Who Writes The Rules?
Many non-believers struggle with this question. If God’s law does not necessarily apply, whose law does?
In America, and I would guess in many Western European Country’s, we take the 10 Commandments as a basis for our laws and societal rules. This is the law as laid our on stone by Moses, supposedly from the mouth of God (this God being Jehovah, Allah, Jesus, or, as I like to refer to this deity, “the angry desert god” ).
Other cultures take their rules from their various gods/goddesses and prophets.
Children get their rules from their parents and/or other caregivers. Adults In the 20th and 21st century, get a lot of their rules from the media. It comes from the stories we hear, the songs we sing, the books we read, our schools and teachers, and many other sources.
The point being that we take on the rules of someone outside of ourselves.
In my personal life, I decided which group of rules to follow. When I was a child, my parents and my school guided me. The choice to follow these rules was partly self-serving. It kept me out of trouble (when I followed them). I also followed these rules because my parents and teachers told me that they would lead me to success. I would have friends, a good job, a nice home in a good neighborhood, etc. It could all be mine if I just followed the rules.
It didn’t work.
Even though I followed the rules as best I could, my home life was full of violence, drunkenness, and a constantly changing set of rules. Nothing I did was right. So, thinking that there must be a higher power that knows the real rules, I set out to find it.
I landed in a moderately fundamentalist church that called themselves just The (Name of community) Christian Church. Of course, this group couldn’t agree on the rules among themselves so there were different groups of “The Christian Church”. One group called themselves, “New Testament Christians” because they believed that the Old Testament was only for the Jews and we certainly didn’t want to be associated with them. Another group called themselves “The Church of Christ, non-instrumental because they didn’t believe in playing instruments during worship. You get the picture.
Looking back, this is where I began to see a pattern. Even among the worshipers of one god, called Jesus, or Jeshua, they would pick and chose the rules they wanted to follow.
As time went by, I became more and more fundamental in my religious beliefs. I had the audacity to read the bible for myself. I read it in several translations and began asking questions that the elders of the church could not answer.
I switched churches to an even more fundamental group calling themselves Assemblies of God. This group also had at least two groups, one being the Affiliated Assemblies of God and then there was the group I finally landed in who called themselves the Assemblies of God, non-affiliated. The first group operated as a denomination, where churches got together annually at conventions and decided what their doctrines would be.
The second group was independent of any overseeing council and each congregation decided on how the they were to interpret the bible. They still had annual conventions, but the purpose was more about joining in worship and to discuss new doctrines that God may have revealed through the scriptures. Still, they did not govern each other, but shared what they had discovered through prayer and study. The other churches could take it or leave it. Often, the various pastors and boards of elders would return to study the same subject and by the time next year rolled around, there were more leaders who had shared in the revelation and we had a new doctrine.
The rules were both complex and simple. No matter what you needed a rule for; it was right there in the Bible. All you had to do was pray for guidance and study. I continued to read the bible from different perspective and went to Northwest Christian College to further my understanding.
I knew the rules concerning anything that I needed to do. I decorated my home in a way that would not offend God, without idols or icons. I dressed the way God wanted me to, in clothing that was appropriate for a woman, (nothing manly), without fancy hair and very little in the way of makeup.
I chose what I would eat and when by studying the scripture. Some holidays were acceptable Christian holidays and others were from Satan, designed to draw our attention away from the hope, joy, and purity of God. Christmas was OK but not the tree – the tree was pagan. I replaced Santa with Angels and celebrated Christmas as if it was just a birthday party.
The Church decided who my friends were. (No one outside of the Church would be able to stand me anyway). I spent my time studying and preaching the word and I converted many souls. I became a primary musician and sang almost every Sunday.
In The Assemblies of God, the congregation performed miracles with God’s power. People even came forward to testify that God had healed them or their children when I sang. My music ministry was declared, “Anointed by God”
I was still unhappy. I still had trouble holding a job because of my ridged ways. I still had no love in my life.
One day, a Christian friend of mine who was in mourning over a lost relationship was blubbering and begging God to change her ex-fiancé’s mind. She babbled about what a good person she could be and how she had tried so hard to please God. Suddenly she cried out, “Why can’t I just be happy!?
