Recently, someone pointed out to me that Christian Universalist’s have no reason to share their faith if there is no such thing as eternal torment.  My response was to point out that he and I have something in common, that is, we both want to see people reconciled to God.  That’s why we have both felt motivated to share our faith.  Although his primary motivation (fear of people going to hell) may be different from mine (the joy of seeing people reconciled to God), we were able to find our common ground and cooperate with one another with an attitude of love, respect, and unity of purpose.   Because of the love of Christ in us, two people with very different views about Who God is and what God does, we did not view each other as enemies.

Unfortunately, things don’t always work out that way.

People who believe God eventually reconciles everyone to Himself through Christ see the devastating consequences of the doctrine of eternal torment as:

  • People are unable to love God, Who created their loved ones even though He knew they would spend eternity in hell.
  • People are unable to trust God, because His best plan for doing away with moral rebellion makes the Holocaust look like a picnic in the park.
  • People have committed suicide, homicide, or have been hospitalized with nervous breakdowns because of the fear of eternal torment.
  • There is a long, dark church history of spiritual abuse, exploitation, and even torture or murder, based on the belief in the doctrine of eternal torment.
  • People spend all their lives in fear and dread about whether they are really saved, the “unpardonable sin,” or losing salvation.
  • Christians live with a sense of frustration and defeat because, despite their best efforts, the majority of mankind spends eternity in hell.
  • Christians live with a sense of guilt over NOT spending more time, effort, money, etc on witnessing to people who are going to hell.
  • Christians, believing certain variations in doctrine will result in people needlessly going to hell, condemn and shun one another for “false teaching.”

People who believe in eternal torment in hell see the devastating consequences of the doctrine of universal reconciliation as:

  • People have a false sense of security about their eternal destiny, and then they die and go to eternal torment in hell.
  • People have no fear or judgment or sense of accountability, so they feel like they can do whatever they want.
  • Universalism takes away the sense of urgency Christians ought to feel over people who will die and go to hell.
  • Christian universalists deny orthodoxy, therefore causing division in the church.
  • Hitler, Stalin, Bin Laden, murderers, child molesters, and other evil people will be saved, diminishing the significance of salvation.
How can people who affirm that Jesus Christ is Lord, whether they be people who believe God eventually reconciles everyone to Himself through Christ or people who believe in eternal torment, ever hope to see the prayer of Jesus Christ come to fruition?  Jesus prayed:
“that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one— I in them and you in me—that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me.

 

Here’s how.  Trust God, that He knows what He’s doing.  His Plan of the Ages cannot be thwarted.  The end result will be exactly as He has purposed it to be, and there’s nothing that any person can do, not do, or undo that will ruin His plans.

So, here’s how that translates into real-world application.

If you believe God eventually reconciles everyone to Himself through Christ, then trust that God will clear away misconceptions about Who He is and what He does, vindicating His name.  Remember that He is the Good Shepherd, Who “is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”  Trust that He “will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed.”  Remember that Jesus will “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death,” in His own time and in His own way.  Pray for those who live with a sense of frustration and defeat because they believe that, despite their best efforts, the majority of mankind spends eternity in hell.  Love and do good to your brothers and sisters who live with a sense of guilt over NOT spending more time, effort, money, etc on witnessing to people who are going to hell.  Forgive and ask God to bless those who condemn and shun you for “false teaching.”  You can wholeheartedly disagree with someone without being hostile or arrogant. You can treat people with love and respect, even if you believe they are wrong or feel that they have done wrong to you or your friends.  Make an effort to remember what is good and right in others and identify the goals or interests you have in common.

If you believe in eternal torment, then consider that God, in His boundless wisdom and righteousness, will not entrust the eternal destiny of any human being into the fallible hands of another human being.  Trust that God will give people a sense of accountability and an awareness of the true consequences associated with bad choices.  Pray for those who are complacent or apathetic in their faith.  Remember that Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”  And when you think about the possibility of Hitler, Stalin, Bin Laden, murderers, child molesters, and other evil people will being with you in heaven, remember that God “will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed,” and He has promised that “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”  You can wholeheartedly disagree with someone without being hostile or arrogant. You can treat people with love and respect, even if you believe they are wrong or feel that they have done wrong to you or your friends.  Make an effort to remember what is good and right in others and identify the goals or interests you have in common.

When the believers are united in love, the world will believe and know that Jesus came from the Father, Who loves the world just as He loves His Son.

New vid: Teaching Children Truth

If you have problems viewing the vid, try this one: Teaching Children Truth (iphone version)

Exposition on the Reign of God: Narrow vs Wide

Posted: 1st January 2012 by admin in Uncategorized
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“Taking the bunny trail” is a euphemism associated with getting off subject, wasting time and energy, or pursuing something that will likely be an exercise in futility.  But in studying scripture and/or being open to the Spirit of God, it is sometimes best to explore.  Since my last blog post, I have been traveling down the rabbit trail in the “Kingdom (or reign) of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” sayings of Jesus.  It started with the “narrow” gate or door in Luke 13, as well as the “many” versus the “few” referenced in Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell.  As I read the context, I see much in common with what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, a well-known message Jesus gave to a crowd of people including the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and other messages Jesus taught.  I realize that it is beneficial for me to formulate a “big picture” understanding of how the “narrow” way relates to Jesus’s other teachings.

Many theologians believe that Jesus taught the same or similar messages over and over again, wherever He went.  For example, in Luke 6 we read:

And it came to pass in those days, he went forth to the mountain to pray, and was passing the night in the prayer of God, and when it became day, he called near his disciples [...] and having come down with them, he stood upon a level spot, and a crowd of his disciples, and a great multitude of the people [...] who came to hear him [...]  And he, having lifted up his eyes to his disciples, said: “Happy the poor – because yours is the reign of God [etc...]“

But in Matthew 5, we read:

And having seen the multitudes, he went up to the mount, and he having sat down, his disciples came to him, and having opened his mouth, he was teaching them, saying: “Happy the poor in spirit – because theirs is the reign of the heavens [etc...]“

So did Jesus give His sermon on the way up the mountain or on the way back down?  Do Matthew and Luke have their times and places confused?  Why does Matthew quote Jesus saying “the poor in spirit” while Luke records Jesus saying simply “the poor”?  What is the difference between the “reign of God” and the “reign of the heavens”?  Perhaps Jesus gave the same message, although not word-for-word, twice, once on the way up and once on the way down.  What is important here is the message itself, and how the hearers received it.  One regular blog reader, Mary Vanderplas, sums up the situation nicely in her comments on the previous blog, “Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Croissants Falling from the Sky“:

I like what you say about Jesus’ frequent use of metaphorical speech and about the need to interpret such speech rightly. I think you’re right, too, in asserting a connection between the preceding parables in Luke 13 and this text in verses 22 and following, though I doubt that the person’s question was prompted by the parables. It is far more likely that Luke arranged the materials thus as part of his “Travel Narrative,” which begins in 9:51. (Matthew has them in separate places – Matthew 13:31-33; 7:13-14, 22-23; 19:30.) At any rate, I think you’re right to see here a connection between Jesus’ teaching in these parables – which call into question conventional ways of thinking about God’s kingdom – and Jesus’ response to this questioner. Specifically, the images in these parables shatter commonly-held views of how God works, much as the final salvation of God will overturn the expectations of those who assume that they are guaranteed a place in the kingdom.

(*Readers can access most of the texts, in context, that I will examine in this blog by clicking this link.)

The audience consists of a large number of people, whether this is two similar sermons or only one.  Some people might argue against this point, which is fine, but I’m not spending too much time defending the idea in this blog.  (For further information, study internal evidence for a single event with two accounts and reference Matthew 5:1, 7:28 and Luke 6:13 & 17-18 for descriptions of the audience.)  Jesus’s audience can be divided into three groups – the twelve disciples chosen from among Jesus’s many other disciples, the disciples who are not included among the twelve, and the “multitudes” of Abraham’s descendants (possibly including a few curious Gentile onlookers).

Jesus describes what kind of people enter into the reign of God – the poor in spirit, the meek, the hungering, the peacemakers, those persecuted for righteousness sake, etc.  This is not a list of qualifications or rules for admittance into the reign of God.  Jesus is simply creating a picture of the attributes one might expect to find among those who possess the life He gives.  By human standards, this is a sad, sorry group of unimportant, unsuccessful people.  By God’s standards, these people have discovered their salvation, they are not preoccupied with important positions in life, and they measure their success in the perfect life of Jesus Christ.  This called-out group of people have a function in the world – to be salt and light to the others.  In Jesus’s time, these two words packed more of a punch than they do now, because back then, there was no electricity, hence, no instantaneous flick-of-the-light-switch and no refrigeration to preserve meat (they used salt).  Check out any long-term survival guide, and you will find salt and lighting supplies on the list of must-haves.  There’s a bit of humor in the salt metaphor for the in-your-face-super-religious types of people, that is, salt is essential to animal life, but in excess, it is harmful.

Jesus describes the difference between what people have been taught by religious leaders regarding the law and the actual law itself.  Elsewhere in scripture, Jesus says “It is written,” but here, he says, “You have heard it said…”  For example, Jesus said:

Ye heard that it was said: “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth;” but I – I say to you, not to resist the evil, but whoever shall slap thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other; and whoever is willing to take thee to law, and thy coat to take – suffer to him also the cloak. And whoever shall impress thee one mile, go with him two, to him who is asking of thee be giving, and him who is willing to borrow from thee thou mayest not turn away.

The law to which Jesus refers, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth,” was established for these and other good reasons: to maintain through fear of punishment the general peace and order in society, to ensure that the punishment was neither too lenient nor harsh- that it fit the crime, to ensure that wealth or race or social status did not result in legal bias, and to prevent the violent chaos of disproportionate personal revenge.  The Scribes and Pharisees perverted this law through sophisticated arguments, taking the civil laws into their personal lives, applying the “Eye for an eye” concept to exact emotional, physical, and financial retaliation outside of the court system.  It was used as a means of justifying not only racial inequality, but the outright abuse or even death of non-Jews (Gentiles).  Heathens were not considered “neighbors”, therefore the law did not apply to them, and punishment for crimes against them were more lenient than punishment for crimes against fellow Jews. (*See note 1 at end of blog.)

