The other day, I was joking around with my brother Ian about what a bad influence he is on my son, because he, in good fun, advised Seth to end every important sentence with the word “bitches,” for emphasis, for example, “You should hire me because of XYZ, bitches.” (And the future employer will be so impressed with his confidence that he or she will say, “Hire that guy that said, ‘bitches.’”)  Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about what kind of influence my siblings have had in the lives of my children and in my life, for that matter.  There’s Kathy’s graceful strength and independence, Sean’s mind-blowing inventiveness and broad perspective, Jennie’s heart-warming sincerity and affection, and Ian’s free spirit and unconventional wisdom, and they all have a great sense of humor – there’s plenty of laughter and joy when we’re together.  I would have to say, all things considered, that I’m so thankful for my siblings, just the way they are.

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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.

(Part One) Book Review: Raising Hell

Posted: 27th July 2011 by admin in Uncategorized
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If you’ve never read Hans Christian Anderson’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes, you should do so.  It is a delightful tale of the undoing of collective denial.  It has been said that Anderson’s tale was written as political satire, and although that may be true, I believe it is much more than that.  Anderson’s tale is a remarkable analogy for the religious pomposity that has had the world by its balls since the beginning of time.  This is evidenced by Anderson’s explanation about how his views on Hell differ from those of his teacher of Greek and Latin studies in his book, True Story of My Life, how he reacted at first, and finally, how those views surfaced in his writing:

…everything tended to assist me in my Greek and Latin studies; in one direction, however, and that the one in which it would least have been expected, did my excellent teacher find much to do; namely, in religion. He closely adhered to the literal meaning of the Bible; with this I was acquainted, because from my first entrance in the school I had clearly understood what was said and taught by it. I received gladly, both with feeling and understanding, the doctrine, that God is love: everything which opposed this–a burning hell, therefore, whose fire endured forever–I could not recognize. Released from the distressing existence of the school-bench, I now expressed myself like a free man; and my teacher, who was one of the noblest and most amiable of human beings, but who adhered firmly to the letter, was often quite distressed about me. We disputed, whilst pure flames kindled within our hearts. It was nevertheless good for me that I came to this unspoiled, highly-gifted young man, who was possessed of a nature as peculiar as my own.

That which, on the contrary, was an error in me, and which became very perceptible, was a pleasure which I had, not in jesting with, but in playing with my best feelings, and in regarding the understanding as the most important thing in the world. The rector had completely mistaken my undisguisedly candid and sensitive character; my excitable feelings were made ridiculous, and thrown back upon themselves; and now, when I could freely advance upon the way to my object, this change showed itself in me. From severe suffering I did not rush into libertinism, but into an erroneous endeavor to appear other than I was. I ridiculed feeling, and fancied that I had quite thrown it aside; and yet I could be made wretched for a whole day, if I met with a sour countenance where I expected a friendly one. Every poem which I had formerly written with tears, I now parodied, or gave to it a ludicrous refrain; one of which I called “The Lament of the Kitten,” another, “The Sick Poet.” The few poems which I wrote at that time were all of a humorous character: a complete change had passed over me; the stunted plant was reset, and now began to put forth new shoots.

Julie Ferwerda uses Anderson’s story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, to set the stage for her book, Raising Hell: Christianity’s Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire.  Anderson’s story, coupled with Sam Walter Foss’s The Calf Path, serve as Ferwerda’s powerful double punch that knocks the hypocritical and complacent snot out of the religious mind before round one (I mean, chapter one).

Because of her life-changing personal discovery, I believe that Ferwerda needed to write this book.  To her “was granted this grace: to bring the evangel of the untraceable riches of Christ to the nations, and to enlighten all as to what is the administration of the secret, which has been concealed from the eons in God, Who creates all…”  She can’t help but express “that now may be made known to the sovereignties and the authorities among the celestials, through the ecclesia, the multifarious wisdom of God, in accord with the purpose of the eons, which He makes in Christ Jesus, our Lord;” in Whom we have boldness and access with confidence, through His faith.” (Ephesians 3:8-12)  To state it plainly, those of us who have Amazing Hope are too full of joy NOT to share what we know.  Believe me, I tried to keep it to myself when I was still shackled in religious chains, still allowing myself to be intimidated into silence by spiritual police, but one year later it burst forth from me.  His glory simply cannot be suppressed.  The whole world could not contain enough books to express the riches of His glory.

Raising Hell is written from the POV of one who once believed and vigorously defended the doctrine of eternal torment, a doctrine which her daughter was not willing to accept and which she regularly challenged.  Ferwerda writes,

In my mother-knows-best reasoning mode, I patiently yet dogmatically explained to her each time what I had been ingrained to believe over a lifetime: “God deeply loves every person He ever created, but in that love, He had to give them a choice to love and accept Him or to reject His free gift of salvation.  God doesn’t send anyone to hell, people choose to go to hell by rejecting Him.”

