Monday, January 28, 2008

What we deserve.

I've been involved in a few discussions the past few days, and a common theme was in all of them: we have rebelled, and deserve hell/eternal punishment. In my view, this is the same as saying we don't deserve love, since hell would be the absence of God, and thus love as well. In other contexts, it's that all of creation deserves death.

One of the reasons this view angers me is because I don't see where lines can get drawn between eternal deserts and temporal ones. For instance, if we deserve nothing but hell, then wouldn't that also mean that starving people don't deserve help? Or food? That the Holocaust victims not only deserved to die, but deserved to die in the manner that they did?

That abuse victims in fact deserved to be abused? That rape was deserved? Murder? Hurricane Katrina? I mean, if we deserve nothing but eternal torment, which is pretty much the absolute punishment, wouldn't we in turn deserve the temporal sufferings as well?

Yet, for the most part, I don't see Western civilization acting this way. If a woman is abused, we tell her she doesn't deserve that, and should leave. People are raising awareness in terms of AIDS, poverty, genocide -- and a prevailing idea behind all of that is that such suffering is not only not deserved, but actually deserves our mercy. Our compassion. Our help.

But people can turn around and say that those same people, if they reject Jesus, deserve to suffer eternally? I just don't see how the two can be compatible.

The anger truly stems from the horror I feel behind this idea. If someone feels that we all deserve hell, then how am I suppose to trust that person to respond to the suffering s/he sees on a daily basis? Why would I trust that person to be moved with compassion, to help my family? Or the world?

I'm sure the response to this entails that one feels compassion because one is saved, or one is nudged by God, or responds to such pleas because God rescued them. I don't say that dismissively, but it doesn't remove the intial problem that if you truly, truly think that every single person does not deserve an iota of love ... then why be outraged at evil? Why be so outraged at how unjust the situation is? If a rape victim is told that she brought the rape on herself, how can this be argued against when we deserve something much worse? How can you deserve hell and not deserve rape?

24 comments:

HeIsSailing said...

*How can you deserve hell and not deserve rape*

OSS, that is one of the many disconnects in the Christian mindset that really drove me away from the belief. Christians say that we deserve hell because they cannot admit to themselves that certain portions of the Bible depict the unbelievers in everlasting torture. Since God is all good, God cannot be held responsible, therefore it is our own fault, we deserve it, or we choose to end up there. Christians dare not call their God the Lord of Damnation.

There are loads of creepy disconnects that, if really true, you would expect certain behaviors in CHristians that you just do not see. You found one. Why does a person who is hopelessly lost in sin treat a person better than whaat they deserve? The logical conclusion is that we are more morally sensative than an all-good God. Another disconnect that Christians never seem to consider, at least not openly, is their attitude towards aboriton. If all SIDS victims and other babies who tragically die automatically end up in heaven, why are Christians so opposed to abortion? It seems like a free ticket to heaven to me. Why risk eternal fire by allowing them the option of choosing what they deserve?

*scratches head*

Mystical Seeker said...

The anger truly stems from the horror I feel behind this idea.

I feel the same way. This doctrine of eternal hellfire for unbelievers really is a horrible thing to believe, and it amazes me that anyone actually believes in it. That being said, I don't think people who believe this are evil; I think they are just engaged in a process of compartmentalization (or maybe cognitive dissonance.) The need to hold onto a dogma is for them more important than thinking through the moral implications of what they are saying.

And the afterlife is so remote from our everyday experience anyway. Holding onto a belief about a place that no one has actually experienced or can provide us first hand reports about makes it easy for some to be rather cavalier about the whole thing and believe in such a terrible theological notion. Not that this is a justification, of course.

DagoodS said...

The curiosity is in the word “deserve.” What the heck does that even mean? If I provide food for a family for a day—what am I “entitled” to in return? What do I “deserve”? Think of all the parameters that affect one’s response to this most simple question:

What if it was my family?
What if it was for my brother’s family?
What if it was for a stranger’s family?
What if it caused me to not eat for that day?
What if I make $1 million a day, and this cost is only $10?

Do those three questions modify what I “deserve?” They would in most minds. And even then, amongst various humans, we could never come to a consensus as to what is “deserved.”

Even if there was a god; no one knows what offends it or not. What it would consider “deserving.” Christians cannot agree with each other, nor with their own book as to what God considers offensive or “deserving.”

Besides, the punishment is so overwhelming, we cannot visualize it, and therefore it has no real impact. Like me telling my 8-year-old I will punish her by not letting her drive until she is 18. She can’t drive now, and never has; the concept is so foreign to her she doesn’t know what it even means to not be able to drive.

OneSmallStep said...

HIS,

It seems like the ultimate "blame the victim" game. On some level, it's like they know that anyone who condemns a person to eternal torment simply for lack of belief is morally wrong. Yet non-Christians are condemned. Perhaps, in a twisted way, it's making a God in their own image? Since they would not do that, God must not do that?

**If all SIDS victims and other babies who tragically die automatically end up in heaven, why are Christians so opposed to abortion?**

Yup. If you took this to the logical conclusion -- that all those before the "age of accountability" automatically go to heaven, then abortion would be doing everyone a favor, because you don't risk the "hell" option. I feel this same kind of confusion whenever people are thankful that someone survived an ordeal. Wouldn't the person be better off dead, since the dead person would then be in the best place possible -- aka, heaven? Yet it's almost like death was something to be postponed.

Mystical,

I don't think those who hold to the concept of hell are evil, either. I think it just means that those theologically-minded people are actually kinder than the theology they follow. I think they comfort themselves with the fact that it's what the unsaved really want, though. Which is hard to contemplate as well, because who in their right mind wants to be burned for eternity?

