Monday, May 23, 2011

Harold Camping insider comes clean

YouTube channel EzekielThirtyThree3, whom I referenced as a MUST VIEW in my last article, has come clean.

As I watched the spellbinding daily updates behind Camping's organization up to Judgement Day, I imagined the videos would be removed after the failed prediction of the Rapture.

I thought EzekielThirtyThree3 was an insider in Family Radio.

But all is revealed in the most recent video.


Friday, May 20, 2011

It's like Chinese Astrology

We have all heard the stories. We have all told the jokes. We have all written him off as a nutjob. You may have seen the full-page ad in USA Today and other newspapers. Some atheist groups are even planning on partying this weekend to usher in the Eschaton – the end of the world, or, as Harold Camping puts it, not just the clearing of life off the surface of the Earth, but the demolition of the entire planet, inside and out.

I am not partying this weekend. I have too many chores waiting around the house, and my wife RoseMary, who was raised in a conservative Catholic home, does not understand Apocalypic Fever. I think that I do understand the Apocalypic mindset. As a young boy in the early seventies, I was taught to expect the Rapture, the great Catching Away, where we would meet Jesus in the clouds, literally at Any Moment. We were poor, uneducated, and in the grip of a cult-like religious environment in the rural Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. It was a time when wandering Jesus Freaks and Holy Vagabonds would mysteriously wander into town, live in our houses for several days or even weeks, preach the love of Jesus and the soon-coming Rapture, only to just as mysteriously vanish from town, never to be seen again. At the time, Hal Lindsey’s best seller, Late Great Planet Earth was flying off the bookstore shelves. I do not remember seeing anybody in my community actually reading that book, but the book along with the growing Jesus Movement certainly influenced our Apocalyptic culture. It was like bellbottom jeans, embroidered vests, long hair and Mister Tambourine Man – just a product of the times. And while I never read Hal Lindsey, at least not until many years later, I do remember reading religious comic books (with characters and art blatantly stolen from Archie and Jughead comics) which described the Rapture, the Great Tribulation and the Judgment of the vengeful Jesus riding on a white horse. (How I wish I still owned those comic books – what surreal memories that would bring) I remember being kept out of school on at least a few occasions, gathering with fellow believers for a few days of fervent prayer, speaking in tongues, and casting out of demons, all in the expectation of being snatched away into the clouds. During one of our frequent baptism sessions in the barnyard watering tank, I vividly remember a young neighbor girl pointing to a cloud in the sky that she said looked like Jesus with outstretched arms and holes where the hands should be. She stared, pointed, screamed and passed out cold. Others, some soaking wet from a recent baptism, looked at the sky, trying to see what young K---- had seen, and began wildly praying in tongues. Eventually, I am sure, K---- was revived, everybody toweled off, and we went on home, not thinking about what had just (not) happened.

This was years before waiting for Jesus in my teenage years in a private Baptist High School, years before 88 reasons to wait for Jesus in 1988, and many years before Skip Heitzig and Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel told me the Rapture could occur at any mement.

I think I understand the mindset of the Apocalypic Culture. I have lived it.

So I did not plan on commenting on Harold Camping of Family Radio. Our churches paid little attention to him in the early 1990s – and I know that few actually believe or follow Camping now. The only thing that gives these stories such heat is what we did not have in 1992 – multiple 24 Cable News channel and widespread use of the Internet. Now even the smallest blip on the radar can become an international phenomenon. It is not unlikely that if the Internet had existed in 1970, our insignificant little religious cult in Northern New Mexico would have wound up being trashed and ridiculed on some Atheist Blog.

Then last night, I did the unthinkable. I typed “Harold Camping” into the YouTube search engine. I tried to resist. I knew better. I tried to divert my attention. But blast my fingers – I could not keep them from typing on the keypad!

Up popped the most fascinating channel. There is some insider from Family Radio posting daily warning videos. They are high quality, professionally edited, interviews and behind the scenes peeks into Harold Camping’s thoughts, his motivations, his radio program, and most chillingly, his followers. The first upload was the two-week warning, and a video had been posted every day since. Last night, the two-day warning was posted.

Check out this channel – the videos there are absolutely spellbinding: I suggest watching them soon, while they are still up. If the Rapture does not take place on May 21, I predict they will not be there after May 22.

