through love be the expression of that faith.

-Charles commenting on my blog post
Moshiach Rabbeinu

Why is everyone trying to change my mind?

I saw the news item about Rob Bell a few days ago. The link was posted by a Facebook “friend” (I put “friend” in quotes since I’ve never met the individual and know him solely through Facebook). It wasn’t directed specifically at me, though I did comment about it a few times on Facebook and then dropped the issue.

But Charles came to me or more accurately, to my blog to comment on his views and to disagree with mine. He seems like a nice guy. I don’t doubt that he’s sincere. But in reading my blog, he should have known from the start that we were coming from two different points of view.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect to be universally accepted, agreed with, or liked. Especially in the world of religion, it’s almost a given that if you’re outspoken at all, people are going to “hunt you down like a duck” (to quote Buford Tanner from the third Back to the Future movie) from the four corners of the earth just to tell you that you’re not only wrong, but a total blockhead (with apologies to Charlie Brown, who’s been called a blockhead more times than I can count).

But it occurred to me to ask, and especially in the context of Charles and people like him, people who don’t know me or have any particular reason to read, let alone comment on my blog, why do they care what I think, say, and believe?

I mean, the Internet is full of bloggers. According to, by the end of 2011, there were 181 million blogs on the Internet. That was well over a year ago, and I’m sure there must be even more by now ( has some interesting info on the nature of the blogosphere in 2012, but nothing relevant to the religious blog space).

So why me? Do I comment on your blogs? No, and in fact, I’ve deliberately stopped commenting on blogs where I know my opinions will cause a small and virtual riot just because I’m sick and tired of all the arguments. Discussions? OK. But why charge down my throat just because you know you can?

And it’s not just the blogosphere anymore.

a-j-jacobsMy Pastor recently loaned me a copy of A.J. Jacobs’ book The Year of Living Biblically. I’ve just started reading it and so far, find it entertaining and humorous. Jacobs is Jewish and not religious in the slightest, but he was determined, for the sake of writing a book, to live as close to a literally Biblical life as possible for an entire year.

I might have taken some sort of offense to his approach, but apparently this is the type of book Jacobs writes. He immerses himself in a subject for a significant period of time in order to learn, often with amusing results, records his experiences, and then turns all that into a book.

But then I had a thought. Is it possible that Pastor gave me this book to read for a specific reason, one particularly related to whether or not the Torah is possible to observe by Jews in today’s world? I’ll have to ask him, but I don’t see him until tonight.

I can understand why Pastor would want to instruct me, enlighten me, edify me, since we have a one-on-one, face-to-face relationship and I attend his church, but why does the Internet care?

Even the people I agree with theologically have some sort of interest in maintaining my current belief system which dovetails into their’s. I’ve made a paradigm shift before. What if I do so again? Who will be affected? How will they react? How much of other people’s emotions and interests are tied to what should be a single individual’s personal understanding of God and faith?

And then there’s political correctness to consider. Atheists and the socially and politically liberal religious individuals and movements are interested in convincing me (well, maybe not me personally, but everyone like me) that not only “gay is good” but that being gay is biblical and that I should not only adopt that belief as a matter of religion but as a matter of politics, carrying it all the way to the ballot box.

Does my personal opinion about how “marriage equality” factors into my understanding of the Bible have anything to do with anybody else? It’s not like I’m protesting at gay weddings or writing letters to the editor. I’m not even vocal about the issue except when my hand is forced. I live in a nation of laws and when (I don’t doubt that it will happen, it’s just a matter of time) marriage between same-sex couples becomes legal nationally, I won’t say “boo” about it. Actually, it’s not a law I could break, even if I wanted to, since I’m in no position to affect such a law one way or another.

But some people want or need me to agree with them anyway. Go figure.

After finishing Jacobs’ book, I plan to start reading Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. No, I don’t plan to adopt it as my model for a personal spiritual journey, but Castaneda’s books are considered classics in their genre and I’ve been meaning to read at least a few of them for the past thirty years or so. I just never got around to it before.

I’m beginning to get disgusted again with all the little games that people play in the religious blogosphere. I’m really getting tired of all of the “I’m right and you’re wrong” pettiness that is going on out there. If it stayed “out there” it would be easy to ignore, but it’s invading my space. I’m not here to be a target. I want to be free of your chains. But it seems the only way to do that is to abandon contact with religious people and pursue God independently. Yes, that’s full of pitfalls and I returned to church just because of those pitfalls.

