Archive for category Morality

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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The Bible is not The Good Book or a bad book. It is just a….book.

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.


Liberals reveal hidden puritanical streak. Again.

The latest political silliness, now from the Democrats, rivals the absurdity of conservative ‘birthers’ and Islamophobes .  This from Matt Lewis at Politics Daily:

While it’s impossible to know, some are beginning to speculate that Boehner’s penchant for turning on the waterworks might have some connection to his consumption of wine. Liberal MSNBC host Ed Shultz, half-jokingly, called Boehner a “cheap drunk” the other day, Capitol Hill aides of both parties are wondering, and there’s even a web page devoted to it.

For years, political professionals have quietly discussed Boehner’s drinking. Some have told me off the record that his mannerisms remind them of that of an alcoholic. So far, most of the public speculation having to do with the connection between drinking and Boehner’s crying has come from the left. In addition to Ed Shultz, liberal talk show host Randi Rhodes recently implied Boehner’s crying was due to his drinking. But the speculation is becoming more widespread. Earlier this year, Joe Scarborough noted of Boehner that “by 5 or 6 o’clock at night, you can see him at bars.

Well, that is the traditional time, Joe.  It’s called the cocktail hour.  And drinking in bars?!  Sinful!  I guess Boehner would feel more comfortable drinking behind closed doors, with the puritanical hypocrites.  Probably not.  And Randi Rhodes calling someone a drunk?  Talk about people who live in glass houses.

So is drinking the issue — and why might a person struggling with drinking be more prone to weeping in public?

Really? Is that the important question? I’m not too crazy about the recent spate of conservative histrionics but you’d think that liberal progressives would be a bit more accepting of a man’s emotional openness. I mean, aren’t we supposed to be overcoming our gender stereotypes? Maybe all the conservative rhetoric about the nanny-ness of liberals is not so far off.  Time to stop playing to the namby-pambies in the Democratic party and let adults decide for themselves if, and how much, they should drink.

As for blaming this new political emotionalism on alcohol consumption, tell that to Winston Churchill or John F. Kennedy, neither man likely to refuse a drink and neither man prone to silliness. In fact, I thought that cigars and whiskey were the main staples of a political diet (which, I guess, is one reasons why I am a frustrated amateur pundit). Besides, Glenn Beck will break down at the drop of a tricorn hat and he’s a teetotaler.

It’s bad enough that the neo-cons resort to this type of sensationalist rumor mongering, and I can understand the liberal media’s frustration with that, but this kind of foolishness can eclipse any credibility they might have. No longer will serious people  swallow any story at Fox News without a liberal dosing of salt because of this penchant for reporting on sensationalist non-news stories.

For his part, though, Boehner — who was described in one profile as “a heavy-smoking, hard-drinking former linebacker” — has made no secret of his affection for merlot, and those familiar with Capitol Hill know he frequents The Capitol Hill Club, as well as a favorite Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill, where he is frequently spotted sipping vino.

Good for him. I’m not likely to vote for Boehner but I probably would enjoy sharing a meal with him (but sorry, no Merlot, please).  Dinner without wine is no dinner at all (unless it’s brats or BBQ and then beer is essential).  I myself enjoy at least two glasses of wine with my evening meals and maybe a cocktail before and/or after.  And then I might smoke a nice big cigar.

I know this admission will horrify some of you, but I can’t remember the last time I cried, drove off a bridge, beat my wife or flew a plane into a mountainside.  My blood work just came back and my liver functions are all A-OK, thank you very much.

C’mon liberals. For folks who are always crowing about a personal right to privacy , it’s time to pull your noses out of peoples lives and let them eat, drink and smoke what they want.  Just like you want for your selves.  And as for you conservatives out there, I meant just that:  whatever they want, even if it’s not made by your friends over at Phillip Morris or Bacardi.

The first vice we should worry about is our unhealthy addiction to hypocrisy.

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Here’s a way to help with the deficit: a 100% tax on Wall Street bonuses

After bailing them out of the hole they dug for themselves with shovels they stole from middle class investors, tax payers are pissed off about the crazy bonuses Wall St. firms are awarding themselves this year.  Wall St. is finishing up a strong year, but lets no forget that this was accomplished with Federal money.

A little glimpse into how greedy and immoral these fat cats really are is with the reason they give for being able to award such large bonuses: so many of them have been laid off or incarcerated that everyone else gets a bigger slice of the pie.  Even though many of the remainder should be out of work themselves, if not in jail, they are able to stuff millions of bonus dollars under their mattresses (can’t trust the banks, now can they?)  Why do they deserve these rewards? It’s not like they are providing a benefit to the country and I can’t think of any jobs they are creating.

Because of these selfish Scrooges, a lot of Americans, if they are fortunate enough to be employed, are not getting Christmas bonuses this year, if ever again.  So, I say the Feds should tax the banker’s bonuses, every penny,  and then use it to help fund extended unemployment benefits. They should be able to muddle through on their six figure salaries.

Merry Christmas Mr. Potter.

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Do those thought provoking atheist billboards point to God?

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.

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As an American living in a glass country, I should hesitate before casting stones

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.

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Damn. Another fool for Christ caught looking like a fool. Period.

Republican Congresswoman, Michele Bachmann, claims she is a “Fool for Christ”, whatever the hell that  means. But this is how she explains what it means to her:

“If I felt that’s what the Lord was calling me to do, I would do it,” she answered. “When I have sensed that the Lord is calling me to do something, I’ve said yes to it. “

Which means she must hear the Lord calling her to lie. Because on Good Morning America this ex-tax attorney, who used to work for the IRS, told a whopper:

“Well, remember again what this is. It’s a massive tax increase, and it’s on the people who are the job creators,” Bachmann said. “And people want to think that these are millionaires, sitting in leather chairs, lighting their cigars with $100 bills. That’s not what we’re talking about. These are people who, who are carpet layers who maybe employ two or three other guys, or a plumber, maybe himself and his brother, and it’s $250,000 in gross sales for their business. They’re the ones that are looking at massive tax increases.”

Which is total crap, and of course, she knows it. She’s an expert. The proposed increase (which is not really an increase, only a return to an old rate after the temporary tax cut has expired) is on all those who earn over $250,000 in adjusted income, business owners or not. This is after all itemized deductions including mortgages, business expenses and other legal shelters. So what we are really talking about here are people who make way more than a quarter million bucks a year. Now maybe the Christian counseling center she and her husband own (which receives Federal entitlement dollars, by the way) makes that much moolah but not too many carpet layers and plumbers do. At least not in her home state of Minnesota. Most of these folks are doctors, lawyers, bankers, corporate executives and university professors. Not job creators.

Now I expect most politicians to lay down a line of bullshit every once and awhile (or at least once a day). But this little lady is a Born-Again, Bible thumpin’, 10 Commandment preachin’ Fool for Christ. Right? The same Christ that said the rich should hold on to as much of their money as possible to give poor people an incentive to work harder so they might land a sweet job working for the government with a side line taking advantage of other people’s religious psycho-superstitions with the help of Federal subsidies.

How freakin’ embarrassing for those of us who might still want to call ourselves Christian. Congress is looking more and more like the Temple that Jesus lost his temper in. If only the Neo-Evangelicals were right and he was coming back any day now. Some people are going to look mighty foolish.

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