I only watched one video and planned to stop there, but I started with Day-14 and worked my way forward. As I did, the memories, the emotions, the recognition of the old mind-set just flooded back. I have talked about this with Christians at work, not because I have brought it up – they bring it up, and all acknowledge that Camping is a “False Teacher”. But then, as I watched the YouTube videos, I recognized that, while Camping is crazy enough to actually give the date of the Rapture, May 21 6PM EST, and that there is “no possibility of this event not happening”, the Christians that I am familiar with, those Evangelicals from the tradition of Sola Scriptura, Calvary Chapel, etc, do the same sort of thing that Camping does. As Camping speaks in these videos, I recognized the same buzzwords, the same clich├ęs coming from his mouth as I heard constantly from behind the pulpit and continue to hear from radio Evangelists.

In good, mainstream, Evangelical tradition, Camping says:
“I have no authority; the Bible is the authority."
“A very high esteem for the authority of the Bible”
“What is your authority? Is your authority man-centered, or God-centered?”
“This teaching comes straight from the pages of the Bible.”
“We follow the Bible, we do not follow Man”.
"I will never maintain that my analysis is a better one than the analysis of God"
"It is never what I want, it is what God wants. We follow the Will of God"

Camping uses the same language, and apparently the same techniques as every other Bible-based Evangelical church. He came up with a different interpretation, that I do not consider unusually screwy or nuts, when taken in the context of every other Evangelical exegete out there. It is just a mystical interpretation, like the particular interpretation of every other Church who feels free to gauge the Bible. He is doing nothing different from Skip Heitzig or any other Calvary Chapel pastor who feels free to interpret the Bible for his willing flock.

Some of these videos break my heart, as in this one where a lady calls into Harold Camping’s radio program “Open Forum”:

(Seems this video channel blocked permission to embed these videos in a blog. The video is HERE)

Camping: Welcome to Open Forum.

Woman: Hi Mr Camping, I live on the east coast. A few weeks ago the station - local station – it was down for a few days and I was beside myself because I couldn’t get Family Radio and I don’t have a computer. I just want to thank you for getting the station back online. I’m a grandmother. I have two beautiful grandchildren and I have one on the way. And I’m not going to get to meet…*sobbing*… it’s really a shame **sobbing** but **heavy breath** I know I’m not alone.

Camping: Well you know the fact is that the only one who can give you comfort is not me, not any human being. But God is a god of comfort and remember he knows everything about your situation better than you know it. Way better. And you can cry to him and plead with him and beg him and let him know all about it…

This stuff disgusts me. It makes me sad and angry. How I wish that these people were given real hope in life. Instead of celebrating life with her grandchildren, she is reduced to mourning their loss. People deserve better than this – this is a life that is completely wasted. And it makes me angry at those who teach people that they cannot be happy, complete or worthy without help from an invisible, magical man named Jesus. People are taught that it is a virtue to be weak and dependant, as this woman obviously is, and I believe that people deserve better than that. But if we teach a better way of life without Jesus, we are obviously tools of Satan. I remember Calvary Chapel regularly lambasted secular motivational speakers like Tony Robbins, because they teach that you can be happy, strong and independent, but they never mention the Gospel!!

Next, here is the video that really got my blood boiling. Camping explains, in part, one of the calculations he uses as a proof of the May 21 date:

The video is HERE

I resonate with this one the most, because it is the type of mystical Gamatria that many in the modern Evangelical church have fallen for, a trick that the likes of Chuck Missler have made careers out of, and one which I once fell for – hook, line and sinker. I hope to write more about this in the future, but I will briefly explain why this type of Bible interpretation gets me so upset.

Camping (and many, many, many others) teach that the Bible is a code-book, full of riddles and puzzles, to be deciphered by the aid of the Holy Spirit. RoseMary loves movies like National Treasure and Da Vinci Code, because of the peculiar puzzles that adventurous detectives must solve just in order to get to the next puzzle to solve. After a long chain of puzzles, riddles and codes, a treasure is hopefully to be found. Biblical numerology approaches the Bible in the same way, in which, as Camping says, “words are numbers” and each number has a mystical meaning.

In this case, it is claimed, from 1 April 33AD, the day when Jesus was crucified, to 21 May 2011 is exactly 722,500 days. These large numbers can be broken down into smaller factors. 722,500 = (5 x 10 x 17) x (5 x 10 x 17). These numbers mean very specific things in the context of Scripture. For instance, 5 signifies the atonement, 10 is completeness, 17 is heaven. So we then have (atonement x completion x heaven). But this is squared - (atonement x completion x heaven) x (atonement x completion x heaven), and we know from Genesis 41 that when something is declared twice, God formally ordains that thing to be so, … well… there you have it. What more proof could you want?

