This post is the third of three posts on the topic of vacuum sealers. In this post, I’ll attempt to guide you to a vacuum sealing system that is right for you. The prior two posts present a wealth of information if you would like to do a deep dive on the topic.
First, a few thoughts.
Don’t be afraid to use generic bags. This is especially true for channel sealer bags (embossed bags), as the brand-name ones are quite expensive. I have used many different off-brand bags, and they have all worked for me. Their cost can be one-third to one-fourth of the cost of a brand-name version. If your bags are less expensive, you are more likely to use the sealer. I recently vacuum sealed half of a lemon, which was perfectly usable three days later when I stuffed a chicken with it.
If you are planning on using a vacuum sealer regularly, make sure that it is accessible. When my wife was our primary cook, she moved my vacuum sealer to basement kitchen storage. I still brought it upstairs, but only for major tasks, like breaking down bulk packages of meat into meal-size portions. Now that I do much of the cooking, I have created a little vacuuming station, and it is easy to vacuum seal items like half of an avocado. We live in a world where people are starving, so wasting food seems shameful to me.
If possible, leave your sealer on the counter. If not, try to store it in an easy-to-grab spot. If you are storing a unit, consider purchasing a simpler, lighter one as it will not only be easier to store but also easier to grab.
The Decision Tree
I’ll present several case scenarios; find the one that is most suitable for your needs.
You mostly want to preserve fresh food. You want your strawberries and salad greens to last longer. You would like your blocks of cheese to stay fresh. You want your lunch meat to be usable longer. You want to quickly marinate foods by placing them with a marinade into a vacuum canister. You want a simple, easy system that anyone in the family can use. Go to A.*
You want to save money by buying bulk foods and freezing them into smaller portions. You are considering other freshness options, like freezing away leftovers that you can reheat for future meals. You want to try out sous vide cooking. You are the kind of person that likes to try out new things, but you don’t always stick with them. You are very value-conscious or on a limited budget. Go to B.
You want to do all of the above, but you prefer to go with a name brand. You want the security of having a product that you can return locally if you don’t like it. You want a product that will likely offer replaceable parts, such as a sealing ring if needed. Go to C.
You want all of the above, but you have heavy-duty needs. You are a prepper who does bulk storage of large amounts of foods. You are a hunter who needs to process and prepare for freezing an entire animal. You have used home-level machines, but they quickly burned out because of your high demands. You may need a machine that can seal bags that are wider than 11 inches. Go to D.
Your needs are similar to #4, but you frequently vacuum seal a large number of items on a regular basis. You need reliability and dependability. Go to E.
You are an experienced vacuum sealer, and you want to use a product that uses the least expensive consumables (cheap bags). You want to vacuum seal liquid foods without freezing them first. You want to achieve the highest vacuum possible because you plan on storing items, like meat, for years at a time. Go to F.
Your needs are consistent with the user described in 6. However, you sometimes have to vacuum seal large items that do not fit into a chamber sealer. Consider purchasing two systems—one from category F and the other from categories D or E.
*If you plan on sealing canisters, but you think that you will be sealing some bags, find a system from category B through E that is most suitable to your needs. Make sure that the device has an accessory port that would allow you to vacuum external seal containers.
There are a number of canister and food storage systems that come with containers and a little hand-held manual or electric vacuum pump. These systems are small, practical, and maybe all that you need if you want to keep your perishable foods fresh longer. Expect to pay from $30-100.
There are many no-name brand vacuum sealers. Some offer many features at a very reasonable price. Others offer fewer features, but they are backed by a national store. I have not tested all of the available products (there are many dozens). However, I did watch reviews on many off-brand machines, and I did test a few. Surprisingly, they performed about as well as brand-named consumer products. These can be a great option if you want to try vacuum sealing, but you are unsure if you will stick with it. Will they last as long as a brand-name product? Likely, but I can’t say with absolute assurance. Expect to pay from $25-$60.
Brand-name products will possibly have better overall quality control. In addition, it is possible that you will be able to buy user-replaceable parts, such as sealing gaskets, if needed. Note that many generic products give you an extra sealing gasket for free, so the above may be a moot point. Basic machines will do everything that you may need, and most of them will offer an accessory port to vacuum canisters external containers. More expensive machines will be more aesthetically pleasing, and many offer some additional convenience features, most of which are unnecessary. Expect to pay from around $50-$200.
These prosumer machines are designed for heavy-duty or specialty use. Some have 12-volt operation for field use. These units allow for more seals per session than a typical consumer-level sealer. They may be constructed with thicker plastic, a stronger pump, or more solid construction. Every machine is different, so figure out your needs and then check around. Many machines have a standard 11″ -12″ sealing bar, but some have larger bars that allow for specialty bags that are wider. Expect to pay from around $200-$400.
These machines are light-duty professional machines. Some will include consumer-level options, like an accessory port. Others will not. They are designed for continuous use on a daily basis. Often allowing many seals without taking a break. They are big and bulky and not very easy to store in a cabinet. They are serious machines for serious users. Many machines have a standard 11″ -12″ sealing bar, but some have larger bars that allow for wider specialty bags. Expect to pay $300-$600.
These chamber sealers use a different technology than traditional domestic channel sealers. Chamber technology is commonly used in shops and by large volume users as the consumables (bags) are cheaper, parts are replaceable, and it is easy to seal items like liquids without freezing them first. In addition, chamber sealers can pull a stronger vacuum than a channel sealer. This may be important if you plan on storing foods like frozen meats for years. Bag size is restricted to the size of the machine’s chamber, which is why some users have both a chamber vacuum sealer and a standard channel sealer. Channel-type sealers allow the user to make custom-sized bags, but that is not possible for chamber sealers.
I have been a FoodSaver user for decades. My last post outlined the benefits of vacuum sealing, and I also explored the different types of vacuum sealers that are available for home users. I’m going to continue along this vein in two more posts. This post is a Q and A post. The next post will attempt to answer the question, “Which sealing system is right for me?”
I’m basing both of these posts on my decades of experience, as well as quite a bit of research on the topic.
What are the advantages of vacuum sealing?
Vacuum sealing removes most of the air from a thick plastic bag or other vessels. Air contains oxygen, and by removing oxygen the enclosed food stays fresh longer for several reasons.
Vacuum sealing can eliminate oxidation, which is the process that turns some cut foods brown, and also causes oily foods, like nuts, to go rancid. In addition, oxygen is important for most organisms to live; removing it can prevent or slow down certain microbial growth, and eliminate insect (weevil) infestation. In addition, moisture is removed along with the air which prevents freezer burn.
Does a vacuum sealer remove all of the air in a vacuum bag?
It is impossible to obtain a 100% vacuum, even with laboratory-grade equipment. A small amount of oxygen remains, so certain organisms, like mold, can still grow if the conditions are just right. However, mold will grow at a much slower rate under these conditions.
Do all vacuum sealers remove the same amount of air?
No, home channel sealers create less of a vacuum than commercial channel vacuum sealers, which, in turn, create less of a vacuum than a chamber sealer. Unless you are trying to store food for a very long time this difference is not significant.
Does vacuum sealing prevent food from going bad?
No, it only slows down the spoiling process in properly stored foods. For instance, a pound of hamburger stored in the fridge will stay fresh longer when it is vacuum packed. However, if it was left out on a warm counter it would quickly spoil.
Freezer burn is the dehydration of frozen foods caused by damage from ice crystals. Vacuum sealing reduces ice crystals from forming and can eliminate freezer burn.
However, certain bacteria don’t require oxygen to live and may “overgrow” in a low oxygen environment. Some of these bacteria can cause illness. It is not advisable to vacuum pack soft cheeses, as well as a few other foods because of this.
The bottom line is to always use good standard practices when preserving food. Vacuum sealing is an additional step in food preservation, not the only step.
What foods vacuum seal well?
Cooked and raw meats and seafood. Hard cheeses, but not soft cheeses (like ricotta). Vegetables, with the exception of raw onions, garlic, and mushrooms. However, these vegetables can be vacuum packed if cooked or immediately frozen for future meals. Prepared foods, such as soups, stews, casseroles, and side dishes. Coffee, and tea. Flour and cornmeal, beans and lentils, and many other foods.
It is also possible to vacuum seal non-food items to preserve them or to keep them dry.
What foods don’t vacuum seal well?
Vacuum sealing soft cheeses may promote a bacteria called Listeria to grow, which can cause illness, so they should not be vacuumed sealed. However, hard cheeses vacuum seal well.
Vacuum sealing certain raw vegetables, such as garlic, onions, and mushrooms could promote the growth of the bacteria that causes botulism, so they should not be vacuumed sealed. However, these vegetables are safe to vacuum seal if cut up and then immediately frozen, or cooked (as in a dish) and frozen.
Soft or fragile foods can be crushed when vacuumed sealed in a bag. However, they can be successfully sealed if placed in a jar or canister which is placed under a vacuum. In addition, you can first freeze berries to prevent crushing and then vacuum seal them in a bag.
What else can a vacuum sealer do?
A vacuum sealer can vacuum seal meat for sous vide cooking.
Meat plus a marinade can be placed under a vacuum and will marinate in around 20 minutes. This is usually done in an accessory container.
What is the most common type of home vacuum sealer?
The majority of home vacuum sealers are the channel (also called external bag) type. In these sealers, the open end of a special embossed bag is placed in the machine’s vacuum channel and the sealer is closed. A vacuum is pulled on the bag. At a set vacuum level, a wire is heated which seals the open end of the bag.
Are there other types of vacuum sealers available for the home user?
Yes, there are a number of different systems. Some use manual or electric hand-held pumps with special Ziploc bags or vacuum canisters. Others place the vacuum bag inside of a vacuum chamber. Still, others may use a nozzle inserted into the bag to create a vacuum. Each system has advantages and disadvantages.
Is a channel-style vacuum sealer complex?
No, it is a simple machine. An electric motor powers a vacuum pump which pulls a vacuum on the bag that the operator is sealing. A sensor determines when the vacuum is sufficient, which triggers a sealing wire to heat up and melt the open end of the bag sealing it. At that point the process is complete.
What are the advantages of a channel-type vacuum sealer?
Many home-style sealers are affordable and do a good job. Even prosumer and professional channel type sealers are reasonably priced. They can seal a variety of different sized bags, and you can make bags of any reasonable length out of special vacuum sealer roll material.
What are the disadvantages of a channel-type sealer?
Channel type sealers use a sucking action which can suck liquids into the machine and damage it. It is necessary to freeze liquids, like soups, in a separate container and then transfer the frozen food into a vacuum bag to be sealed. Some people carefully vacuum seal liquids without freezing, but I would not recommend it.
Moist foods, like meats and fish, can ooze juices when vacuumed sealed in a channel-type sealer. In most cases, the small amount of juices will be trapped in the sealer’s channel and won’t damage the machine. However, the meat juices can contaminate the bag’s sealing area making it difficult for the bag to seal. Many machines have a “moist” function that extends the sealing time in these situations. Other options include partially freezing the meat before sealing, or placing a strip of paper towel in the bag between the food and the bag’s sealing area to absorb extra moisture.
Channel-type sealers require special embossed bags that can be pricey if you buy the brand-name versions.
Do you have to use brand-specific bags?
I have used generic bags from various manufacturers for many years without problems. However, I can’t say that newer machines won’t include some sort of bag recognition to force you to buy their particular brand of bag. This has nothing to do with the quality of generic bags, and everything to do with the profit of a company. Sort of like the way printer manufacturers incorporated print cartridge recognition to prevent people from refilling their printer cartridges.
Do you recommend a particular generic chamber bag?
I have used bags from a variety of vendors without problems.
Why not just use the brand-name bags?
The only reason to not use a brand-name bag is cost. If you shop around you can find generic bags and rolls that are roughly one-fourth the cost of their brand-name version placing generic bags at a price point similar to a Ziploc bag. You are more likely to preserve a wider variety of foods if the bags are cheaper. If a brand-name bag costs over fifty cents you may think twice about vacuum sealing half of an avocado. However, if it only costs twelve cents you are more likely to do so.
Are there any differences in channel bags that I should be aware of?
Many bags are 3 mil in thickness, which is fine for most uses. Some bags are thicker, for instance, 4 mil, and they would provide a greater barrier from the outside environment. I have never had a reason to use a thicker bag in my decades of vacuum sealing. However, I could imagine some case scenarios. For instance, a hunter freezes large amounts of meat which he will store for a number of years. That meat could be better preserved using a thicker bag.
Have channel-type sealers changed over time?
The basic concept and components have not changed, but the materials used have. I have an original FoodSaver (launched in the late 1980s) as well as a FoodSaver Compact (launched in the 1990s).
The original FoodSaver’s components are more robust than the FoodSaver Compact. However, both machines have significantly larger power transformers and motors than current models. Smaller components may lead to a shorter appliance life span.
Newer FoodSaver models also have more electronic circuitry. This allows for additional features, like programmed sealing cycles (dry/moist), and vacuum levels (regular/gentle). However, circuit boards and their components add another point of failure.
Some higher-end consumer models will have motorized features, like automatic bag loading.
Do I need all of the new features?
No, if a vacuum sealer can pull a vacuum on a bag and then seal it, it is doing its job. Nothing else is needed.
Are there some features that could be useful?
The answer is subjective. You do you.
Here are a few features that I think may be useful.
A moist sealing setting may be useful when packaging moist foods like meat. However, there are a number of workarounds if you don’t have this function.
An accessory port may be useful if you plan on sealing canisters, Mason jars, or special Ziploc vacuum bags. However, this feature is completely unnecessary if you only plan on sealing vacuum bags.
A bag cutter may be useful if you use bag rolls instead of premade bags. It is not needed if you only use premade bags or if you can cut with a pair of scissors. Some machines with bag cutters also have a bag storage area, which is a convenience. However, this also makes the machines bulkier. Besides, the storage areas often limits bag rolls to be no larger than 20’. You can buy rolls that are 50’, 100’, and even 150’, but they wouldn’t fit into a consumer-level machine.
A pulse function Allows you to pulse the vacuum pump in bursts. This can be useful if you have a soft item and you don’t want to crush it as you can stop the process before the bag is maximally evacuated. Conversely, some sealers will have a gentle option, which performs a similar function. Other machines will allow you to press “Stop” or “Seal,” which will stop the vacuuming and immediately seal the bag.
Is there a difference between lower cost and higher cost machines from the same brand line?
As far as I can tell the machines use very similar vacuum components. Additional costs may give you more features, like a motorized bag feed, or a permanently attached accessory hose. In addition, you may get cosmetic enhancements, like a thin piece of stainless steel over a plastic shell.
Some companies may make machines that are specially designed for a purpose, and they will be different from base models. FoodSaver has a GameSaver line that has a number of features desirable for hunters who need to process an entire animal in one session, and Nesco’s top-of-the-line VS-12 features a double vacuum pump and a double sealing strip which allows faster and more secure bag sealing. Both of these models would be of the prosumer variety.
Professional level machines are built to last. Plastic is replaced with metal, and motors, pumps, and power supplies are much more robust. Many professional machines have cooling fans that allow them to run longer without overheating. These machines are big, bulky, industrial-looking, and designed for work. However, for the average home user, they are overkill and too big for a standard kitchen.
What is a seal?
When you close a bag with a unit’s heat bar you seal it. A premade bag is open on one end, so to close it requires one seal. A bag made from a roll has to be sealed on both ends, so that would require two seals. A unit that can perform 20 seals would allow you to process 20 premade bags, or 10 roll bags before it is needed to cool down. In addition, many consumer and prosumer level machines advise a 15-60 second “cool down” period between sealing every bag.
In consumer machines, the seal times are fixed, and with repetitive seals, the bar will get hotter and hotter. Eventually, it will melt the bag to the point of cutting the bag with the seal bar. More professional machines may allow the user to either set the sealing time or they will sense the temperature of the sealing bar and automatically adjust the bag fusion accordingly.
How long can I continuously run my vacuum sealer?
Many consumer machines will want you to wait at least 15-60 seconds (depending on the model) between sealings to prevent the sealing bar from overheating. Some units have built-in circuitry that monitors and adjusts the temperature of the sealing bar and eliminates the “wait” restriction.
There is usually a limit as to how many bags you can seal in a row. Often that number is about 20 to 30 seals for a consumer-level machine. After your machine’s recommended number you should allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes so its components can cool down. For the normal consumer, this restriction is not a problem.
Prosumer machines vary. The FoodSaver GameSaver machine can do 80 seals before it requires a cool down. Other machines may allow even more seals. For instance, LEM’s prosumer model can do up to 250 seals before it needs to rest.
Professional machines can do hundreds of seals, or hours of use before they need a break. Some of these machines intelligently reduce the heat on the sealing bar to prevent overheating. Others allow you to adjust the sealing time, which accomplishes the same goal. It is common for a professional machine to allow for over 500 seals (or 5 hours uptime) before they need a cool-down period. Some machines can do over 1000 seals (or 10 hours run time) before they need a break.
Are there different size heating bars, and why is that important?
Yes, different machines may have different size sealing bars. The size of the heating bar will determine the maximum width of the bag that you can seal. For instance, a few machines have a small 8-9 inch bar and will only seal bags with a maximum 8-inch opening. This can be limiting.
Most machines have an 11-12 inch bar which will allow you to seal any bag up to an 11-inch opening. This allows maximum flexibility.
