The Great Snake Oil Sermon

Snake Oil SermonYesterday, we had a service for my brother Eric “Randy” Shultz, who died on 21 December 2016 at the age of 59. We did it at his conservative Baptist church. And I thought it was perfect — for Eric. It actually annoyed me a great deal. But before I get to the Snake Oil aspect of the whole thing, let me tell you something a bit more personal about the Good Christians™ who spoke at the service.

They all made a point of telling this story about how Eric had told them on first meeting them, “My friends call me Randy, you can call me Eric.” And then after they got to know him, they could call him Randy. But here’s the thing: that wasn’t really true. Everyone really crying at the service called him Eric. Whether you called him Eric or Randy depended on when you met him.

Eric vs Randy

When the first person brought up this “his true friends and family called him Randy” nonsense, it caused a slight stir in the church because his caregiver (and really, effectively his mother the last decade of his life), my younger sister, and I had already spoken with great emotion while referring to him as Eric. I got the impression that the man who first said it realized that he had blown it. But then two other people told the same story. Not one of these pretenders showed a hint of any emotion.

I am very often struck at just how callous Christians are. They’ve found their entry into heaven so they don’t really have to give much of a damn about other people. Oh, they’re nice enough. When I talk to them, they treat me the same way I would a terrorist at the birthday party of their child. There’s really only one way that they “care” about others and that is to get them to buy into the bankrupt spirituality of easy redemption. And need I remind everyone that this would been seen as sacrilegious by the early Christians who didn’t actually believe in the “one weird trick” to get into heaven.

The Sermon

And that leads us to the sermon that the pastor gave. By the standards of these things, it wasn’t that bad. For one thing, it was only about 20 minutes long. And there was a fair amount about Eric in it. But all the Bible quotes were from the Book of Revelation. I’m not fond of that book. You will note when I wrote about my brother, I culled from Matthew — about the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those are the things that sum up Eric. So why Revelation?

Well, part of it is the whole “salvation on the cheap” that I so hate about most modern Christianity: Eric is with God, just as Hitler is now if he let Christ into his soul in that bunker. But mostly, it was all a big sales pitch. Pastors know that most people who go to funeral and wedding[1] ceremonies are not Christians, so it’s a great opportunity to make the sales pitch. “Today I’m offering you such a deal: just “believe” and Tinker Bell will give you everlasting life!”

I don’t need to be sold on the concept that Eric is a better place. His life was painful. Death is the absence of pain except in the minds of evil theists who think that not “believing” means you will be tortured for eternity. And I don’t like the fact that Christians use these mournful occasions as sales opportunities. I especially don’t like it when I know that I’m expected to make a pretty sizable donation.

As the sermon went on, I kept adjusting the amount of money I was going to give. But in the end, I gave the amount I had decided to give at the beginning. That’s because it was a sermon and service that Eric would have liked. And ultimately, it wasn’t about me. But I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I should have been medicated.

Afterword: Ignorant People

At one point during the sermon, the pastor said, “Most people think that AD stands for ‘After Death,’ but it actually stands for…” And my younger sister and I said, in unison, “Anno Domini.” That is Latin for “year of our lord.” And after the service I heard some people talking about how interesting that was. It boggles my mind. Even at 8 years old (when I independently came up with the “After Death” idea), I understood that it would leave about 30 years that are in this no man’s that no one ever talked about. No one ever said, “Oh, that happened in 12 DL.”

Am I a sinner? Sure. But I’d rather be an arrogant bastard than a simpering idiot.


[1] As Rick says, “Weddings are funerals with cake.”

7 thoughts on “The Great Snake Oil Sermon

  1. Priests/pastors tend to be terrible at this stuff. They have to cater to the faith community the dead person was part of. That means emphasizing whatever aspects of the theology that congregation is most into. Funeral home workers, who have less political cause to appease everyone, are more about the closest loved ones and their wishes.

    Your speech was quite heartfelt, though. And in my experience, it’s the generic speeches from official spokespersons which cause the most tears. Personal stories tend more to make the bereaved glad someone else appreciated the person they’ve lost.

    • Yeah, I didn’t read the speech. I talked about how my brother turned me on to Curtis Mayfield, and other memories. But the moment I walked into the church and so those Stepford Christians, I wanted to run away.

  2. I like Revelation, but I don’t like how it’s commonly interpreted. It was an allegory for Roman oppression and a promise that someday oppression would end. Anyone who is facing oppression can find hope in that idea. Unfortunately, people like the late Tim LaHaye read it as “someday soon, God will come back and kill all the people we don’t like, and then we get to go to heaven!”

    • Somehow the “literal” reading of the Bible comes up with the idea that the seven churches in Asia Minor must mean the UN, the EU, the trilateral commission, etc.

      • Or seven different eras in the development of the church. And shouldn’t a literal reading mean the first horseman is a guy on a horse, not the head of some sort of One World Government?

        • Well, Putin likes to take pictures on horseback … ;)

          That’s a very valuable reminder of the historical context Revelations was written in. I don’t think it takes anything away from the Bible to study it as a collection of oral/written works composed in a particular time and place. To me such analysis adds to the meaning. The Jesus of the Bible preaches things that were quite subversive for both his time, and in later centuries as the Gospels were written. He is defiantly anti-racist (the Samaritan parable). His disciples were all male, but he considered Mary Magdeline a holy person. He opposed the death penalty. The commercialism of religion.

          Those were not commonplace ideas at the time! And considering that makes the stories more interesting.

      • That is a foundational problem with literalism: humans are incapable of it. So what you see with Christian literalists is that they use it as a rhetorical device. I’ve had Christian literalists tell me that Jesus cursed the fig tree because the fig tree represented God’s covenant with the Jews. That is explicitly a metaphorical reading of the Bible. But they want to claim that they aren’t reading anything into it so they can stone the fags. It’s literalism when it allows them to do what they want and metaphor when it allows them to do what they want.

        Every time you feel bad knowing that these evil people believe you will burn in hell, just remember that by their own book, so will they.

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