DagoodS,

As you stated, the concept of "deserve" is relative to the situation. As are most things in life. In providing for your family, there wouldn't be an entitlement due, because it's your "duty" as a father. Yet if you feed a stranger's family and this costs you your own food, then there is an "entitlement" attached, because of the type of sacrifice. An almost unexpected sacrifice.

Of course, what you deserve would also be effected by the motivation behind such a sacrifice -- if you did so only to get a reward, some would call you selfish.

societyvs said...

"if we deserve nothing but hell, then wouldn't that also mean that starving people don't deserve help? Or food? That the Holocaust victims not only deserved to die, but deserved to die in the manner that they did?" (OSS)

Great point! I think that's why on my blog I always try to push conservative thinkers to this revealing this theology - I notice we have some very good speakers on the subject - and this one point is summing that up perfectly.

"But people can turn around and say that those same people, if they reject Jesus, deserve to suffer eternally? I just don't see how the two can be compatible." (OSS)

I would say, like Mystic, those people value their identification with a dogma more than truth/reality. I think some Christians also lack a 'working theology' - one where you have to be actively involved in it's change and progression.

'I cannot see a God that can send all to hell because I would not' - is a good example. The person who says this tests this with their own life and finds out what they feel and believe via experience. Myself, I have found if I can forgive 100's then God can forgive 1000's.

Here's my point - our faith is based on the way we hold our ideals and how that effects others. For example, all those whom you forgive - they are forgiven. Whom you are merciful to - have found justice. To those whom you love - friendship is created. The way I see it - I can't see God sending people to hell we can 'vouch for' - wouldn't we also be speaking on their behalf for why we acted the way we did to them (ie: forgiveness, mercy, and love)?

Wouldn't God ask us 'why did you do that when you knew full well you didn't have to'? We can always point back to the teachings - and thus, even for the unknowing, goes back to God. I see everyone we interact with as tied together and goes back to a simple idea for me 'He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.' I say - give them my reward.

As for that conservative right-wing type of faith - they trade in gold for bronze, stone for pebbles, and faith for organization. They hold dearly to a set of doctrines thinking it doesn't hurt anyone...'Lord Lord, how is that we seen you and did not help'.

cipher said...

There is so much being said here with which I agree that I don't know whom to validate first!

Heather, I was just reading that "Angry with God" article at the de-conversion blog, and I saw your comment, and I was reading the most recent responses to the article just before it as well, and I came over here to vent - and I find you've just written about the very topic that's got me seething! I’m pretty pissed off as I’m typing this, and it’s ended up being another one of my rants. I apologize. I hope it isn't too long.

I agree with pretty much everything you are all saying - cognitive dissonance, why do they oppose abortion, dogma taking precedence over morality (although God knows they wouldn't define morality in the same way), "blame the victim"... it just goes on and on.

I've might have said this here before - I say it all the time, so I probably have - I've become absolutely convinced that conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists suffer from what we would today call low pathologically low self-esteem. Their self-loathing is so profound that they genuinely believe that they deserve nothing better than to burn in hell for all of eternity. They then project this onto the rest of humanity; "If I'm no damn good, then you're no damn good, either!" These are the personalities who have been responsible for formulating these doctrines in the first place - Augustine, Luther, Calvin, etc. - and for promulgating them all these centuries.

I’ve often heard evangelical ministers say that the single greatest obstacle they face in bringing people to a belief in Jesus is that people see themselves as being so bad that they can’t believe God can or will ever forgive them. Plus, my sense of it is (and I haven’t seen any figures, so I’m shooting from the hip) that many of them grow up in families in which there is a good deal of physical and/or verbal abuse (I asked Yael, who grew up among them, and she corroborated). They seem to end up with these absolutely terrible self-images.

Heather, you did say one thing with which I don't think I'm in total agreement:

I don't think those who hold to the concept of hell are evil, either. I think it just means that those theologically-minded people are actually kinder than the theology they follow. I think they comfort themselves with the fact that it's what the unsaved really want, though.

I don't see them as even relatively kind. I do see them as evil, actually. From my perspective, as ridiculous as this will sound - they're worse than the Nazis. Hitler merely wanted to exterminate the Jews (and Gypsies, gay people, etc.) I don't think he gave a damn about what happened to them after that. And he was up front about it. Fundies claim to love you - yet, on that dark and terrible day, while you and I are being dragged off to an eternity of unspeakable torment, I gather they imagine themselves being too busy getting fitted for their halos to actually give a damn.

HIS, there are a couple of guys who post regularly at de-conversion, and with whom you've recently been having an exchange, that, I think, illustrate this. Brad and Mike from the Seminarian blog are Calvinists (I know that Brad is; I think Mike is as well). Brad has been making comments lately like "God bless you", and calling you "brother", and he made a remark the other day about domestic Christians (as opposed to people like your wife who grow up in other countries) not focusing enough on serving the poor. He expressed dismay over the way in which the message is being delivered - yet he finds absolutely NOTHING wrong with the message itself. He’s an unapologetic champion of “orthodoxy”. He defines himself proudly as a conservative and a Calvinist; if you don’t believe, it’s because God doesn’t want you to – but it’s still, somehow, your “fault”!

Mike made a veiled reference the other day to my lack of "civility" - yes, aren't we civilized? They'll joke with you, and wish you well, and say "God bless you" - yet, on the Day of Judgment, they'll gladly turn their backs on you, and spend the rest of eternity praising God, not caring that you're writhing in agony (and many, if not most, of them actually do conceptualize it as a place of physical suffering - God's own private torture chamber). And they're Calvinists; they believe that God has decreed this, from the beginning of time - yet it doesn't make God a "bad guy"!