A few machines have larger heating bars in the 13-15 inch range. These larger machines are only needed if you need to freeze very large cuts of meat and might be used by individuals who process entire animals, like hunters. With that said, many hunters can get by using a machine with a standard 11-12 inch sealing bar.
Is the thickness of a seal important?
Most home sealers will fuse the two sides of a bag together with a very thin line. Prosumer and professional sealers will often fuse the bag with a thicker line or in some cases several lines. Both of the latter options provide more assurance that the bag will remain sealed and air-tight. This may be important if the bag is stressed, or if the food is to be stored for a very long time.
With that said, the FoodSaver that I have used for decades fuses with a thin line and a properly sealed bag has never failed me.
Do all vacuum sealers remove air at the same rate?
No, professional sealers can vacuum a bag and seal it faster than a consumer product. However, this is only an issue if you are doing very high-volume sessions.
How long can I expect a vacuum sealer to last?
It is very difficult for me to give you an absolute answer to this question. However, longevity depends on the level of use as well as the level of care from the customer.
The motors on newer consumer vacuum sealers are quite small. However, I couldn’t find any complaints of motors failing.
The vacuum pumps appear to be cheaply made, being all plastic (including the piston). However, the only time that I could find reports of vacuum pump failure was the result of a user sucking up liquids into the pump mechanism.
Consumer-level machines are mostly plastic, including high wear areas like the latches. I did come across a few reports of plastic parts wearing out or cracking. However, these issues were usually after a machine had been used for a number of years.
I came across some complaints that a sealer had stopped sealing. The seal wire in all machines will eventually fail. On a consumer-level machine, it is not replaceable. However, a wire should last for years in a normal use situation.
One area of frequent failure is the gasket system, especially the gasket that encircles the vacuum channel. If that gasket is defective it is impossible to get a proper seal and you will not draw an adequate vacuum on your bag.
What causes a gasket seal failure?
The gasket is elastic and spongy. It is compressed every time you seal a bag and eventually it will cease to properly seal the channel. However, that should take quite some time.
You can shorten the life of a gasket by contaminating it with food debris. In addition, you can quickly ruin a gasket by storing your device in the locked position, as this is the position where the gasket is the most compressed.
How long should a gasket last?
Another difficult question. The gasket on my 1990s FoodSaver Compact is a very solid rubbery material. It is permanently glued in and still works fine decades later. Newer gaskets are more spongy, and I would expect them to have a shorter lifespan, even with good care.
FoodSaver suggests that their gaskets should be charged out yearly for “heavy users.” However, that is a very arbitrary statement. My pressure cooker manufacturer also suggests a yearly change out of the pressure cooker’s sealing gasket. However, I take care of my gasket and it has lasted me over 5 years and it is still going strong.
A gasket should be changed if it is no longer providing a seal for the vacuum channel. For some, this may be within the first few uses (if they somehow damage the gasket). For others, I suspect that a gasket will last years.
What should I do if my gasket isn’t sealing?
The first step is to inspect the gasket. Does it have food particles on it? If so, clean it. Is it not seated properly in its channel? If so, reseat it.
If your gasket is permanent (like on some older machines) you can try to repair or reseal it. I have read articles where people have used food grade silicon and even gasket sealant (food grade?) to repair a permanently mounted gasket. I recently used form-a-gasket sealant to repair my original 1980s food saver. It has a sump plug that was sealed by an O-ring. The O-ring was in good shape, but it had stretched a bit causing it to lose its seal. I couldn’t get a replacement so I “glued” it in with the sealant and my old FoodSaver is once again working.
If your gasket is removable you might try to gently wash it. Dry it before returning it to the machine. You could also try to invert it (put the bottom on the top) to see if that would help.
Brand-name vacuum sealers (like FoodSaver) often sell replacement gaskets at reasonable prices. Other brands will sometimes provide an additional gasket or two with the original purchase. If you get an extra gasket, store it in a cool, dry place where it won’t be crushed. Replacing a gasket is a very simple job.
How long should my vacuum sealer last?
If you are a very heavy user, like a hunter who has to process entire animals in one sitting, you will overtax a consumer-level machine and it will likely fail in a year or two. You should purchase a prosumer or professional sealer.
If you are a typical consumer who treats their machine with respect and care it should last 3-5 years or longer.
Do brand-name vacuum sealers work better than no-name vacuum sealers?
If we are talking about consumer-level machines, my subjective answer is, no. I watched numerous videos of people using off-brand machines and they seemed to be as quick and sealed as well as brand named products. It is likely that most of these machines are built in the same factories in China.
Will a brand-name machine last longer than a no-name vacuum sealer?
I have tested a couple of no-brand machines in the $30 range. One was an Aldi brand, and the other was an unknown brand purchased from Amazon. Both machines were fairly lightweight and their plastic parts were not as robust as my old Compact FoodSaver. However, the same could be said of a modern FoodSaver. Things are not built as well as they used to be.
My guess is that if the construction seems similar to a brand-name device it will last about as long as a brand-name unit.
Should I buy a prosumer or professional model?
Only if you have a need for one. For instance, if you are a prepper and seal dozens of bags in a sitting you may overheat and damage a consumer machine. You would be better served with a more robust device.
Prosumer devices are designed for bagging a lot of product infrequently. Professional devices are designed to work heavily on a daily basis.
Professional devices are more serviceable. Most will allow you to change out components, like the sealing bar. Professional devices are often simpler in design. Many won’t have a latching mechanism as having one slows down workflow.
Professional models will pull a greater vacuum than a consumer model. That may be important if you are storing foods for years. However, it won’t make much of a difference for the average user.
Lastly, some prosumer and professional models will accept a bag width greater than 11”, which could be useful for those needing to package huge cuts of meat.
What are the disadvantages of buying a prosumer or professional model?
Some prosumer models look very similar to a consumer model, so their only disadvantage is a higher cost. Other prosumer models are bigger and bulkier than a typical consumer model and may be awkward to keep on the counter, or difficult to pull out of a cabinet.
Professional units will be larger, heavier, more industrial-looking, and have noisy cooling fans. Some will omit functions like an accessory port or the marinate feature, as they are unneeded for packaging. Naturally, these units will cost more, starting at around $300 and moving upwards.
What are some other types of vacuum sealing systems, and why would I want to use them?
Two types that some may find useful are handheld devices and chamber devices. I won’t discuss nozzle systems, which are uncommon in the consumer world.
What is a handheld device?
These are mini-vacuum pumps that are either battery operated or hand-pumped. They are used as part of a system. For instance, with special Ziploc bags, or specific vacuum canisters.
Why would I want to use a handheld system?
For convenience and size. The handheld pumps can be stored in a drawer and easily used. These units do not heat-seal bags like a traditional vacuum sealer. Ziploc-type bags have a traditional zipper closure, and canisters have a vacuum valve on their lids.
These devices can be less intimidating than traditional sealers. In my house, I use the vacuum sealer for food preservation, but everyone else is comfortable using a little canister set with a hand pump to preserve salads and soft fruits (like strawberries).
A handheld system can also speed marinating, and slow down oxidation in foods like vegetables and nuts.
Generally speaking, the level of vacuum will not be as great as if you used a standard sealer with an accessory port.
What is a chamber sealer?
A chamber sealer is a fairly bulky device that contains a vacuum chamber instead of a vacuum channel. In these machines, the vacuum bag is placed inside the vacuum chamber.
What are the advantages of a chamber sealer?
There are a number of advantages. Since both the chamber and the bag are placed under a vacuum at the same time, there is no fluid sucking from the bag and into the machine. Therefore, it is easy to vacuum seal liquids without freezing them first.
Powdery substances, like flour, require special treatment when vacuum packing in a channel machine. However, flour can be put into a chamber sealer with no additional prep.
Chamber sealers use non-embossed vacuum bags, which are considerably cheaper than the embossed bags that channel sealers use. In fact, you can buy a pint-sized chamber bag for around three cents, which is less than a Ziploc sandwich bag.
It is more likely that you will waste less food if you have a chamber sealer. Carrots and celery are inexpensive vegetables and it made more sense for me to toss unused vegetables than vacuum seal them. However, since a pint-size chamber bag is so cheap I now freeze unused vegetables for my next stew or soup. The combined cost of a bunch of celery and carrots is around $3 where I live. If I throw away half, I’m giving away $1.50. I can now save that money using a 3-cent bag plus a tiny amount of electricity.
Chamber sealers can pull a stronger vacuum than a channel sealer. In most cases, this won’t make a difference. However, it may be important if you are storing food, like meats, for a very long time (years), or if you plan on doing redux canning.
What are the disadvantages of a chamber sealer?
Until recently, chamber sealers were commercial machines. Even the small ones were close to 100 pounds in weight, and took up a large amount of kitchen counter “real estate”. Many chamber sealers have an oil-type vacuum pump that requires some maintenance. Most chamber sealer styles are more suited for a functional butcher shop rather than a homey kitchen.
Chamber sealers can only accept bags that will fit inside of their chamber. You use premade bags (which come in many sizes) instead of rolls of bag material. Industrial chamber sealers may be slightly more complicated and intimidating to operate than most channel sealers, which only require a single push of a button. Until recently, even the cheapest chamber sealer was close to $1000.00 and did not offer any additional functionality.
Are there any consumer-level or less expensive chamber sealers?
Yes, in the last few years some new models have been introduced. They may have a smaller capacity and use more plastic, but they are considerably less expensive. You can buy a consumer-oriented chamber sealer in the $400-$1000 range. In addition, some of these consumer-oriented machines offer functions like an accessory port, or a marinate function. Some of these machines have a dry vacuum pump instead of a wet vacuum pump (oil-based) which eliminates pump maintenance.
You can also buy Chinese clones of traditional chamber sealers. I have one, and my sealer was inexpensive. However, my chamber is only 2” deep with a 2” lid dome (4” total), which is much shallower than a commercial brand. In addition, my chamber is painted steel instead of stainless steel (wouldn’t pass NSF certification), and it is likely that the overall quality of my components is not as good as a commercial machine. However, it works well enough for me!
Is there an advantage to having an oil-based vacuum pump?
All channel-type sealers use a dry (not oil-based) pump, whereas professional chamber machines mostly use oil-based pumps. Dry pumps are maintenance-free, so why use oil vacuum pumps at all? Oil-based pumps are more efficient and will vacuum larger volumes of air faster. In addition, oil-based pumps last longer.
Changing the oil on an oil-based pump is a simple job. However, you have to remember to do it. Your user manual will recommend when you should change the pump’s oil.
Are there any vacuum sealers that are manufactured in the US?
I can’t speak on industrial-level sealers, but as far as I know, all vacuum sealers mentioned here are manufactured in China.
A company may design a unit in the US and have a Chinese manufacturer build it, or it may modify a Chinese designed unit, or it may simply rebrand a Chinese designed unit.
When it comes to consumer-level machines it is likely that a no-brand machine is similar in construction to a branded machine. However, it is easy to return a defective FoodSaver to Costco, but few will return a no-name device bought on eBay back to China.
I hope that I have answered any questions that you may have about vacuum sealers. The next post will help you sort through which sealer is best for you.
Making a hard-boiled egg should be a simple process. However, mine always turned out with a green line around the yolk. Worse yet, I could never get the shell off without taking half of the egg with it. I would boil them and place them in an ice bath, but they would still turn out terrible.
My results were so poor that I started to buy pre-peeled hard-boiled eggs at the store. They are much more expensive and a bit rubbery, but at least they looked like eggs.
All of this has changed with a simple cooking technique. I now steam my eggs; they come out great and they peel perfectly.
I’m a gadget guy, so I use an egg maker. It is also great for making poached eggs for avocado toast. I like it because it is automatic, and it chimes when the eggs are done.
However, you can do the same method with a pot and some sort of steamer insert. This could be on the stove or using the steaming function of an InstantPot or rice cooker.
Here is how to do it without an egg cooker.
Puncture the end of the egg. A push pill works well. This prevents bursting.
Put about an inch of water in a pot. Bring to a boil.
Temporarily take the pot off the heat. You don’t want a steam burn.
Place 6 or 12 eggs in a steamer rack and put the rack back in the pot and cover. Return the pot to heat.
Steam for around 12-15 minutes for 6 eggs, and 15-17 minutes for a dozen.
Steam time will vary slightly based on the egg’s size and temperature.
Using a spoon, transfer the eggs to an ice water bath to shock chill them for a few minutes.
Peel under cold running water.
Store in a covered container. They will stay good for about a week.
My last post was on saving money at the grocer. One segment of that article involved using a vacuum sealer (FoodSaver), which can extend the freshness of foods up to 5 times. That segment generated some interest, so I thought I would do a deep dive on the topic. I’ll also provide best practices and tips in this post.
Fact: The average household throws away 30% of purchased foods. A typical family of four can save more than $3000.00/year by using a vacuum sealer to reclaim already purchased foods and to repackage less expensive bulk foods.
Why vacuum seal?
When you vacuum seal something you pump out the air in its package. Then the vacuum sealer heats the open end of the bag to completely seal its contents from the outside. Air contains 21% oxygen, and many foods oxidize when exposed to this gas. One example of oxidation is the browning of cut avocados, potatoes, and apples. Another example is the effect of oxygen on fatty foods, like nuts. Oxidation turns their fats rancid. How many times have you thrown out half of an Avocado or a bag of baking walnuts because they had gone bad? Sealing in a vacuum bag can dramatically extend the life of these foods.
Poorly packaged frozen food is subject to freezer burn, but what is freezer burn? The moisture in the air condenses on the food creating ice crystals that puncture the food’s structure. This alters the texture of the food and causes it to dehydrate. The result of this process is called freezer burn. Remove the air and seal and you eliminate freezer burn.
Baked goods, like crackers, are moisture absorbers. Leave a tube of crackers open for a day or two and they go from crips to stale. Remove the air and seal the package and the crackers stay fresh.
Foods like flour and cornmeal are subject to weevil infestations. These tiny critters can hatch and multiply in grains that have been sitting around. Weevils are not harmful, but no one wants to eat food that contains little bugs. Weevils need oxygen to survive; eliminate the oxygen and you eliminate the bugs.
In most cases, it’s safe to eat hard cheeses that have a little mold on them. Just cut off the mold and proceed. However, why deal with moldy cheese if you don’t have to? Molds are a type of fungus, and they need oxygen to grow. Eliminate the oxygen and your hard cheese can stay fresh for a long time.
Beyond food preservation, vacuum sealing is also used to prepare foods for Sous-vide cooking. This technique allows a chef to perfectly cook foods while retaining their natural juiciness.
If you like to marinate meats you can dramatically speed up that process by using a vacuum sealer. Place the meat and marinade in an external vacuum canister and draw a vacuum. The vacuum opens up the meat and allows the marinade to penetrate in under 30 minutes. You don’t need a marinade function on your vacuum sealer; any machine that has an accessory port will do. You can also marinade in a vacuum bag, but you need to be careful to not draw up the liquid marinade into the machine.
Vacuum sealing can preserve and protect non-food items. Real silverware won’t tarnish when sealed in a vacuum bag. Hunters can vacuum pack ammo to keep it dry and usable. Adventurers have even vacuum-packed clothes for wet outings allowing them to change into something dry after their experience. Vacuum sealing uses are only limited by the user’s imagination.
Why not just wrap in foil, place in Tupperware, or seal in a Ziploc freezer bag?
The above solutions do help keep food fresh longer, but not nearly as long as vacuum packing. Why? They don’t eliminate the air in the package, and they allow outside air and humidity to enter. However, they are better than leaving food exposed.
What do I vacuum seal?
I have used a FoodSaver Compact vacuum sealer for decades. It is a simple manual device. Mine was one of the early machines that were made in Italy (not China), and it is very sturdy and solid. I treat it well and it has served me well.
I know that over time my FoodSaver has saved me a lot of money. I’ll buy meat in bulk, on sale, or when it has a close to expiration price drop. I’ll then split it into meal-sized amounts and vacuum seal it into bags ready to be frozen.
I’ll buy a large block of cheese, and vacuum seal it into smaller chunks. They stay fresh in the fridge.
I’ll cook a turkey breast in my slow cooker, slice it for lunch meat, and seal and freeze it into conveniently sized packages that I thaw as needed.
I also freeze leftovers, like homemade soups and stews. When vacuum packing liquids it is best to freeze them first in another container. Remove the frozen item from the container and place it in a vacuum bag and seal it. I like Souper Cubes because frozen soups just pop out. However, any freezable container will do. If an item won’t release, gently warm the bottom of the container for a few seconds in a bowl of hot water. I have also seen people freeze liquids in Ziploc freezer bags. Once frozen, they peel off the freezer bag and reseal the block in a vacuum bag to ensure a much longer freezer life.
Recently, I bought a Chinese chamber-style vacuum sealer off eBay, and it has been a game-changer. It is now easy to vacuum pack liquids and powdery foods (like flour) without any prep. Additionally, chamber-style vacuum bags are very inexpensive, even cheaper than Ziploc bags. With this new gadget, I’m starting to vacuum seal additional foods, like vegetables. Many vegetables are reasonably priced, but why waste half of a bunch of celery if I don’t have to? More importantly, I know that I’ll have soup fixings in my freezer even if I don’t have the fresh veggies in my crisper drawer. I can freeze enough celery and carrots to make an entire pot of soup using a single chamber-style bag that only costs 3 cents.