I asked my ever-suffering wife RoseMary to watch that particular video, and because of her conservative Catholic upbringing, did not understand all the Bible interpretation via numerical manipulation. But she commented that it all reminded her of Chinese Astrology – a gem of a comparison that I want to remember!

Of course it is nuts. But how many of us have fallen for the same trick? Yes I know you have heard it. The number 3 is the number of God, since 3 signifies the Trinity and the number of days between the Crucifixion and Resurrection. So every time you read ‘three’ in scripture, you must see what significance it has towards the Triune Essence of the Godhead or how it points to Christ’s Resurrection. Herbert Lockyer’s mind-numbing book All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible is stuffed to the brim with mystical interpretations where the number three occurs in the Old Testament.

But it goes further. Not only the numbers four, five, six, seven, eight, … etc all have mystical interpretations, but colors, metals, animals, etc, every mention of which can be given some kind of mystical allusion to Jesus, or the Disciples, or Sin or the Eschaton, or anything else the Biblical interpreter may wish. How many of you have heard that Yeast or Leaven always refers to Sin or Pride? So when we read of the Passover Seder in Exodus and of how all Leaven is to removed from the dwelling, we are to interpret that as the removal of Sin before the sacrifice. But what is the difference between that and telling me that forty means testing, meat means truth, iron means military strength, birds mean evil, thorns mean temptation, brass means judgment, eight means new beginnings, silver means blood, seven is completeness, the Sea means the Gentiles, etc, etc, ad infinitum? Seriously - what is the difference?

And once you start down that path of interpretation via numerical and mystical manipulation, the Bible can be made to say absolutely anything. There are no limits because there are no rules. I am ashamed to admit that I was once completely under the spell of this trap – a world of codes and puzzles, where the Bible is an infinite well of mystical truth, and every word, every number, every phrase has multiple levels of meaning that can be divined. And it burns me up, because I know I was not the only one trapped in this way of thinking. I remember when Chuck Missler would guest speak at Calvary Chapel in Albuquerque. He would talk codes and puzzles and numbers and mystical meanings for hours, and his captivated audience would remain seated after the marathon sermon for a question/answer session!! Unbelievable.

I guess I have commented enough on this. Nothing terribly witty or profound or unique here – just my own take on these crazy events in the religious world. Time to stop procrastinating – I am now off to work on building that closet. Until next time, Dear Reader….

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Satan will gum you

Last night on my way home from work, I flipped on the radio and tuned the dial to the Christian Satellite Network (CSN). I was lucky enough to catch about 5 minutes of Matt Fox’s program “The Way the Life and the Truth” on CSN radio. It was another expository teaching, and it sounded like he was going through Samuel or Kings, but I was not for sure. Matt Fox said something that, in essence, I had heard many times before, but he said it in such a way that I had to stop and reflect on the bizarre nature of it. Last night I looked for the message online so I could listen again, but I had no such luck. But paraphrasing, Matt Fox, shared a message with his congregation that went something like this:

Satan, if he is able, would rather not fight with you. Instead, he wins his battles by convincing you that the sinful path is the correct path, and then he stands back and watches you ruin yourself with your bad decisions. Because you believed Satan! But that is his strategy. He will just tempt you, convince you, entice you. He will never battle with you or force you though! Do you know that Satan has no power over you? Jesus defeated Satan at the Cross! So Satan can no longer do anything to you! He can’t attack with his teeth! Satan will gum you, but he will never bite.

At about this point, I changed the station.

Later last night I thought about what Matt Fox could have meant by this. The idea of Satan being “defeated at the cross” is something that I had heard before, but honestly, in all my years as a Christian, out of all the countless sermons I have heard over the years, I never actually thought about this statement until last night.

I know about the crucifixion being the sacrifice and expiation for Sin. But what part does Matt Fox believe "Satan" had in this sacrificial act? Does Matt Fox believe Satan had some kind of biting power over Yahweh’s faithful before the crucifixion, which Satan now no longer has? And if so, how did this power of Satan manifest itself? Matt Fox’s message implies that Satan once had the power to actually force Yahweh’s faithful to do things against their will, since he now only has the power of suggestion. If this is so, and considering the fact the Matt Fox is a good inerrantist, evidence of Satan’s forceful power must be found in the Old Testament. The first, in fact, the only story I can think of where Satan does physical harm to one of Yahweh’s Faithful is the story of Job. But Satan’s deed of harming Job and killing his family was done only after Yahweh had given his approval and permission (Job 1:12, 2:6). If Satan, when demonstrating his destructive powers, can only act on that power with Divine approval, it is contradictory to suppose Jesus needed to perform a sacrificial deed to then strip Satan of his destructive powers.

