Archive for category Ethics
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
Hm. That sounds vaguely familiar.
On one occasion Jesus was talking and said” Love your neighbor as you would love yourself”.
An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “And what would that look like, pastor?”
Jesus looked at him and smiled. “Why don’t you tell me?”
“OK, a trucker was going up to Troy from Nashville, when he fell into the hands of hijackers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and left him beside his rig, half dead.
“A preacher happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a county councilman, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Tennessee State Trooper, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
He called in the man’s license plate number and found that he had not paid his Emergency Service Fee. So he turned his Crown Vic around and drove away.”
“Hm. Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” asked Jesus
The expert in the law replied, “Well, they all were. But he’d made his choice, now he just has to deal with it himself”.
“So, that’s what is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “That’s how you read it? Nothing else?”
The man answered:” Of course. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”
“Oh, and make sure that you take care of yourself, that you are responsible for your own actions and hold others accountable for theirs. So no one gets anything they don’t pay for.”
“You just don’t get it,” Jesus replied.
I think that most people, most of the time, are pretty reasonable. That’s why they tend not to get all excited about what those other people, the unreasonable ones, are saying. Because these kooks are usually just doing a lot of talking and not much walking. A lot of posing but no closing.
Most of history’s political tragedies started out as a lot of hot air blowing in from the fringe. The tendency of the majority is to wait and see; things will just blow over. The crackpots will come to their senses when they realize they are being ignored.
But the current pack of crackpots aren’t dispersing in the wind, they are growing larger and stronger. And their rhetoric is about as bigoted and hateful as one ever hears. Not from their leaders per se – they are much too politically astute to really speak their minds. But their followers are not compelled towards any such moderation, and yet their leaders never chastise them or redirect them towards a more polite line of debate. Where, for instance, is the Christian Right Wing’s voice condemning this planned book burning in Florida? They may not be openly lauding them, but their followers certainly are. The tip of the iceberg merely hints at the danger below.
I normally don’t like to give these folks too much attention, but If you haven’t had the pleasure of the uncensored vitriol of today’s Islamophobes, then I suggest you check out the comments thread on this article posted on Atlas Shrugs. The author, Pamela Geller, takes the President to task for restricting the speech of the gun-toting pastor and his little church down in Florida.
Of course, all Obama did was strongly urge the ‘church’ to change their plans, as it will likely spark a powder keg of violence. It’s not like he ordered them to cease and desist, or threaten any of the church members with prosecution. But he might.
Taking lead of past chief executives, from Adams to the last Bush, if the president is convinced that someone’s actions pose a significant risk to the security of Americans then he could, and most likely should, take action. The broad, open-ended mandate given the president by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 may even make it easier for him.
But whatever your opinion on this is, it is impossible to justify the kind of rhetoric found on websites like Atlas Shrugs. It is not reasoned. It is not thoughtful. It’s not even, strictly speaking, political. It is no different than the types of words that bigots have used for years. Though I am hesitant to say it; it is nothing more than ‘hate speech’. As repugnant as these words are, I do believe that they have every right to use them. They are protected by the Constitution.
But this is a right that the vast majority of the world’s population does not enjoy. Most of the Muslims who are visibly angry over the proposed book burning do not understand why it is that our government, if it is serious about forging friendships with them, won’t just order the Dove Outreach Center to cancel their plans. They certainly don’t understand why our leaders can’t do this.
So then the burning question is this: is this ‘church’, by destroying these Qurans, attempting to engage in free political speech (the speech the nation’s founders were thinking of) or are they now deliberately inciting people to riot?
In a discussion the other night over a Crossan and Borg video series on Jesus, Paul and the Roman Empire, the question of justifiable violence came up. The majority of the people in the room seemed to think that there was never a good reason to use violence, that Jesus and men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King have presented us with the counter-intuitive examples of victory through peaceful and non-violent means. Some seemed to think that violence itself was not the issue but something else was the cause of this violence – anger, fear, pride, greed – perhaps all.
