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Saturday, July 17, 2021

Should the Pope apologize?

 


An activist group is pressing for Pope Francis to come to Canada and apologize.  

As of this date, more than 1,100 bodies have been found in unmarked graves at sites of former Residential Schools – the official term for boarding schools put in place by government decree starting in 1874, and managed for the most part by the Catholic Church – a few by the Methodist and United Churches –  for over 100 years.  This on top of the decades of stories of misery and abuse from the kids who survived but, for the most part, were ignored.

An apology from the pope. Really? How does that help?

Imagine you lived and raised your kids in Hinkley, California, in the 1960s. You watched as many, many of your neighbors got sick and died, had kids born with deformities, perhaps you lost a child or two of your own. The water supply for the town was polluted by hexavalent chromium and other proven cancer-causing chemicals from a Pacific Gas & Electric plant draining right into the aquifer, but they vehemently denied that there was anything wrong.

Finally, in 2011, a spokesperson for PG&E apologized for the pollution in Hinkley and swore that the company was dedicated to ‘doing the right thing in Hinkley.’

 If you had lived there, would you have felt any better? I wouldn’t have. PG&E had spent literally decades lying and covering up the story about the pollution. They even had literature printed to tell the townsfolk that chromium was good for them! The town became famous in the movie “Erin Brockovich”, after PG&E was forced to shell out over $300,000,000, the largest medical settlement in history. “Forced” being the operative word; their actions proved they weren’t even remotely contrite. None of the corporate officers were even threatened with punishment for their crimes.

In case that example doesn’t work for you, let’s try another one: In 1976 a very young priest named Jorge Mario Bergoglio became head of the Jesuits in Argentina. That same year, there was a military coup in Argentina, leading to what has been dubbed “The Dirty War”, in which some 30,000 people were arrested, tortured, and in many cases “disappeared”, simply for objecting to or reporting on what the military government was doing.

Two of those kidnapped, priests named Francisco Jalics and Orlando Yorio, were interrogated and tortured for over three months before finally being expelled from the country. Both of them placed the blame for their arrest on the head of the Jesuits, Bergoglio, who, they said, cooperated hand-in-glove with the new military dictatorship. One even claimed that Bergoglio was present during some of his interrogations.

Now: suppose someone came up with rock solid proof against Bergoglio – proof similar to the skeletal remains of native children that are now being dug up near those residential schools. Would his apology be sufficient? Or might we reasonably expect a modern Argentine court to demand that Bergoglio return to Argentina to stand trial for kidnapping?

Considering that Bergoglio is now better known as Pope Francis, that probably won’t happen.

The Residential School program began almost as soon as Europeans began settling in North America. The nominal Christians referred to the Indians as pagans and believed strongly that the best way to Christianize them was to forcibly remove their children from the pagan environment and teach them ‘Christian’ ways.

While Canada’s system is in the news now, they were not alone. Carlisle Indian Industrial School was opened in 1879 in Pennsylvania and ran until 1918 on the same principle: Take Indian children away from their parents and teach them ‘Christian’ principles. It was in fact official U.S. policy from 1819 through the 1960s. While few if any records were kept, anecdotal evidence suggests there were over 360 such boarding schools in the U.S. – more than twice as many as Canada had.

When the former sites of those schools are discovered and searched, will the ground-penetrating radar somehow prove that U.S. boarding schools were more Christian, more caring, than their Canadian counterparts? Not likely.

But maybe the pope will show up and apologize.  That will fix everything.

Bill K. Underwood is a columnist and author of three Bible-friendly novels and the non-fiction book “99 Ways to Fire Your Boss”, all available at Amazon.com.

 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

How to determine which religion is the correct one


There are about 4,300 religions in the world. Is there one right one? Are several right, or all of them? Or none of them?

Is there a way to reason out which ones have a core of truth, and which ones are complete hokum?

Perhaps you think that I’m making an unfair assumption; that in our current politically correct world, no religion should be dismissed out-of-hand, but consider a couple examples:

