I received this tract in NYC from a guy on the street. I thought it would be an interesting study case. Some people think we atheists don't know religion, but we do. Things like this come along all the time, and it's interesting to look and see if we can't find something interesting. Certainly there are good stories in religion, but they really don't come up too much. Maybe this one will... We'll see.
The title of the tract is Taking (when not so busy) and Making (when busy) Time for God. The synopsis is that the god (one of the Christian ones) wants people to pay attention to him (or else). Presumably good things come to those who make time and bad things come to those who don't pay attention. It's never clear exactly what we're supposed to do to "make and take time" just that we're supposed to do so. I'm left with the clear understanding that god of the tract will be super mad if I don't pay enough attention to him, but I'm not sure exactly what I'm supposed to do. Note: for the purposes of clarity, the god of this particular tract will be referred to as Greg. Greg wrote the tract, so I guess that's a fair guess.
The tract starts with Psalm 90:12 "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." The tract goes on to clarify that "wisdom is something along the lines of mercy and patience. However, I take exception to this because the Bible says nothing about mercy and patience. The Psalm is essentially a lengthy threat, belittling the human condition as transitory and small in the face of the greatness of the tract's god, Greg. Greg is powreful and lives forever, so humans are nothing compared to Greg. Moreover, the only hope for humans is to pay attention to Greg so Greg might make life bearable.
I also noted that Psalm 90:12 is introduced by Psalm 90:11, "Who counsiders the power of yur anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear this is due you." I think that really sums up the sentiment. Wrath from Greg and fear from humans. That is not exactly an enlightened sentiment, but not uncommon. We will find this is a common theme in the tract.
The tract continues to belittle us humans with James 4:14 "For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." Thanks a lot. If Greg is so great, then wouldn't it have been nice for him to maybe extend our life a little. Maybe give us a bit more to work with? I guess it's not about us. It's all about Greg.
The tract continues in this line of reasoning, insisting that we must make time for Greg, "if we want our lives to count for [Greg]." There are a number of references to Isiah, John, and others about the importance of being with [Greg]. But is that really something to strive for? From the assertions in the tract, we should make time for Greg because he'll give us gifts if we do and punish us if we don't. Even if that were a quality worthy of worship, it's only valid if Greg is out there somewhere. Fortunately, there is no good reason to believe such a thing and all sorts of reasons not to believe in such an idea. At this point, we can see that two fundamental ideas are necessary to take this tract seriously. First, Greg is out there somewhere, and second that Greg is someone we'd want to spend time with. The problem here is that the belief isn't what's important. There must actually be a Greg out there ready to mete out these rewards. Otherwise, this tract has inspired people to waste their lives in return for nothing by silence. I'll return to this issue later becaues at this point, it's not exactly clear what it actually means to make time for Greg.
AW Tozer, author of The Root of the Righteous, is extensively quoted. He talked about another downside which he calls "retarded spiritual progress." He claims without citation that it is common for Christians to see no improvement or advancement due to this spiritual retardation. He doesn't go into detail about what this means. I might think this means that prayers won't be answered as much, or that there is a greater likelihood of hell, or maybe heaven won't have such a sheen, or maybe Greg is more likely to smite the spiritually retarded. One is left to wonder.
Tozer goes on to talk about all of the hard work required. He doesn't specify what this hard work means. It's not cllear if this hard work is prayer or rock-breaking. Tozer gives several examples of Jewish and Christian prophets who weren't spiritually fit until they worked hard. I thought it was odd though that he included Jesus. According to the Christian Bible, Jesus certainly worked hard after age 30 but by that time he was already spiritually fit. He had kings at birth, and he ministered as a child. What he did from 12 to 30 is a complete mystery. As far as anyone knows, he was criminal or a vagrant or for that matter, he may have been a pagan. In this case, Tozer's examples didn't support his assertion that hard work is necessary, and he certainly didn't clarify what work needed to be done.
