Pluralistic or Totalitarian?

A couple months ago, I wrote about The Clinton School of Public Service (at the University of Arkansas) and its new publication Frank. In the first issue, Joseph Ballard interviewed Richard Dawkins. That interview is now available on the magazine’s website.

Perhaps more interesting is a recent interview with Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core. (I spoke at an IFYC event late last year.)

Patel speaks of the two sides of the faith divide.

Not faithless versus faithful, though.

Rather, it’s the totalitarians versus the pluralists:

On one side of the faith line are the religious totalitarians. Their conviction is that only one interpretation of one religion is a legitimate way of being, believing and belonging on Earth. Everyone else needs to be cowed, converted, condemned or killed. Religious totalitarians are not marked by conservative, traditionalist or orthodox religious beliefs. Rather, they are defined by their behavior, driven by the goal of having their group dominate while everyone else suffocates.

On the other side of the faith line are the religious pluralists. Pluralists hold that people believing in different creeds and belonging to different communities need to learn to live together in equal dignity and mutual loyalty. Religious pluralism is neither mere coexistence nor forced consensus. It is a form of proactive cooperation that affirms the identity of the constituent communities, while emphasizing that the well-being of each and all depends on the health of the whole. It is the belief that the common good is best served when each community has a chance to make its own unique contribution.

Obviously, the pluralistic side sounds better.

But where would atheists stand on this issue?

Do we really want the “well-being” of all different faiths? We’d rather people see reason and drop their religious faith altogether. We’re not going to use violence to make that happen, but we don’t really want to see any religion — much less all of them — thriving.

We all know atheists who would fit the totalitarian category a little better. These are the people who are “driven by the goal of having their group dominate while everyone else suffocates.”

But there’s a difference between “militant atheists,” Islamic Jihadists, and Fundamentalist Christians.

A few questions to think about:

Is there an alternative category (or more) that Patel left out?

Where do you fall on the spectrum (if, indeed, we just stick with Patel’s two sides)?

Where should atheists be on the spectrum?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://t3knomanser.livejournal.com t3knomanser

    “Where is your evidence?” doesn’t fall neatly on that spectrum. You could argue that demanding evidence as a requisite of belief is totalitarian, but it’s also very egalitarian. Anything could be true- so long as there’s enough evidence to support that claim.

    Atheism isn’t pluralistic- especially atheism motivated by scientific skepticism. You can’t have the Christians and the Muslims both be right (although they could easily both be wrong). Facts aren’t pluralistic- facts don’t generally contradict each other. If they do, you’re probably putting them together wrong.

    So the question is: where does the mandate of evidence fall on the spectrum? I think there needs to be a third leg on the spectrum: egalitarianism. Atheism is egalitarian. Anyone could be all right, partially right, or all wrong- they’ll be judged on the basis of their evidence.

  • Kate

    “We” don’t necessarily want people to drop their faith. ;) I’m fine if people believe whatever, as long as it does not get pushed on me in any way. Bonus if they think about it.

  • http://thehappyhuman.wordpress.com John

    Am I totalitarian if I think everybody should be pluralistic?

  • http://darwinsdagger.blogspot.com Darwin’s Dagger

    That’s all atheism needs, to get back into bed with Joseph Stalin. All we need to do is reaffirm the words of Jefferson when he wrote “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

  • Kapture

    You are not totalitarian if you think everybody should be pluralistic.

    I don’t think pluralism should fall into a trap of cheap moral relativism and continue to allow people to abuse their children in the name of religion. Freedom doesn’t mean you get to make shitty choices for your kids.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    That was a great article by Patel. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to mention unbelievers at all. Are we to be excluded?

  • Aj

    Pluralism, multiculturalism, and relativism are a Trojan horse. Look at the different style of language being used to describe it complete with euphemisms of “equal dignity” and “affirms the identity”. What suffers when we adopt such approaches? Our principles, our values, in favour of appeasement of indoctrination, immorality, and nationalisms.

    Beware of defence of religion based on anything other than personal freedom and liberty of people. We do not have to accept that religion is a good thing, that cultural identity is a good thing. We should not accept that what one believes is rightfully determined by the family they were born into, determines what is a crime against you, or what level of freedom or prospects you should be happy with.

    That we want people to operate on reason not faith is no more totalitarian than wanting people to be educated, healthy, and free.

  • SpiderBrigade

    If all religions were committed to pluralism, I as an atheist wouldn’t care one way or the other whether they thrived or not.

    Unfortunately religion generally is incompatible with real pluralism, because every faith is built on the premise that it is universally true. Furthermore, religion makes statements about behavior that are often contradictory (which day is the Sabbath, for instance, or whether you can eat beef). Once you open the door to other sects having equal access to the truth, where do you stop?

    So basically, I’d say I’m a pluralist, which works out to “you can believe whatever you want, as long as you don’t expect your faith to be a valid argument on matters of laws/behavior/science. You have to back things up with evidence and so does everyone else.” Which unfortunately pretty much works out to most religions being disqualified =)

  • cipher

    Religious totalitarians are not marked by conservative, traditionalist or orthodox religious beliefs.

    I’m really not sure what he means by this. On the face of it, it seems an absurd statement. I would say that orthodox belief is one of the hallmarks of religious totalitarianism. You don’t see Bishop Spong trying to convert people.

  • http://www.skepticalmonkey.com Ted Goas

    Can atheism be a creed in the pluralistic view? I guess it’s the same as asking “Can non-belief be a stance in the belief system?”

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Spong is Orthodox? hahhahhaha

    What I mean is, he may have belonged to an Orthodox denomination, but his theology is by no means Orthodox. Many would say it is heretical.

  • mikespeir

    We’d rather people see reason and drop their religious faith altogether. We’re not going to use violence to make that happen…

    I wonder sometimes, they way I hear some atheists talking. I myself often argue that the only reason Christianity is so apparently passive is that it hasn’t the power to impose its will like it once did. Am I really so sure atheists, given that power, wouldn’t also oppress dissenters? No, I’m not.

  • http://www.primordial-blog.blogspot.com/ Brian Larnder

    I grew up in a tolitarian-type church so I still tend to see things from that perspective. Yes, the world would be a better place if everyone were pluralistic, but literal belief in a religion is either right or wrong and only one of them can be right. Being pluralistic means that you are admitting that nobody has the literal truth (including you).

    So what would be the point of still following if you don’t really believe? I never really got that, which is why I became an atheist once I stopped believing.

  • http:/http://avantgardefaith.blogspot.com// D Rho

    I don’t think I stand in any camp (they seem so generalized to me). On one hand, as a Jesus Christ follower, I do believe there’s a best way to live – that doesn’t seek political power, condemnation of those who don’t folllow, or cowing or killing those opposed. I do have a heart that seeks to convert, but out of a life of grace and compassion, not rigid imposition.

    I guess I’m a sort of pluralist in that sense, though. Where I feel there is truth and value in other religions (even atheism), as well as contradictions with what I believe. Truth is truth whether it’s found in the Scriptures, or in the writings of Confucious, or in Plato’s dictations, or in Oprah’s book of the Month. Jesus highest moral code was LOVE everyone, even our enemies. This means welcoming people just as they are, even if their intent is to exterminate you.

  • http://woofkitty.blogspot.com Samizdat

    I’ve never met an atheist who would agree with forcing people to abandon religion on pain of death, purely for the sake of atheism. However I’ve met very few who think all ‘faiths’ are equally valid. I’m happy to get on with religious people, but would still consider myself militant… Atheism can’t be totalitarian because we don’t believe atheism is more important than freedom.

  • Darryl

    Like it or not, people of faith separate faith from facts, so requiring an evidentiary spot on the spectrum is a waste of time–it won’t change the dynamic between the totalitarians and the pluralists. I think it’s necessary for atheists to insist upon strict separation of church and state. From what I’ve seen, the pluralists tend to be for that and the totalitarians against it. That puts me with first and opposed to the second.

    Pluralism, multiculturalism, and relativism are a Trojan horse. Look at the different style of language being used to describe it complete with euphemisms of “equal dignity” and “affirms the identity”. What suffers when we adopt such approaches? Our principles, our values, in favour of appeasement of indoctrination, immorality, and nationalisms.

    Right, and our principles and values are fairing well now; we don’t indoctrinate; we’re not immoral or nationalistic. Get real.

    Being pluralistic means that you are admitting that nobody has the literal truth (including you). So what would be the point of still following if you don’t really believe?

    It’s not our job to understand how believers can believe and yet be pluralistic–it’s just a fact that some of them do; and it’s a positive thing in my view. If pluralistic believers are more tolerant, if they want to keep church and state separate, if they don’t denigrate me for my unbelief, if they respect science and reason (that is, they recognize an autonomous secular sphere) and do not threaten facts with faith, then the more pluralism the better for all of us. As Patel quoted:

    Madison spoke forcefully about the relationship between these two values: “Freedom arises from the multiplicity of sects, which pervades America and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society. For where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest.”

  • Aph

    @D Rho
    You want everyone to be Christian, but to come to that decision based on the compassion of the followers. I dig on that, but your second paragraph I am not digging on. I understand the temptation to tell yourself that you respect the bits of truth in other belief systems. It’s condescending, but it sounds good. How do you justify your belief that there is Truth in other belief systems? Are you saying that there are pieces that are socially useful (i.e. love your neighbor) or that other beliefs are True and will result in the ultimate fulfillment of the believer?

    As for my answer to the question, I need to go with the guidelines in the founding documents of the United States on this situation. It’s not unreasonable for someone to expect the freedom to practice their religion.

  • http://www.chedstone.com Roy McKenzie

    I tend to fall into the totalitarian category, which bothers me sometimes. I don’t want to be a “militant atheist” but I really don’t want to tolerate religions for the same reason you said; I don’t want to see the thrive and I’d like people to embrace reason.

  • http://mygoddlessdrama.blogspot.com/ Stacy

    Isnt that “Pluralistic outlook” present in the Unitarian Church? I know there is a Unitarian church in Utica, NY that my friend and her family attend, and she claims there are Atheists, Jews, and methodists attending as well. She is herself Pagan. Has anyone ever attended a Unitarian Service? I hear they have great youth groups…..

  • http://www.wordsfromtheway.com/between-the-trees Jake Meador

    Has anyone read Os Guiness’ new book The Case for Civility? In there he attacks both the religious right and the new atheists because of their totalitarian approach to public discourse. He calls the religious approach the sacred public square and the non-religious approach the naked public square. He says both are flawed because they both are primarily about getting everyone on your team and then ignoring those who aren’t. Instead, he argues for a civil public square, where we embrace a pluralistic public dialogue where we seek to have civil discussion where we learn to live with our deepest differences. Guiness is also one of the authors of An Evangelical Manifesto where he makes a very similar argument.

    From my perspective, as a Christian, I think Guiness’ critique is helpful. Is there a part of me that would like everyone to be a Christian? I’d want to attach a few million disclaimers to it because, like Mike Clawson, I’m appalled by much of what passes for Christianity today, but in the end, I would answer the question in the affirmative. However, I know that isn’t going to happen and so I need to learn to dialogue civilly with people who share radically different ideas about the world and humanity – be they Muslim, Atheist, Hindu, or Pagan. I think Brian McLaren’s chapter on other religions in his book A Generous Orthodoxy or the recent Seeds of Compassion event in Seattle are both marvelous examples of the pluralistic civil public square.

    I’m sympathetic to the totalitarian approach, but ultimately I think it’s unrealistic, naive, and misguided.

    For the totalitarians here – How is the approach you’re suggesting any different from the approach of Christian Fundamentalists? Obviously the endgame is very different for you, but the fundamental ethos seems to be the same.

  • http://feveredintellect.blogspot.com Viggo the Carpathian

    Any religion that believes in one god to the exclusion of other gods is inherently totalitarian. Any adherent that says otherwise is kinda a shitty adherent.
    There shall be no God before me, except maybe Dagon or Odin… I kinda like Krishna too.

    Atheists should extend the hope that everyone will recognize the truth and be willing to explain and teach and refute but never force. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you is a good moral law aside from it’s religious connotations.

  • Maria

    I wonder sometimes, they way I hear some atheists talking. I myself often argue that the only reason Christianity is so apparently passive is that it hasn’t the power to impose its will like it once did. Am I really so sure atheists, given that power, wouldn’t also oppress dissenters? No, I’m not.

    unfortunately I’ve met some people who have made me wonder. anyone who thinks that atheism will automatically will make you reasonable is fooling themselves. it does help in that process for many, but I’ve noticed a surprising amount that seem to retain the whole “our way or the highway” role, or at least more than I would have expected from someone who’s dropped dogma. and yes, I have met some who like the idea of violence. and that is scary. and if you call them on it, they tell you’re just “appeasing religion.” Apparently saying everyone is human is now considered appeasment by some.

    I agree with Kate-pluralism is fine with me as long as it’s not forced on people, non-believers have equal rights, and laws aren’t made on it. religion isn’t going to go away anytime soon and it’s time we came to terms with that. But hopefully it can become more progressive and loose it’s destructive edge.

  • http://www.wordsfromtheway.com/between-the-trees Jake Meador

    Viggo – Your comment made me think about another way of looking at this question – Is totalitarianism characterized by content of belief or the manner in which a belief is held? I suppose you could argue that certain content demands a specific manner of holding it, or at least that seems to be your argument in the above comment. But if that’s the case, who is to determine what specific manner corresponds to the specific content?

    For example, yesterday my pastor was talking about the understandable fear many people have that if they become Christian they’ll become a crazy wing-nut religious right Christian who condemns Everyone and Everything They Dislike. But Ben’s response to that was to say that the problem with religious fanatics like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson is not that they’ve gone too far with Jesus but that they haven’t gone far enough – he argued that if you really take biblical teachings about human brokenness seriously then the natural result should be a tremendous humility in the Christian as a result of understanding their own brokenness.

    Obviously many Christians would disagree and argue that the Christian relationship to the non-Christian world ought to be more adversarial in nature. However, I think a biblical case can be made either way, so whose word is final?

    One other thought – If one adopts the attitude described by my pastor yesterday, then to return to the question at hand, it’s easy to be a pluralist when it comes to public dialogue and, I would argue, not at all inconsistent with Christianity. First, I don’t want to flippantly or quickly condemn anyone because I know I’m screwed up too and I’m not in any position to act as the moral arbiter. Second, I understand that whatever good things I do have flow exclusively from God’s grace and therefore I have no room for pride whenever I do decide to speak up. Rather, I am to address others with humility and respect because I understand who I am. Third, I understand that the people I’m addressing are made in God’s image and therefore possess tremendous, inherent dignity as human beings. Therefore, the need for humility and respect is reinforced because I understand who the people I’m interacting with are. All that to say, from this lens, one might even argue that Christianity demands pluralism.

    Thoughts?

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    I think people, atheist or no, should be basically in the liberal enlightenment realm of pluralism: democracy (no central political authority), capitalism (no central economy authority), and liberal science (no central authority on the truth). These are all systems of competition, which is not the same thing as namby pamby “anything is as good as anything else.” But they are powerful techniques for forging effective and tolerant pluralistic societies that allow various different ideas of the good life to flourish, within reason.

  • Spacesocks

    I think there’s an important distinction between being a totalitarian and actually thinking you’re right.

    As long as you recognize that other people have a right to hold their beliefs and not be intimidated and harassed for holding them, you can live with them even if you think they’re wrong. And as long as you realize that you’re fallible too, you can prevent yourself from getting too self-involved, and you can learn from the people you fundamentally disagree with on a lot of things.

    You can change people’s minds, if that’s what you want to do, by showing how your ideas work, by being a good person and by publicly articulating your beliefs (or lack thereof), and criticizing other beliefs respectfully (hard to do when you’re dealing with religion, but it’s all we can do). Even a lot of evangelicals are realizing this.

    Like someone said earlier in the thread, freedom is more important than atheism (and even if atheism is “freedom” in a sense, it’s not freedom if it isn’t freely adopted).

    All forms of totalitarianism suck. Pluralism means recognizing that other people have a right to their own opinion and a right to their own way of doing things as long as that doesn’t involve harming others. It doesn’t mean we have to be “tolerant” when people do harm others.

  • http://www.eldugan.com/ Beth

    Totally not about the topic, but I went to summer camp with Eboo Patel. I can’t believe that kid is this guy! Amazing.

  • cipher

    I understand that the people I’m addressing are made in God’s image and therefore possess tremendous, inherent dignity as human beings.

    But we reject the idea that there is a God, or that we are made in his image. When we die – will we go to hell?

  • Spurs Fan

    But we reject the idea that there is a God, or that we are made in his image. When we die – will we go to hell?

    Cipher,

    This was my exact thought when I read this, but I think we had that debate before with Mike Clawson and others on a previous post (I think the one about Matt Taibbi), so it may be exhausted. Still, I have trouble coming up with satisfying answers as the script usually goes somethin like:

    A: Am I going to hell?

    E: I don’t believe in the traditional version of hell…what if hell is just what heaven feels like to those who don’t know the way of Christ?

    A: It sounds pretty bad when Jesus talks about it.

    E: Well, the Greek translation really means “place of the dead” (or something) and even Christians can fall into that trap. Truth of Jesus’ way is everywhere.