  •  Reliable sources have quoted L. Ron Hubbard, a starving science fiction writer trying to live on the penny-a-word his publisher paid, as saying back in the late 1940s, “The way to make a million dollars is to start a religion.” Shortly thereafter he started Dianetics and the Church of Scientology.
  • Rastafarianism was born in the 1930s in Jamaica when a black political activist, Marcus Garvey, told his audience to watch Africa for a black king to come to power. He would be their redeemer. Shortly thereafter, Haile Selassie was crowned emperor of Ethiopia, and Garvey’s followers hailed him as the returned Messiah, the ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah’ foretold in the Bible. They claimed he would never die, and that he would lead black people to superiority over their white oppressors. Selassie was embarrassed by the claim. He died in 1975, but the religion lives on.
How long would it take you to study one religion in order to know if it was the right one? A week? A month? A Year? You aren’t going to live long enough to spend one year, or even one month, studying each religion. Even if you only spent a week on each one, 4,300 weeks would equal your whole life. There have to be shortcuts. Let's see if we can find some: 
  • There are more than a dozen real religions that have their basis in UFO sightings – from Scientology to Heaven’s Gate to the Order of the Solar Temple to Ashtar Galactic Command. Can’t we subtract those from the 4,300?
  • There are at least 5 major Satanic religions. I’m subtracting those – if Satan exists, he is the antithesis of God, so why would I want to worship him? And if he doesn’t exist... why would I want to worship him?
  • Let’s eliminate religions that have come along recently.  By that I don’t mean when their current organization was set up. I’m talking about the teachings their religion is founded on. Scientology was founded on some principles written on a bar napkin in the 1950s. Mormonism is founded on some supposed gold plates that didn’t come to light until the 1830s. Wouldn’t God, if He exists, have taught humankind from the beginning or nearly the beginning of human life how to have a beneficial relationship with him? Wouldn’t such guidelines have been written down, and wouldn’t such writings have 1. substantial proof of age, 2., widespread availability? That eliminates pretty much all the neo-pagan and New Age religions.
  • Can we safely rule out any religion that glorifies a particular individual? No one is so great, so above the rest of us that he deserves adoration. That rules out the cults that formed around Jim Jones, David Koresh, Bagwan Rajneesh, Sun Myung Moon, and Marshall Applewhite. It should also eliminate religions that claim virtual divinity for individuals like Muhammad. Ellen G. White, one of the founders of modern Seventh Day Adventists, is almost revered by some adherents. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claimed to be inspired, and his followers seem to agree with the claim. The philosopher Siddhartha Gautama came to be known as the Buddha, a title that implies he had reached perfection. By the same rule, it could also relegate to ‘cult’ status those churches of Christianity that worship Jesus. I’ve studied the Bible exhaustively, and nowhere does Jesus ask anyone to worship him. There are, in fact, several accounts where he deflects worship aimed at himself. His consistent message to his followers was to worship only God. (John 5:24)
  • Can we also assume that God doesn’t need money? Therefore, any religion that spends a significant amount of its time and energy asking for your money is a scam. That eliminates the three richest religions – Catholicism, Islam and Hinduism. It also deletes the Buddhists. One of their primary doctrines is that monks should spend all their time begging for money. And, of course, all those TV preachers with their private jets and supercars.

What about religions whose practices contradict their own messages? With some religions you can recognize the lies and contradictions within minutes. Here are a couple obvious examples:

  • Some sects of Islam foment terrorism, killing – in the name of “Allah the Merciful” –  any ‘infidels’ who don’t share their beliefs. If Allah is real, and if he is really offended by some humans, wouldn’t he be able to do his own killing?
  • The Catholic Church has been claiming to be God’s representative on Earth for over 1,600 years. For most of that period they have claimed that the pope and, depending on the point in history, the cardinals and bishops, were infallible. Yet if you read their history, it is jam-packed with evil people doing evil deeds.

While their defense is that there are always going to be sinful men, how do they explain shuffling those evil men to other parts of the world to avoid prosecution?  Shouldn’t the Catholic Church have excommunicated:

  • The thousands of priests who, over the centuries, molested so many hundreds of thousands of children?
  • The hundreds of nuns who enslaved and tortured thousands of women who got pregnant out of wedlock?
  • The thousands of nuns, priests, monks and schoolteachers who ripped indigenous children from their homes and abused them to death in Catholic boarding schools?

If such practices were declared from the pulpit as part of their religion, common sense would tell us they are not the true religion. The fact that those practices directly contradict the book they claim their religion represents, the Bible, proves that the religion should be avoided.

Following all these shortcuts might cut that 4,300 number down to 3,000, 2,000, or even 1,000. But that is still too many for a person to reasonably investigate in a lifetime.

What is the solution?

Well, if there is one true God, wouldn't He have the ability to reach out to you? What could happen if you prayed to Him, in sincerity, asking for His direction?

Don't trust 'a feeling'. Don't expect to hear a voice in your head. Lily Tomlin famously cracked: "When we talk to God, that's called prayer. When God talks to us, that's called schizophrenia."

But if you get a letter with a religious message, read it, reason on it, and investigate it before you discard it. Is it asking you for money? Throw it out. Is it trying to scare you with claims of hellfire and eternal damnation? Can't imagine God works that way. Is it a holier-than-thou message telling you why your beliefs are wrong? Toss it.