I did not randomly choose “Eye for an eye” as an example of Jesus’s teaching, I chose it because it is a smooth segue into the next portion of the blog regarding the political climate during Jesus’s ministry.  Martin Luther King Jr. was asked in an interview to explain passive resistance, and he replied:

It was the Sermon on the Mount, rather than a doctrine of passive resistance, that initially inspired the Negroes of Montgomery to dignified social action.  It was Jesus of Nazareth that stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love. [...] The method is passive physically but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive non-resistance to evil, it is active nonviolent resistance to evil.  It does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.  The attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing evil. [It] is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back. [...]  The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent, but he also refuses to hate him. [...] the use of violence in our struggle would be both impractical and immoral. To meet hate with retaliatory hate would do nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Hate begets hate [...] We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love [...]

(*See Note 2 at the end of the blog.)

It is too bad that Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t around to influence the Jewish religious zealots of early first century.  But if they didn’t listen to Jesus, they surely would not have listened to King Jr.  The political situation between certain sects of Jews in Jerusalem and the Roman law enforcement was volatile.  Had these people taken Jesus’s dire warnings seriously, they might have avoided the bloody, violent end Jesus described:

[Jesus said,] “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that is killing the prophets, and stoning those sent unto her, how often did I will to gather together thy children, as a hen her brood under the wings, and ye did not will.  Lo, your house is being left to you desolate [...]”  And when he came nigh, having seen the city, he wept over it, saying – “If thou didst know, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things for thy peace; but now they were hid from thine eyes.  Because days shall come upon thee, and thine enemies shall cast around thee a rampart, and compass thee round, and press thee on every side, and lay thee low, and thy children within thee, and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone, because thou didst not know the time of thy inspection.”

When Jesus spoke to the Jewish multitudes, His audience was God’s covenant people, people who God had promised to cleanse of sin.  Their blindness and stubborn rebellion came as no surprise to God.  Yes, Jesus wept, because He knew what was about to happen to them, how they would suffer the consequences of their decision to take up arms against the Roman soldiers.  But Jesus also knew that God’s glorious Plan of the Ages would result in not only the salvation of Israel, but the salvation of the whole world.  Paul explained this concept in Romans 11:

For I do not wish you [the church in Rome, mostly Gentile Christians] to be ignorant, brethren, of this secret – that ye may not be wise in your own conceits – that hardness in part to Israel hath happened till the fulness of the nations may come in; and so all Israel shall be saved, according as it hath been written, “There shall come forth out of Sion he who is delivering, and he shall turn away impiety from Jacob, and this to them [is] the covenant from Me, when I may take away their sins.”  As regards, indeed, the good tidings, [the Jews who persecute Christians are] enemies on your account; and as regards the choice – beloved on account of the fathers; for unrepented of [are] the gifts and the calling of God; for as ye also once did not believe in God, and now did find kindness by the unbelief of these: so also these now did not believe, that in your kindness they also may find kindness; for God did shut up together the whole to unbelief, that to the whole He might do kindness.

If we closely examine Jesus’s words, we can see the beginning of the revelation brought to light by the apostle Paul regarding the future of those Jewish zealots who died between 66 and 70 AD.  For example, Jesus said, “If thou didst know, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things for thy peace [...]” Notice how He clarifies that at this time they did not know the things for their peace.  It may be a stretch for the evangelical mind to see the implications – that Jesus longed for them to know now instead of later.  I realize that this portion of the text, alone, does not fully support the point I am making, but if we keep reading, it will become more obvious.  Jesus said, “Lo, your house is being left to you desolate, and verily I say to you – ye may not see me, till it may come, when ye may say, “Blessed [is] he who is coming in the name of the Lord.”  There will come a day when these people, who persecuted the “few” and rejected the “narrow” gate in favor of the “wide” path leading to destruction, will see their Messiah.  Jesus even prophecies the words they will speak, words which indicate a change of heart.

Some readers may be questioning whether those who died in 70 AD can be rightly identified as the “many” to whom Jesus referred in the Sermon on the Mount, so let’s take a look.  There are three points we should examine.  First, the admonition to enter the narrow gate is immediately followed by a warning against false prophets.  Second, there is an urgency to enter the reign of God while there is still time, before the door is closed, because the reign of God was “about presently to be made manifest”.  Third, the two groups (“few” and “many”) are clearly described: those who enter in before the door is closed and those who are shut out.

The warning against the false prophets is a theme repeated throughout the gospels and scripture in general.  Jesus said that the few would know who the false prophets were based on their “fruits” or results of their actions, and He uses similar language to describe hypocrites and Jewish opponents – it may be that the “many” include all these people groups, who exhibit the same “fruits”.  For example, Jesus says,

Take heed your kindness not to do before men, to be seen by them, and if not — reward ye have not from your Father who [is] in the heavens; whenever, therefore, thou mayest do kindness, thou mayest not sound a trumpet before thee as the hypocrites do, in the synagogues, and in the streets, that they may have glory from men; verily I say to you – they have their reward!  But thou, doing kindness, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth, that thy kindness may be in secret, and thy Father who is seeing in secret Himself shall reward thee manifestly. And when thou mayest pray, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites, because they love in the synagogues, and in the corners of the broad places – standing – to pray, that they may be seen of men; verily I say to you, that they have their reward.

It is obvious, based on the way Jesus describes them, that the “many” are more concerned with appearing righteous than they are with actually being righteous.  Matthew records Jesus’s scathing, open rebuke of the “many”, highlighting their bad fruits for His audience:

On the seat of Moses sat down the scribes and the Pharisees

Jesus identifies the many directly – they are those religious leaders who do the following:

they say, and do not; for they bind together burdens heavy and grievous to be borne, and lay upon the shoulders of men, but with their finger they will not move them. And all their works they do to be seen by men, and they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the fringes of their garments, they love also the chief couches in the supper, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the market-places, and to be called by men, Rabbi, Rabbi. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye shut up the reign of the heavens before men, for ye do not go in, nor those going in do ye suffer to enter.

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the many were more concerned about the political ramifications than they were with whether Jesus actually was Who He claimed to be.  Instead of using their powerful and influential positions to champion Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, they worried about what they might stand to lose because of this miracle.  They held a meeting, as follows:

[...] the chief priests, therefore, and the Pharisees, gathered together a sanhedrim, and said, “What may we do? because this man doth many signs? If we may let him alone thus, all will believe in him; and the Romans will come, and will take away both our place and nation.” And a certain one of them, Caiaphas, being chief priest of that year, said to them, “Ye have not known anything, nor reason that it is good for us that one man may die for the people, and not the whole nation perish. [...] From that day, therefore, they took counsel together that they may kill him.

What seemingly better way to “shut up the reign of the heavens before men” than to do away with the One Who is ushering in the reign?

Jesus continues to describe the many to His audience:

Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye eat up the houses of the widows, and for a pretence make long prayers, because of this ye shall receive more abundant judgment. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye go round the sea and the dry land to make one proselyte, and whenever it may happen – ye make him a son of gehenna twofold more than yourselves.

Remember in the Sermon on the Mount, how Jesus said:

I say to you, that every one who is angry at his brother without cause, shall be in danger of the judgment, and whoever may say to his brother, Empty fellow! shall be in danger of the sanhedrim, and whoever may say, Rebel! shall be in danger of the gehenna of the fire.

Jesus knew that the judgment of Israel was quickly approaching.  God would very soon remove His hand of protection from them, creating a vacuous space for their enemies to destroy them.  Not only would those who follow the false prophets be subject to judgment by religious leaders (sanhedrim), but they would also be subject to the gehenna of fire (Jerusalem, 70 AD), a spiritual garbage dump.  In this way, the Scribes and Pharisees make the proselyte “a son of gehenna twofold more than” themselves.

Jesus continues to rebuke the religious leaders in the presence of His audience, the masses of Jewish listeners:

Wo to you, blind guides, who are saying, “Whoever may swear by the sanctuary, it is nothing, but whoever may swear by the gold of the sanctuary – is debtor!” Fools and blind! for which [is] greater, the gold, or the sanctuary that is sanctifying the gold? And, whoever may swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever may swear by the gift that is upon it – is debtor! Fools and blind! for which [is] greater, the gift, or the altar that is sanctifying the gift? He therefore who did swear by the altar, doth swear by it, and by all things on it; and he who did swear by the sanctuary, doth swear by it, and by Him who is dwelling in it; and he who did swear by the heaven, doth swear by the throne of God, and by Him who is sitting upon it. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye give tithe of the mint, and the dill, and the cumin, and did neglect the weightier things of the Law – the judgment, and the kindness, and the faith; these it behoved [you] to do, and those not to neglect.

Let me demonstrate how the concepts Jesus taught, if they had been practically applied, could have saved the many from destruction.  Caligula (the cruel and likely insane Roman Caesar) decided that a statue of himself should be set up in the Holy of Holies in the Temple.  Petronius, the man Caligula put in charge of doing the deed, was impressed by the fact that the Jewish religious leaders would rather die, and in fact, let the whole nation die, before they would allow Caligula’s statue to be set up in the temple.  Although their angry tenacity seems to be commendable, we must remember that Jesus is “God with us”, and that the Spirit of God claimed the vessels (bodies, hearts, minds) of believers as the new “temple” of God.  The religious system and all its trappings were no longer the dwelling place of God among men.  They had become mere buildings, used by people who imagined for themselves elaborate lists of rules and regulations.  The Jewish religious leaders were unable to recognize that the reign of God was not in the Holy of Holies of their Temple building, the reign of God should have been within them!  How could Caligula possibly set up a statue there?  Caligula’s demands should have been disappointing to them, but it should never have been considered an act worth resisting to the point of the bloodshed and enslavement of millions of lives.  Clearly, they did, as Jesus said, neglect “judgment, and the kindness, and the faith” to let God be the One to judge Caligula’s stupidity.  Consequently, God did just that, because it was not yet the appointed time for the “abomination of desolation” to take place.  (I’ll explain this further shortly.)  Petronius decided to disobey orders.  Caligula found out about it and wrote an order for Petronius to be put to death.  But while the written order was en route, Caligula died at sea because of bad weather.  The letter arrived after the news of Caligula’s death, so Petronius was never executed.  Nevertheless, a rift between the Jews and Romans was created, and it would continue to grow…

Jesus said of the Scribes and Pharisees:

Blind guides! who are straining out the gnat, and the camel are swallowing. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye make clean the outside of the cup and the plate, and within they are full of rapine and incontinence. Blind Pharisee! cleanse first the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside of them also may become clean. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye are like to whitewashed sepulchres, which outwardly indeed do appear beautiful, and within are full of bones of dead men, and of all uncleanness; so also ye outwardly indeed do appear to men righteous, and within ye are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and adorn the tombs of the righteous, and say, “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” So that ye testify to yourselves, that ye are sons of them who did murder the prophets; and ye – ye fill up the measure of your fathers. Serpents! brood of vipers! how may ye escape from the judgment of the gehenna? Because of this, lo, I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, and of them ye will kill and crucify, and of them ye will scourge in your synagogues, and will pursue from city to city; that on you may come all the righteous blood being poured out on the earth from the blood of Abel the righteous, unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar: verily I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.