I see conservative evangelicals as suffering from a sort of moral imbecility. There's a phenomenon known to psychologists in which an individual seems not to have a conscience (I think it may be associated with a form of Borderline Personality Disorder, from which I think a lot of them may also be suffering). I think that's in evidence here. How many times have we all heard a fundie say, "If there's no hell, or if everyone is going to be saved in the end, what's to prevent us from doing whatever we like?" Often, after arguing with a fundamentalist, an atheist, agnostic or liberal Christian or Jew will say, "Poor guy; he really thinks he needs the threat of hell to make him behave." I've come recently to think that may be precisely the case - it may be that he really does need it. There's something lacking in him, something that would otherwise prevent him from behaving in an antisocial manner. The fundie may not be as lacking in conscience as someone who kills without remorse - but I think that he may not be far off.

I recently read an interview with Brian McClaren, in which he said that he doesn't think most conservative Christians really think through the implications of the doctrine of hell - that they don't really envision the scenario. He feels that if they did, they'd either go insane or end up hating God. I disagree with him; I think that a lot of them do envision it - and that is precisely where the attraction lies. It makes them feel empowered vicariously by getting on the same "side" as God. I also think there are erotic overtones involved, the connection between pleasure and pain - a sort of obscene voyeurism. (HIS, I read that article you wrote about the homoerotic overtones in contemporary Christian culture. I agree with you, but I think it goes even farther and deeper than you may realize.) Remember that from the Middle Ages, they've been preaching that one of the pleasures of heaven will be the ability to observe the suffering of the damned in hell. Jonathan Edwards wrote that a father in heaven would be able to see his unsaved child roasting in the flames, and, far from being despondent, would actually enjoy the spectacle, as it would serve as a testimony to God's glory and justice (Pleasant fellow, eh? Yet so many of them absolutely revere him; there are websites dedicated to his psychotic rantings.).

There’s also some evidence now that ideological orientation – liberal vs. conservative – has a physiological basis. It appears to originate in the prefrontal cortex. There have been studies – Heather, I think I posted the links here not long ago. Conservatives (theological as well as political) have a preference for structure, hierarchy, authority, rigidly defined boundaries. They’re made very uncomfortable without them. Liberals, on the other hand, seem to be able to handle a broader perspective.

Heather, you were arguing with an evangelical pastor some months ago, in that “homoeroticism” thread at de-conversion. He accused you of painting all evangelicals with a broad brush. You replied that it’s a reasonable inference to draw, as the most vocal spokespersons are people like Falwell, Dobson, et. al. You said you wanted to believe that all evangelicals are not like them, but that your experience has shown you otherwise. He wasn’t having it; he refused to assume any responsibility on the evangelical side. You were just being intolerant.

The reason I bring it up is that I agree with you, and I’ll bring Calvinism into it again. I don’t think that people outside of the evangelical subculture are aware of how pervasive the influence of Calvinism is in that world – even among people who don’t necessarily define themselves as Calvinists. The beliefs I’m describing – I think that there are tens of millions in our culture who subscribe to them, probably hundreds of millions worldwide. That is a huge percentage of the population, and it fills me with despair. I simply can’t see a way in which beings who are perfectly comfortable abandoning billions of their human siblings for all of eternity are capable of solving their problems. It is the fundies (primarily of the Christian variety), far more than the terrorists, the serial killers and the pedophiles, who have convinced me that humanity is a terminal species. I don’t think we’ve got much time left.

I’ve been talking to Yael about it a lot, lately. She’s been trying to talk me in from the ledge, but, so far, I’m still out here. They have literally ruined reality for me.

HIS, by the way, and while I’ve got you – why is it that, over at de-conversion, LeoPardus gets to knock Christianity all the time, and no one says “boo” – yet, whenever I make a remark about it (and, the other day, I actually just agreed with something he said) – the Christians slam me then dismiss me, and you guys say absolutely nothing? Is it because he’s a regular contributor, whereas I post only occasionally? Am I viewed as an interloper? Is it because the Christians see him as one of their own, because he’s a member of the Orthodox Church? I sent an email about this to the address at the blog. I assume Roopster receives those, but he hasn’t responded. The whole thing is pretty off-putting.

OneSmallStep said...

Society,

**Great point! I think that's why on my blog I always try to push conservative thinkers to this revealing this theology**

You have more patience at this than I do. One of the frustrating things for me in dealing with that theology, or someone who says its perfectly okay for non-Christians to suffer in hell, is I'm making the transistion to temporal sufferings, and wondering how they can be compassionate about those. Or how we could 'trust' them, in a way, to be compassionate. To me, saying "We deserve hell" is just like saying "You deserve [fill in the blank with something horrible]"

We'd very much protest the latter. Yet the former gets excused sometimes as justifiable because we're all entitled to our beliefs.

The other thing that gets me about this belief -- would they be kind or loving at all if there wasn't a reward at the end?

**'He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.' I say - give them my reward. **

Very nice. It's all about doing right for the sake of doing right, even if it costs you.

OneSmallStep said...

Hi, Cipher.

**and I find you've just written about the very topic that's got me seething!**

This was sparked through that convo, and another convo I'm currently engaged in, in terms of what we do and do not deserve. So rant away. :)

**They then project this onto the rest of humanity; "If I'm no damn good, then you're no damn good, either!"**

And yet, we get called prideful if we try and do the reverse. "Since I'm a good person, there are parts of you that are good, too."

**Augustine, Luther, Calvin, etc. - and for promulgating them all these centuries. **
And you know what really gets me about this? None of them were Jewish! We have non-Jewish people interpreting a document that is at least 60-66% Jewish, with absolutely no foundation in that religion! Luther even wrote, "On Jews and Their Lies!"

