What makes me really think are cult leaders, the random people with crazy theories who bring gullible people under their sway. I don't just mean Jim Jones; hell, I'll go as far as pointing the finger at Tim "I Got My Theology Degree Out Of A Pack Of Jesusflakes" LaHaye and Jerry B. "The 'B' Is For Bullshit" Jenkins. This sort of thing makes me question Jesus's claims and whether he really was who he said he was. Or, in fact, if he never intended for this religion to happen at all. If we brought Jesus into this day and age, would he just exclaim "holy crap, I never meant to start a religion, I just wanted to challenge the hypocrisy of Judaism"? Would Muhammad just say "I was just a warlord, all that other stuff was simply propaganda to gather support for me against my enemies"? Would Moses say "wow, it's funny the exaggerations that abound; all we did was storm out of Egypt to live somewhere else, and the walk may've felt like forty years but it certainly wasn't"?
I don't know what to think. I thought Christianity had the answers, but I have become so disillusioned with Christians and appallingly bad interpretations of the Bible that I've started to question the religion more and more rigorously, and doubted myself a whole lot. Some traditional Christian arguments just don't seem to stack up when you try to read the Bible without the moral glasses that two thousand years of the religion has given us. For example, you'll find plenty of Christians who'll tell you that Christians should not date or marry non-Christians and think the Bible says so, even though it doesn't and the one main verse used to support the opinion is taken wildly out of context - the chapter it's in has not a word to say about marriage! Or how about some Christians who are vehemently "pro-life" when the issue is abortion or euthenasia, but seem to have an insatiable bloodlust when the topic is capital punishment or war?
FOR THE LAZY: LET'S BE HONEST, I GO ON A BIT OF A RAMBLE HERE AND UNTIL YOU GET TO THE NEXT BOLD BIT, YOU CAN SAFELY SKIP WHAT I'M SAYING AND NOT MISS THE POINT OF MY ENTRY.
The kicker for me, however, is how it has become popular, especially in light of the Left Behind series, to essentially throw sensible eschatology out the window. Who cares what the actual genre of Revelation is, let's read it like it's today's newspaper! It shocks me to see people trying to develop eschatological theories without even THINKING about Apocalyptic symbolism and the figurative meaning traditionally applied to numbers. These dimwits seem to think ascribing a figurative meaning to the numbers is numerology. Uh, no. Numerology is "the parascience that studies the purported mystical or esoteric relationship between numbers and the character or action of physical objects and living things". In contrast, Revelation utilises metaphors and symbols to essentially disguise its message. There's a difference between numerology and writing the number 12 instead of "the tribes of Israel". Why am I pointing this out? Because this evening, I read something that left me wondering if people take time to actually analyse the text in front of them, or just invent something that sounds nice. Someone tried to invent something fanciful with regards to what the 144,000 elect in Heaven means, and that of course reminded me of the Jehovah's Witnesses who take that number quite literally.
Simple mathematics and an understanding of the symbolism ascribed to numbers in Apocalyptic literature gives us the answer to 144,000. In Old Testament times, 12 referred to the twelve tribes of Israel, God's chosen people. In New Testament times, the 12 still refers to God's chosen people, who are now the true church - there is no limitation to Israel. The number 3 is used to refer to God - the trinity of Father, Son, Holy Spirit - and the number 10 refers to wholeness, being complete. So 10^3, 10x10x10, is 1,000, which can be seen as God's wholeness. 1,000 also has the quality of a large multitude, 'beyond count' (which becomes very important when we're discussing the Millennium and eschatology, but we aren't right now). The quantity of 1,000 can be understood as synonymous with our own phrases such as "does Bob have a large collection of stamps? Oh, he's got millions of them!" You don't literally mean that he has millions, you just mean that he's got heaps and heaps of stamps.
So let's do some maths. 12 X 12 = 144, or OT church X NT church = complete church throughout history. 10^3 = 1,000, God's wholeness, and also 1,000 = an uncountable multitude. 144 X 1,000 = 144,000. In other words, the concept of "144,000 in heaven" is a very reassuring statement that if you are a member of God's church at any time in history, you aren't going to be left behind. God's whole, complete church, consisting of a huge multitude of people from both OT and NT times, will be in Heaven. That symbolism is very simple to interpret if you have a grasp of basic multiplication and take the time to interpret Revelation according to its actual genre. But if you're going to listen to our wonderful pre-Tribulation Rapture premillennial dispensationalists like LaHaye and Jenkins, you'll instead hear all kinds of bizarre interpretations that ignore all common sense in the name of "literal interpretation!!!" that isn't particularly literal at all and would be better termed "ignorant interpretation".
LAZY FOLK CAN REJOIN ME HERE.
And that seems to be the norm with Christianity today, at least from what I've experienced. Misinterpretation abounds, with little consideration given to the author's original intent. Does something sound good? Then let's believe it! The less study required, the better! The more 'relevant' we can make it to someone's life (i.e. "read Revelation as if it's today's newspaper!"), the better! And let's not rock the boat, let's not challenge traditional beliefs and see whether they are actually supported by the Bible; let's enforce outdated morality, unsubstantiated theology, and party in the hollow cathedral made by human hands that is modern Christianity!
When I think about it, I don't doubt that God exists. Mere creation leads me to accept that there is indeed a God, as I do not see how the universe could have come into existence without a deity to create it. But beyond that, I wonder where the truth is. I still hold to Christianity; the firmest depths of my spiritual side fully accept it, but the forefront of my mind is swarming with questions, doubts, and ultimately, a desire to find what is actually true. The funny thing is, after writing this entry, I actually feel a bit reassured that I am on the right path - writing about my favoured topic of eschatology certainly did me favours there. I want to get more immersed in theology, honestly. Alas, for now, it's history and International Relations.
If you bothered reading this, I hope I haven't bored you to tears.