But I’m having second thoughts. If God wants me, He’s got me, but that doesn’t mean I have to join your particular club just because it makes you feel better to drag in more members, be ye “One Law,” Two House,” “Hebrew Roots” or any other “label” that comes with a dogma on a leash.

burning-the-sacredI can sort of see why Jacob Nordby wrote his book (which I’ll review shortly) The Divine Arsonist, since it’s the latest in a long line of attempts by people to reinvent God and religion in our own personal image. I can understand why concepts such as free range humans are coming to the surface. People want control of their lives and they’re tired of the environment defining the parameters by which we must live. That includes the parameters by which we must believe and have faith.

Christians like to say “God is in control” but when it comes to faith, it’s more like the religions and the people occupying their favorite religions that want to take control…of me.

OK, I’m exaggerating. I’m not that important to anyone, at least to anyone on the web. I could disappear tomorrow and probably not inspire so much as a raised eyebrow. Which makes it all the more mysterious to me why people want to control what I say, think, and believe.

If I don’t believe the same things as you and through my beliefs, I’m not harming you (I don’t visit you, yell at you, try to change your life, picket your weddings and funerals, pollute your holy water, or otherwise interfere in your life and the practice of whatever faith to which you’re attached), then why do you care about my religious convictions? Honestly, if I believe that God really doesn’t expect me to wear a tallit gadol when praying, doesn’t expect me to not mow the lawn on Saturday morning, doesn’t expect me to not eat a cheeseburger, how does that impact you even slightly?

Yes, I’m ranting. It’s my blogspot and I’m entitled to rant here. Tomorrow, I may wake up and feel better but right now, I’m a little tired of “religion” (and please, don’t drop by and tell me that Christianity “is a relationship, not a religion,” trust me, it’s a religion).

If you want to ask me a question, fine. If you want to deliver a polite and civil comment, fine. Even if you disagree with me and want to tell me why you do what you do, fine. Just don’t feel like you can tell me what I can, should, must do just because you’ve made those decisions for you.

When I refrain from eating bacon or sausage for breakfast, I’m not doing it because I think God will fry me in pork fat if I do. I’m making a personal decision based on my own convictions. Please feel free to enjoy a good pork chop or a steaming hot bowl of shrimp scampi. I won’t mind. If you’re a gay guy and want to marry your partner, fine. If you’re a through and through Gentile without a drop of Jewish blood in your veins and you feel you must pray in Hebrew facing toward Jerusalem and calling Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob your “fathers,” go for it.

But I’m not going to pretend they’re my fathers just because you want me to. My relationship with God is my relationship with God. I blog about it. So what? Deal with it. If you don’t like what I say, don’t come to my blog. I promise, I’ll never come to your blogs and I absolutely promise I’ll never comment on any of them.

I write because that’s what I do. I’m a writer. I write for my job. I write to process information. I write for fun. Maybe someday you’ll succeed in chasing me out of the blogosphere, but I don’t know what would compel me to shut up. On the other hand, there are days like today when I could happily pull the plug and just read and study by myself, no other human beings required.

Got it?

16 thoughts on “The Problem with Religious People”

  1. “When I refrain from eating bacon or sausage for breakfast, I’m not doing it because I think God will fry me in pork fat if I do.”

    …once you are whacked by the Hebrew Hammer, the lump on your head never goes away.

  2. James I only comment because I know you and I care about you. My disagreements are meant to challenge you because I have seen that you occasionally like to be challenged.

    But like yourself I sometimes weary of being challenged. Which is part of the reason why I have not added anything to my blog for over a year.

    OK, I admit it is more fun to challenge you than it is to be challenged. I’m sorry if it seems like I’m piling on. That isn’t what is in my mind when I post a comment.

    Let’s get together for coffee when you have some time. I’ll buy.


  3. Hey James. Just thought I’d pop up and say “Hi!”, and do my best to drown out whatever negativity that has come your way from those that, although they don’t know you, insist you walk lock-step with them theologically, etc. I don’t know you from Adam, but I like your writing…your thoughts…your voice. At times I find your voice one that resonates with mine, and other times, one that is cacophonous and confusing to my own. In either case, I enjoy the thinking, stretching and growing that I do as a result of your being open to posting your thoughts online. That is why I care at all about this writer guy from Idaho who offers a kind and thoughtful point of view in the messianic blogosphere (how novel & refreshing)–because he makes me think, and I rarely, if ever, have had to get over haughty or snarky tones in your posts (until the comments section, that is. :P). Again, refreshing.