My point here is not to debate the correct interpretation of particular Scriptural passages, or even to discuss Satan’s proper roll in our world and his relation to Jesus. I do not cite The Bible as any kind of authority, and I believe that Satan is a wholly mythological creature. I believe that these stories, when taken out of their realm of myth, have no relevance in our world. My point rather is to highlight, even assuming the existence of other-worldly Beings and Divine authorities, the theological sloppiness of many popular ‘Bible Teachers’. I do care when authority figures abuse their call as teachers to an unquestioning crowd. I have written several articles about the nonsense I have heard from various Catholic homilies, and, even if one assumes orthodoxy, how the uncritical Faithful accepts every word of nonsense uttered by the priest. And I fear that is what we have here in the person of Matt Fox. The idea of Jesus’ defeat of the once powerful Satan is just one very simple example of the blatant fabrications that come from these charismatic Bible Teachers, and the pews are swollen with the Faithful who uncritically lap it all up.

Nothing is as simple as it is presented.

I had always been taught that Jesus’ death was necessary for the atonement of our sins. But does Matt Fox think that a magical deed other than sin atonement occurred during the act of crucifixion? If Yahweh could, back in the story of Job, cause or restrict the destructive power of Satan by his simple word of permission, why did it later require the death of Jesus to bind Satan’s destructive power? In another story, when Satan opposes the High Priest, Yahweh is able, by his divine word and authority, to rebuke Satan (Zech 3:1-2). Are we to believe that Yahweh is now somehow unable to enforce his word over Satan without the action of the sacrifice and the shedding of blood, as he was able to in the books of Zechariah and Job? Does Matt Fox believe that Yahweh is now powerless without the aid of magical rituals and incantations? He must believe this if he thinks that it took no less than the death of Jesus to remove the fangs of Satan, and restrict his power to biting with gums.

Where could Matt Fox have gotten this idea? As a good inerrantist, I am certain Matt Fox thinks he pulled the idea of Jesus defeating Satan at the Cross out of one of the 66 books of the Bible, and nowhere else. This is the where the inerrantists think they get all their ideas. Let’s look at some possible options, and see if they have any relevance to the idea that Satan once had, and now no longer has, any power over the Faithful via the Crucifixion.

The most commonly cited passage concerning Christ's defeat of Satan is from the Epistle to the Hebrews:

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

This passage describes the Devil, whom I assume Matt Fox equates with Satan, as being destroyed via Christ’s death. It also says that The Devil has the power of death, and that through Christ’s death, those who were once afraid of their own death are now delivered. Christ does not strip Satan of his power, but completely destroys him by giving himself up for death, thus releasing The Devil of the power he once had over death. It seems to me that the author of Hebrews mixes and confuses, as so often happens, separate descriptions of spiritual and physical death into the same passage, so that while he may mean the death of Christ in the physical sense, he may also mean that Christ delivered those who were afraid of spiritual death. Does the author then mean that The Devil had the power of spiritual or physical death? I don’t know for sure, and I don’t know if anybody knows the precise intent of this scriptural passage, but I think that this passage is the closest we have to the teaching of Matt Fox that Satan no longer has destructive power over the life of the believer. But it is quite a reach.

Here is another passage we may consider as a possibility:

Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He (Christ) was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. (1John 3:4-10)

In contradiction with the passage from Hebrews, in which The Devil is destroyed, in this passage it is stated that the death of ‘the Son of God’ destroyed the works of The Devil. The foul work of The Devil is Sin, which is lawlessness, and Sin was destroyed by the death of ‘The Son of God’. The destruction of Sin is evident in those who ‘dwell in God’ because they do not sin (v. 4, 6, 8, 9), and the lawless works of The Devil are destroyed (v. 8). If Matt Fox pulled his teaching from this scriptural passage, he would have to assume that the destruction of the works of The Devil leaves the Devil with the power to further tempt believers (or in Matt Fox’s words, ‘gum you’) but this is nowhere hinted at in this passage. Further, Matt Fox would have to assume that the destruction of Sin means that those who dwell in God no longer keep on or make a habit of sinning, as I have heard these passages mis-quoted many times. But this is not what the text says, and the statement regarding the work of The Devil, Sin, which was destroyed by the death of the Son of God, only makes sense if that Sin is utterly destroyed in the believer, and the believer no longer commits sin. If it took the death of Jesus to give the believer the mere power to resist the temptations of The Devil, the power of Christ's death is rendered unnecessary and superfluous when we consider the power of the righteous faithful of God before Jesus walked the earth. If Job, for instance, was able to overcome all the temptations of Satan without the power of Christ’s death, why is the death of Christ even necessary? Unless Sin is allowed to be completely destroyed in the believer, as 1John 3:4-10 actually states, and not merely made a habit of, as Matt Fox seems to believe it states, then I don’t see how 1John 3:4-10 makes any sense at all.

