This morning I checked in on the homeless shepherd out of Oregon. If you’re not familiar with him, this is Aaron Fletcher, a man who has spent a decade or more as a homeless man wandering around Oregon with several milk producing sheep that pull his miniature wagon where he lives. He gets much of his food from the milk the sheep produce and I would imagine he also does barter with people and also gathers edibles along the roadway. They were hostile to him in Ashland, passing ordinances to keep him and his sheep out of the city. From his videos it looks like he spent some time on walkabout, making it north and then to the coast, only to return down south again, I would imagine because the terrain in the northern region of the state is probably not as conducive to guerrilla grazing as down south.
But, Aaron is really not the focus of this post. Instead, I wanted to tackle a video he put out that I took as a kind of personal challenge (not to me individually since I’ve never met this man). As a Christian I am very interested in cultic behavior. I’m also VERY interested in the claim Aaron levels in this video, that all of Christianity is a cult. Because, after all, I do agree with him: much of modern evangelicalism is not biblical, it is truly a cult. Many if not most churches today are cult organizations run by prideful, arrogant men who enjoy power and authority and desire to rule over a people. They are the Nicolaitans that Jesus warned about in Revelation. But, Aaron takes it a step further and is basically dismissing the Bible itself because of the contradiction he states is in Genesis 1-2.
I thought to myself. “If it’s all an error, if it’s just a cult and I’m not bound by Christianity or the Bible, this has several significant implications for my life. I would like to test his conclusion against what the Bible actually says and also against what I’ve experienced in my life in my own interactions with God.”
So, let’s jump in and see if Aaron is correct. Is Christianity a cult?
The Video and Passages in Question
Aaron claims that because of the out of order descriptions in Genesis 1-2, this indicates that Christianity is a cult. If arguing from the point of textual integrity, he makes a really good point. Since there are only 3 sources of faith 1. Personal experience (our senses) 2. Tradition 3. Bible (message from God) it stands to reason that if #3 is found to be unreliable, then #2 (which was derived primarily from #3) would likewise be unreliable, which would leave only #1 which we all know to be unreliable (there are a lot of religious wackadoodles).
So, let’s take a look at both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, compare them, and see if Aaron is correct, that there is a conflict between these two accounts of creation. Please take a few minutes to read the text for yourself. I will provide a summary of each point below.
1. created heavens and the earth
2. earth without form and void
3. darkness on the face of the deep
4. spirit of god hovered over the face of the waters
5. god said let there be light, there was
6. god called the light good
7. god divided the light from the darkness
8. god called the light day and darkness night
9. evening and morning first day
1. god created a firmament in the midsts of the waters, divided waters from waters
2. god called the firmament heaven.
3. evening morning second day
1. god made the oceans: seas
2. god made the dry land: earth
3. god said it was good
4. god produced grass, herb, fruit trees
5. evening morning third day
1. god created lights in firmament to divide day from night
2. god made greater lights to rule day, lesser light to rule night (sun, moon)
3. god made all the stars in the universe (basically making the universe)
4. evening morning fourth day
1. god made aquatic life
2. god made aves (air life)
3. god told all life to multiply and fill earth
4. evening morning fifth day
1. god created all animals on dry land
2. god made man (human) without woman, singular man, in “their” image, in “their” likeness.
3. god gave man dominion over all other created living beings, over the earth
4. god glosses over the creation of woman
5. they were instructed to subdue earth
6. they were vegetarian
7. evening morning sixth day
1. god rested on the seventh day
2. god blessed the seventh day
Genesis 2 (starts vs 4)
NOTE: I wanted to point out that the second version of the creation account does not contain in the text a division between days like the Genesis 1 did. I have added the day divisions in parentheses to point out where the second account lines up with the first account. Also important to note, I did not move the order around in the second account to make it match up with the first account.
1. history or generations of the heavens and earth when they were created
2. no vegetation, no rain, no man. Mist went up from the ground.
1. not represented in Genesis 2
1. vs 7 god created man from the dust, breathed into him and he became a living being
2. vs 8 God planted a garden in Eden.
3. put the man in it.
1. god made every tree grow from the ground for food and sight.