    I’m sorry you are getting flack of whatever sort. Lots of people suck (pardon my french…wait, is that french?)…religious and otherwise, and never cease to prove the case for the necessity of a savior. 🙂

    BTW, I can’t believe you’d never come by my blog… *snicker*

  4. James, I have to say, I’ve cringed at some of the responses to your blogs that I’ve read over time. I do wonder why people feel the need to express themselves that way. I think the internet has a similar effect on people as does being behind the wheel of a car: the insulating effect gives license to behave in ways that would never be considered one-on-one.

    Well, I sure appreciate your opinion, even when it’s different from mine. I think we can still be friends. 🙂

  5. @Russ: Actually, I didn’t even have you in mind when I went off on this rant. It just seems like I’ve had the same conversation on the web over and over again, and when a new commenter (who seems like a really nice and sincere guy) wanted to engage me on something I’ve already talked through, I was just struck by why my personal walk of faith and opinion means so much to people.

    I’ve never experienced our talks as difficult or problematic and I’d love to have coffee with you. What are you doing tomorrow?

    @Allison: Actually, it isn’t even about “difficult” people. No one gave me a hard time today and the fellow I was responding to seems like a nice and likeable fellow. As I told Russ, it’s just I sometimes get tired of saying the same stuff over and over again. The blog posts on Torah and Talmud that I’ve written over the past few days weren’t meant to challenge any Hebrew Roots theology. I’ve mainly been just processing my conversations with my Pastor. For me, blogging is like how other people “think out loud.”

    If you read my blog posts Allison, you do know me. I don’t hold much back. 😉

  6. Just a brief note before going to bed. I did have my Wednesday night meeting with Pastor Randy but it wasn’t quite as “charged” as the one we had last week (although there was a moment or two…). In the body of this missive, I pondered whether or not he loaned me the A.J. Jacobs book with an eye on making a point about the Torah. He told me that thought crossed his mind, but it wasn’t his actual intent. I did lend him my copy of The Concise Book of Mitzvoth with the idea that he could see what the Chafetz Chayim considers the mitzvot a Jewish person can observe today.

    I’ll blog more about tonight’s conversation in a day or so. Time to get some rest. G’night.

  7. James,

    I gather from the title of your post, “The Problem with Religious People,” together with the prominent quotation of my words, that you mean to say, ‘The Problem with Religious People Like Charles,’ but you really should give this some more thought.

    Yehudah appeals to the saints,

    ‘…contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.’
    – Jude 1:3b, ESV

    You make it seem like I shouldn’t respond to what you write, but is such a reply not consistent with the nature of a blog, let alone with any public forum, let alone with teaching of Messiah Yeshua, who men hate because he tells them their works are evil? Or do you just want to hear from people who agree with what you write?

    The way you are framing it, it’s kind of like you have written in your private journal and I’ve come along and added my own notes, to something that doesn’t concern me, but this is not the case. You are not simply recording your thoughts in a private diary for your own personal review later, you are publishing them for public consumption.

    Do you just want to hear from people who agree with what you write? Sadly, you actually end with the words, “If you don’t like what I say, don’t come to my blog.”

    Okay. I probably won’t come back here again, but I will still reply at this time.

    If what you are writing is not intended to be viewed and responded to, maybe you should create a members area that is not accessible publicly, or disable the comments feature of the blog… then, of course, it would no longer be a blog.

    You wrote,

    “I can understand why Pastor would want to instruct me, enlighten me, edify me, since we have a one-on-one, face-to-face relationship and I attend his church, but why does the Internet care?”

    Yes, I do care, James, how my brothers and sisters in Messiah are interpreting and sharing the Good News about him, especially when they are publicly sharing their views with other Truth seekers. As a body, we are affected by our composite parts, if you will, for better and for worse.

    Why should you be bothered if someone disagrees with you? Why must they have a problem just because they disagree with you? You are speaking of the Good News of my Lord, James, something I am familiar with from diligent and prayerful study, in the fear of God, by the grace of God. In what way have I sinned against you that has lead you to now publish that I have a problem?

    Is it for caring about you and your readers, even though we have never met? Would you say, then, that Messiah should not have died for those he had never personally met and talked with?

    Is it for expressing my disagreement with what you have written?