Her outcry was followed by silence – on my part and on hers.
My brain spun with all the correct answers:
So that somewhere along the line, you can help someone else. (But why should someone have to suffer at all? To make you a better person (but at the resurrection we will all be made perfect in the twinkling of an eye). It’s God’s will and who can understand the ways of God? (Not really a reason).
“I don’t know.” was all I could muster. That question kept circling around in my head repeatedly for days. By the time it came to rest, the whole plan of salvation had come crumbling down.
God makes a rule, knowing that we will break it and sets the punishment at eternal damnation. We break the rule and then to pay the price. God’s son, (or if you’re really fundamental, God himself) walks the earth to be put to death to pay the price for us.
- God didn’t need to make the rule in the first place (It was egomaniacal).
- The punishment didn’t have to be death (or eternal punishment).
- Since God made the rule, he could have just forgiven us like when we pardon a criminal.
- Why pay for all of the rest of us?
- Why do we suffer if we are to be made perfect (with perfect understanding) anyway?
- What kind of a being would require that every knee to bow and every tongue to confess and if you didn’t surrender willingly, you would be sent to hell.
I remembered a couple of Bible stories where someone who was otherwise a true believer, made a mistake and was suddenly smitten dead.
Take Obadiah. He was a good friend of King David’s. One day the armies marched into Philistine to take back the Ark of the Covenant, which had been stolen from Israel earlier. The Ark was very heavy and had to be carried a certain way. When the Ark started to slide off of the carrier, Obadiah reached out to keep it from falling and God struck him dead on the spot. He did not have the standing – not being a priest – to touch the Ark. Apparently God thought it better that the thing fall on the ground and be smashed that for someone who was “unworthy” would touch it.
Kind David was angry and so was I. I thought that God was no respecter of persons, yet he kills a good soldier because he tried to keep god’s sacred artifact from falling. Obadiah wasn’t born into the right tribe.
As time went on, I remembered several other stories that suddenly make God look like a petty, self-centered egomaniac instead of a kind and loving Father that I had been picturing.
“Every one will worship me, always me, and only me and do it willingly or I will send you to Hell.” That’s our loving God? No wonder it spun around in my head for so long. It was one big circle, meaning nothing.
For years, I thought I had found the secret to peace joy and happiness. When it didn’t work it was my fault. I wasn’t dedicated enough, not holy enough. The more sanctified I became, the less happy I was.
Therefore, I was left once more with no guidance – no true understanding of how the world works or how to get around in it. I was back to square one.
I was also under the misunderstanding that I was alone. I thought I was the only one who suffered trying to figure out life.
I began to study again. The answer had to be somewhere. I knew there were people out there that were having a good time in life and things were going well for them – at least so it seemed.
They I realized. Everyone suffers. “Oh, not like I do” you say. Well, maybe not yet, but they will eventually. That’s what life is. Happiness, sadness, love, emptiness, joy, and pain; It is constantly moving. There were no rules you can follow to stop it. All you can do is learn the skills to deal wit
Some are lucky enough to be taught those skills at home. Some of us grasp them from watching others. I had to seek out the skills and learn to use them. I had to decide what was important to me and spend my time and energy on those things.
I realized that, even if we were trying to follow rules from some higher power, we are all just following our own rules. We, after all are the ones that chose which higher power to get our strength from – to guide us in our decisions – to help us to decide what to do in each situation. If we don’t like the rules, we either just ignore them or find another deity.
It took about three years of swimming around in my head to figure that out. I make the rules I live by. You make the rules you live by. If they are not working, check out what isn’t working and change it.
Stoic Paganism helps you look into yourself and determine what will work for you – to make your life reasonably happy, and help you to overcome the times of suffering- whether from emotional pain or from disease or disorder.
You’re life isn’t a mess because you don’t know the rules. It’s a mess because life is messy. Stoic Paganism will help you build a life worth living by helping you to write your own rules – and follow them. These rules will be right for you. They will take a long time and lots of work to discover, but getting through life will be better.