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Mac, Faith, and Religion

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- 2001.04.13 - Tip Jar

There are a lot of parallels between Macintosh evangelism and religion, an issue which has come to the forefront this week thanks to Rodney O. Lain's "Fallacies of Christianity" piece on Applelinks. But this time the focus is on the Christian faith and church more than on the Macintosh.

Rodney is an iconoclast. (The term refers to those who destroyed images in the Roman Catholic churches during the Reformation and also to the earlier Iconoclastic Controversy in the Byzantiine church.) He knows where he stands and states his position without mincing words. You've gotta respect that.

You've also gotta understand what the church did to him: They encouraged him in ministry, grew jealous of his success, and excommunicated him. Excommunicated. They cut him off from the church, from fellowship, from the Lord's table.

Okay, that's Rodney's spin on things; I'm sure his former pastor would tell a very different story. Still, I'm inclined to believe Rodney's tale is closer to the truth, because I've come face-to-face with an ugly truth the church is loathe to admit: The church is flawed.

Sure, we confess our need of salvation on Sunday and our need for grace, but we like to pretend our fear and pride stop at the church door. Sorry, but it just isn't so. Churches are imperfect and filled with imperfect people, from the pastor on down.

When the dysfunction reaches the point of church discipline, you have three choices: grin and bear it, find another church, or turn your back on the whole lot of hypocrites. If the dysfunction is institutionalized in the leadership of the church, staying really isn't an option.

For reasons that remain unclear to us many years later, my wife and I were put in a similar position by our previous church. We'd been members for years and were both actively involved in ministry. We knew there were some unspoken problems, but we avoided church politics.

Evil can twist the good, just as Satan tried to tempt Jesus by quoting Scripture. "Jump! God won't let you stub your toe." In our case, the church had used the Network program developed by Willow Creek Church to help us discover our style, our gifts, and our passions. Mine is building communities. My wife's is building families.

Of course, with the Network results in our file, when the leadership decided it was time for us to move on, all they had to do was attack the things that were most important to us. In our case, they attacked us as parents using exactly the phrases a social worker (Linda) would see as most damning. They attacked her core; our family never attended that church again.

We spent months trying to find a comfortable church - and ended up in one with several other refugees from our previous church.

It's not the same. In some ways, it's a whole let better. They don't condemn people and attack kids for being different; they love 'em and minister to 'em. But I miss my choir and other aspects of our old church. Still, after the way they tore into my wife, there's no way we can go back while the present leadership is entrenched.

(Since leaving, we've talked with many other individuals and couples who have been "nudged" out of that church. The pattern is similar: someone perceives a threat, cuts to the core, and drives yet another "troublesome" family or individual away. It seldom, if ever, comes to excommunication; we leave first.)

So Rodney went through a period of disillusionment. Count on it. It hurts being betrayed by "the body of Christ." On one level, it gives us some idea how Jesus felt when Judas betrayed him with a kiss.

I'm not going to debate theology with Rodney. There's no point. You don't make disciples that way, but you can deepen the rift between God's child and God's community.

At core, you either go on believing that God exists, call it all a lie, or try to ignore the issue. If God exists, you continue to trust him, but you've grown wary of his followers. It's not the way the church is supposed to be, but what do you expect from human beings?

Unless you turn your back on God, you trust that all things will somehow work out for those who trust him - sometimes against all evidence to the contrary. You hope, but you also know betrayal. You try not to let the bitterness grow within you and turn your warm faith to ice.

Rodney's experience with churches was far more negative than mine. Then again, some traditions are a lot more into authority and control than others - as are some people.

I grew up in a tradition that tried to teach us to think and live as Christians. As is true of all organizations, some followed like sheep and some learned to find their own way within the faith. I'm now two steps removed from that tradition, deeply appreciate the good that came from it, and see the shortcomings even more clearly from the outside than I did on the inside. It's a good tradition, but I've found another that fits better.

What About the Mac?

Yeah, the church can be abusive, but they're far from unique in that regard. Look at all the sheep who use the OS with 63,000 known bugs, fears and laughs about the blue screen of death, and thinks reinstalling the operating system is just part of the computing experience.

Yet for the most part, people stay with the state church, following the faith of their IT staff. Few are willing to become Protestants, whether Lutherans, Baptists, Calvinists, Pentecostals, etc.

Even among Mac users, we may not be safe. There is the OS X cult, which condemns those who don't jump right in as luddites. There is the Traditional Mac OS faction, which just wants things to work as they always have. Here there are even cults of System 6 and System 7 fans. There is the power cult, which can't comprehend how anyone could still be using a Quadra, let alone a Mac Plus. And there is the Compact Mac cult, which things everything larger than the Color Classic was untrue to the original Macintosh vision.

At the same time, we tend to be pretty civil in our disagreements - at least until someone says something nice about Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, or even (shudder) Windows. That's been the cause of more flames on the Low End Mac lists than religion, politics, handguns, and other "off topic" subjects.

In the words of Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?"

Looking at the history of the fragmented Christian church, my answer is, "Probably not." But we should still hold that as an important goal.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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