    A: So if I’m an atheist am I actually closer to “heaven” than some Christians?

    E: Maybe. It’s all about a conversation of real truth and love.

    A: So, why do you insist that truth must be found within a Christ-context? Why is Jesus not just one of many inspiring people in your life? Why elevate him?

    E: Oh, well I still believe in God and Jesus and the resurrection and all.

    A: A methaphorical resurrection?

    E: No, a real physical one.

    A: ?????????????

    I guess this post proves that even if I think I’m a pluralist, I have some totalitarian in me. But I still favor the pluralist viewpoint overall (I am you doubters,…if you don’t believe me, I’ll have you burned at the stake! :)

  • Spurs Fan

    But we reject the idea that there is a God, or that we are made in his image. When we die – will we go to hell?

    Cipher,

    This was my exact thought when I read this, but I think we had that debate before with Mike Clawson and others on a previous post (I think the one about Matt Taibbi), so it may be exhausted. Still, I have trouble coming up with satisfying answers as the script usually goes somethin like:

    A: Am I going to hell?

    E: I don’t believe in the traditional version of hell…what if hell is just what heaven feels like to those who don’t know the way of Christ?

    A: It sounds pretty bad when Jesus talks about it.

    E: Well, the Greek translation really means “place of the dead” (or something) and even Christians can fall into that trap. Truth of Jesus’ way is everywhere.

    A: So if I’m an atheist am I actually closer to “heaven” than some Christians?

    E: Maybe. It’s all about a conversation of real truth and love.

    A: So, why do you insist that truth must be found within a Christ-context? Why is Jesus not just one of many inspiring people in your life? Why elevate him?

    E: Oh, well I still believe in God and Jesus and the resurrection and all.

    A: A methaphorical resurrection?

    E: No, a real physical one.

    A: ?????????????

    I guess this post proves that even if I think I’m a pluralist, I have some totalitarian in me. But I still favor the pluralist viewpoint overall (I do you doubters,…if you don’t believe me, I’ll have you burned at the stake! :)

  • cipher

    This was my exact thought when I read this, but I think we had that debate before with Mike Clawson and others on a previous post (I think the one about Matt Taibbi), so it may be exhausted.

    I know. I wasn’t going to go very far with it. I just wanted to hear what the new guy has to say.

    Mike passed the test, anyway. He told me that he doesn’t believe I’m going to hell for being a secular Jew. He is the FIRST evangelical who has ever said that to me. (Of course, he probably thinks I’m going to hell for being an asshole, but that wasn’t on the exam!)

  • Spurs Fan

    (Of course, he probably thinks I’m going to hell for being an asshole, but that wasn’t on the exam!)

    Heh, heh. How full would that hell be? Quite full my friend, quite full.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    I think the totalitarian vs pluralistic or tolerant vs intolerant models are only good as first-order approximations. If that were the only way to divide people, imagine the mess we’d have.

  • http://www.wordsfromtheway.com/between-the-trees Jake

    Cipher / Spurs fan – That’s a good question, I think a lot of the discussion that you already had with Clawson is very helpful. I guess the only thing I would add is that I think the notion of Hell as a specific place you go to is perhaps more grounded in a gnostic understanding of Christianity than a biblical one. I think it reflects the false idea that if you believe the right thing you escape this bad place and go to a good one after you die and if you believe the wrong thing God happily sends you to the bad place. I don’t think that’s biblical. I think the biblical storyline is that God is bringing healing and restoration to a broken world and he invites us to participate in that restoration. And I think that’s as far as I feel comfortable going. I don’t really feel that it’s my place to say who will go where in the eternal state. (On a side note, if you want to read more, I’m really indebted to N.T. Wright in a lot of my thinking on this issue.)

    I don’t know if that’s helpful or not, but I can assure you that this is an issue I’ve thought about a lot and honestly it nearly drove me away from Christianity. The thing that got to me though was a book by Brian McLaren (Mike knows him, I think) discussing the doctrine of hell. I grew up in a fundamentalist church that seemed to take a perverse delight in the idea of hell and I’d never seen a Christian who seemed to grasp the horror of what was being discussed. McLaren did. And it really moved me. So when I talk about this issue I’m not thinking as a detached person pondering abstractions; this is an issue I’ve literally lost sleep over.

    As far as my own understanding of the doctrine of hell is concerned, this is how I’d try to articulate it, but I’m a 20-year-old university student, so where Clawson and I disagree, although I don’t think we will, go with Clawson: If you’re willing to assume the eternal nature of human beings, I don’t think it takes too much imagination to get a sense of what Hell might be like – it’s simply the eternal trajectory of the self-absorbed being. C.S. Lewis captures this marvelously in his book The Great Divorce. He said that the gates of hell are locked from the inside. In other words, it’s not that God forces anyone there, as if he delights in the suffering of others. The Bible is clear that God does not delight in pain or suffering.

    Rather, individual human beings become so captive to their own self-centeredness, arrogance, pride, and vanity that they are incapable of experiencing genuine pleasure. And they go on existing in that state for all eternity. Look at a literary figure like Dorian Gray, observe his downward spiral as his life falls apart as he becomes more and more consumed by his own selfishness. Now imagine if he continues moving in that direction forever. That’s Hell.

    Thanks for asking good questions, I don’t think there are any perfect answers, but perhaps this is helpful?

  • cipher

    Jake,

    Thanks for your response. As you’re twenty years old, I don’t want to give you a hard time; I’m old enough to be your father. I’ll just make a few points:

    I appreciate the effort on the part of people like McLaren (and the Emergent and Sojourners crowds in general) to be progressive and inclusive, but I find their waffling on the issue of salvific exclusivism – “Maybe yes, maybe no, we can’t know, we can only hope…” unacceptable. As I said, Mike is the ONLY evangelical who has ever had the courage to tell me, “No, I don’t believe you’re going to hell” (for being a Jewish atheist, at any rate, which was the question I posed to him).

    After years of being browbeaten by Christians, I am not a great believer in the merits of interfaith dialogue. This is the litmus test I have now – “Am I going to hell?” – and I don’t allow ambivalence. If the answer is “no”, we can talk. If the answer is “yes”, we have nothing further to say to one another.

    C. S. Lewis – I’ve never had any use for the man. He was an obscure English Lit professor who gave simplistic, mediocre lectures on theology to working class Brits, and, for some reason, the entire evangelical subculture, across the spectrum, has embraced him, and has convinced itself that he provided the answers to any objection a skeptic might ever pose (that “trilemma” business alone demonstrates a great deal of what is wrong with Christian apologetics). The notion that a human being would “choose” to resist God for all of eternity is merely an attempt to rationalize an obscene, insupportable doctrine.

    I disagree, also, on the characterization of God in the Bible. I think the overall picture given is of a being who does take pleasure in the pain of human beings, both here and in the hereafter. The Calvinists didn’t get this out of nowhere.

    I do appreciate your telling us that the fundamentalist church in which you grew up took “a perverse delight in the idea of hell”. Last week, I made the assertion here that this is a common sentiment in the evangelical/fundamentalist world, and a couple of people took me to task over it, claiming that it’s a rare phenomenon. I hope they’re reading this.

  • Spurs Fan

    Jake,

    Thanks for the response. In the previously-mentioned post, Cipher, myself, and Mike (as well as a few others) had this very conversation and the ideas you put forth here were well-represented. I appreciate the time you took to lay them out.

    Still, I have to “side” with Cipher here. On one hand, the emergent (progressive thinking, whatever) Church folk scare me a lot less than the fundamentalists. I can find much agreement on things, especially in the political sphere. On the other hand, the “fundies” seem to be more consistent, while the McClarens of the world seem (to me at least) to tiptoe around the issue and “nice” it up for us. In that respect, I have greater respect for the Fundamentalist who tells me point blank that he/she believes I’m going to hell because I have rejected the incarnate son of the Lord our God (or whatever). Because if you’re right, I’m still confused by this:

    think the biblical storyline is that God is bringing healing and restoration to a broken world and he invites us to participate in that restoration

    Rather, individual human beings become so captive to their own self-centeredness, arrogance, pride, and vanity that they are incapable of experiencing genuine pleasure. And they go on existing in that state for all eternity.

    Can God do this without Christ? Can we “participate” withouth having to belive that Christ rose from the dead? I seem to know many atheists (on this blog in fact) who have not become captive to these things and are doing a great job to fix the “broken” world. I also seem to know many Christians who don’t seem to have ever gotten past these traits. So, to use this example, in my mind, there are atheists and christians who have achieved a higher standard of service to others (and true “genuine pleasure”) and there are atheists and christians who have not, who continue to live in the “hell” of self-centeredness. If you are in agreement on this, the big question why do you need Jesus at all? Or at least why do you need him exclusively? Why call yourself a Christian? Why elevate Christ as the only example of someone who has conquered these things? Could you not put Gandhi or even your parents (assuming that they had a true desire to serve you and others) in that same category? Why not just call yourself a humanist who wants to improve the condition of humanity using examples from thousands of people who strive to do it every day?

    If you’re answer to these questions is that you believe in the actual, physical, resurrection of Christ, then we’re back at square one my friend. Jesus, in my opinion, has some noble teachings. However, he seemed to draw a clear line in the sand on this one. You’re either with him or against him, eh? (said long before George Bush) And if you accept some of the doctrine, but deny (or refuse to answer), then all you’re telling me is that, yes, I’m probably going to hell, but you’d like to not have to tell me that, so therefore, “only god knows” is, well, quite the cop-out.

  • cipher

    On the other hand, the “fundies” seem to be more consistent, while the McClarens of the world seem (to me at least) to tiptoe around the issue and “nice” it up for us.

    Yeah. This is something that bothers me about them; they seem to want to keep a foot on both sides of the fence.

    Can God do this without Christ? Can we “participate” withouth having to belive that Christ rose from the dead? I seem to know many atheists (on this blog in fact) who have not become captive to these things and are doing a great job to fix the “broken” world. I also seem to know many Christians who don’t seem to have ever gotten past these traits.

    Hear, hear.

  • Bekka

    Long time lurker, first time poster.

    It is not true pluralism that allows freedom to leaders who in turn restrict freedom of their followers. It is simply imposing oppression from a distance. In the sphere of religion, this is an incredibly difficult litmus test to apply, along two lines.

    1) The indoctrination of children by their parents and

    2) the direct restriction of freedom of the individuals by the religion, either through presumed natural and God-imposed hierarchy (men > women, believers > nonbelievers) or through threat of damnation.

    In my (admittedly and obviously limited) experience, the two tentative suggestions I’d have for religions that at least have the strong potential for fulfilling those pluralistic guidelines would be Unitarianism, and Reform Judaism. Both have a loose set of beliefs, but emphasize choice through knowledge, especially with children, and don’t actually mandate holding any set ideas about God as a prerequisite for belonging to the religion. That’s not to say that they hold the monopoly on these ideas by any stretch of the imagination, and I’d like to think it is possible for every religion to reach a similar point in their own dogma, these are just the two examples I’m familiar with.

    Perhaps this definition fits better under the heading of egalitarianism, as another poster suggested, or egalitarian pluralism? It also addresses the issue of moral relativism – any creed not dependent on faith-based, inherent hierarchies of worth, not requiring professions of pure faith as a precursor to salvation, and encouraging questioning and pushing the boundaries of knowledge, can then be seen as morally neutral and equally legitimate choices in a pluralistic world.

  • http://www.wordsfromtheway.com/between-the-trees Jake Meador

    More good questions… First, a quick word of defense for Lewis – Christians grossly misappropriate him and I do agree that the trilemma is generally a useless argument.

    Anyway, as I read your comments there was one thought that came to mind that I want to get to before answering the question more directly: I think by framing the discussion in this way, you’re asking a question that is in many ways unhelpful because the entire issue is really tangential to the Christian faith. Christianity – despite what many of our fundamentalist friends might say – is not primarily concerned with the eternal residence of human beings. Rather, it is concerned with the restoration of all things to the way they were originally intended to be by God. For that reason, I feel like these questions are attempting to put words in the mouth of Christians when really the best answer is, as theologian John Stott calls it, “humble agnosticism.”

    However, you did ask for my personal belief about the issue so I’ll try to be as direct as I can, though I would ask that you keep what I said above in mind when you respond.

    First off, I would say that the pattern for restoration is set by the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection body gives us a preview of what recreation is all about. And in denying that, one is cut off from the possibility of personal recreation. Forgive me for referencing Lewis again, but in The Last Battle after Aslan’s rule is perfectly realized we meet a few dwarves who refuse to acknowledge Aslan or his rule. There is great celebration all around them, but they refuse to participate in it. It’s also like the older son in the biblical story of the prodigal son. The prodigal son returns, the father has a great party and the older son refuses to participate in it. Or you could imagine someone who is very thirsty but refuses to take a drink from the only available drinking fountain, insisting that there must be another source. So the way I would phrase it – rather than saying “God sends someone to hell” – is to say that those who refuse to acknowledge the resurrection, are subject to hell. I realize that may sound like trying to “nice it up,” but I’m phrasing it that way for a reason, it’s not that I really think God is going to send you to hell – I don’t. I do think that the refusal to acknowledge the reality of resurrection subjects you to hell. And I do think there’s a difference. (I’m guessing you’ll probably disagree?) Hopefully you’ll still talk to me after this response, because I want to have my ideas challenged and stretched, so I enjoy the discussion. Plus, being able to have these discussions civilly is, I think, pluralism of the best sort.

    Last thing – I completely agree with you on the point about there being many wonderful atheists and many awful Christians. I think this is especially problematic in the west today where Christians have often adopted a very defensive attitude and adversarial relationship with non-Christians. In fact, I can think of a number of friends I grew up with at the church I mentioned previously who have completely abandoned religious faith and this is one of their primary reasons for doing so. Far too often Christians are blind to the beauty of non-Christians and the sin of Christians. And there’s really no excuse for it.

  • http://wisertime.wordpress.com Jake

    This is a different Jake, just to be a little more confusing.

    I agree with the other Jake, spacesocks, and Guiness in Case for Civility. There should be plenty of room for tolerance and discussion without anyone having to give up their views. And you have to know there’s a difference between radical Muslims who will behead you for insulting their religion and conservative Christians who think you’re wrong and will tell you they think you’re wrong. A big difference.

    Cipher, would you say your litmus test for interfaith dialogue (where you won’t talk to someone who believes in the traditional Christian view of hell) is intolerant? Or are you just saying, “I’ll tolerate you but not be willing to talk about religion”? Honest question.

  • Spurs Fan

    First off, I would say that the pattern for restoration is set by the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection body gives us a preview of what recreation is all about. And in denying that, one is cut off from the possibility of personal recreation.

    But, Jake, why? How do you know this? From the Bible? The same Bible, most Christians seem to think has a more literal meaning? And is the atheist who fits the characteristic you see as good and in touch with the “restoration” still, by denying Christ resurrection, “cut off” from that same “personal recreation”?

  • Spurs Fan

    So the way I would phrase it – rather than saying “God sends someone to hell” – is to say that those who refuse to acknowledge the resurrection, are subject to hell. I realize that may sound like trying to “nice it up,” but I’m phrasing it that way for a reason, it’s not that I really think God is going to send you to hell – I don’t. I do think that the refusal to acknowledge the reality of resurrection subjects you to hell.

    What? I’m interested to hear this further explained. I don’t need to hear how you would PHRASE it. Tell how it’s going to be!Is this not the same gymnastics we’ve been discussing? At least Pat Robertson would tell me that I’m straight up going to hell, and man, it ain’t nice!

    Hopefully you’ll still talk to me after this response, because I want to have my ideas challenged and stretched, so I enjoy the discussion. Plus, being able to have these discussions civilly is, I think, pluralism of the best sort.

    Agreed!

  • Karen

    Look at a literary figure like Dorian Gray, observe his downward spiral as his life falls apart as he becomes more and more consumed by his own selfishness. Now imagine if he continues moving in that direction forever. That’s Hell.

    The problem is that Gray is a fictional character.

    I can’t imagine any real person, given clear evidence that both heaven and hell exist (assuming they do), who would choose to spend eternity in hell. Selfish and self-absorbed people would be more likely to choose heaven because of the rewards there!

    C.S. Lewis and his literary fiction aside, it just wouldn’t happen in reality, outside of mental illness. And I don’t see how a good god would allow a mentally ill person to choose suffering over paradise.

  • Karen

    E: No, a real physical one.

    A: ?????????????

    My mother used to call this “having your cake and eating it, too.” ;-)

  • Darryl

    I do appreciate your telling us that the fundamentalist church in which you grew up took “a perverse delight in the idea of hell”. Last week, I made the assertion here that this is a common sentiment in the evangelical/fundamentalist world, and a couple of people took me to task over it, claiming that it’s a rare phenomenon.

    It is not a rare phenomenon. This perverse delight is, in many cases, a sublimated class hatred, inferiority complex, or plain ol’ misoxeny on the part of low-brow, underclass types toward other subcultures who seem to be living well and getting off too easy. It’s envy and jealousy masquerading as righteous zealotry.

    On the other hand, the “fundies” seem to be more consistent, while the McClarens of the world seem (to me at least) to tiptoe around the issue and “nice” it up for us.