 

Jewish zealots violently raided Jerusalem, revolting against Roman rule, and for a while, they succeeded.  They raided the homes of local Jews and stole their food.  The Roman soldiers then destroyed the food supply, and people were dying of starvation.  The Jewish sects were vicious to one another in the fight for survival within the city, and the Roman army reorganized and gathered around the city, just as Jesus said.  The Romans gave the people an opportunity to surrender, but they would not – they were more concerned about the appearance of righteousness (having a temple and an orderly system of religious ceremonies) than righteousness itself (love your enemies… do good to those who hate you, etc).  By the time the Roman soldiers were able to enter the city, they were so enraged that they did not wait for orders; they immediately destroyed the temple and slaughtered many Jews.  All of this took place about within the Biblical generation (40 years) of when Christ made His prophetic pronouncement.  The bad/evil fruits of the false prophets, indeed, led to the destruction of the many who followed them along the wide path.

Jesus’s warning against entering the wide gate, accompanied by His description of the many as “false prophets, who come unto you in sheep’s clothing, and inwardly are ravening wolves”, say “Lord, Lord” but do not do the will of the Father, hear but don’t do Jesus’s words, are not known by the “master of the house”, believe that their association with the master (eating and drinking with the master, the master taught in their “broad places”) will be enough to secure their entrance into life, and are “workers of unrighteousness”.  By now, we should be getting a clearer picture of the many.

In contrast, Jesus’s admonition to enter the narrow gate is accompanied by His list of the attributes of the few, that is, they have a righteousness that “abound[s] above that of the scribes and Pharisees”, “seek first” the reign of God over physical needs, do the will of the Father, are known by the “master of the house”, and the progressive triplet – they come to Jesus, hear Him, and do His words.  We also have a clearer picture of the “few”.

Notice that both the few and the many do works.  The few hear the will of the Father from Jesus Christ and put what they hear into practice.  The many suppose or pretend they are doing the will of the Father, but their works are unrighteous.  The reason for this is not because the few are better or smarter or put forth a greater effort.  If this were the case, then we would have to assume that righteousness is a human effort, achievable apart from Christ.  The possibility of a fallible, spiritually dead human being possessing the inclination or ability to do the will of the Father comes only through Jesus Christ, because it is only through Jesus Christ that the Father reveals His will and establishes His reign in and among individuals.  His kingdom is not about average people trying to attain spiritual perfection.  His reign is a “life” relationship between Himself and His people, and it is also a “life” relationship between His people and others.  It is what Jesus calls “My Father’s will” – a new way to relate to one another and to God because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Robert Guelich, in his book, A Foundation for Understanding The Sermon on The Mount, writes:

Inherent to “my Father’s will” was the christological basis of Jesus Messiah, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise for the day of salvation, that brought about a different orientation to the Mosaic Law.  Therefore, any “prophecy” that attempted to apply rigorously the Mosaic Law failed at precisely the same point where the Pharisees broke with Jesus’ ministry, namely, at the implications of his coming for the old order, the Law in Judaism.  Put another way, those seeking to live and to influence others to live under the “Sinai Torah,” the Law of Moses legalistically understood, had not accepted Jesus Messiah and the accompanying “Zion Torah” whose basis was the presence in history of the new age with its message of salvation and reconciliation between God and his own.  They had ultimately failed to hear the “gospel of the Kingdom,” which offered a new basis and power for conduct, “righteousness” as seen in [Matthew 5-7].

Let’s suppose that the early first century Jewish zealots experienced the same, life-changing spiritual birth as the disciples or the apostle Paul.  How might things have gone differently?  Perhaps they would have recognized the events foretold by Jesus as recorded in the gospels and by John in Revelation unfolding before their very eyes.

Jesus said, “Do ye not see all these [temple buildings]? verily I say to you, There may not be left here a stone upon a stone, that shall not be thrown down.”

The disciples asked, “Tell us, when shall these be? and what [is] the sign of thy presence, and of the full end of the age?”

Jesus answered,

Take heed that no one may lead you astray, for many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they shall lead many astray,[...] Whenever, therefore, ye may see the abomination of the desolation, that was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever is reading let him observe) then those in Judea – let them flee to the mounts [...] for there shall be then great tribulation.

(The “abomination of desolation” in Daniel is a prophecy about a ruler causing sacrifices to cease for about three and a half years and the profaning of the temple – if it is to be interpreted literally.)

John, likely comparing the Roman Empire to a beast, writes, that a “beast with seven heads” that “was given to it a mouth speaking great things, and evil-speakings, and there was given to it authority to make war forty-two months, and it did open its mouth for evil-speaking toward God, to speak evil of His name [...]”

According to historical records, Nero Caesar (whose Hebrew numeric name-value is 666 and who was called a “beast” in his time), one of the most ruthless rulers ever, claimed to be the sun-god Apollo and demanded the honor of divinity.  He was the first ruler to institute the persecution of Christians, which lasted from 64 AD until he died in 68 – about three and a half years later.  The zealots rebelled and encouraged the general Jewish population to rebel against Roman rule, to rid Jerusalem of the Roman Empire by force. Eventually the temple was profaned, as described by Jesus in the book of Luke:

And when ye may see Jerusalem surrounded by encampments, then know that come nigh did her desolation; then those in Judea, let them flee to the mountains; and those in her midst, let them depart out; and those in the countries, let them not come in to her; because these are days of vengeance, to fulfil all things that have been written. And wo to those with child, and to those giving suck, in those days; for there shall be great distress on the land, and wrath on this people; and they shall fall by the mouth of the sword, and shall be led captive to all the nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by nations, till the times of nations be fulfilled.

What if the zealots and warring Jewish factions had done the works they heard from Jesus Christ?

Love your enemies, bless those cursing you, do good to those hating you, and pray for those accusing you falsely, and persecuting you, that ye may be sons of your Father in the heavens, because His sun He doth cause to rise on evil and good, and He doth send rain on righteous and unrighteous. For, if ye may love those loving you, what reward have ye? do not also the tax-gatherers the same? and if ye may salute your brethren only, what do ye abundant? do not also the tax-gatherers so? ye shall therefore be perfect, as your Father who [is] in the heavens is perfect.

What if they had heeded the clear warning to “flee to the mountains” and “depart out” and “not come in to [Jerusalem]” when they saw that it was surrounded by armies?  Normally, when an area is under attack, the safest place to take refuge is within the city walls, but this is not true of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  Jesus knew it, and He warned His listeners to enter His reign while there was still time, before the door would be shut to them.  Few people understood this.  Many did not.  This sheds new light on the meaning of what Jesus said to His disciples when they asked Him why He always taught in parables (here translated similes):

To you it hath been given to know the secrets of the reign of the heavens, and to these it hath not been given, for whoever hath, it shall be given to him, and he shall have overabundance, and whoever hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken from him. Because of this, in similes do I speak to them, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor understand, and fulfilled on them is the prophecy of Isaiah, that saith, With hearing ye shall hear, and ye shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see, and ye shall not perceive, for made gross was the heart of this people, and with the ears they heard heavily, and their eyes they did close, lest they might see with the eyes, and with the ears might hear, and with the heart understand, and turn back, and I might heal them. And happy are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear, for verily I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men did desire to see that which ye look on, and they did not see, and to hear that which ye hear, and they did not hear.

Before I close, I must admit that I do not yet have a complete understanding of some portions of the scriptural texts to which I refer.  Undoubtedly, blog readers will comment or email me concerning apocalyptic language and parables and the like, which is fine, but I’d like to preemptively offer that many prophetic passages in scripture are fulfilled in a progressive, layered manner.  The more I learn and understand, the less tightly I hold to my former futuristic view of many scriptures.  I do not condemn those who hold to the rapture-seven-years-antichrist-one-world-government type of teachings, and although I have increasing doubts regarding such things, I do recognize my own ignorance.  For all I know, they could be right.  Regardless, I feel very confident that the things I have written in this blog are also accurate.

I also want to add that just because there was a first century fulfillment of the few and many and narrow gate and wide path, this does not mean that these scriptures are no longer applicable. Just to give one example, the many – do works “in the name” of Jesus Christ, yet those who rejected Christ and suffered destruction in Jerusalem probably did not claim the name of Christ for their actions.  This is definitely food for thought.

Matthew and Luke retell Jesus’s stories and teachings from different angles.  When I say different, I don’t mean that one is right and other is wrong.  They compliment each other, and lend support to the idea that the warnings Jesus gave to His immediate audience should also be taken seriously by modern-day hearers of His words, especially those who claim to be disciples of the Good Shepherd.  The larger context of His words should not be dismissed just because the immediate context of His words have already played out in history.

Matthew presents Jesus’s words in such a way that should make the religious leaders of today’s institutional church shudder.  Perhaps they were actually included among Jesus’s intended audience.  After all, Jesus knew His words would be recorded and read in future generations, didn’t He?  Jesus knew that people would seek to validate and legitimize their actions by doing them “in His name”.  Jesus knew that His name would be abused by those who want positions of honor and power as wolves among sheep.  Not everyone comes to Jesus in this age.  Not everyone who comes to Him hears Him.  And not everyone who hears Him enters into the life He gives, a perfect, righteous life that results in the hearer actually being willing and able to do the will of God.  The “leaven of the Scribes and Pharisees” is still working its way through the dough of humanity.  However, the kingdom of God or reign of God is “like leaven, which a woman, having taken, did hide in three measures of meal, till that all was leavened.”  The three measures (who I suspect are the believers who are overcomers, the believers who are not overcomers, and the unbelievers) will all be leavened, that is, subjected to His will, which is the only will that results in life – abundant life.