2. Is this a reference back to Day 3, when God created the vegetation or is it out of order?
(Day ?: – we don’t know what day this occurred)
1. tree of life was there.
2. tree of knowledge of good and evil
3. river out of eden to water garden
4. names of rivers
5. gold was there
6. god put man in garden to tend it and guard it.
7. told not to eat from the tree of knowledge because when he does he will die.
8. not good for man to be alone
9. compared him to all animals, man named them all
10. god made woman for man
What Does the Text Actually Say (and not Say)?
It is clear once we break down the two accounts, that the accounts are very different from each other in format. Genesis 1 is a “day by day” accounting of creation. It contains certain events in which it highlights. Genesis 2, on the other hand, contains no “day” references at all, and, when reading it, you quickly discover it is a summary of sorts, glossing over large parts of what is covered in detail in Genesis 1, but also includes many elements that are not found in the first account. But, the argument Aaron is making is, the creation events are out of order. This is why I broke it down in Genesis 1 so we had a systematic framework from which to compare Genesis 2 against.
What do we find? If you look at the Genesis 2 breakdown with the days added, we see that the information in Genesis 2, though not formalized in a day by day format, does actually fit perfectly with the Genesis 1 account. Well, that is all except for Gen 2:9, “And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” He’s right, isn’t he? It is out of order in Genesis 2. In Genesis 1, the “every tree” is created on the third day, not after the sixth day when man was created. But, in Genesis 2 we have God making man, then the trees? Right?
What is the point of the passage? What is the writer trying to provide here? We know that Genesis 2 is not a day by day accounting of the creation events. It is a summary. It glosses over much of what is described, especially in days 1-5 and focuses on day 6, when God created man and what he did with him (the entire garden description is not present in Genesis 1 at all). Plus, there is no date reference associated with Genesis 2:9. It doesn’t say “and then.” Likewise, how does one plant a garden? The words themselves tell us that a garden is an arrangement of vegetation, especially one that is planted (rather than a natural landscape). It would be logical to assume here, given the summative nature of Genesis 2, there is an argument for vs 9 referring back to Day 3 (that is not accounted for in Genesis 2 but in Genesis 1) when all vegetation was made. Further, what is the point of the paragraph? It’s describing how God “planted a garden” and because God made all the trees grow on the earth (on Day 3) this also included the Tree of Life “which was also in the garden” as well was the Tree of Knowledge. This is describing the setting for the man, when God put him in the garden. It is not a day by day accounting of the creation order. That is provided in Genesis 1.
Does Aaron have an argument? To someone who rejects the Bible as a man inspired collection of documents, yes. To someone who has not spent much time reading the Bible or who consistently views the Bible through a denominational or non-christian worldview, certainly. When I was a Satanist, I would spend hours pouring through the Bible, highlighting every place that I found instance of God violating the 10 commandments (mostly murders).
But, let me take Aaron’s side on this, even though, after looking at the text, it does not appear to me that Genesis 1 and 2 are in conflict at all. But let’s set the Bible aside for a moment. What if I had just taken Aaron’s conclusion to heart and said, well, if I can’t trust the Bible, now what?
How Do I Explain Away My Direct Experiences?
My entire adult life has been framed by a faith in Christ. It has not, though, been framed by modern day evangelical Christianity. It was not initially framed by any part of Christianity, either. Before I became a Christian, I was a Buddhist. Before that, I was a Satanist. Before that I was a small kid that was physically and more so mentally abused under the thumb of an oppressive father figure. I remember the feeling when I was in junior high, when adults around me were trying to get me to leave Satanism, that I had absolutely no interest in Christianity. I already had a father. I didn’t need another one of those. I was not ready for it. I didn’t understand how or why there could be a difference between my unbelieving earthy father and a God in heaven who loved me and had created me and knew me before I ever existed. I had no capacity to even imagine that he had predestined me from before the foundation of the world to not only become a Christian but to live out much of my adult life devoted to him – and would one day have no desire but to serve my King.
