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Jonathan Edwards And How I Left The Oom Community


R. S. Martin

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Originally posted here.

 

Post 12

 

No doubt about it; the fundies love their scary god. This classic piece by Jonathan Edwards finds close echoes in today's apologists, at least the ones that haven't tried to sft-pedal the hell doctrine.

 

http://members.aol.com/wnichint/Justice.pdf

 

Even the minutest sins appears infinite to a perfect god, hence eternal torture is justifiable, and God should delight in administering it.

 

Thanks for this link. I'm reading it. I've never been exposed to Jonathan Edwards. If this is the teaching on which most of you were raised--it's just plain stupid/horrible! I'm beginning to see why scholars say horse and buggy Mennonites are not true fundamentalists. I think the level of mind control is much higher in fundamentalism than I experienced. There was no ban on reading material. Not even an effort to control reading, except a casual eye on the school library. Where real effort was exerted was to protect us from the influence of the churches around us. It was said that these churches were so slippery that they could get you entangled up in them without knowing exactly what happened. I am beginning to realize that the churches they tried to protect us from were the real fundamentalists.

 

Our lives were severely circumscribed in what we were allowed to have material wise. But what we were allowed to have (clothing styles, means of transportation, homes and technology) was pretty much upper class Victorian style life with a strong dash of twentieth century technology such as gas and electric motors and other technology. In other words, it was the life of the wealthy a century earlier and by no means unpleasant for human existence. The perceived problem was "coveting/lusting after the things of the world," which first and foremost included the automobile and telephone (when I was growing up; in 1989 the telephone was admitted in my community), cut hair and pants on women, female leadership in public, fancy names for babies, fancy homes, clothing, and vehicles; large tractors and other farm machinery, and much more.

 

But when it came to "right thought" there wasn't all that much to go on. A humble attitude, humility in thought and deed, appearance and lifestyle and in communication with each other esp. authority figures--those were the things that were valued and judged. I would say there were very few role models for such a life because most authority figures were so busy ensuring that everybody paid them due respect. You can be sure that rebellion in whatever mode of expression was labeled evil. This put some people at a very serious disadvantage. Birth control was despised if not forbidden. This made for very large families. In a community where automobile transportation was suppposed to be wrong that made for problems.

 

The size of the community increased by leaps and bounds. It was impossible to keep the community small enough for people to travel to each other's homes by horse and buggy travel; it was too long a trip for a horse to get there and back in between morning and evening milking. Also, two hours or more of travel in an open buggy in all seasons became dangerous in terms of keeping alive; in severe cold humans were threatened by frost bite or worse and in extreme heat (summer) horses were liable to suffer from becoming over-heated. And then there was the humane society ever on the watch for over-worked and abused horses.

 

Various ways have been used to address the problem, all of which were considered by some to violate humility. One way was to hire vans for travel to distant areas--seen by some as lust of the world for fast, easy, and extensive travel; not content with one's lot as appointed by god (the church). Another was to get high-tech milking equipment--seen by some as pride in possessions. Building and using closed vehicles was another approach. Closed vehicles called for windows. Large windows made it look like a stage-coach. Stage coaches were wordly. The church rules were completely reactive; no rules were made until someone was deemed to have taken things too far.

 

"Good" Christians lived happily within the normal traditions inherited from former generations. It was the young generation that suffered. Having no money and no resources, they were forced to settle on cheap farms far from the churches, and thus obligated to go for modern conveniences. Being young, they lacked voice in the community unless they happened to have a prominent father or grandfather who would advocate for them. Occassionally, prominent church leaders were known to make accommodations for their off-spring without consulting anyone.

 

My guess is that with so much energy exerted and focused on outward appearance and observable life style, there was none left for mind control. If one managed to assume the proper humble attitude and to escape judgment by abiding by church rules, there was great freedom of personal thought. At times I wondered what the church would do if people knew the kinds of reading material I was bringing home from the public library. In a desperate effort to dig my way out of chronic unhappiness I devoured everything I could lay hands on regarding self-esteem and self-improvement. I also read many books on Myers-Briggs. That combination is what saved my sanity.