I don't think any of the church fathers were Jewish, either. They were Greek. So the entire Christian concept, and doctrine followed, is based on Greek thought. Not Jewish. And yet it claims to fufill all the Jewish prophecies, and be the Jewish Messiah? And Christians always know the right way of interpreting, even without any concept of Hebrew thought?

**I’ve often heard evangelical ministers say that the single greatest obstacle they face in bringing people to a belief in Jesus is that people see themselves as being so bad that they can’t believe God can or will ever forgive them.**

I wrote a post on this a few months ago, in that in order to make God's love be extreme and radical, you really have to make humanity out to be monsters. God's love would lose its impact if we were all already good, and there'd thus be nothing to be in awe about.

**Fundies claim to love you - yet, on that dark and terrible day, while you and I are being dragged off to an eternity of unspeakable torment, I gather they imagine themselves being too busy getting fitted for their halos to actually give a damn.**

I can see some being this way. The "Left Behind" writers are part of that "some." Yet I also have evangelical friends who do believe the un-saved go to hell. In seeing how they act, at least with me, I have a hard, hard time picturing them standing by and not doing a thing while I'm dragged screaming into a pit of eternal torment. Nor could I see their families doing such a thing, either.

**I recently read an interview with Brian McClaren, in which he said that he doesn't think most conservative Christians really think through the implications of the doctrine of hell - that they don't really envision the scenario.**

This is part of why I can't classify all of them as "evil." I mean, I gagged upon seeing pictures after the concentration camps were liberated.

**Remember that from the Middle Ages, they've been preaching that one of the pleasures of heaven will be the ability to observe the suffering of the damned in hell.**

Actually, I think this might've started even earlier, possibly with Augustine.

**You replied that it’s a reasonable inference to draw, as the most vocal spokespersons are people like Falwell, Dobson, et. al.**

I've made this comment in a few blogs. There was a contrast between perfect love driving out fear, and I said that fundamentalism often breeds the very thing it tries to cast out. One poster came back and said that I couldn't prove it, and thus was just vomiting babble. I pointed out that if fundamentalism didn't thrive on this, then there's no way the "Left Behind" series would be a best sellers list.

**That is a huge percentage of the population, and it fills me with despair.**

I know. Same here. It's clinging to a doctrine that was created in -- what, the 1500s? It may be "reformed," but what it goes back to is the teaching of Augustine, not the first Christians. That's why I was puzzled by a comment on de-conversion about how the Reformed tradition really respect Judaism, and kind of went back to that as its roots.

Only I have no idea how. Between original sin, hell, God becoming flesh, a Messiah dying for sins, and all people are born evil and "deserve" punishment *and* the total lack of study on the Torah, it's nothing like the Judaism I see today.

cipher said...

**Augustine, Luther, Calvin, etc. - and for promulgating them all these centuries. **
And you know what really gets me about this? None of them were Jewish! We have non-Jewish people interpreting a document that is at least 60-66% Jewish, with absolutely no foundation in that religion! Luther even wrote, "On Jews and Their Lies!"


Yeah, absolutely! This is what I was saying the other day. It's completely inappropriate for Christians to have spent the better part of the past two millennia telling us that we're misinterpreting texts that we wrote in the first place!

That's why I was puzzled by a comment on de-conversion about how the Reformed tradition really respect Judaism, and kind of went back to that as its roots.

That was Mike, I think. And Brad, his colleague, said the same thing to me just a few days prior. This drives me crazy - evangelicals claim to respect the "Jewish roots", and they learn Hebrew (just enough to support their a priori conclusions), and they pay lip service to the "Jewishness of Jesus" - but they go right on believing the same things. They don't really want to know; they just want to have corroboration for their suppositions.

And Christians always know the right way of interpreting, even without any concept of Hebrew thought?

As I say, they learn Hebrew, they play around with their concordances - but they fail to cultivate a Jewish mindset. They're trying to read back into the text meanings that its Jewish authors couldn't possibly have had in mind. And that's when they even bother to learn the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek (for the NT). I was involved in a lovely conversation the other day in which someone was claiming that you can't really understand the Bible without learning all three languages, and, of course, an uneducated evangelical chimed in and said that it wasn't necessary, you can learn all you need to know from an English translation! They really just have no clue.

Yet I also have evangelical friends who do believe the un-saved go to hell. In seeing how they act, at least with me, I have a hard, hard time picturing them standing by and not doing a thing while I'm dragged screaming into a pit of eternal torment. Nor could I see their families doing such a thing, either.

But what does that translate to, in practical terms? I can't imagine them begging God for mercy on your behalf. They're all obsessed with His sovereignty, and they're convinced that He doesn't make mistakes. The Jewish concept of arguing with God (which is right there in the OT!) is foreign to most of them. What, if anything, do they imagine themselves doing - standing around with mournful looks on their faces?

Actually, I think this might've started even earlier, possibly with Augustine.

Really? I know that much of what we call "Calvinism" actually started with him, but I thought this notion began around the time of Aquinas. I believe he coined the term "the abominable fancy". You may certainly be right, though

There was a contrast between perfect love driving out fear, and I said that fundamentalism often breeds the very thing it tries to cast out.

I know. I've been saying much the same thing for years. What they see as the solution to the problem is actually a manifestation of the problem itself. If Jesus was divine, and if he did come to heal us, I think the brokenness he came to heal is the kind of internal radical disconnection that gives rise to fundamentalism. What they see as the cure is actually part of the disease!

Only I have no idea how. Between original sin, hell, God becoming flesh, a Messiah dying for sins, and all people are born evil and "deserve" punishment *and* the total lack of study on the Torah, it's nothing like the Judaism I see today.