When I was 17, though, all my running and avoiding came to an end. And it was not my choice. God orchestrated a situation where I was left alone in a room with a Bible in my hand turned to 2 Peter 2. When I started reading I was a devout Buddhist. By the time I finished reading that chapter, I came away with a belief in God that I’ve never been able to shake. I came away with an insatiable thirst for his Word, with the belief that everything the Bible said was true, that God was real. I couldn’t help but believe. And all that I had accepted and believed before that point simply fell away. Buddhism. Karma. My search for Nirvana. The Martial Arts. I could do none of it after that night, couldn’t meditate, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many people encouraged me that it was okay to be a Buddhist if I wanted to be.
It literally took years and countless attempts to return to my former life before I finally surrendered to God simply telling me “no.” No more running. No more denial.
So, even if Aaron were correct, and Genesis 1 and 2 conflicted with each other (note: I’ve seem multiple claims like this over the years and I’ve jumped into each one excited at the prospect. Yet every time I do, with a straight-forward reading of the text, every claim has been found incorrect.) what would I do with my personal experience? How could this be explained? Did I just make it up? Did I somehow delude myself when I was 17? Trust me when I say, it was not an intellectual exercise. I’ve read that chapter countless times since that night and nothing in it really stands out to me. It’s not an emotional argument from Peter. It doesn’t seem moving or powerful enough to incite in me a life-transforming change that would carry me for 30 years before it ran out of steam. There have been a lot of sacrifices I’ve made over those years for the sake of Christ. Sacrifices I did not want to make. Yet, the Bible demanded it, and my faith sustained me. And I’m certain I’m better off for making those sacrifices. Despite the immediate loss of personal gratification or the possibility of pleasure or purpose.
The argument cannot be made that I’ve been brainwashed by my parents or by a pastor or by group think in a congregation because I’ve actually had none of that in my life. When I was saved, it was independent of any individual human trying to convince me. I was alone in a room with a Bible. I didn’t choose the chapter I read. It was “random.” The next day, when I told my girlfriend about what had happened, she seemed underwhelmed (she was a Christian). She then admitted that Christianity wasn’t really all that important to her, that going to church was just a thing she did for her parents. She didn’t care if I was a Buddhist. When I told my parents I had become a Christian, my mother’s opinion quickly – almost immediately – changed. She did not like the “new me.” The Christian me. I had a certainty to me. A conviction. I was reading the Bible she had bought me and it was painting a picture that did not reflect what the world of “christianity” was doing. Later I would find out that my mother, though she went to church occasionally and talked about praying for me and other people, she didn’t really believe, she didn’t really pray, and she went to church because it was an opportunity to dress up, dance and clap to music she liked, and people flattered her about her clothes and jewelry.
As for me, I lost all of my friends immediately, most specifically because I had, overnight, found within me a faith in God. It would be another 2 years before I would step foot in a church, let alone be baptized in one or make a habit of attending on Sundays. By the time I did, I had read through the entire NT several times and was working on finishing the OT. I already had a sure foundation formed based entirely upon the apostles and the prophets, with Christ as the chief cornerstone. So when I came into contact with pastors and teachers and evangelists and congregants that espoused something that was not biblical, I could spot it a mile away. In fact, I quickly discovered that much of modern Christianity has nothing to do with the Bible. The habits, the views, the activities have much more to do with selling a product, with creating superficial experiences, with developing a subset of the capitalistic, nationalistic culture of American conservative values than it does with biblical truth. It took much of my 20’s trying to fit into that artificial system before I finally distanced myself from it entirely.
And, of course, as is often said. If you leave the church you will backslide. You will become a sinner (like Christians in church pews and especially in the pulpits are not altogether, wholly, and depraved sinners) and you will lose your faith. Yet, this has not happened to me. In fact, the last 10 years I’ve seen my faith only grow, my desire for God spread throughout my life, transforming it, taking aspirations that I had for worldly things and dispatching them, replacing them with a willingness to love God even more, every day, throughout my day. My prayer life has only grown and intensified. I serve the members of Christ in an online theology school. I encourage people through writing. Even my aspirations to write novels has metamorphosed by the influence of God in my life. Yet, to the modern church I am an apostate. I am a heretic.
