Archive for category Sin

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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Why the Right was against repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”

Because that’s how they handle the issue of sexuality themselves.  Keep it in the closet. (The other closet, not that ‘prayer closet’ – which doesn’t get used much by today’s crop of budding theocrats.)

It’s ironic. Although conservative evangelicals (who are now the power base of the Republican party) claim to be the champions of morality, they have such a hard time living up to their own standards.  Sure, liberals have their share of fallen angels, but rarely does the left claim to be the standard bearer of morality. Yet it is common for the most strident of the ‘moral majority’ to find themselves in the public spotlight with their pants down,  sometimes quite literally.

Why do so many conservative, evangelical, Republicans expose themselves doing precisely the opposite of what they say others should be doing? Henry Hyde, Helen Chenowith, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, Bob Allen, David Vitters, Glenn Murphy Jr. – the list goes on. How many of these scandals have resulted in the outing of aggressive homophobes?  After years of rumors that he might be gay,  it looks as if  Lindsey Grahamw will soon find himself in the same predicament. What ‘s the deal?

A 1996  psychology experiment conducted at the University of Georgia found strong evidence that (at least among males) “homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.” If this is true, and since most politically conservative evangelicals are  vigorously opposed to the ‘gay agenda’,  then it makes sense that a significant portion of these people might very well be closet homosexuals.  Of course, this is just speculation, yet it does hold up fairly well under the historical evidence.  But why would people who are confused (or in denial) about their sexuality gravitate towards the evangelical right-wing of the Republican party?

Is it because, having been forgiven for all their sins, both past and future, these closet homosexuals no longer feel the need to confront and conquer their inner “demons”?  That Jesus has already taken care of that for them? Yet eventually many of them will find out that their religion is not sufficient to facilitate lasting personal change (if this type of change is possible or even desirable).

A huge part of Christianity is the idea that we are all broken people who can be healed through the redemptive power of God, as revealed to us by Jesus. But that does not mean that we are somehow magically, perfectly, made ‘whole’ (i.e conforming to someone else’s orthodox world view) – that we are completely changed by God’s grace or the Holy Spirit or the love of Christ.  It doesn’t mean that we can let our guard down and expect prayer alone to obliterate years of habitual behavior.  Or obviate our personal natures.  Nor, apparently, will the threat of punishment, divine or otherwise, accomplish this.

I think a better guess might be found in the attraction they may have to the hard-line theology of neo-evangelism.  It’s as if,  though perhaps in denial, they suspect that they are ‘bad’ boys in the eyes of God and feel a need to be part of an ideology that embraces the clear-cut rules of stern father figures, from Yahweh to James Dobson.

‘We’ve decided the Bible is the word of God. We don’t have to have a General Assembly about what we believe. It’s written in the Bible. Alright, so we don’t have to debate what we think about homosexual activity. It’s written in the Bible.” -Ted Haggard

‘Some strong-willed children absolutely demand to be spanked, and their wishes should be granted. . . Two or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch are usually sufficient to emphasize the point, ‘You must obey me.’ ” – James Dobson

“Part of my life is so repugnant and dark, I’ve been warring against it all my life…the dirt I thought was gone would resurface … the darkness increased and dominated” -Ted Haggard

Christian fundamentalist parents, James Dobson included,  should know by now that children cannot be spanked into submission, not unless the goal is to create sadly warped versions of themselves.   Who has ever really benefited from this? What type of person is attracted to an intolerant,  domineering and violent task master? For many of these people violence comes to be associated with love.

“In Revelation, Jesus is a prize-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up” – Mark Driscoll

The threat of punishment, even the ultimate punishment of Hell,  apparently cannot compel people to change their natures beyond a superficial level.  It can, however, compel them to mimic the doctrinaire natures of their overlords, even to the point of absurd and shameful  hypocrisy.  Or develop an appetite for hate filled language, perhaps even violence.  History has provided us with an undeniable pattern.

“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela

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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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Bad Christians Not Welcome

Most teachers and parents have long understood that the positive reinforcement of desired behavior is a much more powerful learning tool than any punishment for undesired behavior ;

Behavior modification assumes that observable and measurable behaviors are good targets for change. All behavior follows a set of consistent rules. Methods can be developed for defining, observing, and measuring behaviors, as well as designing effective interventions. Behavior modification techniques never fail. Rather, they are either applied inefficiently or inconsistently, which leads to less than desired change. All behavior is maintained, changed, or shaped by the consequences of that behavior. Although there are certain limits, such as temperamental or emotional influences related to ADHD or depression, all children function more effectively under the right set of consequences. Reinforcers are consequences that strengthen behavior. Punishments are consequences that weaken behavior.

(from “Behavior Modification in the Classroom” by: N. Mather and Sam Goldstein (2001) LD Online )

My pastor, Heather, worked this concept into a sermon last Sunday.  She questioned the old school practice of frequently suspending offending students, essentially telling the student that because they don’t conform they aren’t wanted. Eventually this point sinks in and guess what?  The student soon no longer wants to  be in a place where they aren’t wanted. Suspension is no longer a punishment but a welcome reward.  She used this analogy to point out that this is often how Christians approach the faith, they may feel unworthy of God’s love or may even make others feel this way.  It wasn’t long before her sermon began to impact the way in which I look at things.