But if it is a positive message, with a suggestion that you do your own research to learn more, what do you have to lose by learning more? Likewise if you get a phone call, or a person knocking on your door, wanting to talk to you about a spiritual subject, what does it hurt to hear them out? You don’t need to attack them or cut them off. Converse with them. If they are wrong, you’ll be able discern that. Listening to them won’t hurt you, as long as you do your own research.

It might just be God trying to reach you. 

Bill K. Underwood is a columnist and author of three Bible-friendly novels and the non-fiction book “99 Ways to Fire Your Boss”, all available at Amazon.com.


Thursday, November 12, 2020

How to succeed at everything




 I think I’ve discovered one of the core principles of the universe.

Many people who study the Bible have a favorite scripture. I never really had a favorite scripture. But recently, I re-examined a verse that I learned decades ago:

“I am Jehovah your god, who instructs you for your benefit.” (Isaiah 48:17)

I have to (sheepishly) admit that before now I’d never really grasped how vastly important those words are.

It is even more embarrassing because – for literally decades – when I’ve encountered people who claim the Bible is ‘just a book written by men’, my argument has gone like this:

First, I’d read 2 Timothy 3:16. “All scripture is inspired by God and beneficial.” Then I’d explain, ‘That’s an easy claim to make and a hard claim to prove. Perhaps you remember, back in the 80s, a TV preacher named Oral Roberts who claimed that ‘God spoke to him’ – inspiration – and then promptly demanded $8 million. Paul knew that there were then and would be now, fake claims of inspiration. So he gave us the key: the benefit proves the inspiration.’

Then I’d say, ‘Perhaps you know Acts 20:35, “There’s more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” When you look at how some of your neighbors are living, don’t they seem to be following the principle that there’s more happiness in getting? “When I get that car, that boat, that house, that girl, then I’ll be happy.” Do they ever, truly, get happy? They could go through their entire life and never, on their own, come up with the principle that there’s more happiness in giving, because that’s not human nature. It’s not human thinking. But if you’ve tried it, if they were to try it, they would discover what? It’s true: we get more happiness from giving. It is higher than human thinking; it is wisdom that had to come from God. The benefit proves the inspiration.’

In my life I’ve probably had that conversation with a hundred people. In a couple dozen cases, I’ve gotten people to seriously ponder the value of the bible because of it.

Yet, until just the past few weeks I never made the connection to Isaiah 48:17.

Jehovah said that everything He teaches us is for our benefit.

Let’s look at an example.

When I was a kid and I read scriptures such as, ‘You must not bow down to images, for I Jehovah am a jealous God...’ I’ll be honest: my reaction was, Why? I don’t mean, why not worship idols; But why should God be jealous? He’s God. The idols are nothing.

God doesn’t benefit from that rule. He is perfectly self-contained, confident in His being the sovereign. He gave that rule to benefit mankind, to keep us from being misled by pagan priests claiming this or that thing is a god (‘and Oh, by the way, the gods want you to give me your money...’) That’s the first benefit. The second is, God is loyal to those who are loyal to Him (2 Samuel 22:26), and He made you to be loyal to him. It is in your nature to be in an exclusive relationship with Him. How is that a benefit to you?

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Here’s an appropriately modern comparison: Tesla cars are connected to the Tesla factory. They get regular software updates, they can quick-charge at the supercharging stations. You can go to a junkyard and buy one that’s been written off by the factory, and get it running again, disconnected from the Tesla net. But it will never go as far or as fast as a connected car. And it will get worse over time while connected Teslas keep getting better.

Jehovah made Adam as part of His family, with the ability to communicate with Him. Adam and God were in nearly constant communication. Imagine his first day: ‘That pain you’re feeling in your middle is called hunger. Pick some of those berries and eat them and the pain will go away. You can’t walk on the shiny stuff. It’s called water - you’ll sink. Let me show you how to swim. You’re going to get sleepy when the sun goes down. Let’s fix you a bed...’

At some point Adam noticed that animals died. He must have worried: Was he going to die someday, also? He would have asked God. God made it clear that, yes indeed, that was a possible outcome. But God didn't want him to die. Unlike the animals, God had something special in mind for humans; He had made them “in his image.” He wanted them to be part of His family. Adam could avoid dying by remaining in his relationship with Jehovah.

The rule, ‘If you eat from this tree you will die’, that didn’t benefit God. It wasn’t some nasty trick God played on humans; it wasn’t that God needed to test Adam’s loyalty.

Isaiah 48:17 is a universal truth. The instruction not to eat from the tree had to have a benefit for Adam, and it did.

