Category: Religion

How to Know You’re in a Cult

There are many helpful red flags to let you know that you’ve inadvertently stumbled into being a cult member. Keep in mind the simple definition of “cult” is a system of religious veneration of a particular figure. A cult doesn’t have to be sacrificing virgins and worshiping Satan to be a cult.

None of the things I list below necessarily mean you’re in a cult, but it sure might. So tread very lightly if you see these warning signs:

  1. The “leader” is revered as the one person with all the answers. This is especially true if he will argue with anyone who challenges his assertions. You can’t be a cult leader without first being a narcissist.
  2. The leader has no actual seminary training or ordination. Folks, there is a reason that the vast majority of preachers go through seminary, or at least through an intensive ordination process. It’s because it weeds out a lot of the potential cult leaders – people in it for personal accolades. It also provides real accountability, as a person who is ordained through a larger organization can be fired and replaced if they go off the path.
  3. The “church” is several years old and still meets in someone’s home. Again, this is from my own experience, and your results may vary. Many churches start in homes, but churches that are planted in this way typically outgrow the home quickly.
  4. People who leave are badmouthed by the leader. In a real church, people come and go all the time. This happens for myriad reasons. Sometimes it’s doctrinal differences. Many times it’s simply logistics. And other times, it’s interpersonal reasons. However, if each time a family leaves, the leader of the “church” talks about “always knowing they were bad people….” you can be sure of one thing – you’re in a cult.
  5. The leader has requirements of members that make most reasonable people uncomfortable. For example, if the leader of your “church” insists on kissing all of the women on the lips, you can be sure you are in a cult. The Bible does say to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” However, I don’t recall the Bible saying to kiss the women on the lips and no one else. Creepy As F. Also, a 100% sign you’re in a cult.
  6. Your “church” only attracts weirdos. Sure, we’re all a little weird, and into every church a weirdo or two will appear. But if your entire “church” is made up of weirdos, misfits, and the fringe of society – there’s a good chance you’re in a cult. Cult leaders prey on the weirdos and misfits. They tell them that if they just follow this set of rules, that they will be an accepted part of the group. That’s what weirdos and misfits want – acceptance.
  7. Incidentally, if everyone “out there” is considered lesser because they don’t believe exactly what the “leader” believes, chances are, you’re in a cult. There are about eleventy-million denominations within the Christian faith. All of them share a reasonably short set of things in common and have many small differences. I would never say a Lutheran is less of a Christian or less of a true believer than a Baptist. However, these little one-off cults are happy to paint with a broad brush.
  8.  The leader makes all the decisions. I’ve been in a lot of churches where they pay lip service to inclusion and accountability. But I’ve also seen people who just “pitch” their ideas to their “elders” and it’s just expected they will rubber stamp it.
  9. The leader meets with and “counsels” people of the opposite sex one-on-one in closed door sessions. No professional, accountable person would ever do this. Pastor’s office doors have windows in them. Pastors don’t meet with women one-on-one without anyone else around. Even if the pastor has no bad intentions, it’s completely unprofessional and is asking for trouble. If your “leader” doesn’t worry about things like this, you may just be in a cult.
  10. The leader tries to act like an altruistic hero. “You don’t even have to pay me, I’ll just do this cuz I’m a good guy.” Mmmhmmm. A wise person once told me… “Pete, everyone gets something out of it.” I’ve never met a real pastor that wasn’t a humble, genuine guy. You can smell narcissism from a mile away, and if you smell it, run away – you’re in a cult.
  11. The “leader” interferes with other people’s relationships. No real pastor or counselor takes a side when doing relationship counseling. To pick a side is to interfere in someone else’s relationship – something only a cult leader wants to do. If a pastor is telling you “he’s no good, you should dump the bum….” he’s WAY overstepping his bounds – a sure sign you’re in a cult. Some exceptions apply, but they are extreme – physical or sexual abuse. “He’s mean” is not a valid reason for a pastor to try and break a married couple up. A real pastor is always working towards helping both parties get better and create an environment for reconciliation. If he is not up to the task, perhaps he should be in a different line of work.
  12. The church ceases to exist when the “leader” moves on. Churches go thru tough times, but no church should be built on one single person. If it is, there’s a good chance it’s a cult.

Christianity and Gay Marriage

If two men stand at an altar and vow to love each other forever, God isn’t confused by that.

Christians are told to love their neighbor as themselves. So, what if your neighbor is gay? What if your neighbor wants to marry their partner? What’s a good Christian to do???

I have a few thoughts, all of which are sure to offend one side or the other. As is my tradition.

I believe that Christ would want us to love them, not judge them, and try to be a positive witness (or light) to them. Jesus wasn’t keen on beating people over the head with His message. He was more of a “let them come to me if they want to hear” kind of guy. People were drawn to Him because he was loving, had a message that resonated, and was a person that you would want to be around.

But Christians, I’m about to call you out.

A lot of Christians have a giant stick up their rear. I’m not sure I can pinpoint the origin of this phenomenon, but it’s quite apparent, especially to non-Christians.