    Yeah. This is something that bothers me about them; they seem to want to keep a foot on both sides of the fence.

    I have more than once perturbed Mike C. on this very point. I think he and his ilk pick and choose from the Bible what they need to support what they already believe; he calls that proper interpretation, and is prepared to buttress his readings from other authorities. This is a problem, isn’t it: I like where Mike comes out, but I disapprove of his methodology, of intellectual dishonesty, or to give him the benefit of the doubt, self-deception. This is why I can say that the fundies have it right on this or that position, but they are nuts.

  • http://wisertime.wordpress.com Jake

    Question for the atheists: Could a Christian believe in the classical Christian view of hell (i.e. place of eternal punishment for all who don’t trust in Christ) without you thinking he took “perverse delight” in it?

    I ask because many of you (in other posts) have talked about how it’s bad for Christians to try to persuade people to convert to Christianity. But the reason we do this is because we think they’re going to hell if they don’t, and we don’t want them to go to hell.

  • Spurs Fan

    Question for the atheists: Could a Christian believe in the classical Christian view of hell (i.e. place of eternal punishment for all who don’t trust in Christ) without you thinking he took “perverse delight” in it?

    I ask because many of you (in other posts) have talked about how it’s bad for Christians to try to persuade people to convert to Christianity. But the reason we do this is because we think they’re going to hell if they don’t, and we don’t want them to go to hell.

    Sure. As an atheist, I obviously think it’s a ridiculous idea, but I was once a Christian who believed in hell and I definitely did not take “perverse delight” in it. It did however, make me selfishly feel good, that no matter how many people converted, I would be okay in heaven. I think that’s understandably comforting, but still, it doesn’t make it true.

    My point is that the Christians who believe in hell as a bad destination (or journey) for non-believers are at least being honest and then perhaps, being very genuine in their attempts to “save” me. That can be more annoying, but it’s honest. In my humble opinion, those of the emergent church crowd side-step the issue with all sorts of gymnastics. I used to do that too, until I realized why: I felt guilty about hell, because it didn’t make sense for my god to have a hell…my belief system began to fall apart because of many things, but this was a major one.

    Let me be clear…I salute the Mike Clawsons of the world for thinking about things. I’m not anti-intellectualism. I just feel that they want to enjoy the benefits of their faith without acknowledging the difficult parts, the parts, that were they to look at too closely, might really challenge their entire belief system. Instead, their intepretations are so far away from the norm (the defendable? is that a word?), that what they believe seems to be a different religion entirely, almost a Buddhist view of Christianity.

    Perhaps I’ve oversimplified, but it still comes down to this: On the issue of hell and separation from god, Fundamentalist are more honest, but as far as who I can coexist with more easily, the Emergent crowd is the easy winner.

  • Polly

    If you think someone is on the HWY to Hell and you can impart information to prevent it, then it is (sorry to say) your moral obligation to help that person. After offering, if you are rebuffed, back away and pray that (s)he will see the light on his/her own.

    You cannot believe that unbelievers will go to Hell and then be “OK” with other faiths or no faith. Anything that gets people thrown into Hell, must be fought against tooth and nail.

    That’s why I think atheists should actively educate (I know that sounds condescending, but I don’t know any other way to say it) the population through open forums as much as possible about the paucity of evidence for the existence of any god. Killing this horrific and irrational belief is the only thing that will set xians and their would-be converts free.

    Out of the many, many wonderful things about no longer being a xian two are:
    1)I don’t have to fear that the BILLIONS and BILLIONS of people out there who don’t know Christ are going to Hell.
    2) I no longer feel the pressure to be a salesman for Christ.

    thank god i’m an atheist. :)

  • http://wisertime.wordpress.com Jake

    Thanks Spurs Fan. I agree.

  • http:/http://avantgardefaith.blogspot.com// D Rho

    @Aph
    I admit it does sound condescending. I apologize.

    What I mean to say is that I think Truth belongs something bigger than us (who I call God), and each of us has some grasp on what that Truth is (by God’s design).

    There are things that are True irrefutiably: like people die, space is huge, common moral concerns, desires…

    Then there’s perceived truth: like Jesus is the Son of God, the plethera of Hindu gods, the belief there is no God… Sometimes perceived truth aligns and often it contradicts. And yet, we all hold some grasp of Truth and a greater portion of perceived truth. I guess I suppose I have more of a portion of the Truth based on my perceived truth. Which I’m sure you do as well. And so would a Buddhist monk.

  • http:/http://avantgardefaith.blogspot.com// D Rho

    About whether atheists or people in other religions are going to hell:

    I don’t know.

    Yet, I do believe that Jesus Christ claimed to be the way the truth and the life, and that no one comes to God but through him.

    This simply means that if people desire to come to God they must follow the ways and teachings of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t mean that everyone else goes to Hell who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ. It’s not some marker for who goes to Heaven or Hell.

    For example: Jesus forgave those around the cross (could’ve been the Romans who executed him, the Jews who accused him and betrayed him, the Samaritans who just came to see some blood, the Greeks who didn’t believe in this stuff…) for no good reason. They didn’t believe in Him, say a prayer of confession, convert to a new moral code, or devote their lives to the church. And yet they were forgiven by Jesus Christ. God is omnipotent and not confined to our traditions and suppositions.

    So, I don’t know. No one knows. The Bible does not tell us either.

  • Darryl

    Let me be clear…I salute the Mike Clawsons of the world for thinking about things. I’m not anti-intellectualism. I just feel that they want to enjoy the benefits of their faith without acknowledging the difficult parts, the parts, that were they to look at too closely, might really challenge their entire belief system. Instead, their intepretations are so far away from the norm (the defendable? is that a word?), that what they believe seems to be a different religion entirely, almost a Buddhist view of Christianity.

    Having said that the Emergent church is not orthodox in its doctrines (at least as I have heard them represented by Mike C.) is not to say that it isn’t Christian, or doesn’t have the right to represent itself as such. I may think I know what orthodox Christian doctrine is, but I also know that whoever or whatever church calls itself Christian is by virtue of that Christian. It may be unrelated to previous versions of the faith, it may be nothing but some novel invention that takes the name of Christ, but it is nonetheless Christian. I have no desire to test who is or is not Christian. My only interest here is to make proper distinctions, and keep folks honest: if you claim to be orthodox, or historic, or true Christianity, you’re going to be put to the test, not because I have a stake in it, but because I care about honesty and accuracy, and bristle at those who would “. . . enjoy the benefits of their faith without acknowledging the difficult parts . . . ” I suppose I do so out of some hope, however unfounded, that they might inspect their faith a bit more objectively, and perhaps begin to see the folly of their way.

  • http://www.wordsfromtheway.com/between-the-trees Jake Meador

    Spurs fan – I was walking in Rochester, Minnesota once and met a homeless guy in a park. We talked for about an hour; he was in debt several hundred thousand dollars due to checking into various rehab clinics that were unsuccessful (sadly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if many of them were run by well-intentioned Christians who attempted to meet some sort of “spiritual” need – I don’t even know that that means, but Christians talk about it all the time – and failed to give sufficient help with his alcoholism). In any event, he was now divorced, homeless, an alcoholic, and had no real outs anymore because he was so far in debt. Then he said, “I really need to get sober.” We then talked about life in general for an hour (no, I didn’t try to convert him ;) ) and then he decided he had to leave and before he left he asked me for some money. I didn’t want to say yes – in case he was buying more alcohol – or no – because I didn’t want to be presumptuous and assume the worst – so I just told him I’d walk with him for awhile wherever he needed to go. He told me, “well, I’m going to the liquor store and you’re too young to get in… can I just have some money? I want a beer.” I offered to buy him dinner, but he didn’t want to bum a meal off anyone. So, I didn’t give him the money, but he then walked away and went to the liquor store anyway. That’s hell. You know what you need to do but are so trapped in your destructive way of living that you refuse to do it.

    I’m sorry I keep offering such long answers, but I hate short answers because they’re never adequate in any context, and in this case they’re especially inadequate because we’ve had the Pat Robertsons and Fred Phelps’ of the world spreading wrong ideas about it for so many years. In response to the question you asked about whether an atheist is cut off from restoration because they reject the resurrection, I would say yes.

    (Again, I hope this doesn’t cause you to disregard me in future conversations… From my perspective what we’re saying is not that different – We both think the other is wrong, the only difference is that if you’re right, then I stop being wrong when I die because I cease to exist. But if my assertion that humans never stop existing is correct, then you’ll continue to be wrong, even after your physical body is dead. In both cases, being wrong results in certain outcomes. I’m not trying to revive Pascal’s Wager here because I think as an argument for Christianity it’s bs, but I am trying to make the point that we both think the other is wrong, and within our belief systems, being wrong carries with it certain consequences. Perhaps the consequence in the Christian system is more severe, but that only makes sense because being wrong over a period of a million years is more destructive than being wrong over a period of 70.)

  • http://www.wordsfromtheway.com/between-the-trees Jake Meador

    Spurs fan – One other question – How would you define orthodox Christian theology? You’re not the first to accuse the emerging crowd of being outside the realm of orthodoxy, but I’m just curious at how you’d define it.

  • Spurs Fan

    About whether atheists or people in other religions are going to hell:

    I don’t know.

    Yet, I do believe that Jesus Christ claimed to be the way the truth and the life, and that no one comes to God but through him.

    This is exactly what I’m talking about. If you believe that my rejecting Christ allows me not to “come to God”, then your belief does in fact tell you that atheists, agnostics, and those in other religions ARE going to be separated from god. In fact, it’s obvious that the Bible is a saced text for you as that quote comes directly from the Gospel of John (if he wrote it). So, you do know! If you tell me what the standard is and I clearly don’t meet it, then it is obvious that I am in fact going to hell, eh? Why sidestep it? Are you ashamed that your god would leave so many out? Does something bother you about a so-called loving god who would separate himself (I assume “him”) from individuals for refusing to believe something?

    This simply means that if people desire to come to God they must follow the ways and teachings of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t mean that everyone else goes to Hell who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ. It’s not some marker for who goes to Heaven or Hell.

    First, this is your intepretation and trust me, it’s in a strong minority in the Christian community (both in the U.S. and abroad). Second, many atheists (including myself) really like some of the “ways and teachings” of Jesus. After all, how could this world not be better off if we loved our enemies? Yet, I do not believe that Jesus performed miracles nor rose from the dead. So, by your definition, am I destined for hell? Am I truly following in the ways of the god I don’t believe in, even though I find Jesus to be admirable in some instances and a lunatic in others? Is Mohandas Gandhi or my own dad, two people who arguably folowed the “ways of Christ” truly in heaven?

    So, I don’t know. No one knows. The Bible does not tell us either.

    By Jesus’ own words I’m pretty damn sure that a person who would deny the existence of God would be bound for the “fires of hell”. Again, not that being in a majority makes someone right, but if your theology is in such a minority, then doesn’t it cease to be of that same faith? Is this a new religion?

    I guess I’m rambling here, but again, why dance around it? If I’m going to hell have the courage to tell me! However, if the “ways and teachings of Christ” are more important than the resurrection then preach the teachings, as well as others who taught similar or better things, then stop promoting some human being who supposedly came back to life and focus on the ideas alone.

  • cipher

    First off, I would say that the pattern for restoration is set by the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection body gives us a preview of what recreation is all about. And in denying that, one is cut off from the possibility of personal recreation.

    But, Jake, why? How do you know this? From the Bible? The same Bible, most Christians seem to think has a more literal meaning? And is the atheist who fits the characteristic you see as good and in touch with the “restoration” still, by denying Christ resurrection, “cut off” from that same “personal recreation”?

    To which I would add – why does it have to be eternal? Becasue Lewis says so? Because the Bible says so? But we’re interpreting away the “hard” passages about hell! The prodigal son’s elder brother, presumably, comes in when the old man (who goes out after him, I might add) asks him to.

    Tom Talbott and his colleagues among the universalists believe that, eventually, everyone will come around.

  • cipher

    C.S. Lewis and his literary fiction aside, it just wouldn’t happen in reality, outside of mental illness. And I don’t see how a good god would allow a mentally ill person to choose suffering over paradise.

    I agree wholeheartedly. Also –

    I do appreciate your telling us that the fundamentalist church in which you grew up took “a perverse delight in the idea of hell”. Last week, I made the assertion here that this is a common sentiment in the evangelical/fundamentalist world, and a couple of people took me to task over it, claiming that it’s a rare phenomenon.

    It is not a rare phenomenon. This perverse delight is, in many cases, a sublimated class hatred, inferiority complex, or plain ol’ misoxeny on the part of low-brow, underclass types toward other subcultures who seem to be living well and getting off too easy. It’s envy and jealousy masquerading as righteous zealotry.

    Karen, are you paying attention to this?

  • cipher

    Question for the atheists: Could a Christian believe in the classical Christian view of hell (i.e. place of eternal punishment for all who don’t trust in Christ) without you thinking he took “perverse delight” in it?

    I ask because many of you (in other posts) have talked about how it’s bad for Christians to try to persuade people to convert to Christianity. But the reason we do this is because we think they’re going to hell if they don’t, and we don’t want them to go to hell.

    Jake, I don’t have time to go into this now – I’m on my way out the door – and we really shouldn’t get into it anyway, because I’ll just get angry and people here have seen how nasty I can become when that happens, however …

    The short answer is – you shouldn’t believe it in the first place. You can spout apologetics until you’re blue in the face; there’s no justification for it, other than, “The Bible says so”. It’s a matter of interpretation, and, even if you don’t believe that, you (collectively) should have the balls (or ovaries) to stand up and say, “No. This cannot be. It’s simply out of the realm of consideration.” In other words, you should have the courage to stand with us – the rest of poor, suffering humanity – rather than apart from us, and not just hide behind the excuse of “Well, God knows best, and when we get to heaven, we’ll see as he does and we’ll understand why it was all necessary.” It’s the ultimate cop out.

    Cipher, would you say your litmus test for interfaith dialogue (where you won’t talk to someone who believes in the traditional Christian view of hell) is intolerant? Or are you just saying, “I’ll tolerate you but not be willing to talk about religion”? Honest question.

    Look, here it is from my point of view – you’ve adopted a belief system that gives you comfort at the expense of my eternal soul. Free will, God’s will – it doesn’t matter; it’s all irrelevant. In the end, although it may not be your first choice, you’ll acquiesce to my spending eternity in a state of unimaginable torment. And why? So you can have the ontological security blanket for a few brief decades while alive. I see it as a form of addiction, and I have no use for it. So, the truth is – I really don’t give a crap if it’s intolerant. You people have been terrorizing me for over half a century. I’m middle aged, I’m irascible, and I simply won’t put up with it any longer.

    (Also, I’m an old fashioned liberal. I’m only tolerant when it’s for the Left!)

    One more thing – in Buddhism, the ideal is to become a Bodhisattva, a being who could enter into Nirvana, a rarefied state beyond birth and death, but chooses to remain in this suffering universe, postponing his/her own liberation indefinitely to work for the liberation of all other sentient beings. There is a prayer or vow that the Dalai Lama repeats every day,

    For as long as space endures
    and sentient beings remain
    May I too remain
    to dispel the misery of the world.

    In Buddhism, liberation (“salvation”, if you will) is a collective deal. In Christianity, it’s “I’ve got mine; you get yours”. See the difference?

    And now I really have to go.

  • Spurs Fan

    Jake,

    Definitely don’t mind the long answers. Looking at mine, I would be quite the hypocrite if I did. :)

    So, I didn’t give him the money, but he then walked away and went to the liquor store anyway. That’s hell. You know what you need to do but are so trapped in your destructive way of living that you refuse to do it.

    By this definition, we are all in a variety of different hells. I could stand to drop 15 pounds or so, but I like food and keep eating a tad bit too much of it. Overall, however, I suffer from no such “destructive” addictions. This seems to your own inner-definition. That’s fine, unles you’re claiming Jesus or the Bible as a source. Both of those, at least the way I have read them, have very diferent versions of hell (in fact, if this guy enjoyed his alcohol during the brief moment he consumed it, he got temporary relief from hell, “quenched” if you will, something Jesus mentions will not happen.)

    In response to the question you asked about whether an atheist is cut off from restoration because they reject the resurrection, I would say yes.

    I respect this honesty, thought by your loose definition earlier, it seems arbitrary. I feel like I truly love and care for people and spend a lot of time in trying to help them. Overall, I’m happy with my life and I can see the value in truly serving humanity. So, by your own view of hell, why would I be in danger of it by simply not believing that some guy 2,000 years came back to life?

    We both think the other is wrong, the only difference is that if you’re right, then I stop being wrong when I die because I cease to exist. But if my assertion that humans never stop existing is correct, then you’ll continue to be wrong, even after your physical body is dead. In both cases, being wrong results in certain outcomes

    Paschal’s wager indeed. Pretty gutless, don’t you think? (well, because my consequences could be greater, I’ll go with the safe pick).

    You also forgot to include the fact that if you’re wrong, you spend 70 some odd years following what could be a superstition. Not as bad as eternal torment, but still a possible consequence. I went through a period when I deconverted from Christianity when I had a tough time grasping what the world meant…it was so depressing, but that didn’t make it not true. I kept thinking, “oh crap, this is all there is…this can’t be”. It was difficult, but eventually I worked it out and was able to “cope”.

