Archive for category Catholicism
Posted by Christian Beyer in Bible, biblical literalism, Calvinism, Catholicism, Christianity, Church, Crime and Punishment, Culture, Current Events, damnation, Emerging Church, Ethics, Evil, Faith, Fundamentalism, God, Gospel, grace, Heaven and Hell, Hell, Heresy, Heterodoxy, Jesus, Justice, Morality, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, reformed church, Religion, Religious Right, Religious Tolerance, sacrifice, salvation, Sin, Spirituality, Substitutionary Atonement, Theology, Universalism on March 10, 2011
As long as I can remember my mother has said, “As a Christian you have to believe in Hell but you don’t have to believe anyone is there.” This is her gracious understanding of an essential Christian doctrine. Though she didn’t know it, this understanding is a Christian “heresy” called Universalism, a heresy that says all of us, even non-Christians, will go to Heaven. And it was expressly against Catholic, and most Christian doctrine. But wasn’t she right about one thing: Don’t you have to believe in Hell to be a Christian? This must be the case, if Universalism is a heresy.
Not long ago Rob Bell was in the hot seat with many Evangelicals (and some Catholics) because his recent book, “Love Wins”, suggested that no one goes to Hell. He set the conservative Christian bogs on fire and most of them essentially condemned Bell to hell for not believing in Hell.
The ensuing progressive Christian defense of Bell was great. Many Emerging Church and progressive Christian bloggers busted the chops of people like the Three Johns ( Piper, MacArthur and Hagee) for accusing Bell of Universalism . They rightly criticized the conservative Christian tendency to make Hell such a big part of their theology, to the point where this doctrine obscures a lot of the Gospel message. But, unfortunately, few of them go far enough.
Because in their defense of Bell they made it quite clear that they also believed in the doctrine of Hell, they just adapted it to make it more palatable. Most seemed to accept the conventional orthodoxy of a Final Judgment and the potential prospect of Hell (even with little or no scriptural support for it) coupled with the salvic solution of Jesus dying for our sins on the cross, as God’s blood sacrifice, to free us from eternal damnation. Which, to me, flies in the face of what Jesus spends a lot of time telling us about God. As I heard a pastor once say, God is either merciful or God is just, but God cannot be both.
I think one reason why so many Christians are unyielding about Hell, and why the progressives still can’t shake the doctrine off, is that, in reality, Hell is the cornerstone of the Church, not Jesus. Because without Hell, what is there for Jesus to do? What does he save us from?
No Hell = no Jesus. Or at least the Jesus that many Christians claim to believe in, have faith in. Without Hell he loses his job description. He loses his purpose along with the primary meaning he may have for millions of Christians. So the idea that there is no Hell is just too damn frightening to consider.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
Because he is a Mormon.
Which is interesting, when you consider all the ruckus Beck is making over Obama’s faith and how the President’s ‘version’ of Christianity is unrecognizable to most Christians. And then there’s Beck’s passion for wanting to lead America back to the allegedly Christian ideals of the founders. By belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints, Beck is not regarded a Christian by the Roman Catholic Church, most mainstream Protestant denominations and just about all conservative Evangelicals. Many, if not most, think Mormonism is “clearly”a cult. This is exactly what James Dobson and Focus on the Family believes:
“While Glenn’s social views are compatible with many Christian views, his beliefs in Mormonism are not. Clearly, Mormonism is a cult. The CitizenLink story does not mention Beck’s Mormon faith, however, the story makes it look as if Beck is a Christian who believes in the essential doctrines of the faith.
“Through the years, Focus on the Family has done great things to help the family and has brought attention to the many social ills that are attacking the family.
“However, to promote a Mormon as a Christian is not helpful to the cause of Jesus Christ. For Christians to influence society, Christians should be promoting the central issues of the faith properly without opening the door to false religions.“
Yet conservative Evangelical leaders stand shoulder to shoulder with Beck as he rallies his Christian soldiers on to a new American Dominionism. ( Where does Sarah Palin’s church stands on the “is a Mormoan a Christian” issue?) Anyway, strange bedfellows. I wonder if Glenn ever considered the possibility that, if he and Sarah are successful, Mormon’s might find themselves in the same boat with Muslims and other threats to “Christian” authority?
