Sunday, September 23, 2007

They shall be without excuse ...

I got into a discussion last night with one of my friends, that eventually drifted into the judgement of God, and rejecting the truth. It started with a critique of the Left Behind series, in that the authors approach the human condition in that everyone knows the Truth: some accept it, some reject it.

That's not the human condition. Many people I know who don't hold to a particular belief structure do so because they find that belief structure is equivalent to 2+2=5. In no way can that be construed as rejecting any sort of Truth. That mathematical equation wouldn't even be in the running. And if someone honestly holds that the Truth is equal to that mathematical equation, then it's the height of injustice to punish them for not holding to that equation.

She then mentioned the Romans passage 1: 18-23, specifically focusing on how all will be without excuse. She had no idea how this worked in terms of someone who never heard of Jesus or read the Bible, but since it was in the Bible and she held the Bible to be true, that statement had to be true as well.

Now, I'm not deeply familiar with the layout of the world 2,000 years ago, especially when Paul was spreading Christianity to the Gentiles. So I could be off on this, and if someone who knows more could enlighten me, that would be great. But I think the "no excuse" idea doesn't quite hold up anymore, in the sense of how it's used with rejecting Jesus.

For one thing, I think that Paul's idea of the world was much smaller than what we have today (well, okay, I don't think this, that's obvious. No one then would imagine how big the world was, or that there were people across oceans -- if they even knew what an ocean was). But for Paul, if his concept of the whole world was pretty much the Roman Empire and some surrounding areas. If Christianity had been introduced to all those areas, and Paul thought only those areas were "the world." However, like I said, I'm not familiar with the geographical knowledge of that time frame, so this entire example may be invalid.

Second, this verse is tied to the idea of finding God in creation. "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he made." We know a lot more about the nature of this world, this universe, and just the act of creation compared to 2,000 years ago. What I find very interesting is that I read somewhere that 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences are atheists. If in fact creation is one of the best ways to see this divine nature, wouldn't the people who are most familiar with the creative process be leading the charge in claiming God's existence?

Third: There's a verse in chapter two about how those outside the law are judged by the law written in their own heart. And I see the "no excuse" verse reflecting that idea a lot more than I see it reflecting the idea of someone rejecting Jesus rejects the truth. To me, the no excuses seems to focus a lot more on worshiping created things, suppressing the truth, and ungodliness and wickedness. For an example, who is the ungodly -- someone who holds the right beliefs and is cruel, or someone who says the right beliefs cannot be the truth, and is kind even to his/her enemies? The person who is kind acts in such a way because she knows, in her conscience, that is the right thing to do. The "no excuses" seems wrapped around the idea of people know how they should behave, and those described in this verse are those who consistently don't behave the right way. This entire verse seems to be about those who are actively suppressing the truth, and deliberately acting in such a way as to applaud such suppression. But those are not the same people who would find a certain belief structure as 2+2=5. There's no suppressing the truth there. (I also find it interesting that in chapter two in regards to the verse of being judged by one's moral compass, Paul makes a mention of those outside the law judged by their thoughts, which "will accuse or perhaps excuse them. It just seems more and more likely that the idea of having no excuse was in relation to a specific group of people, and not applied across the board).

Fourth: the idea of rejecting God has always been a complex notion for me. I think it's easy to reject ideas or notions of who God is. I think it's a lot harder to reject God as God. Say there's a former fundamentalist who flat-out says s/he rejects Jesus, and is now an atheist. As a fundamentalist, this person was legalistic, cruel, and pretty much didn't follow the basic commands as laid out by Jesus. However, this person had the doctrines nailed down (no pun intended). Now as an atheist, the person does live by those basic commands. The person is much kinder, demonstrates more compassion, listens, does try to love every person s/he meets -- has that person rejected God? If anything, I would say that the former fundamentalist has embraced God, through repentance of a legalistic viewpoint. What happened is that the FF looked at the prior lifestyle and said that whoever or whatever God is, it's not the entity as presented by that lifestyle. Can it then be argued that the person has in fact rejected God? Or has that person rejected a false concept of the truth?