*Note 1: It is interesting that the concept of eternal torment in Hell as “just” punishment makes the practices of the Scribes and Pharisees look absolutely righteous.  In fact, if a Pharisee were to beat a Gentile to death for telling a lie, then he would be more merciful than the god-of-eternal-torment, because at least he brings the punishment to an end.  What does this say about the eternal torment doctrine?  If this were true, then don’t you think that God takes “eye for an eye” to a new and utterly brutal level?

*Note 2: It is interesting that if Martin Luther King Jr. were to have taught his followers to behave like the god-of-eternal-torment, then American history would be much bloodier than it already is.  Is Martin Luther King Jr. better at following the will of God than God Himself?  Why is Martin Luther King Jr. praised for responding to hate with love?  Because it is the right thing to do – what Jesus taught.  If Jesus said, “My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me,” then doesn’t this mean that God has a loving way to deal with hate?  What does this tell you about the doctrine of eternal torment?

I’ve often wondered why God allows the spiritual police of this world to have such influence on those around them.

Why is God willing to allow brand new believers to be suckered into the church scene, given a list of rules and expectations to follow, and assigned a low place in the hierarchy from which he or she may climb after gaining the trust and approval of people in positions of authority?

Why are the opinions and teachings of religious leaders considered orthodoxy, while those of regular people are considered heretical?

Why is this the norm instead of the exception?

The other day, as I was reading Luke 15, the answer to these questions occurred to me.

Once upon a time, an unlikely crowd gathered around Jesus as He was mingling with people at the mall.  The crowd included Franklin Graham, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, James Dobson, Pope Benedict XVI, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, and other influential religious leaders.  There were also religious outcasts: Casey Anthony, Howard Stern, Michael Vic, Hugh Hefner, Marilyn Manson, Muammar al-Gaddafi, Tiger Woods, and others.  Some of the religious leaders, who made a point to shun religious outcasts, grumbled disapprovingly when they saw that Jesus was hanging around with “those people” in the food court.

Jesus’ response was to tell three lost and found stories, which have been a source of hope among those who hear it for centuries.  In the third and probably most popular of the stories, about the prodigal son who returns to his father, Jesus introduced a third character, the older brother of the prodigal son, the one who didn’t squander his inheritance, the one who took his responsibilities seriously, the one who didn’t screw up.  This disapproving, complaining older brother represents the religious leaders and how they view those who do not live according to their standards.

Once Jesus had the attention of the religious leaders, He told another couple of stories.  The first story is about a manager who is about to lose his job, so he starts cutting people’s debt in half, so that when he was out on the street, there might be people who would be willing to help him.  Surprisingly, in this story, the boss praises the manager for his decision.  This is a complete reversal of how people might expect the boss to respond, unless, of course, the boss thinks of “money” differently than the average person.  Apparently, the more money the manager gave away, the happier the boss was.  The boss did not want the manager to hoard the money for himself.  The less people owed, the better, including the manager.

What does this mean?  The way to be faithful, is to give away what the boss has entrusted to us.  Learn to see value in other people.

Can you imagine how church leaders today might respond if Jesus were to interrupt the finance committee and tell them that the more money they give away, the better?  In the story, the manager was about to lose his job.  He was desperate.  I believe that many religious institutions are in this situation today.  Their doors are about to close, because they can’t afford the mortgage or upkeep on the building, the overhead for study materials, musical equipment, etc.  Those who are employed by the institution know that if the little box collapses, they are without a paycheck.  According to the story Jesus told, the best way to handle this situation is not to hold the money in a tight fist but to give it away.  Lose the building.  It’s just stuff.  People matter – not stuff.  Salvation is free!  The Boss (God) has a plan that turns what we understand to be true upside down.  Things are not as they seem.  The outcasts are very important, and the religious leaders are being handed their hats.

Jesus didn’t stop with this story; He told another, darker story, a warning against the religious leaders about the consequences of their decisions.  This story has been widely misinterpreted as “proof” of eternal torment in hell.  It’s hard to believe how thoroughly mainstream Christianity has twisted the teaching of Christ.  To hear/see the REAL story, watch these videos: The Rich Man and Lazarus Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.

God allows the spiritual police of this world to have such influence on those around them, because He wants people to understand Who He is and what He does, and sometimes the best way to learn these things is to first learn Who He is NOT and what does NOT do.  The religious elite are doing a fine job of teaching the NOT-god.

God is willing to allow brand new believers to be suckered into the church scene, given a list of rules and expectations to follow, and assigned a low place in the hierarchy from which he or she may climb after gaining the trust and approval of people in positions of authority, because He wants people to know what spiritual “debt” feels like.  It is imposed by people, not God.  The price was paid, once and for all.  God wants to teach people that His approval does not come from a high place in the religious hierarchy, following rules, or attending church.  The perfect life of Jesus Christ is our approval, because we are in Him.

God allows the orthodox to contrast the so-called heretical, because He has appointed for certain people to see past the “wisdom” of theologians and approved leaders.  He gives common sense to people who have no titles and no respect in church circles – people with vices and weaknesses.  God picks the least likely candidates to “get it” and leaves the “know-it-alls” in the dark – “The foolish things of the world did God choose, that the wise He may put to shame; and the weak things of the world did God choose that He may put to shame the strong.”  In the end, God will demonstrate how little the wisdom of orthodox Churchianity has contributed to His Plan of the Ages.  It’s main purpose is to provide contrast, to provide us with useless answers to tough questions, to demonstrate the self-righteousness at work in the human race, to show what it means to be a slave to religion, so that we may more plainly see Him and the freedom of His perfect love.

Five Final Observations from Atheists (Part Three)

Posted: 18th August 2011 by admin in Uncategorized
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21. Atheists have something like faith, that is, saying there must be more than we can know – they all emphatically agree on this.

What I gather from this remark is that atheists are in agreement with the idea that there is more to existence than what we as human beings are able to know, but what bothers them is that some people claim to understand this unknown.  I can understand why this would be annoying to them from a strictly scientific viewpoint, because there’s no way to get inside someone else’s head/heart/soul to find out whether it is wishful thinking or truth.

22. Regarding atheist books – people don’t read them, they just read the reviews and then react.

This is an excellent point.  I share their frustration in this.  No one has the right to bash a book they’ve never even bothered to read.  I haven’t bashed atheist books, but I haven’t read them either.  If any atheists out there want to recommend the top five, I’ll be sure to do that (and maybe even review one or two of them).

23. Dawkins says grace (as in thanking God for the food) out of courtesy, but it doesn’t mean a thing to him.

This is a kindness that has been extended to me by my atheist/agnostic friends and family.  Especially at Christmas time – everyone joins in the festivities because it seems like the thing to do, not because they believe any of it.

24. All religions are equally false.  Latently, they are equally as dangerous because of the surrender of the mind.  Zionist movement is an example of how extreme thinking spreads quickly… I’m not likely to have my throat cut at the supermarket by a Quaker, but they see evil, cruelty, and violence and don’t fight it, so they are a serious danger to the United States – they (religions) are all equally rotten, false, dishonest, corrupt, humorless, and dangerous.

The atheists are justified in pointing out the evils of religion.  I agree that all religions are false, but this does not mean that all religions are totally false.  There are truths to be found in all religions, some containing more truth than others.  I wish there were a simply way to convey the difference between religion (rituals, rules, dogma, orthodoxy, etc) and a relationship with the Creator of the universe, because they are totally different concepts.  Religion is man’s idea of finding God, but God transcends religion.  Religions can be dangerous.  Jesus said whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  One way to know whether your religion is dangerous is to examine its history of bloodshed as well as its potential for bloodshed.  The Zionist movement, a political and military program whose proponents believe they can actually hasten the return of Jesus Christ by bringing about the fulfillment of prophecy in returning Jews to Israel, is a good example of religion turned dangerous.  What do you think Jesus would say about all the bloodshed that has taken place as a result of these efforts?  Yes, religion is dangerous when it is taken to extremes.  Is religion rotten?  I suppose it can be at times.  Dishonest?  Corrupt?  Humorless?  It depends on which religion one examines.  However, I personally do not see how Quakers are a danger to the United States.  How bizarre that a group of people who refuse to take up a weapon can be considered dangerous!  Could atheism become dangerous or fanatical?  I see potential for it in the comment about the Quakers.

25. What can be reasonably accomplished in the lives of our children? Something we can do other than criticism? Minority secularists will be defeated by theocracy, which will end up destroying civilization.

Just as the conversation started to take a productive turn, the atheists threw in the towel.  They asked the question and then sank into despair.  I certainly don’t consider secularists a minority – almost every college professor I’ve had so far is atheist or agnostic.  Academia has all but eliminated spirituality, with the exception of philosophy and world religion classes.  As to the idea that theocracy will end up destroying civilization – this is certainly a possibility, but not an inevitable one.  Perhaps if theists and atheists can work together, concentrating on what we have in common, the future will be brighter than these atheists predict.

I’ve included below the comment section that prompted me to post this blog series.  It is rather lengthy, but interesting…

Robert – likes this.

Sean – ‎…. or don’t. That’s what makes it a choice.

Alice – ‎”Just believe” is a sarcastic title, to draw attention to the idea that God is the one who gives a person the faith of Christ. No one believes on their own, as an act of the will. Perhaps you are right in pointing out that people choose not to believe, as in our nature, we do not want to acknowledge God, or even if we do, we do not want to have anything to do with God. God has to step in and change that predisposition. It is similar to that discussion between you and Mom/Mary a couple of weeks ago.

Sean – If God gave Jesus (himself) authority over flesh, does that mean that God has no authority over flesh now, but Jesus, his son (himself) who was made flesh and dwelt among us was given by God the Father (himself) as a sacrifice to “cleanse the sin” of the thing which was the “breath of life” (alternately translated as “the stuff of his being”) which has the choice to accept the sacrifice of the thing which was himself made flesh to dwell among us, but was offered as a blood sacrifice for the payment of the sin which was born into us from the beginning, but there is really no reason to worry because it has already been done, and we don’t have to do anything about it anymore, but we have to believe because there is no other reason to think otherwise?????? Yes, very simple indeed.

Sean – I am so happy to have my head unglued from the spyrograph of dogma.