The irony is that most Muslims would probably give Beck the benefit of the doubt and accept his Christian bona fides. Which is not necessarily a very good thing for anyone, including Mormons.
Having been reminded by the recent sentencing of a Rwandan war criminal to life in prison, Heather, our minister, shared something with us yesterday that completely stunned me. I had no idea that the vast majority of those who took part in the Rwandan genocide were Christian. I’d read about the killings in the newspapers at the time (although I don’t think the Western press really covered this all too well) and had seen “Hotel Rwanda” but all I seemed to remember was that this bit of nastiness was based upon intense tribal animosity.
To the ‘sophisticated’ Western ear it is easy to dismiss such barbarism when the word ‘tribe’ is heard. And why should we be outraged over a bunch of Hutus and Tutsis hacking each other to pieces with machetes? Most us, who learned about Africa from Tarzan and Jungle Jim, would expect nothing different. But Christians? The Saved? Today? We just don’t do such things. Horrors like this belong in the church’s distant past, along with the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Puritan Witch Trials.
Why isn’t this common knowledge, especially among Christians?
Since then I’ve done a little bit of research and have come to find that these tribal rivalries had actually been encouraged by the colonial powers, assisted by the church, in order to keep the populace under productive and profitable control. The colonial missionaries did a good job for their bosses; over 95% of the Rwandan population are self proclaimed Christians. However, their faith did nothing to discourage them from hating their ‘enemies’ and even many of their church leaders were complicit in this savage butchery. According to the Afrol News:
The 1994 Rwandan genocide, killing an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, is made even more incomprehensible by the documented participation of many representatives of Rwandan church societies. How could God fearing nuns, and even a bishop, take part in the most cruel crimes against humanity committed on African soil? Even worse, several church societies allegedly were co-responsible for the growing hatred that led to the genocide. It remains an enormous contradiction to the Christian Message of Love.
On 7 May 1994 soldiers and militias arrived at Shyogwe Diocese aboard a red pick-up vehicle to transport civilian Tutsi refugees to the killing sites. “On that day Bishop Samuel Musabyimana was present and, addressing the soldiers and militias, publicly stated that he did not oppose the killing of Tutsis, but that he did not want killings at the Diocese and that the Tutsis should be taken to Kabgayi to be killed.” (Indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda against former Anglican Bishop Samuel Musabyimana).
On 22 April 1994, Séraphine Mukamana had hidden herself in a garage when militias attacked a convent in Sovu in southern Rwanda. “We sought refugee in the garage and closed and barricaded the doors. Outside a bloodbath is going on. Suddenly an orphan begins to weep as it gets to hot in the garage. At once, the killers approach the garage.” As the refugees refuse to come out, the militia leader Emmanuel Rekeraho decides to burn them alive in the garage. “‘The nuns are coming to help us. They are bringing gasoline,’ I heard [Rekeraho] say. Looking through a hole that the militiamen meanwhile had made in the wall, I indeed saw Sister Gertrude and Sister Kisito. The latter was carrying a petrol can. Shortly upon that, the garage is set on fire.” ( Testimony against two Catholic nuns, Sisters Gertrude and Maria Kisito in a Brussels court, May 2001 [for their involvement in the slaughter of at least 5,000 civilians that had sought refuge in their monastery at Sovu])…..
… The accusations against clergy of the Free Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and Seventh-Day Adventist Churches are equally shocking. According to survivors, Bishop Aaron Ruhumuliza, head of the Free Methodist Church in Gikondo, Kigali, helped the militia carry out a massacre in his own church on 9 April 1994. Michel Twagirayesu, the President of the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda and a former vice-president of the World Council of Churches, is alleged to have worked closely with the killers in the Presbyterian stronghold of Kirinda, Kibuye, betraying parishioners and fellow-clergy alike, according to a report by African Rights.
How can we explain this? Why would 20th century Christians commit such sadistic and brutal acts of violence? Perhaps, as some African church leaders are suggesting, it is because they were converted by the Western missionaries to a Gospel of Evacuation and not;
Much of the history of Western missionary activity in Africa, although often well-intentioned, presented a truncated and paternalistic form of the gospel. Claude Nikondeha, founder of Amahoro Africa, has called this the ‘Evacuation Gospel’, which aimed at saving souls but did little to transform the reality of African Christians suffering extreme poverty and colonial oppression. And yet the gospel of Jesus Christ as the good news of the establishment of the Kingdom of God is so much more – it is in all spheres of life truly transformative.