None of the animals were in God’s image; none was offered an exception to the universal law of entropy. But God did offer an exception to Adam. He wanted Adam to stick around. Job 14:14,15 tells us that God misses loyal ones who have died. If Adam had remained in his special relationship with God but had gradually grown old and died like an animal, God would have missed him.

So God told Adam: You can avoid death if you just keep doing what you’re doing. Stay connected to me. Listen to me, ask me questions, talk to me, check with me about anything you aren’t sure about. I’ll be happy to answer.

The instructions to Adam and Eve were to spread the garden, over time, until it covered the whole earth. (Genesis 1:28) In the course of that work, as they stretched the boundaries outside the original garden, they would encounter obstacles that were potentially life-threatening – not just poisonous plants and insects but cliffs, raging rivers, falling tree limbs, and more. So it would benefit them to make it a habit to look to  God for instructions. It would be to their detriment if they developed the habit, so common in the world today, of just doing whatever they felt like doing. 

God’s instructions are always for our benefit.

Please feel free to leave a comment, share this with your friends, post it on social media. (Comments are monitored, so if you have an ulterior motive, don’t bother.)

Bill K. Underwood is a columnist and author of three Bible-friendly novels and the non-fiction book “99 Ways to Fire Your Boss”, all available at Amazon.com.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Hard things in the Bible, part 5: Beasts, and the Mark of the Beast


 

If you’ve been following this series, by now I hope you’ve gotten at least one thing firmly embedded in your brain: None of us can just make up an explanation for what the hard stuff in the Bible means.

Or rather, everyone can; anyone can spout ideas about what they think things mean; and therefore none of us should pay any attention to those explanations. The only reliable explanation of a Bible symbol is one which is found in the Bible itself.

I’ve had individuals tell me that ‘the spirit revealed’ to them what this or that passage meant. Does that really make sense? The Bible itself warned us: “Do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God.” (1 John 4:1) It also warns us, repeatedly, not to rely on our own understanding. ‘Follow your heart’ is a Hollywood-ism, not a scripture.

John had good reason for that warning about inspired expressions: It had been 30 years since anyone prior to him had literally been inspired by God. That was a long drought. But that didn’t stop people from claiming they were inspired.

For example: Noting that the Bible is silent on Jesus’ life from age 12 to 30, books such as ‘The Gospel of Thomas’ made up details about miracles Jesus supposedly did during those years. Obviously, any idiot can make up details that are omitted from the Bible. I should know: I made up details about Paul’s catastrophic voyage to Rome for my novel The Minotaur Medallion. But I didn’t try to pass it off as “inspired” – I made it quite clear it was fiction.

We need inspired scripture to explain inspired scripture. We can understand the beasts in Revelation only by reading other passages in the Bible that explain exactly what various beasts mean. And the Bible doesn’t leave us hanging.

The book of Daniel, like the book of Revelation, has several descriptions of monstrous beasts. Unlike Revelation, however, Daniel gives us quite a bit to work with.

In Daniel chapter 7, Daniel sees a disturbing vision of 4 huge beasts. Then an angel explains:

“These huge beasts, four in number, are four kings who will stand up from the earth.” (Da. 7:17)

See? Simple. Beasts = Kings. Now, did the angel mean literally 4 kings, 4 individuals? No. How do we know? The angel says so: “As for the fourth beast, there is a fourth kingdom ...and ten kings will rise up out of that kingdom.” (Da. 7:23, 24)

So each beast is a kingdom, possibly lasting for generations.

In explaining his next vision, the angel told Daniel, “The two-horned ram that you saw stands for the kings (plural) of Media and Persia. The hairy male goat stands for the king of Greece; and the great horn that was between its eyes stands for the first king. As for the horn that was broken, so that four stood up instead of it, there are four kingdoms from his nation that will stand up.” (Da. 8:20-22)

While a Bible beast stands for a kingdom, the horns on the beast often represent the individual rulers over that kingdom.

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Now let’s use this method to define the beasts in Revelation. We’ll take them in the order in which they appear.

1.       ‘A great fiery-colored dragon, with seven heads and ten horns and on its heads seven crowns...’ (Re. 12:3) That one’s easy: A few verses later the account tells us clearly that the dragon is, “the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan. . .” (Re. 12:9) But why is he pictured with 7 heads and 10 horns? The devil is portrayed in other parts of the bible as a snake or as a lion. Each creature has specific traits. In John’s day, a dragon was a mythical beast, possibly based on fossils of dinosaurs. In any case, the Greek word “drakon” refers to a beast that quickly slurps down its prey. The 7 heads and 10 horns, and especially the 10 crowns, tell us clearly that here we are dealing with Satan as a king; his role as ruler of all the kingdoms of the world. That’s not a stretch; in this same passage, when Satan is thrown out of heaven, a voice announces that, ‘Now have come to pass the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ...’

