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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If you blame teachers because some kids can’t read then you are a dunce.

Conservative criticisms of Wisconsin school teachers based upon state reading scores are  completely off base and only help to underscore the growing Republican indifference to anyone other than the privileged classes.

Even though Wisconsin is above the national norm, when only 34% of students are reading at  or above the level of proficiency, there is some cause for alarm. But the worry should not be over whether the teachers are doing their jobs.  On the contrary, the numbers point out that, when all factors are taken into consideration,  the teachers are doing the best they can with who and what they have to work with and under adverse circumstances that are the result of many in our nation’s upper classes ignoring the plight of the poor.

In my home state, Maryland, our scores are not that much different from Wisconsin’s.  But there is a huge disparity among the school districts.  I happen to be ‘fortunate’ enough to live in Howard County, one of the top 5 wealthiest counties in the United States.  (Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m just a chauffeur and live above the master’s garage.)  Our eighth grade students typically score in the 90th percentile.

But in Baltimore City and certain other urban areas, the students score much, much lower. Same state curriculum guidelines, same teacher pool (Baltimore actually offers higher salaries because they find it is a pretty tough teaching gig) and the same teacher unions. Different demographics, different environments, different levels of crime and safety, different class sizes, different family structures.  Different scores.

So, it’s not necessarily about instruction, it’s about social and economic inequality. It’s about school districts where many of the students come from broken, dysfunctional and impoverished homes and others are recent immigrants that have difficulties speaking English versus schools where the students drive  Accuras and BMWs  and have wealthy parent who help them with homework and maybe even pay for tutors. Which kids do you think would likely score higher?  Which teachers have the tougher job?  Which kids are more likely be successful in this world and have children of their own with similar promise?

Not that these scores are altogether that accurate nor is standardized testing the right way to go, but scores across the country have gone up. Every state has some version of the High School Assessments, which every Maryland student is required to pass to graduate.  Wisconsin has a very similar set of assessments.  I’ve taken a few of these sample tests,  and though I’m no dunce, I found them  very challenging

I’ll bet that most of these critical Tea Party folks, especially Beck, Limbaugh and Palin, would have a hard time passing these tests, if they could at all.  Though they might  be able to handle the Wisconsin eighth grade reading test OK,  I wonder if they could earn a ‘proficient’ on the highs school version. From what I’ve seen and heard, reading is not high on their list of priorities.

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Laying off teachers won’t solve our fiscal problems but legalizing drugs just might

If the Tea Party conservatives are really as serious about cutting spending,  streamlining government and protecting individual liberties as they claim to, then they should stop wasting their time tilting at windmills like civil service unions and take on the real Big Government elephant in the room: the Federal War on Drugs.

Let’s face it. The War on Drugs has failed miserably and,  as we see with the earlier alcohol Prohibition, likely  doomed to failure from the start.  It is outrageously expensive. It has contributed to a burgeoning organized crime industry.  It is immoral and hypocritical. As of March 3rd, 2011, 2:25 EST close to 7 billion 200 million dollars has already been spent on drug prohibition this year alone.

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.

“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

This week President Obama promised to “reduce drug use and the great damage it causes” with a new national policy that he said treats drug use more as a public health issue and focuses on prevention and treatment.

Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.

If you are skeptical then you might consider that the source of the above information is not NORML but Fox News, a group that is not known for their  ‘liberal’ tendencies.  But drug prohibition was never really  part of a conservative agenda, with just as many on the left bound up with misguided, well-intentioned, yet hypocritical and myopic ideals.  Conversely, there have been visionaries on both the Right and the Left ( like Bill Buckley and Kurt Schmoke) who have joined forces to inject some sanity into our nation’s drub debate.  In the same Fox story of  May 13th,   2010, the previous drug czar, John P. Walters, didn’t agree:

Walters insists society would be far worse today if there had been no War on Drugs. Drug abuse peaked nationally in 1979 and, despite fluctuations, remains below those levels, he says. Judging the drug war is complicated: Records indicate marijuana and prescription drug abuse are climbing, while cocaine use is way down. Seizures are up, but so is availability.

“To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven’t made any difference is ridiculous,” Walters said. “It destroys everything we’ve done. It’s saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It’s saying all these people’s work is misguided.”

Yes. Misguided but well-intentioned. Anyway, the figures speak for themselves.