    Now, I try to make every day count and not because some invisible diety is looking over my shoulder, but because I truly care about my people (humans) and not just for infinite reward or a path that will make me feel all good inside.

    How would you define orthodox Christian theology?

    I’m guessing that most self-labeled Christians would have some variation of this:

    God is perfect and omni-everything and created us in his image (along with the dinosaurs). But then his first man and woman sinned by eating an apple (she ate it and the man LET her do it) and thus we’re doomed to a life of pain and suffering. Then, God picked the Jewish people as his favorite. Despite the fact they were his chosen people he made a bunch of arbitrary rules for them to follow and when they didn’t he created severe punishments for them (except for his REAL favorites like Noah, David, and Solomon). Still, he smited their enemies quite handily (sometimes killing the wome and children) and gave his homeboys (who owned some homegirls) good land. After a while though, they became quite disobedient so he let others come in and kill and conquer them. Then, God came up with a new plan (or was it?). He would come down to earth in human form, but somehow still be his own son. His name would be Jesus (he would happen to live in the same area and get this, be Jewish as well!). Jesus would spend the majority of his 33 years doing basic carpentry (or so we assume), but the last three he would travel around Palestine giving long speeches (some sounded crazy and some had some pretty novel ideas), healing people, and tearing up synagogues. Eventually, the Romans and Jewish leaders had him executed. But, he came back to life. This was God’s way of showing how much he loved us (you know, by saying “I’ll go through what many of you have gone through!”). But, if you didn’t adore this act of love by embracing it and following the seemingly new teachings of this Jesus guy, you are bound to be separated from God forever. (Oh and if you don’t agree with the writings of these other folks named Peter and Paul, then you probably don’t really contain the “Holy Spirit” which is God, er, Jesus, er, both inside of you, telling you how to think and making you do all of the right stuff).

    How’s that? Satire aside (and probably offense aside as well), I would think that most Christians on the planet have some sort of view of this type of theology, not to mention the “hell” part of it. If they didn’t believe in hell, why would they have the need to claim the exclusivity of Christ? And if they are endowed with the same holy spirit as you are, Jake, then why is their version of the gospel so different from yours? I’m sure diversity is appreciated, but there must be a common theme for us to indentify people of the same religious faith. Right?

  • Spurs Fan

    I’m irascible

    I’m not as much, but I still agree with you Cipher. I think you and I have the same idea here: We disagree (and sometimes get offended) at the Fundamentalist notion that they have the only truth and that we are going to hell. Yet, we know where we stand with them, and only have to fight political battleso ver separation of church and state (important ones no doubt). With the progressives/Emergent folk, we get the sense that they are holding on to the pleasant aspects of their beliefs (based on the same source as the fundamentalists) like love and eternal security, while failing to really take on the ugly (others not having the same access to their truth). Yet, we can work alongside of them easier because we may be actually closer in worldview to them then the fundies.

    I guess it could seem like if you’re a Christian you’re damned if you do or damned if you don’t, but if the idea is to truly see what the most likely case scenario of the world is, then the arguments have to be made.

  • Karen

    Karen, are you paying attention to this?

    Yes, I am cipher, but thank you for pointing it out anyway. ;-)

    It is not a rare phenomenon. This perverse delight is, in many cases, a sublimated class hatred, inferiority complex, or plain ol’ misoxeny on the part of low-brow, underclass types toward other subcultures who seem to be living well and getting off too easy. It’s envy and jealousy masquerading as righteous zealotry.

    Yes, I can see this primarily being a class phenomenon among religious people (certainly not just Christians) who cannot stand to see “sinners prosper” while they struggle even while they are supposed to be the enlightened and righteous ones favored by god. “They’ll get their comeuppance in the end!” is not a hard reaction to fathom, and in fact it is often cited to explain the virulent hatred of secular society we see in fundamentalist Islam.

    My point (and a few others who were formerly Christians agreed) in the evangelism thread where this discussion came up is that the perverse delight is a minority phenomenon, not a mainstream holding of all/most religious people. In 30 years of Christianity, the majority of people I met were either indifferent (“it’s god’s problem, not mine”) about hell or distressed enough about it to make themselves obnoxious trying to convert people. Now admittedly, I didn’t attend churches in poor areas where believers tended to be bitter and undereducated – quite the opposite, probably – so the people I knew could “afford” to feel sorry for sinners, rather than cackle gleefully over their ultimate roasting.

  • http://www.wordsfromtheway.com/between-the-trees Jake Meador

    Point by point:
    1) On the issue of a variety of hells and being in hell now: Amongst some Christian traditions there’s an idea that the Kingdom of God is both already present and not yet. Basically, it means there are certain ways in which God’s kingdom is already realized and other ways that it is not. Basically, it’s the idea that the kingdom’s realization (by which we mean the effective lordship of Christ realized over all creation, resulting in his glory and our joy experienced for all eternity) is a process and it isn’t at an end until Jesus returns. I imagine hell works much the same way. So yes, there are elements of hell – elements that are out of step with the way we’re intended to live by God – present today. But hell in its final reality – completely being cut off from God – is not fully present.

    2) In Christian teaching, all ultimate and true good is found in God. Put simply, to be cut off from God is to be cut off from the source of all goodness. Of course, many of us – and this includes Christians – are completely unaware of the ways our behavior alienates us from God. This is a consequence of the reality of sin in the world – sin is so pervasive that it distorts our perceptions so that we are often unaware of its presence. One theologian – Scot McKnight – explains it by saying, “the problem is the problem.” (On a side note, I’m aware that this destroys empiricism as a viable, stand-alone way of knowing. That’s the point. That’s part of the reason one cannot prove God’s existence based on empirical evidence alone. Empiricism can, I think, give one clues that hint at a divine being, but that’s as far as it can get you.)

    3) I think one of us is misunderstanding the other on this point. I’m not trying to use Pascal’s wager to make my argument, I’m simply referencing it as a means of making the point that our basic claims are rather similar. Maybe that wasn’t as clear as I wanted it to be. I’m not a Christian because of Pascal’s wager. I agree that it’s gutless. That’s why I called it bs. I was simply trying to make the point that it’s unfair to portray Christian teachings on hell as especially awful because the claims being made by both sides are not that different and whatever differences there are can be easily explained by the content of the belief systems. But the nature of the claims are quite similar. Also, for what it’s worth, I try to make every day count for the same reasons as you :).

    4) Ha, you’d make a good Pastafarian ;). I suppose that’s a fair summary, though I’d obviously frame the discussion really differently. As far as accounting for the differences amongst Christians is concerned, I think there are lots of explanations. First, I would say that most Christians throughout our history have been able to agree on certain essentials (I normally point to the Apostle’s Creed as a good statement of those essentials). Second, due to differences in context, variation is to be expected. Thirdly, Christianity – a message of hope to the marginalized that ought to subvert traditional power structures – was taken up by power structures as a means of gaining or obtaining political power. This resulted in the reinterpretation of certain teachings. Fourth, and most basic, I think a Christian understanding of sin and human limitation not only explains the existence of disagreement amongst Christians but should create an expectation that we would disagree.

    Finally, yes, there must be a common theme. I’d define that as the apostle’s creed and would honestly not feel comfortable going beyond that as far as identifying who is Christian. Of course, every Christian believes more than what is taught in the apostle’s creed, but none would believe less than what is taught in the creed. If you sat down Mike, myself, and one other Christian, we’d find plenty to disagree on, some of which might be significant, but most of which would probably be rather trivial, but we’d all be able to agree on a basic statement of Christian faith like the Apostle’s Creed (I hope). (OK, real life example: I’m talking to a friend right now that just met a guy from a church we hadn’t heard of. I googled the church, went to the website and immediately found two things: 1) We agree on basic Christian teachings. 2) We disagree quite strongly on the sacraments. This is exactly what I’m talking about in terms of diversity within the church. Say what you want about Christians disagreeing with each other, but we have a remarkable ability to find agreement on the most basic aspects of Christian faith.)

    Wooo… the discussion is broadening, which is to be expected, but it may get to a point where we’re completely off topic (if we aren’t already :p). If you want, I’d be happy to continue the discussion via e-mail. (jakemeador@gmail.com)

  • http:/http://avantgardefaith.blogspot.com// D Rho

    @ Spurs Fan

    To be over simplistic – to my knowledge, God, Jesus, and the Bible never state that those who choose not to come to God are bound for Hell.

    it’s obvious that the Bible is a saced text for you as that quote comes directly from the Gospel of John (if he wrote it). So, you do know! If you tell me what the standard is and I clearly don’t meet it, then it is obvious that I am in fact going to hell, eh? Why sidestep it? Are you ashamed that your god would leave so many out? Does something bother you about a so-called loving god who would separate himself (I assume “him”) from individuals for refusing to believe something?

    I realize I’m a minority in Christianity, but was Jesus Christ, the apostles, the prophets, etc. any different? Yes, the Bible is a sacred text for me as I follow Jesus Christ. What I’m saying is that there is no clear statement in the Bible as to how God forgives or condemns when we live or die. The verse I quoted is one many Christians use to promote the kind of belief system that without God and Jesus you’re damnation is certain. But as a Christian I reject that line of theology becuase it’s a traditional view, not a Biblical view.
    It’s saying there is a clear path for those who want to come to God: namely Jesus Christ’s life. This verse is NOT a standard for who goes to Heaven or Hell, it’s a revelation of where the path to the knowledge and experience of God lies. So, just because an atheist chooses to believe there is no god (for good reasons like Christians’ attitudes and actions suck) does not necessarily damn them to hell (even according to our book)!
    And I’m not ashamed or bothered about God or Jesus Christ – what I am ashamed and bothered about is the “traditional” thoughts that Christians presume to be based on Scripture, but aren’t.

    Yet, I do not believe that Jesus performed miracles nor rose from the dead. So, by your definition, am I destined for hell? Am I truly following in the ways of the god I don’t believe in, even though I find Jesus to be admirable in some instances and a lunatic in others? Is Mohandas Gandhi or my own dad, two people who arguably folowed the “ways of Christ” truly in heaven?

    I don’t know if you’re destined for hell or not. Being a follower of Christ means more than believing the right things – it’s also becoming the right thing. Faith without works the book of James says is dead. I also think Jesus is both admirable and crazy! Some things make sense and others seam like fairy tales and others are completely counter intuitive… but I strive under the Truth that he is real and alive and actually the One who created me and everything else – so I endeavor to be as close to Him as possible. To believe in him is to love him. To love him is to love others. So you see, many people can actually love him without believing in “traditional” dogma. Some get the ethos of Christ, and some get the ethics of Christ. How can we say it’s all about ethics? What about those who are like Christ in their actions? Does the Bible ever make that distinction about who goes to Heaven or Hell?
    Did not Jesus die for ALL sin according to the Scriptures?

    By Jesus’ own words I’m pretty damn sure that a person who would deny the existence of God would be bound for the “fires of hell”. Again, not that being in a majority makes someone right, but if your theology is in such a minority, then doesn’t it cease to be of that same faith? Is this a new religion?

    If you wouldn’t mind quoting the verse you’re talking about here – I would gladly respond with some intelligence (hopefully). I don’t think what I believe is any new religion or theology; granted it is in a minority. I’ll just say that we’re (Christianity) is 2,000 years out of its origins, and so being, we’ve have lost many of the Biblical realities of the faith; which have been replaced with non-Biblical tradition as a standard. For example: church as a building, or anti-alcohol rhetoric, or seperation of clergy and layity, or lobbying for politcal policies… What I’m saying is I’m searching for the real Truth within my religion based on my sacred text the Bible. So I’m going way old-school with it.

    However, if the “ways and teachings of Christ” are more important than the resurrection then preach the teachings, as well as others who taught similar or better things, then stop promoting some human being who supposedly came back to life and focus on the ideas alone.

    That’s a really good point!
    I think we’re all compelled as humans to promote what we believe to be true.

  • Spurs Fan

    D Rho,

    I have to leave soon, but I’ll try to comment on a couple of things here:

    I also think Jesus is both admirable and crazy! Some things make sense and others seam like fairy tales and others are completely counter intuitive… but I strive under the Truth that he is real and alive and actually the One who created me and everything else

    If you think some things resemble fairy tales and some are counter intuitive, then why hold on to them as truth? What keeps you from using your own mind and rationale to say that they are in fact fairy tales? Why are you “striving” in the first place? Becasue you have faith that the Bible tells you who Jesus is and Jesus tells you what the Bible means?

    If you wouldn’t mind quoting the verse you’re talking about here – I would gladly respond with some intelligence (hopefully).

    This sounds like a cop-out, but due to lack of time, I can’t reference the verse (I could by tomorrow, but by then you may have done so for me). I’m thinking of certain sayings or parables — the parable of the man in hell who wanted to return or at least tell his family not to go there because it was so horrible, the analogies of the burning the chaff, and the mention of the “fires of hell” in the beatitudes. In these, Jesus seems to be saying that there is another place/destination without him and that other place is quite brutal. But, if you have a different intepretation of the verse, I promise to hear you out and not just give it the probably-oversimplified label of “gymnastics”.

    So, just because an atheist chooses to believe there is no god (for good reasons like Christians’ attitudes and actions suck) does not necessarily damn them to hell (even according to our book)!

    (The above was D Rho’s comment)

    I sincerely think this completely alienates you from most Christians and maybe even the apostles creed (which states that Jesus will judge me…for what?).

  • Spurs Fan

    Jake,

    You’re right…a bit off topic, so we could continue via email. However, I think most have abandoned this post except for us discussing this.

    I understand what you mean. Yet, it still seems like you’re intepreting the Bible in a way that’s even foreign to the apostles creed (what is Jesus judging me for anyway and what’s the sentence?). How can you follow the same person/spirit and still have such differences as most of your fellow bretheren. (and not just sacraments…but, again, hell…Most Christians think there is no way in hell a person who rejects the idea of god could be on the joruney to “heaven”, but you say otherwise…the difference is vast!)

    But the nature of the claims are quite similar.

    I disagree. If I’m right, you’re deluded, but stil get to live life in a way that makes you happy and fulfilled. Then you die. If you’re right, I (may) either a) be on the road to eternal separation from God OR b) Be on the right path, but not know it due to a widely-divergent set of views from Jesus, the son of God, who could easily solve all of this uncertainty with his magnificent power.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Let me be clear…I salute the Mike Clawsons of the world for thinking about things. I’m not anti-intellectualism. I just feel that they want to enjoy the benefits of their faith without acknowledging the difficult parts, the parts, that were they to look at too closely, might really challenge their entire belief system. Instead, their intepretations are so far away from the norm (the defendable? is that a word?), that what they believe seems to be a different religion entirely, almost a Buddhist view of Christianity.

    Let me be clear… it is precisely because I “acknowledged” and looked more closely at the difficult parts of my faith that my own beliefs changed.

    However, what I also discovered at the same time that these beliefs were changing is that 1) Christian beliefs have always been in a state of conversation and evolution, there is no such thing as some static “orthodoxy”; and 2) my new views on many of these matters, far from being “new”, were in fact resonant with the views many other Christians have also held throughout the centuries, and also with a more educated, contextual, and nuanced view of scripture (in my opinion of course).

    So I can choose between a version of my faith that recognizes the diversity and complexity and mutability of Christian beliefs and also takes an intellectual approach to scripture which, incidentally, also helps one make sense of some of the more disturbing Christian beliefs; or I can choose a version that closes its eyes to the historical realities of Christian theological evolution and takes an overly simplistic, non-contextual, and anti-intellectual approach to scripture, and which also then leads them to offensive views of the afterlife that I think are unsupportable on a more scholarly reading of the text.

    Which would you choose?

  • Darryl

    However, what I also discovered at the same time that these beliefs were changing is that 1) Christian beliefs have always been in a state of conversation and evolution, there is no such thing as some static “orthodoxy”; and 2) my new views on many of these matters, far from being “new”, were in fact resonant with the views many other Christians have also held throughout the centuries, and also with a more educated, contextual, and nuanced view of scripture (in my opinion of course).

    So I can choose between a version of my faith that recognizes the diversity and complexity and mutability of Christian beliefs and also takes an intellectual approach to scripture which, incidentally, also helps one make sense of some of the more disturbing Christian beliefs; or I can choose a version that closes its eyes to the historical realities of Christian theological evolution and takes an overly simplistic, non-contextual, and anti-intellectual approach to scripture, and which also then leads them to offensive views of the afterlife that I think are unsupportable on a more scholarly reading of the text.

    With all due respect, . . . bullshit. You’ve got a boat-load of red herrings in this blurb. You are in conflict with the vast majority of Christians in the world, as you well know. Ask the Pope or the Patriarch of Constantinople if there is an orthodoxy founded upon traditions that stretch back to the Apostolic Fathers. Sheesh, who do you think you’re talking to?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    You are in conflict with the vast majority of Christians in the world, as you well know.

    As they are with each other.

    Ask the Pope or the Patriarch of Constantinople if there is an orthodoxy founded upon traditions that stretch back to the Apostolic Fathers.

