Billy Graham and the one-sided view of spirituality

Yeah, it’s that (impossible to predict) time again, where I find a letter to Billy Graham and share my thoughts about his so-called advice.

DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: Someone loaned me a book that says that if you strongly believe something good is going to happen to you, then it will. Do you agree with this? The book seems very spiritual and even quotes the Bible some, although the author doesn’t really say anything about Jesus. — E.G.

Ask and ye shall receive… a diatribe on the stupidity that was The Secret. Rhonda Byrne hit the jackpot with that video and resulting book deal. She wasn’t even original. She nicked the whole idea from an earlier positive thinking manual called Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Personally, I doubt the universe owes us any favours nor is capable of caring about the fact that we might think it does. The universe is what it is and we are merely beings within it.

Spirituality is an interesting notion, though, and I recall the vocal atheist, Sam Harris, has given a nod to spirituality in the past. It’s not the sole property of one faith or belief system. It can be the state achieved by a very relaxed mind in some cases, if one should decide to call that feeling a spiritual one. Not everyone would.

Onto Graham:

DEAR E.G.: Although you don’t mention the book’s title, I hope you won’t be misled by what it seems to be teaching. Nowhere in the Bible does God promise to give us anything we want, if we’ll just believe strongly enough.

You 100% sure about that? Hmm…

Matthew 21:22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

(see more of those)

What we want may not be God’s will for us, and God’s will is always best.

Be on your guard also against any teaching that sounds good on the surface but leaves Jesus out of the picture. Why do some authors omit him? I don’t know the reason in this case, but often it’s because they deny that our most basic problem is our sin and believe instead that we have the power within ourselves to solve our problems.

I think it’s actually because most of us do figure out ways to solve our own problems, and at a very early age. We cry until someone does what we want. We learn to move so we can get around obstacles in our way. We learn to speak so we can ask for things we need instead of crying for them. We go to school and learn more ways to think and solve problems. We approach our jobs and our lives with a skill set we’ve developed since birth and I’d hope that most of us find enough success with problem solving to continue working and living until we can work and live no more.

Sin is such a generic term and it winds up being used to define anything or any behaviour individuals don’t like, and for such a wide variety of reasons. It also tends to be heavily subjective (even when many agree to call the same things “sinful”) and not always useful as an idea that will encourage growth or change.

But sin cuts us off from God, and it also weakens us and makes us unable to change our lives. Only Christ can take away our sins and change our hearts, and he will, as we humble ourselves and turn our lives over to him. The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I guess he’s not contradicting me completely, but I disagree with his suggestions. I’d never suggest religion as a necessary step to avoid human error and bad judgment. Religions tend to permit dubious behaviours that would never get a pass in any other arena. I could pick on Catholic priests here, or Muslim extremists, or Christian fundamentalists or any other group that can justify cruelty as a holy means to an end. We can’t change that belief/thought pattern/behaviour because it’s traditional and it’s in an old book we can quote verbatim and because God said so and nyer nyer nyer…

Don’t be misled by those who claim you can have spiritual power apart from God or Christ. Instead, by faith turn to Jesus Christ and commit your life to him. Then begin following him, and not those who urge you to take a different path.

I’m actually surprised Graham doesn’t end this by urging E.G. to cajole and witness to the friend who passed the unnamed book over and make that person into a Jesus-lover, too. I think it’s odd to see the man admit to the reality of other paths at all.

I say be Buddhist if you want. Be Hindu. Be a pagan. Be atheist if it suits you. Be Christian if you think that’s your best bet (but don’t be thinking Pascal’s Wager is the way to prove it). Be whatever will give you the best life you can get.

About 1minionsopinion

Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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