Archive for category Evil
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
There has been an awful lot of fuss about Anne Rice leaving Christianity. After all, thousands of people do this every day (and another thousand might be going in the opposite direction). But why should we care so much? What’s so important about Rice’s decision?
Jessica Reed, over on the Guardian, has presented us with her very thoughtful take on the story, one that points out why Rice’s decision is so news worthy. An atheist herself, she never-the-less questions her rationale for automatically lamenting the religious conversions of people she admires. But, she contends, there are some good reasons behind her feelings:
It does, however, change my perception of them as people. Christians have to live with (and defend themselves from) stereotypes that contain grains of truth: a lot of Christian denominations are closely associated with anti-choice, anti-science and anti-gay mindsets, which is why it breaks my heart to see my heroes joining their ranks. By evangelizing while also not voicing their disapproval of some traits associated with Christianity, they add their tacit approval to groups perpetuating systems of oppression. The same goes for communists who are uncritical of their movement’s past, for gender activists who don’t acknowledge how feminism has historically failed working-class and minority women, or for libertarians unwilling to analyse the limitations of free speech.
In other words, I find myself put off when believers of any kind broadcast their faith without any critical appendix. But Rice’s pronouncement has also made me take a look at my own response to religion: when news of her statement came through, I assumed she’d come back to atheism and let out a small whoop of joy. In fact, she’s still into Christ, but has made it clear she hates some of the baggage. That’s a stance I can actually admire …. It’s a rare thing when famous people get to explain their thinking in detail (and when they do, it can be painful), but I’m glad Rice has chosen to do so.
This is the very issue that I’ve been concerned about for some time. Commenting on Reed’s article, I said that it seems that most of the charity of the Christian church is reserved for those “Christians” who consistently act in an un-Christlike manner. Often you will hear Christian apologists say that, after all, we are all sinners. But forgiving someone does not mean excusing them. As Burke said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It’s time more of us stood up like Rice and spoke out publicly against certain elements of our own religions, wherever and whenever necessary. It’s time we admitted our mistakes, questioned our orthodoxies and squashed any ideas of scriptural or papal infallibility. As Reed so eloquently put it, if we don’t do so we will lose any credibility will may still have with those we strive to convert.
Or is the faith not strong enough to stand up to this?
Recently on ABC’s “Nightline” there was an interesting debate over whether Satan is for real or just another myth. (You can link to the debate or read excerpts here.) Lively, and fun (as Marc Driscoll said) I think they missed the boat by not including a Jew and a Muslim in the conversation. It might be even more fun, and perhaps enlightening, to hear their interpretations of who Satan is.
Personally, I don’t believe in Old Scratch, for a number of reasons:
1). The Satanic scenario of good vs. evil is way too similar to many other common myths of the past.
2). The original authors of the Bible were Jewish and Jews historically have considered Satan to be a metaphor.
3.) It makes no sense for God to conjure this fellow up – we have all the resources at our disposal to do evil without the need for some supernatural being devoting his existence to leading us astray. And it is too darn easy to blame our evil on the Devil.
4.) It’s almost impossible to tell where real scriptural support for a ‘living’ Satan (if there is any) ends and folklore begins.
5.) What difference does it make? I mean, does a belief in Satan help you become a better person? Or perhaps…
It was surprising to read in the above linked article that 70% of Americans believe in Satan. Until I considered the prevailing content of the 400 or so cable channels on my TV as well as the pulp magazines that face me at the grocery store check-out. I don’t know that our nation’s level of sophistication is altogether that high. I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that the same 70% believe in guardian angels. (Maybe Michael Landon is performing a miracle somewhere at this precise moment.)
I don’t think it necessary, however, to discard the idea of Satan completely, as long as we recognize that it is a convenient trope – an anthropomorphism. For the sake of discussion, it is useful to refer to things as having the characteristics of an individual personality: the fury of Mother Nature, the whims of Lady Luck or the blindness of Justice. Satan is another useful metaphor – the mere mention of ‘him’ sums up the thrust of a psychology text, but without all the big words.