While the missionaries placed salvific emphasis on what comes after this present life, there was little emphasis placed on changing their world for the good of all. Of course that would involve upsetting the colonial economic applecart and besides, if you’ve saved their souls then your job is done. Right? The Rwandan genocide would suggest that this reasoning is severely flawed. Which is one reason why emerging church leaders like Brian McLaren have been crying out that:
In his most recent book with the above title, Brian McLaren shows how the economic and political structures of the modern West have created a lethal suicide machine which destroys the very things vital for the survival of humanity and planet Earth. He argues that the real message of Jesus Christ encompasses an alternative reality and that His followers are called to make this Kingdom vision a reality.
Like the Nazi led Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide has called into question the merits and authenticity of Christianity. Meanwhile it has made Islam that much more attractive to many Africans. Rwandan Muslims were known to have sheltered both Hutus and Tutsis from their blood thirsty Christian brothers and sisters:
Nov 10 2002 – After the sliver of the new moon had been sighted, Saleh Habimana joined the growing ranks of Muslims in this central African nation and began the daylight fasting that marks the holy month of Ramadan.
Later, Rwanda’s leading Muslim cleric joined men in embroidered caps and boys in school uniforms to pray at the overflowing Al-Fatah mosque – more testimony to the swelling numbers of Muslims in this predominantly Christian country.
Though Muslims remain a small percentage of Rwanda’s 8 million people, Islam is on the rise eight years after the 1994 genocide brought 100 days of murder, terror and mayhem. More than 500,000 minority Tutsis and political moderates from the Hutu majority were killed by Hutu militiamen, soldiers and ordinary citizens in a slaughter orchestrated by the extremist Hutu government then in power.
“For Hutus, conversion to Islam was like purification, a way of getting rid of a stigma,” Habimana said. “After the genocide, Hutus felt that the society perceives them as having blood on their hands.”…
…As Rwandan Christian Tutsis and Hutus try to reconcile, their Muslim countrymen believe they could learn something about tolerance and solidarity from Islam.
“Reconciliation is not necessary for Muslims in Rwanda, because we do not view the world through a racial or ethnic lens,” Sagahutu said.
The Rwandan Genocide should remind Christians that before we so glibly paint other cultures and religions as murderous and barbaric we need to address those vicious tendencies that continue to find shelter within the modern church.
Just when you think that maybe people are starting to get the point they go out and do THIS:
THE seven deadly sins have grown to at least 14 after the Vatican updated its 1400-year-old list of the worst moral failures to reflect the modern world.
The new deadly sins that may lead to eternal damnation are polluting, genetic engineering, being obscenely rich, drug dealing, abortion, pedophilia and causing social injustice, The Times newspaper has reported.
Quoting from Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, The Times reported that certain actions were so unholy that they needed to be deemed as “mortal sins” – not the less serious “venial sins”.
I understand and appreciate where they are coming from; some of these issues have been ignored by the church for a long time. But sending people to hell for using drugs? What’s that all about? This is all the world needs; some more religious laws? The old ones are working so well. Sheesh! (And about that new Obscenely Rich Sin – have they taken a look around the Papal Palace lately?)
C’mon boys. Here’s what you do;
First – either give away or lock up all of the 75,000 manuscripts and 1.1 million printed books in the Vatican library. Then go down into the basement, where you keep the Secret Vatican Archives and toss out those other 150,000 books. When that’s done go back upstairs, open up a Bible and read what Jesus had to say. It’s that simple. (You may have to borrow a Bible from that Protestant church on the other side of the wall – but for God’s sake don’t pick up any of their literature from the lobby! You’ll be right back to square one. )
That’s it. All finished. See you tomorrow. But remember; no… more… laws!
Being raised Catholic I grew up believing in a system in which there were two types of sins; mortal and venial. Mortal sins were the ones which, if left unconfessed, would result in eternal damnation. These included the heavy hitters like rape, murder, robbery, adultery and skipping church. The venial sins were the ones that weren’t so horrible; gluttony, lying, gossiping, laughing at Sister Perfecta, etc. etc. We were told that just to think about committing any sin was as bad as doing it. Sort of .