So let’s get what the Bible actually teaches on the table right up front. In Leviticus 20, we are commanded not to “lie with a man as one lies with a woman.” So basically, no homosexual sex. However, the same chapter also says we should put anyone who curses their parents to death. James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” Eeek. So if we… get drunk, have lust, overeat, steal, or curse someone, we are accountable for the WHOLE LAW!?

That’s a pretty heavy realization, one which Christians like to give lip service to, but not actually follow in practice. Homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible, and it’s an “outward” sin – meaning everyone around you can see it. Lust, on the other hand, is an inward sin. Those who are committing inward sins LOVE to look down on folks committing outward sins.

It’s often argued that Christian marriage is a picture of Christ’s love for the church. I agree with this interpretation. But here’s where I disagree with the typical Christian stance on enforcing marriage “laws” through the government. God can tell the difference between a Christian marriage and a non-Christian marriage. He doesn’t need our help identifying it. Two non-Christians marrying each other isn’t a picture of Christ and the church, either.

As Christians, we have a responsibility in our own marriages to make them as close to a picture of Christ and the church as we can with His help. But we also have a responsibility to love our sinful neighbors, as we are sinners ourselves and Christ loves us.

The government cannot legislate what constitutes a Christian marriage, because the concept of Christian marriage has nothing to do with the government at all. Legal marriage exists solely for taxation and estates, nothing else. If two men stand at an altar and vow to love each other forever, God isn’t confused by that. And we need to spend more time worrying about our own marriages and less time worrying about doing God’s job for Him.

The sanctity of marriage is not in any way reduced when a gay couple get married. To argue otherwise is to miss the entire point. Christian marriage is the picture of Christ and the church. No other marriage is – BUT, no other marriage is TRYING to be that picture. We are so hung up on the word that we are completely ignoring the CONCEPT.

If I have an orange and you have an apple, and you insist on calling your apple an orange, it makes no sense for me to get mad about it. WHO CARES what you call your ever-lovin’ stupid apple? If you like your apple and you want to eat it and you think it’s an orange, more power to you!

I’m so tired of the Christian platitude of “love the person but hate the sin.” We should love the person because they are no worse and no better than us, and loving them is what we’ve been commanded. That should be enough, if you’re really a Christian.

Bad Things – Good People

All my life, I’ve heard this question. It’s used by those that don’t believe in God to justify their disbelief in a good God. Surely if God is all-powerful and all-knowing, then He wouldn’t just wipe out good people with a tornado, right? This is a natural human reaction to suffering, but it’s bastardization of who God really is. God created us in His image, and wants all of us to love Him.

He did not make us robots, because by definition, love can’t be programmed or coerced. What makes it confusing is that He knows everything that will ever happen. So why even bother making Ted Bundy? Christians frequently throw out the “everything happens for a reason” platitude, which isn’t even Biblical, to explain it. Sometimes the reason something happens is that a human being has decided to be an asshole. That’s not a very comforting reason, but it is THE reason. God sent Jesus to die for all of our sins. That includes Ted Bundy. Ted Bundy had free will to choose to follow God or not follow God. The fact that God knew what his choice would be does not mean that Ted didn’t have the choice.

That’s a difficult paradox for us to understand, because in our minds, if God knows in advance, he should just only create people he knows will choose Him. But that’s not love. You’ve gone right back to a scenario where God has simply constructed paradise on Earth. There’s a second aspect to the bad things happening to good people argument. What is a good person? Am I a good person if I follow the 10 commandments, go to church, and pay my taxes? Or am I a sinner just like everyone else on Earth? God doesn’t assign degrees to sin, and when we do, it leads to silly arguments like wondering why bad things happen to good people. A) there are no good people, and B) god doesn’t MAKE bad things happen regardless. Bad things happen for a bunch of reasons.

People are killed by weather because they live where deadly climatic events happen. Nobody’s ever died from a tornado or a hurricane in Arizona. Most bad things that happen in the world are at the hands of other people. Some of those are purposeful, some are accidental. But none are at the hand of God. People die from sickness. Did God make them sick? Does God use sickness as an instructional or disciplinary tool? Or is sickness A) a normal part of life with an imperfect body, or B) a result of crappy decisions like what to eat and what activities to engage in, or C) a 1:1 result of doing something you shouldn’t be doing? People make choices.

For example, we eat garbage and way too much of it. If all you eat is grease, salt, and sugar, you cannot blame God when you have a heart attack, stroke, or diabetes. If you shoot drugs or engage in promiscuous sex, you cannot blame God when you get Hep C or HIV. If you do skateboard or BMX tricks, you cannot blame God when you break your neck. People are hurt or killed by other people’s choices.

My unborn but full-term baby was killed in 1998 by a drunk driver. The person driving drunk chose to drive drunk. God didn’t make him drink or drive. He did that himself. Sadly his choice affected others. That’s what happens when there are 6 billion people all making bad choices on a daily basis.

Bad things don’t happen to good people. Bad things happen and there are no good people.