    And yet, ironically, even the Pope and Patriarch can’t quite agree on what that orthodoxy even is. Face it, the Vincentian Canon is an empty set. There’s never been a Christian orthodoxy that has been believed “everywhere, always, and by all”.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    You are in conflict with the vast majority of Christians in the world, as you well know.

    Though I should also add that on the other hand I am in profound agreement with the majority of them on far more things.

  • Spurs Fan

    Okay..we’ve beaten this to death perhaps. In fact, I think it’s to the point that this would be a great dicussion in person. So, my final thoughts (maybe :))

    However, what I also discovered at the same time that these beliefs were changing is that 1) Christian beliefs have always been in a state of conversation and evolution, there is no such thing as some static “orthodoxy”; and 2) my new views on many of these matters, far from being “new”, were in fact resonant with the views many other Christians have also held throughout the centuries, and also with a more educated, contextual, and nuanced view of scripture (in my opinion of course).

    We’ve been here before Mike, but I have to disagree with you for two reasons: 1) The Bible is all about intepretation and I think you’d have a tough time convincing most Christians that yours is an accurate one. That doesn’t make you wrong, it just means that I feel you are in such a minority, that yours is almost a different religious faith altogether. 2) Even if your way of viewing the Bible and Jesus is more on-point, it’s so loose, that I still have a hard time trying to figure out why Jesus should be exalted “exclusively”. If it’s “the way”, he’s hardly the only one to embrace it. So, why elevate him? The reason is that you believe the he physically rose from the dead and is special because of it. And that, my friend, puts you in the category of most Christians, with the same “Holy Spirit” that comes with the consequence of unbelievers (like atheists) being separated from the “source of all life” for eternity (no matter how you define it, it’s the bad side).

    You are in conflict with the vast majority of Christians in the world, as you well know.

    As they are with each other.

    Not on the divinity of Christ and the consequences of those who reject him.

    Thanks for the discussion..As someone who’s been in the house of fundamentalism, more “emergent” thinking, and now atheism, I can at least understand the positions put forth here. I hope no one takes offense, but I find disagreement with the first, a lack of courage and sidestepping with the second, and honesty with the latter.

  • Darryl

    Spurs fan, well said.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    As someone who’s been in the house of fundamentalism, more “emergent” thinking, and now atheism, I can at least understand the positions put forth here. I hope no one takes offense, but I find disagreement with the first, a lack of courage and sidestepping with the second, and honesty with the latter.

    Well, I’ll just say that in my experience it takes a lot of courage to face the hard questions and differing interpretations of scripture head on and choose to go against one’s evangelical upbringing, to the point of losing friends and employment. You can call that sidestepping if you want, but I call it intellectual honesty.

  • http:/http://avantgardefaith.blogspot.com// D Rho

    Spurs Fan,

    You raise some very thought provoking questions. I’ve never really asked myself – so I thank you.

    If you think some things resemble fairy tales and some are counter intuitive, then why hold on to them as truth? What keeps you from using your own mind and rationale to say that they are in fact fairy tales? Why are you “striving” in the first place? Becasue you have faith that the Bible tells you who Jesus is and Jesus tells you what the Bible means?

    Because I believe that the fairy tales can by all means be possible, and that the counterintuitive things are good, even though they contradict my nature or thought processes – it resonates with something more mysterious in me than mere logic. Why should reason and logic be our only guide? Is it possible that there’s something else within us that we can listen to and be guided by? Either my rationale and reasoning is the highest thing in the universe (impossible) that defines truth (and I know so many smarter people… and who knows what else exists out there?) Or there is something greater, more powerful, more reasonable than my limited scope of knowledge, who designed me with the ability to think and live – that defines truth. What I am striving for is to know and experience this God who created me. I’m more than just a mind, I also have a heart, and a spirit – so my faith rests on more than just and the physical (body) or reason (mind), but also in my desires (heart), and the unknowable (spirit). For me, there is more to this life than just reason and knowledge and intelligence. What I’m trying to say is that what defines truth for me is not merely myself or my mind, but something else as well.

    the parable of the man in hell who wanted to return or at least tell his family not to go there because it was so horrible

    Luke 16:19-31
    This is in reference to a parable Jesus told. As you know, parables are illustrations meant to show a moral truth, so I don’t think it’s a very realistic portrayal of Hell. In this instance it’s quite clear that the moral truth is justice for all. The rich man has been compared to the religious leaders of the day and the the poor man with sores to the oppressed of the day. In the end God lifts up the humiliated and casts down the proud. It’s about how walking in other people’s shoes can change your outlook on situations – and help you see and feel other people’s pain and despair. There is no clear judgment even being shown as to what the rich man did, other than ignore this broken person. So all he had to do, according to the parable, was care for this man to get into “heaven”. And how did the poor man with sores get in? No judgment clearly defined here.

    the analogies of the burning the chaff

    Matthew 3:1-12
    I’m wondering why you feel this is in reference to judgment to Hell. It’s very symbollic speech John the Baptist is using here. For the record, let me state that John was very eccentric and strange, so knowing exactly what he meant here is hard to say. Comparing wheat and chaff and threshing floors and fire and water… What we know of John the Baptist, he was very big on baptism symbolizing repentance of sins. As Jesus later comes on the scene, he begins to claim that Jesus will take away the sins of the world.
    The chaff could be deeds, attitudes, posessions, namesakes, beliefs, etc. The wheat could be the opposite of the same. Is there a clear judgment there? Wouldn’t it be manipulating the text to say it definetly states that atheist, Hindus, and Buddhists alike are on the fast track to Hell?

    and the mention of the “fires of hell” in the beatitudes

    Matthew 5:1-48
    The first mention of it: Jesus says that those who say “You fool!’ will be in danger of the fires of hell. The theme here is dealing with the internal peron, not just our actions. We cannot possibly understand with any clarity what Jesus means by being in danger of the fires of hell. Is he referring to right now? After we die? Figuratively? Symbollically? What? Is he cluing us in as to how he judges? Possibly? I think Jesus is asking us to recognize our need for internal transformation, not just behavioral.
    The second mention is like the first, only dealing with the issue of adultery. Could this be a judgment for who goes to heaven or hell? Is this figurative speech? I know I don’t see too many people walking around with one eye or one hand. The encouragement seems to be look deeper into yourself than your behavior and your intellect – something is broken with us that needs to be mended. Jesus claimed to be that remedy.

    I sincerely think this completely alienates you from most Christians and maybe even the apostles creed (which states that Jesus will judge me…for what?).

    Where in the Apostle’s Creed is outlined a standard for Jesus Christ’s judgment? I do believe that Jesus has the role of judge, and that he judges thoughts, attitudes, actions, desires, motives, deeds, and such – but as to how and who and where is a mystery.

    Quite frankly, most Christians are programmed to not think or search for truth, just merely accept it through dogmatic tradition and Sunday sermons. I’m pretty sure most would not even be able to delineate why they believe that everyone but “Christians” go to heaven, why everyone else goes to hell, and where the Scriptural basis for their belief lies. Other than regurgitated cliches and nonsense.

    Side note:
    Spurs win against Lakers in how many games? And play who in the Finals?

  • Spurs Fan

    Well, I’ll just say that in my experience it takes a lot of courage to face the hard questions and differing interpretations of scripture head on and choose to go against one’s evangelical upbringing, to the point of losing friends and employment. You can call that sidestepping if you want, but I call it intellectual honesty.

    Mike,

    I’ll agree. I should have said that I think it’s sidestepping specifically on the issue of hell and how you portray that to non-Christians. I still think this and I think intellectual honesty might require you to question the belief in god in the first place.

    However, in so many other ways you are very courageous, in my opinion. I’m an atheist in a rural part of Texas, so I face my share of ridicule at my beliefs, but I also experienced this a few years ago as a Christian who had very different views than the fundamentalists. Sometimes it came down to simple political views (“you’re a Christian, but you don’t vote Republican?”).

    I apologize for my oversimplification. I enjoy talking with you much more than I would John Hagee (or any other conservative fundamentalist). Please know this. :)

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    Why should reason and logic be our only guide?

    I know this is meant as a rhetorical question, but given that rational thought is probably our strongest tool for figuring stuff out, and perhaps the only rigorous means of arriving at anything like truth, I think the appropriate question is, why shouldn’t they?

    Is it possible that there’s something else within us that we can listen to and be guided by?

    What, you mean “something else” like my stomach telling me when it’s time to eat?

    Or, as is more likely, do you mean “something else” like a soul, or an indwelling holy ghost? It’s certainly possible, but there is no real credible evidence for these.

  • cipher

    Mike, I’d like to add that while I still disagree with you on such matters as the history of Christian theology, I try not to give you a hard time about it because I realize you’re attempting to formulate (or perhaps rediscover) a more inclusive Christianity, which is an admirable goal in itself. I mean – I certainly don’t want you to become less progressive!

    Re: Hagee – has it ever struck anyone else that, in all the years he’s supposedly been in daily communion with God, he’s apparently never once hear God say, “Put down the pork rinds” or “Does the word ‘salad’ ring a bell?”

  • Spurs Fan

    D Rho,

    Thanks for the commentary on the verses. I thought there was one where Jesus referred to chaff as well, but I could be wrong.

    Fact is, all of those three intricate intepretations would not be agreed to by most Christians, thus making your faith almost unrecognizable. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong, it just means it’s so different that it isn’t easily classified. And, as mentoned earlier

    1) The Bible is all about intepretation and I think you’d have a tough time convincing most Christians that yours is an accurate one. That doesn’t make you wrong, it just means that I feel you are in such a minority, that yours is almost a different religious faith altogether. 2) Even if your way of viewing the Bible and Jesus is more on-point, it’s so loose, that I still have a hard time trying to figure out why Jesus should be exalted “exclusively”. If it’s “the way”, he’s hardly the only one to embrace it. So, why elevate him? The reason is that you believe the he physically rose from the dead and is special because of it. And that, my friend, puts you in the category of most Christians, with the same “Holy Spirit” that comes with the consequence of unbelievers (like atheists) being separated from the “source of all life” for eternity (no matter how you define it, it’s the bad side).

    Where in the Apostle’s Creed is outlined a standard for Jesus Christ’s judgment? I do believe that Jesus has the role of judge, and that he judges thoughts, attitudes, actions, desires, motives, deeds, and such – but as to how and who and where is a mystery

    .

    True. It just says Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. It doesn’t say how. But, again most that share the same holy spirit as you would say it’s very clear that those who reject Christ, no matter how unselfish and loving, would be judged badly.

    Why should reason and logic be our only guide?

    Because it plays such a pertinent role in every other aspect of our lives — why do we throw it out in respect to god? I know emotions do as well — I love my son and would do so many irrational things for him, but he’s real! You know how I know? Using the my senses, I can see, hear, smell, feel, and taste him! (the last one would be slightly more odd, eh?). I can’t do that with god…so the emotion comes from logic and reason.

    You raise some very thought provoking questions.

    Thank you. You, the Jakes, and Mike give some highly-thought out answers, even if I don’t agree with them.

    Spurs win against Lakers in how many games? And play who in the Finals

    Spurs win in 6. And then beat Detroit in 6 in the Finals (still think the Pistons will win even after last night). But this is as fallible as I think the Bible is. :)

    So, my final thoughts

    I’m a liar.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I’ll agree. I should have said that I think it’s sidestepping specifically on the issue of hell and how you portray that to non-Christians.

    It’d only be “sidestepping” if I actually thought that the conservative evangelical view of Hell was the correct one and yet were deliberately trying to avoid expressing that to non-Christians. However, I am convinced after much study that my own views of Hell are actually more faithful to the original meaning and intent of scripture, and that the conservative evangelical views are a distortion. In other words, I’m not sidestepping; I’m facing the issue head on and simply reaching a different conclusion than the conservatives.

    I still think this and I think intellectual honesty might require you to question the belief in god in the first place.

    Been there, done that, didn’t take.

    Fact is, all of those three intricate intepretations would not be agreed to by most Christians, thus making your faith almost unrecognizable.

    SF, you keep saying things like this, but it seems to me that when you say “most Christians” you really mean “conservative evangelicals”. They are a significant segment of Christianity, no doubt, but they are by no means the only significant group. For instance, when I start talking about many of my “emerging” views on hell, salvation, etc., my mainline (i.e. “liberal”) Protestant friends (e.g. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, etc.) remind me that “Hey, this is nothing new. Our tradition has been talking about this stuff for over a century now.” And my friend Brian McLaren reminds me that many of these perspectives are actually deeply resonant both with Anabaptist Christianity (which is at least 500 years old) as well as Eastern Orthodoxy (which goes all the way back to the beginning), besides many other streams of the church. IMHO, you need to broaden your view of who “most Christians” are and the diversity among their beliefs.

    In fact, even among conservative evangelicals there is a wide range of opinion on these views of Hell and who does or does not go there. For instance, there is this book and this one.

    However, in so many other ways you are very courageous, in my opinion…

    I apologize for my oversimplification. I enjoy talking with you much more than I would John Hagee (or any other conservative fundamentalist). Please know this. :)

    Thanks :)

  • Spurs Fan

    SF, you keep saying things like this, but it seems to me that when you say “most Christians” you really mean “conservative evangelicals”. They are a significant segment of Christianity, no doubt, but they are by no means the only significant group. For instance, when I start talking about many of my “emerging” views on hell, salvation, etc., my mainline (i.e. “liberal”) Protestant friends (e.g. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, etc.) remind me that “Hey, this is nothing new. Our tradition has been talking about this stuff for over a century now.” And my friend Brian McLaren reminds me that many of these perspectives are actually deeply resonant both with Anabaptist Christianity (which is at least 500 years old) as well as Eastern Orthodoxy (which goes all the way back to the beginning), besides many other streams of the church. IMHO, you need to broaden your view of who “most Christians” are and the diversity among their beliefs.

    Perhaps you are correct. I’m sure their is more diversity than I am assuming…I guess when I read the Bible, I just see that the conservative view takes less wrangling and seems more consistent. I realize they pick and choose as well, but it seems less of a stretch. If I ask you about hell and my future, you seem to think I’m “okay” as long as I am conversing and (possibly) searching. Jesus, Peter, and Paul, I feel, would tell me something very different if I told them that my conversing and examination was still leading to reject a belief in god altogether.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I guess when I read the Bible, I just see that the conservative view takes less wrangling and seems more consistent.

    That’s the whole problem with the conservative view. Why in the world would we assume that we, as twenty-first century Americans be able to approach an Ancient Near Eastern text written by dozens of different authors over a span of a thousands years or more in multiple cultures vastly different from our own without having to do at least a little bit of “wrangling” to understand it? It’s the conservative assumption that the Bible ought to be instantly accessible to anyone and everyone without the slightest bit of study into history or context that I find totally implausible.

    If I ask you about hell and my future, you seem to think I’m “okay” as long as I am conversing and (possibly) searching. Jesus, Peter, and Paul, I feel, would tell me something very different if I told them that my conversing and examination was still leading to reject a belief in god altogether.

    I don’t think they would necessarily. First off, if you brought up “hell” they’d have no idea what you’re talking about, since they would have never heard that word before. Second, our church just finished a two year study of the gospel of Luke, and what we’ve been struck by repeatedly is just how inclusive Jesus’ message is. Jesus never says “if you don’t believe in God you’re going to Hell”, or anything similar. What he does say is that those who like to play games of “who’s in, who’s out” should be careful because they might just find that they’re the ones who are out. (cf. Luke 13:22-29) Likewise, Paul is the one who goes out of his way to point out that even people who don’t worship the God of Israel can still be following the ways of God (cf. Romans 2:14-15).

    At any rate, as I’ve said before, I think part of the problem comes if we’re still just thinking about all of this in terms of post-mortem destinations. If you had brought up those sorts of questions to Jesus, Peter or Paul they would most likely give you a very strange look since that’s not really what their message was about in the first place. They’re going around saying “we need to start living our lives differently because God’s kingdom is here, now”. If you then come up and say “yes, but what happens when we die?” it’s would seem like a total non-sequitur to them.

  • cipher

    I was trying to decide whether to post this here or in the thread about Martin Marty.

    Mike, I still feel that, although “Fundamentalism” as a movement is only about a hundred years old (having arisen as a reaction to Modernism, itself around the same age), the core doctrinal beliefs of fundamentalists concerning soteriology and eschatology (including the question of who goes to hell) reflect what most Western Christians have believed for most of the past two thousand years (I’ll leave Eastern Orthodoxy out of it, as I don’t know enough about it to have an opinion). Yes, there have been dissident voices, but, invariably, they’ve been excised (as with Origen and some of the early church fathers) or ignored (e.g. Abelard). Very early on, Christian theology was hijacked by characters afflicted with abject self-hatred, and it’s been a haven for them ever since – Augustine, Luther, Calvin, etc.

    Even among the more moderate voices – if you’d asked them about the nature of the Trinity, or of God’s relationship with humanity, you might very well have gotten different responses, ranging from compassionate to severe. However, if you were to ask any of them whether or not a Jewish atheist had a fair chance of ending up in heaven, I’m quite certain that the vast majority would have replied, “What are you, nuts?”

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I’m not nearly as certain about that. My guess is that most educated Christians throughout the centuries would likely respond “it depends” or “we don’t know” or “it’s none of our business”. As my Eastern Orthodox friends say “We know where the Way of Life is. We do not know where it is not.”

