|ACCESS FROM THE FRONT LINE|
|By Danny Aguirre|
|SCP Newsletter, WINTER 1998 VOLUME 22:3|
Apart from my duties as a pastor-evangelist in the Berkeley area, I work at Spiritual Counterfeits Project as the ACCESS director. Here, in addition to counseling and sharing information on the phone, I also answer the mail we receive via the Internet.
Recently I had a very interesting electronic conversation with a person named Paul (E-mail name "Sonata."). I rarely have the time to engage in the kind of lengthy dialogue you see below, but for some reason, in this instance, I felt moved to respond at length. Take note that Paul's range of criticisms accurately reflect the unspoken assumptions of our times--a lesson to all of us trying to reach people. Paul began on the attack until something happened.
The first Internet message from Paul to SCP (condensed for publication):
Your organization is very interesting. In your catalog are materials that attack and attempt to invalidate every non-Christian religion or spiritual path in existence. You even go so far as to attack other Christian denominations. Is the only valid theology your own personal interpretation of the Bible? And what is the intellectual basis for these assaults? A set of assumptions which cannot be proved.
There is not a single thing in Christian theology that can be conclusively shown to be true. You cannot prove that Christ was resurrected, that the Bible is the Word of God--you can't even prove that God exists. You're batting 0.000 in the proof-of-your-beliefs game. Presumably, while the Son of God Himself lived on this Earth, he felt no need to write down, in his own handwriting, a single word of his message to mankind. He relied, instead, on the apostles to recollect, 40 or more years later, what he said and taught. My local paper makes numerous mistakes in reporting facts that are a day old--imagine how they would butcher the truth if they waited 40 years to print an account of what happens every day, considering also that there were no electronic information, sound and image gathering devices available--just pens and paper. Nonetheless, Christians, and SCP, expect me to believe that the Bible and all its unproven theological claims are ABSOLUTE TRUTH. This is totally incomprehensible.
What is a Christian's basis for believing what Jesus said was the Word of God? The Christian assumption that Jesus was the Son of God, which itself cannot be proved. And around and around and around we go...To call a certain theology counterfeit, you need a genuine theology to compare it to. Yet your theology is no more provable in its bigoted contentions of exclusive access to God than any other. And since most theologies declare all others to be false, at least one religion must be lying. The most likely conclusion is that they are all lying about being the "only way" to God. Perhaps Christianity is more accurate theologically than other religions, but this is not a basis upon which to claim that all other religions are spiritually invalid, as you continually make a futile attempt to do. The Bible's historical truthfulness does not prove it to be theological truth, yet Christians continually use this fallacious argument to "prove" Christianity and "disprove" other religions.
. . . Until you can prove all these things, I think you need to remove the presumptive arrogance from your materials. There are frauds in every religion--and some of the most notable in this century were Christian evangelists like Jimmy Baker. Most religions are not essentially frauds--it is the people who run them who often are.
In the sense that you expose such human frauds, your work has some validity. God's omnipresent Spirit does not confine itself to anyone religious sect--how could something omnipresent do so in the first place? You seem to think that a person's religious belief system determines whether God will participate in their life. God Itself is a purely spiritual being, while beliefs are purely intellectual in nature. The two are totally unrelated. My relationship with God exists on a personal, spiritual level. The thoughts about God that whirl around in my mind, ever-changing, have no pertinence whatsoever to my relationship with It. I pray to the same, one God you pray to--how many omnipresent Gods can there be? Just one, by definition. The Bible says all of us were created in God's image and likeness. We're all God's children and all loved equally by our Heavenly Father. The building I sit on Sunday morning while expressing my love for this one God, should, and does not, matter. It is my love for God that matters, and my expressed willingness to serve it. The building I sit in or the thoughts I think cannot possibly invalidate this love. It's like basing the validity of marital love on politics--"Honey, do you believe in more or less government? More? Then we must get a divorce. Obviously you can't really love me if you believe such a thing."
Christianity says, "unless you believe in certain things about God, God cannot possibly love you or rehabilitate you." This also makes no sense. Christians say that loving God isn't good enough, that we have to come to Christ to get to God, yet Christ is dead physically and now one with God.
. . . The core of Christian exclusionary theology is patently illogical and nonsensical--particularly the belief that our God, which is supposedly composed of pure, UNCONDITIONAL love, would torture us for eternity for the mere crime of disbelief in a single, narrow theology. This is perhaps the most ludicrous doctrine of all. How can a spiritual being composed of unconditional love place conditions on its love. Your promulgation of religious bigotry is an unspeakable sin. You should cease doing so immediately. Exorcise all the demons in your religion first before you set out to attack others. When all the fraud, deception, lies, and unrighteousness are purged from Christianity, then you all might have some basis to criticize other religions. Until then, I don't think that you do.
A Child of God
My response to Paul:
What is proof? The Hindu would say the non-Hindu has no proof that our perception of existence is not an illusion. The Existentialist might say there is no proof of any purpose to life. How does one prove the existence of love other than appealing to the testimony of untold millions. In the last two thousand years there are millions who would say that the resurrected Christ according to scripture lives and he lives in the hearts of all who put their trust in him.