This is because Satan so easily embodies the characteristics of our selfish and wounded personal egos, as well as what the owners of those egos are capable of doing. He knows that his destructive behavior is ultimately futile, but he just keeps on being bad. This is the main reason, I think, it made sense for Jesus to use the concept of Satan in his teachings (whose students, by the way. were Jews who may or may not have believed in a distinct person called Satan).
One of the participants in the “Night Line”debate, “New Age” spiritualist Deepak Chopra put it this way:
“Healthy people do not have any need for Satan. Healthy people need to confront their own issues, understand themselves and move towards the direction of compassion, creativity, understanding, context, insight, inspiration, revelation and understanding that we are part of an ineffable mystery. …So I would say be done with Satan and confront your own issues.”
Making an important point about the difference between belief and experience (which, from a spiritual perspective, might be called ‘faith’) he later said:
“All I have to say is belief is a cover-up for insecurity,” Chopra said. “If something is real, you don’t have to believe in it. You should be able to experience it. And the most fervent believers in the world are the cause of all the problems in the world right now, OK?”
I have to agree. When considering many of the more egregious acts committed by religious people around the world, they all seem to have this one superstition in common: they believe in the Devil.
I feel like shouting “Huzzah!” for the Navy SEALs and their superb marksmanship on the Arabian Sea earlier this week. But should I? As a Christian, shouldn’t I feel just a little bit guilty about that? Well, I don’t. Not in the least.
I am proud of the SEALs who took the shots, the officers who commanded them, the military that trained them and a country that still encourages a professional warrior ethos. No pray and spray, no collateral damage, no ‘acceptable’ civilian losses – just deadly accuracy as the result disciplined training and meticulous precision. I appreciate what these men did in much the same way I appreciate the workings of a well made mechanical watch or the engine of a high performance automobile or the culmination of a perfectly prepared meal. Craftsmanship and artistry, but in this case combined with the fortitude and courage to risk deadly force in order to protect the defenseless.
Does comparing the workings of a watch with the workings of a sniper team sound a bit callous? Perhaps it is, but I think there is something more noble (yes, noble) in killing these pirates than in just killing time. These were bad men; thieves, kidnappers and murderers who deliberately targeted innocent people in order to line their pockets (or fund their ’cause’ – it matters little to the victims). Who could possibly stand up for them? As Super Chicken used to say, they knew the job was dangerous when they took it. Thank God that our leaders understand that the continued presence of people like these require the services of the professional warrior. Thank God that there are people willing to take on that mantle.
Three well placed US government issued bullets, three dead pirates and one rescued sea captain. “Huzzah!”
Over the past few years I’ve met quite a few people, both theists and atheists, who have some very definite ideas about God yet they are open to discussion and respect the opinions of others. Then there are those who are quite combative and almost shrill. I’ve noticed that although most of those in the second group fall into either one of two diametrically opposing camps, they share a common characteristic; fundamentalism.
It’s become trendy to label vocally strident atheists (Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens etc.) as “Fundamentalists” prompting considerable effort on their part to denounce this definition as inaccurate. And, fundamentally speaking, these atheist are correct. But many people of faith have pointed out that those who are called religious fundamentalists are rarely fundamental themselves. For example, Christian Fundamentalism is a fairly recent phenomenon that stresses a rigidly literal interpretation of scriptures as being essential to the Christian faith. This view was principally developed in response to the perceived threat that secular humanism presented to Christianity, in the wake of the Enlightenment and especially after the advent of Darwinism.
It is in regards to Biblical literalism that many members of these two extremely different schools of thought end up becoming strange bedfellows. They both agree that authentic Christianity assumes a rigidly literal interpretation of the Bible. Both agree that the in order to be Christian one must accept that the Earth is very young, that Adam and Eve were real, that all the world’s animals fit on Noah’s ark and that the flood covered the Himalayas. And as we discussed in an earlier thread, both groups assume that the Bible and Darwin’s Origin of Species are irreconcilable. Because the atheist sees this narrow view of the Bible as being inconsistent with the world of scientific evidence they easily dismiss all of scripture as absurd mythology and superstition. Meanwhile the Christian Fundamentalist says that those who do not understand the Bible in the way that they do are either lacking in spiritual discernment or even worse, acting under the influence of Satan. Both groups will readily cite individual scriptures removed from context to make their points.