  • cipher

    Why in the world would we assume that we, as twenty-first century Americans be able to approach an Ancient Near Eastern text written by dozens of different authors over a span of a thousands years or more in multiple cultures vastly different from our own without having to do at least a little bit of “wrangling” to understand it? It’s the conservative assumption that the Bible ought to be instantly accessible to anyone and everyone without the slightest bit of study into history or context that I find totally implausible.

    This, I agree with completely.

    If you then come up and say “yes, but what happens when we die?” it’s would seem like a total non-sequitur to them.

    This, I’m not so sure about – if we trust that the reporting was accurate (which I don’t, but that’s another argument).

  • cipher

    My guess is that most educated Christians throughout the centuries would likely respond “it depends” or “we don’t know” or “it’s none of our business”

    You really think so? I would be SHOCKED if that were the case.

    (And, up until the past hundred years or so, how many people were “educated”, anyway?)

  • Polly

    Totalitarian! I am a Polly-fundamentalist.

    Everyone who disagrees with me on any topic no matter how ill-supported my conclusions or tenuous my logic is wrong and should be silenced.

    Also, the legal system should represent faithfully and absolutely my every whim.

    Educational curricula should not step beyond the proper boundaries of teaching subjects in accord with my thinking on the matter. That would also exclude teaching subjects that I don’t know anything about or that simply don’t interest me personally.

    Same goes for art – none of that interpretive dance crap or paintings that look like something that should be hanging on a refrigerator door.

    and sports – no more Curling. Because really, WTF

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    You really think so? I would be SHOCKED if that were the case.

    I can’t say with any certainty, but it can be argued that in many sectors of the church the default position has been inclusivism, not exclusivism.

    At any rate, even if exclusivism has been more prevalent, so what? Theology is not a static thing. It’s always been a process of evolution and conversation. Just because a lot of other Christians disagree with me on a given topic doesn’t mean I’m obliged to necessarily agree with them. Truth isn’t decided by committee or by majority rule.

    (And, up until the past hundred years or so, how many people were “educated”, anyway?)

    Does it matter? I simply meant among those who have taken the time to consider and study the question thoroughly.

  • Spurs Fan

    Mike,

    I know this is going in circles, but

    My guess is that most educated Christians throughout the centuries would likely respond “it depends” or “we don’t know” or “it’s none of our business”. As my Eastern Orthodox friends say “We know where the Way of Life is. We do not know where it is not.”

    It depends on what? If you don’t know, why do you proclaim yourself as “Christian”? If it’s none of your business, why have any community or outreach at all? Why proclaim Christ if you’re not claiming him for a reason? And if the answer to the last question is because you feel that he connects you to truth here on earth or restores a broken world (or something similar), then, again, why is that limited to Christ? What source, outside of the Bible, convinces you that Jesus is who you think he is? Finally, how is that you and James Dobson can share the same “holy spirit”, but your views can differ so much as to be not compatible. Again, I’d much prefer you, McLaren, etc. to Dobson, but why the divergence?

  • cipher

    Just because a lot of other Christians disagree with me on a given topic doesn’t mean I’m obliged to necessarily agree with them. Truth isn’t decided by committee or by majority rule.

    Ordinarily, I’d agree with you, but if one believes Jesus to be the embodiment of God’s fullest revelation to humanity, and that the Church represents that belief system, I think it can be argued that one has a right to assume that God would somehow safeguard the majority of Christians from falling into doctrinal error.

    So, if the majority of Christians believe something for a period of two millennia, I think we’re justified in calling it normative Christianity.

  • Darryl

    Fact is, all of those three intricate intepretations would not be agreed to by most Christians, thus making your faith almost unrecognizable.

    SF, you keep saying things like this, but it seems to me that when you say “most Christians” you really mean “conservative evangelicals”. They are a significant segment of Christianity, no doubt, but they are by no means the only significant group. For instance, when I start talking about many of my “emerging” views on hell, salvation, etc., my mainline (i.e. “liberal”) Protestant friends (e.g. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, etc.) remind me that “Hey, this is nothing new. Our tradition has been talking about this stuff for over a century now.” And my friend Brian McLaren reminds me that many of these perspectives are actually deeply resonant both with Anabaptist Christianity (which is at least 500 years old) as well as Eastern Orthodoxy (which goes all the way back to the beginning), besides many other streams of the church. IMHO, you need to broaden your view of who “most Christians” are and the diversity among their beliefs.

    Most Christians in the world do not share your post-modern view of hell. Let’s just exclude the conservative evangelicals and stick with the RCC and the EOC.

    You can read for yourself what they Roman Catholic doctrine of Hell is:
    http://www.ourcatholicfaith.org/hell.html

    Here’s just a snippet of what you’ll find on this page:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):

    No. 1034: Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna,” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that He “will send His angels, and they will gather…all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,” and that He will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”

    No. 1035: The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

    The prevailing Eastern Orthodox view as I have understood it may be found here:

    http://www.oca.org/OCchapter.asp?SID=2&ID=23

    The EOC is not as literal as the RCC, for example, they make the fire the presence of God himself and its punishing effect upon those who have rejected the light. But, it is punishment, and it is eternal, and it is justice executed after a final judgment. Here is a little of what’s on this page:

    The doctrine of eternal hell, therefore, does not mean that God actively tortures people by some unloving and perverse means. It does not mean that God takes delight in the punishment and pain of His people whom He loves. Neither does it mean that God “separates Himself” from His people, thus causing them anguish in this separation (for indeed if people hate God, separation would be welcome, and not abhorred!). It means rather that God continues to allow all people, saints and sinners alike, to exist forever. All are raised from the dead into everlasting life: “those who have done good, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29). In the end, God will be “all and in all” (1 Cor 15:28). For those who love God, resurrection from the dead and the presence of God will be paradise. For those who hate God, resurrection from the dead and the presence of God will be hell. This is the teaching of the fathers of the Church.

    There is sprung up a light for the righteous, and its partner is joyful gladness. And the light of the righteous is everlasting …

    One light alone let us shun — that which is the offspring of the sorrowful fire …

    For I know a cleansing fire which Christ came to send upon the earth, and He Himself is called a Fire. This Fire takes away whatsoever is material and of evil quality; and this He desires to kindle with all speed …

    I know also a fire which is not cleansing, but avenging … which He pours down on all sinners … that which is prepared for the devil and his angels … that which proceeds from the Face of the Lord and shall burn up His enemies round about … the unquenchable fire which … is eternal for the wicked. For all these belong to the destroying power, though some may prefer even in this place to take a more merciful view of this fire, worthily of Him who chastises (St. Gregory the Theologian).

    … those who find themselves in Gehenna will be chastised with the scourge of love. How cruel and bitter this torment of love will be! For those who understand that they have sinned against love undergo greater sufferings than those produced of the most fearful tortures. The sorrow which takes hold of the heart which has sinned against love is more piercing than any other pain. It is not right to say that sinners in hell are deprived of the love of God. … But love acts in two different ways, as suffering in the reproved, and as joy in the blessed (St. Isaac of Syria).

  • cipher

    And if the answer to the last question is because you feel that he connects you to truth here on earth or restores a broken world (or something similar), then, again, why is that limited to Christ?

    SF, I think Mike is saying that he doesn’t think Christ represents all of God’s involvement with humanity, merely His fullest revelation.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Darryl, the quotes you provided from the Eastern Orthodox church mostly summarize my own view of hell. If that is “postmodern”, then so are the early church fathers I guess.

  • Spurs Fan

    SF, I think Mike is saying that he doesn’t think Christ represents all of God’s involvement with humanity, merely His fullest revelation.

    Ok, but why? Why is Jesus #1?

  • cipher

    Guys, I don’t want this to devolve into an exercise of picking on Mike, because he’s probably the most liberal evangelical we’re ever likely to encounter.

    Darryl does put me in mind of something, though, Mike. These arguments involving God’s love being experienced differently by different personality types really seem to me to be a colossal stretch, a way of having one’s cake and eating it, too.

    It’s probably time for me to explain something. My understanding is that Christian theologians across the board consider existence in any form to be the highest good. I once heard a priest on EWTN say that existence is a gift from God, and that even the soul in hell is the beneficiary of that gift (of course, he said it without having the opportunity to actually ask one of them!). It seems that Christian theology (in exoteric form, at least) is built upon an affirmation of the self . My Buddhist friends consider this to be a form of attachment (of course, I realize that esoteric Christianity, like its Jewish and Islamic counterparts, would be more in line with Buddhist thought).

    The overall picture I’ve gotten over the years is that, from a Christian perspective, it’s better to exist anywhere, even in hell, than not to exist at all. And this is where I have trouble. Even if God does exist, I don’t consider life/consciousness/existence to be a gift. It’s a burden, something that has been imposed upon me very much against my will. I think that most people of faith begin from a position of gratitude. I can’t begin to get on board with that. I’m not grateful; to the contrary, I’m deeply resentful. This is also why I can’t agree with all of the theodicial arguments involving free will. For me, free will is utterly irrelevant; I don’t want to be here in the first place. Life is some sort of game I’m being forced, very much against my will, to play, the rules of which I’ve never really understood, and (if you people are correct), the stakes of which are obscenely high. I’ve spent over thirty years sifting through the catalogue of world religions, only to come up empty-handed. You guys haven’t been able to offer me any kind of meaning or solace; to the contrary, you have nothing to offer me but an eternity of unimaginable suffering for not believing something that I seem to be inherently incapable of believing, and find indefensible in any case. All Christianity has ever been able to tell me is, “Too bad! You’re God’s creation, and he can do with you whatever he wants.” – which, as you can appreciate, has been less than helpful.

    And, lest you think it’s just you, I have the same arguments with the Buddhists. I don’t want to become a Buddha, and I don’t want to go to heaven. I don’t want to have to play the game at all.

    Please don’t feel you have to respond. I realize that your pastoral training hasn’t prepared you for this. I just wanted you to know where I’m coming from.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    And if the answer to the last question is because you feel that he connects you to truth here on earth or restores a broken world (or something similar), then, again, why is that limited to Christ?

    SF, I think Mike is saying that he doesn’t think Christ represents all of God’s involvement with humanity, merely His fullest revelation.

    Yes, exactly. SF, haven’t I repeatedly said that I don’t think it is limited to Christ?

    It depends on what? If you don’t know, why do you proclaim yourself as “Christian”? If it’s none of your business, why have any community or outreach at all? Why proclaim Christ if you’re not claiming him for a reason?

    Because none of this stuff (who goes to hell, who doesn’t) is the main point of Christianity or Christian outreach in the first place. I do proclaim Christ for a reason, but that reason is not to merely to save people from hell. That reason is to proclaim the kingdom of God as a present reality and invite people to turn their lives around and live into it.

    What source, outside of the Bible, convinces you that Jesus is who you think he is?

    The short answer? Everything. It’s like C.S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

    Finally, how is that you and James Dobson can share the same “holy spirit”, but your views can differ so much as to be not compatible. Again, I’d much prefer you, McLaren, etc. to Dobson, but why the divergence?

    I don’t see any reason in scripture or the past 2000 years of church history to think that the Holy Spirit is some kind of guarantee that you’ll never make mistakes (epistemically or morally) again. Besides which, if God’s primary concern was that we all have exactly the same doctrine, the Bible would be a very different kind of book than it actually is. The fact that it isn’t indicates to me that God is not first and foremost concerned with whether I or Dobson or anyone else can claim to have all the right answers about everything.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Ordinarily, I’d agree with you, but if one believes Jesus to be the embodiment of God’s fullest revelation to humanity, and that the Church represents that belief system, I think it can be argued that one has a right to assume that God would somehow safeguard the majority of Christians from falling into doctrinal error.

    cipher, the last part of my previous comment applies here too. I don’t remember anywhere in scripture that God promises that we’ll never again make mistakes, whether on doctrine, or practice, or anything else.

  • Spurs Fan

    SF, haven’t I repeatedly said that I don’t think it is limited to Christ?

    Right. I feel like I’ve confirmed that answer before. So, why do you “elevate” him? Why is he #1? If it’s about a conversation and restoration and all that jazz, and not about destination, why is Jesus the center of it? If you’ve already answered this from my previous post, please disregard.

    I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

    But the sun doesn’t rise. The earth rotates and revolves. I know that’s a smart-ass answer, but for so long we had to believe that because we didn’t know any better. We still say it because it’s much more romantic and emotionally appealing. Can’t we say the same with Christianity? Coming from a Christian background, I know atheism can be very depressing. Are you not holding on to your faith because it’s comforting? I realize that it hasn’t been easy — as you’ve mentioned before you’ve faced persecution from those you love. But, isn’t it more appealing than atheism? I’ve given up believing to make myself feel content or at peace or whatever, because I just don’t believe it. After applying logic and reason for everything else in my life, I realize that when I apply that same thinking to the idea of god, it just doesn’t seem like the default answer. Rather, it makes more sense to me to say that, as of now, there is no god. And Jesus? Well, I really do love some of the things he is quoted as saying, as well as some of his actions (whether he is fictional or not). Other things he says, however, I’m not so crazy about. I understand that you believe differently, but if you agree with Lewis that Christianity comes so naturally, why don’t we all “get it”? God knows (no pun intended) that I’ve been a hard-core seeker most of my life. And how many Christians would there truly be without the Bible, which, again, seems to be quite violent in it’s portrayal of people who don’t even come anywhere near the description of being a Christian (no matter how loose the defintion). Lik Cipher :) If people just “knew” as you seem to without any inspiration from a sacred text (or without the Bible being the main source), do you think we’d have enough followers for Christianity to be the world’s largest religion?

    So many questions, so much other life to get to….

    Guys, I don’t want this to devolve into an exercise of picking on Mike, because he’s probably the most liberal evangelical we’re ever likely to encounter.

    I certainly agree. Let me know if you think it’s coming to that.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Right. I feel like I’ve confirmed that answer before. So, why do you “elevate” him? Why is he #1? If it’s about a conversation and restoration and all that jazz, and not about destination, why is Jesus the center of it? If you’ve already answered this from my previous post, please disregard.

    Yeah, I thought I did already respond to this question in a previous thread, though I can’t recall which one now.

    I guess I’ll just respond with a question: why, from your perspective, does it make Jesus any less “central” if the gospel is about restoration and reconciliation in the here and now, and not just about a ticket to heaven when we die? From my perspective that makes Jesus all the more relevant and significant.

    We still say it because it’s much more romantic and emotionally appealing. Can’t we say the same with Christianity? Coming from a Christian background, I know atheism can be very depressing. Are you not holding on to your faith because it’s comforting? I realize that it hasn’t been easy — as you’ve mentioned before you’ve faced persecution from those you love. But, isn’t it more appealing than atheism?

    Yes, it is more appealing, but no, that’s not the only reason I’m a Christian.

    As for “comforting”… I don’t know. My life would probably be a lot more comfortable right now if I didn’t have to worry about all this stuff – if I truly felt free to live primarily for my own concerns and my own comfort.

    After applying logic and reason for everything else in my life

    Do you really? For some reason I find that very hard to believe. We’re not Vulcans for goodness sake.

    Let me put it this way. The biggest difference I find that I have with most atheists is not about whether or not God exists. It’s about epistemology – these questions of whether and how we actually know anything at all. You all seem to have a far greater confidence in human “reason” and “logic” than I could possibly have. Human cognition just seems so much more complex and multi-faceted and unreliable than all that.

    I understand that you believe differently, but if you agree with Lewis that Christianity comes so naturally, why don’t we all “get it”?

    I think you misunderstood what I was saying with that Lewis quote. The point wasn’t that belief just comes “naturally”. That’s not at all what I was getting at. What I meant to communicate is that to me Christianity makes sense as a total worldview. In other words, there isn’t some specific bit of evidence that I can point you to that is my reason for believing. Rather, everything is “evidence” – the world, science, history, life, reason, emotions, everything – because my faith isn’t just another category that sits alongside these other ones. Instead it is the lens through which I look at everything else. And when I look through this lens, everything seems to “hang together” in a way that makes more sense to me than any other lens that I’ve tried on so far (yes, including the atheist/naturalist lens).

    Anyhow, I’m not interested in getting into a debate with you right now about which lens is actually better. I’m just trying to give you a brief answer for why I believe as I do.

  • Spurs Fan

    Hey Mike,

    Thought I’d check back here one more time.

    My life would probably be a lot more comfortable right now if I didn’t have to worry about all this stuff – if I truly felt free to live primarily for my own concerns and my own comfort

    .

    C’mon, now. Do you truly feel that atheism = selfishness? I know, as I’m sure you do, many atheists who put the needs of others and comfort above themselves.

    Do you really? For some reason I find that very hard to believe. We’re not Vulcans for goodness sake.

    I attempt to. It doesn’t mean that emotion and passion do not play a role, but I feel like I can at least attempt to explain those with logic and reason. Let’s just say it’s the standard we’d expect any leader of ours to use (even if they might not).

    It’s about epistemology – these questions of whether and how we actually know anything at all. You all seem to have a far greater confidence in human “reason” and “logic” than I could possibly have. Human cognition just seems so much more complex and multi-faceted and unreliable than all that.