    But as the Proverb says,

    ‘Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.’
    – Mishlei (Proverbs) 9:8b, ESV

    Consider, if you will, Paul’s words from his epistle to the Galatians:

    ‘But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face… when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all…’
    – Galatians 2:11a,14a, ESV

    I don’t enjoy opposing anyone, James, but the idea that there is a different standard for Jews and Gentiles is seriously not in step with the truth of the Good News. It is precisely this kind of separation that Shaul was opposing in Galatians 2 and often in his writings, and it still needs to be opposed today.

    There is one new man in Messiah Yeshua, made up of Jews and Gentiles, and there is only one narrow way that Messiah Yeshua walked, which we all must also walk. It is no less than the obedience to the Commandment of God and His Messiah by faith working through love.

    As for your reference to gay rights, if this is related to our exchange, me telling you that the Law of the Kingdom applies to everyone in the Kingdom is very much the opposite of the point you are making.

    I don’t “need” you to agree with me, James, but if your words contradict the plain teaching of Messiah Yeshua, that ‘until heaven and earth pass away not the least of the stroke of a pen will disappear from the Torah and the Prophets and WHOEVER breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others likewise will be least in the Kingdom of heaven (Cf. Matthew 5:17-20),’ then it is my duty to tell you. And if you won’t hear, someone will.

    This is no game, James. This is love, as it is written,

    “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart; thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbour, and not bear sin because of him.”
    – Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:17, JPS Tanakh

    Yes, this is HOW love is. It’s not for Gentiles to establish what love is for themselves, just like it is not for Jews to establish it for themselves. We must not seek our own way. We must submit to the Way of HaShem.

    In the very next verse are the famous words contained,

    ‘…thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.’
    – Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:18b, JPS Tanakh

    If you simply had religious convictions, that would be one thing, but instead you are proclaiming that division in the body of Messiah Yeshua is acceptable, even a good thing, in complete contrast to what we find in the Brit HaChadashah. The examples you have given are not altogether consistent with the conversation we were having… Eating a cheeseburger and wearing a tallit gadol? These are traditions.

    But yes, you should wear tzitzit as God has commanded the people of Israel if you are now a citizen of Israel, and why would you invent a new way of doing this? To be united with Israel? Or not? Otherwise, mowing the lawn on Shabbat is avodah (‘six days shall you do avodah and malakhah…’), one of the two prohibited categories of activities on the Shabbat. The first instance of this word in the Torah is, in fact, in reference to working the ground (Cf. Gen. 2:5).

    If it’s okay for everyone to follow their own way, James, then Messiah died for nothing.

  8. Hi James. I agree completely.

    I belong to a local theological discussion group. Participants are invited and can bring friends. We sometimes differ strongly and discuss things passionate but with friendship and warmth. These are the guidelines! This is how we “contend for the truth.” We meet in the outdoor seating area of a large local coffee shop and undoubtedly we are overheard by those at neighboring tables. If one of them wished to join us, she would find a warm welcome, assuming she is amenable to the guidelines. I think that all reasonable people would agree that we have the right to establish such guidelines.

    I simply don’t understand the assumption of some commenters that bloggers have lost the right to establish similar boundaries (or entirely different ones, for that matter) just because blog posts can be read by anyone who wishes.

    Your approach is normally to suggest, rather than demand, that comments adhere to certain guidelines. IMO, you would be entirely justified to delete comments that violate your guidelines, leaving only a “comment deleted” notice in their place.

  9. @Charles: As I said in the comments in my previous blog post, you had the misfortune of asking the same questions I’ve been answering for a long time and you just happened to “trigger” this sort of response. I know it’s unfair to dump this all on you and it really has nothing to do with you personally. You’ve been polite and I believe you are a good human being. I just am not going to answer the same question over and over again, at least not right now. The answer to your questions about why I believe what I believe are scattered across two different blog platforms and hundreds of individual blog posts.

    As far as “following in my own way,” that’s a matter of perspective. In fact, from my understanding of the Bible, which has also been undergoing an evolutionary process over many years, I am doing what my Master has commanded me to do: to study his teachings and to live them out by feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, caring for the widow and orphan, and congregating with my fellow disciples in Christ. I really don’t see why that is so wrong.

    @Carl: Always a pleasure to “host” you on my blog. Actually my “standards” have gotten somewhat tighter in the past several months. I still try very hard to give everyone’s opinion consideration and to try and explain politely when I don’t agree and why, but there are a few “repeat visitors” who I have “arranged” to be moderated by the blog software when they try to comment. For awhile, I banned one individual completely, but recently moved his “status” so that if he tries to comment, I will be able to moderate it before approving it (or otherwise).

