Archive for category Morality
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
The Bible is a collection of diverse ancient Hebrew writings by many authors who never intended their works to be collected between the bindings of a book. It is full of spiritual stories, poems, myths, biographies and various historical accounts. It may or may not include recorded attempts at predicting the future. Wisdom and beauty abound within its pages and the reading of this book has helped millions of people, in many spiritual ways, to encounter God. By this definition alone, it is a sacred book. But as St. Paul once said, the scriptures are useful for instructing a person in the ways of God, implying that they are only some of the tools at our disposal and not the sole repository of spiritual wisdom.
The common thread that runs through this assortment of writings is how a particular group of people interacted with their God over a very long time, in ways that were both moral and immoral. Inspired by a sense of wonder, the authors attempted to understand God’s nature, God’s will and how, why and if God works in their lives, often depicting God as speaking and acting within the natural world.
The second, smaller part of the Bible concerns Jesus of Nazareth, his life, crucifixion and resurrection. It also includes his teachings and the teachings of some of his disciples. These teachings have undoubtedly inspired generations of people to live lives of peace, mercy and love while at the same time championing justice. At the same time, different interpretations have helped others to rationalize behavior not so commendable.
The Bible had no release date, there was no publishing date. At some point, around 1700-1800 years ago, powerful religious men decided what Jewish scriptures would be included in what we call the Canon and the Apocrypha. Everything else (probably more than what was included) was discarded or destroyed, though some of these manuscripts survive today. Throughout its history the Bible has been translated in different ways and there have been a few cases where it has been altered to serve a religious agenda, but these were rare occurrences. There has always been a very active, and often heated, debate over what many portions of the Bible actually mean.
The Bible may, or may not, be relevant to us today. The stories and poems and letters within have been used as a guide for morality, compassion and self sacrifice. They have also been used to justify genocide, torture, slavery, misogyny, bigotry and war. If God has spoken through the Bible then some have certainly heard the voice of Satan as well.
Although a great work of historical literature and sacred to millions, it has no magical qualities or powers. It needs to be interpreted contextually, framed within the time and circumstances of the people who populate it, lest whatever lessons it might contain remain hidden. It is undeniably a very, very important book. It is certainly a great book, one of the world’s greatest. But it is not the GOOD book any more than it is a bad book. In the end, with all that it has to offer, it is still…just…a…book.
It’s hard to ignore the billboard battle going on right now and it looks as if the atheists have the high ground. Their claim: religion has no monopoly on morality. Hard to dispute that one. Of course, neither does atheism. It seems that morality is fleeting and held loosely by all of us, no matter what our belief system. Mankind has proven itself to be uniquely self-destructive even as it aims to prosper. Or is it because we aim to prosper that everything we touch seems to spoil?
I think it’s interesting that some extreme Christians and atheists alike have found ways to excuse mankind’s most egregious acts. One Christian response evokes the idea that the Earth was given to us by God, that Satan is messing with our intentions and sometimes horrible things must be done in order to save souls for the after life. Some atheists claim that the things that we do are neither good or bad, they just are – that what we do is only natural and part of the evolutionary process. Natural selection often appears cruel, but it is necessary for the perpetuation of the species.
First, let me be clear: I think that the theory of evolution is the best means by which to address the questions we have about life on this planet. I do not take Creationism seriously nor am I enamored with all the aspects of Intelligent Design. That being said, I’m trying to figure out what evolutionary point there is for speculating on these, or any other ideas at all. What is the point of thinking about things that don’t put a roof over our heads or food in our bellies? I’ve started to wonder if the development of the self-aware human mind has done anything to help perpetuate our species. Does philosophy, poetry, music, art or religion help humanity in any practical way? (A lot of people say they don’t). Some prominent atheists have even suggested that there are genes for these behaviors. But why? From an evolutionary perspective they seem like such wastes of time. You’d think these frivolous tendencies would’ve been filtered out.
Not only that, but it is the human mind, with all its technical capabilities, that has placed our planet in jeopardy. Without the human mind there would be no sword, no arrow, no cross-bow, no cannon, no rifle, and no H-bomb. Without the human mind there would be no smokestacks, no highway deaths, no slums, no Love Canal, no Chernobyl, no red tide, no DDT, no flooding in New Orleans, no genetically modified plants or animals. Many of the great threats to our existence would not exist themselves.