Her first confrontation with evidence which she says, “found me” was when she began to study with a Messianic Jewish woman.  She says, “…it seemed a whole world of understanding began to open up in our Bibles, particularly in the Old Testament.”  She found errors and inconsistencies between translations, not just in peripheral and obscure passages but in “what appeared to us to be arbitrary or slanted renderings of passages that are foundational to certain Christian orthodox doctrines.”  She cites as an example, Hebrews 1:2 which says in the various translations,

NIV: “…through whom he made the universe.”

NASB: “…through whom also He made the world.”

KJV: “…through whom he made the worlds.”

BBE: “…through whom he made the order of the generations.”

YLT: “…through whom also He did make the ages.”

She also noticed that Jeremiah (8:7-9) said, “But My people do not know the ordinance of the LORD.  How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. The wise men are put to shame, they are dismayed and caught; Behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, and what kind of wisdom do they have?”  Ferwerda concludes, “Right there, Jeremiah confirmed that the scribes had inserted lies into Old Testament writings, many centuries before the Bible was ever established or canonized.  I’m not suggesting that all translation errors are intentional, but somewhere along the line, people with the authority to influence the theology of billions, mades some serious mistakes.  On the heels of this discovery, Ferwerda’s daughter referred her to this article on Savior-of-All.com, along with a bunch of scripture references, and she thought, “How had I never noticed all those verses before – verses that seemed to express a much more inclusive Gospel than what I had always believed?”  After a few months (taking time to be sure), Ferwerda discarded the doctrine of eternal torment and became convinced that God would reconcile everyone to Himself eventually.

In an effort to express the validity and soundness of her belief that Jesus is the Savior of all mankind, Ferwerda takes the readers on a tour of both important information and her personal experience.  The book is peppered with relevant stories to illustrate important points, as well as evidence to back claims.  She asks plenty of questions and offers good, solid answers, as well as some speculation as food for thought.  I believe the intended audience for this book to be the orthodox, mainline Christian.  Unfortunately, studies have shown and my personal experience has proven that this audience is not receptive to exposure to belief-opposing information, at least when others are watching.  Perhaps if Ferwerda offered a free book cover along with the book…  But seriously, I think that God is doing something amazing in the world, opening people’s eyes to Who He really is and what He really does, showing them the difference between Churchianity and spirituality, giving wisdom to fools and making the fools of the wise.  This book will help do both – orthodoxy will be further entrenched in dogma and fear because of rejecting God’s message (which is plainly explained in Raising Hell), and those who are designated to attend the School of Love will be given eyes to see and ears to hear.

Ferwerda’s informal approach to addressing opposing views is very non-threatening in its tone, but devastating in its content.  Because of her background, she is able to answer objections and brings satisfying resolution to questions such as:

If there is no hell, what did Jesus die for?

What about all the Scriptures that mention hell and eternal punishment?

Does everyone get off scot-free, no matter how they live their lives?  Why not live however we want if we’re going to be “saved” regardless?

Why evangelize or tell people about Jesus at all?

How could millions of devout Christians over many centuries have been duped, especially intelligent people who have devoted their lives to Bible scholarship?

Isn’t this some New Age teaching in an attempt to make God more palatable to the lost?

How could this satisfy God’s demands for justice?

Isn’t the Bible clear that people only get one chance to accept Jesus in this lifetime?

Doesn’t Jesus talk about hell more often than heaven in the New Testament?

The content of chapter six, When Hell Became “Gospel Truth”, is a concise introduction to later chapters which more thoroughly examine what Christianity used to be before it was hijacked.  She says,

If you study a bit about Church history since about the second century, the term “orthodox Christianity” really becomes an oxymoron.  Merriam Webster defines orthodox as, “conforming to established doctrine, especially in religion.”  You might also hear it defined as “right doctrine.”  Orthodox suggests that there are certain truths and doctrines that have always been peacefully and consensually agreed upon, accepted by the majority of “people like us” throughout all the centuries.  Those who have opposing ideas or who question too persistently are usually labeled as liberal or heretical.  in fact, these are the assumptions I grew up with in church, and no one ever suggested anything to the contrary.  It’s as if mainstream Christianity wants you to think there has always been this harmonious consensus, and if you are to question, you will be singlehandedly going against 2000 years of what “those who are in the right and who are following the Spirit of God” believe and accept as truth.

[...]