 

In a community where the individual was sacrificed for the good of the whole, individual identity is not valued AT ALL. Yet what I needed almost more than food was an identity. These books helped me find one. Yes, I did end up leaving the church. Not because I wanted to but because my needs were considered totally invalid. It was a matter of life and death. I was often deeply saddened around funerals of individuals who were looked down upon. At the funeral, and in the days leading up to it, the community and leadership blamed itself, but by the time the funeral was over and done with, nothing was done to improve life for other marginalized individuals. The attitude was: If they want to be so different they've got to look out for themselves. As though we choose who we are. Well, I knew that is what would happen if I killed myself. The only person who would benefit was me. In the end I did what I had to do. I enrolled in a university course. It was what I needed so I went for more. Eventually people found out and then I had to make a decision. I could not live with such overt disapproval so I left. Of course, I was accused of "forsaking godly teachings to follow my own lusts and desires."

 

That my own needs might have been rejected by anyone was not an acceptable thought. My thoughts, however, were my own, so long as I did not express them in any way or means. Whether or not I was right with god was never questioned; I lived in strict obedience to the church so everyone knew that I was okay in that respect. They didn't like me but no one questioned my relationship with God. They hated my questions and I couldn't live underground forever. That, however, was seen as malcontentment and rebellion against my god-ordained lot.

 

From my perspective, my lot was ordained by the powers that be. And the powers the be looked and acted extra-ordinarly much like self-interested prejudiced human beings. I am syre they were "led of the Spirit" to treat me as they did. It is, however, convenient if we don't analyze the spirit too closely--whether it was human or divine. I never doubted that it was human, if not from the devil, but definitely not divine. Divine insight taught me that I was supposed to be a teacher but humans didn't like me so they wouldn't hire me. I waited around twenty years but that wasn't long enough for them. And when I left one of my little sisters told me righteously that I cannot expect ever to be hired now.

 

I wanted to bash her face in. As though I had not given MUCH thought to that. As though I had not spent many a sleepless night evaluating the risks, the losses and benefits, as though I had the least desire whatsoever to bring upon myself the condemnation that leaving the church inevitably brought to anyone who dared leave. And I didn't just leave our church for the next one up the ladder; no, I decided to do things right the first time around--I didn't want to have to change churches every year. And I knew I wanted a church with no dress code (I didn't want to change my dress and I had heard that some of the in-between churches made people change their dress) and I wanted permission to get all the education I wanted. That forced me outside any relatively plain church right into "the world."

 

Once I was in "the world" I had to figure out how to identify as a sinner in need of Jesus' shed blood if I wanted to be accepted into the church. (This is one of the churches I mentioned above that my people tried to shelter and protect us from.) Finally I figured out that my strong desire for human approval was my sin. So I got accepted. Today I have concluded that this need for approval, i.e. acceptance by family and others is natural and a human need. Fortunately I did not know it at the time and thereby gained entrance to a faith community.

 

For people here, the only way I could go through the transition was to belong to a faith community. Too many things were changing in my life and being part of a faith community was a psychological necessity at the time. That is the way it appears in retrospect. A few years later I was strong enough to stand up for my beliefs and no longer buy acceptance with lies. Were it not for increasingly more liberal faith communities (all of them Mennonite) I would not have been able to make it.

 

By their very liberalness they did not stress church-attendance and no one came to see me when I failed to show up in church. I could come to church for Christmas and Easter, or not, and no one would ask questions. Needless to say, the strong and lavish approval that was expressed when I did show up spoke for itself. However, it was easier to deal with than sharp disapproval.

 

Incidentally, the two modern Mennonite churches I called home, each in its own turn, were started by my own generation a good decade earlier. These people knew all about familial disapproval. Even though they remained within the mother denomination, they did start their own churches with the aim to do meet a need they perceived as not being met with the older congregations. This is stuff I only realize in retrospect as I learn more about this kind of church from people on this forum.

 

Oops, this is waaayyyyy off-topic but it's my own thread so maybe I don't have to apologize. Writing it out has been therapeutic in figuring out how some parts of my Self fit together. Thanks for listening (if indeed you did).

 

 

Post 15

 

Now I remember what got me started on my rant in Post 12. I'm back to reading that article and I come across the same stupidity.

 

According to Edwards, the very existence of the law proves god's reality. Because if we weren't depraved then there would be no need for the law, etc. As though a law were needed in the first place. This is worse than bullshit! I never knew anyone thought THAT!