The history of vacuum sealing.
The first commercial vacuum sealer was invented in the 1940s. The first home vacuum sealer was designed by Karl Busch in 1963, but it was very basic. The first practical home vacuum sealer was developed by Hanns Kristin in 1984 and was named the FoodSaver by Tilia. The unit was easy to use but had a nozzle to remove air instead of the now ubiquitous vacuum channel. This FoodSaver hit the market in the late 1980s, but it didn’t take off. Sales increased dramatically in the 1990s when the company started to air infomercials about it. The early models were very well built and made in Italy; current units are manufactured in China. Seal-a-Meal was an early competing brand that was originally owned by Dazey Corp. The FoodSaver and Seal-a-Meal brands are now owned by Newell Brands; that company also owns many other household brands including Rubbermaid, Mr. Coffee, and Sharpie.
Many other companies make commercial and home vacuum sealers. Prices for home sealers range from around 20 dollars to several hundred dollars. Commercial/prosumer sealers range from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars.
Foods that vacuum seal well.
Many foods benefit from vacuum sealing. Fresh and cooked meats and fish, hard cheeses, soups, stews, most vegetables, grains, pasta, cookies, crackers, coffee, and more. However, you may need to adapt the way that you seal some of these items. I’ll describe some techniques below.
Foods that don’t vacuum seal well.
Raw fruits, like bananas and pears, emit ethylene and will over-ripen when that gas is trapped in a sealed bag. However, cooked and dehydrated fruits store well.
Some vegetables freeze better when first blanched-place in boiling water for a few minutes, then rapidly cool in cold water, and pat dry. When in doubt, Google how to freeze a particular vegetable. However, you don’t have to always blanch every vegetable. My excess carrots and celery just get vacuumed packed and tossed in the freezer. I know that they will be fine for soups and stews.
Mold is a fungus that requires oxygen to grow, a vacuum sealer removes the majority of the oxygen in a package, but a tiny bit remains. Mold can still slowly grow under these conditions. Moist foods are vulnerable to mold growth even if vacuumed sealed. Naturally, mold can’t grow if food is frozen.
Certain strains of bacteria thrive without oxygen and can create deadly botulism toxin* or bacterial illness. You shouldn’t vacuum seal soft cheeses**, or certain vegetables like fresh mushrooms, garlic, and onions.* However, you can vacuum seal blanched or cooked vegetables. In addition, most pathogenic bacteria can’t grow at freezing temperatures, Listeria being the exception, so it is OK to peel and chop an onion, vacuum seal it, and freeze it for future use.
*Botulism poisoning is very rare. The CDC reports that there are around 27 cases of food-born Botulism a year (The US population is 329 million). All of the cases that I could locate were caused by poor home canning techniques or improper processing of commercial foods. I could not find a single case of botulism poisoning due to home vacuum sealing. However, better safe than sorry. Clostridium botulinum (the bacteria that makes the botulism toxin) cannot grow at freezer temperatures.
**Listeria is a bacteria that may proliferate in soft cheeses and other foods. It can grow without oxygen, and it can even slowly grow at freezer temperatures. Since many other bacteria need oxygen, the lack of it can provide an open playing field for Listeria to multiply. Listeria can cause serious GI illness, which is why you shouldn’t vacuum pack soft cheeses.
Practice common sense.
Vacuum sealed foods last longer, but they still can spoil. Vacuum sealing is an additional step, not the only step in food preservation. Food left out will still go bad. Treat vacuumed sealed foods just like you would if they were not vacuumed sealed. If you would normally refrigerate a leftover, do the same.
Always practice standard sanitary practices when repackaging food. Wash your hands and utensils before and after a repackaging session. Clean surfaces and sanitize your area before and after. Additionally, wash and sanitize between packing different foods. If I’m repackaging beef and chicken I’ll re-sanitize everything between the two jobs. You can wear and change out gloves if you wish; I just wash my hands a lot.
What are the different types of vacuum sealers?
The handheld vacuum seal systems.
These are either battery-powered or manual pumps and are used with special Ziploc-style bags or containers. They are sometimes sold with canister sets, and they are useful in situations where you are opening and closing a package. Salad greens, cereal, and fresh strawberries are some foods that come to mind. They can also be handy for marinating.
Channel vacuum sealers (below) often have an accessory hose or port that can be used to vacuum special canisters. However, many people don’t have the counter space to leave a machine out. The handheld pumps are small and can be tucked away in a drawer.
The channel vacuum systems.
This is the most common type of home vacuum system. All current FoodSaver machines are channel-type vacuum sealers. An external bag is placed in the machine’s vacuum channel and the device is closed. A vacuum is drawn and the bag is then sealed using a heat bar. The channel will protect the unit’s vacuum pump from being contaminated if a small amount of liquid is sucked up from the bag. However, foods that contain large amounts of liquid can enter the machine’s innards and damage it. Most home systems will accommodate standard 11” and 8” wide bags, however, a few will only accept 8” wide bags. A machine that handles all sizes of bags offers the greatest versatility.
Advantages of channel systems
These units can be small, accommodate a wide range of bag sizes, and you can make custom bag lengths using rolls of bag material. Many units are inexpensive. You can buy an off-brand machine for as little as 20 dollars, and a basic branded one for about 50 dollars. Add more features (many unnecessary) and the price can go up to several hundred dollars. Popular brands include FoodSaver, Seal-a-Meal, Cosori, Hamilton Beach, and Nesco.
Household sealers have small motors, tiny plastic vacuum pumps, and thin heating bars. Most are made for limited use and will overheat if you try to vacuum seal many bags in one sitting. This is not usually an issue for the home user but could be a problem for someone like a hunter, prepper, or gardener who needs to seal dozens of bags at one time. A home sealer’s longevity will depend on its level of use and care. Mine has lasted decades, but hunters (who may package an entire animal in one session) may need to buy a new machine every year or two.
High-use individuals are better off buying a commercial-grade channel sealer. These sealers are built to last and have quality vacuum pumps, strong motors, and good cooling systems. Professional and prosumer sealers start around $300. Popular brands include Weston, VacMaster, LEM, and Avid/Amor. These units are designed for near-continuous use, and some can accommodate bag widths greater than 11 inches. They are bulkier than home units and can take up quite a bit of counter space.
What these sealers are good for; what foods require additional prepping?
Solid, dry, and moist items are good candidates for channel machines. Powdery or liquid foods require special preparation to be successfully vacuum-packed using a channel-type sealer.
Meats can ooze juices when vacuum packing, which can contaminate the sealing area and prevent sealing. Some machines have a “Moist” setting that extends the sealing bar’s heating time/temperature to ensure a seal. My old FoodSaver is a manual model. I seal the bag before I see the meat juice reach the sealing bar. Very cold, semi-frozen, or frozen meat won’t ooze when vacuum packed. Another easy trick is to place a narrow strip of paper towel after the meat but before the bag’s sealing zone to catch the juices. This works with any channel machine.
Powdery foods, like flour, can get sucked up into the vacuum system and damage it. An easy solution is to repack bulk flour into brown lunch bags. Fold over or loosely tape the lunch bag’s top and insert it into a sealing bag, vacuum as usual. I like keeping an extra 5-pound bag of flour as a backup. I simply put the flour (in its original bag) in a gallon vacuum bag and vacuum seal it to keep it fresh and weevil free.
Liquids, like soups, can get sucked up into the machine’s internals, and that is not a good thing. Some folks carefully vacuum seal liquids, but there are easier ways. If you have leftover soup, freeze it in another container, then remove it from that container and vacuum seal it in a bag. It will take up less space and stay fresh longer. You can also vacuum seal it in a Mason jar (using a jar vacuum sealing adapter) and then freeze it.
Bags and rolls.
Channel-type vacuum sealers require special embossed bags that allow air to be pulled out of them. These bags can be quite expensive. I looked on the FoodSaver website and quart bags were over 50 cents apiece. I have been using generic vacuum bags for years, and they work well. Instead of paying 50 cents, I can buy a generic quart bag for 12-14 cents, which is roughly the same cost as a Ziploc freezer bag. Bags come in pint, quart, and gallon sizes.
Many people prefer using rolls of bag material, often citing that rolls are more economical than bags. That is only partially true. If you made an equivalent number of bags from a roll it will cost you roughly the same amount as premade bags. The cost savings of rolls come with the fact that you can customize the size of your bag. A quart size bag is 8” x 12.” Let’s say you mostly use a bag size that is 8” x 10,” over time you will save a little cash because of this. However, I’m lazy and use pre-made bags.
FoodSaver always claimed that you could reuse their bags by washing them in the dishwasher, keeping the bag open with something like a clothespin, and pointing the open-end down. They have now revised this recommendation, and advise to not reuse bags that have been previously used to store meats or cheese, as they may not be cleaned adequately by this method.
Manufacturers upsell consumer vacuum sealers by adding features, many of which are not needed unless you have a specific need. Here are some of them.
Motorized bag feeds– unneeded and just one more thing to break.
Marinade function– Meats marinade in minutes when placed under a vacuum. Machines with a marinade function pulse a vacuum to enhance this action. However, just using the vacuum function also works well. It is best to marinade in an external canister, but it is possible to use a vacuum bag. Just be very careful to not suck the marinade into the machine.
Moist sealing setting– Nice when vacuuming moist things like meat. The sealing bar stays on a bit longer to ensure that the bag is sealed even if a small amount of meat juice has contaminated the bag’s sealing zone. Some machines are programmed to reduce their suction a bit if you use this option. If you don’t have a moisture setting there are several workarounds (see above).
Gentle cycle– this function is used for delicate items like chips, crackers, and cakes. A weaker vacuum is pulled, so these items are crushed less. However, a weaker vacuum means that less air and moisture is pulled out; besides you will still get some crushing. A better option is to use an accessory canister or a Mason jar sealer for crushable items like crackers. I freeze soft items, like muffins, in a Tupperware container, and avoid vacuum sealing altogether. They will still stay fresh for quite some time when stored this way.
Built-in roll storage– Many units have a space to store vacuum seal rolls. In addition, they will often have a cutter so you can easily cut the roll into bags. This is nice if you are a roll user. However, this also makes the machine’s footprint larger, which could be a problem if you have limited storage or counter space. Many folks keep their rolls in a drawer and simply cut their bags using a pair of scissors. Additionally, you can also buy separate roll storage containers with cutters.
Removable channel tray-It is OK if a small amount of liquid is sucked into the vacuum channel. Just wipe it out with a damp paper towel. Some vacuum sealers have trays that can be removed and washed directly in the sink, which may be a convenience for some.
Accessory port– A wonderful feature that I rarely use. Many machines have a little port that allows you to connect a hose to the machine. This way you can vacuum seal special containers or (using a jar accessory) vacuum seal mason jars to be used as storage containers.
I know several people who have vacuum sealers and none of us use this handy feature. Why? Because it is inconvenient to pull a machine out for one task. However, there are prepper types on YouTube who love this feature. They preserve all sorts of things, from spices to nuts in Mason jars that are then vacuum-sealed.
Most people will only use a vacuum sealer for its most basic function, bag sealing, so avoid wasting a lot of money on extras unless you know that you will use them.
Are there performance differences between models and brands?
No vacuum sealer can completely pull all of the air out of a package. However, a partial vacuum is still adequate for food preservation. Models within a brand perform similarly and are differentiated mostly by features. A vacuum sealer must pull at least 20” Hg to properly seal a bag. Food Savers will pull around 22” Hg, and pro-style channel systems may pull as high as 25” Hg. Chamber-style machines are capable of pulling an even higher vacuum.
It is pretty easy to tell you your machine is working well enough. Vacuum seal a block of cheese and examine the results. If the block is sealed with no air gaps your machine is working.
The chamber sealer systems.
Chamber Sealers are the way that most commercial products are vacuum-sealed. They have several advantages, but they also have some disadvantages for home users.
A chamber sealer is a large appliance that has a cavity (or chamber) where the vacuum bag is positioned. A vacuum is placed on the entire chamber instead of sucking the air out of a bag.
Advantages of Chamber Sealers.
Because the entire chamber is placed under a vacuum there is no pressure difference between the bag and the chamber. Liquids (even water) stay in the bag and as do powdery items like flour. You can easily and quickly vacuum pack all sorts of things from homemade soup to pasta sauce. Fill and place the bag, press a button, wait a bit… and it’s done!
Chamber-type bags don’t require special embossing, so they are much cheaper to buy than channel-style bags. A quart-size bag can be had for 5-6 cents and a pint-size one for 3 cents. This makes them less expensive than Ziploc bags. Because the bags are so inexpensive it is more likely that you will vacuum seal foods that you might not if you had a channel-style sealer.
Chamber vacuums are designed for continuous operation. They have big motors and strong vacuum pumps. They use wide sealing bars to ensure high protection from leakage. Parts, including the sealing bar, are replaceable.
Disadvantages of a chamber vacuum sealer.
These gadgets are commercial machines. Until a few years ago the most basic ones were over $1000.00. They are big, bulky, and heavy. They can’t easily be tucked away and pulled out when needed.
Bags have to fit the chamber. You can’t customize a large bag like you can with a channel sealer. There are no roll bags, just premade bags.
Recent chamber sealer trends.
Manufacturers have recognized that there is a consumer market for these machines and many are now making somewhat smaller units for home use. These machines are lower-priced, in the $500-$1000 range. You can also buy Chinese clones. My Chinese chamber vacuum sealer was purchased on eBay for only $250, and that included free shipping. Naturally, quality control can be an issue when buying an unknown brand. So far, mine is working.
Other vacuum sealing systems
There are a few other systems that you may come across. The original FoodSaver was made in Italy and built like a tank. People are still using these machines that were purchased in the 1980s. They had a vacuum nozzle instead of a vacuum channel. They require regular FoodSaver embossed bags (just like current FoodSavers). They are simple to operate, easy to repair (many parts are still available), have a high duty cycle, and their manual operation lends itself to adjusting on-the-fly. I own one of these original machines, which I’m in the process of trying to repair.
Lastly, a few companies make machines that resemble channel vacuum sealers, but they have retractable nozzles. These sealers can use the less expensive chamber-style bags and have an external canister to catch liquids.
A vacuum sealer is one of those appliances that you may think that you don’t need, but you do. Studies have shown that you can save thousands of dollars a year in food costs by using one.
For most, a channel-type vacuum sealer is the way to go. They are inexpensive, and they do the job. Their consumables (bags) are more expensive, but you can find generic bags on sites like eBay or Amazon. Shop around as prices are variable even for the same brand. Rolls may save you a little money, but I prefer the convenience of premade bags.
The internal components for most consumer vacuum sealers are pretty similar, a small motor that powers a cheap plastic vacuum pump. If you want to use your vacuum sealer to save money by purchasing bulk foods and freezing leftovers, just about any model will do. I watched many product reviews on YouTube and they all seem to work. However, if you want assurance, stick with a name brand like FoodSaver or Nesco. As far as I can tell the motor and pump for a basic FoodSaver are the same as a more expensive one. The more expensive one just has more features, many of which you are unlikely to use.
If you want to vacuum seal other items, like liquids or powdery foods, watch YouTube videos to learn some simple techniques. Some YouTubers seal liquids without freezing, but, I wouldn’t advise that as you could suck up the liquids into the machine and damage it.
If all you want to keep fresh are salad greens or chips, you may want to consider a system that comes with several canisters and a small hand-operated pump.
Some foods should not be vacuum sealed (see above), and other items lend themselves to other freezing methods. I don’t vacuum seal soft items like cupcakes or muffins. I simply freeze them in Tupperware-style containers. They stay fresh, and they are not crushed by a vacuum.
If you seal foods in very large batches, consider a prosumer or professional channel sealer. They cost more, but you won’t be replacing them every year or two.
If you are very serious about high volume vacuum sealing consider a chamber vacuum sealer, which offers a stronger vacuum, great durability, and the ability to vacuum seal liquids and powdery foods with no additional prep. Some consumer-oriented chamber-sealers have accessory ports and marinade cycles. However, prepare yourself for higher costs and a bulkier footprint.
If your goal is to preserve small amounts of food your refrigerator’s freezer will suffice. However, if you plan on buying bulk, shopping sales, or freezing garden harvests you will need a separate freezer. Small freezers are surprisingly affordable. See last week’s post on that topic.
Lastly, a vacuum sealer is only useful if you use it. Think about your needs, freezer space, and goals. If you don’t use it, a vacuum sealer is just another paperweight.
Last Saturday I went grocery shopping. I only filled my cart halfway and didn’t buy any meat, but the total cost at check-out was roughly what I would have paid for a full cart several years ago. The cost of food continues to climb at the grocer, and costs are even higher when dining out. We are experiencing inflation at a level that we haven’t seen in 40 years, and high prices are hurting everyone. However, these increases are most difficult for folks on low or fixed incomes.
There are many videos on YouTube with titles like, “Eat for a week on ten dollars.” These videos are often an exercise in starvation and monotony. Usually, they consist of someone trying to stretch a pound of rice, a pound of beans, a bag of veggies, and a dozen eggs for 21 meals. Some people may have to resort to such extreme options, but most of these videos seem more stunt than substance.
In the mid-1980s, I was a medical resident and a divorced parent. Even when I became the chief resident of psychiatry, my take-home pay was low. Being chief resident of psychiatry gave me a lot of extra work, but only a $100 pretax bump in my monthly income.