I can only think of one other place where Matt Fox might be pulling this idea from - the famous “first Messianic prophecy” (Gen 3:15). Yahweh, describing his punishment to the Serpent after the incident in the Garden says:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.

Even if we accept the common interpretation of this passage, in which we assume the Serpent is Satan, and that this punishment is a foretelling of somebody who will subsequently bruise the head of Satan, it is too vague to fit Matt Fox’s thesis. If we assume that Matt Fox accepts this as evidence of Christ’s destruction of Satan at the Cross, we cannot interpret “it shall bruise thy head” to mean “because of Jesus’ death on the cross, Satan no longer possesses his formerly destructive force. But he can gum you.” Such wild extrapolations of meaning are arbitrary and gratuitous. Further, this ignores the second part of Yahweh’s statement to the Serpent, “And you shall bruise His heel”, which is left unexplained in Matt Fox’s message, in fact, in nearly all quotes of this verse as a Messianic Prophecy. But even if we ignore this, and even if we grant Matt Fox his Fundamentalist theology, and agree with him that this Scripture refers to Jesus bruising the head of Satan at the Cross, this is still contradicted by Paul’s personal greetings in his epistle to the Romans.

Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. (Romans 16:19-20)

Paul, writing after the crucifixion of Jesus, interprets Genesis 3:15 as something occurring still in his future. Unlike Matt Fox, Paul takes the entire quote from Yahweh into consideration, and incorporates “And you shall bruise His heel” into the meaning of Satan bruising the feet of the Faithful in Rome, but they shall, in turn, crush Satan’s head with those very feet that Satan is “bruising’.

But wait, how can Satan bruise, when, according to Matt Fox, Satan has somehow lost that power?


Here is my point. In the grand scheme of Biblical interpretation and exegesis, Matt Fox’s opinions on Satan, that I confess I am overblowing, are meaningless. I have no desire to argue and debate fine points of Biblical interpretation. This is how I read these passages, and in no sense, in no way, shape or form do I see where in the world Matt Fox, a pastor, a person who wields authority over his Faithful Flock, pulls this admittedly very trivial teaching from. The Bible teachers of CSN radio hold up the Bible as an inerrant standard, they claim it as a sole authority; they demonize those who do not follow, interpret and believe it as they do. Yet, when faced with complicated and contradicting scriptural passages, they all tend to iron everything into the simple, basic and meaningless sludge. The bumpy complications and bothersome technicalities of the varied writings in Scripture are homogenized into smooth, placid, flavorless, jello. These pastors and Bible teachers numb their captive flock with salt that has lost its savor.

They are getting off easy – I am commenting on a mere 30 second quip from a roughly 25 minute radio broadcast, which itself is just one of dozens of interchangeable teaching programs broadcast on CSN radio, a station that prides itself on its own claims of sound exegetical Bible-based teaching. Many times have I been tempted to comment on the base nonsense that I have heard from CSN radio, my old Skip Heitzig cassettes, and various Evangelical pamphlets and booklets, only to stop myself for fear of starting an exegetical debate blog-war. But such simple, popular Christianity is theology for kindergarteners, a theology that I immersed myself in for far too long, and not a basis of teaching or living for any thinking person – Christian or non-Christian alike. So many of these types of expository, verse-by-verse Bible teachings, such as those popular with Calvary Chapel, are so ironed flat, that any number of them can be deconstructed, as I have done in this article, with minimal effort - if only their flocks dared do so. Convolving the complex, diverse, and sometimes contradictory, yet profound, thinking of the Scriptures into the trite messages that I so commonly hear, render their own Scriptures as meaningless – and the message is delivered and accepted purely on the authority of the Pastor. What a waste.