 

QUOTEFrom Page 6:

 

It is unreasonable to suppose, that God should be obliged, if he make a reasonable creature capable of knowing his will, and receiving a law from him, and being subject to his moral government, at the same time to make it impossible for him to sin, or break his law. For if God be obliged to this, it destroys all use of any commandments, laws, promises, or threatenings, and the very notion of any moral government of God over those reasonable creatures.

 

I get the impression that someone was saying to Edwards, "Hey look, man, if God doesn't like us the way he made us it's his (god's) own fault! He could have made us so it's impossible for us to sin."

 

So Edwards says, "Sorry you got that backwards. If God made us--reasonable creatures that we are--so that we couldn't sin, of what use were all the laws and commandments and promises or threatenings? Give it some thought, dude! Look at all the wasted laws and commandments if we were made incapable of sin. Just think about it. Now wouldn't that be crazy!?!?!"

 

ME: So god got a headache making up a batch of laws that might not get used? I think it was the other way around. God got a headache because his creatures were messing up his farm in the sandbox. To solve that problem he made the laws, etc.

 

No, honestly, I don't think it happened that way at all but it would make a great deal more sense. I believe a moral code developed based on survival, and that eventually this moral code got codified. That's what happens in most human organizations these days. A new church or club or what-have-you starts up. Maybe they draw up a code of ethics on their first meeting but probably not. When problems start cropping up rules are made for more harmonious cooperation. At first the rules are casual but as time goes on, the group gets bigger so that the zeal of the first generation wears off, and new people join who weren't around at first, and eventually some issue comes up where no one really knows what to do about it.

 

Numerous and various meetings are held and no conclusion can be reached mainly because no two members agree on exactly what the rules mean. So when at long length some kind of consensus is reached they write it out in detail to prevent this from happening ever again.

 

Put another way: Two males are moving their harems to a spot where food is more plentiful. By some freak accident one of the young gets killed by a member of the other man's harem. The one who lost a member gets mad and kills one of the other guy's young in return. Eventually they realize that all they are doing is reducing the size of their respective tribes and this is not doing anyone any good because they need people to acquire food and to protect themselves against enemies. So Rule #1: Thou shalt not kill.

 

Hmmm. That must have happened a very, very long, long time ago because all humans have that rule. Killing one of your own (obviously the two harems belonged together in some way) is simply bad logic. And to this very day humans (a disturbingly large number at least) believe it is okay killing the enemy no matter how guilty or innocent the individual who actually dies. But killing your own is never okay.

 

So we've got a rule in place for the most abhorrent crime, namely killing one of your own. But problems don't go away. The women keep sneaking off with roots one of the other ladies dug up for supper. The bickering around this gets so bad that male intervention is required. The kids are fighting each other and there are serious problems inside the harem. Rule #2: Thou shalt not steal.

 

Great! Now life should be calm and peaceful. After all, nobody's killing anyone and no one is stealing anyone else's food. But there are other things to steal. Junior can't keep his hands of his dad's youngest concubine, who in turn is more attracted to him than to the old guy. When he is finally given his own woman he soon loses interest in her and finds he'd rather have his brother's. Rule #3: Thou shalt not covet.

 

But covet is something that happens to you. You can't help liking something else better than what you've got right now. Or, as also happens sometimes, you might like to keep your own but you also want the other thing that your neighbour has. And you can't help wanting it! It's just the way you're made! Time to get people interested in abstract values rather than carnal lusts and desires. Rule #4: Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.

 

What they do is learn about this Fate or God who provides all good things. It's not just happenstance; there is rhyme and reason to the randomness of life. There is Purpose. Rule #5: I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.

 

With all these rules life gets rather complicated. It's hard to always do these things that go so hard against normal human tendencies, such as being satisfied with your own supper when the next person over has a bigger potato or tastier morsel of meat. It's really very easy to just happen to pick it up when nobody's looking, to get that large root mixed in with your own as you gather what you've just dug up. And when you get caught you can always say you dug it yourself and that the other woman is lying. Rule #6: Thou shalt not bear false witness/lie.

 

And so the rules pile up. I'm sure it didn't happen this way but I'm also sure it happened as human problems made it necessary. I am very sure that God did not create the rules and then make evil people with free will for no other reason than to get some use out of his dusty old rules.

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