    On rare occasion, I’ve deleted comments, but I have to be careful that I’m doing so for the right reasons since, to contradict what Charles has suggested of me, I really don’t want just a discussion where everyone says and thinks exactly the same thing. On the other hand, as you’ve suggested, I have a responsibility to manage this forum wisely, particularly for the sake of all those who read my blog but who will not comment publicly.

    This blog post is the closest I’ve come to “losing my temper” in a sustained manner, which is why I call it a “rant.” Again, it’s not the individual who triggered my response who is the real issue, it’s the expectation that if enough people keep telling me to follow their way of thinking in the same way long enough that somehow, I’m supposed to change my mind and follow them.

    If others have the right to interpret the Bible and to apply it in the variety of ways I’ve described in the body of this blog post, then I should have the same right as well. And as I’ve seen written, let the God of Abraham decide between us if such a thing is necessary, and let Messiah come soon and in our days and teach all of us how to follow his ways.

  10. “…but the idea that there is a different standard for Jews and Gentiles is seriously not in step with the truth of the Good News. It is precisely this kind of separation that Shaul was opposing in Galatians 2 and often in his writings, and it still needs to be opposed today.”

    I’ve not been following the comments in your blog James, but the above statement struck me funny. If the “Shaul” was replaced with “Paul” you’d have the exact same (and very common) argument but in reverse, as in “there should be no separation, Jews need to be just like us Gentiles.”
    I wonder how we can affirm and maintain gender distinctions within the Church if we cannot do the same for Jews and Gentiles. But maby that’s on the way out too.


  11. These are very profound questions, Ruth. My conversation with Pastor Randy last night touched on them again and the “mediation” that I’m creating as a result asks mind-boggling questions that have a direct impact on your query.

  12. Read Galatians 2 in context, Ruth. Peter was separating himself from the Gentiles in fear of the Jews. Paul says he opposed him to his face because “he stood condemned”. Separating Jew from Gentile in Messiah is a mistake. Sin is sin, and righteousness is righteousness, whomever you are. As Peter says, ‘G-d shows no partiality, but every nation whoever fears Him and does what is right is accepted with Him.’ And as Paul says, ‘All Scripture is breathed out by G-d and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of G-d may be competent, equipped for every good work.’ He does not say, ‘the Jewish man of G-d.’

  13. Actually, reading Galatians 2:11-14 in context (even though Pastor Randy and I won’t get to that part of Lancaster’s book for several weeks), can yield other results. In verse 12 where it says “certain men came from James,”, the Greek seems to indicate that “certain men” are “important men” from James and the Council of Apostles. While the Acts 15 ruling by the Council should have made it clear that Gentile disciples were accepted as fully equal members of the Way without having to convert or without obligation to keep all of the mitzvot, it is thought that the ruling was not universally accepted by all believing Jews.

    When Peter was with the Gentile disciples, he was comfortable sharing table fellowship with them, but when “important Jewish men” from James, head of the Council and brother of the Master came around, men who may not have been entirely comfortable with close contact with Gentiles, Peter’s old biases rose to the surface and, humanly, he backed away.

    Paul was right to call him a hypocrite and Paul was a staunch advocate of “Gentile rights” in the Messianic movement. Unlike Peter, Paul didn’t really care what people said or thought of him and his evangelizing the Gentiles. So much so that Acts 21 records how the out-of-control rumors about Paul in Jerusalem led Israeli and Asian Jews to believe the worst of him: that he was teaching diaspora Jews not to follow Torah.

    Incidentally, saying “Peter was separating himself from the Gentiles in fear of the Jews makes it sound like all Jews were horrible people who didn’t like Gentiles at all. While many Jewish people had understandable prejudices against Gentiles (since Israel was then occupied by a totalitarian Gentile empire), even many Jewish members of the Way, not literally all Jews opposed Gentiles.

    God indeed does accept us all through Messiah Yeshua. Interestingly enough, this commentary from (my wife emailed me the link) paints a wonderful portrait of future Jewish/Gentile unity in the days of the Messiah and the Third Temple. Just thought I’d share.

  14. I just wanted to tell you that reading this blog really did me good tonight. I’m feeling exactly the same way. As you said so well, ” I’m really getting tired of all of the ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ pettiness that is going on out there. If it stayed ‘out there’ it would be easy to ignore, but it’s invading my space. I’m not here to be a target.” Aaaa-men!

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