Joyce – i disagree some with what you say… about sin was born in us… being a son of God (which we are)… we could not have sin born in us… God bless

Alice – You purposely framed a plethora of questions in an elaborate and intentionally confusing run-on sentence, labeled it the “spyrograph of dogma”, and then followed this with a contrasting “Yes, very simple indeed.” You have effectively demonstrated that words are powerful, and that you know how to arrange them toward whatever end you wish. Use that power wisely, Grasshopper.

Sean – It is the very thought pattern that is required to hold up the entire deck of cards, and just a nudge toward rationalism makes it all fall down. It is neither condescending, nor intentionally malevolent in any way, but simply another way to look at it from the outside, once you have left the old way of thinking behind….. Jesus is just alright with me, but I do not define GOD as man, or any man that ever was, and the idea that THE GOD which made the entire universe needs (or wants) anything from us, is in my opinion the greatest expression of ego that humankind can demonstrate…. coming from that point of view, when you say, “No one believes on their own, as an act of the will. Perhaps you are right in pointing out that people choose not to believe, as in our nature, we do not want to acknowledge God, or even if we do, we do not want to have anything to do with God. “, you are intentionally inserting several assumptions that do not add up to a whole logical conclusion. Lemma, If no one believes on their own, as an act of the will, then is belief predefined under something other than will? Why is it assumed that it is our nature not to acknowledge God? In fact, when the counterpoint of “revelation of God” is brought up, all the Christian apologists, including Mom will vigorously defend the idea that God is self-evident in nature, or expresses himself through others or events in our lives, or through some mysterious “still small voice” that talks to them (literally). They will heartily conclude that this is because God wants to talk/befriend/have the worship of/needs the belief of (as a condition of our obedience, acceptance of, and loving communion with…) FROM us for some reason that makes us very important indeed to the mysterious power who chooses to speak to us with stories and mysteries and CONFUSION, but loves us a lot, and that is why, young Padawan, I use such lengthy connectives to describe the absurdity of it, from the power of words to describe things which are evident, and demonstrable….. things like the elaborate nature of pre-defined beliefs that have no method of verification, and the assumptions of worthiness, importance, or meaning of our existence that are only evident in our belief, and not our reality.

Marie ‎(with Mary) – Sean, It is astonishing that the God who made and governs the universe acted to make himself known to us so as to have a relationship with us. That is the affirmation on which the Christian faith rests and without which there would be no Christian faith. We can know God only because God has revealed himself to us. Such a conviction inspires the deepest humility and gratitude, not pride. Why God chose to do this, why he wants our love and submission, remains hidden to us. We know only that he does and that he has spoken. You ask, “Why is it assumed that it is our nature not to acknowledge God?” If it were our nature to acknowledge God, then more people would acknowledge him. The fact that many do not is a good indication that responding to God’s self-revelation is not natural. The Bible tells the reason why: sin. But of course this explanation of why many do not turn to God is a statement of faith. You say, “…all the Christian apologists, including Mom will vigorously defend the idea that God is self-evident in nature, or expresses himself through others or events in our lives, or through some mysterious ‘still small voice’ that talks to them (literally).” This is plainly not true. We do not believe – let alone vigorously defend – that God is self-evident in nature. In fact, we believe just the opposite: that God’s self-revelation in nature is ambiguous and that God is seen in nature only by those who believe. Likewise, God’s revelation of himself in our experiences is not proof to the watching world either that he exists or that he is the personal God revealed in the Christian scriptures. We do believe that we are important to God, as stated above, but for reasons that are neither self-evident nor necessary – i.e., the conclusion of a rational argument. It is an astonishing truth, and one that we embrace gladly and humbly. Regarding the hiddenness of God’s self-revelation, we are helped by something C.S. Lewis said about the matter: “Christians…have a bad habit of talking as if revelation existed to gratify curiosity by illuminating all creation so that it becomes self-explanatory and all questions are answered. But revelation appears to me to be purely practical, to be addressed to the particular animal, Fallen Man, for the relief of his urgent necessities—not to be the spirit of inquiry in man for the gratification of his liberal curiosity. We know that God has visited and redeemed His people… What we must do, which road we must take to the fountain of life, we know, and none who has seriously followed the directions complains that he has been deceived.” (from God in the Dock, p. 43) It stands to reason that if one assumes that what is most real is that which can be explained, demonstrated, empirically verified, proven, etc., one would reject as absurd what can only be known by faith. You can’t get to New York by setting your GPS for Los Angeles. For us, the realm of the spiritual and our relationship with God experienced by faith is every bit as real as the air we breathe. Love, Mom and Mary

Marie ‎(with Mary) – Actually the Bible’s explanation as to why many don’t acknowledge and turn to God is also that there are powers of darkness that inhabit the world, blinding people to the truth of God’s existence and love.

Sean ‎- “God’s self revelation in nature is ambiguous and that God is seen in nature only by those who believe” … if belief is given or revealed, then is God choosing those who believe, or are the chosen doing the believing of their own volition? Regarding the assumption that it is our nature Not to acknowledge God, how can that stand against your other statements “Yes, religion is a universal human quest. And, we believe, the one true God is universally present and worshiped in paganism, even though pagan religions are ignorant of his identity.” and “There is no denying that rational thought is inherent to human beings. That is why our instinct is to try to prove the existence of God and to doubt or disbelieve what cannot be substantiated by rational argument.” In both arguments, the opposite conclusion is used to justify the current logical dilemma, and both cannot be correct, as they are mutually exclusive arguements. The “accident of birth” determines which of the many invisible sky gods we accept in our culture. And cultural influence in the belief of irrational thought is a well known, scientific, and historical demonstrable phenomena. Breaking out the boogeyman (devil, dark forces, etc.) is the last resort to an indefensible arguement. I have been called a “false teacher” and “prophet of satan” by several folks throughout the years when the debate reveals a singular and (to the believer) unacceptable conclusion that contradicts faith. If the faith is being given by God, then is he allowing that faith to be taken by the Devil? Is he powerless to stop the devil in this? And since we are given this faith, and we are not the ones who do this, then when we don’t have faith, does that mean we are equally uninvolved in the process, or are we responible for our unbelief? And which is it…. Are we the ones who believe – then we get to see God – or is it God who lets us (makes us) believe and lets Satan take the rest? Either God is revealing himself to a purpose which includes our decision, or he is making that decision for us by our place and time of birth and the circumstances that surround our exposure to this belief. In either case, it seems to be curiously arbitrary.

Marie ‎(with Mary) – Searching for what will give meaning to our existence (the universal human quest) and acknowledging the God who has spoken so as to be known by his human creatures are two different things. The former is natural to us (since human life doesn’t contain its meaning within itself); the latter is not, in the sense that we are predisposed because of sin not to acknowledge/love/trust/worship/submit to God. That anyone believes in God and submits to his loving rule is solely the result of God’s acting to choose/love/help/save him or her. No one comes to God apart from God’s choosing and drawing. At the same time, though, believing is something we do – an act of the will – enabled by the Spirit, in response to God’s gracious acts. We believe that both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are affirmed in the Bible – a paradox that cannot be explained, only accepted. We don’t deny the role of culture in influencing people’s religious beliefs, including our own. And we can’t say with intellectual certainty that our religion is true. However, to acknowledge the influence of family and culture in shaping our beliefs is not to say that in the end this is why we believe. We believe – and continue to believe in the face of doubts – because of our experience of God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ. And it does not follow that the things we affirm are inherently irrational simply because they are faith judgments and cannot be proven. We don’t sacrifice rational thought as Christians. We simply acknowledge the limits of the human intellect when it comes to knowing and understanding the things of God. We weren’t “breaking out the bogeyman” because we were pinned in a corner and unable to defend our views rationally. We were not trying to argue or defend rationally what we hold to be true by faith. Nor were we attacking you or making judgments about you. We were simply stating that when it comes to the issue of why many do not acknowledge God (and why in fact we cannot know God apart from God’s seeking us and enabling our coming to faith), the reasons the Bible gives are human sinfulness and the reality of powers of darkness that blind unbelievers to the truth of God. The Bible asserts the reality of evil forces at work in the world (without explaining how evil can exist in a world created and ruled by an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good God.) But it doesn’t present a dualistic picture. God allows evil powers to have their way – he has relinquished a measure of control to them – but they are not independent of God. And while these evil powers exert an influence on us, they are not ultimately responsible for our actions. Neither God nor Satan is responsible for human unbelief. As stated above, we believe that God draws people to himself and enables faith but not in such a way that it must be said that God makes us believe, thereby rendering us less than the free and responsible agents he created us to be. As far as what will happen to unbelievers is concerned, we are content to entrust their destiny into the hands of the one loving and merciful God who we believe acted in Christ to save the world. We don’t know the role that God plays when it comes to people of other faiths/religions whose beliefs are determined by their culture. We can say only that because we believe there is one true God who created and sustains all peoples, we believe also that all people of every time and place and culture are God’s children – and that their ultimate destiny is in his loving hands.

Alice – This link won’t work anymore because I noticed a problem with the vid that I wanted to fix. I’ll repost a new link, but I didn’t want to remove this one in case you guys continue with your discussion.