I know. It's completely non-Jewish. A couple of years ago, I came across some old threads in the Messianic Judaism usenet group, in which a Hasidic rabbi who does outreach was threatening them with eternal damnation for their "idolatry". This guy is a questionable character, and it's a minority opinion in the Talmud by far, but he was using it as a fear tactic. Anyway, the Messianics weren't frightened or deterred one bit. In fact, they were excited because Jews are always telling them that hell isn't a Jewish concept, and here was this Orthodox rabbi, dropped right down into their midst (by the Holy Spirit, no doubt), telling them that it was! They couldn't have been more pleased!

Which demonstrates two things: 1)people hear what they want to hear, and 2)human beings are crazy.

OneSmallStep said...

Cipher,

**but they fail to cultivate a Jewish mindset. They're trying to read back into the text meanings that its Jewish authors couldn't possibly have had in mind.**

Karen Armstrong mentions this in her book "The History of God" and how Paul was too Jewish to consider Jesus to be God. That interpretation was forced upon the BIble through the Greek mindset. It had something to do with how the HEbrew mindset described the glory of God, and how Jesus embodied that. Such as her quote, "Like divine Wisdom, the "Word" symbolized God's original plan for creation. When Paul and John spoke about Jesus as though he had some kind of preexistent life, they were not suggesting that he was a second divine "person" in the later Trinitarian sense. They were indicating that Jesus had trascended temporal and individual modes of existence. Because the "power" and "wisdom" that he represented were activities that derived from God, he had in some way expressed "what was there from the beginning." These ideas were comprehensible in a strictly Jewish context ..."

I just -- we have a religion that is *huge* on monotheism. One God, and one God only. If God is a Trinitarian God, *this* is the religion He'd choose to reveal that in? Seriously? And then everyone is surprised when it's rejected by said monotheists?

**an uneducated evangelical chimed in and said that it wasn't necessary, you can learn all you need to know from an English translation!**
Yes, which is precisely why Rabbis and scholars spend so much time studying. And debating.

**What, if anything, do they imagine themselves doing - standing around with mournful looks on their faces?**
Lol. Unless, of course, all tears are wiped from their eyes. Then they won't remember me.

One of these friends is actually really upset about the "Left Behind" books because of how, in her perspective, it distorts the Gospel. She asked me if I wouldn't be angry if someone did that to a religion I followed. What I don't think she understood is that the whole "fear card" is hugely woven in the theology she follows. The "Left Behind" series isn't something that came out of nowhere in Christianity, and I don't think she got that.

**Really? I know that much of what we call "Calvinism" actually started with him, but I thought this notion began around the time of Aquinas.**

There's a book by Thomas Talbott, on Christian universalism. He started exploring the early church Fathers, and he mentions about AUgustine that " ... [he] extends his conception of God's limited mercy even to children, arguing that God will reject, and eternally seperate himself from, even some who die in financy."

However, I thought there was something more specific than that, only I can't find it right now.
There was a contrast between perfect love driving out fear, and I said that fundamentalism often breeds the very thing it tries to cast out.
**I know. It's completely non-Jewish.**

The really interesting thing about this as well is the idea that Jesus fufills the prophecies. I'm not sure if this will make sense, but if you looked what is considered a "propehcy," could you then get a clear picture of Jesus without the NT? Because the prophecies seem "retro-active." Things happened, and people went back to the Tanakh and re-interpreted passages to fit the present occurances.

cipher said...

**What, if anything, do they imagine themselves doing - standing around with mournful looks on their faces?**
Lol. Unless, of course, all tears are wiped from their eyes. Then they won't remember me.


Oh, I know. This just slays me. They talk about this all the time. Fundamentalist ministers tell parents with unsaved children who've died that in heaven, God will erase all memory of the child, so they won't have to know of his/her suffering! I've been looking occasionally at an atheist site maintained by a young man, a college student. He's got this unbalanced Christian woman badgering him, who considers herself a minister. Recently, she said something to the effect of, "I'll be in heaven, and I won't remember any of you, but you'll be in hell for all eternity, and you'll remember us, and part of your suffering will be the knowledge that you've been forgotten." And they expect us to take them seriously when they tell us that they love us! Their "love" gets turned on and off like the light switch! But, again - I think this is the product of a seriously fragmented personality. As I said, I suspect that a lot of it stems from abuse they suffered as children (and, with women, spousal abuse as well), and probably from physiologically-based disorders, such as Borderline Personality.

I have serious abandonment issues, and this just plays right into it. It's a large part of the reason I resent them so vehemently.

There's a book by Thomas Talbott, on Christian universalism. He started exploring the early church Fathers, and he mentions about AUgustine that " ... [he] extends his conception of God's limited mercy even to children, arguing that God will reject, and eternally seperate himself from, even some who die in financy."

Yeah, I know of Tom Talbott. I used to have a few chapters of his book on my hard drive; I may still have them. I've been meaning to read them for a long time. I have read a couple of his articles. I think finding out about him was the first exposure I had to evangelical universalism. I hadn't been aware that there was such a thing. It was also the first time I encountered John Piper, the Calvinist. He wrote an essay (I also have it on my hard drive, in a folder entitled, "Why I Am Not a Christian") in which he claims to be "saddened" by Talbott's attitude. Here is a man who is trying to save everyone within an evangelical framework, and Piper is "saddened" by it! He then goes on to talk about how dearly he loves his four sons, but if God hasn't chosen his sons to be His sons, he won't rail at God. In other words - if God has decided to send his kids to hell, he won't make a fuss! Yeah... I wonder how the boys feel about that?