I offer to you the testimony of one, me, which admittedly doesn't prove anything, but in gathering evidence for whatever we're investigating, should be taken into account.
From the age of 15-24 I became very involved in Eastern mysticism. During this era of my life I considered Jesus to be one of many avatars similar to Buddha and Krishna. I also regarded Christianity as a primitive path of enlightenment for less advanced souls. Around the age of 22 I had an experience that deeply challenged my suppositions. I was in my house in the living room when a vibrational sound entered the room. I instinctively knew that whatever this energy was, it was evil, and was attempting to enter my body.
When I looked over and saw my roommate's dog hiding under the kitchen table, I knew that this energy/vibrational sound was not my imagination. Up to this point in my life I was the kind of person who could hang out in any big city U.S.A. at 2 AM, without fear. At the moment of this encounter however I had never been so scared or felt so lacking in control in all my life, especially when I began to hear audible voices, mainly of a sinister sounding laughter.
I felt that if this force possessed me, that I would go out and kill somebody or be killed. I don't know if that was really the case but that was my impression at the time. My response was to lay hold of the power of good which could overcome this evil, so I pulled out my copy of the Bhagavad Gita and began to read. However, it seemed that with every word I read, the evil energy grew stronger.
In a state of extreme urgency, I bean to chant the name Krishna, but there was no relief. I felt I was going to lose the battle. I switched to naming Buddha, still no result, and the force was growing. At this time, I was looking for anything that would work, so I said the name Jesus, invoking him as one of many in the hierarchy of ascended souls.
The moment I said his name, one single time, the hideous energy vanished without a trace of its presence left. I quickly reasoned the whole experience with the name of Jesus as a mere coincidence. It could have just as easily have been the name of Muhammad, Buddha, Krishna, or Babaji that caused the departure of the evil presence. However, something else inside of me told me otherwise, but I did not want to deal with the implications.
From this point on a cloud hung over my head. I could sense this presence lurking nearby, especially anytime I entered an altered state of consciousness via meditation/yoga/hallucinogenics. In the meantime I was being challenged by Christian acquaintances to check out the claims of Christ and the Bible. I prided myself on being open-minded, so I obliged them even though it was about the last thing I wanted to do. Over the next three years a deep internal conviction was growing within me that much of my lifestyle was wrong, and that the God of the Bible was real.
In my response to the challenge by Christians to have an open mind toward Christianity I was reading any books they gave me. A book called Evidence That Demands A Verdict by Josh McDowell made a good case for the credibility of the Bible as history. I read many conversion stories by many individuals. From Chuck Colson (ex-hatchet man for Nixon) to Nicky Cruz (N.Y. gang leader), to a nineteenth century lawyer, to an East Indian mystic claiming a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Could they all be lying, I asked myself? Or is there some psychological phenomenon that explains it. This was all happening to me, a person who found Christianity deeply undesirable.
I did not want a faith that restrained my sexual liberty, recreational drug use, or that claimed to be the only way. I did not want to face the disapproval and ridicule of my friends who I had known since childhood. All of these factors were causing me to experience an internal world war. A battle I could not talk to anyone about. I did not want to confide with Christians lest they be encouraged that I might become one of them, nor could I confide with my friends lest they get suspicious that I was considering defecting to the Christian camp.
My response to all this turmoil was to relocate from Northern California to Montana. I saw it as a chance to get away from the war I was experiencing. I would start a new life, get away from all forms of spirituality and get back down to earth. This plan succeeded for a while. I remember reflecting on how good I felt to be in Montana, with a whole bunch of new friends, working on various creative projects.
Then one day I was at a social gathering in Missoula, Montana. At this gathering, I was sitting with a house full of people enjoying the music coming through an excellent sound system, when I suddenly heard a voice, not audible, but somehow my whole being could hear the words: "Danny, why do you keep running from me. You know that I am Jesus, the way the truth and the life, and yet you keep running away from me?"
I placed my hands over my ears and mumbled, "I don't want to hear that voice. No!" I got up and walked out the door to the closest liquor store to buy a case of beer. I came back to the house and proceeded to drink one beer after another, attempting to drown that voice out. To make a long story shorter, I became a Christian within the next sixty days, not without biting, kicking, and scratching each step of the way. The war being fought within me escalated to the point that I felt I was losing my mind. When I finally decided to become a Christian, I felt 10,000 pounds of weight leave me. That was 20 years ago.
Today I am more convinced than ever of the faith I hold. I never have ceased reexamining my faith. I suppose I could be deluded, but I don't think so. Other factors that contribute to the confidence I have in my faith as well as others here at S.C.P. are: The legal evidence for the credibility of Scripture/Christ. This in and of itself is not enough to make me a Christian. However, since Christianity claims to be historically accurate, if when I research historical confirmation I encounter no evidence for its historicity, then it is time to redefine the faith. A book like Evidence That Demands A Verdict is a good overview of these kinds of issues. The phenomenon of prophetic expressions is compelling to me. There are hundreds of expressions foreshadowing the person, life, work, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ in the Hebrew Scriptures. The deeper one studies the Bible the more one discovers amazing patterns that reveal the details of Christ long before He was born. I have found these internal consistencies in some ways to be even more convincing a confirmation of the authenticity and uniqueness of Scripture than the external consistencies of archeology, classical historians, and manuscript evidence. This is why a detailed profile of Jesus Christ, based on prophecies of the Old Testament alone, can be made.