I agree with Aaron to the point that much of Christianity IS actually a cult. Evangelicalism is certainly a cult that takes Scripture and twists it to conform to a business modeled after secular companies rather than after the description we find in the Bible. But the reason is not because the Bible is incorrect. It is the application that is in error. It is the fact that, though they might read the text, they superimpose their own doctrines and beliefs and definitions onto the text to make it means something it does not. I would encourage you, Aaron, to forget about the culture of Christianity, and forget about the culture you are currently involved and forget about whoever it was that taught you that the Bible and all of Christianity is a man-made cult. Just read the Bible for what it says. Don’t tear it apart. Don’t dissect it. Just read it for what it is and see if God doesn’t change something inside you like he did inside me.
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44).
What it Takes to Believe in God and the Message of the Bible
It is a tempting proposition, to discredit God and the Bible altogether. To be honest, I wonder, if it was something I could even do (which I don’t think I have the ability to do), if I would take the leap and do it. I certainly rejected him when I was young. I remember the teacher who was most actively involved in my “intervention” from Satanism when I was in 8th grade. She was a Christian, and I had no interest in being anything like her. But that was really the extent of my exposure to so-called “christians” growing up. Other than television, of course, which always seems to point out the flaws rather than the redeeming traits (they do actually have some).
But, at that time, and into high school, I did not believe because, not only did I not know anything about the gospel or Jesus (I’m not certain that would have made much of a difference) but God had not yet changed me. And I needed to be changed, apparently. And I still don’t know how exactly he did it. Not sure if it was the content of 2 Peter 2 or if it was just the time and place where my life intersected with the Bible. There was no influence in my life that was remotely Christian to sway me. My girlfriend at the time claimed to be Christian but we never once talked about it up to that point. We never really talked about Buddhism either. Looking back on it, religion really wasn’t a part of her life. Family. Prom. Graduating. Getting married. These are the things she thought about and the things we talked about pretty much exclusively. There was actually no reason for me to pick that book up or to read it or for it to have the effect it did. As I’ve already stated, my parents were not believers. My dad had zero interest in the Bible or in Church. My mother, well, she had her reasons for what she did and they had nothing to do with God. When I declared myself a Buddhist at the beginning of 9th grade, my parents were thrilled. They were just happy I wasn’t a Satanist or writing stories about killing stray dogs and cats or hating the world.
By my senior year I was a very happy and content Buddhist. I was about to get my Black Belt in the Martial Arts. My instructor wanted me to open a satellite school with him. My girlfriend said she wanted to marry me. I was finally, FINALLY, getting out of that hell hole that is the public school system. My life was going quite well. Then, out of nowhere, I find myself believing things that before I had actively and specifically rejected. I didn’t want to be a Christian. Christians were hypocrites. I didn’t want to have another Father that I served. I was about to leave the house I had grown up in, under the oppressive and abusive parentage of a dictator father. Why was I putting myself back under that kind of relationship all over again?
Yet, nothing I did would assuage what I couldn’t deny. I didn’t want to believe that God was real or that the Bible was true, but I couldn’t help but believe. It was just in me, somehow. My conviction of a karmic worldview had been stolen from my mind, stripped bare. In it’s place, there was this foreign thing, this faith – fully formed and alien – and that faith was making me, forcing me to accept statements about the world, about myself, about the reality of existence that I had no interest in accepting.
But, I did accept them. And I heeded the thirst to read the Bible. Not just because that’s what Christians do (actually, the vast majority of professing Christians don’t read the Bible). But because that thirst sprang up from within me, drawing me. And whenever I did read, I was filled with the knowledge and the truth of the gospel, and the works of Christ. Not a religion made by man. Not denominationalism. Not a cultural abstraction. For much of that first year, especially the first six months while I was in basic training (I ended up enlisting in the military after graduation, partly because my relationship was progressing with my girlfriend toward marriage, partly from pressure from my parents to do so, and partly because I could no longer seek the Buddhist monastery), I consumed the Bible. Whenever we had 15 minutes to kill, or we were at lunch during training I would pull out the pocket NT I carried around with me everywhere. Systematically I read from cover to cover. Comparing what was said to the truths I had learned as a Buddhist. Confused in many places. Angered by many other statements. Yet, despite all this, I kept reading. It wasn’t a want. It wan’t an intellectual exercise. It was a compulsion to seek after him.