    The same human congnition that gave us the Bible? Human reason and logic is definitely not perfect. But, someone rising from the dead 2,000 years ago and me accepting it as fact in 2008 seems pretty complex and multi-faceted as well. If we are to believe and put our trust in things only because they are more simple and easier to figure out, or that they make “more sense” through an understandable “lens”, then I could believe a huge amount of things that, all evidence given, might not be true at all. It might make my existence easier, but it doesn’t make it true.

    I guess I’ll just respond with a question: why, from your perspective, does it make Jesus any less “central” if the gospel is about restoration and reconciliation in the here and now, and not just about a ticket to heaven when we die?

    That’s the point. I don’t believe either of these. I think using the standard I would to judge anything else, both seem like quite a stretch for me. I think from a biblical perspective that most Christians would agree with, those believers could agree with the Gospel being about both. But, to focus on the first without the second, again, seems to be about picking the good while ignoring the bad and somewhat inconsistent with the Bible I’ve read.

    I still believe that many of Jesus’ teachings are quite good, inspiring and even useful to make our world a better place. I would say nothing different for Confucious, Gandhi, the Buddha, or any other number of people. However, I also can agree that many of the teachings of these figures, I don’t agree with and some could cause harm to society. I certainly don’t believe that any rose from the dead. Do you believe that the Dalai Lama is the 14th reincarnated Buddha? If not, why not? By what criteria do you negate the possibility?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    C’mon, now. Do you truly feel that atheism = selfishness? I know, as I’m sure you do, many atheists who put the needs of others and comfort above themselves.

    I can’t speak for you or any other atheists. I was talking about myself.

    I attempt to. It doesn’t mean that emotion and passion do not play a role, but I feel like I can at least attempt to explain those with logic and reason. Let’s just say it’s the standard we’d expect any leader of ours to use (even if they might not).

    I expect a little more out of my leaders than that (compassion and empathy for starters).

    The same human congnition that gave us the Bible?

    Yes, and Shakespeare, and Rembrandt, and the Buddha, and Maya Angelou, and Nietzsche, and Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Quran, and the Origin of Species. You have to understand, I was a humanities major (philosophy specifically) and I’ve always had a problem with the reductionistic attitudes of my science and engineering friends and how they always wanted to marginalize so many authentic human experiences as not up to their “logical”, “mathematical” standards. I’m talking about embracing the complexity my friend. It’s your rationalistic, “sola logica” approach that seems to make things too “easy” in my opinion.

    I think from a biblical perspective that most Christians would agree with, those believers could agree with the Gospel being about both. But, to focus on the first without the second, again, seems to be about picking the good while ignoring the bad and somewhat inconsistent with the Bible I’ve read.

    I believe in both as well. I just think the first is more central to the gospel. Jesus talks a lot more about the “kingdom of God” than he does about the afterlife.

    However, I also can agree that many of the teachings of these figures, I don’t agree with and some could cause harm to society.

    As do I.

    Do you believe that the Dalai Lama is the 14th reincarnated Buddha? If not, why not? By what criteria do you negate the possibility?

    It’s a possibility. But on the whole I have tried on the Buddhist “lens” and found that it doesn’t quite fit with my experience of the world (mostly related to their philosophy of justice and suffering, though I’m not really interested in getting into a discussion about pros and cons of Buddhism right now).

  • cipher

    Mike, I’m curious – as a philosophy major at Wheaton, was the material presented as it would be at a secular university, or from a Christian perspective? I’m aware that Wheaton is considered by many evangelicals to be on the liberal end of the spectrum, but I also know that it has its share of conservatives, and I understand they’ve been asserting themselves in recent years.

    Re: the Dalai Lama. He’s an extraordinary human being. About a year ago, I ended a three-year gig as Property Manager in a Tibetan Buddhist center. The lama there was an old student of the DL; they escaped to India at about the same time. I’ve been privileged to be in his presence a few times. In over thirty years of sifting through the catalog of world religions, he’s the only teacher who has moved me profoundly. (Although Father Thomas Keating, who’s reintroduced Christian mediation to the public, is up there as well.)

  • Spurs Fan

    I’m talking about embracing the complexity my friend. It’s your rationalistic, “sola logica” approach that seems to make things too “easy” in my opinion.

    Okay. I’m not saying that logic and reason are the only things, I’m just saying that they seem to form the basis for many things, inlcuding many of the philosophers you mention, as well as the way we make our basic decisions. For example, Angelou poems could best be understood after understanding the (complex) set of circumstances involving racism and civil rights, among other things.

    If you believe in Jesus’ physical resurrection, then you obviously place it on an important scale, as do most Christians. But, you’re saying that by denying it, I could still be connecting to the “restoration” of the world more than a fundamentalist. So, I still don’t understand how that could be, as it seems in this respect, you still have more in common with fudnamentalists (your view of Jesus and God) than you do me . I’m not Sam Harrising you — I’m just not convinced that you’re not leaving out what seems to be a very clear teaching of the consequences of those who reject Christ. Just because Jesus talks about it less than other things, doesn’t make it part of the backbone of the faith. Fact is, if I’m not in danger of hell, I don’t need Jesus anymore than I need the Buddha or my own wife. How could I need him more than someome who actually connects me in a real way today instead of thousands of years ago?

    It’s your rationalistic, “sola logica” approach that seems to make things too “easy” in my opinion.

    I’m still not sure that’s true. To go from the thought that if something is wrong in this life and that it can still be made okay in the next all the way to, the idea that this life (probably) is the only life I get is not easy. It’s quite bleak in most ways actually…but that doesn’t make it not so.

  • Darryl

    The same human congnition that gave us the Bible?

    Yes, and Shakespeare, and Rembrandt, and the Buddha, and Maya Angelou, and Nietzsche, and Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Quran, and the Origin of Species. You have to understand, I was a humanities major (philosophy specifically) and I’ve always had a problem with the reductionistic attitudes of my science and engineering friends and how they always wanted to marginalize so many authentic human experiences as not up to their “logical”, “mathematical” standards. I’m talking about embracing the complexity my friend. It’s your rationalistic, “sola logica” approach that seems to make things too “easy” in my opinion.

    All thinking is reductive, so this is irrelevant. No one denies the complexity of human experience, but since human cognition is all we have to understand the world, we have to trust it and its best exponents. There is a clear difference of kind between religious fictions and scientific facts. We’re all free to embrace our consoling fictions, but not to rank them with facts.

  • monkeymind

    All thinking is reductive

    Darryl, what do you mean by this? It seems like you are using “thinking” to mean “analysis” – I’m not sure I agree.

  • Darryl

    Analysis is reductive, but thought itself is reductive if we are thinking about our experience (also reductive) of what we call reality. I made this assertion in light of Mike’s assertion that science was reductive, as indeed it is. But, since all thought about the world or ideas involves abstraction, the reductivity of science is beside the point when comparing religion’s methodology and that of science.

  • monkeymind

    Yes, but is religion just about abstract thought? Where do experience, ritual, and practice come in?

    I think it’s white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who have created this huge battle between science and religion, in the process making their religion as dry as a lecture and as aesthetically pleasing as a 70′s suburban subdivision,

    I think religion maps better onto art than science. Which isn’t to say it isn’t bad art a lot of the time.

  • Darryl

    I think religion maps better onto art than science. Which isn’t to say it isn’t bad art a lot of the time.

    Exactly, religion is a form of art. As such it bears some truth, like any art form, but is primarily a product of the imagination–more fiction than fact, more desire than acquisition.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    All thinking is reductive, so this is irrelevant.

    I still don’t get what you mean by this.

    There is a clear difference of kind between religious fictions and scientific facts. We’re all free to embrace our consoling fictions, but not to rank them with facts.

    Science is great, but it’s not the only type of human experience or thinking out there, nor the only valid type IMHO. Neither is the totality of human experience neatly categorizable in to “facts” and “fictions”. Sorry, but I gave up that kind of black and white thinking when I gave up conservative evangelicalism. I’m not likely to be sucked back into it by way of atheism.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I’m not saying that logic and reason are the only things, I’m just saying that they seem to form the basis for many things, inlcuding many of the philosophers you mention, as well as the way we make our basic decisions. For example, Angelou poems could best be understood after understanding the (complex) set of circumstances involving racism and civil rights, among other things.

    Drop the word “best” and I’ll agree with you.

    As I see it, logic and reason are just a couple of tools in the toolbox, but not the only ones, and not even always the most appropriate ones depending on what you’re trying to get done. For instance, science (a combo of logic and reason with a significant dash of intuition and imagination) is a great tool for discovering things about the natural world, but is not quite as useful when it comes to understanding other aspects of the human experience.

    If you believe in Jesus’ physical resurrection, then you obviously place it on an important scale, as do most Christians. But, you’re saying that by denying it, I could still be connecting to the “restoration” of the world more than a fundamentalist. So, I still don’t understand how that could be, as it seems in this respect, you still have more in common with fudnamentalists (your view of Jesus and God) than you do me.

    I say that because I don’t think one has to believe all the right things in order to do the right things. And I don’t think the main thing God is concerned about is making sure that everyone is merely believing the right things.

    I’m just not convinced that you’re not leaving out what seems to be a very clear teaching of the consequences of those who reject Christ. Just because Jesus talks about it less than other things, doesn’t make it part of the backbone of the faith.

    I’m not trying to convince you to agree with me, but I do disagree that it is a “very clear teaching”. I’m not ignoring it, sidestepping it, or whatever, I just disagree with the conservative interpretations of it. I’m not interested in trying to convince you to agree with me, but if you want to read more on it check out Brian McLaren’s book “The Last Word and the Word After That”.

    Fact is, if I’m not in danger of hell, I don’t need Jesus anymore than I need the Buddha or my own wife.

    So escape from hell after we die is the only useful thing that Jesus could ever possibly provide us with? Things like healing, justice, reconciliation, peace, and basically putting right everything that has gone wrong in the world are all inconsequential goals?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Mike, I’m curious – as a philosophy major at Wheaton, was the material presented as it would be at a secular university, or from a Christian perspective? I’m aware that Wheaton is considered by many evangelicals to be on the liberal end of the spectrum, but I also know that it has its share of conservatives, and I understand they’ve been asserting themselves in recent years.

    Wheaton is still pretty conservative by most evangelical standards, though liberal according to fundamentalists.

    At any rate, I can’t compare my program to what it would be at a secular university since I’ve never experienced the latter. I studied the history of philosophy from the Sophists through Derrida, aesthetics, epistemology, logic, the nature of persons, and postmodern philosophy from Nietzsche and Heidegger through Levinas, Derrida and Gadamer. I skipped the philosophy of religion course, though of course we dealt with religious philosophers when it was relevant (e.g. Augustine, Aquinas, Marion, etc.) Christian perspectives were integrated throughout, but we interacted with many different viewpoints.

    I can’t speak across the board, but my wife did briefly attend a state school (University of Texas) and her impression comparing that with Wheaton was that there was actually more freedom of academic thought at Wheaton than at UT (though her experience was in the literature department). At Wheaton the profs presented and interacted with multiple theories of literary analysis, whereas at UT there was a departmental orthodoxy regarding which theory was the “correct” one, and the faculty and students were only allowed to utilize that particular approach.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    when comparing religion’s methodology and that of science.

    This just strikes me as such a weird false dichotomy. For one, religion isn’t a “methodology”, it’s a worldview. And in fact, my religious worldview includes science. Seems strange to talk about these as if they are opposites, when in my way of looking at things, one is already included within the other.

  • Spurs Fan

    So escape from hell after we die is the only useful thing that Jesus could ever possibly provide us with? Things like healing, justice, reconciliation, peace, and basically putting right everything that has gone wrong in the world are all inconsequential goals?

    No. But I still don’t see why Jesus would be the main person to bring this “healing”. And those things can lose their meaning to a person who may be “on the wrong track” or even on the “right track”

    I’m not trying to convince you to agree with me, but I do disagree that it is a “very clear teaching”.

    Mike, many of your Christian counterparts might disagree. But, we’ve been through this already. So, I guess my next question would be, if the teaching of Jesus regarding hell (and anything else for that matter) can be so easily intepreted in so many ways, what are we to make of it? How do we know who is right and who is not? If God wanted to provide healing, justice, reconciliation and peace, why is the question of heaven and hell and Jesus and the trinity and all of the other docrtines of Christianity so, let’s say, up in the air?

    I say that because I don’t think one has to believe all the right things in order to do the right things. And I don’t think the main thing God is concerned about is making sure that everyone is merely believing the right things.

    What? So I can do all the right things without believing the right things? And God is more concerned with my actions than my beliefs? Than why would God care if I rejected his only son as long as I was following his teachings? Why be a “Christian” at all, as long as you’re in line with the right action?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    No. But I still don’t see why Jesus would be the main person to bring this “healing”.

    Because Jesus is God. There’s a big difference, IMHO, between some good teacher (Gandhi, MLK, etc.) who presents a vision for a better world, but can give no guarantees that such a vision could ever be reached in world so full of injustice and evil; and God himself coming among us and saying “this vision is actually how I designed things to be, and I’m going to help us to get there.”

    So if Jesus is God in the flesh, then what he adds to the equation is the hope that our longing for a better world is not merely naive wishful thinking, but is actually the way things were meant to be from the very beginning, and that we are not alone in striving for that better world, but that God in Christ is actually working in us and through us by his Spirit to help bring it about.

    if the teaching of Jesus regarding hell (and anything else for that matter) can be so easily intepreted in so many ways, what are we to make of it? How do we know who is right and who is not?

    We don’t. We just do the best with what we have and choose the beliefs that make the most sense to us. I think it’s about time that we all started giving up our demands for absolute certainty and clarity, whether about religion or anything else.

    If God wanted to provide healing, justice, reconciliation and peace, why is the question of heaven and hell and Jesus and the trinity and all of the other docrtines of Christianity so, let’s say, up in the air?

    You answered your own question. It’s because God wants to provide “healing, justice, reconciliation and peace”, not merely create a bunch of people who have all the right answers to every theological question but don’t know how to actually live lives of love and justice. As St. Paul himself said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”, and elsewhere “If I can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

    What? So I can do all the right things without believing the right things?

    Of course you can. You already do. Think about it… do you already know everything? Are you confident that every one of your opinions about everything is 100% right? Unless you’re amazingly arrogant, I’m hoping you’d answer no. And yet you still do good things sometimes, don’t you? So of course it’s possible to live well even when you don’t know everything and even hold some wrong opinions.

    Of course beliefs do still matter. If one’s beliefs are that black people are inferior for example, then that is likely to negatively affect one’s ability to do good. But nonetheless, beliefs are still simply instrumental. The important thing is what they produce, not whether they are absolutely and always perfectly correct.

    And God is more concerned with my actions than my beliefs?

    Yes. Haven’t you ever read Matthew 25:31-46?

    Than why would God care if I rejected his only son as long as I was following his teachings? Why be a “Christian” at all, as long as you’re in line with the right action?

    If you are following Jesus’ teachings then you haven’t actually rejected him. As Jesus said in Luke 8:21 “My family is anyone who hears God’s word and puts it into practice.”

    It just doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me if you don’t believe certain things about Jesus (e.g. his divinity, etc.) All that will get sorted out in the end. I don’t think you’ll have any more doubts about it once you’re standing in front of him face to face. What’s more important in my opinion is whether, when that day comes, you’ve become the kind of person who can enter into God’s joy and God’s love, or whether you’re the kind of person who is too consumed with bitterness and self-centeredness and prejudice to gladly receive and enjoy the love God offers.

    To put it another way, I think God is more concerned about our transformation than about whether we have the right information.

    So why become a Christian? If by that you only mean converting to a religion, then maybe you’re better off not. It depends on whether to you that would be a step forward in your moral/spiritual formation or a step backwards. I’d rather someone be a “follower of the way of Christ”, but not a “Christian” than vice versa.

  • Spurs Fan

    Because Jesus is God.

    And yet in my denial of that, I’m still possibly on God’s path? Still part of the restoration made possible by the very god-person I reject? I obviously don’t agree with this statement, but I still think by making it, you are agreeing on a central point of the Christian faith, and getting your views from your faith in the Bible no less. This makes you similar to most believers, including those on the Fundamentalist side. I understand that idea that God did not create drones, but with the above being true, I’m not so sure how you and someone like James Dobson aren’t more similar in your outlook on things…if you believe the same central point and are endowed with the same holy spirit, how could your outlook on life be so different. How could you possibly be closer to me (I share your views on peace, social justice, etc.) when I lack the very Holy Spirit that is supposedly guiding both you and Dobson?

    but is actually the way things were meant to be from the very beginning

    What way is that? Your way or Dobson’s way? Somewhere in between? Many paths? The way that says interpetation is subjective and therefore, feel free to clarify what the text really means if it doesn’t fit your preconceived notions of what should be correct?

    As St. Paul himself said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”, and elsewhere “If I can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

    When I read this, I did a quick search on anything the apostle Paul may have said about hell…I was surprised to not find anything significant! Still, the Gospel of Matthew has some pretty harsh quotes about hell from jesus himself. I guess you could define “in danger of hell fire” as some sort of world restoration refinement, but it seems like an awful stretch. Granted I don’t know Greek, but damn, if everyone has to understand Greek, then why even have an English translation?