21 comments:

Samanthamj said...

Hey Heather -

Great post. No matter how you look at it, it doesn't add up, does it? I don't get it either.

I've also had similiar debates with Christian friends. The old, "God doesn't send anyone to hell... people CHOSE hell over God by not believing in him". Huh?

So, if you ask me if I think peanut butter and jelly is the best sandwich in the world.. and I say... "ummmm.. no.. I don't think I believe that"... then, you're saying that means I am automatically doomed to a life of liverwurst? How the heck did I chose that?

Ok - bad analogy. Way over-simplified... but, you know what I mean. Right?

I said, "look.. I'm telling you right now.. let's say, I'm all wrong and someday, we both die.. and you make it to heaven... and I wind up in hell. I'm telling you right now... just to set the record strait... I did NOT chose that and do NOT want to be there!"

*sigh*...

I don't think she believed me, though. She will probably send me a card saying, "well? I hope you're happy now with your choice".

;)
~smj

Heather said...

Smj,

**I don't think she believed me, though. She will probably send me a card saying, "well? I hope you're happy now with your choice". **

I'm guessing your friend is not of the belief that all her tears will be wiped away, and she won't actually be aware of those suffering in hell?

**I did NOT chose that and do NOT want to be there!" **

Amen to that. I've said the same thing as well. The thing is, if we knew someone who was deliberatly choosing to stick his hand on a hot oven, we wouldn't step back and say it's his choice. We'd say that person was very disturbed, not in his right mind, not making the choice rationally, and so we must override his irrational choice.

Anonymous said...

The best one I've been told is that I converted to Judaism just to get back at my father since of course my choice could not have been made for anything but irrational reasons and emotional disturbance! Why else would anyone walk away from Christianity, right? It cannot be that a person decided Christianity was all wrong! ****shocked gasp****

The thing is, I have two kids. I'm such a wonderful Mom now aren't I? Because I have issues with my father I thought it would be really cool to convert to another religion out of spite and thus relegate my own children to hell? Does that really seem like a realistic scenario to anyone? Really?

I don't believe in any hell. No mention of such a place in Tanakh so I don't pay any attention. I don't think most Christians really believe in hell either. If they did they wouldn't be so comfortable consigning almost the whole world to such a fate. Saying it is people's choice is just another cop out to cover up the fact that the 'believer' doesn't really believe or if they do believe, that they don't really give a damn about anyone but them and theirs.

Personally, I think in his effort to 'be ALL things to ALL men in order to win some' Paul talked out of ALL sides of his mouth. JMO of course.

Yael

DagoodS said...

Imagine a Church service on Sunday Evening. Superbowl Sunday. The Pastor says to the significantly smaller crowd, “It is great to see so many committed Christians who value worshipping God over a sporting event.” [true story]

Notice what is happening here. The Pastor really does value these Christians. He really does appreciate their coming on a night in which church is not very popular. Further, what he says is pleasing to the crowd that is there. They, too, with a hint of pride, are pleased with their own commitment. The only person that may not be edified by this statement, is not there to hear it! They pat themselves on the back, to the detriment of only those who would never know.

Paul does the same thing with Romans 1. He is writing to Christians. People who already believe there is a God. People who already are convicted to live moral lives. And Paul says, “Those non-believers actually know there is a God. They actively reject God, so they can do all those nasty immoral things you all don’t do.”

Paul (like the pastor) really does believe those things. The people he is writing to agree and are pleased with themselves. The only person who can question this statement (the non-believer) was never intended to read it!

However, Romans makes it into the canon. It becomes inspired. Now it is no longer just Paul writing pleasing words to a receptive audience, but it is God speaking. To a believer—if God says it; it must be true. So what if a human denies it—the Bible says humans will suppress the truth. On the one hand we have God (who does not lie) saying one thing, and humans (who lie all the time) saying the opposite.

Why would we expect the Christians to ever believe us over their God?