Neither group sees any merit in a more open and intuitive reading of scriptures, no matter how well it is presented. I have been party to conversations where both the atheist and the fundamentalist will strongly agree that the moderate or progressive believer has no right to call himself a Christian and that in reality he is a relativist who picks and chooses what he finds most agreeable. Both the Atheist Fundamentalist and the Christian Fundamentalist think that they alone look at the world, including the Bible, through very pragmatic and logical lenses. Both groups are very much a product of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on empirical evidence, mathematical formulas and the rule of law. Christian Fundamentalists will often rise to the atheist’s bait and present very far-fetched historical scenarios in attempts to defend what they call Creation Science. And the Atheist Fundamentalist, when up against the mathematical improbability that makes abiogenesis (the spontaneous presence of life) essentially impossible, will fall back on the speculative fiction of intergalactic life-seeding aliens, multiple universes and those mysteries that may reside within black holes, at times presenting them as if they were essentially fact and not fancy.
Both types of fundamentalist are very uncomfortable with the idea that perhaps we just cannot say everything with certainty, nor may we ever. This insecurity can verge upon panic as they stridently defend their positions by personally attacking those who disagree with them. The Christian Fundamentalist sees Satan at work behind the atheistic scene and the Atheist Fundamentalist tends to blame religion for all the worlds ills.
The Atheist Fundamentalist does not believe in sin but that man’s depravity is the result of primitive superstitious conditioning – once religion has passed away the world will be that much closer to the natural Utopian end product of progressive evolution. The Christian Fundamentalist, on the other hand, sees sin as akin to a disease that infects man as the result of Adam’s rebellion against God and that someday Jesus will return to the Earth and pronounce yet another type of Utopia. Neither group is willing to see that sin is something that is intrinsic to the nature of a creature that is no longer animal, but has the unique ability to choose wrong over right, and often does so.
To suggest that the Bible is often metaphorical threatens both of these world views. If Evolution does not refute scriptures then for the Atheists there remains a possibility that God does exist and there may be vitally important truths that they may be ignoring. As for the Christian Fundamentalists, if Evolution is part of God’s plan, then some of their cherished doctrines (like Original Sin and Sacrificial Atonement) are threatened.
I am no longer surprised at how many overzealous atheists claim to have escaped rigid church traditions. So few seem to have backgrounds with the more moderate and progressive Christian denominations. Conversely, so many extreme Christian Fundamentalists seem to have recently converted from either atheism or agnosticism. This would aptly describe my situation of just a few years ago, as I converted from atheism to Christian fundamentalism. Fortunately, for me, my troubles with Fundamentalism did not sour me on the faith.
While looking for fundamentalist arguments against Halloween, I was surprised to find a very sensible article on the subject by Andy Freeman, over on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network website. I present you with the piece in it’s entirety. It’s called The Enemy’s Victory: Darkened Homes and Harvest Parties.
I realize this column is going to bring down the wrath of Preacher, teacher, and parent alike. But someone has to break the illusion. Here goes.
The biggest trick played on Halloween is Christian kids and adults being bottled up inside churches or homes all night. That’s right! Hiding from the devil in the family life center and surrendering the neighborhood to little Ghouls, goblins, and witches is a victory for old Beelzebub. He’s got the church right where he wants it: inside the four walls, hunkered down behind the stained glass.
Think about it. How many chances do you get to mix with our neighbors during the year? At my house we are blessed with a 4th of July block party. Otherwise, Halloween may be it for many of you. And what is your relationship evangelism strategy? Either hustle the kids over to church before nightfall or worse, you turn out the lights, don’t answer the children at the door, thereby demonstrating your Christian love and hospitality. But if you do encounter a child in a pink bunny costume it goes something like this:
“We don’t celebrate Halloween! There’s no candy here for you, kid! Now get out of here”.