In addition to this, many gleanings taken from the events of the lives of key players in God's plan, by brilliant design, uncannily point to further details of the life of Christ long before He was born. Take for example the event of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac (Found in Genesis 22), who for all intents and purposes was like an only beloved son at this time. A father must surrender his only son. Since Abraham committed himself to obey God's command, for three days he had to bear the tragic implications. His son was as good as dead. But on the third day, an angel prevented Abraham was prevented from following through with the plan; thus his son was in a sense given back to him as one who positionally had come back from the dead. I don't think I have to explain the things this incident seems to point to.
Another example is the events surrounding the life of Joseph (Found in Genesis 37-48). Joseph enjoyed a special relationship with his father, which his brothers resented. They especially resented his prophetic dreams that pointed to some kind of future exaltation that his brothers would someday voluntarily honor. As the story goes, the brothers resentment grew unbearable, they rejected Joseph, betrayed him, stuck him in a pit, desiring to murder him. They finally sold him to others to finish the job, in whatever means the desired end would be accomplished. The report their father received from them was that his beloved special son was dead, and in the practical outworking of their lives, Joseph was dead to them.
Meanwhile in Egypt, Joseph suffers much for things he did not do. He ends up in a dungeon with two individuals, of whom one is killed in shame and the other is rewarded with life after condemnation. Suddenly, Joseph goes from the dungeon to the throne and is placed at the right hand of the chief authority of the known world. Joseph now reigns as lord of the non-Hebrew world. They recognize him for who he is. His brethren eventually are reunited with him, finally recognizing him as their present savior and their brother risen from the dead.
This ancient account is loaded with parallels to the circumstances that surround Jesus, even perhaps with foreshadowings of events that have not yet occurred--such as a remnant of Jews compelled by desperate circumstances to seek help from the Lord of the Non-Jewish world, only to recognize their brother, who they previously rejected, but finally become reunited to with many tears. These two examples do not even scratch the surface of internal patterns that have amazed millions of people through the ages, working to further convince them of the authentic nature of Christ and Scripture.
As to the gap you mentioned between the recording of events of the life of Jesus versus his actual life, I can only tell you that when something is the definitive experience of your life, it becomes imprinted in your soul. What I told you about the events of my life that happened twenty years ago seemed like they happened yesterday. Furthermore, from what I understand, the culture of the biblical era relied so much more on the oral exchange of news, that they were more precise than we are in orally retaining and transmitting it. Furthermore, they, unlike us, were not daily bombarded with news. Compared to the information we must process in a lifetime, their memories were untapped.
The definitive moments of their lives were few, whereas, we must process the daily headlines of the world. Most of us mentally, emotionally, and physically react to everything from Princess Di, to Verasce, to Oklahoma City, to the Atlanta bombing, to O.J., to the Rodney King riots, to the Michael Jackson scandals, to Waco, to the San Francisco 1989 earthquake, to many other recent major events too numerous to mention. We could not possibly rely on oral transmission of news, but they might be able to. There is an excellent book by F.F. Bruce called The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable that can shed light on this subject. I could go on, but time limits me. If you want to continue this conversation I would be glad to.
Paul's response to my letter:
Thanks for your reply to my message. I found your descriptions of your experiences with Christ very compelling and inspiring. I am not opposed to Christianity spiritually--in fact, just the opposite. I have been involved in Christianity for periods of a few months several times in my life, but the results spiritually were mixed.
After reading your message, I decided to give Christ another try. Lately, things have been going very well. I've been reading the Bible, and certain books in it have had a powerful effect on me spiritually. Something has changed, and I'm not as adverse to reading it as I once was. I've been praying to Jesus for healing from the damage New Age religions like Eckankar and Divine Light Mission have done. I've been pleasantly surprised to find my mental health improving remarkably. Eckankar was especially bad in its negative effects on my psyche, and apparently Jesus has found it in his heart to help me. My theological opinions haven't changed--I don't see the Bible as infallible, or to be taken literally, but I see reading it as a means of connecting to God.
Much of the Bible's moral teachings have been sinking in more deeply than usual, and I can always use more of such teachings. But I still don't feel I'm in position to say that a Hindu or a Jew, or even an Eckist is not experiencing God the way I am. Some New Age religions believe in Jesus, like Astara, who consider him their Lord and Master. I'm not too sure if Jesus is only accessible to those who read the Bible and attend Christian churches, as many people talk of connecting with the "Christ Consciousness" who aren't Christians. I'm satisfied that praying to Jesus directly and reading the Bible works quite nicely, and that's what I really care about. And if anyone asks me about religion, I would tell them to check out Jesus.
My second response to Paul:
I was deeply moved by your response. My prayers are with you. I'll have more to say next week, when I am not so swamped with work.
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