And there are Calvinists who dislike Piper, who claim that he's too soft! You know, the worst thing about guys like Piper is that they're never the worst thing out there. It’s sort of a variation on the “bigger fool” theory of investing – there’s always a bigger bastard! It seems to be the nature of that world.

This reminds me of something I read last year. A writer or journalist posted this online. Apparently, his young son had been learning about hell in Sunday school (I think they were Catholic). I regard this as a form of child abuse, but let’s leave that aside for the moment. He was tucking the child into bed, and he asked him, “Dad – am I going to go to hell?” What he should have said, of course, was “No, absolutely not!” In fact, he should have told him that the whole thing is an anachronism. But what he did tell him is germane to this discussion. He told him, “If you do, I’m going with you!” A far cry from, “Well, boys, it’s been fun. Sorry you didn’t make the cut!”

This may be the most important thing I can say about that belief system – I think that, in order to adopt it, one has to sacrifice a huge chunk of one’s humanity. And they talk about how a belief in Jesus “completes” them! There’s a tremendous, tragic hardness of heart in evidence – an utter willingness to abandon others. I know that I keep saying it’s the result of a disordered personality, and I believe that, but still – it’s unconscionable. Have the courage to resist it, to do without the security blanket. Have the guts to decide, “No, this cannot be true.” Grow a fucking spine!

I know that Talbott traces a lot of this back to Augustine, and I know about Augustine's beliefs concerning unbaptized infants, but I wasn't aware that he believed that the saved would actually have a ringside seat observing the tortures of the damned.

One of these friends is actually really upset about the "Left Behind" books because of how, in her perspective, it distorts the Gospel. She asked me if I wouldn't be angry if someone did that to a religion I followed. What I don't think she understood is that the whole "fear card" is hugely woven in the theology she follows. The "Left Behind" series isn't something that came out of nowhere in Christianity, and I don't think she got that.

Yeah, I know. This doesn't surprise me in the least. But is she upset because she believes the "Rapture" scenario is based on a misinterpretation? Or does she believe it, but is upset because LaHaye makes the Christians seem unfeeling? This is related to what I said yesterday - they object to the way in which the message is portrayed, but they fail to see that the message itself is the problem. And if we're offended by the message? That just proves they're right! "For men will hate you for my sake", or some damn thing.

The really interesting thing about this as well is the idea that Jesus fufills the prophecies. I'm not sure if this will make sense, but if you looked what is considered a "propehcy," could you then get a clear picture of Jesus without the NT? Because the prophecies seem "retro-active." Things happened, and people went back to the Tanakh and re-interpreted passages to fit the present occurances.

Yes, of course. It's reverse engineering. We all do it; it's the nature of denial. But they simply don't see it. They've got the Holy Spirit whispering the secrets of the universe into their ears. We don't have that, so we just don't get it.

societyvs said...

"an uneducated evangelical chimed in and said that it wasn't necessary, you can learn all you need to know from an English translation!" (Cipher)

This is where I will differ with both of you a bit - but not much. I don't think the key is knowing the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic - but obviously they help a lot - but understanding the translation, cultural context, literary nuances of language, and the whole writing - book or letter (also context of the text in the passage).

See, someone translated this to English prior to us and I am guessing they did an alright job. However, the english is onyl helpful if we look at all other factors - even the stripping of our mindsets and current cultures - to remove hindrances to reading the simple english we even have in front of us.

I don't read anything except the New American Standard Version - namely because Gideon's gives them out for free - but the translation really works for me - easily readable.

I am having this same debate with someone on my blog about how easy it is to interpret scripture and I have stated very clearly - it's not all that easy and straight-forward - even in english this takes some serious study. I am getting to the point of now explaining every little thing to this person so they can see what I mean when I say that (it's not you OSS - you're brilliant). And I am not sure this conservative person will ever get it...it's true they only hear what they want to hear which is very ironic since Jesus warns against this very idea (he who has ears to hear - let him hear)! Apparently someone with doctrinal ear-plugs on can't truly 'hear'.

Samanthamj said...

Great post. Great comments. This is exactly one of my main ussues as well. Not only that some "deserve" and "choose" eternal hell and torment after death - but, that we also deserve the worst things in life just for being the sinful creatures all of humanity has become. But, don't forget - God "loves us" all. ??

Huh??

~smj

Samanthamj said...

Great post. Great comments. This is exactly one of my main ussues as well. Not only that some "deserve" and "choose" eternal hell and torment after death - but, that we also deserve the worst things in life just for being the sinful creatures all of humanity has become. But, don't forget - God "loves us" all. ??

Huh??

~smj

cipher said...

Jason,

Yes, I've noticed that you have a few conservatives who post on your blog, and with whom you've been arguing lately. As you know, I've had a couple of encounters with them myself. I can't deal with them.

Re; translation - if we don't learn the languages, and can't read the original manuscripts (if we have the time and aptitude and insofar as they've been preserved), how do we know we can trust the translations? Every body of translators has had an agenda.

I'm not saying that translations are worthless. I do think they have to be approached with extreme caution. And, as you know, it doesn't hurt to try to understand the texts from the perspective of the people who wrote them in the first place. In other words, if you want to know what the OT is saying - ask a Jew, not a professor at the Dallas Theological Seminary! (Of course, this wouldn't help much with the NT, but you can at least get a sense of what the "prophecies" of the OT were really pointing toward.)

Samantha,

As you can see, one of the Calvinist fellows I mentioned at the de-conversion blog is already taking umbrage at my remarks.

By the way, everyone - my name is Jeff.

OneSmallStep said...