And the parents of the pink bunny waiting at the foot of your sidewalk say:
“Boy, honey. There’s something really different about that mean family that sits in the dark every Halloween. I really want what they have in their life.”
Isn’t it time to turn loose a few of those little Moses and Davids into your community?
Imagine the shock when an Angel instead of a devil greets the nice lady down the block. A child who says “please”, “thank you” and yes, even “Jesus loves you” and “God bless you” as they receive their mini-Snickers or Candy corn. And please, please, please you well-meaning brethren: give the kids that come to your door the best candy treat on the entire block along with that tract. Some of you give six years olds a little “be warm and filled” treatment every Halloween. Give them something sweet for the palate as well as the soul.
Never forget: Jesus came to serve the sick and broken. He loved being at the well, by the sea, and in the marketplace. He would never have said “run and hide, its Halloween!”
Don’t teach children to fear Satan. Help them understand Christ has overcome the world. He has made us victors in Him. He loves all of His creation.
Remember what He said:
” You are the light of the world – like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket (or in a dark house, or at a harvest party with church kids)! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father”. Matthew 5:14-16
Jesus wants us to engage our neighbors and culture not hide from them this October 31st.
Overheard during choir practice:
“As long as you continue to sin by playing in that rock band you cannot sing in the choir. It’s your choice, not ours.”
Overheard in church on any Sunday morning:
“Do you SEE what she’s wearing? How disrespectful! She looks like a tramp. Thank God she sits in the back.”
Overheard in a toy store during the Christmas shopping season:
“Whaddya mean that’s the last Super Barbi? Look, you idiotic clerk! ! I stood in line 3 hours for that @#$&* damn doll!”
Overheard in a restaurant:
“I said I wanted my dressing on the side. Take this salad back and get me another one. Oh, by the way. I have a coupon.”
Overheard one afternoon in a bank:
“I’m sorry you’ve been laid off, sir. But that’s not our problem. If you can’t make your payment by the end of business today we will be forced to take legal action.”
Overheard at a neighborhood association meeting:
“Children are not allowed to play in the street and we don’t want the liability of playgrounds. If you have kids then you should’ve moved somewhere else.”
Overheard at a White House cabinet meeting:
“We estimate that there will be some civilian casualties. But we feel these are acceptable losses in light of our national interests.”
Overheard on the television:
“I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans…I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are — were recipients of the judgment of God for that..”
“AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals. To oppose it would be like an Israelite jumping in the Red Sea to save one of Pharaoh’s charioteers …
Overheard at an insurance company claims meeting:
“Hey look at this. According to these medical records the claimant had a prescription for blood pressure medicine back in the eighties. Since he never told us about it we have a legal excuse to refuse his claim.”
Overheard one day during rush hour:
You moron! Get your fat a** outa my way!”
Overheard in the human resources department of a garment factory:
“Look. We need to hire more people. Some of the current employees are getting over 35 hours and benefits kick in at 38. We can’t afford that. Let ‘em fight for shifts.”
Overheard in a Christian Book Store:
“No ma’am. We don’t carry any Catholic books. That’s not a religion, that’s a cult.”
Overheard in a rock-and-roll bar:
“Yeah, I think Geddy Lee has it all over Jon Anderson, too. Hey, can I buy you another beer?”
Perceptions. Brent and Buddy have been talking about them on their blogs. It seems that a lot of Christians perceive some places, activities and even people as being more ‘sinful’ than others: Bars, nightclubs, R-rated movies, rock and roll concerts….God forbid if you should belong to a rock and roll band that plays in bars! But why should Christians avoid these places and people? Is it about the demon rum? Bad language? The animal sensuality of the rock and roll rhythm? Is it because places like bars and concerts are full of ‘sinners’, so obviously engaged in ‘sinful’ behavior that we might be led astray?