For instance, many Christians insist that if you question hell, you are rejecting what has always been agreed upon by the Church, yet the doctrine of eternal torment was not a widely held view for the first five centuries after Christ, particularly in the early Eastern Church, the Church of the early apostles and Church fathers such as Paul, Clement of Alexandria, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, and others.

Here I must pause and comment on Origen.  My first shocking experience with Christian study materials happened when I read in a book about church history that Origen taught universal reconciliation.  First of all, I always had the understanding that people who believed everyone would be reconciled to God were dreamy, hippy types who had no basis whatsoever for their thinking other than good will and a good imagination.  I never knew that anyone who was considered an authority in theology had such an idea.  Then, as I kept reading, I saw that he was convicted of heresy by the Church.  I dismissed the man and what logical reasons he might have had to offer, simply because of that word, heretic.  I continued reading the book, and almost put it back on the shelf when I noticed an informational section at the back of the book.  I decided to go ahead and read that as well, and to my surprise, I saw that Origen was dead for hundreds of years by the time he was pronounced heretical.  My curiosity was peaked, because that certainly wasn’t the impression I got as I was casually reading through the chapters.  I purposed to study further on Origen, to find out why it took them so long to slap him with that label.  I learned that not only was he long dead when they named him a heretic, but his list of offenses never even included universal reconciliation.  The church was not concerned with calling universal reconciliation heresy at that time.  The book purposefully distorted the facts, making it appear as though within Origen’s lifetime he singlehandedly conjured up this crazy doctrine, and consequently, they ousted him from the church.  But his heresy charges were completely unrelated to his teaching universal reconciliation!  That is when my wheels began to turn, when I started doing my homework and checking to verify the accuracy of my study materials.  I found more and more of such instances of deceptiveness in my study materials.  Finally, I decided that I was just going to use non-religions sources, actual historical writings from the time period of the early church, and Greek and Hebrew concordances.  I still could not get away from the corrupted slant entirely, since the concordances were based in erroneous translation, but at least I could find everywhere in scripture where questionable words appeared so that I could verify whether they had been consistently translated.  For me, the way the church handled Origen, both during the heresy-fest and in modern study sources, convinced me that I should not trust the experts to teach me truth.

Chapter seven, Satan Wins, God Loses?, asks, “Does God stay angry forever?” Which scripture answers with an emphatic, “No!” Ferwerda also offers some insight from Thomas Talbott’s book, The Inescapable Love of God – an incredible book that I highly recommend.  When we consider the idea of death being swallowed up for all time, we need to consider death in its totality.  Ferwerda describes the difference between the first death, the second death, and the loss of abundant life.  Mainline Christianity has got this all mixed up because of its insistence on eternal torment = Lake of Fire, even though the scriptures clearly state that death and Hades thrown into the Lake of Fire is the second death.  Ferwerda notes,

I love how most Christians (including theologians) interpret Revelation.  They read about the woman riding on the beast, the red dragon with seven heads, the harlot sitting on many waters, and people standing on the sea of glass mixed with fire, and they all say, “Oh, obviously those are symbolic.”  But as soon as they get to the lake of fire, aack!  “That’s totally literal!” they say.  But at the beginning of Revelation John clearly states that all of Revelation is a vision.  So personally, I have come to believe it’s primarily symbolic.  Revelation is the only place in the Bible that even refers to the lake of fire.

Along with her fluid commentary, Ferwerda includes gems from Greek and Hebrew which help clarify the intended meaning of the Bible writers.  Such gems include:

fire = pur (from which we get our English words pure and purify)

brimstone = theion (divine incense, to purify, and to ward off disease)

torment = basanizo (to test for purity by touchstone)

*Other important words with which every believer should study out on their own: krisis, apollumi, ekklesia, satan, aion. olam, all of the “hell” words, and many more.

Part Two of Raising Hell addresses concerns about the human experience and how it relates to our heavenly Father.  An interesting section includes a list of characteristics of loving parents which includes that they “only intend good for their children”, “make sure the punishment fits the crime”, “understand there are factors behind disobedience”, “demonstrate fair and consistent character”, “ultimately long to be restored in relationship”, and of course, “never give up.”  Ferwerda examines the experiences of the helpless, the homeless, widows, orphans, blind, deaf, lame, sick, and even enemies.  The enemies section opens with one of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”  Ferwerda considers what orthodox Christianity claims God does to His enemies and says, “If this is what our ‘Father’ is really like, and we are to imitate Him as ‘sons of the Most High,’ shouldn’t we turn our backs on our enemies, damn them, and then build torture chambers for them?”