Cipher,

**Fundamentalist ministers tell parents with unsaved children who've died that in heaven, God will erase all memory of the child, so they won't have to know of his/her suffering!**

Which really makes no sense. Knowledge of one's children is a huge part of a parent's identity. How do you wipe away that kind of knowledge and not end up with someone who's totally unlike how they were on Earth?

**Recently, she said something to the effect of, "I'll be in heaven, and I won't remember any of you, but you'll be in hell for all eternity, and you'll remember us, and part of your suffering will be the knowledge that you've been forgotten."**

What doesn't seem to occur to people who behave this way is that if heaven is like that, and made up of that attitude, then what's suppose to be so appealing about it?

**I regard this as a form of child abuse, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.**

As do I. You might have noticed the discussion I was in recently about the damage it would do to a child in telling them that they deserve hell, and the other person saying that they'll tell their child when appropriate, essentially. But I never felt like I actually got a response as to what it would do to a person to tell them they deserve eternal torment. All of my evangelical friends "accepted" Jesus in the single-digit age. At most, we'd ahve a nine year old agreeing that she deserves hell. Nine years old.

**but I wasn't aware that he believed that the saved would actually have a ringside seat observing the tortures of the damned.**

I'm still not sure about this one -- I'd like to find a quote where Augustine specfically states this.

**But is she upset because she believes the "Rapture" scenario is based on a misinterpretation?**

She does believe in the Rapture. She believes the "unsaved" will suffer eternally. I think what upsets her is that there's no concept of grace or love in the Left Behind series. I've read one of the doctrinal points on her old church, and how the unrighteous will be sent to the whole eternal torment, and it's justified. There are days when I just want to tell her, "As soon as you say it's perfectly okay to torture people, this is what happens."

As you said, they protest the distortion of the message, not realizing that the message is already distorted.

**Yes, of course. It's reverse engineering.**

I like this term better.

Society,

**See, someone translated this to English prior to us and I am guessing they did an alright job.**

Actually, I'm not sure how good of a job was done. :) The problem with any translation, regardless of what the translated work is, biases are brought to the work. In a lot of ways, I think this has happened with the NT, and the belief about JEsus being God. Certain verses are translated a different way by a trinitarian, compared to a non-trinitarian.

**I am getting to the point of now explaining every little thing to this person so they can see what I mean when I say that (it's not you OSS - you're brilliant).**

I think I know who you're talking about. What's frustrating about this, even in a general sense, is that I find many of my questions aren't getting answered at all. In part, this is probably because we're coming from radically different mindsets, and those are hard to cross over. We're almost talking "past" one another.

Samantha,

Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. And yup -- God loves us, yet we deserve horrible things. The scary thing about this then is you have to wonder what drives God's love for us. If it's not "us" and it's nothing about us, then does that mean God is forced to love us because it's in His nature? Given a choice, would God not love us?

cipher said...

**Fundamentalist ministers tell parents with unsaved children who've died that in heaven, God will erase all memory of the child, so they won't have to know of his/her suffering!**

Which really makes no sense. Knowledge of one's children is a huge part of a parent's identity. How do you wipe away that kind of knowledge and not end up with someone who's totally unlike how they were on Earth?


That's a very good point. What is it , precisely, that Christians believe survives? In other belief systems - Buddhism, Taoism, Jewish mysticism, for example - what we think of as the "soul" or the "self" is seen as an emergent property arising out of a complex of various components, the body being one of them. At death, the components have different "destinations". For the Christian, is it the personality intact, dropping the body as one would remove a suit of clothing? I think a sophisticated, educated Christian would tell you it isn't - but most of them aren't at that level. So, if the personality survives - which personality is it? Are you the same person at sixty that you were at twenty? Is it the personality you have, with all of its baggage, at the moment of death? I've heard it said that God "recreates" you as the person you were meant to be. It's the ideal "you". So, why can't he do that even with inveterate sinners?

When you can even get a conservative Christian to address these questions, you never can get a straight answer. It's usually just brushed aside as a "mystery".

**Recently, she said something to the effect of, "I'll be in heaven, and I won't remember any of you, but you'll be in hell for all eternity, and you'll remember us, and part of your suffering will be the knowledge that you've been forgotten."**

What doesn't seem to occur to people who behave this way is that if heaven is like that, and made up of that attitude, then what's suppose to be so appealing about it?


But you know their answers to that - we're supposed to put God first, even before our families. In heaven, they'll see as God sees, and they'll understand the "logic" or "rightness" of it. It won't seem unfair to them. As you said - how convenient.

You might have noticed the discussion I was in recently about the damage it would do to a child in telling them that they deserve hell, and the other person saying that they'll tell their child when appropriate, essentially. But I never felt like I actually got a response as to what it would do to a person to tell them they deserve eternal torment. All of my evangelical friends "accepted" Jesus in the single-digit age. At most, we'd ahve a nine year old agreeing that she deserves hell. Nine years old.

I know. It's an abomination. It ought to be illegal. There's a rabbi by the name of Michael Lerner who founded Tikkun magazine. He's also a psychologist. He sees these issues in terms of patterns of abuse, passed on from one generation to the next. Part of our job - which is "tikkun", repairing the world - is to put an end to these patterns.

A few months ago, I saw a segment on a news magazine program about a six year old "minister". He told the interviewer that he realized at the age of four that he was a "sinner" - he had disobeyed his mother! The interviewer said, "But what if I try to be as good as I can be... ?", and he said it wasn't enough. You need Jesus to pay the penalty. Next to him, his father murmured, "It'll never be enough." This is how these mind states get perpetuated. Dawkins may be onto something with that "meme" business.