Adultery Part III

In every relationship, rain will fall. You can’t have two human beings in close proximity for a lifetime without some strife, hurt feelings, annoyances, etc. You just can’t. It’s part of the human condition. A result of our sin nature.

When the rain comes, it’s hard to feel connected to your partner, and when there’s a break in connection, one of two things happens. Either you work together to reconnect, or one party says “hey, I tried, and I deserve to be freaking adored, so I’m going to get that somewhere else.”

It’s a selfish act.

Look. I can tell you firsthand what it’s like to be in a miserable, one-sided marriage. Been there, bought the t-shirt. (Still paying for it, in fact.) I felt completely powerless to improve the relationship (and was) because I was the only party putting in any effort. But I made a vow, and without integrity, a man has nothing. I stuck it out until things came to light that both pragmatically and Biblically ended the marriage. Had those things not transpired, I’d still be in a loveless, one-sided marriage.

When you are cheated on, even by someone you no longer have connection with, it sucks. You wonder why you weren’t good enough. You wonder why they were so selfish and couldn’t put some effort into their existing relationship. You feel worthless, undesirable, and pathetic. I know this firsthand.

Every person that cheats (for the most part) feels justified. They weren’t getting what they needed. The person they met is their “soulmate.” They deserve to be happy. They never give a thought to the partner they are betraying, let alone to God or their integrity. They justify their actions in their own heads. They blame the person they are cheating on. They tell themselves they tried everything they could and it just didn’t work.

To that, I say bs.

If you have literally tried everything and it didn’t work, MAN UP and get a divorce. I’m not a fan of divorce, but I’m even less of a fan of cheating. Let them go so they can have a life and move on.

I was recently informed that it’s not an affair if it starts out non-sexual. That’s a laughable comment, because I’d venture to say the vast majority of affairs start out non-sexual. That doesn’t make them NOT affairs. The same person told me I wasn’t mature enough to understand that their affair was God-centered.

God literally spewed out his coffee all over his computer screen when she said that. How deluded, pathetic, and self-absorbed does one have to be to make such a ludicrous conclusion?

God has nothing to do with it. Own what you say. Own what you do. If you’re having an affair and you feel justified, then man the hell up and just say “neener neener, I’m the exception to the universal, Biblical truth that cheating is bad.” Everyone in the universe will label you (correctly) as a narcissistic a-hole, but at least you’re being honest.

I’d venture to say that 99.99% of human beings believe that cheating is bad. And I’m including those that are actually cheating on their partner. The Bible is quite clear. It says to rejoice in the wife of your youth and to run away from anyone that tries to tempt you. It says cheating is like scooping fire into your lap. It says that marriage should be honored by all, and to keep the marriage bed pure.

But seriously. If you need Bible verses to know that cheating is bad, you simply can’t be helped.

Fully Rely on God

Ever since I met Nicole, we both knew we wanted to have kids together. Medically that’s turned out to be a tad more difficult than most couples experience. I’ve come to terms with the reality of it. I hate seeing Nicole have to take all these shots and other unpleasant things, but she is more than willing, and I trust God to keep her safe.

Another thing that’s been constant since we met is a handful of people being spiteful. Not people who matter in my life, but people I am forced to be around. At first, I heard the “you can’t possible know” and “it’s just physical, you’ll get over it” and “you’re going to scar Nicole’s daughter by moving so fast.” All of those were fabulously helpful, especially coming from people who royally hosed up their OWN lives by procreating with abusive idiots, or by being generally irresponsible jacklegs.

I never really appreciated the unsolicited nay saying. People liked to defend the naysayers claiming they simply cared about what was best for me. I should take their advice even though they hadn’t earned that right.

Now the nay saying (from the same people) has transferred over to IVF. “That’s a really big decision, you sure you should do that with someone you barely know?” “You must really have faith in each other’s parenting abilities.” (passive-aggressive much???). And the ever popular “I can’t believe you’re having Nicole take so many risks.”

Now dammit.

That’s what we call knowing someone’s sore spot and pouring acid on it. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I feel awful that I’m (medically) the reason Nicole has to take these risks. It was not a decision that either of us made lightly. But we’re also going into this with a top program, fantastic doctors, daily monitoring, and my wife in fact IS a nurse herself. We’re fully aware of the risks. We are aware of the odds of complications, conception, carrying a baby to live birth. We know.

The fact is, it’s nobody’s decision but ours. It’s nobody’s place to judge, question, or crap on our decision. And if anyone was to offer concerns, I certainly wouldn’t pick someone who dislikes me and Nicole.

The medications and doctors and injections, and hormones, and thyroid meds, and supplements, and antibiotics, and uterine glue – all of those things play a role in the process. But they are not responsible for creating a new baby. All the doctors can do is manipulate the timing of all of God’s processes.

What I think is this. If God’s plan is for us to have babies that are biologically ours, then this will work. If not, it won’t. Maybe it works on the second or third try. We simply don’t know. But don’t think for a second we went into this blindly. Everything we’ve done since we met has been fast. That doesn’t mean any of it was the wrong decision.