The question stumping me, is why someone would deconvert? If the reason to reject God was to sin, it seems to me the smarter move is to remain a Christian, sin and be forgiven. No reason to reject God—quite the opposite—all the more reason to embrace Him! Further, in a more selfish vein, how come I am not partaking in all these sins I am supposed to have deconverted for?

To not believe in God and not sin—the worst of both worlds. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Well, in spite of what some Christians claim, God does lie...
Genesis 18:12-13 'And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment - with my husband so old?" The God said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?"

Sarah said Abraham was old, but God told Abraham Sarah said SHE was old! Abraham probably wouldn't have been to happy to find out the wife was laughing at the idea of this old geezer being able to pleasure her anymore, so God changed what Sarah said. Now Abraham can be all nice to her, "Oh honey, you're not old." While she's looking at him thinking, "What the hell is he talking about? I said HE was old. Oh well, glad he didn't find out, him and his fragile ego."

In 1 Samuel 16 God tells Samuel to go anoint David as king in place of Saul. Samuel tells God he can't do that, because Saul will find out and kill him. So, God tells him to take along a lamb and pretend he's going to sacrifice instead. What's the harm of perpetuating a little falsehood to save you life? Not only does God condone it, God suggests it!

I like these kinds of stories in Torah. It's too bad there are people who take this all so seriously. There are some really fun stories in Torah if we just relax a bit and let them speak for themselves. Sure God lies, big deal. Total honesty can cause family strife or get people killed. And God says to us, "Duh...what do you think I was saying?"

Yael

(You're not living a life of decadence? Sigh...not me either. I became so much better behaved when I came under the law, that slave master which pointed out sin to me. I must have had my eyes shut at the wrong time! Rats...)

Mystical Seeker said...

I think you make excellent points. You can't be guilty of rejecting "the truth" when you don't even believe it is the truth in the first place. If I don't believe that hell exists, then I can hardly be accused of condemning myself to hell by my own unbelief. That is just plain abusrd.

Samanathamj said...

Great thread here.

Mystical Seeker - RIGHT!

And Heather...
yes... the hand in the oven scenario is a good one.
I'm sure my friend DOES believe her tears will be wiped away... and she will contently, with a smile and love in her heart, send me (her old dear friend that she can now tolerate living happily ever after without) - that post card that I mentioned. ;) LOL

Heather said...

Yael,

**Why else would anyone walk away from Christianity, right? It cannot be that a person decided Christianity was all wrong!**

I think the lack of understanding is the most frustrating part. They don't understand why someone left, or why someone is not a Christian -- if they did, there's a good chance that the person might not be that type of Christian him/herself.

**I think in his effort to 'be ALL things to ALL men in order to win some' Paul talked out of ALL sides of his mouth.**

I think sometimes Paul let his intensity get away with him. He did have some extreme views.

DagoodS,

**Why would we expect the Christians to ever believe us over their God? **

Perhaps out of foolish hope? I like to try and put myself in the other person's shoes, and often operate as though others do the same. The problem here, as you're laying out, is that Christians do put themselves in what they think is our shoes -- but not our actual shoes. Then again, as I said to Yael, if they truly understood why we believe what we believe ... would they believe what they believe? (And, in another question, if one holds to they and they alone have access to the absolute truth ... can they truly ever understand "the other?")

**If the reason to reject God was to sin, it seems to me the smarter move is to remain a Christian, sin and be forgiven.**

Have you ever met a de-convert who actually used that reasoning -- that they were just driven to sin, and were tired of following God? I haven't. And yet, if the Bible says that's why, then who are we to try and know ourselves? (Sarcasm).

Mystical,

**If I don't believe that hell exists, then I can hardly be accused of condemning myself to hell by my own unbelief.**

Exactly. If you truly don't know what the "right" thing is, or what the truth is, are you punished for not following that truth? Of course not -- the circumstances are taken into account.

Smj,

**and she will contently, with a smile and love in her heart, send me (her old dear friend that she can now tolerate living happily ever after without) - that post card that I mentioned.**

As humorous as I find this, it's also chilling in a way, though. And it's quite the contrast. The Bible makes mention after mention about helping those in pain, those who are suffering, ensuring that we live in a just world ... and yet hell, which would produce the worst suffering of all ... wouldn't make them shed one tear. They'd just be content.