I think what upsets her is that there's no concept of grace or love in the Left Behind series. I've read one of the doctrinal points on her old church, and how the unrighteous will be sent to the whole eternal torment, and it's justified. There are days when I just want to tell her, "As soon as you say it's perfectly okay to torture people, this is what happens."

Yeah, that's what it is. It's like holding up a mirror. She doesn't like what she sees. And she won't acknowledge that the Left Behind scenario is the logical outcome of that mindset.

As you said, they protest the distortion of the message, not realizing that the message is already distorted.


Yeah- the belief system itself is the brokenness of which we need to be healed.

Just to clarify - by reverse engineering, I mean that they find "prophecies" in the OT they want Jesus to fulfill, then they write the accounts to fit. Or alter accounts that have already been written. Or are oral traditions that haven't yet been written down.

God loves us, yet we deserve horrible things. The scary thing about this then is you have to wonder what drives God's love for us. If it's not "us" and it's nothing about us, then does that mean God is forced to love us because it's in His nature? Given a choice, would God not love us?

Maybe He's codependent!

Mike said...

Super posts and great comments.

But you guys are gonna be in so much trouble for thinking.

"There's a mighty judgment coming...but I may be wrong." L. Cohen

OneSmallStep said...

Cipher,

**For the Christian, is it the personality intact, dropping the body as one would remove a suit of clothing? I think a sophisticated, educated Christian would tell you it isn't**

I would think so, except the emphasis on almost all evangelicalism I see is "Where will your soul go after you die?" Yet Paul's focus in the NT was always in a resurrection, aka a body. And didn't ancient Hebrews believe that there wasn't that type of divison between soul and body? That a body was simply a living soul?

**I've heard it said that God "recreates" you as the person you were meant to be. It's the ideal "you". So, why can't he do that even with inveterate sinners?**

Or, why not just create who you're suppose to be in the first place? Why start with the faulty creation?

**It won't seem unfair to them. As you said - how convenient.**

I know. It's like the farther you go into it, the less logic there is -- and how can one have 'faith' in an absolute mystery? The faith needs to be based on *something.*

**The interviewer said, "But what if I try to be as good as I can be... ?", and he said it wasn't enough. You need Jesus to pay the penalty. Next to him, his father murmured, "It'll never be enough."**

I read about that. I always like to point out that if someone had to pay the penalty in order for humanity to be forgiven, then it's not forgiveness. Forgiveness means you release your hold on any "debt" owed to you.

**Just to clarify - by reverse engineering, I mean that they find "prophecies" in the OT they want Jesus to fulfill, then they write the accounts to fit.**

Ah. I tend to see it as they say things happen, and then they go back and find prophecies that can match what happened -- which is why so many Psalms are used, because they're so symbolic to begin with. It's a little harder to do that with a prophecy that says, "On the fourth day of the fourth month, the moon will shed blood and a man will die."

It's like none of the straightforward Jewish prophecies got fufilled.

Mike,

At least we'll get in trouble for something useful. ;)

cipher said...

I just looked at the most recent argument going on at Jason's blog. Jesus, Heather - he's got some frigging morons over there. It's a close race, but that "fishon" character wins the prize. His latest gem -

My mother died not believing in or confessing or repenting. HELL is NOT the punishment I wished for her. BUT I AM NOT GOD–HIS WAYS ARE NOT MY WAYS. HIS THOUGHTS ARE NOT MY THOUGHTS.

Because my mother is in hell changes NOTHING as to me believing in hell or not. Hell is in the Bible; straight foreward, non-negotiable, and heart-breaking. I have cried many tears over my mother. But not as many as God/Jesus/Holy Spirit.


My gut reaction is to tell him what a troglodyte he is, but I know from experience that he wouldn't get it. As I said the other day - they suffer from a sort of moral imbecility. "But the BIBLE says... !" I can't even go over there any more. Same with the de-conversion blog. For the sake of my own mental health, I 'm having to completely preclude any contact with those people. If you can handle it, my hat's off to you. You're obviously a lot stronger than I am.

People who are utterly willing to abandon billions of their human siblings for all of eternity, so that they can have the security blanket for a few brief decades - it's a complete abdication of moral and intellectual responsibility. I meant what I said, Heather; they're worse than Nazis. It is people like fishon who have convinced me that we can't solve our problems, we're a terminal species and we probably haven't got much time left. They literally make me wish I'd never been born.

OneSmallStep said...

Cipher,

It's very hard not to get angry at thoughts like that. Mostly because I'm sure he'd say that he'd rescue his mother from a burning building -- in fact, if he didn't and just watched her burn, he'd be condemned by others. Yet suddenly it's okay when the concept involves hell?

And not only that, but God will provide comfort to those who do have family in hell ... right.

I'm not sure if "handling it" is the best way to go. It's more like I have this perverse need to bang my head against a wall.

cipher said...

And not only that, but God will provide comfort to those who do have family in hell ... right.

Yeah, what's he gonna do? Bring over a fucking bundt cake?

And you know what kills me? I couldn't bring myself to abandon the rest of humanity - and I'm not a very nice person! I'm vindictive, unforgiving; I have rage issues. These people are supposed to be filled with the love of Christ! But, God wants to torture your Mom forever? No biggie! I'll get over it!
As long as I'M saved - that's all that matters.

Selfish, selfish assholes.

OneSmallStep said...

Cipher,

I'm right there with you. I don't actually like people. I'm like an anti-Christ of a people person. Yet even I would have difficulty with letting the rest of humanity be eternally tormented.

This isn't as strong when it comes to the true monsters out there. But when I think of the 'big hitters, like child rapists or the Nazis -- no, I don't want them to just escape justice. But if they are eternally tortured and I'm okay with that, then how on earth does that make me the moral person? The better person?

cipher said...

Yeah, exactly.