It is only March 2nd yet already 293,628 people are incarcerated for drug related offenses in this country. Of those 151,513 were for cannabis. (Every 30 seconds an American is arrested for possession of pot).  On average, since 1995, U.S. prisons have grown 10,000 more inmates a year for drug related offenses.  And the U.S. appetite for drugs continues to grow.  So why continue to press this ‘war’?

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, sitting down with the AP at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, paused for a moment at the question.“Look,” she says, starting slowly. “This is something that is worth fighting for because drug addiction is about fighting for somebody’s life, a young child’s life, a teenager’s life, their ability to be a successful and productive adult.

“If you think about it in those terms, that they are fighting for lives — and in Mexico they are literally fighting for lives as well from the violence standpoint — you realize the stakes are too high to let go.”

Which is how so many Americans think about this problem: emotionally. But Napolitano is very, very wrong ( and as head of  Homeland Security realizes that if drug prohibitions were lifted most of the current financing for anti-American terrorism would dry up). Anyone at any time can buy illegal drugs, in spite of all the forces fighting this “War”.  The real cost of this boondoggle are in the lives destroyed by over zealous prosecution and incarceration, the property of innocents seized, the opportunities lost because of the money being allocated for this losing campaign and the incalculable number of violent deaths. The trials of the addicted are, with all due respect, trivial in comparison to the wholesale suffering that this drug prohibition is responsible for. As for drugs’ debilitating effects, apparently you can smoke dope and snort cocaine and still make it to the White House.

What do they call something that you keep doing and doing and doing, each time expecting a different outcome? Madness?  Meanwhile, we continue to look for ways to cut government spending, while all along it’s right up our nose.

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Why in the world would Mexicans dislike the United States?

Today Mexican President Felipe Calderon is in Washington to meet with President Obama. The situation between our two countries is rocky, with the contentious issues of immigration, the illegal drug industry and trade imbalances at the forefront. Seemingly beneath the tensions lay some deep-seated resentments that Mexicans  have for the U.S.

Maybe it’s just because we tend to consider ourselves as the real “Americans” with our country deserving of the name “America”, which arrogantly demoted Canada and Mexico to the status of remoras feeding off the scraps of the U.S.shark. But then why don’t the Canadians seem to dislike us as much as our neighbors to the South? Well, this is nothing new.

The love/hate relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is nothing new.  Recently, the Mexican dislike for the US came to the limelight with the notorious reaction they  Miss USA slipped and fell during 2007  Miss Universe Pageant (again, she was first billed as Miss America before she was Miss USA).   To the average U.S. citizen this dislike was surprising and unfathomable.  Because if they hate “America” so much why do so many of them want to move to the U.S., often illegally? ( Maybe to escape Mexico’s challenged economic and social conditions  that, arguably, the U.S. is to blame for.)   Though they likely share the same reasons with other countries for being annoyed with the U.S.,  Mexicans seem to harbor some special inherited resentment of America.

Maybe it has to with the fact that, if all was right with the world, the country that today claims to lead the world in freedom and democracy, that sees itself as the shining example of liberty, fairness and the rule of law, would have a national map that looked more like this:

I’m sure every Mexican child is fully aware of what happened to their country at the hands of a northern aggressor nation and this could hardly foster warm fuzzy feelings for the United States. I wonder, if there was a country around at that time that wore the mantle that the United States wears today – as world policeman and arbiter – if they would have stepped in to prevent our young, impudent nation from conquering almost half of Mexico.

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If Herman Cain was President he’d run this country like a restaurant.

Government employees would be working 72 hours a week while the rest of us would be rolling silverware with no health benefits.

Herman Cain just won a Tea Party presidential straw poll. As one who survived and escaped the world of corporate restaurant management, I have an insider’s perspective on the successful mass feeder’s leadership  style and approach to human resources.

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When prayer becomes an obstacle to faith

I have my fair share of physical troubles, almost all the result of entering middle age after a lifetime of unhealthy living. Not that my living was particularly hedonistic or any worse than most Americans, but when you are dealt a certain genetic hand you need to be a bit more careful than I’ve been.

Anyway, it’s not that I am ill or remotely disabled.  Just the poster boy for metabolic syndrome. I’m never in any real pain and suffer no problems with mobility, but for some time now my doctors have called me a “high risk” for….some bad stuff, I guess.  Just like over half of the Americans out there who are over 50.   So I  keep popping my pills, watch what I eat (kind of ) and tend not to worry. Too much.