Because my daughter often stayed with me, I needed my own apartment. In my case, it was of the basement variety. I also needed a working car. Finally, of course, I had child support payments. These three expenses pushed my small salary to its limit, and I had to learn how to stretch every penny. Sometimes I made the mistake of being too frugal with my grocery purchases and bought inedible items. At other times I blew most of my week’s food allowance on a single restaurant meal. Eventually, I established a pattern of spending that struck a balance between economy and reality. I developed a system that worked for me.
During my many years of medical practice, Julie did most of the shopping and cooking for our family of five. I didn’t worry about cost; if prices went up, I just worked harder. I have been retired for four years and on a fixed income for the last three. I have saved during my working years, and Julie continues to work. However, I know that I am at a phase where I am spending more money than we are earning. When Julie retires, we will only be spending. I still have three adult children at home (although two are at boarding college during some of the year). Feeding 3-5 adults is an expensive proposition.
After my retirement, I took over many household jobs, including grocery shopping and some of the meal preparations. I’m a good and confident cook, but cooking multiple meals a week can be a drag, so I use a simplified system that I’ll describe later in this post.
My goal for today’s post is to give you some practical tips that will save you money. There are additional ways to cut your food budget, but these tips work for me. That last point deserves highlighting. It is critical to find a system that works for you. For instance, I know that I could save even more money by clipping coupons. However, I hate clipping coupons and I always forget to bring them when I shop.
In our family of adults, individuals are responsible for making their breakfasts and lunches. Julie and I take turns making dinner. I’m accountable for dinner four nights a week, Julie makes dinner twice a week, and Saturday is either a carry-out or YOYO (you’re on your own) meal.
Carry-out food can be expensive, so why do we do it? This post is about saving money, but not about spending the absolute minimum amount of money. Our family likes a carry-out meal once a week. Lastly, we do go out to restaurants. However, as the cost of restaurant meals has gone up, our restaurant dining has gone way down.
To Costco or not to Costco, that is the question.
My friend, Tom, can go to Costco for a broasted chicken and leave with a broasted chicken. I go to Costco for a broasted chicken and leave with a $400 bill. That is not the way to save money. Costco prices are often excellent, as is the quality of their foods. However, the company uses shopping psychology to get you to buy more. If you want to save money at Costco, follow a few simple tips.
Decide what you need, and stick to buying only those items.
Make sure that you will use up an item before it goes bad. A massive bag of flour is only a bargain if consumed before it goes rancid.
Like other Costco shoppers, I have bought frozen foods that no one would eat. So they sat in the freezer, taking up space until I threw them out due to freezer burn. I’m now more cautious about purchasing untested items.
The vacuum sealer.
Meat and cheese are expensive, but you can save considerably on them when you buy them in bulk. However, if you toss a giant package into the fridge or freezer, you will likely waste a significant portion of your purchase. I have used a vacuum sealer for years (mine is at least 20 years old). Vacuum sealers use unique bags that can be expensive, but I buy generic versions, which are significantly cheaper. It is possible to wash and reuse vacuum bags, but I’m too lazy to do that. The quart and gallon size bags work the best for my needs. When I get home, I divide up bulk packages into meal-size units and vacuum seal them. For instance, I’ll split a 5-pound block of ground beef into 4 or 5 separate vacuum packs. I’ll then place these packs in a plastic grocery bag and stick them in the freezer. It is easy to look in my chicken bag or hamburger bag and know if I need to buy more.
In the past, I had used Ziploc freezer bags for the same purpose. They work, but food stays fresher longer when vacuum sealed. However, Ziploc bags are an option if you can keep on top of your freezer’s contents. I also know people who wash Ziploc bags in their dishwasher and reuse them, getting several uses out of a single bag.
The freestanding freezer
I bought a freezer about 25 years ago. It is a 14 cu ft upright model that needs to be manually defrosted. The freezer was inexpensive and has really served us well over the years. A frost-free freestanding freezer is not a good choice for long-term food storage as it has to heat up a bit when it auto defrosts. That process uses more energy and also shortens the storage life of frozen items. Freezers are energy efficient and use very little electricity. The chest-style ones are the most energy-efficient, but digging for things can be a pain.
I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy a freezer if you are struggling to buy food. However, you could consider slowly saving for one or checking give-away sites like freestyle. I do think that our freezer helps us save money; equally importantly, it is really convenient to have the extra freezer space. Having items on hand makes it easy to prepare meals. I have even froze milk that I purchased during a 2 for 1 sale. All I had to do was remove a little from the gallon so it wouldn’t burst when frozen.
Use less meat, cheaper meat, or no meat.
When we do use meat, we use less of it. Steak has gotten so expensive that it is a rare treat. When we make it, we will split a steak to serve two people. We are eating more hamburgers, chicken, and pork. We are also reducing our serving portions of these meats, often by combining them with other foods in one-pot meals. Lastly, we are moving towards more meatless meals. In fact, one of my kids’ favorite meals is my homemade mac and cheese, which I usually serve with cornbread and a vegetable. Eating less expensive food shouldn’t feel like a punishment.
In many cases, I buy house-brand items. Are they as good as brand names? Honestly, I have been buying them for so long that I can’t say. However, I can say that in most instances, they are good enough. It may be cheaper to buy a brand-name item with a coupon, but I have never been able to get into clipping coupons. Items like flour, sugar and canned tomatoes are usually safe bets. In addition, many other items are of good quality. I’ll go with a house brand first and only buy a brand name if the house brand doesn’t cut it.
There are a few brand-name items that my family prefers. Bread, cheese sticks, and lunchmeat are some of them. I accept this and buy those items.
Dairy and eggs.
When it comes to items like milk, cheese, sour cream, and eggs, house brands are almost always cheaper, and I can’t tell the difference between them and brand name. House brand white eggs are nutritionally the same as brown eggs or free-range eggs. You may think that cage-free chickens happily roam an open field pecking for grubs. That is not the case; cage-free is closer to caged. Don’t buy advertising hype.
Bargains on meat.
I already mentioned that you can save by buying family-sized packages and splitting them up. In addition, stores will sometimes run buy-one-get-one-free sales on meat. Many stores will sell meat reaching its expiration date at significant savings. These markdowns are usually done at a particular time of day. Ask the person in your store’s meat department for more details. Buy and immediately freeze for future use.
Where to shop.
I hate shopping at Walmart, but this is where I buy most of my groceries. They offer lower prices, and they are a full-service store. I prefer smaller Aldi stores, which offer slightly lower prices than Walmart. However, the closest Aldi is somewhat out of the way and is limited if I need to buy items like toothpaste, TP, or shampoo. I also like a small nearby store called Fresh Thyme. Fresh Thyme has excellent produce that is reasonably priced. Their grocery selection is complete but less expansive than most stores. That is a good thing as I’m less tempted to buy a lot of stuff that I don’t need. Find the store that fits your needs.
Use a list.
One of the most beneficial things that you can do to save grocery money is to use a shopping list and (within reason) stick to it. In addition, you won’t come home without the eggs or butter that you were supposed to buy. Any list system will do. I use the Notes app on my phone.
Having essential ingredients allows you to make a myriad of foods from scratch. A cake mix makes a cake, but flour makes a thousand foods. Items like flour, eggs, sugar, and rice should always be available in your kitchen. There are some more prepared foods that are inexpensive and good to have around. Pasta, peanut butter, and condensed cream of mushroom soup (as a casserole base) come to mind.
Certain foods can be good values when you buy them frozen. Items that we like to buy include frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, and frozen french fries.
Use less disposable items.
Reusable items save money. My daughter uses a Rubbermaid container for her lunch sandwiches, and I use small towels to wipe up kitchen messes. However, we still use too many paper plates. Progress, not perfection!
Pack your own.
I recently bought coffee for myself and a friend; it cost over 6 dollars. I could have made the same amount of coffee at home for well under 50 cents. Using expensive K-cups is cheaper than buying coffee shop coffee, and using a standard coffee maker is much cheaper than using K-cups.
Buying lunch can cost around 10 dollars. Investing in reusable containers and a lunch bag can save you a fortune over time. My daughter packs a sandwich, yogurt, and fruit/or treats every day for lunch. My wife stockpiles cups of dehydrated soups and other lunch items in an office drawer. She keeps an electric kettle at her office for these soups and tea. When I was working, I would take the previous night’s leftovers in a microwaveable container and heat them up at work.
Learn how to cook.
If you never learned how to cook, the prospect of doing so can be daunting. It is possible that you tried complicated recipes for an event or holiday and were left with frustration and a mess. There are an endless number of dishes that are both delicious and super easy to make. This is especially true if you have stock ingredients on hand. However, you have to accept that there may be a learning curve when you start. I guarantee that in short order, cooking will become easy.
I would suggest buying a classic cookbook like The Betty Crocker Cookbook or The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Go with a hard-cover version. Caution is advised, I just checked Amazon, and someone was selling a ring-bound BH and G cookbook for almost $80! At most, pay around $25. I bought our Betty Crocker Cookbook new in 1991, and we still use it all of the time! Don’t be afraid to buy a used copy for a few pennies at a thrift shop. These books use simple ingredients, have tried and true recipes, and obvious instructions. Once you are a confident cook, you can branch out to the internet and other recipe sources.
You need very few physical items to cook, and it is likely that you already have the basics. Are you just starting out and short on cash? Shop Goodwill or other resale stores. People get rid of cookware all of the time. All you need is a frying pan, a couple of pots, a pot lid, and a cookie sheet. Add a paring knife, a chef’s knife, measuring cups and spoons, a can opener, and a pancake turner and you are all set. Naturally, certain styles of cooking require additional equipment, which you can slowly buy as needed. You may need tongs, a vegetable peeler, mixing bowls, and more. However, you can often adapt what you have until you buy those items. I have turned meat with a fork and used a pot as a mixing bowl in my poor past.
Clean as you go.
I can’t stress this habit enough. As I cook, I clean up. When I use a measuring cup, I wash it as soon as possible, so it is ready to be reused or put away. If you clean as you go, you will have very little mess at the end of meal preparation, and you will want to cook again. There is nothing more disheartening than having to deal with a massive mess after you finish eating your dinner.
Use it up.
It is estimated that Americans waste 40% of their food. This means that if you used up all of the food that you purchased, your food bill could be 40% less! That is a considerable number. I already talked a bit about preserving food using a vacuum sealer and using up leftovers. Also, consider using what you have in the fridge creatively instead of cooking a meal based on what you have a taste for.
The other day I made chicken soup for the family. However, the day before, my wife made dinner that included a small broasted chicken. I used chicken pieces that I had already thawed, but I also threw into the pot the broasted chicken carcass. The end result was delicious.
Sometimes I’ll make banana bread using overripe bananas that I would normally throw away. Banana bread is simple to make, and my family thinks of it as a special treat.
Sometimes I add wilted salad greens or leftover rice to a soup. At other times I’ll use stale French bread to make delicious French toast. There are a multitude of ways to redefine leftovers or to use up food items that are still good but a bit past their prime.
I love one-pot meals. In fact, as I write this, I’m making one for dinner. This morning I drained some sauerkraut and added a little brown sugar, mustard, and a grated apple. I seasoned some pork chops and added everything to a slow cooker, which is now cooking on low. My wife made some excellent roasted cut-up sweet potatoes yesterday. I’ll reheat them for today’s side dish.
It took me less than 10 minutes to throw everything together this morning, and we will have a homemade dinner tonight.
One-pot meals can be made on the stove or in the oven. However, I like using small appliances, which I find to be more convenient.
There are an endless number of one-pot meals that use essential ingredients. Soups, stews, chili, casseroles, and much more. They are not only easy to make, but they are also economical. As a bonus, cleanup is a breeze.
Should you buy small appliances?
Only if you use them. I have an air fryer that I never use. I know some people love them, but their capacity is too small for my large family. However, I am always using my slow cooker and electric pressure cooker (An InstantPot knockoff). In addition, I often use a waffle maker-an item that many would never use. Figure out what foods you make, and determine if an appliance would be helpful. I don’t want to be bound to the kitchen, so a gadget like a slow cooker makes my life easier. If you are on a budget, check out second-hand stores for appliances. You can always find items like toasters and slow cookers for pennies on the dollar.
It is not a sin to use prepared foods.
Weigh the cost vs. benefit of your purchase. I’ll buy a frozen family-style meal, like lasagne or stuffed peppers on occasion. I find that the Walmart brand costs around six dollars and is tasty. For that price, three adults can eat dinner, and there are often leftovers for at least one lunch. I would never want an exclusive diet of these meals, but they are convenient when cooking motivation is low. I’ll add a salad, along with some bread and dinner is served.
In addition, we frequently have a frozen pizza for Friday dinner. It is an easy tradition that isn’t very expensive.
Make your own cleaning products.
Over the years, I have bought countless specialty cleaning products. Granite cleaner, stovetop cleaner, stainless steel cleaner, window cleaner, various toilet cleaners, mildew removers, you name it. All of these items are relatively expensive and come in single-use bottles.
I now use homemade cleaners. I also use powdered Comet (around a dollar a can) to clean my stainless steel sink. A little goes a long way, and it does a better job than dedicated products.
I use any liquid soap (shampoo, shower gel, hand soap) to clean my toilets. One pump is all that you need.
It is easy to make homestyle window cleaner (2 cups water, ¼ cup white vinegar, a few drops Dawn).
For Mildew removal, I fill about ⅓ rd (or less) of a spray bottle with bleach and then fill the rest of the bottle with water.
I use my homemade all-purpose cleaner for just about any surface. To make it, I add about 1 ounce of any all-purpose cleaner (Lysol, Fabuloso, PineSol, etc.), a few drops of Dawn dish detergent, to a 32 oz spray bottle, and fill the rest with warm water. I use this to clean everything from surfaces in my kitchen and bathrooms to the inside of the fridge and microwave, to the top of my glass cooktop, to my kitchen table.
You can reuse an empty Windex-type bottle (adjusting the amount of your ingredients). However, a high-quality spray bottle is an inexpensive purchase and will last longer.
Who cooks dinner when?
Monday Julie cooks
Tuesday I cook
Wednesday Julie cooks
Thursday I cook
Friday I cook (sort of)
Saturday Carry out or YOYO (you’re on your own)
Sunday I cook
I’ll leave Julie’s meals to Julie and only talk about what I make. I cook the way that I do because this pattern makes the task more palatable. In addition, I always involve my kids in the cooking process. This makes my job a bit easier, and it teaches them beneficial skills.
Tuesday- a light meal day. I’ll usually make something very simple for dinner. This could be breakfast for dinner (omelets with toast and sausage, waffles, and bacon), grilled hamburgers with frozen french fries, grilled cheese sandwiches, and tomato soup. You get the idea.
Thursday-a regular meal. This could be a one-pot meal, a meatloaf, homemade mac and cheese, and so on. Naturally, I’ll balance the meal out with vegetables and other sides.
Friday-Pizza night. I make sure that we have a frozen pizza (Home Run Inn is our favorite), but it is my daughter’s responsibility to pop it into the oven. Once done, I’ll take over and cut it up. A pizza costs around six dollars and will feed three of us, and there will usually be a piece or two left over for a late-night snack. We started pizza night when everyone was working. By Friday, we just wanted an easy-to-make dinner. Friday pizza has now become a family tradition.
Sunday-A regular meal. Many options here. Pot roast made in the pressure cooker and real mashed potatoes. Spaghetti with meatballs, garlic bread and a salad, oven-fried chicken, red beans and rice, and so on.
I try to make things that we have in-house so that I’m not throwing out stuff. I’m far from perfect, but I know that I’m saving money.
I know that some of you will be dismissive of our food choices. Perhaps you will think that we need to cook organic or reduce gluten or use less fat. Adapt your meals to your preferences. We love waffles for dinner, but they may not be your jam. You do you.
Finding your balance is key to making this system work. You don’t need to do everything that I do. However, You may want to do more. I still have financial resources, so my choices may be different from someone else’s. Use these suggestions as a starting point, not as scripture. When I started along this journey, I just did a few things and then added more behaviors as time went on. Currently, I’m trying to use less disposable items (like paper towels and paper plates). Honestly, that has been difficult for me. As I said above, progress not perfection!
Have you noticed that one thing leads to another when you research a topic, and soon you are down a rabbit hole? That has just happened to me.
A few posts ago, I wrote about why I’m leaving my Evangelical church. The church had always taken a neutral stance on controversial issues, but it transitioned into a more conservative organization. Recently, the lead pastor publicly announced his disavowing of same-sex marriages. I can’t say why he felt the need to do this, but it felt wrong for me to attend a church that was dismissive of the legal rights of a minority group.
Some churches take a negative stance on homosexuality and same-sex marriage because they believe that they are specifically banned in the Bible. These facts led me to do a deep dive into early Christianity, Judaism, and Scripture. I was raised in a Catholic family and eventually migrated to a large Evangelical church. I thought that I had a basic understanding of the ins and outs of Christianity and the Bible, but I was utterly wrong.
I wrote a long post on the interpretation of the Bible, which you can read here. I discovered a lot more, but my post was already too long. For instance, when I searched for verses disallowing same-sex marriages, I was given a lot of quotes, but none of them specifically rejected same-sex marriages. Instead, many passages were along the lines of this one:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
Jesus supports marriage and is not supportive of divorce, but that doesn’t mean that he is rejecting same-sex marriage. That would require a jump in interpretation. Of interest, divorce is now common, and many churches have found a workaround for this passage. Divorce happens within the majority group, does that make it acceptable? Same-sex marriage happens in a minority group and remains unacceptable. This would imply a level of hypocrisy.