Sean – thank you, Alice, for the floor { :) } – please, understand that I was not saying that your discussion ended up with anyone attacking anyone… I was saying that it HAS been done in the past by more than one person, and that it was a consequence of sitting down and really discussing the logic involved with faith. The reason I brought up Christian apologism is because you, Dad, Mary, and Alice (among many, many others) have all expressed specific “heretical” beliefs that diverge implicitly from the “norm” or “mainstream” Christian fundamental beliefs. You always have very well thought out explanations for why your belief should be what it is, despite the castigation you experience from those with whom you formerly associated with, and yet you all dance around the actual fundamental issue of belief, and why you should have it. I recall, as a very young boy…. I don’t know, maybe 4 or just turning 5 when you excitedly told me that if I died, I could come back as anything I wanted to. You told me, with no uncertainty, that I could come back as a dandelion after I died, because I really wanted to be a dandelion at the time. This was wonderful news, and because you told me so, Mom, I believed it. By the time I was in Sunday school, after you folks had your epiphany with Pastor Davids, the stories changed to another level altogether. When we were exposed to the pejorative dissonance which was Southern Baptist fundamentalism at Pine Hills, I was also developing my sense of self and understanding of these complex issues that the religious thought was based on. When you guys went off in yet another direction with the whole “spirit filled” circus show, you completely lost me…. now, I tell you, believe any fairytale you want to…. I don’t have to, and won’t. I see it as disturbing method of engaging the world, this method of subservience to an invisible master for some awful but necessary atonement. It is just quite simply not true. To entertain these ideas is a form of self-imposed denial of REALITY, not a “betrayal of mystery”….. It is a form of communal mental illness that, somehow, perpetuates from generation to generation, changing as it evolves, but fundamentally the same in its precepts…. faith without evidence, the need for atonement and forgiveness at all times without specifically nameable fault other than mere existence, the indefinable nature of the terms of reconciliation or completedness, the endlessly “mysterious” reasonings or motivations of a (pleased, angry, loving, jealous, forgiving, damning) God who never reveals himself in public, or to my observance, in any LITERAL method in private that may be verified as the “presence of God”, other than the previously mentioned scientific, shamanistic, or drug induced methodologies. Repeatedly, you side-step the OBVIOUS mythological and historical origins of your savior-god, and if we were discussing this 3500+ years ago, his name may very well have been Horus, instead of Jesus. You embrace an ever-changing God who reacts to your wants and needs, like everyone else who creates a god, and you believe it because it is your own delusion, or the one that is acceptable to you and your peers. This acceptability of absurdity needs to simply stop. We all need to be responsible, of our own volition, to choose to be good people, who are in NO NEED OF FORGIVENESS, and who are responsible EVERY SECOND for our own behavior and beliefs. We need not pay penance to anyone for anything that we have not done or said of our own free will. We must understand things based on verifiable and acceptable terms, not arbitrary assignments of “good”, “evil”, “right”, and “wrong”….. those are all-encompassing words that describe polar extremes of a very rich tapestry which is human existence. We need to discuss things on a basis that can be understood by not only ourselves and those in our culture, but those of many cultures. If the very human need for seeking complex pattern recognition in nature results in the very erroneous belief in an invisible and indefinable entity who is directing it all for our benefit emerges, as it does again and again in human history, we must react to this much the same way as we do for our fear of the dark, once that primal necessity is overcome by logical disposition. Much the same way that you dismiss the pagan for his erroneous beliefs, you must accept that your own beliefs MAY BE erroneous, or you have not adequately demonstrated an understanding of the other, or alternative viewpoint. This is essential to understanding ANYTHING, and a fundamental precept of science, and modern “enlightenment”. These are the working rules that have pulled us from the darkness of the middle ages, and moved us all forward to incredible opportunities to better ourselves and understand the world around us. Yet, despite a demonstrable recognition of these “doubts” and “questions” you all persist in defending the absurd rules that govern faith-based dogma. Have you really studied the alternative mythologies of the ancients as they relate to the Jesus story, or did you simply dismiss what I said as angry rhetoric? Did you really consider some of your own doubts as being valid and necessary movements toward truth and logic in your own mind, or did you dismiss them as the “forces of evil” you warned me about earlier…. and why can’t I come back as a dandelion? I thought it was the nicest of your stories I have been able to share (so far) in this lifetime. There is much love in what I am saying, I only hope that you are listening. Please approach me with something other than a lesson on God, but maybe a little more about why you feel such a need to be forgiven for being you…. Why are you so adamant about needing forgiveness from an angry God? I think you are just great.

Alice – Everyone needs forgiveness, but not everyone knows they need forgiveness. Hence, the entire video series, “Just Believe” – it is pointing out the fact that the human condition is not predisposed to believe. I don’t think you are deluded or stupid or any other negative thing. I think you are human. Nobody can will themselves to see God or understand God or hear God. Apparently you don’t, and you seem very bothered about the idea that others do (fairytale, self-imposed denial of reality, delusion, absurdity, etc). In one breath you say this has to stop and in the next breath you think we are just great. Can you handle the idea that we disagree? I can. I just leave you in God’s capable hands, whether you like it or not. And then I remember what it is like to not believe, so I can relate to what it is you are saying. You would be surprised at the amount of research I’ve done over the past few years, how many ideas I’ve let go of, because I recognized they were erroneous. I’ve also embraced ideas that I used to shun because of my arrogant religious-bullshit attitude. We are all works in progress. Maybe in some ways you are further along than me when it comes to science and logic, because you don’t have 15 years worth of religious baggage to unload. I am still in that process. But spiritually I am further along than you, because I am free to embrace the truths revealed to me by the Creator of the universe, ideas that you lump together with mythology, dogma, etc, and dismiss adamantly. But this isn’t a competition, so it doesn’t really matter anyhow. Live and let live. I can express my views and so can you. It’s all good.

Marie ‎(with Mary) – Dear Son, Here is why my faith makes all the difference in the world to me. Even though I do some good things and on the outside may look like a pretty decent person, at the most basic level I am not good. I am bent toward being selfish, toward acting in ways that alternately lift myself up or put myself down and in ways that gratify my selfish desires. In a host of other ways, I fail to be the person God created me to be – loving God and others wholeheartedly and purely. And no matter how hard I try to be different, I cannot. While in one sense I am free – free to make choices, to decide and do things – in another very basic sense I am not free at all. I can no more choose to be good in any ultimate sense of the word than I can choose to fly. When I look at my past, I see a not-very-pretty record of wrong and hurtful (to others and to myself) choices. And not a day goes by in which I am not aware of my inability when it comes to choosing and being the person who in my best moments I want to be – one who loves and obeys God and who loves and cares for others as I accept and live in the security and self-worth that come from God’s love for me. In short, I desperately need God. I need to be saved and set free for a life of true freedom in loving relationship with God and other people. And I have experienced God’s grace in Jesus Christ doing just this. Even though I’m far from perfect, I can see the evidence of God’s Spirit working in my life, setting me free and making me new, enabling me to choose the right and good. And I have experienced the peace and joy of having the burden of guilt and shame lifted for wrong choices I made in the past, the peace and joy of being forgiven and cleansed and given a new beginning based on what God in Christ did for me. Also, I have a deep sense of satisfaction in knowing that I am loved for who I am, that I am supremely valued by God, which frees me from having to keep propping up my fragile ego by endlessly seeking the approval and admiration of others and glorifying myself by elevating myself above them. As I said, I’m a long way from being perfect, but I know the One who has the power to change me, and I trust that he will continue to make me into the person he created me to be. Also, knowing that I am a child of the loving Creator, that I am part of something bigger than myself and that I have a future, gives my life meaning in the present. This, in a nutshell, is why my faith matters to me and why I couldn’t live a day without God and his grace. Regarding how you were raised, I can say only that at that time, I was on a journey, a quest for truth, a journey which I am still on. I don’t remember what the particular circumstances were when I told you that you could come back as a dandelion, whether this was the time in my life when I was looking into reincarnation and I answered you out of that exploration or whether I just considered it a harmless fantasy. In any case, the truth claims of Christianity are not a fantasy; they are real (a faith statement). I have regrets about some of the things I taught you and your sisters and brother, things that from the perspective of my current understanding I judge to be distortions of the truth (especially a view of God as vengeful and damning). But even though I have regrets and especially wish that I hadn’t been so extreme in some of my convictions and expressions of my faith, still I do not regret that your dad and I raised you in the Christian faith. As I said, I believe that the claims of Christianity are true, even though I can’t prove them and can’t rule out the possibility that I am wrong. And because I believe that Christianity is true and that belief in God matters supremely (not simply for what it means regarding an afterlife but for what it means for our lives in this world here and now), I raised you in the Christian faith and I continue to hope and pray that all five of you (along with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren) will know God and respond to his love. Also, in each of the churches I belonged to, I learned something and met wonderful people. I do not regret those experiences, even though I’m now in a much different and, I think, more balanced place in terms of my understanding and expression of my faith. One thing Mary and I have a hard time understanding is your expressed intolerance of those who embrace the Christian faith. You talk about respecting the beliefs or non-belief of people, but then you turn around and say things such as “it is a form of communal mental illness” and “this acceptability of absurdity needs to simply stop.” Where is the respect in that? It’s one thing for you to think that Christianity is false/absurd and that it’s somehow dangerous to one’s mental health, but for you to rant about its absurdity and demand that it be stopped is hardly a demonstration of respect and tolerance. We happen to think that your worldview – your materialist philosophy – is sorely lacking. From our perspective, to commit oneself to the idea that what is most real is that which can be explained, demonstrated, empirically verified, etc. – while an appealing idea because these ways of knowing provide power and control – is to lose a lot. Indeed, it is to lose realms of human experience, reducing us to less than we are, less than we were created to be. Your reducing “belief in an invisible and undefinable entity who is directing it all for our benefit” to an erroneous interpretation of “the very human need for seeking complex pattern recognition in nature” is an example of this kind of reductionism. Have you considered that such belief many arise out of a genuine human need for relationship with something/someone bigger than oneself? But even though we think the worldview you have chosen to embrace is inadequate (and harmful in the sense that it closes you off from even the possibility of seeking to know transcendent reality), we don’t deny your right to hold it and we don’t denounce you for holding it. We don’t “dismiss the pagan for his erroneous beliefs,” and we have acknowledged more than once that our beliefs may not be true. But we believe the truth claims of Christianity – which necessarily entails believing that contradictory truth claims of other faiths are not true. This doesn’t mean that we do not respect people of other faiths or that we think they have nothing to teach us. Nor does it mean that we think they will be condemned for their unbelief in the end. We would like to think that somehow God will enable them to receive the light. In any event, we are all for interfaith dialogue and for respecting people’s right to believe what they choose. Because faith is so important to us, we are motivated to hold onto it even though we have doubts and questions. In our ongoing quest for truth, we try to remain open to new perspectives and understandings (which is one reason I have jumped around from one tradition to another). And yes, we have considered our doubts as having value in themselves – as possessing the potential to lead us to truth or to a deeper understanding of it. But we haven’t gone down the path of skepticism. We haven’t abandoned the quest, settling for rationalistic explanations of our longings and experiences and serving a god that is the product of our own minds. “The answer to blind belief is not blind unbelief,” William Sloan Coffin wrote. Ceasing the quest for truth is, in our view, not the answer to the uncertainty of faith. No, we have not “really studied the alternative mythologies of the ancients as they relate to the Jesus story,” but we are not unaware of them. Again, we are helped by something C.S. Lewis, a student and teacher of ancient mythology, had to say about this: “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens – at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified…under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle…God is more than god, not less: Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about ‘parallels’ and ‘pagan Christs’: they ought to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t.” Granted, science and its rules have benefited humankind greatly. But there are many whose lives are not any better for all the science in the world. Science is not, in our view, the ultimate answer to the world’s ills. Neither is it the only valid methodology for knowing truth. I love you, son. Mom (and Mary)