But last week was somewhat trying.  Persistent head aches, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness. And my BP was going crazy, higher than it ever had been before.  Being the alarmist hypochondriac that I am, I prepared myself for inevitable admission to the O.R. for major chest surgery…or worse.  As it turned out, my doctor only had to play her voodoo shell-game with my prescriptions and things are looking a lot better.  For now.

My point here is not to whine about my health or my ailments.  I just wanted to set the stage for my thoughts of last week, particularly some of those about God.  Because I really, really had to work hard to keep myself from praying.

I was disturbingly aware of a desire to ask God to protect me from whatever might be coming my way physically.  I really wanted to revisit my old penchant for asking God to extricate me from whatever predicament I found myself in and I desperately wanted to recapture the opportunity of asking God to cure me.

But I hadn’t believed in those types of prayer for some time now and I knew that it would be wrong to allow myself a little relapse into what I now believe is religious superstition.  Why would God deign to reach down inside of me and fix the relatively minor physical problems that I am troubled with? When there are so many millions who are really suffering, from hungry children to the mentally institutionalized to severe burn victims to the paraplegics whose prayers for healing have apparently not been heard?  I don’t think God would fix my problems.  I am not sure that God even could.

I did pray, though not in that way.  Instead I prayed prayers of thanks, that I  made it this far, with the wonderful people I have known and loved.  My wife, my children, my friends, family and students.  I was still  tempted to ask for another 50 years (or 30 or 20 or 10 or even 5).  But  I didn’t.  Instead  I prayed for peace and for courage, for acceptance of whatever might come.  Surprisingly, my prayers were answered, almost immediately.

If I had prayed for physical healing or a change in my material circumstances,  I would still be waiting for the that big shoe to drop.  Playing the long odds against the house, yet holding out hope for something ‘miraculous’ to take place. Anticipation. Unneeded anxiety.  And if the cards looked good this time, if it seemed as if God had answered my prayers, this too would pass. Until I met the next low hanging branch on the path.  A relentless cycle of beseeching, worry, thanksgiving and then more worry.  This was my old pattern.

Over the years I’ve seen some friends die.  A few were young, tragically young. Most were pretty “old” I guess.  A lot of them were in their eighties.  My Dad is in his eighties and he’s been struggling a bit.  The thing is, if we are lucky, we will get old and die.  Sometimes it looks easy, more often it can be painful. But I’ve seen that  it can also be peaceful.  Should we be wasting what time we do have by asking to live longer? “ Please, just a little bit more of this good stuff “ (even if it looks as if there isn’t enough “good stuff” to go around for everybody). Where’s the peace in that?

I like it better this way.  I’m not asking too much from God and God’s not asking too much from me. I just have to resist asking for the deck to be loaded in my favor. Instead, maybe God could provide me a with just a little help playing the hand I’ve already been dealt.


Glenn Beck warns of the coming Muslim Anti-Christ.

Whew, boy. Just when you think he can’t get any wackier, Glenn Beck surprises us again. Recently he has been courting an ‘expert’ on Islam, Joel Richardson. He has even gone so far as to buy into Richardson’s idea that the pending anti-Christ will be a One World Muslim leader, head of the upcoming Caliphate that will be headquartered in Turkey, brought about by the Muslim Brotherhood, who were pulling all the levers behind the peaceful revolution in Egypt.

Now, Beck is not saying that this fellow, the much anticipated 12th Imam is the anti-Christ. But he could be.  He doesn’t know for sure – he can’t see the future. Well, not all the time. But as his blackboard will show, all the signs are there.  So, grab your Bibles (or your Books of Mormon) and your shotgun ’cause things will be heating up soon. And don’t forget to buy your “Survival Seed Bank” and put what money you have left in the safe and secure hands of the good people at Gold Line.  Just in case you make it through the coming global collapse. (You can definitely trust Glenn’s sponsors. He wouldn’t take their money if he didn’t believe in them.)

Gosh. I wonder if Glenn could call upon the archangel Moroni to come to our defense. Perhaps it is not too late.  Thank All…uh, um….God, that at least deep and spiritual thinkers like Glenn and Joel Richardson are here to sound the alarm.

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