Although there is evidence of same-sex marriages in ancient cultures, that does not include the Jewish culture. However, same-sex relationships occur in all cultures. For example, some claim that King David had a romantic relationship with Jonathan, the son of King Saul.
1 Samuel 18:1-4
“Now, when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his soul. 2 Saul took him that day and would not let him go home to his father’s house anymore. 3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant because they loved him as his soul. 4 And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.”
This sounds like Jonathan and King David were a couple. However, you could also interpret this passage as they were just really, really close. We know that 1 + 1 = 2, that is a fact. However, written stories are interpreted by their content and the reader’s culture, experiences, and beliefs. Knowledgeable people have interpreted the above Scripture in several ways. Who is right?
Interpretations get even more complicated when modern terminology is used when translating ancient passages. For example, here is the same passage using two different translations.
1 Corinthians 6:9–10 — King James Version (KJV 1900)
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:9–10 — New Living Translation (NLT)
9 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.
The second translation specifically notes “practice homosexuality,” while the first translation says “nor effeminate.” The term homosexuality was coined by Karl-Maria Kertbeny almost 2 millennia after this passage was written. Concepts like sexual orientation did not exist in ancient times. Using the term “homosexual” would be like me translating the term “steam locomotive” to “Tesla.”
It is also important to understand that the meaning of a word can drastically change over time. The term “heterosexual” had a very negative connotation until the 1930s, as it implied someone who had a morbid obsession with the opposite sex. The sentence, Joe is a heterosexual, would mean that he had mental health issues if written in 1920, but that he was perfectly normal if scribed in 1935!
If we read the KJV translation, are we to assume that gay sex is OK if the person is masculine? That is possibly true as ancient cultures did not like submissive men as submissiveness was supposed to be the role of women. The NLT version condemns male prostitutes but never mentions female prostitutes (the larger group). Is it OK to be a female prostitute?
Dunkards are also condemned, likely because alcoholism was thought to be a moral failing. In 2022 we know that alcoholism is a diagnosable disease with known symptoms and progression. It is not considered a moral failing. We understand much of the biochemistry of this illness, including how the brain’s reward pathway is hijacked by alcohol. With our current knowledge, the above passage can be understood to say that people who have a disease will be denied the kingdom of God. Should we broaden this interpretation to other diseases? Diabetes? Cancer? Mental Illness?
Translations are imperfect; you can’t make an inerrant judgment based on a poor translation. Also, interpretations frequently fit the beliefs of the interpreter.
What does the Bible say about pet ID chips, blood transfusions, and social security cards? Of course, it says nothing about these things; they didn’t exist in ancient times. Yet, it is possible to find a passage that can be twisted to develop an opinion, however disconnected that it may be. I have heard some say that your social security number is the mark of the beast! Now that is just plain silly.
Interpretations of the Bible can lead to prejudice and dire consequences. When AIDS erupted in the 1970s, it was understood by the medical community that it would become a severe epidemic. Initially, most victims were gay males; funding for AIDS research was hampered because it was labeled as the gay plague-a punishment for those who didn’t follow God’s law. But, of course, AIDS impacted other populations, and when politicians took off their gay blinders, funding started to flow. Bias against a minority group affected society as a whole.
How can discriminatory statements be made based on weak, variable, and subjective Bible interpretations? We are taught interpretations of the Bible by authoritative individuals who we admire and trust. If those interpretations are consistent with our belief system, we accept them. Couple the above with societal biases, and you can see how some very sincere pastors justify violating the rights of others.
Hopefully, I have demonstrated how fluid the interpretation of the Bible can be. It would seem that a person can find a way to support any opinion. The Bible has been used to discriminate against many different groups. Women, blacks, Jews, other Christians, LGBTQ people, and more. In addition, Bible interpretations can also be used to promote an anti-social ideology, often for personal gain.
The power of hate, fear, Scripture, and a little psychology.
As I continued researching this topic, I realized that some use the Bible combined with psychology to create their custom narrative.
The prosperity gospel preachers.
These preachers promise their followers riches, but they have to “sow a seed” of money to the pastor’s organization. They use Bible verses like 2. James 4:2 — “You do not have because you do not ask God.”
Prosperity preachers live wealthy lifestyles funded by donations. They prey on those most vulnerable and those who have the least to give. Some preach a divisive political agenda during their sermons promoting the Christian nationalist view. Prominent leaders of this genre include Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and Paula White.
Kenneth Copeland wanted a new private jet to replace his old private jet, as the old one needed to be refueled during transcontinental flights. Apparently, that was just too inconvenient. Mr. Copeland was originally Pat Robertson’s pilot before launching his dynasty. I guess he has a thing for airplanes. He said he needed private jets because he couldn’t ride in a commercial aircraft filled with a bunch of demons! (also called passengers.)
He eventually got enough donations for the multi-million dollar jet, but now he wants millions more to upgrade his private airfield. The believers are promised a great return to their investment or “seed.” There are many stories of poor souls “seeding” their rent money or their life savings with the hopes of having a better life. Who gets rich? The people on the top. Sort of like an MLM.
Jim Bakker is another interesting case study. He lived a lavish lifestyle preaching the prosperity gospel on his PTL (Praise The Lord) TV network. That is until he went to prison for fraud. Now, out of prison, he is back on television preaching a fear-based apocalyptic gospel while making money selling dehydrated food for the end of times. If the last days are coming, why would you need dehydrated food? In reality, the apocalyptic gospel is just the flip side of the prosperity gospel. The end game is the same.
There are religious groups that reject modern medical care due to their interpretation of the Bible. Sadly, there are reports of children with treatable illnesses who have died because their parents or their religious community refused to allow them to have appropriate medical care. I can’t imagine someone letting their child die because they didn’t want to hurt God’s feelings. In some cases, this fear is transferred to a fear that medical treatment is not in God’s plans. This can mutate into a hate of science. Discounting science is necessary if you are a literal Bible reader. Fear and hate fostered by a group’s beliefs can lead to dire consequences.
A permutation of this is the faith healer who uses a similar ideology but for profit. Benny Hinn comes to mind, but there have been many others over the years. For instance, Peter Popoff, Ernest Angley, Kathryn Kuhlman, and Kenneth Copeland. Naturally, they cite passages from the Bible to support their claims. Several documentaries expose the trickery of healing ministries. Very sick individuals are not allowed to go up to the healing stage. Tricks are used from faking leg growth to having people collapse with the power of the Holy Spirit.
There are tragic stories of people losing their life savings with the hope of ridding themselves of cancer or other terrible maladies. I watched one sad video where desperate parents put their faith and money in Benny Hinn to cure their son of brain cancer. When the child died, they were told (apparently by Mr. Hinn) that it was because a curse was upon the family. There are other stories of people being shamed that it was their fault that they were not cured because of a lack of faith. Fear of illness drives the unsuspecting to seek help which faith healers then exploit. If these healers have the power to heal, why are they not demonstrating this power in hospitals rather than in paid venues?
The Mega Church
In America, the number of churchgoers continues to decline, and the number of individuals who belong to traditional denominations is at an all-time low. However, one area of growth in Christianity is the Mega Church. These usually are Evangelical, non-denominational churches that follow a prescribed formula that simulates other familiar venues like sporting events and rock concerts. Mega Churches frequently incorporate other social activities that go beyond theology. For instance, a Mega Church may have a gym or even a sports complex for its followers.
The above sounds like a great way to bring people back to God. Unfortunately, an explosion in size can disconnect the organization from the congregation. Historically, some large traditional denominations have demonstrated this, such as the Roman Catholic Church. The same problems occur when any church becomes so large that the leader’s behavior and actions can go unchecked. Of course, there have been many megachurch scandals, mainly of the sexual or financial variety, but that is not what I’m talking about today. I’m more interested in how an individual’s motivation shifts from religious teaching to expansion, power, and influence.
The case of Greg Locke
Mr. Locke is the pastor of Global Vision, a non-denominational church in Nashville. His church had several hundred members before he started to preach a gospel of fear and hate. Political sermons on election fraud, conspiracy sermons saying that mask mandates are being used to see who the government can manipulate, stating, from the pulpit, that he would kick out anyone wearing a mask during his services. Publicity stunts, like a book burning of Harry Potter books (which is a fictionalized retelling of the story of Jesus, not a Satanic conversion book), are some of his strategies.
This gospel of negativity has benefited Mr. Locke’s church, which has grown so much that its services are now held in a circus tent. In addition, he has a massive online following. He has gone from a nobody to an influential somebody by preaching hate and fear. For example, he recently claimed (with no evidence) that there were six witches in his congregation. An odd statement, but a useful one if anyone ever tries to dispute his authority.
I watched several videos of Mr. Locke and his congregation. It would appear that the attendees seem transfixed by his fiery performance. When interviewed, it is clear that Mr. Locke is a savvy guy who sidesteps questions that could make him look foolish to a broader audience.
Us vs. them
There is a common link that some of these preachers and other organizations use. I’m talking about us vs. them theology. Conservative politics vs. liberal politics. Individual rights vs. government rules. Church culture vs. popular culture. White vs. black. Straight vs. gay, and so on. You are demonized and hated if you are on the “them” side.
When these organizations preach these negative messages, they grow, become more influential, and more powerful. That is sad.
We enjoy stories about UFOs, the Illuminati, Bigfoot, and conspiracies. It feels powerful to be on the inside track of unique information, look at the Q-Anon movement. A conservative church may tell you who to vote for; a more radically conservative church will tell you why the presidential election was a fraud. Churches that teach division know that it is an effective way to grow their loyalty and congregations. Naturally, this is entirely the opposite of Jesus’ message, one of tolerance and love. It is not possible to reconcile the two.
As an aside, denominations and unaffiliated churches were given a tax-exempt status based on the concept of freedom of religion; taxation could be interpreted as a restriction of that freedom. For a church to retain its tax-exempt status, it needs to remain politically neutral for the same reason; church and state must not mix. Churches and denominations that tell you how to vote or promote political lies violate their tax-exempt status and, by law, should be taxed. Despite churches becoming political, the IRS has declined to pursue most cases. Some churches would love a public battle on this topic, and some preachers have sent the IRS DVDs of their political preaching. Why? Because such a battle would gain them national attention as well as achieve an increase in both their contributions and congregation size.
The Peoples Temple (Jim Jones), The Branch Davidians, and The Ant Hill Gang are just a few examples illustrating the level of control cult leaders have on their flocks. Cult leaders use basic psychological techniques combined with hate, fear, and Scripture to move their prey into their controlling jaws. Some (but not all) of their methods include:
Love bombing and acceptance of the disenfranchised.
The Bible or other sacred document is used to bolster the leader’s claims.
The proclamation of some apocalyptic belief. This may mean the end of the world, but it could also mean the collapse of the government or some other tribulation.
Isolation from others who have conflicting ideas. This is often isolated from outside news, books, and people.
Outside information is labeled heretical, false, and not to be trusted. It is fake news.
Non-members or those that hold different beliefs are not to be trusted.
Fear is used to control the individual. Fearful people stay close to where they feel safe.
Hate is used against those outside the cult.
Complete devotion to the group leader is demanded, no matter what they do. Any questioning is reframed as being disloyal or siding with the enemy.
Membership rules and regulations can be strict or worse.
The leader’s beliefs are claimed to be inerrant.
The leader may say that they have special powers, including a direct connection to God and healing powers.
Members are expected to contribute financially to support the group.
Some leaders may preach violence or retribution towards members or outsiders.
The reality is that these techniques also seem to be used by more mainstream groups, likely for similar reasons. See if you can notice some of these methods in your real world.
Cable news networks fall into two distinct groups, liberal and conservative. Most of these stations’ airtime is devoted to opinion shows that look like news shows. They are biased and present an agenda rather than information. If you watch CNN, you will hear that the Republicans are evil, and if you watch Fox, you will hear that the Democrats are evil.
These are for-profit commercial outlets whose purpose is to make money for their shareholders. The longer you watch, the more money they make. To keep you watching, the stories have to sell you on an agenda, and that agenda often includes fear and hate of the opposing side.
The case of Tucker Carlson
Tucker Carlson is a writer and opinion host on Fox News who is controversial and wildly successful. He can take a small piece of information and massage it to make a much grander suggestion. For instance, he stated that COVID infections could feminize men and then connected that theory to the political leader of another country. Naturally, he had a political expert present to support his hypothesis. It is unclear why he would think that being feminine is negative. A small Israeli study did demonstrate that some men post-COVID had lower testosterone levels. However, other experts were not supportive of this finding. He used a small, flawed study to discredit someone. However, to the masses, it was presented as the absolute truth.
Controversy means ratings, and Mr. Carlson is an expert at stirring up controversy. After the Walmart shooting of Hispanics in El Paso, he stated that white supremacy was not a real problem. He noted that Adam Schiff was mentally ill (citing no evidence). When Lauren Duca wrote a commentary on Donald Trump, he said that she should stick to thigh-high boots and that she was mindless and vapid. He stated that immigrants make a country poorer and dirtier.
Despite his hateful and inflammatory comments, Tucker Carson is the most-watched opinion commentator on Fox. His words have been so egregious that many sponsors have pulled their adverts off his show. However, they just placed them into other slots on the network. Fox gets the best of both worlds; they have a media star with massive viewership while retaining profits. Hate sells.
Others who use hate and fear
Various other individuals and institutions use hate and fear techniques. A political example from the past is the case of Joe McCarthy, who was a US senator in the 1950s. He gained national notoriety and power by investigating prominent individuals. By using hate, fear, bullying, and allegations, he ruined the lives of countless public servants, actors, directors, university professors, and others. He would label these unfortunate individuals as Godless Communists, effectively ending their careers. Although his actions were extreme, such behaviors can still be seen in present-day politics.
What happens when church leaders are more interested in power and contributions than saving souls? What happens when news organizations are more interested in advertising revenues than presenting an unbiased picture of what is happening in the world? What about politicians who will go to any lengths to advance their power and influence?
The sad reality is that hate, fear, and anger sells. Combine them with Scripture to seal the deal. Who can argue with God?
It is easy for me to tell you to not support organizations of hate and fear. However, I realize that such a comment will have little impact. Instead, I would ask you to take simple steps to move your life and our country forward.
Think about your pastor’s sermons or the tone of your church. Remember that Jesus’ greatest commandment was to Love one another. If you see a pattern contrary to this, or a pattern of splitting rather than joining together take note. Your church is not espousing true Christian beliefs and is sowing discontent.
Get your news from regular network channels or other less biased outlets. If you must watch cable news, limit your viewing to no more than 30 minutes a day of newscasts (not opinion shows). If you must watch opinion shows, balance one hour on one network with a second hour on another. If you watch CNN, give the same amount of time to Fox and vice versa. You will be amazed at the differences in opinion and coverage.
Politicians are supposed to unite people, not divide them. Unfortunately, hate and fear are very effective in mobilizing voters. There are egregious examples of this tactic, but most modern politicians use these techniques at some level. If you don’t believe me, just watch political commercials around election time. Not only do they spew hate and fear, they often present information that is so out of context that it is misleading and false. Vote for them if you believe in their platform, which you can find on their website. Avoid BS political commercials.
In kindergarten, one of the first things that most of us learned was how to cooperate and get along with others. If someone was different from us, we were told to accept them. We were instructed to be kind to others and be responsible for our behavior. We were told to respect our environment and clean up after ourselves.
We were not told to hate, judge others against some imaginary yardstick, or demonize people who were not like us.
I always have some anxiety before a trip, and that anxiety is even greater when I fly. I don’t worry about plane crashes; rather, I stress about the logistics of flying. Will we make it to the airport on time? Did I accidentally bring contraband items with me? Do I have the confirmation information? Will we be able to sit together? I know that this may sound silly for some of you, but these things worry me. By far, my biggest concern centers around time and not having enough of it. This used to be a point of conflict between Julie and me. Julie prefers to spend the least amount of time at the airport, and I want to be there several hours early. Thankfully, Julie now understands the stress that arriving late causes me, and we get to the airport with hours to spare. This one concession has made air travel significantly easier for me.
As a big guy, flying is no picnic. However, it seems that fellow travelers have become more considerate as of late. On both of my recent flights, the person in front of me did not recline their seat. You have no idea how uncomfortable airplane seats are for someone like me whose knees are crammed up against the seat in front of me. When someone reclines their seat, it becomes impossible to shift my feet, and I am locked into torture for the duration of the flight.
With the flight behind us, it was time to enjoy the trip. Our dear friends, John and Barb, are gracious beyond belief, and they would have allowed us to stay with them for the six days that we were in Florida. However, Julie and I chose a different option. Partly because I never want to burden anyone, and partly for a couple’s reasons.
A few years back, we became empty-nesters. For two months, we grieved our loss; then, we settled into a couple’s life. After establishing a few who did what rules, we started to celebrate our newfound freedom. If we didn’t feel like cooking, we didn’t cook. If we wanted to lounge around the house however we chose, we did that. Suppose we didn’t have groceries in the house, no big deal. Then COVID happened, and our kids returned home.
Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely love having our kids around, but their return also meant the return of parental responsibilities. Our trip could give us a moment of being a couple again, so we decided to split the trip. During the first part of our travels, Julie and I would travel around the state. During the second part, we would visit with John and Barb.
Neither of us is very concerned about the hotels that we stay in. Our only requirement is that they are clean. Julie is the family travel agent, and she does a good job. However, the hotel that we had in Ft. Lauderdale did not meet any of our expectations. Light fixtures didn’t have shades, the microwave was missing its plate, and corrosion was on anything metal. Thankfully, we were there for one short night.
Our other motels were circa 1960s and 1970s. They were kitschy, but we like kitschy. I was especially fond of the place we stayed in Naples. It was a bright flamingo pink and right out of the 1960s. A Hispanic family owned it with pride. The son checked us in, mom showed us around, and dad brought us our complimentary breakfast. Our room was clean and had a little kitchenette. Even the motel sign was super retro.
Speaking of breakfast, I’m one of those guys who has to partake in a hotel’s complimentary breakfast. I’m especially insistent when we are traveling as a family. I’m sure that one of my kid’s memories will be me shouting, “Breakfast is ending in 30 minutes! I’m not going to stop and buy you breakfast when we can eat it for free!” Hopefully, it will bring a smile to their face and not a scowl when they recall this.
We are more National Parks people than Disney folk. We went to the Everglades on Monday, but from a different entrance point than previous trips, and took a boat ride to view dolphins and manatees. Monday was my 69th birthday, and we asked the captain for restaurant recommendations. He told us that the best seafood could be found at a local market/restaurant in tiny Everglade City, so that is where we headed. Everglade City is the Stone Crab capital of the world. I decided that stone crab was the birthday dinner that I wanted, but I was shocked to see how expensive it was. It was a special day, so I went for it. I did not regret my decision.
That night we walked the Naples city pier and viewed the sun as it sank into the Gulf of Mexico. A lovely day, indeed.
The next day we detoured Rt 41 onto a 25 miles scenic dirt road. We trailed a family who seemed to have eagle eyes. Every time that they stopped, we stopped and were treated to sightings of alligators, turtles, and exotic birds. We then dustily meandered on to Florida City at the tip of the peninsula.
The next day we drove two and a half hours on the beautiful Overseas Highway. Through towns and over the ocean, we traveled, stopping once in Marathon to use the bathroom and to buy car treats.
Key West was as I remembered it. Small, cramped, fun. Amazingly, we found free parking, which I immediately marked on Google Maps. Nothing is worse than trying to find your car when you are tired after a long day of walking. The last time we were in Key West, Hemmingway’s House was closed, so that was our first stop. Hemingway’s life is fascinating, but we were also there to see the six-toed cats.
We walked, shopped, and dined. However, our favorite activity was people-watching—another fun day.
We toured other spots in Florida, but soon it was time to drive to Coconut Creek to visit with our friends. John and Barb were as wonderful as always; their house was bursting with Florida charm.
Julie lives in our sunroom during the summer, so it was no surprise that she made a beeline to their lanai. We talked, drank coffee, laughed, and talked some more. John recently had a health crisis, but he has completely recovered. I talk to John regularly, and I was surprised that I was unaware of this recent event.
We got to see more old friends, Debi and Val, and others. It felt like I had returned to my college days. A large group of us went to a local restaurant. A regular haunt of theirs where the waiters knew them by name. I had an enormous serving of fish and chips, so large that I had to request a doggie bag. Julie dined on a shrimp and rice concoction. We remembered old memories and past good times. More fun.
The next day the four of us went to Dearborn Beach and spent the afternoon watching the waves while baking in the sun. I neglected to put on enough sunscreen, a decision that I regretted later. That evening we ate at another fabulous restaurant dining in the sea air. We took our time and talked.
I have gone to school with John since kindergarten, and we became best friends in 6th grade. I forgot how we connected, but John remembered. It was time to line up after lunch, but only John and I did so. The rest of our schoolmates were still playing. I started a conversation with John by telling him some elephant jokes. I had just gotten the Scholastic book 100 and 1 Elephant Jokes, and I was apparently high on humor. At some point, I asked him if he wanted to come to my house to do homework, and the rest is history. We have been friends since that time. We went to the same high school, and we roomed together in college. You never know how a chance encounter can lead to a life-long friend. Over time, John has become more of a brother than a friend. We have known each other for almost 60 years. As an aside, it was interesting to recall how incredibly nerdy I was. Standing in line when the others were playing, telling elephant jokes, socializing by asking someone if they wanted to do homework with me… I am what I am.
I met John’s wife during orientation day at college. We have been friends for well over 40 years.
The trip was just what Julie needed. She had been working hard and needed a break. I’m retired, so I can’t say that I needed the trip. However, it was delightful. I have been to Florida many times, but always in the summer. I don’t do well with extreme heat, and I generally felt exhausted when I was there. However, being in Florida in winter is an entirely different experience. The weather was perfect, and I didn’t feel like I was dying from heatstroke.
I’m a person who doesn’t need a lot of friends, but I do need some. Those who are willing to put up with me will be rewarded with my loyalty, and I will be rewarded by theirs. There is something special when you know someone for more than a short time. Pretense drops away, and you can just be yourself. There is no need to impress the other person because they already know and accept you. Spending time with them is like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers. It is a nice feeling.
Now, back in Naperville, I sit in my chair and type this story for no other reason than to relive those recent memories. What memories will I make today?
The following post consists of my personal reflections and understandings. It is not meant to be disrespectful of anyone else’s beliefs or convictions. I am not a Biblical scholar, I’m just a curious guy who questions.
But first, a quiz!
Please answer “True” or “False” to the following questions:
Mount Everest is the tallest mountain on earth.
There is credible evidence that immunizations/vaccines contribute to autism.
The North Star is the brightest star in the sky.
Sugar makes kids hyper.
The Great Wall of China is so long that it is the only manmade structure visible from space.
Sharks are unable to get cancer.
Drinking coffee dehydrates you.
A goldfish can only remember something for three seconds.
Answers to the quiz will follow.
There once was a boy born into this world who was very different than the rest. Early on, he was able to perform miraculous acts. As he grew older he became friends with others who followed him. At times they doubted him, but they remained close to him. The world that he was born into had an evil presence, and he realized that he was the only one who could redeem the good and banish the evil. At times the evil one tempted him to join him, but he refused. Those in power were afraid that he was getting too much notoriety, and they felt threatened. They tried to tarnish his name and his works, but he persevered. Tragically, based on prophecy, he knew that he would have to die to save others. He accepted this, but he was also afraid. In the end, his actions freed the world and the people in it. In the end love conquered evil.
Why I’m writing this post.
In my last post, I wrote about my deep concern that the church that I had been attending for decades had taken a stance against LGBTQ individuals. There are six passages in the Bible (three in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament) that some have interpreted to say that God specifically said that homosexuality was wrong. Bible passages can be interpreted in many ways, and others have said that these passages actually refer to specific acts, such as pederasty. The concept of homosexuality wasn’t even coined until 1868, almost two millennia after the death of Christ.
The Bible has been used to marginalize groups of people, rationalize slavery, launch wars, minimize the roles of women in society, and justify other behaviors that many would consider both wrong and immoral in today’s society. How is it possible that a book that proclaims God’s will can be used to rationalize these things?
I was raised Roman Catholic, and contrary to some Protestant’s understandings, I was not only encouraged to read the Bible, but I had regular assignments about the New Testament when I attended Catholic school. However, my in-depth exposure to Scripture pales to that of my wife who was raised in a Protestant religion. In both cases, we were taught a set of beliefs and interpretations based on those of our particular religions.
Most Christian religions say that it is OK to doubt faith, but there is an implicit understanding that if this doubt extends too far it is because the person was really never a true Christian. In addition, most Christian religions impose strict penalties on those who are or become unbelievers. Those penalties can range, and include being ostracized from their community and eternal damnation. If you were raised in a Christian tradition you were taught a set of beliefs. However, you were not taught to critically challenge those beliefs.
My former Church’s anti-LGBTQ stance seemed contrary to my understanding of Christianity, which emphasizes concepts such as love, acceptance, and inclusion. This position was based on their interpretation of the Bible. But, what is the truth? To find out I did a deep dive in order to gain a better understanding of not only the Bible but of Christianity in general.
What is the Bible?
The Bible is a bible or a complication of books. The Protestant Bible consists of the Hebrew Bible (also called the Old Testament), and New Testament. The Catholic Bible contains some additional books added to the Old Testament. The Old Testament contains the same books as what current Jews use in worship. However, ordering and other small differences do occur between the two documents.
The Bible was written by 40 (or more) authors, in three different languages, over 1500 years. The Old Testament was completed before the time of Jesus, and its teachings and rules were followed by Jesus. It is noted that Jesus lived “a perfect life,” which is a reference to the fact that he followed Jewish Scripture and law absolutely.
The New Testament consists of 27 books, none of which were written when Christ was alive. They were likely written during the first century after his death, although some may have been revised during the second century AD. The original New Testament books were written in Greek, a language used by the educated of the time. In ancient times less than 10% of the population could read, and a lower percentage could write. In more rural areas only 2-3% could read. We can assume that the writers of the New Testament belonged to the educated elite. There is no valid evidence that during ancient times uneducated people used scribes to dictate their thoughts.
A New Testament consisting of 27 books was likely established during the first few centuries after Christ’s death. However, various books were added and removed during that time. By the 4th century, the New Testament books were well established and translated into Latin as one volume. The last book of the NT to be added was Revelation, an apocalyptic book that was originally thought to be authored by John the Apostle. However, Biblical scholars have long known that this is not the case. John was a common name during those times, and it is most likely that Revelation was written by another “John,” John of Patmos, who was believed to be an exiled Christian. It was written around 95AD in a style that was used during that time. Many of the book’s cryptic references refer to the Roman Empire, which was at odds with Christianity. It was officially added to the New Testament around 400 years after the death of Christ.
According to Biblical historians, there were hundreds of early Christian writings, many of which were destroyed when Emperor Constantine decreed that they were heretical. Some of those texts have resurfaced thousands of years later. Notable are the Gnostic books, which were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. These books present a different Christianity, including very different accounts of Jesus. They are historically useful as they show how divergent Christian teachings were in the early Church.
The early Church.
After the death of Jesus, his disciples scattered. There were no clear rules for what the Christian Church was supposed to be, and different groups developed their own belief structures. Some emphasized the mystical messages of Jesus (Gnostics), others focused on His death and Resurrection (Orthodox Christians). Some leaders, like Peter, thought that only Jews should be allowed to become Christians. Others, like Paul, felt that gentiles needed to be included. Some early sects believed that Jesus was born human and became God by adoption. Other groups felt that Jesus was not divine. Still, others felt that Jesus was sent as a God and that this physical presence was an illusion (sort of a hologram). The early Church was extremely diverse in its teachings and beliefs.
Emperor Constantine had a religious vision and converted to Christianity. He then legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. As stated above, there were many different sects of Christianity and initially, they were all allowed to worship in their own way. Eventually, Constantine ordered the Council of Nicaea in 325AD to resolved conflicting beliefs in the Church, especially Arianism which held that Jesus was not divine. That council established that Jesus was equal to God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Other accomplishments included mandating a specific date for the observance of Easter, and the profession of faith (Nicene Creed).
Eventually, Constantine reversed his opinion of religious tolerance and allowed only Orthodox Christianity, which emphasized the importance of the Resurrection. Other forms of Christianity became heretical; their followers were persecuted and their Scriptures were destroyed. Orthodox Christianity is the basis of our current Christian beliefs.
More on the New Testament
As stated above, The Books of the New Testament were written between 50 and 100 years after Jesus’ Crucifixion. Scholarly Biblical historians do not think that any part of the New Testament was written by an apostle or someone who had a close relationship with Jesus.
The earliest writings that are part of the New Testament were done by Paul, an educated Jew who initially persecuted Christians. Paul had a religious vision several years after Jesus died, and converted. Scholars agree that Paul wrote 5 of the epistles, but First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus were written by someone else. Five other epistles are of questionable authorship.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the story of Jesus. However, the apostles did not write these Gospels. In fact, they were anonymously written. St. Irenaeus gave them their titles around 150AD, and they stuck. The Gospels were written well after the death of Jesus.
If you read the Gospels horizontally and compare them you will discover that they are different in significant ways. For instance, in Mark’s account of the Crucifixion Jesus is silent and the thieves who are also being crucified mock him. Before he dies he says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” However, in Luke’s version, Jesus is calm and has a conversation with one of the thieves. Right before He dies he says, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” These are two drastically different stories. The same can be said of the Resurrection stories given by various authors. In fact, Mark 16:9-20 wasn’t written by the person who authored that Gospel. It was added hundreds of years later by an unknown scribe. Mark 16:9-20 chronicles Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalen after his Crucifixion and gives specific instructions to the apostles.
The first Gospel to be written was Mark around 66-70AD, Matthew and Luke were written around 85-90AD, and John was written somewhere between 90-110AD. It is thought that the Matthew and Luke Gospel writers relied heavily on the Mark Gospel for their own Gospels, so why are their stories different? In ancient times information was passed by storytelling, and stories could change depending on the storyteller’s situation or their intent. It was common for stories to be modified over time because the teller was trying to make a particular point or teach a particular lesson. Absolute historical accuracy was not the goal, and differences were not thought to detract from the overall message.
Obviously, those who decided what books should be in the New Testament were aware of the significant inconsistencies of the Gospels, so why did they include the four books? No one knows for sure, but they were likely included because they each provided information that was different but deemed important.
The Letters of Peter were written about two centuries after the Crucifixion, and despite what some may say, were not written by the Apostle Peter.
Beyond the addition of verses, at least one entire story was added to the New Testament by a scribe. John 7:53—8:11 tells the story of the woman who commits adultery and who is about to be stoned. Jesus famously says “For he who is without sin cast the first stone.” The crowd walks away and Jesus tells the women, “Go, and sin no more.” This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible as it shows not only how clever Jesus was, but it also shows his compassion and forgiveness. It was added by an unknown person during the 4th century and became accepted as part of scripture in the 5th century.
Another significant addition to the New Testament was the Comma Johanneum (John 5:7-8) which reads: “For there are three that bare record in heaven, the Father, the Word (ed. note: Jesus), and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” These verses were added to the New Testament around 400AD. The original manuscripts of the New Testament don’t say anything about a Holy Trinity. However, there is a reference for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). This presented a significant problem for early Christianity which was preached as a monotheistic religion. A reader could easily interpret “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as polytheistic. It was thought that the Comma Johanneum was added to fix this issue.
There are no original Biblical manuscripts currently in existence. The oldest Greek copies of the New Testament are copies made over a century from the original works. Copies of various Gospels, epistles, Acts, and prophetic books were transcribed by hand. Some scribes did a better job than others, but all made copies with errors. In the early 1700s, John Mill of Oxford studied 100 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament looking for significant differences between them. It took him 30 years, but he found over 30,000 differences. We currently have 5,700 early Greek manuscripts of partial and complete New Testaments. It is estimated that there are 300,000 to 500,000 differences between them. No two are alike. In other words, there are more differences than there are words in the New Testament.
It should be noted that these differences are significant, but most don’t change the overall meaning of a verse. However, some do. Most differences are due to errors, but others are likely intentional. Our current New Testament was created from copies made from copies made from other copies (etc.). The copies were then translated into English. Translations can significantly alter the meaning of a verse. If you don’t believe me take a passage from the Bible and see how different English translations use very different words for the same verse. If you say that the original Bible is inerrant, you have to reconcile that belief from current translations which seem to have many differences.
In Acts 1:18 he bursts open and his insides spill out.
I could give other examples of other contradictions, but it wouldn’t further my point. Just like the Old Testament, the New Testament is full of contradictions. So how do you resolve them?
Resolving the contradiction in the Bible.
One way to defend the inconsistencies in the Bible is by the discipline of Apologetics. These are answers that are formally authorized by denominations or informally offered by pastors and other religious. I reviewed some on the Internet and watched a number of defenses of the Bible on YouTube. Sadly, many are no better than what you would expect from someone who was on a high school debate team. Others are more polished and logical. However, it is clear that you can make anything true if you take enough twists and turns in your argument. Apologetics may give comfort for believers but offers little for skeptics.
Another way to resolve conflicts is by combining stories, which in essence, creates a hybrid Bible. This option makes no sense as it changes the context of the original work. The Holy Bible now becomes Bob’s or Susan’s bible.
The final way to deal with conflicts in the Bible is to accept that there are conflicts and to not try to wish them away.
The art of cherry-picking.
It is easy to cherry-pick verses to make a point. It is also easy to ignore verses if that point does not suit an individual’s desires.
Do you want women to be subservient? Go with Ephesians 5:22-24. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
Would you like to enslave people? Use Ephesians 6:5-8. , “Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ”
How about getting rid of programs that help the impoverished? Just quote Matthew 26:11: “The poor you will always have with you.”
You can also do the opposite by ignoring verses. Do you preach the prosperity Gospel? If that is the case ignore Matthew 19:21, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Cherry-picking is (in my opinion) one of the most destructive uses of the Bible. It has been used to justify the most discriminatory and horrific actions imposed on other humans.