I wonder if these are really representative of the ‘world’ that Christians should have no part of. Perhaps, while the Church was distracted by other ‘sinners’, it missed how much an integral part of the ‘world’ it has become.
I took these pictures while on our family vacation in the Southwestern USA. I love this part of the country; it’s so dramatic, even otherworldly. Expansive vistas, insane rock formations, high winds, infinite hues, steep peaks and deep canyons – there is no area where so much diverse beauty is so readily at hand.
But this is a harsh and unforgiving land. Ceaseless winds, brutally hot by day, bitterly cold at night, with scarcely enough water to support the sparse ecology. There is little of practical value to invite us into the realm of desert and high mountains, it is so difficult for anyone to survive there. On the other hand, when we think of paradise it is lush and green, accompanied by an abundance of cool, refreshing water.
Couldn’t we then say that the American West is an example of nature’s cruelty? If God is good, why would he create such an inhospitable, even hellish environment? Wouldn’t he have created a world with no hardships, no pain, no dangers?
If that were his plan, then we would have no deserts, no ice capped mountains, no dangerous canyons, no cliffs, no frozen lakes, no grinding glaciers, no unnavigable white water. No flash floods, no cyclones, no droughts, no earthquakes. No exploding volcanoes, no brush fires, no tornadoes, no rock slides, – none of the natural calamities that some attribute to a ‘fallen world’. There would always be just the right amount of rain, just the right amount of sunshine and the temperature would always be around 70 degrees. We call that Hawaii. But even that particular paradise is a result of (and constantly threatened by) the earth’s violent nature.
If that were God’splan then there would be no such dangerous place as the Grand Canyon, or Monument Valley, the Superstition Mountains, the Painted Desert, Yosemite or Yellowstone. The entire world would be as green and safe as Central Park in the spring. (OK, bad analogy)
But even the fabled bucolic homestead, nestled in a fertile valley within a grove of shady trees and surrounded by fertile pasture, owes its existence to the unrelenting and heartless ‘cruelty’ of the earth.
I just drove 93.6 hot and fast miles through hellish sun-blasted terrain on US Route 491, in the heart of New Mexico’s Navajo country. A mere two lane highway blessed with ample desert visibility, the speed limit is set for a very liberal 65 mph. (but 75 to 80 is the norm). The harsh surrounding countryside, studded with dry sandstone mesas, black-lava spires and red-rock buttes, is terrifyingly beautiful.
For the past five years US491 has connected Gallup with Shiprock and is one of just two roads running north and south on the New Mexico side of this immense reservation. But back in 1926 this very same road was the sixth one in New Mexico to spur off of the famous Route 66, which according to the system adopted by the American Association of State Highway Officials or AASHO (make sure you get that spelling right !) gave this road the original designation of….a little creepy organ music please… 666.
Unsurprisingly, people soon started calling route 666 the “Devil’s Highway”. (For accuracy’s sake, Route 66, being the “Mother Road”, should have earned this moniker. A better nickname for 666 would have been “Anti-Xpressway”). Not only did the road’s numerical designation worry certain nervous religious groups but soon the road became notorious for it’s many fatal accidents, undoubtedly caused by unseen forces. (More likely this was due to inadequate road design in New Mexico. In Utah and Arizona 666 was a safer than average road.) It was not unusual for desperate drunk drivers to claim that “the devil made them do it”. (A side note: Jazz/fusion guitarist Al DiMeola once wrote a piece called “Race with the Devil on Spanish Highway”. Ironically I found myself racing with Hispanics on the Devil’s Highway.)
Eventually the highway administration succumbed to pressure (or they were tired of replacing the many stolen road signs) and in 2003 route US666 was reborn US491, which owes nothing to any type of accurate numerical formula. Nor does this new designation have as much snap and pizazz as the old one.
With the flick of a bureaucrat’s pen evil route 666 became benign route 491 and perhaps Armageddon is postponed for a few more years. Who says this isn’t a Christian nation?
(The information above is readily available on the net. I used mostly Wikipedia – they have a slew of info on various roads. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_491 )