Becoming a Protestant I found out that all sins were equal in the eyes of God – that God, being so pure and holy couldn’t stomach anything sinful that we did (which was pretty much everything). No such thing as mortal or venial sins here – all sins, even sticking a wad of chewing gum under your desk – would land you in hell. Like the Catholics, just thinking about the sin was as bad as doing it. [Ever find your eyes wandering a little too far south when chatting to a pretty lady? (or handsome man, as the case may be) Bam! Instant Adultery! ]
When I was a Catholic I had the opportunity to take confession as often as I liked just so long as it was at least once a week. If I did my penance God would forgive every sin I remembered to confess. I used to sweat bullets. The big ones like murder I could remember – but all those venial sins? I was going to need a reservation at an Extended Stay Purgatory. (At least after a million years or so I should be allowed to join the big party going on upstairs.)
Being Protestant was much easier – almost. I knew that Christ had forgiven all my sins – past, present and future. No need to find a padre – I could appeal right to the big guy himself. No mortal or venial sins either – one was as bad as the next. But I had my doubts about this. True – I could expect continuing struggles with sins like staying under the speed limit or lying when my wife asks me if I liked her new dress. God would understand those. But, if I persisted in running guns for the Shining Path militia or drinking Anchor Steam while wearing those skimpy little skirts at the local R&B club, there was a darn good chance that I hadn’t been ‘saved’ at all. In fact, I was probably on the road to you-know-where. It looked like I was going to miss good old Purgatory.
In spite of this practical double standard the repeated mantra was “All sins are equal in the eyes of God“. I thought of my sweet little Aunt Dorothy, who (in addition to the fact that she was a Papist) was known to have an occasional glass or two (or three) of Jim Beam before supper. If her drinking was a sin (as some said) did God really find it just as appalling as the Colombian drug lord who fed his competitors into his Husqvarna wood chipper? Boy, if God was so big and far above us that he couldn’t see that difference then it was going to be tough working out this personal relationship thing. But even Jesus seemed to think that there were certain things that one could do that were worse than others; “The servant who knows what his master wants and ignores it, or insolently does whatever he pleases, will be thoroughly thrashed. But if he does a poor job through ignorance, he’ll get off with a slap on the hand. Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!” (Luke 12: 47-48)
What about all those times that I dreamed of busting my old boss right in the kisser? Did God think that this was just as bad as if I had actually hauled off and knocked his teeth out? (George Carlin speaks more eloquently on this topic so dust off that old copy of “Class Clown” and listen to what he has to say about Ellen). I often hear that we should be careful (and we should be) when we criticize others because we are just as guilty as them, no matter what they do or say. We’ve all had sinful thoughts so perhaps we should just avoid the confrontation. After all, who are we to talk? But I’ve stopped buying into that argument. Though we should avoid it as much as possible, thinking evil is not nearly the same thing as doing evil. To use this as an excuse to avoid respectful confrontation may very well be what we used to call the ‘sin of omission’. As Edmund Burke said; “ All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.”
Now I’ve come to an understanding that all sin is the same in the eyes of God because there is really only one sin -thinking of ourselves first, before God and before others. Sin is not an action – it’s a state of mind and spirit. And depending upon how much we put our will before God’s often determines how rotten our actions will be. Maybe it’s not that God sees all the sinful things that we do as being equal, but that he sees all of us equally. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10) There are those times when we are thinking of our own selfish desires yet we still act in opposition to those desires, putting God first. Of course, the best thing would be for us to automatically and always have our hearts in the right place. But love takes time.
How do you see it?
An old George Carlin routine went like this: a young wiseacre asks the priest; “Hey, Faddah. Is God so powerful that he can make a rock so big that he himself can’t lift?” Upon which the tired priest would reply, “Well, Jimmy. It’s a mystery.” Like Carlin, overtime I became tired of what was, to me, a theological cop out. Once my parents had relaxed their grip on my spiritual development I left the church, as it came to have little relevance in my life. I was looking for real answers and the Roman Catholic Church didn’t seem to have any.