Heaven and Hell
Some preachers love to talk about Heaven and Hell. However, those concepts are very poorly defined in the Bible. Many Jews don’t focus on the afterlife as significant religious teaching. Around the time of Jesus, there was an apocalyptic movement among Jews that existed for about 200 years before Jesus and about 100 years after his death. This movement emphasized catastrophic events that would eventually defeat Jewish oppressors and included a messiah (or king) who would come and rule the Jews during a time of peace and plenty in paradise. Jesus makes reference to this noting in Mark 13:30 “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” Implying that apocalyptic events would happen during the Apostles’ lives. Scholars feel that Jesus was apocalyptic in his teachings based on this and other passages in the New Testament. The paradise that is referred to is not thought to be Heaven, rather it is an earthy paradise.
As far as the concept of Hell is concerned, it is confusing. Biblical scholars note that the concept of Hell is very poorly defined in the Bible. However, when I did a verse search I found a number of references to Hell. In the New Testament, they are mostly attributed to Matthew and Revelation. However, on deeper discovery, it is likely that these direct references could be translation errors.
The Bible uses several words that have been translated to mean Hell. Sheol is used in the Old Testament and Hades is used in the New Testament. However, a more accurate translation for both of these words would be a grave or resting place. Translators in the past selectively defined Sheol depending on the passage. Sometimes translating it as Hell, but if that didn’t seem to fit (or if it was contrary to the intent of the verse) it was translated as a resting place or grave.
Gehenna is also translated in the New Testament as Hell. Gehenna was an actual dump site outside of the city where garbage was burnt and where leapers and outcasts were sent. Biblical scholars and historians believe that Jesus was saying that those who believe will have everlasting life (most likely on perfect earth, which is why your body would be reunited with your soul) and that sinners would be destroyed by fire (at the dump). There is no discussion of everlasting torture. Sinners would just cease to exist, and that would be their punishment.
The concepts of Heaven and Hell have been used by preachers extensively and for obvious reasons. I found dozens of videos on YouTube with titles like, “Hell is real!” Entire wars have been launched based on Heaven and Hell beliefs. The initial Crusaders were granted plenary indulgences by Pope Urban II if they agreed to fight. What were plenary indulgences? Basically, a get out of Hell card. Did Pope Urban II have that power? I’ll leave that to you.
Types of Christianity
There are about 200 different Christian denominations in the United States and 45,000 denominations globally according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Beliefs between denominations can be similar in some areas and very different in others. For instance, most Protestants believe that salvation is by faith alone, while Roman Catholics believe that salvation is through works and baptism. Both views are supported by the Bible. Luther wanted to remove the books in the New Testament, such as James, that emphasized the importance of works as it was contrary to his belief in salvation by faith alone. However, he realized that he did not have the authority to make changes in the New Testament.
Contrasting beliefs abound not only at the organizational level, but also among subgroups and influential individuals. Mother Theresa did not use painkillers in her hospitals because she felt that suffering would bring her charges closer to Christ.
There are similarities in mainstream Christian religions, but differences become very apparent the further you go afield. Denominations are created on differences, not similarities. Which one is the right one? Does only one group have the key to salvation? It all gets confusing.
In the US believers are roughly categorized into groups. Fundamentalists and Evangelicals believe that the Bible is inerrant (without errors). Fundamentalists tend to read the Bible literally. Evangelicals have a more nuanced interpretation of the Bible, realizing that much of it is written as poetry, metaphors, and parable.
Many mainstream denominations say that the Bible is inerrant, but they tend to interpret passages more liberally.
Liberal Christians view the Bible as the cornerstone document of Christianity, and they may believe that the writings are inspired, but they don’t necessarily believe that the Bible is the direct word of God.
A 2017 Gallup poll noted that 24% of those polled felt that the Bible was the literal word of God. This is the lowest number in the poll’s 40-year history, down from 40% in the early 1980s. Roughly 47% of those polled feel that the Bible was inspired by God. About 70% of polled felt that the Bible is a holy document.
Each of these different groups will interpret the Bible’s meaning based on very different criteria, The more liberal a group’s view is the more likely that they are going to view a passage’s meaning taking into account the writing styles, the knowledge, and the history of the time. Literal readers of the Bible tend to interpret verses and stories at face value. For instance, they would believe that God created the universe in 6 earth days. A liberal view would be that God’s days are not the same as human days. A more liberal view would say that scientific understandings are correct, but that science was directly controlled by God’s actions.
Fundamentalist vs. liberal teaching.
As a Christian and scientist, I never had problems reconciling science and belief. I never believed that God used a magic wand to create the universe. Rather, the universe is ordered and logical. Science is the revelation of that order and logic and does not negate God’s influence.
Fundamentalists and very conservative Christians have had problems with science as it conflicts with the literal interpretation of the Bible. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that the universe is around 14 billion years old, and our earth is about 4.5 billion years old. There is overwhelming evidence that there has been 5 mass extinction on earth, and that homo sapiens (modern humans) emerged around 300,000 years ago. It becomes difficult to reconcile the creation story with these facts, so it has become necessary for literal interpreters to denigrate science and to come up with pseudo-science to prove their viewpoint.
However, individuals who ignore and denigrate science also acknowledge and accept it every time they turn on a light, make a call with their smartphone, or heat up a burrito in the microwave.
Humans don’t like to hold conflicting ideas, this creates stress which psychologists call cognitive dissonance. Confirmation bias is a characteristic where an individual gives more weight and credibility to things that support their beliefs and less weight and credibility to things that negate their belief. By selectively embracing some information while ignoring other information cognitive dissonance is reduced. However, this distorts reality. The stress from this distortion can be reduced by associating with like-minded individuals. If everyone you know thinks that the earth is flat it becomes easy to accept that idea as truth.
Additional problems occur when the interpretation of the Bible is further generalized and science somehow gets associated with being anti-God. It now becomes easy to say that global warming doesn’t exist, or that COVID vaccinations are somehow being used as the mark of the Beast.
Conflicting views that become ever more radicalized can cause irreversible splits. Compromise becomes impossible between literal and liberal individuals, and these differences fractionate populations instead of uniting them. This seems contrary to Christ’s message.
The inerrant Bible.
It is clear that early Christians did not consider the Books compiled in the New Testament inerrant. In fact, there were many writings that were used by early Christians that presented vastly different interpretations of who Jesus was, as well as the meaning of his mission.
I initially thought that inerrancy was determined a few centuries after Jesus’ Crucifixion, perhaps by some council. However, that is not the case. The doctrine of inerrancy developed during the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States. A statement was crafted in 1978 by hundreds of evangelical leaders and was known as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. This statement was in response to liberal Christian movements that were growing in popularity.
The Bible was determined to be inerrant by a group of conservative Christians 25 years after I was born, and almost two millennia after the Books of the New Testament were written. The group also supported the King James Version of the Bible as the true Bible. The King James Bible was created in 1611. Newer versions of the Bible have used older original sources and are considered more accurate. Can we be assured that the people who determined that the Bible was inerrant were also inerrant?
At the start of this post, I gave you a true/false quiz. The answers to all of the questions are False. Did you think that some of the answers were true? That is due to a psychological phenomenon called the Illusory Truth Effect. When we hear something enough times we believe it is true. This technique is used by historians who present one side (usually the winner’s) of a story, politicians who try to convince you that their opponent is evil by repeatedly using lies, and by religious leaders when they are promoting their particular dogma. We are all subject to the Illusory Truth Effect.
Who determines what is correct?
The Bible that we have today is the result of human opinion. The selection of the Books of the Bible was ordered by humans. Copies were made by humans. Additions and modifications were added by humans. Translations were done by humans. When I say humans, in reality, I am mostly talking about white males sometimes acting as part of a group or committee.
I have no ability to know if any of these meetings were directed by God, but I’m fairly certain that many of them were not. Powerful individuals’ opinions are given greater voice than those less powerful. Powerful groups persuade less powerful ones. This was no different in the past than it is now.
Were these individuals guided by faith, personal gain, power, or bias? I’m sure that there were individuals who were influenced by all of these categories. However, this does not diminish the importance of the Bible. Despite all of the Bible’s changes its basic message and content remain.
Individuals and organizations all tell us that they have the way. I watch Televangelists who scream into the camera saying that they need a bigger jet, or that we need to buy dehydrated food from them using God as the reason. I watched TV prophets who theatrically altered their voice to the voice of God and told their audience that Trump will win in 2020 because this was in His plan. When Trump lost they quickly deleted their videos on YouTube and moved on to their next prophecy. I see ministers and priests spewing a Gospel of hate to justify the inhumane treatment of others, driving their points home with curated Bible verses and polished rhetoric. Such blasphemy disgusts me.
Denomination leaders determine what is important and what is not. They determine what is sin and what is not. They determine what gets you into Heaven and what condemns you to Hell. Some tell you what clothes you can wear. Some tell you who you can marry. Some tell women that it is a sin to use birth control. Some tell you if you can divorce or not…and so it goes. Those rules change from religion to religion. Each group says that they have the answer, each awarding punishment for those who don’t adhere. Should we assume that only our group is anointed by the Holy Spirit while all others are not?
Early on in my psychiatric practice, I treated a women in her mid-twenties. She was wearing clothes similar to those that you would see on the “Little House on the Prairie” TV show. Her husband had a very long beard before they were fashionable. They belonged to a religious group that I had never heard of. She was seeing me because she was profoundly depressed, bordering on psychotic. She was non-functional and having suicidal thoughts. She came in because she couldn’t do her household and wifely duties.
She had married young and already had a bunch of kids and felt that she couldn’t handle more. She had to do an endless number of tasks and had zero voice in the raising of her kids, or any family decision. She was not allowed to have personal goals or wants. She was basically a slave to her husband and a servant to her children. The husband wanted more children, and she was expected to comply despite the fact that her mind was disintegrating with her current burden.
Her husband wanted to sit in on every session but reluctantly agreed not to. As a psychiatrist, it was clear that her severe depression required more than a prescription of Prozac. Her problems were social in nature. After about six sessions I gently told her that God loved her and that it was OK for her to have her own feelings. She told her husband this and I never saw her again. Do you think that is what God wanted for her?
Where do I stand with the Bible?
God gave us our minds and the ability to reason and problem solve. Why would he give us those abilities if he didn’t want us to use them? Blind obedience leads to a path of disaster. When an individual or group gives away all of its power bad things can happen. Lord John Dalberg-Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We see the reality of this quote time and time again in both religious and secular life.
Did God directly write the Bible through its writers? It would not seem so. If God wanted a cohesive message we would have gotten one. I believe that the writers of the Bible were inspired by their faith and their strong commitment to God.
The New Testament explores the life of Jesus through the eyes of different individuals. His message was so powerful and radical that his teachings reached distant parts of the known world. His life inspired individuals to write his history and stories down so that a permanent record of Jesus and his teachings would never be lost.
The early fathers of the church never said that the New Testament was inerrant. They didn’t feel that contradictions in the Bible made it any less meaningful. They didn’t feel that they needed a Johnnie Cochran defense where dissimilar viewpoints had to be craftily twisted like a Rubik Cube until their contradictions melded into submission.
The New Testaments books were written during an ancient time when all sorts of things were accepted that are not accepted today. It was OK to enslave people, women were little more than possessions, soldiers traveled with young boys who they used for their sexual pleasure, various common foods were unsanitary or unsafe to eat, murdering someone by stoning was considered acceptable. Rome was an oppressive regime that was hated by the Jews, but direct criticism could result in crucifixion. Beyond teaching Jesus’ message the NT had to address the fulfillment of prophecy, Jewish religious law, and a host of other constraints that need to be considered when interpreting passages. If you cherry-pick verses or read Scripture without a historical understanding of these things you will not understand the meaning of what is being said.
So what is the real significance of Jesus? The Resurrection physically demonstrated that Jesus was a spiritual being, a God. Of course, that is important, but what if the Resurrection never happened? The message of Jesus is still revolutionary, amazing, and life-changing. This message is why I’m a Christian, and it is why I try to lead a Christian life.
Earlier in this post, I told a story of a child who was destined to save the world. It was an exciting story full of good and evil characters. A story of innocence, of powerful friendships, of faith and prophecy. These plot points keep the reader interested, but none were the true meaning of the tale. In the story, Harry Potter defeats the all-powerful Voldemort with one simple tool, love. Love was so powerful that evil could not conquer him. J.K.Rowling’s story is based on the life of Jesus. I find it amusing that some rigid Christians condemned the books crying that they glorified witchcraft. Clearly, they either never read them, and if they did they couldn’t see between the lines because they read the story literally.
In the New Testament Jesus clearly states what the two most important commandments are. Mark 12:28-31 tells us:
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.”
Interpret something from the New Testament. Is your interpretation consistent with Jesus’ most important commandments? If it isn’t, then your interpretation is not correct. If all you know are these two commandments, then you can lead a Christian life. Anytime that your actions are contrary to these two commandments, then you have gone astray.
An NT verse may suggest that slavery is OK, but this interpretation is not consistent with the most important commandments.
People interpret passages in the OT and NT as condemning LGBTQ individuals, but treating others with discrimination is not consistent with the most important commandments.
The NT suggests that women are second-class citizens so it is OK to treat them as such, but this is not consistent with the most important commandments.
…and so it goes.
From love comes compassion, forgiveness, connection, acceptance, inclusion, charity, and a host of other wonderful characteristics. From hate comes discrimination, bigotry, wars, and many other terrible things.
The message of Christianity has nothing to do with not eating meat on Friday, or discriminating against people who are different than you. God created all of us, he didn’t make some of us better than others. We are all in God’s plan. We all benefit from His love and we are told to love others as Jesus loved us.
There will always be haters who hate, they are not important.
Some of you know that I have been attending a non-denominational Christian church for many years. However, recent events have made me question that decision, and had me look deep into Scripture to seek answers. Before I get into all of that, let me first start with a disclaimer, as well as some background information.
The following post describes my own faith journey and is in no way meant to offend or to be disrespectful of anyone else’s beliefs.
How do I identify myself?
I identify myself as a Christian.
How did I get there, what does being a Christian mean to me?
My path is somewhat long and has many twists and turns. I was raised in a highly homogeneous neighborhood that was almost exclusively Roman Catholic. Everyone was white, working-class, and most were of Irish or Eastern European descent. We were a neighborhood of pale white folk. The majority of my friends went to the Catholic grade school that I attended. My family celebrated Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. My parents said the Rosary most nights, and our house was adorned with crucifixes and pictures of Euro-Jesus (Jesus made to look European). At a young age, I was told, and believed, the many ways that I could sin and go to hell. This gave me anxiety as I could never live up to the spiritual standard that I was given. I lived in a world where thoughts were as bad as deeds.
By middle school, I was seeing flaws in the system. My pastor was a creepy drunk, who seemed to have a cruel streak. The nuns that I had in school were a mixed bag. Some were OK, but others seemed mentally ill. During our only sex-education class, the instructing nun implied that our parents were immoral for having intercourse. Another nun seemed to derive pleasure in humiliating kids in front of their classmates. She liked to push them until they publicly cried. Still, another nun had rage issues. When a classmate didn’t know the answer to a math problem she bashed his head against the slate backboard hard enough to render him fully unconscious.
I liked the pomp and circumstance of the Catholic Church, but some of the dogma didn’t make sense to me. If I ate a hot dog on a Friday I damned myself to eternal hell (eating meat on Friday was a mortal sin). However, I could be a serial killer and confess my sins to a drunk guy (our priest) and have eternal salvation. How was it possible for another human to forgive my sins? Why couldn’t I ask God directly? What the heck was sin anyway? It seemed like it was either a long list of bad deeds or some abstract concept like turning away from God, which made little practical sense to me.
By middle school, I left the church, although my parents thought I was still attending. Further events during my freshman year in high school resulted in me becoming an atheist.
When considering God, there are three options:
There is no God.
There is a God, but he could care less about us.
There is a God who is invested in our lives.
Over time I returned to the third option based on what I felt was God’s direct intervention in my life. I could give many examples of this, but I don’t think that they would convince a non-believer. Their uniqueness and frequency were enough to convince me. God has consistently been there during my darkest hours and my brightest moments. This has shown me on a fundamental level that something outside of myself has a clear and vested interest in me.
One personally significant example is the story of my three teachers. These were individuals who entered my life after my freshman year trauma. The neighborhood that I grew up in was highly prejudiced against anyone who wasn’t white and Christian. In fact, I used to pray for the Protestants who live across the street because I was afraid that there were going to go to hell. In those days we were told that only Catholics had the secret key to heaven.
The three teachers that cared enough to invest their time in me were not white Roman Catholic folk. Two were black, and one was a Jew. They initially acknowledged me for my academic abilities, but our connection continued because they saw value in me as a person. They helped me regain my self-esteem. They also gave me an important lesson against prejudice, as I also witnessed their great worth, kindness, and integrity. I believe that these connections were not random events, but were another example of God looking out for me. I often have these odd experiences where I’m not only helped by God but that I’m also taught a lesson. As I healed from the past I started to explore the spiritual aspects of my humanity.
I eventually returned to the Catholic Church as an adult with the understanding that my first assessment was naive, as I was judging an entire institution on one flawed group of people. My return to the Catholic Church was more about gaining a better understanding of God, rather than avoiding hell. In general, being Catholic phase two wasn’t bad. I attended a church with a dynamic and innovative pastor who knew how to add just the right amount of circuses to make worship engaging. I especially like our vast and powerful choir. I didn’t ascribe to all of the teachings, but I continued to develop an inner spiritual life and a personal understanding of the meaning of being Christian. It was a sad day when my pastor left my church to start a new life with a married female parishioner.