Theologian William Barclay said, “The only victory love can enjoy is the day when its offer of love is answered by the return of love.  The only possible final triumph is a universe loved by God and in love with God.”  Ferwerda says, “I am positively stumped whenever I share the good, wonderful, awesome news of God’s plan to save all with my Christian friends and some of them, without even stopping to consider a few of my valid points, or to question the process that led me to this belief, or to take any time whatsoever to look into the possibilities, respond with, ‘I’m sad for you, Julie.”  I share in her experience, as does everyone I know who has Amazing Hope.  We wonder how it is that people who we call friends have no interest in allowing us to explain to them how our lives were dramatically affected in the most wonderful way.  If we got to go backstage and meet someone famous, they would want to know all about it, how did you get back there, what did you see, what was it like to meet him/her, etc.  It’s very strange, the lack of interest, the defiant talk-to-the-hand, the “so long (insert name here)” tweet, the heretic label, the icy reception, the fake friendliness, the back-stabbing gossip, etc., very strange behavior out of people who claim to live in light and love.

I appreciate the fact that this book is well organized, with headings for each chapter section.  As I am making my way through the book for the purpose of this review, I see the section called Only One Chance? where Ferwerda makes a very good point:

I have asked people the question, “Where in the Bible does it say that this mortal lifetime is the only opportunity we get to be saved?”  To which they usually respond with Hebrews 9:27, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”  This is certainly the verse I was taught to use in such cases in my years of evangelism training, but if you examine the verse more closely, does it really say anything about having only one chance to be saved?  All men are appointed to die, fact established.  Yes, there will be a Judgment – the Bible teaches that it will last a whole age.  But where in this verse is the one-chance-or-you-damned-forever teaching?  I’m pretty sure people make the mental leap because they assume the Judgment is a “you’re in or you’re out” situation, based on their church teachings.

The next section asks, Does Everyone Really Get a Fair Chance Now?, to which many people reply with Romans 4:20.  Ferwerda quotes the verse in a typical modern translation, which I’ve read many times, but I don’t recall ever understanding it as thoroughly as I did with her emphasis on those words which indicate about whom this verse speaks, and since she suggested, “If you read this passage in context and especially in a more literal rendering, you find quite a different message:

For God’s indignation is being revealed from heaven on all the irreverence and injustice of people who are supressing the truth in injustice, because that which is known of God is apparent among them, for God makes it apparent to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His enduring power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that [these] people are without excuse.  Because the ones knowing God did not glorify or thank Him but they were made vain in their reasonings and darkened is their unintelligent heart.  Alleging themselves to be wise, they are made stupid, and they change the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of a corruptible human… Wherefore God gives them over, in the lusts of their hearts, to the uncleanness of dishonoring their bodies among themselves, those who alter the truth of God into the lie, and are venerated, and offer divine service to the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for the ages!  Amen.

Ferwerda notes:

The people being talked about in this passage were those who already knew God, stopped acknowledging the truth about His character, suppressed the truth that had been revealed to them, and then taught lies.  This is not saying that all people everywhere have had the truth of God revealed to them, but rather that those who did were not faithful with it, and became darkened in their understanding.  It is these people who are without excuse.

Chapter Twelve, Tracing Gospel History, is a more thorough examination of ideas introduced in chapter six.

As I celebrated in the video, Christian Universalism, the Internet is to the modern day church (I’m not talking about a building, but people) as the printing press was to the Reformation.  A dramatic shift in spiritual understanding is underway because we finally have the ability to access information which demonstrates where and how corruptive influence has taken place, to separate truth from deception, to be given a fair shot at truth as it is instead of how the religious elite portrays it!  Ferwerda recognizes this as well.  She writes,

The Internet, with its unlimited access to information, is quite possibly the most stunning, magnificent, brilliant plan of God for our world today.  We now have the ability to research ancient writings and books that at one time were only available in a few obscure libraries and even rare collections.

There are definitely sections of this book which I will revisit and use as a springboard for further prayerful thought and study, namely, chapters thirteen, sixteen, and seventeen, entitled Hebrew ABC’s, The Two Major Covenants, and The Great Harvests, where Ferwerda touches on some very interesting subjects such as the contrast between history unfolding in repeated cycles and the idea of dispensationalism, as well as the apparent progressive patterns of fulfillment in prophecy which move from tangible to intangible, from external to internal.  I imagine she could have written an entire book on this subject alone.  Other subjects include the spiritual significance of Hebrew feasts, the “unilateral, unconditional” Abrahamic covenant versus the conditional Mosaic covenant and how these are relevant to citizenship in the Kingdom, the Millennial Kingdom belief in early church history, the Barley (firstfruits) Harvest contrasted with the Wheat (Pentecost) Harvest, the Grape Harvest.  Ferwerda does a good job of wetting the appetite of the reader to look into these matters further.

*I’ll continue with the book review in the next blog post.