Twenty years later I was pleased to find many of those answers in Protestantism. Joining a conservative Methodist congregation I was amazed at the wealth of information to be had in the Bible. (Although we were devout and regular church goers I don’t remember ever seeing a bible in my childhood home. I think it’s much different in the Roman Catholic tradition today.) Talking with my friends, some who had also “escaped” Catholicism, we would laugh over the way the teaching sisters would so often fall back on the old “it’s a mystery” canard. They didn’t understand -there was no mystery! - everything you needed to know was right there between the black (or sometimes burgundy) covers of the Good Book.
But that was 5 years ago and since then I have come to appreciate what my Catholic teachers were saying. Too often we claim to have such a clear understanding of what God means, or what God wants, or what God will do with us that it is almost as if we could trap God under a magnifying glass. Of course we have scripture, and we have established doctrine, and we have religious dogma but none of those things, either together or separately, can come close describing what God is. Some say that just the idea of attempting to rationalize God’s existence is heresy. They say that God, by his nature, is the great unknowable presence.
Many might say that the greatest of God’s mysteries is that of the Holy Trinity. The Trinity as a concept always eluded me. Being told that I must believe it often offended me. Of course, I’m not the only one who has had a problem with this doctrine and those people that refuse to accept it are often labeled non-Christian by others.
To some of the early Greek church fathers, the most compelling aspect of the Trinity was precisely because it was incomprehensible. There was a fear that God was being quantified and categorized to the point where various groups of people would claim to ‘know’ things about something that was truly unknowable. As Karen Armstrong tells it in “A History of God”, the Western church, greatly influenced by Augustine (who was greatly influenced by Plato)
“would continue to talk and explain. Some imagined that when they said “God”, the divine reality actually coincided with the idea in their minds. Some would attribute their own thoughts and ideas to God – saying that God wanted this, forbade that and had planned the other – in a way that was dangerously idolatrous. The Greek Orthodoxy, however, would remain mysterious, and the Trinity would continue to remind Eastern Christians of the provisional nature of their doctrines.”
Now, that’s something I can get my mind around.
Here is an excerpt from a letter by a minister of the Roman Catholic faith, Dennis Teall-Fleming. It was sent to Tony Jones, the National Coordinator for Emergent Village and he included it in today’s newsletter. It’s a pretty obvious analogy and helps someone like me, having been raised Roman Catholic, to put the Emerging Church idea into a better perspective.
The Second Vatican Council took place in the Catholic Church from 1962 to 1965. Called by Pope John XXIII, finished by Pope Paul VI, it was the first time in over four centuries that the Catholic Church really took a look around and said, “Hey, there’s a whole wide world out there, that isn’t so bad….maybe we oughta find out what’s going on in it, and see if it has anything to do with our community of faith”. The opening lines of The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (in Latin, Gaudium et Spes) set the tone for this new way of being church: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts”. No longer would, or could, Catholics remain isolated, insular, or reactionary to the world, or others in it. The Catholic Church’s new mission became the world itself, and its transformation would transform the Church as well.
That seems to be what’s happening in Emergent. The people involved seem to all of a sudden see that there’s a big, wide world out there that we all live in- and most of it isn’t even considered “Christian”!- and somehow they have to do everything they can to learn more about it. Somehow everything they’ve learned up to this point – about being a Christian, about being part of the Church – has to change, so that they can truly be a follower of Christ every day of the week. Emergent seems to be a kind of Evangelical Vatican II, for many Christians that got their institutional start a hundred years ago- and maybe not even that long for others!
Pope John XXIII’s legendary quip about Vatican II was that he convened the Council because he wanted to let a little fresh air into the Church by opening up a few windows. I hope the Emergent conversation can do the same for my Evangelical friends, and I look forward to being a part of it for those in my own neighborhood.
I particularly like that line of Pope John’s about fresh air. With all the attention, both positive and negative, that has been given some of the leaders in the Emerging Church as well as some of the hysterical fears of the “movement” itself (I am now officially declaring ‘conversation’ as being too vague of a description – take note) I think that it is prudent to remember the impact that Pope John’s Vatican council had on the Church. To this day there are elements within the Roman church that think of John XXIII as a pawn of Satan, yet most Catholics and Protestants would fervently disagree. Perhaps the Emerging movement is just picking up where Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli left off ; opening up windows and doors for a church that suffers from the symptoms of long term theological OCD.