Archive for category Justice

No Hell = No Jesus

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


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What’s all the fuss about anyway? I mean, the firemen were only following orders.

Hm. That sounds vaguely familiar.

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Burning in the Bible Belt: Right Wing theology at work

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.

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All this country needs is for some of those good old-time religious people to take charge

What is our purpose in life? It is to restore the fallen culture to the glory of God. It’s to take command and dominion over every aspect of life, whether it’s music, science, law, politics, communities, families, to bring Christianity to bear in every single area of life” – Charles Colson

“As soon as Jesus sits on his throne he’s gonna rule the world with a rod of iron. That means he’s gonna make the ACLU do what he wants them to. That means you’re not gonna have to ask if you can pray in public school. We will live by the law of God and no other law.”— John Hagee

“Lord, give us righteous judges who will not try to legislate and dominate this society. Take control, Lord! We ask for additional vacancies on the court.” –Pat Robertson

“We’re not attacking Islam but Islam has attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God. He’s not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It’s a different God and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion.” -Franklin Graham

“Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan.” – Sarah Palin

“There are some who would accuse us of trying to Christianize America. Am I trying to Christianize America? You bet your boots I am!” – D. James Kennedy

“The most used phrase in my administration if I were to be President would be ‘What the hell you mean we’re out of missiles?”-Glenn Beck

There is a memorable behind–the-scenes moment in one of Frank Peretti’s books where a little  demon perched on the shoulder of an addict is swirling his hand around inside the man’s skull.  (For those of you who don’t know of him, Frank Peretti writes “Christian” horror tales.  This book, if I remember correctly, was “Piercing the Darkness”. It may just as well have been called “Piercing my Eyeball” for all the pleasure I got from reading it.)

Anyway, this supernatural premise is one that many conservative Christians (Fundamentalists, Neo-Evangelicals, Moral Majoritarians, reactionary Catholics –you get the picture) do not take lightly.  There is no doubt in their minds that the minds of others, especially those who suffer from mental and emotional disorders, are in demonic clutches.  Many of these Christians consider psychologists and psychiatrists to be quacks, or even worse, in the employ of Satan (though perhaps unconsciously). People with chronic depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, OCD –  these people  don’t need medical attention, and they certainly don’t need any drugs. All they need is to turn to Jesus. Or maybe endure a good exorcism. (In their contempt for the psychiatric profession they have a lot in common with Scientologists).

The funny (and sad) thing is that most of these people are not complete idiots.  I know, because I was once one of them, and I am no idiot. (depending on who you ask)  Now, I didn’t completely right-off the mental health profession. But I didn’t put much stock in mental health practitioners, unless he or she was an overt Christian.  Because if therapists didn’t believe that Satan could mess with people’s minds, then it was tantamount to them working for Satan.  There was really no hope for healing.  I guess a Jewish doctor who believed in Satan would be OK except that he would not recognize the healing power of Jesus.  So, no, it would have to be a Christian and a neo-Evangelical, God fearing, born-again Christian to boot. And this is a wide spread conviction among Christian fundamentalists.

Nowadays a belief in Satan would immediately disqualify that professional from my consideration. I couldn’t care less if my mechanic or my post-man or my butcher believed in Satan or Santa. But when it comes to helping people deal with issues that challenge their sanity, well, I just don’t think the supernatural is something worth pursuing.  At least not at $150 an hour.

What I am trying to get at here is that there are quite a lot of Americans (some estimates say around 100 million) who believe that Old Scratch is a legitimate threat to our personal, local and national security.  Heck, our last president thought this way.  Right now there is a lot of angry talk going around about how Muslim people actually belong to a satanic religion and that the Prophet was under satanic influence.  Which, when you think about it, is pretty scary. Not the idea that Islam is satanic – that’s not scary, it’s just plain ignorant. No, what’s scary is that maybe over 100 million Americans have their heads in the Dark Ages. Quite a few readily say that most non-Christians are doing Satan’s work and all are destined for hell. That the world’s problems won’t be solved until America’s problems are solved which won’t happen until America is a Christian nation run by Christians. My God, what if they ever organized?

Which is what they have been, for the last 40 years or so. Though you won’t hear them say it officially, the Christian Right has dominionism on their minds.  Dominionism according to Wikipedia, is:

the tendency among some conservative politically-active Christians, especially in the United States, to seek influence or control over secular civil government through political action. The goal is either a nation governed by Christians, or a nation governed by a conservative Christian understanding of biblical law.

I don’t think the leaders of the Christian Right would disagree too much with that assessment. And I guess that if you are a conservative Christian you probably don’t have much of a problem with it. But, as a fairly moderate man who struggles with keeping the teachings of Jesus close to heart ( I am hesitant to call myself a “Christian” these days) I am, frankly, fairly frightened. I can’t imagine what a Hindu or a Buddhist or (particularly at this time) a Muslim, thinks of this. (Though I have spoken with some Muslims and they don’t appear to be too worried) Apparently a lot of Jews are willing to overlook the rhetoric of the Christian Right as long as they continue to fervently support Israel.  I guess they, like so many others, don’t take them too seriously. And that’s a mistake.