Case in point; on John Shore’s blog there has been a lively conversation going on about (surprise!) homosexuality and the Church.  Predictably, the discussion tended to center on whether or not homosexuality was a sin or if it was a sin could it in some way be excused or was it even a sin deserving of any more mention than the  sins that afflict all Christians.

Inevitably someone will say that it is our Christian duty to call out sin wherever and whenever we see it.  But what is our ultimate goal here?  For instance, in the classroom we do not use behavior intervention techniques to make individual students look and act more like ourselves. We are not interested in a change in their behavior just because we disapprove of them.  The ultimate goal is for students to learn, as well as to have them help maintain an environment where other students can also learn .

If our goal, as Christians, is to spread the Good News (which hopefully will result in people coming closer to God) how is this accomplished by ‘confronting’ individual sin?  Shouldn’t we be interested in lifting up those positive “Christian” characteristics that a person possesses, no matter how few they might be?  Telling people that because of their ‘sins’ (especially if those ‘sins’ are not anti-social in nature) they are ineligible for membership in our community is selfishly aimed at satisfying the ‘supposed needs’ of the community and not the spiritual needs of others.  ‘Supposed needs’, because no community ultimately benefits from a lack of diversity.

So, rather than focusing on what we see as the negative (yet non-threatening) behavior of those who might be seeking a closer relationship with God, let’s try and focus instead on their other, positive, qualities.  What is more important to us as Christians; our behavior or our relationships? Not that behavior is unimportant, but at what expense comes  our attempts to change certain behaviors in others?

Who knows?  Perhaps the ‘righteous’  may learn a thing or two from communing with these ‘sinners’. Besides, if we all had to clean up our acts first then not one church pew would be occupied.



Simply Sinful









What if a Woman had Written Genesis?

Let’s start at the beginning.

Genesis One: God makes the universe and everything in it. He creates life. He creates humans and he makes them in his own ‘image’, both man and woman. He gives humankind all of nature for their enjoyment and their sustenance. Although the chronology may be a bit confusing, the basics of this account can be made to square with what we know of nature, as long as you don’t read it too literally.

Genesis Two (the rest of the story?) is a bit fuzzier on the universe-making details but it does gives us more info on the first humans. Here we have God creating just one human, a man named Adam and instead of placing all of nature at his disposal he sets him up as the caretaker for a garden called Eden. Genesis doesn’t give us any of God’s policies and guidelines except for one;  Adam is to never eat the fruit from one particular plant –  the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

God soon figures that Adam will become bored (especially if he is immortal, as some think) and that he needs a companion – or as the NIV say; a “helper”. So God runs all the animals by Adam (who names them all in the process) but none of them seem to fit the bill. So God tries something completely different. He knocks out Adam and removes one his ribs, which he then turns into the first woman. She’s also the world’s first Gal Friday, as it is her job to ‘help’ the world’s only man do whatever manly things he does. At this time, she doesn’t even have a name for herself.


But good help is hard to find and soon the woman is picking up bad ideas from the local crime boss, Satan. Using her beguiling feminine ways, she gets Adam to join her in a little snack, courtesy of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. So God’s original deal is now off and life for the two of them will suck forever. At this time Adam finally names the woman, just like he did with the other animals. He calls her Eve , which means something like “mother of all the living” ( perhaps implying that kids and paradise are incompatible concepts?).

Now, though Genesis never actually says this, many people believe that what Adam and Eve did in the Garden queered things not just for them but everyone else that came after, including all of nature and the entire universe. So even though it is NEVER stated explicitly, one could get out of this story that  Eve (who owed her own existence not just to God but also to Adam) couldn’t stay focused on her job and so  ended up being a huge hindrance to Adam. And everyone else, including you and me.  Turns out she was not much of a helper at all.

No doubt the cultural views of the men who wrote the scriptures  had  some bearing on how they presented their stories of God.  It is obvious that this particular telling of the Creation story, along with a very rigid reading of it, has adversely influenced the relationship between men and women over the centuries. Amazingly, it  still does so today.

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Born to be Bad?

OK, I’ve got a question about babies. Are they innocent?

Let’s first take a look at a mini-‘Cliff Notes’ version of a popular interpretation of sin:

Adam disobeyed God, committing the first sin (Eve was there, too, but apparently the buck stopped with Adam). The result of his disobedience was that every generation to follow Adam, every person who will ever live, will be born with the blemish of original sin. This original sin amounts to a sentence of eternal damnation. Thankfully, there is a way to remove it.

Some traditions, particularly the Roman Catholic, say that the only way for original sin to be removed is through holy baptism, resulting in the baptizing of infants, to ensure they make it to heaven. Other traditions say that baptism is merely symbolic, and that the only way to salvation is through a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, as Lord and Savior.

The Roman Catholic church has dispensed with the doctrine of limbo, saying that all children are innocent before they reach the age of reason ( seven? eight? twenty eight? ). So the Catholic view here is that babies are not damned but go to heaven.

But what is the typical Evangelical Protestant diagnosis for the child who dies before reaching the age of commitment? Do these babies and young children go to heaven or hell? I discussed this with a fellow the other day and he said that his church’s position is that they are covered by God’s grace. But aren’t we all? Is it Biblical to think that we are all born ‘bad’? And if so, is it Biblical to think that God has special exemptions for children?

I don’t mean to sound silly or trite. I think this speaks to what we believe about sin, how much of our doctrine about sin is biblical and how much of that doctrine we truly accept.

What’s your take on this?


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