It's like heaven equals some sort of giant "off" switch.

Samanthamj said...

Heather -
you said:

"It's like heaven equals some sort of giant "off" switch."

Right! I just can't fathom this either. When I was a Christian, they told me over and over how important it was to save souls... show people the light... they send missionaries to do God's will and help those less fortunate.

And yet, when someone dies and if they, for whatever reason, did NOT see the light - you are suppose to just think, "oh well. serves them right. they had their chance".

Even more remarkably, somehow, you will no longer care for that person or their fate once you have made it to the pearly gates yourself. ? Come on.

I wouldn't want to live forever in a place like that... while my father, or friends, or even complete strangers were burning and suffering for eternity down below. I just don't get how anyone can possibly be okay with this scenario. Even if they believe they WILL somehow be content once they get to heaven. How can they be content NOW actually believing this crap??

I suppose, that is why every time someone died - even when it was a known "heathen"... everyone in my church liked to tell stories of how the recently deceased person suddenly accepted Christ into their hearts right before they died. It was a miracle! This didn't happen once or twice - but, pretty much all the time. Amazing, isn't it?

~smj

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of what I wrote about my aunt and cousin awhile back...

One of my cousins died of a heart attack almost 12 years ago at age 33 after giving birth to twin girls. She was a kind woman who did many good things to help people but who had no interest in religion. After she died my aunt had to deal with the fact that according to her, my aunt’s, beliefs her daughter had gone to hell. Obviously no mother is going to just accept that. She decided that since her daughter had gone to church when she was little, she must have ‘accepted Jesus’ then and so was now in heaven. I’m glad that worked for her but I’m sorry she had to be bothered with such things when she was grieving. I would not have to do such mental gymnastics.

I can just mourn the loss of good people for who they were without having to make them into what I wished they had been.

Another problem I have with the whole hell thing is that it makes God into a very racist God. Isn't it nice that Christianity was mainly centered in Europe and North America until very recently? Good for all the white people. Too bad for all of the poor schmucks in the rest of the world who have only recently heard the 'good news' and had the option of choosing a fate other than hell, who are told all of their ancestors are in hell.

I've heard all kinds of explanations such as these people would go to heaven if they had lived up to what they knew of God but because they didn't do even that they are destined to hell. How nice, how nice. It's good white people had the easier option of not having to living up to what they knew either because they were able to wipe all of that out with a little prayer!

I've heard people say it is a sad failure that white people didn't go to these 'corners' of the world with the gospel. Yeah, nice failure. The ones who failed go to heaven, the ones they failed go to hell. Such punishment for not doing their job!

Too much for me to swallow, that is for sure. The righteous of all the nations have a place in the world to come. No racist God, no people burning in hell because someone else didn't care.

Yael

Heather W. Reichgott said...

No excuse?

If anything, Christians have no excuse for failing to love our enemies.

If we're in on the truth and everything, we ought to have figured out the whole "love your enemies" thing a long time ago. I mean, we've had 2000 years to work on that supreme truth.

Christianity is just not about making MORE enemies.

Heather said...

Smj,

**Even more remarkably, somehow, you will no longer care for that person or their fate once you have made it to the pearly gates yourself?**

I think CS Lewis came up with a way to justify this, in terms of hell can't hold heaven hostage. But that still makes no sense to me -- because then compassion has a limited duration. If I saw a family member suffering like that now, I'd rush to help them. Logically, one would think that if I'm in a place where love is magnified by 100 or something (like heaven), I'd rush that much faster.

And the deathbed conversions -- those are my favorites. The sad thing about all of this is nothing about this behavior gives me the impression that they have some sort of peace. And they're supposed to have more peace than we could ever dream of.

I also think Yael is making an excellent point -- does this type of belief actually respect other people? Because it's all about wishing the other person were just like you, believing just like you. It's making them into the image of you.