Over 60 years ago Dietrich Bonhoeffer agonized over whether to take part in the assassination attempt on Hitler. He eventually joined the plot, but believed that his part in taking a life was sinful (though he trusted that God would have mercy on him). I feel that to not take part in the assassination would have been the sin. Hitler had to be stopped, any way, any how. The reasons are too obvious to state.
Then yesterday in church someone brought up the passengers on United Flight 93, who died while trying to recover their hijacked plane, a plane intended as a guided missile headed for the White House. These people sacrificed their lives so that others might live. Like Jesus did.
But, it occurred to me, not exactly like Jesus. Because to take back the plane they most definitely had to engage in violence. I seriously doubt if they attempted to reason with their captors, at least not for long. They most likely understood that they would not live through the struggle (although they were on borrowed time already). And I doubt if they were too very much concerned about the safety and welfare of their terrorist captors. Violence was their only recourse. Thank God they had the courage to take action.
Can any Christian say that this was in some way wrong – in some way sin? And back it up?
Not for the first time have I been perplexed by the Church’s long affair with torture. Is this just a case in which flawed and sinful men, having taken control of the Church, used brutal and violent means to achieve their own ends? Or is there some warped thread woven into the very fabric of Christian doctrine that twists the Church’s understanding of the Gospel?
Heather Kirk-Davidoff, pastor and writer, raises this question in her blog article entitled “Why Do Christians Love Torture” :
Rosa and I were in the car yesterday when the top-of-the-hour news came on with clips from President Obama and Vice President Cheney’s speeches about torture. Rosa started paying attention when Cheney’s said:
“I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work…”
At which point Rosa broke in and said with total incredulity, “Who said THAT??” At ten, Rosa still has a sense of how ridiculous it is to say that anyone would be proud of torturing anyone else. I know that some would argue that torture could be justified, but to say that it’s praiseworthy? How have we come to that?
Rosa’s comment stayed on my mind because, like her, there is part of our nation’s conversation about torture (or “enhanced interrogation techniques” as Cheney likes to call them) which I just don’t get. It’s not just that I disagree–I simply can’t figure out how anyone could agree with the use of torture. I can’t empathize with the proponents of torture which makes me pretty useless in public conversation on the topic. My opposition to torture is based on two things that are utterly essential to my morality: the importance of the rule of law and the sacredness of human life. (Plus, everything I’ve read leads me to be opposed on pragmatic grounds as well. I just am not convinced that torture leads to any useful information.)
But a couple of weeks ago, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life came out that really disturbed me. You can go to the link to see the actual survey results, but in summary, the more often a person goes to church, the more likely they are to support the use of torture (and they used that word–not “enhanced interrogation techniques”). The Americans most likely to support torture are white evangelicals (62%) and those unaffiliated with a religious group are the least likely to support torture.
As I was ranting to Dan about this, he pointed out that the study showed that party affiliation is a MUCH stronger determinant of support of torture than religious affiliation is. Basically, Republicans are likely to support torture, and the survey just showed where the Republicans are. And while his point is correct, I don’t think it’s the whole story.
Here’s the thing: Jesus was tortured. This is one of the reasons while it blows my mind that any Christian could support torture since we all know that at least one innocent person has been tortured under false accusations by the state. But what if our religious teachings tell us that while it was unfortunate that Jesus was tortured, it did, in fact, serve a good purpose. It had a good outcome because (in the words of Isaiah 53:5):
…he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
Could it be that by talking so much about what we’ve gained by way of Jesus’ torture we’ve actually taught ourselves that torture can actually be a good thing? A useful and important thing?
This is serious, people. Obama and his people have their work to do rooting torture out from the practice of our government. But I think Christian churches and Christian leaders have our work to do too. We need a better theology of suffering, a better understanding of Jesus’ suffering, if we’re ever going to clearly oppose it’s use by our government.
-by Heather Kirk-Davidoff, “Grounded and Rooted in Love”