Considering their stated goals and their political successes (they helped elect a lot of governors and a lot of people to Congress and the last administration was very much under their influence) I think they need to be taken very seriously.  Though they only crow about it to the choir inside churches and those listening to their radio and TV programs, their ultimate agenda is for all elected officials be fundamentalist Christians, all government policies be based upon Biblical law and that eventually all citizens convert to Christianity. Which would mean only Christians would be capable of effective leadership, or even citizenship.  Now, what is that starting to sound like?

Before you think I’m crazy remember that not too long ago I used to be in their camp. And if that’s not enough, go check out their websites:  the American Family Association, Focus on the FamilyCoral Ridge MinistriesAnswers In Genesis, Center for Moral Clarity, Christian Broadcasting Network, John Hagee Ministeries etc.  And follow the links on these sites; you might be surprised what you find there.  Of course most of what you find will sound relatively harmless, maybe even noble.  I mean, what’s wrong with family values?  Patriotism is a good thing, usually.  And it’s kind of hard to object to the Gospel of Jesus. .

So there’s nothing to worry about, right? This is America, after all.  Couldn’t happen here. Well, the Tea Party is growing stronger and some influential people are actually talking about a possible  Beck/Palin presidential bid (in recent Gallup polls Beck was the fourth most admired man alive, right below Nelson Mandela and just above the Pope, while Palin was the number one Republican presidential contender)  So interesting things could happen. We might be surprised. Perhaps unpleasantly.

An old Baptist  preacher once warned me about  ‘false teachings’:  “Remember, rat poison is 95% sugar. It’s the other 5% that’ll kill ya.”

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Good news, Christians: the National Day of Prayer will soon be gone

So a federal judge in Wisconsin has finally determined that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. Personally, I think this is great news. As much as people like to say that this day is for all people of faith, its history and its practice is Christian. Call it what you want, it is the offspring of Christianity and all PC speak aside, that is what it remains.

Not that there is anything wrong for Christians (or Jews or Muslims or Wiccans) across the country to decide on one day a year for nationwide prayer. But it shouldn’t be championed by the government. If the idea has any relevance for people then it should stand on its own merits, without the institutionalized support of our nation’s lawmakers. In fact, this is exactly what is happening. President Obama, a citizen with rights just like you and me, has decided to go ahead and continue to recognize this day anyway. (But wait! Isn’t he some kind of anti-Christian crypto-Muslim?)

You’d think serious Christians could see that there is something about civic prayer that smacks more of Caesar than it does of Jesus. But they don’t. They’ve even pulled out the big guns on this one: Chuck Norris. Personally, I always thought the idea of a “National” day of prayer was pretty bogus. Sort of sounds like the old vanity that “God is on our side” – that America is particularly favored by God.

Why not a true inter-faith International Day of Prayer? (Organized and administered by the private sector, of course). But that might mean praying with people of other countries who might very well be praying for things that are odds with our own national interests. Can’t have that.

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American Apartheid on Nickelodeon

I just watched some old video of Art Linkletter’s “Kids Say the Darndest Things”. A nostalgic treat and pretty darn funny. But it was unsettling to see each group of kids as being either only white or only people of color. Never were the races mixed (except that the non-white group included both African-Americans and Hispanics). Each group came from a local California public school, obviously segregated. Then the brainy boys got telescopes and microscopes for gifts while America’s future housewives got make-up kits and baby dolls –and the black girls got white baby dolls! (I’ll bet the make-up was the wrong shade, too.)

I have dear friends and family members that refuse to see that, no matter when their ancestors immigrated to America or where they immigrated from, that just by being ‘white’ ( or even better – a white male) has given them a tremendous and undeserved advantage in their search for “life, liberty and happiness”.  They may deny the written history or the words of those who advocate social justice – they may even ridicule the concept of social justice, claiming it is only politico-speak for socialism and big government. But I defy them to watch some (not so) old television programming like this and still be blind to the painful truth.

I wonder (and suspect) that Art Linkletter, as he interviewed one segregated group of children after another, was aware of this all too obvious American social problem. After all, he didn’t have to invite black and Hispanic kids onto the show. Maybe what looks today like sixties tokenism was actually his (not so) subtle way of pointing out America’s ingrained racism.  Maybe.

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Hanging Judges

hanging judgeAn interesting conversation is happening over on  at Debs’ blog about the problems with capital punishment. The consensus seems to be that even though it is possible to condemn innocent people to death  and that it has happened before and is likely to happen again, there is no need to be hasty. Generally speaking, capital punishment works.

One commenter, more or less opposed to capital punishment, agreed, saying:

…we should not throw out the system, until there is more evidence that it is not working.  There are very few instances where the individual was found to be innocent after they we executed. It has happened however, so we need to keep improving our judicial review process.  It will never likely be perfect.

And if it can never be perfect, if the system can and will execute innocent people, how much different than this is murder?  Sure it’s a mistake, but unlike negligent homicide, here the intent of the state is always to kill the accused.  The state now becomes an ipso facto murderer.

So here’s my solution: keep the death penalty, because some people certainly deserve to die for their crimes and at the very least should not be allowed to harm others (including inmates). And maybe, just maybe, there is an effective deterrent working here (though I personally doubt it). But….whenever an innocent man is executed, then execute the judge and the prosecuting attorney. For murder.

Can’t fail to work. Deterrence. Won’t know unless we try it.


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