Sean – And again, Mom, it is not a matter of intolerance; it is a matter of exasperation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell – I can be intimately aware of all of your beliefs, what is at the core of the understanding you are describing, share all of your very human needs for feelings of inadequacy and need for forgiveness, your current understanding of how God is supposed to work according to the current cultural rules that govern that belief system, and I can (on a point by point basis, as you wish) describe why this is an inherently flawed method of thinking, and causal to the very worst of human actions in this world. Think of this, if every person in the world had their worst sin immediately exposed, and we were to really understand that the human condition is pretty universal, then we were to further understand that some enterprising folks might take advantage of that fact, and that unwittingly your closest friends and family perpetuated the ideas of that cunning user of conditional experience to impose this never-ending-guilt-complex mixed with inadequacy/atonement/eventual reconciliation/etc. wrapped in well established mythology, then you would very much be exasperated, annoyed at the idea that it can continue unanswered. I get to hear all the time about how smoking will affect my health, but no one seems to be alarmed at the affect on MENTAL HEALTH that religion produces. When people believe in invisible, unverifiable influences who govern their lives use the names “Jesus” or “God”, it is culturally acceptable, because it is a shared idea. When one uses the words “Government agents in the wall” or “voices from the sky” as their reference, we deem them crazy, and treat them accordingly. What is really the difference? Joseph Campbell – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia en.wikipedia.org Joseph John Campbell (March 26, 1904 – October 30, 1987) was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarized by his phrase…

Sean – My god is a very different thing. It is not a man, or anything that is a man, other than the part of what makes man part of the universe, which is god.

Sean – My god is VAST.

Sean – My god is not concerned with me, other than the fact that I am, which is part of his masterful work which is the universe, which is (again, not a man) Him/Her/It

Sean – I am one very infinitesimal part of a glorious thing which is God…… My tiny little brain will NEVER encompass that, and it is egotistical to even imagine it to be so.

Sean – And on the expression of ego…. all the concerns regarding sin, unworthiness, need for atonement, etc. have the overtone of the very worst kind of arrogance to the REAL God, which is my God. He/She/It doesn’t care about the concerns of your mere existence. They are very petty and small things in the (eyes?, how very anthropomorphic to say) of THE GOD WHO IS EVERYTHING.

Sean – But there is another way altogether to look at the same thing.

Sean – Our very insignifigance is the joyous and wonderful MIRACLE which is our life. The outmost chance of our very BEING when compared to the totality of the UNIVERSE that we know of and the (very, very little) pebble we live on is amazing enough……..

Sean – But the fact that we are HERE and SELF AWARE, and able to love, BE, share, and understand, and that the circumstances that made us that way are a long cadence of others who felt and shared and loved as we do…. well, heck, that starts sounding like an amazing thing to share and appreciate, once you know it….. but the problem remains….. when you have a better way to see things, you have to get other people to believe that too. And when they won’t see it, and won’t REALLY discuss it, but jump back behind cultural barriers, and unverifiable circular reasoning patterns, then they will never understand the TRUE JOY of being unencumbered by a terrible guilt that needs to be atoned for from an angry God. There is no God that I would worship who demands that of me, or those that I love, and as it turns out, there isn’t one you can show me to be that petty and undeserving of your or my worship who exist as a real being.

Sean – If it sounds intolerant, then I must say your God sound pretty intolerant to me too. And he is unfair, and misogynistic, and petty, and arrogant, and pretty much a low-life by any stretch of the imagination (remember the flood…… What about if you were a firstborn Egyptian 2 year old, around the time of Moses? What if you are a Muslim in Iraq right now? What are your chances then with your angry, baby killing God?) Which of us is intolerant to the MYSTERY which is reality? Which of us really is speaking the truth?

Alice – A few weeks ago I watched the documentary, “God on Trial” in which prisoners in a concentration camp do a mock trial, and many of the same questions are raised. They find God guilty, as you seem to do. I cried after watching that movie, for at least a good half hour. I was angry at God for not giving me satisfactory answers to these and other tough questions. What are His intentions and purpose for humanity. Are they good or bad? Is God evil, or does God use evil as a tool to ultimately bring about the best possible outcome for us all? In a finite POV – God most definitely looks guilty of the worst (genocide, infanticide, etc), but from the POV of One Who is able to not only kill, but bring back to life, these things may turn out to be like the rebreaking of a bone – painful, but necessary, seemingly evil, but ultimately good. I certainly don’t have answers to your questions, other than the answer God gave me, that is, not everything that has been recorded concerning Him and His actions is accurate. People have blamed God for being the mastermind in things about which they ought to blame themselves. I know you think it is ridiculous that God talks to me, but He does. And what He said to me that day was to consider my journals, and see scripture in that same way. As is evidenced in my journals, over the course of five years, my worldview changed drastically. I look at things God was speaking to my heart, that I wrote down, and they still ring true, but these truths are also encapsulated in a bunch of my own junk, opinions, misunderstandings, etc. Several times I’ve thought of making a bonfire of those journals, just because I can’t stand the way I interpreted His intentions. For example, He told me that He had news for me that people won’t believe, that is too good to be true. Before I knew what that news was, I imagined it had to do with the church I attended, that God would do something amazing and people would come flocking from all around. But then God told me, this is not for just one church, it is for all churches, and not only that, it is for the whole world. Then I was really curious and baffled. And I imagined different ideas and scenarios. All my imaginings and speculations were so far off base, so narrow, so true to the limited/skewed perspective I had on God at that time. I kept trying to see everything as applicable to me, my church, my town, etc, when God kept telling me, “you are not thinking big enough”, or “don’t you think more of Me than this?” So are my journals worthless now? I don’t think so, because at this point I am learning to distinguish what came from my puny mind and what came from Him. I am learning to see the difference between truths that stand the test of time and ideas/opinions/concepts that are outright wrong, or if they are accurate they are only accurate for a certain time or place or person. I think God walked me through this so that I could learn to see scripture the same way, to read it knowing that His Word is true and right and good and for a glorious outcome for all humanity, but also aware that it is written by puny minded, narrow thinking, fallible people who have likely had their writings mistranslated a bit along the way. Look at the way scripture translations have been twisted to accommodate the fear/control doctrine of eternal torment, for example. If this can be pulled off over the course of two millennia, I can only imagine how even older texts have been manipulated. I am still in the process of sorting through all that mess. What I do know is this – according to the Old Testament law, the adulterous woman should have been stoned. Yet when she was put before Jesus, He did no such thing. Did Jesus break His own laws? Or maybe He knew that God never commanded it in the first place… Regardless of what I think about these things, there is one thing that still stands – something amazing happened 2000 years ago, and there is plenty of historical evidence to back it – the resurrection. People who are crucified to death, people who are confirmed dead for days, do not get up and live again. That never happens! Except it did happen. And this one time that it did happen, it happened to Someone Who claimed to come from God, Who did miraculous things during His life, Who shares my utter loathing for religious bullshit, Who promised that what happened to Him is a “first-fruit” example of God’s Plan for all of us. Life, not death. Peace, not conflict. Love, not evil. Joy, not sadness, pain, death, etc. The accusations brought against God do not fit with this awesome, real life demonstration of His purpose. I don’t know how or why they don’t fit. I suspect that it may be for the same screwed up reasons and corrupt methods people used to introduce this idea of eternal torment. When/if I figure it all out, I’ll be sure to let you know. If you want to know.

William – Ok. I do not want to intrude here, or give offense to anyone, so I will try to remain humble about the statements I make here. That being said, I feel that there is an unexpressed side to this debate that contradicts some of the basic premises of both sides of the discussion. Sean, you know I respect you, and have had many lively discussions on various topics with you. As a preface to the statements I will make, I will say that it was the discussions we had on the mathematical nature of the universe that eventually lead me to my current beliefs. The problem I see with your view on Christianity, Sean, is that it takes a very Calvinist approach to God, and the nature of man. I agree that a pre-deterministic God, that makes daily choices about the life, death, salvation, or damnation of his creations is more like a devil than a loving Creator. I agree that guilt over one’s very existence, and even birth, are horrible philosophies that lead to dysfunctional behaviors. I agree that free will, and self-awareness are the essence of human existence, and not opposed to the nature of God. What I don’t agree with is that these are the teachings of Christianity. The original teachings of Christianity, (which exist to this day unchanged in the Orthodox Church), are very different than what most of us in America know of Christian beliefs. What caught my attention about the religion was it’s teachings on the nature of sin, and the methodology of salvation. The literal translation of sin is “to miss the mark”, as an archer would miss a bull’s eye. Orthodoxy teaches that sin is what we do that makes us less God-like. The purpose of eliminating sin is the process of deification, or becoming God. Original sin does not exist as a tenet of Orthodoxy. There is no reason, as sin is a willed choice, not a stain of the soul. One does not give offense to God through your sin, you give offense to yourself only. It is also taught that all people will eventually be brought into God’s love, and their lifelong path will determine the choice they make in how they perceive that love. It is not the common belief that some will be in, some will be out. The other thing that caught my interest in these teachings was the nature of Christ, and his purpose. The Orthodox teachings are that the Incarnation (Man and God) happened so that God and man could exist in union without destroying each other. Not so that man could have an instant and magical ticket to heaven based solely on belief in Jesus. The Resurrection itself, is the defeat of death (which is also a separation of God and man), not the appeasement of God’s judgment upon a sinful and worthless creation. The common belief is that Jesus died for our sins, when the original teaching was that he was resurrected that man could become unified with God, and thus unaffected spiritually by death. The power of Christ’s blood that so many modern Christian’s refer to, was not taught to be the blood he shed on the cross, but the blood he gave in the establishment of the Eucharist. I know that it is a mystical concept. The virgin birth, the Eucharist, the concept of death by death, these are all strange and irrational beliefs. I accept that though, because I don’t know everything. The very idea that I take for granted; that I am sitting her breathing air, may not even be true in the sense I believe it to be. The facts are, that Orthodoxy is a mystical religion, and is open about that. The whole point of it is to experience the Holy Mysteries that bring one into Communion with God. The strangeness of the beliefs are irrelevant. All of it is just about as impossible as teleporting a laser beam, creating alternate dimensions, or the concept of non-linear time. Just so we are clear though, I am not trying to convert anyone, or be down on anyone’s beliefs. That is your choice, which is is part of the free-will system that God set in motion. I am also no trying to say I am right, or anyone is wrong. I simply wanted to bring to light that what one accepts as Christian dogma is only a singular version, of which there are many. Not all of the arguments in this debate hold up when challenged by the tenets of the original Orthodox teachings. I believe that in ant debate about theology, one must take into account where the concept started, as much as where the concept ended up.