My wife and I started to have children and it became difficult to attend church; our attendance lapsed. During that time the Church’s sex scandal erupted and grew. I was a psychiatrist and had an understanding of how the old seminary system could have had a detrimental impact on psychological development. At age 14 boys committed to becoming a priest. They were told that they were extraordinary and more God-like than the rest of society. They were isolated and indoctrinated. They were told to resist their sexual urges (14-year-old boys, really?). They were denied normal ways to examine their emerging feelings. They were told that their desires were immoral. If you wanted to experiment on how to screw up people, this would be the model to copy.
I was horrified by the magnitude of priests who used their power and influence to manipulate, abuse, and psychologically damage others for their carnal pleasures. This disgusted me, but I could psychologically understand how it could happen.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the way that the greater Church dealt with this issue. Instead of being honest and forthright with parishioners, the larger Church tried to hide these crimes while blaming the abused. On an even more heinous level, serial rapists were transferred to poorer parishes allowing them to repeat their behaviors in places where their acts were less likely to be reported. These actions were supported and acted on at the highest levels of the Church.
Catholic religious leaders are not backwoods preachers, they are highly educated in areas beyond theological teachings. In their ranks are scientists, doctors, lawyers, and psychologists. We are not in the dark ages, it was predictable that these priests would continue their behaviors if given a chance. Their superiors had to know this, yet they subjected countless individuals to continued abuse. They put the institution and the institution’s elite above those who they were supposed to serve. They cited platitudes such as forgiveness and repentance to explain their actions while ignoring established behavioral science. This hypocrisy was more than I could bear, and I left the Catholic Church with a sour taste in my mouth. However, this time I was abandoning an organization, not God.
After not attending a church for several years it was time to go back to one. Julie had already started scouting around different churches and found a non-denominational one that seemed like a good fit. It had a great kid’s program, fantastic music, and a contemporary message. In addition, its philosophy seems to be about acceptance. All were welcome.
I have attended that church and contributed to it financially for many years. As the church grew its lead pastor became more famous and influential. The church started to change. It became a more traditional, less experimental, more predictable, and more typical church in its sermons. I loved church version one, but I was still OK with version two.
One critical aspect of the church was that they didn’t think for the parishioners. They never told us how to vote, or what group was good and what group was bad. I felt that they preached tolerance in most things.
I need to add a small sidebar here. So many Christian sects (as well as many other religions) emphasize the heaven/hell thing. I have watched many preachers on YouTube telling their congregations about eternal damnation. Apparently, sometimes the smallest slip-up can result in everlasting torture. This seems to go against God’s perfect love. The reality is that the concept of hell is very poorly defined in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. References made about hell are based on what many scholars would consider poor Scriptural interpretation. Concepts of heaven are consistent with the historical ideas of paradise at the time of their writing. For instance, in heaven, your soul and body will reunite, but your body will be perfect. Why would you need a body in heaven? Some scholars believe that the message of everlasting life refers to God creating a perfect world on earth. God and his angels live in heaven, humans live on a perfect earth. If there is a heaven, count me in. However, my belief in Christianity is not fear-based. It is based on its overriding message of love, acceptance, cooperation, charity, forgiveness, redemption, valuing others who are different than you, and kindness. These truths are everlasting and transcend the cultural binding of the past. If you understand this about me, the next section will make more sense.
Julie has an inside track to what is going on with the church, as she has worked in leadership positions there. Late last year she came home upset with the news that there was a shift in the church that would render a subgroup of the congregation as second-class citizens. I generalized that group’s name in my last post, and I debated about doing the same in this post. Why? Because what I am about to discuss is polarizing.
However, this blog is about honesty, so here goes. The subgroup mentioned was the LGBTQ community. The church has now made a formal stance that denies these individuals rights that are afforded to straight members.
Some of you are likely to agree with such a decision. I would ask you to consider my counterargument and to reflect on what it means to be a Christian. How would you feel if someone said, “Slavery is in God’s plan,” or “Women don’t have the intellect or temperament to be in a position to make decisions for themselves.” These are concepts that religious groups have espoused in the past based on their cherry-picking of Scripture. Hopefully, most of you would disagree with these statements in 2022.
As a psychiatrist and expert in behavior, I understand that sexual orientation is not a choice. It probably happens in-utero or shortly thereafter. It is fixed. You can not turn a straight person into a gay one, and you can not turn a gay person into a straight one. There is a gradient of behavior when it comes to sexual orientation. Some people reside at one pole or the other, while others are somewhere along the spectrum. It is estimated that about 10% of the population is LGBTQ. Some studies use lower numbers, others use higher ones. I live in a town that has a population of 148,000 individuals. Ten percent of that is about 15,000 humans, and we are just talking about my little town.
Pedophiles exist within every sexual orientation. Gay people are no more likely than straight people to try to force their desires on children. Rates of criminality are no higher than in the general population, but LGBTQ individuals are the subject of 1 out of 5 hate crimes. Studies of judgment, stability, reliability, and social and vocational adaptiveness demonstrate that LGBTQ people perform as well as straight people. However, many in the LGBTQ community do suffer from anxiety and depression, which is not surprising when you consider the incredible stresses that most have had to endure. Substance use can also be higher in the LGBTQ population. Is that shocking when you appreciate the hate, social isolation, and shame that these individuals are subject to?
There is a multitude of healthy, caring, and concerned LGBTQ people who contribute to society on all levels, and who have meaningful productive lives. Just like straight individuals they want to love and to be in loving relationships. They want to belong, and they want to be equal members of society.
Yet, societies punish gay individuals. One example is Alan Turing who was a brilliant English mathematician, and whom many consider as the father of computer science. During WWII he developed a mechanical computer that was able to decode messages from the German Enigma machine. This allowed the Allies to read secret German transmission. It is understood that this knowledge shortened the war by two years, and (by estimate) saved over 10 million lives in the process. Think about that, his contributions saved over 10 MILLION lives! Because this project was top secret he didn’t get much credit for his efforts, and after the war, he went to work at England’s National Physical Laboratory.
In 1952 Alan Turing was arrested for having consensual sexual relations with a 19-year-old man named Arnold Murray. Alan Turing and Arnold Murray were prosecuted for a long list of offenses that were against England’s Sexual Offences Act of 1885. Alan was mandated to undergo chemical castration, which not only robbed him of his sexuality but also his ability to critically think. He could no longer do the things that he was so exceptionally gifted at. His life ended by suicide in 1954. You have to wonder what other discoveries he could have made if he had been allowed to just live his life.
In my psychiatric practice of over 30 years, I have treated all types of people, including those who identify as LGBTQ. It would sicken me when I saw an LGBTQ person being ostracized from a church or abandoned by their Christian parents. All for something that they not only had no control over but also caused no objective harm to anyone.
Especially difficult were young Christians who had a strong commitment to and respect for their home churches. When they would come out they would not only be rejected but sometimes subjected to conversion therapy a practice that is not only useless but also damaging.
Some Christian groups, like Roman Catholics, acknowledge that someone can be gay and still be a member of the faithful. However, they are expected to resist their sexual feelings. Is that a reasonable approach? How well did it work for the priests who were told the same instructions?
The Catholic Church states that gay people “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity”, and that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” while holding that discrimination in marriage, employment, housing, and adoption in some circumstances can be just and “obligatory.” Avoid bias, but it is OK to discriminate when it comes to marriage, employment, housing, and adoption? What??
LGBTQ individuals are part of God’s creation. If God made them they are part of his plan. What part? I don’t know, but I know that God does not make junk. Yet, religious organizations cherry-pick Bible verses to discriminate against them while often generalizing Scripture meant to highlight specific carnal acts, such as paederasty. This seems to be against what I consider the overall teaching of Jesus. I can not support these actions any more than I could support a church that justified the enslavement of people, or one that treated women as 2nd class citizens. Based on this I can’t return or support my home church. So where does that leave me? Do I find my own way? Do I try to find another church? I’m praying on it.
The above events prompted me to do a deep-dive on the Bible. Which will be the subject of my next post. I’m sure that post will also need a disclaimer.
As I write this, it has been over four years since I retired from my private practice at Genesis Clinical Services and three years since I left my job as an attending psychiatrist and addictionologist at Rosecrance. It is time for me to do my annual review. I am writing this post for my personal summary. I will share it with those of you who wish to travel with me on my journey.
The process of retirement is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Revolutionary discoveries occur, but that process is slower and more meandering than what happened during my work life. I tend to liken it to watching an analog clock. If you stare at a clock, the hands don’t move; look away for a bit and they are suddenly in a different place.
I’m aware that this process is influenced by forces, such as age and health, independent of any purposeful action. There are things that I can do and things that happen to me that I have to accept.
The beginning of the year brought a cancer scare and a multitude of diagnostics tests and specialists. The bottom line is that I don’t have cancer; rather, I have a chronic condition that doesn’t have a cure but does have treatments. I’m continuing with a variety of those as I write this. Many of these treatments are relatively non-specific. As a medical professional, I can read scientific literature critically. It is clear that most of my medical recommendations are based on weak studies and anecdotal findings. For instance, I’m supposed only to drink low acid coffee. I’m trying to be as compliant as I can be while I recognize that much of what I’m being advised to do is shotgun medicine. In other words, I’m getting dozens of recommendations, none of which are based on a solid statistical footing. With that said, I’m very grateful that I’m generally healthy as I will turn 69 in less than two weeks.
Those core things that have always excited me continue to do so. I love learning and teaching. Creativity is my jam, and the use of technology to aid in creating things has always turned me on. However, how that I achieve these objectives continues to evolve. In the past, I would reward myself by buying things that I could compare. “How is this camera manufacturer’s solution different from that manufacturer’s?” “What are the differences between an inexpensive guitar and a more expensive one?” “Why does one computer application solve a problem one way when another piece of software does it differently?” Buying things gave me the pleasure of discovering how other people solved problems. That helped me expand the way that I critically think about things.
Although I could still buy and compare things, my purchasing has slowed down dramatically as I now can pursue other ways of learning; Retirement has given me the time to explore. With that said, I did do deep dive on automatic blood pressure cuffs earlier this year and bought quite a few of them so I could determine their pros and cons. I gave most of them away after I finished my study, so I guess it turned out to be a win/win situation. In addition, I wrote a post about my findings to teach others. What good is knowledge if you don’t share it?
Much of my explorations of late have involved acquiring knowledge for the sake of learning. My goal has shifted from being an expert on a topic to being knowledgeable about a subject. It is less critical for me to acquire expertise and more vital for me to learn. I appreciate the vastness of information available. Disciplines that superficially seem different from each other connect on more fundamental levels. It is exciting when I discover these connections. Yes, everything connects with everything else. You just have to look.
If you have read my post, you realize that for the last 7 (or is it 8?) years, I have had the opportunity to learn about construction from my expert friend, Tom. This is just one area that I have been visiting. I have been studying topics that range from learning about other medical specialties to exploring the accuracy of the Bible. There is a joy of discovery when I learn something new or understand something on a different level. There is also a sense of freedom as I can spend as much or as little time as I choose to on any particular topic. No one is going to test me with an exam, and I don’t have to prove to anyone that I have the most comprehensive knowledge.
My role at home is slowly changing. I have taken on more responsibilities than last year. I do many tasks, from cleaning the house to grocery shopping. Naturally, I have continued my long-established outside duties and household fix-it jobs. My job title would most accurately be described as a househusband. Many complain that such tasks are beneath them or even demeaning. I don’t feel that way at all. Household tasks are fundamental for both the individual and the family. They are of the utmost importance. That is not to say that I don’t find some jobs boring; of course, I do. However, there is a satisfaction of knowing that I’m accomplishing these tasks and that they benefit all parties. With that said, I have been trying to strike a balance. The number of adults that live here fluctuates from three to five. All are very capable. The reality is that I could completely take over all household jobs, but that would be a disservice to me, the other members of the household, and our family system as a whole. Everyone has to have some skin in the game, and finding that balance has been an ongoing process.
I have always been a little boy at heart, but I have rarely had the opportunity to express that side of me. I find the greatest joy in the simplest of things. Retirement has allowed me to acknowledge and nurture that aspect of my personality. This part of me is difficult to express in writing, but it involves finding beauty, wonderment, and excitement in just about everything. It is cool.
Long ago, I understood that I was an introvert, and my social needs were different than many. I have no problem spending long periods by myself, and there are times when I need to be alone to recharge my psyche. However, retirement, COVID, and other situations have illustrated the importance of strong connections with others. I continue to invest in those who I love. I have put ongoing effort into my marriage, children, and other important relationships. I continue to be amused with the knowledge that most things are neither bad nor good; they just are. The COVID pandemic certainly had many terrible aspects, but it also got me to call my sisters on a daily basis. I am close to all of my children but was most distant with my daughter, Kathryn. Kathryn returned from the Peace Corps due to COVID, and this forced the two of us to spend extended amounts of time together. What a blessing this has been as we have developed a new closeness and respect for each other. My other kids are now adults, yet they still seek me out for companionship and advice. I am so grateful.
I made one grand trip to Montana this last year, but I took many shorter trips in Violet. Some of them were for fun, and some were for practical reasons. This is the first year that Julie and my son, William, accompanied me on many adventures. I’m very grateful. You may wonder why I don’t camp with my daughters. It is simply for practical reasons. Violet has one platform bed that can accommodate Julie or William, plus me. Part of Violet’s charm is her ease of use as there is little to no set-up; I have no difficulty choosing to stealth camp. To camp with my girls would involve using formal campsites and setting up tents. I’m not excluding this option, but currently, I’m choosing other ways to spend time with them.
I crave to be on the road more, and I long to go on trips that would last a week or two. It would be great to do this with someone, but my current travel companion’s busy lives don’t allow for that extravagance. I’m now comfortable traveling alone, and I have developed enough social confidence to engage with strangers on the road. However, I still have a lot of guilt leaving Julie for more than a few days. If I asked her if it was OK for me to travel, I guess she would say, “yes.” However, I do worry that she would be resentful of my meanderings. It is unclear how much of my concerns are real vs. my own internal conflict. I plan to engage Julie in more meaningful and honest conversations on this topic. In reality, I’m talking about a week here and possibly two weeks there. I long to be out west. I think my soul lives on the other side of the Mississippi.
All of my years of financial preparation have paid off. However, I live on investments, and that can be concerning. At the beginning of COVID, I instantly lost 25% of those investments, which threw me into a bit of a tailspin. But, as we all know, the market has rebounded. Thank goodness for that. However, I’m trying to be conservative with my spending, and I’m thinking about those things that I spend money on. I’m the guy who tries to finish the leftovers in the fridge and the one who thinks twice about buying something. When you are retired, there is less need to spend.
My spiritual life seems to be moving in many directions. I was raised Roman Catholic, and although I respect many aspects of that religion, I separated from it when its sex scandal broke. My biggest issue was the secrecy and conspiracy that was enacted on all levels despite the damage that it caused to parishioners. Sadly, what appeared isolated now seems to be a reality among other institutions, as we know from recent events with the Boy Scouts of America.
Eventually, I drifted to an Evangelical Christian church, which I have attended for many years. The church appeared to have an “all are welcome” philosophy and presented Scripture in a contemporary way that I found beneficial to my daily life. Over the years, the founders have aged and become more conservative. Their sermons have become more traditional and less engaging. However, they never demanded their parishioners to think in a certain way, and they have promoted social justice causes. The latter is very important to me as I believe inclusion is one of the cornerstones of Christianity.
Recently, and surprisingly our lead pastor took a stance against a subgroup of society, citing Biblical teachings. This not only shocked me, but it also disgusted me. Entire religions are created based on the human interpretation of a few Scripture passages. However, those very religions often cherry-pick Biblical writings. They embrace passage A while ignoring passage B. As of late, I’m putting some effort into gaining a better historical understanding of the Bible. I’m not a Bible scholar, but I do understand the Bible’s bullet points, including “Love thy neighbor.” A church should bring people together and not draw arbitrary lines based on individual differences. I can no longer support the church that I have been attending for well over a decade based on their discrimination against others.
I think that a spiritual journey is personal and that externals (such as a church) should be used to assist the individual along that journey. My belief in God is not based on fear of damnation or even the promise of everlasting Salvation. I’m not a Christian because I’m looking for the golden ticket to heaven. I’m a Christian because I have a strong belief in God, and I believe that the message of the NT is one of peace, love, acceptance, and forgiveness. When a religious organization violates those basic rules, it is time for me to reassess its importance. This new chapter is in process. Hopefully, I’ll be further along my path when I do my 5th-year retirement summary.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have been granted the ability to retire from my work life and be in my current situation. I live in a beautiful town, and I don’t have the daily financial struggles that many others have to deal with. It has been fantastic to explore topics of interest that don’t have practical value. It has been wonderful to expand my creative abilities. I’m most grateful that I have been able to deepen my connections with others. I think that this latter fact has been the most significant benefit of leaving my 9 to 5 (in my case 7 AM to 10 PM) professional life.
I continue to grow, explore, and be open to new possibilities as they present themselves.
I share these most intimate thoughts with you. I hope they will help you do the same with those you care about. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness; it is a reality. Vulnerability allows us to grow and to become better humans.