The tract quotes another author to be sure that we're being 'honest' with Greg about how we spend our time. From my understanding, Greg is supposed to be all knowing, so I'm not sure how this is relevant. Talking to Greg is almost indistinguishable to talking to oneself. It is certainly very easy to lie to oneself. I think that's the real story here. The important thing in the tract is not to make excuses about something important. That could be a good lesson. Unfortunately, the tract misses the opportunity to tell a good lesson and instead degenerates back to fear and wrath. The explanatory verse chosen is Acts 5:4 "Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto [Greg]." That is the only text in the tract. Further study will show that the principles in Acts 5 are Ananias and his wife, landowners who sold property, apostles who expect to receive all of the funds from that private sale, and Greg. Ananias and his wife choose to keep some of the proceeds of the sale. They come to present most of the proceeds to the apostles. The apostles and Greg see through the ruse. They don't scold Ananias, or ask for all the proceeds, or even let him keep all of his money from his land that he sold. None of these. Ananias drops dead on the spot, presumably because of the wrath of Greg at not getting his vig (vig is like a mob payment. I thought it was appropriate). Not only that, but Ananias's wife also drops dead for the same transgression. So if you don't take time for Greg, he'll kill you and your wife. Thanks a lot.
I hate to beat a dead horse, but we are going along with the story. The tract continues its point with Isiah 1:18 which simply says "let us reason together." That quote isn't relevant to the story, but the reasoning laid out in Isiah 20-31 is that Greg will mete out his wrath upon anyone who doesn't follow the rules.
The tract later quotes Matt 25:29 regarding promises of things to be given. Escaping the wrath might also come with gifts. There is no clarification about what these gifts might be. The real issue is that Christians assert that Greg will reward the weak and poor. He likes the weak and poor. So the real contradiction is how Greg promises so many gifts and at the same time tells us we shouldn't have any gifts. What to do? Maybe we should avoid taking time for Greg so he doesn't give us any gifts. Maybe Greg wants us to lose out either way. In the end, the only true payoff that matters is acceptance into heaven in the afterlife. Salvation in eternity. Again, we get back to a key question. Is any of this real? Reality tells us that there is no life after death. Nothing exists of our selves beyond the physical body. Suggesting more is just wishful thinking not the least grounded in any credible evidence.
To build a sense of urgency in the reader, the tract quotes Paul in Romans and Corinthians saying now is the time of salvation. That might worry me except "now" for Paul is now 2000 years ago. How can Christians talk about this with a straight face. Paul was obviously very very wrong. This doesn't build a sense of urgency in me, especially considering the many many other self-proclaimed prophets (and Christian prophets) who have foretold the end of the world between then and now. It's just not a compelling argument, and moreover, it discredits Paul and the rest of the Bible. The author ought to have left that one out.
One of the good quotes was "good things that are ever the enemy of the best." This is an interesting quote. I think the real question is whether this tract promotes the best things, the good things, or irrelevant things. Specifically excluded are what the gentile seeks in Matt 6:32. These are things like food, drink, and clothing. Although there's no evidence of the afterlife, there is certainly evidence of death without food, drink, or shelter. There is all sorts of evidence that Greg doesn't give us any of those things. One might point out that Churches spend all sorts of time providing people food, drink, and clothes. Some say churches provide these things only in return for perpetuating poverty and claiming more 'souls'. I'm sure it's the case that some religious charities are legitimately trying to hep people without ulterior motives. But the fact is that it says everyone should spend time with Greg, whatever that means, and that Greg will provide these things. It seems like Greg does in fact not provide these things despite the promises.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 talks about praying without ceasing, and I Tim 2:14 talks about things approved unto God. It's really not clear what that is supposed to mean. What do we do? More importantly, considering the vagueness and contradictions within the Bible, how do we separate the things we should do from the things that we shouldn't do -- the true revelation from the false revelation, in the words of the faithful. The tract talks about abiding with Jesus in the secret place. There is no reference to the Bible or explanation about what that means. The entire tract talks about all the time to be spent but doesn't talk about how that time should be spent. Should it be spent simply in silent meditation or prayer? Maybe that's an option, but where would that leave us? We'd be back in the middle ages, at best. No science, no medicine, no community. Just slaves to Greg living lives based on fear of wrath like the tract says.