So, how can the human mind, with its capacity for leisure, greed, curiosity, art, beauty, hatred, discovery and religion, be a product of evolution? It seems that the more ‘primitive’ minds of other species serve them better. Sure, they can’t ultimately defend themselves against the violence of humans, so I guess that natural selection has given us an advantage in that regard. We can kill them better than they can kill us. But our technology doesn’t always come out on top, at least not with microbes, rats and roaches. But because of our technology, we are capable of destroying ourselves, like no other species we know of. It almost looks as if the human mind is ultimately self-destructive and not a product, but a contradiction, of natural selection. If so, then does the self-aware human brain, particularly when examined under the light of natural selection, possibly support the idea of something supernatural going on? And if so, then what does our capacity to do both good and evil say about this supernatural aspect?
I don’t think faith concepts should be discarded or ignored because of any ugliness and violence associated with them, anymore than faith should be blithely endorsed because of those parts that are beautiful and life affirming. I think that these controversial billboards, both theist and atheist, represent minority perspectives. There are a few people on both sides of this debate that listen more than they shout. Those are the ones we should engage with and hopefully learn from. We are better off ignoring the rest, no matter how loudly they yell or how big their signs are.
In a recent post, I questioned where the American Muslim outcry was over Pakistan’s pending execution of Asia Bibi for the crime of blasphemy. I still think my question is valid, but in asking it I was critical, and perhaps even insulting, to Pakistanis and Muslims. ” Anon”, a frequent contributor, brought this to my attention, and in doing so, he recited a litany of USAmerican abuses that, at the time, I felt were irrelevant:
“where is the American Muslim outcry “—-I can ask the same—where is the moderate American’s outcry when hundreds of innocent men, women, and children are routinely killed in Pakistan by U.S. drone attacks?—remote controlled planes that indiscriminately kill and decimate villages……attacks which U.S. President Obama wants to escalate into more densely populated towns…….. Yet, they/you are concerned with the life of ONE Christian woman?
(You can read the entire discussion (to date), including some important input from Hasan, who was in agreement with me, yet more qualified to express it than I was : It ain’t always easy being a friend of Islam .)
Now I am starting to see things more from “anon’s” perspective.
Just the idea of executing someone for speaking their mind is wrong and indefensible. Yet here in the USA, not that long ago, we have examples of people being imprisoned and even put to death, quite legally, by a jury of their ‘peers’, for similar offenses. Sometimes they were railroaded, prosecuted for no other reason than they were of the wrong skin color or they dared to upset the status quo.
I questioned the sanity of Pakistan having numerous nuclear warheads, yet we have tens of thousands of them. And, to date, we are the only country ever to have used them on innocent people. Twice.
SoI apologize for stepping out-of-bounds. I realize that it was not only insensitive, it was hypocritical and ultimately, counter productive. Though I still think my question is valid, I doubt if I am qualified to ask it. Perhaps it is best to let Muslims like Hasan do the asking, (and he is). Let he who is without sin cast the fist stone,
I believe “anon” said it best:
well–then, why don’t we all change for the better?–instead of saying—you Muslims should change. Why not make these universal HUMAN problems rather than Muslim or Christian problems? Because pointing fingers doesn’t do much—but extending a helping hand does make things easier.
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.
In the spirit of fiscal responsibility, the fire department of Obion County,Tennessee, stood by and watched as the home of Gene Crannick burned to the ground. Because he forgot to pay the $75 fire department service fee this year. Crannick offered to pay whatever it took to put out the fire. His neighbors volunteered to pay the fee (or even $500), if the department would put out the fire but the fire chief (who was playing golf nearby) said no dice – let it burn.
Thankfully no one was inside at the time (would that have made any difference, though?) but his pets, three dogs and a cat were killed. Well, I guess Crannick had it coming. People need to be held accountable, especially in this day and age. According to Glenn Beck, self-proclaimed Christian leader of the far Right:
And it goes nowhere if you go onto “compassion, compassion, compassion, compassion” or well, “they should’ve put it out, what is the fire department for?” [...] If you don’t pay the 75 dollars then that hurts the fire department. They can’t use those resources, and you’d be spongeing off your neighbor’s resources. [...] It’s important for America to have this debate. This is the kind of stuff that’s going to have to happen, we are going to have to have these kinds of things.
Of course, I’m not sure if allowing a man’s house to burn down, with living creatures inside, is exactly what Jesus would do, but we’ll have to wait to hear more on that from Beck and other Right Wing Christians. Then I’d like to ask, if government is so incompetent, as many conservative/libertarians claim, then do we really want to rely on bureaucratic paper pushing careerists to determine whose house burns and whose doesn’t? What if there was a filing error? Oops!
But what about those dogs and that cat? Allowing them to burn up in the fire, doesn’t that amount to cruelty to animals? According to state statute Title 39. Criminal Offenses. Chapter 14. Offenses Against Property. Part 2. Animals it seems that this fire department in the Bible Belt knowingly broke Tennessee law. Aside from any other laws that might come from a somewhat Higher Authority.