Marie ‎(with Mary) – Yes, we agree that our being and awareness, understanding, capacity to love, etc. are amazing and wonderful – a miracle, indeed, and cause for celebration and, we believe, for praise to the Creator. Whatever story one chooses as to how we got here and how we got to be aware – whether it involves a loving and intelligent Designer, or a series of genetic accidents eventually producing creatures with the capability of overturning the process of natural selection, or complex structures at work in evolution leading to the evolution of creatures with the capability of discerning the structures, or some combination or something else – it remains an astonishing thing that we are here and that we are conscious of our existence and the existence of the cosmos. We couldn’t agree more about the fact that each of us is “one very infinitesimal part of a glorious thing” and that our finite minds cannot even begin to comprehend the vast expanse of the universe. We don’t share your idea of god, but we do share your attitude toward the vast and wondrous world. We think it utterly amazing that the Creator of the universe should care about us and “the concerns of our mere existence” – which we believe he does. This is a statement of faith and one that we confess with the deepest awe and humility. Given the vastness of the universe and the greatness of the God who created it, there is no other posture appropriate to humans than one of reverence, awe, and humility. If no one seems alarmed by the effect that religion has on mental health, it’s because, generally speaking, religion doesn’t have an adverse effect on the mental health of its adherents. Unlike smoking, for which there is incontrovertible evidence indicating its harmful effects on the body, religious belief has not been shown to cause mental instability or illness. The fact that an outside observer judges a person who holds certain beliefs about a transcendent being to be crazy because those beliefs cannot be proven is irrelevant. To the believer, his or her religious beliefs are critical to finding meaning and fulfillment in life. To imply that religious observers should be locked up or otherwise treated as society treats the mentally ill is, in our view, ludicrous. Religious belief is a reflection of the fundamentally human quest – and people should be given the freedom to pursue and practice it as they will. We simply do not agree that your way of viewing the world is superior. If to “really discuss” means, as you seem to define the rules for discussing, that we abandon faith and abandon even the idea of faith as a legitimate way of knowing truth and instead adopt a materialist worldview, limiting our quest for truth to that which can be seen and measured and verified, then you’re right: we aren’t interested in “really discussing.” As we’ve said before, for us the benefits of faith make holding on to it in the face of doubts and questions eminently worth doing. If, however, to discuss means that we talk about what we think and believe and why, and in turn listen to what you have to say, and share our thoughts about your point-of-view, then not only are we open to discussing but in fact it’s what we have been doing with you for these past weeks. There is no denying the role of culture when it comes to our religious beliefs. It is more than likely that we wouldn’t be Christian if we had lived and been raised in a culture where the dominant religion is something other than Christianity. And our practice of the faith more than likely reflects the particularities of American Christianity. But these things in themselves do not prove that Christianity isn’t true or that there is no truth to be found, nor do they prove that we are Christian now only because of the influence of culture. Mary walked away from the Christian faith at one point in her life. What brought her back was not social pressure, or an experience of suddenly becoming convinced beyond doubt that the claims of Christianity are true, but the experience of God’s relentless love seeking her and finding her. Kelly James Clark says that when it comes to the quest for truth, we can respond to the fact that we are products of cultural conditioning in one of several ways: by becoming skeptics and despairing of our ability to find truth, by embracing pluralism and deciding that every path is as good as any other, i.e., that truth is relative, or by following the lights God has given us and accepting what seems to be true, humbly trusting God to guide us in our quest. As for us, we have chosen the third option. Faith judgments cannot be verified by observation or the scientific method or by the canons of logic or reason. You recently commended our well-thought-out explanations of our beliefs and understandings; now you accuse us of circular reasoning. In any event, we aren’t trying to argue or prove what we hold to be true by faith. Your words about sin/guilt/atonement betray a distorted view of the God we believe in. God is no temperamental, vengeful deity who demands of those who offend him sacrifices to appease his anger. Rather, he is the God of holy love who acted in Jesus Christ to remove the barrier between us and him – the barrier erected by our sin – by bearing its painful consequences. This is a faith statement, of course, as is the belief that we need saving because we are alienated from God, others, and our true selves by sin. And while we believe it to be true, we cannot know it with absolute certainty. Far from being “the worst kind of arrogance” to God, the issue of our sin and forgiveness is, we believe, of utmost importance to the One who created us for loving relationship with himself and others. The God you describe as intolerant, unfair, misogynistic, petty, and arrogant is not the God we believe in. The God we believe in is revealed supremely in Jesus Christ, who welcomed all kinds of people, especially those whom the religious elite excluded, who extended mercy to those who humbly recognized their need, who rebuked the powerful, who showed compassion to the hurting, who treated women with respect and dignity, who displayed humility, serving others, who repaid evil with good. Of course it is a statement of faith to say that in Jesus we see God – a statement that, we admit, raises questions. Still, we believe it to be true. We don’t have a satisfying answer to the question about the Egyptian babies. Some scholars point out that the language of the plague stories in Exodus, of which the killing of the Egyptian firstborn is a part, is confessional language, intended to celebrate God’s deliverance of Israel from evil empire, not to make objective statements about the fate of the Egyptians from which inferences about the character of God can be drawn. It’s not a very satisfying explanation, though, and we struggle with this text and others like it, about which we can say only that there is much about God that we don’t understand. To confine your search for truth to what you can demonstrate, explain, and verify is to lose much. As William Sloan Coffin put it, “I can understand doubting the quality of the bread, but I can’t see kidding yourself that you’re not hungry—unless, of course, your soul has so shriveled up that you have no more appetite for the great mysteries of life, especially the Mysterium Tremendum.”

Sean – Friends and loved ones, I encourage you to listen to the whole discussion (12 parts, 2 hours), but I found this part of it to be right on line with our recent thoughts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?index=1&feature=PlayList&v=8PhmUyFUFyk&list=PLA490902178E6854D —— I am not a Dawkins atheist, but I do find myself in agreement (almost unilaterally) with the other participants, whose books and lectures I have read throughout the years. There are many thoughtful and compelling alternatives to religious thought that are equally as “mysterious” and “life-changing” to the human experience. The Four Horsemen: Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens (2/12) www.youtube.com On the 30th of September 2007, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour disc…

Marie ‎(with Mary) – We watched it. A few interesting points were made: the distinction between numinous and supernatural (though Rudolf Otto associated the numinous with the divine), and between spirituality and religion; the contrast between the “limitations of the evolved brain” versus something being “systematically incomprehensible” to human beings; and the fact that the physical constants of the universe seem too good to be true for the universe to have come about by chance. Overall, though, it struck us as four scientists sitting around bashing religion and people of faith. And much of what they said about religion is a caricature – such as that it never occurs to believers “What if I’m wrong?” and that belief without evidence is considered noble and evidence a corruption of the intellect (contrast this with St. Anselm’s words, “I believe in order that I may understand.”) They portray believers as arrogant, believing that “the universe is all about me,” which is a bunch of bunk, as far as we’re concerned. To affirm that God has spoken and that he is personally involved with his human creatures doesn’t entail believing that “I” or “we” are the center of the universe. God is the center and those who acknowledge him seek to live for the praise of his glory. And the participants in the video portray believers as unthinking fools and religious leaders as con artists who manipulate their “flocks” into blind trust – again, a caricature based on their preconceived ideas about the complete impossibility of the existence of God. (We have to wonder how much actual exposure any of the participants has had to “church people,” given their expressed bias against and contempt for religion.) It’s good to know where you’re coming from. We don’t agree that science is the be all and end all of human existence, that religion/belief in the transcendent is for fools, that religion and science are mutually exclusive (and enemies of each other), or that faith has been demolished by the” hammer blows of science.” Of course you’re entitled to your views. But we have a hard time seeing how a worldview that does not address the deeper questions of human existence could ever lead to a life of meaning and joy. We’ve relaxed our defenses a bit…..Some of the criticism leveled at religion in this video is definitely justified. People of faith, ourselves included, can be arrogant and self-righteous, claiming certitude, extinguishing doubt, refusing to entertain alternatives, boasting possession of ultimate truth. To the extent that religion is like this, the participants in the video are right about it being a danger – in the sense that it promotes enmity and division between people who think/believe differently. However, we don’t agree that it is either necessary (to resolve the problem of religion) or advisable to do away with belief in God. Of course we say this as persons of faith who have found the fulfillment of our deepest longings in the God revealed to us in the Christian scriptures. But the longings are not ours alone, they are universal; and denying the possibility of something or someone outside ourselves to fulfill them is hardly, in our view, the answer. The answer to the problem of religion lies in people of faith embracing their tenets with humility and modesty, recognizing, if you’ll permit words from our sacred text, that we “see through a glass darkly.” (A Christian theologian named Douglas John Hall has informed our thinking on this matter.) Marie Dean ‎(with Mary – these are her words, which I agree with totally) – …..And in reality, a group of atheistic academics who take lip-smacking delight in devouring religious people can no more extinguish the human longings that breed the religious quest than a bunch of un-self-critical, obnoxiously self-righteous believers, smugly confident in their moral and doctrinal certitudes, can extinguish existential doubt. (Again, the thoughts here reflect the thinking of Christian theologian Douglas John Hall. Not all theologians, contrary to the portrait of them painted in this video, are totally out of touch with life.)

Alice – I watched part one tonight and I’ll watch part two tomorrow.

Alice – That was very interesting, Sean. Thanks for posting it. I’m going to write a blog about the 4 Horsemen vid sometime next week.

*As a side note, I found something to be even more interesting than the content of the conversation itself, between these four horsemen.  That is, there are patterns in the conversation of who interrupts who, who talks the longest, who keeps on talking despite being interrupted, etc.  The conversational dynamics as well as the body language demonstrate the levels of egoism (a word I borrowed from Ursula K. Leguin) and heirarchy – social/psychological constructs that keep these guys from communicating to the fullest.  I wish I had another 20 hours of conversation to view, to really hone in on this below-the-surface stuff.