This is the christianity I’ve know the last 30 years, since I was 17 years old and just beginning my life. I’ve since lived a life quite underwhelming according to worldly standards, but inside, in the confines of my closet, I’ve lived a life a bliss, joy, fulfillment, sacrifice, and communion with the Creator of the Universe (and so much more). If adding it all up, I can’t say that my life is “better” for being a Christian. I’ve had to sacrifice relationships, aspirations, money, and the list goes on. But I’ve gained Christ, and I’ve gained the hope of the resurrection. And still, to this day, that faith he put in me when I read 2 Peter 2, it’s still there, within me. After all these years. It has not grown weary. It has not faded over time. It has transformed my life.
Is Christianity a cult? It might be for Aaron. It’s not for me. At least, the Bible is not a cult book. I would argue that much of modern Christianity is, actually, a cult. I would argue that they use the Bible, abuse the Bible, twisting it to say what they want it to say. But, not everyone will agree with me, and that’s okay. Maybe God has called you to a different path. We’re all called wherever we’re at in the world, in life. Conversion and faith are not uniform. Some are saved when they hear a preacher. Some are born into it and have never known anything else. Some receive visions or dreams that profoundly transform them or pull them out of false religion, or put them on a different road. God is creative. He meets us where we are at. God had to literally force me to believe. He changed me without asking my opinion in the matter. He took things from me that he never returned. But, he did it all with my best interest at heart. He knew what I needed. I assume he knew that I would never come to him on my own. I would never make the choice. I would never choose him over the world. Which I find a little terrifying and confusing, given that most people like this he simply lets them go and allows them to drift away from him altogether.
But, I also don’t fit the typical paradigm. He didn’t take me from false religion and clean me up, make me presentable to the culture or to people (especially Christian people) and make me some famous preacher or a pastor of a church or give me a believing wife. In fact, I thought the woman I married was a Christian, who turned out she just told me what I wanted to hear so I would marry her. I struggle often with the why’s. But, of course, my perspective is limited. I can only see what is directly in front of me, and dwell on the poor choices I’ve made in the past. Yet, faith sustains me. It keeps me going, keeps me alive, keeps me from fulfilling the evil desires of my heart. I used to approach the Bible with an eye for contradiction because the Bible had to be wrong. God had to be wrong. What I never wanted to admit for so long was, he’s actually right.
Until my next post….
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Excerpt from In the Meadow:
A second later, the engine roared to life, and Dawn glanced back, one last time, at the trailer she’d grown up in.
The empty yard.
The trail she’d blazed through the blackberries.
That gaunt looking trailer.
Everything she saw now looked so dirty and run down, almost a shambles.
It was like a dream.
Paul circled wide, then threw the truck in reverse and backed up. As he braked and put it back into drive, Dawn could see Harold’s place a few slips down.
Paul gave the truck some gas.
As they went by, she could see Harold standing outside, near his front door, motionless, watching them.
She didn’t mention the earlier conversation to Paul.
Why would she?
He was just a creepy ass guy, and one of the handful of things she didn’t have to deal with anymore.
They drove out the front gate of the trailer park, down the side street to the corner, Paul stopping for a moment as he waited on the traffic to clear.
He took her hand and smiled at her, then pulled out onto the highway, heading west.
They drove past the Ray’s Grocery Store, past the gas station, where Bart was out front, talking excitedly to the Desmond boy.
Paul kissed her hand and she smiled, laying her head back against the headrest.
There was nothing else standing in her way now.
As Dawn began to relax, she watched as her old life quickly dissipate into vapor in their wake.
For the first time in her life, she was leaving Oakridge. She was moving to an entirely different state, a new home, with the man of her dreams.
She’d never even been out of Oregon before.
“Now or never,” Paul said, as they drove past the trailhead sign, on the right.
Dawn tightened her grip on his hand.
She’d finally gotten her wish.
She was leaving Oakridge.
Buy my book In the Meadow to find out what Dawn will do as her perfect fairytale life begins to unravel. Are the girls calling out from the banks of the Skagit River trying to help her? Do they want to hurt her? What secrets will she find?
But, trust me when I say, this is going to be a roller coaster of a ride. People are dying all around her, and you have no idea what evil lurks in the meadow! Get started in this thriller story today and find out why they’re warning her…calling out to her….trying to tell her…to RUN!