2.       Next comes a ‘beast ascending out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, and on its horns ten crowns, but on its heads blasphemous names. [This wild beast] was like a leopard, but its feet were like those of a bear, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth.’ (Re. 13:1, 2) The various beasts Daniel recounted in chapter 7 included many of these same features: lion’s mouth, leopard spots, feet like a bear, and so on. In Daniel, it was telling in advance the march of the world’s major powers from Daniel’s time down until the last days – Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and unnamed governments that would grow out of Rome.  But as we showed in Part 3 of this series, Revelation is a vision of things as if it were written in these last days. So this Revelation beast is a summary, after the fact, of all those world powers in whatever iteration they grew into: All the governments that grew out of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. From Iceland to New Zealand, China to Zimbabwe, it would be difficult to find a country that was not at some point in its history ruled by an outgrowth of one of those powers. The similarity in appearance between this beast and the dragon is not a coincidence. It reinforces that Satan is the ruler of all these kingdoms.

3.       I saw another wild beast ascending out of the earth, and it had two horns like a lamb, but it began speaking like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first wild beast. . .” (Re. 13:11, 12) This beast’s ‘two horns like a lamb’ might remind us of Jesus, who is pictured by a lamb in the book of Revelation. Or it might simply be meant to put us in mind of the gentle nature of a lamb. However, the beast is a hypocrite... an attribute that is very un-christlike. And it is clearly a government. Whatever government is here pictured, it might be one that tries to pass itself off as Christian – remind you of any ‘one nation under God’? – or the symbolism could simply be that of a nation or group of nations that hypocritically pretends to be as peaceable as a lamb while actually behaving like Satan – as, for example, the allied powers of the U.S. and Britain.

4.       The next beast is called “an image to the wild beast.” (Re. 13:14) This beast is described as being made or instigated by the lamb/dragon beast. This is something unusual: most governments arise when a group of people who live in one geographic space organize a governmental arrangement over themselves, which gets passed down in some way to the successors. But this beast is created, like a manufactured image of something else. It isn’t an image of the lamb/dragon; rather, it is an image, a copy, of the leopard/bear/lion with 7 heads, the symbol in composite of all of Earth’s governments. What would be the meaning of this symbol? Is there, today, a governmental organization that is like a copy in miniature of all the world’s governments? There is. It is called the United Nations. And, just as John foresaw 2,000 years ago, the U.N. was brought into existence at the instigation of the lamb/dragon – the U.S. and Britain.

 Now: what is “the mark of the beast”?

 

 “High and low, rich and poor, freemen and slaves--it causes a brand to be put on the right hand or on the forehead of every one of them, so that no one is able to buy or sell except those that bear this brand--either the name of the Beast or the number indicated by the letters of his name.” (Re. 13:16, 17, TCNT)

In this loose translation the word “mark” is rendered “brand”. But it’s a good mental picture. The marks put on slaves in John’s day were not written in pencil or ink. They were permanent, what we would today call a brand. Like a cattle brand, they were unique to the owner; they marked whose property the slave was.

So getting ‘the mark of the beast’ is nothing as literal as a particular tattoo, or a credit card, or a vaccine, or getting an RFID chip embedded in our hand. Rather, it shows ownership. Jesus says of his faithful followers, “I will write upon him the name of my God.” (Re. 3:12) Yes, we are slaves. But, as Romans chapter 6 points out, everyone is. You are either a slave of God, or a slave of Satan’s system.

Note what Revelation 19:20 says about this mark: “The false prophet... misled those who received the mark of the wild beast and those who worship its image.”

Those who slavishly support this world’s governments, indicating their belief in those organizations aren’t forcibly branded, like a slave; they’re worshipers; they're misled. They make themselves slaves. That’s why the ‘mark’ is on the “forehead” – their thinking – and their “hand” – their actions.

What about the part that says, “nobody can buy or sell except a person having the mark”? (Re. 13:17) We’ve seen something like that in miniature a few times over the last few decades. Occasionally, some government somewhere starts requiring people to demonstrate their support of the government in order to do basic business transactions, or even to feed their families. Based on this prophecy it’s likely that, before this system ends, we’ll see this happening on a much larger scale.

Before that time arrives, we need to decide whose slaves we are. 

 

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Bill K. Underwood is a columnist, Bible scholar and photographer. He is the author of four books available in either paperback or ebook on Amazon.com