Heather,

**Christianity is just not about making MORE enemies.**

My sarcastic side piped up and said, "But Christianity can be really good at that!" ;) Then again, any religion can be really good at that.

I think part of the failure comes from redefining enemy, in a way. It didn't take long for people to sneak a whole bunch of "excepts" back into that idea. LOve your enemy except for [fill in the blank]."

Heather W. Reichgott said...

you're so right.

SocietyVs said...

Good blog Heather! I am more along your thought on this one "What happened is that the FF looked at the prior lifestyle and said that whoever or whatever God is, it's not the entity as presented by that lifestyle. Can it then be argued that the person has in fact rejected God? Or has that person rejected a false concept of the truth?" (Heather)

So true. I am in the place where I am thinking this a lot right now - I notice that I am opening my eyes more and more each day by using my mind (as commanded to do) to sort out the problems with a Fundie view of God or life in general. The same problems you are seeing - I am seeing - and a lot of people are seeing - and we all coming to new conclusions on how to 'change this mis-perception'. I am glad for all the blogs I have read in the past year - we are all getting to see a lot of new ideas which were repressed by the church and it's shallowness.

Heather said...

Society,

**we are all getting to see a lot of new ideas which were repressed by the church and it's shallowness.**

And this is why I wonder if the idea in conservative Christianity -- "Accept this type of Jesus in these three steps and only these steps to be saved" -- will survive in the next 1,000, or even 500, years. It was easy to see another religion as "other" for the last 2,000 years or so, because of the lack of contact. Now, with all the globalization, and tools such as the Internet, we're learning how such a view is very simplistic.

cipher said...

Heather,

I just came upon your blog, and have read a few of your posts. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you and your commenters are saying. These are the arguments and objections I have been raising all of my life, along with the rationalizations and apologetics I've encountered.

This link is to an article in Christianity Today, written by J. I. Packer, an evangelical theologian. He responds to a readers question, "Won't heaven's joy be spoiled by our awareness of unsaved loved ones in hell?" His answer, essentially, is that the saved in heaven will be aware of the suffering of those in hell, but they simply won't care. It's absolutely appalling, yet it expresses what seems to be their best answer.

Please keep asking these questions and blogging about them. I've come to feel that our entire society is being hijacked by Christian fundamentalists, who continue to cry that they are the "victims" - and I despair of the future.

Heather said...

Cipher,

Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to comment anytime.

**His answer, essentially, is that the saved in heaven will be aware of the suffering of those in hell, but they simply won't care. It's absolutely appalling, yet it expresses what seems to be their best answer.**

It is appalling -- because then why bother caring about anything now? Why care about the suffering now, or do anything now, too? The whole point of love and compassion, as I read in the Bible, is that it's never supposed to be turned off. Yet this is exactly what the writer of that article proposed.

Mystical Seeker said...

Wow, I just took a look at that Christianity Today article, and I have to say it is truly appalling. Probably the only think more appalling than the idea of hell is the horrific rationalizations that people come up with to justify it.

cipher said...

Absolutely. I can honestly say that I have found more hardheartedness among conservative Christians than in any other group. They seem to have taken thousands of years of accumulated self-loathing and used it to fashion the most atrocious belief system in the history of our species. It found its ultimate expression in Calvinist predeterminism - the belief that God has decided, from the beginning of time, who is to be saved and who is to be damned, and that billions of humans will spend eternity in hell for no other reason than that it gives God pleasure - yet, somehow, they will all still "deserve" it. And none of this makes God a bad guy!

(Thanks for looking at the article. This is the first time I've embedded a link in a comment and I was concerned that I screwed up the HTML tags!)

Samanthamj said...

====
I mentioned and linked to this post from: "Greatest Love Story of All Time??" post (http://savemenot.wordpress.com/2007/09/30/greatest-love-story-of-all-time/. ====

(" There’s a good post on Heather’s "I wonder as I wander Blog" called, “they shall be without excuse” that gets into that whole aspect of this… )

Heather said...

Smj,

No problem. :)