    Haven’t you ever read Matthew 25:31-46?

    Yes, I have. I can do all of these things without a belief in Christ. Forget Gandhi; my own children can teach me why these are good and noble things. We don’t need Jesus for this. He wasn’t the first or last to say these things. So, if this is “the way”, then it’s definitely not exclusive to Jesus and doesn’t need him to revolve around.

    In this same passage, Jesus refers to “eternal punishment”. Again, I’m not sure what that means, but I can’t imagine it meant, “you could be in the same place as those who are in heaven but it will just feel different since you have so much hate and selfishness” or something of that nature.

    Of course you can. You already do. Think about it… do you already know everything? Are you confident that every one of your opinions about everything is 100% right?

    Um, no. No, I don’t. But, I’m going beyond simple ignorance here. I’m saying that I’ve rejected the possibility that Jesus is God (for now). Again, I can’t read the Bible, or take the views of many believers without getting the picture that rejecting Christ is a bad thing. Other than Buddhism, I can’t think of any faith that would say you are doing (or believing) something good if you reject a founding principle of the faith.

    If you are following Jesus’ teachings then you haven’t actually rejected him.
    As Jesus said in Luke 8:21 “My family is anyone who hears God’s word and puts it into practice.”

    But, I’m rejecting much of “God’s word”. The genocide, tribal favortism, sexist laws, and mindless rantings of the OT and the damning to hell, idea of miracles, homophobia, and revelation fearmongering of the NT. I also happen to like many things in the Bible, those that make sense to me with the senses and abilities I have (without having to imagine them), like some of the wisdom of eccelasties or the proverbs, as well as some of Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings in the NT. Yet, I still don’t buy the most of the story. So, if I support the right of gays to be married, or have no problem with men lusting over woman with their eyes, then how can I be in line with God’s word? Something has to give here.

    It just doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me if you don’t believe certain things about Jesus (e.g. his divinity, etc.)

    Wow. This definition of Christianity would be so loose that it ceases to recognizable to me. My most basic definition of a Christian would be believing in the divinity of Christ. Do you really think the early church would say this? The Eastern Orthodox Church? How many factions of Christianity would say they agree with this quote? This would be like me saying you could be a Spurs fan, while still not liking Tim Duncan and hoping Kobe Bryant gets another championship this year (which, unfortunately may happen).

    All that will get sorted out in the end. I don’t think you’ll have any more doubts about it once you’re standing in front of him face to face.

    Mike, this sounds awfully similar to people who tell me they believe in heaven or hell, but are afraid to tell me I’m going there, so they say, “Only God knows”. Getting it sorted out in the end doesn’t help me now.

    What’s more important in my opinion is whether, when that day comes, you’ve become the kind of person who can enter into God’s joy and God’s love, or whether you’re the kind of person who is too consumed with bitterness and self-centeredness and prejudice to gladly receive and enjoy the love God offers.

    What does this even mean? Who is defining “God’s love”? If god is anything like he is in the OT, then you’re right, I’m damn sure going to be consumed with “bitterness and self-centerdness”. If he’s like jesus, I’d like him better, but still be “prejudiced” I imagine. By this standard, either you or James Dobson are going to be “in hell”. And you’ll be there for eternity.

    To put it another way, I think God is more concerned about our transformation than about whether we have the right information.

    This phrase sounds catchy, but I don’t think I would often apply it to my real life. Isn’t a transformation only possible if you first have the right information? My oldest child starts kindegarten this year…his education would be lacking if I didn’t know how to register, how to get to his school, who his teachers were, where to get his supplies, etc. He could still progress without these things, but his overall education would no doubt be stifled.

    Many of Paul’s missionary journeys seemed to be concerned with getting people the right information first (Jesus has risen from the dead, repent and be baptized, etc.) and then following up on the supposed transformation with future letters and visits.

    I’d rather someone be a “follower of the way of Christ”, but not a “Christian” than vice versa.

    I get this. But, I still don’t see why you you’re not a “follower of the way of goodness” or “follower of the way of humanity”, using Jesus as one of many exmaples of that (and not as a central figure). If that works for you, fine, but I still see the equation as Jesus+son of god+belief in the bible=all sort of good things, including being “saved” from something. If he’s a savior because he “saves” me from hell, then just be honest and tell me that accoridng your belief system, I’m going to (or will experience) “hell” and use the Bible to tell me how terrible that is. I despise Ray Comfort, but I feel he is being legit when he uses the parachute example — he tells me that I need Christ for many reasons, but the main one is that without him, I’ll be punished (Jesus seems to use the active verb…not just “experience punishment) eternally.

    Mike, I know we’re probably going in circles here. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between discussion and debate, but I think either can be enlightening in that it changes minds or forces someone to defend their arguments. Both can be beneficial I think.

    I’m am curious about something: You referenced the idea that you had experienced the “lens” of skepticism (or atheism or logic, etc.) before. Why didn’t that “lens” work for you?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    SF, I don’t know that there’s anything more I can say to explain my approach to Christianity to you. I feel like most of your questions are trying to take this approach and make it play by the rules of a different system (i.e. the fundamentalist Christianity that you’re used to). But what I’m describing is just a very different way of looking at Christianity in the first place – looking at it as a way of life, not just a set of beliefs. And my view of God is that he is a lot bigger than “Christianity” and is at work in the world (and yes, even in your life) even when the world doesn’t acknowledge him. So what if you don’t believe in Jesus? Does that somehow tie God’s hands from working in and through you? I don’t think so.

    I’m not claiming you’re a “Christian”. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still defining a Christian as someone who does believe in Jesus and is deliberately following him. I’m just saying that I don’t think that being a “Christian” is the only or even most important thing in God’s equation.

    Am I similar to Dobson or whoever? (You sure are hung up on him it seems, but I’m still not clear on why I should consider his version of Christianity normative.) Sure I guess, in some ways. So what? As you point out, we’re very different in other ways too. I’m just not that concerned about what he does or doesn’t think. I can only go with who I am and what makes sense to me.

    At any rate, if you don’t like my take on Christianity that’s fine. This is what makes sense to me based on years of study, reflection and practice but you can take it or leave it if it doesn’t make sense to you.

    I’m am curious about something: You referenced the idea that you had experienced the “lens” of skepticism (or atheism or logic, etc.) before. Why didn’t that “lens” work for you?

    Lots of reasons. Though to clarify, I’m still a skeptic according to the philosophical definition of the word, it was atheism, naturalism and Modernistic rationalism that didn’t work for me. Without getting too much into it, the main thing is that it was all just too reductionistic to me. Like I said above, reality and lived experience (not just my own, but that of so many diverse people and diverse cultures) just seemed far more complex and multifacted and even “spiritual” than a rationalistic, naturalistic worldview had room for. It was just too narrow of a box. I wanted to be a free thinker in the literal sense of the word, which shouldn’t just mean free from religion, but also free to explore religious ideas and experiences too if one chooses. I did and they worked for me.

  • Gary

    I’m still defining a Christian as someone who does believe in Jesus and is deliberately following him. I’m just saying that I don’t think that being a “Christian” is the only or even most important thing in God’s equation.

    OK, being a Christian is not the most important thing. Does it have any importance at all?

    Suppose I believe:

    1. That Jesus was not God.

    2. That God does not exist.

    Then what? Do you think that God cares about whether I think he exists?

  • Spurs Fan

    Mike,

    Fair enough.

    the fundamentalist Christianity that you’re used to

    I do want to say that while I haven’t attended an emergent-style church, I have delved into some of the different views of Christianity that you emergents would espouse (McLaren, etc.). So, I do not think that James Dobson is “normative”, I was only using him as an extreme to your view to try to paint a picture of why I believe the holy spirit is confusing. And Dobson is my example because unlike the Fred Phelps of the world, he is definitely widely-respected in evangelical culture (at least in the U.S.).

    I understand your point of view. I guess I would disagree with Sam Harris (who I can tell you have a lot of love for :)) somewhat: His idea of moderates giving cover to fundamentalist seems oversimplified. On the other hand, I do feel that moderates soften doctrines that they actually either believe because they don’t like them or feel ashamed of them, but still manage to accept some variation of them. I kind of think you don’t fit into that category as you really don’t seem willing to damn me to hell (or to tell me god is). On the other hand, you do say “All that will get sorted out in the end. I don’t think you’ll have any more doubts about it once you’re standing in front of him face to face.”. Hmmm…

    I did and they worked for me.

    I’d be curious to find out what “worked” means here. Atheism has not “worked” out as well I would like it to. I have the occasional tension with my Christian wife, I have to be a small minority in an area (Despite growing up just outside of the more progressive Austin area, I’m now in small town rural Texas) where “seperation of church and state” means that you don’t actually hold Sunday services in schools, and on a personal level, I find myself getting a little depressed. Still, it makes much more sense to me that a belief in god would not be the de facto position. So, I find beauty where I can and try to appreciate my little corner of it.

    At any rate, if you don’t like my take on Christianity that’s fine. This is what makes sense to me based on years of study, reflection and practice but you can take it or leave it if it doesn’t make sense to you.

    While I’ll continue to “leave it”, I appreciate the conversation. If I’ve challenged your courage in other areas, it definitely takes some to be involved on an atheist blog. See you around on other posts, and take care.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I kind of think you don’t fit into that category as you really don’t seem willing to damn me to hell (or to tell me god is). On the other hand, you do say “All that will get sorted out in the end. I don’t think you’ll have any more doubts about it once you’re standing in front of him face to face.”. Hmmm…

    I meant your beliefs would be sorted out in your own mind at that point – i.e. you’re going to find out eventually whether or not God exists, so I don’t see why God would make such a big deal about whether or not you believe it now. Again, I think God is more concerned about how you live and what kind of person you are becoming than with which religion or non-religion you choose.

    And to be clear, I did NOT mean that you’d be “sorted out” about going to heaven or hell. What I meant is that I don’t think intellectual beliefs about God’s existence or non-existence is the criterion on which a decision like that would be made in the first place since we’re all going to “believe” eventually anyway.

    I’d be curious to find out what “worked” means here.

    Intellectually/philosophically as well as experientially.

    Thanks for the conversation.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    OK, being a Christian is not the most important thing. Does it have any importance at all?

    Suppose I believe:

    1. That Jesus was not God.

    2. That God does not exist.

    Then what? Do you think that God cares about whether I think he exists?

    Yes. He’s just not using that as the basis for judging where to send people after they die.

  • Gary

    I meant your beliefs would be sorted out in your own mind at that point – i.e. you’re going to find out eventually whether or not God exists, so I don’t see why God would make such a big deal about whether or not you believe it now.

    Perhaps you meant to say, “If God exists, you’re going to find out eventually that he does.” If God doesn’t exist, are you actually going to find eventually that he doesnt? if so, what will this “finding out” be like?

  • Gary

    He’s just not using that as the basis for judging where to send people after they die.

    And, if I understand you correctly, God will make that judgment based on what kind of person I am after I’m dead?

  • cipher

    you’re going to find out eventually whether or not God exists, so I don’t see why God would make such a big deal about whether or not you believe it now. Again, I think God is more concerned about how you live and what kind of person you are becoming than with which religion or non-religion you choose.

    And to be clear, I did NOT mean that you’d be “sorted out” about going to heaven or hell. What I meant is that I don’t think intellectual beliefs about God’s existence or non-existence is the criterion on which a decision like that would be made in the first place since we’re all going to “believe” eventually anyway.

    Mike I’ve been trying to get this point across to Christians since I was younger than you. I’ve never had any success. It ALWAYS comes down to “faith” and “free will” – two concepts they rarely understand, and are invariably ill-prepared to defend – but that never seems to stop them!

    I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear a self-defined Christian, let alone one with evangelical leanings, make such a statement. However, it confirms my suspicion that you really are beyond the pale of 2,000 years of Christianity orthodoxy. I said the other day that I’d be shocked to find that a significant number of pre-modern Christians, even scholars, would be willing to extend salvation to an atheist and a Jew. You disagreed, so I let it pass. However, I can’t begin to imagine that any but a handful of heterodox Christians (the Universalists, for example) would accept the idea that God wouldn’t make a “big deal” out of whether or not we believe in him, because “we’ll find out eventually anyway”.

    Someone asked me a few weeks ago if I was saying that you aren’t really a Christian. I replied that I don’t play for the team, so it isn’t up to me to say who does or doesn’t get to wear the jacket. I still won’t say it, but, I will say this – if I were a Christian, in the manner of 99% of Christians who have ever lived, I’d probably have to say that you aren’t a Christian. And I mean this as a compliment.

    Mike, if you’re right, and I were to find myself face to face with God, I can’t see what difference it would make in my “beliefs” about him. As I’ve told you, I’m not like most atheists – I don’t find inherent beauty or meaning in life. I find it appalling, and, if He exists, I see no way in which it cannot be His fault. Theists like to think that, in the end, God is going to enable them to see the “big picture”, from His perspective. I think that’s nonsense. I can’t even conceptualize a scenario in which anything He could possibly tell me would make palatable 10,000 years of human misery. An eternity of bliss wouldn’t make up for it – not from my perspective, in any case. There is simply nothing, no jigsaw piece that he can offer me that will enable me to say, “Oh! NOW I get it!”

    You can see why I find dialogue with most Christians impossible. Also, I’ve become so bitter and self-enclosed that I am probably an example of the sort of person who, by your (admittedly liberal) standards, does eventually end up in hell.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    you’re going to find out eventually whether or not God exist

    How do you know? Even if God exists, that does not mean heaven exists or that we will continue to exist after death. The existence of God does not automatically mean that there is an afterlife for humans.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Perhaps you meant to say, “If God exists, you’re going to find out eventually that he does.”

    Yes, that is what I meant. Obviously I was speaking from the perspective of my own beliefs.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    “He’s just not using that as the basis for judging where to send people after they die.”

    And, if I understand you correctly, God will make that judgment based on what kind of person I am after I’m dead?

    In a manner of speaking, yes; though I don’t look at it so much as a legal sentence (the courtroom metaphor doesn’t do much for me) as simply the natural consequences of who we’ve become.

    Also, I don’t think it’s actually a matter of sending people anywhere. As I’ve said before, I follow the ancient Eastern Orthodox belief that Heaven and Hell are not two separate places or realities, but simply the same place/reality experienced differently. Love is given freely to all, but for some who incapable of receiving or returning it, this love will feel like torment. So yes, IMHO it comes down to whether you have become that kind of person or not.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    if I were a Christian, in the manner of 99% of Christians who have ever lived, I’d probably have to say that you aren’t a Christian. And I mean this as a compliment.

    LOL. Thanks. :)

    As I’ve told you, I’m not like most atheists – I don’t find inherent beauty or meaning in life. I find it appalling, and, if He exists, I see no way in which it cannot be His fault.

    cipher, quite apart from any debate about theism or atheism or anything else, can I just say that I’m honestly concerned for you. I am a pretty melancholic and cynical personality myself and I can certainly identify with the kind of existential angst you’ve described here and before (I think you’d be surprised at how many Christians could also relate. Have you ever read the book of Ecclesiastes?), but I still see a lot of beauty and joy in life and I’d definitely say that on the whole existence is preferable to non-existence. Please hear me, if life really does seem so bleak to you – I mean if this is your lived experience and not just a philosophical point that you’re making – then I really hope you’ll seek some sort of counseling, or just a community of friends that can help you discover some joy and meaning in life.

  • Gary

    Also, I don’t think it’s actually a matter of sending people anywhere. As I’ve said before, I follow the ancient Eastern Orthodox belief that Heaven and Hell are not two separate places or realities, but simply the same place/reality experienced differently. Love is given freely to all, but for some who incapable of receiving or returning it, this love will feel like torment. So yes, IMHO it comes down to whether you have become that kind of person or not.

    I’m personally not expecting an aferlife. If I were dead, and then found out I wasn’t dead, it could very easily be a life-changing experience for me (if you know what I mean). So what kind of person I would be at that point could be very much different from the kind of person I had been before I died. Could it be the case that how I would experience this “same place/reality experienced differently” in my after-death life might have very little to do with what kind of person I had been in my before-death life?

    What about the possibility that how one would experience the “same place/reality experienced differently” in the afterlife could change over time, so that a given individual might experience it as both Heaven and Hell at different times? Or are you assuming that, in the afterlife, all our personalities will become, as it were frozen in time?

    If there really is an afterlife, I guess we’ll all only find out whether it’s like what you think it’s like in the “sooner or later”, eh?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I’m personally not expecting an aferlife. If I were dead, and then found out I wasn’t dead, it could very easily be a life-changing experience for me (if you know what I mean). So what kind of person I would be at that point could be very much different from the kind of person I had been before I died. Could it be the case that how I would experience this “same place/reality experienced differently” in my after-death life might have very little to do with what kind of person I had been in my before-death life?

    What about the possibility that how one would experience the “same place/reality experienced differently” in the afterlife could change over time, so that a given individual might experience it as both Heaven and Hell at different times?

    Yes, those are all possibilities that I have heard various Christians theologians and others discuss. Ultimately the Bible just doesn’t talk that much about what happens after we die, so we don’t have a lot to go on, and there are a lot of possibilities. Which is why I come back to what I’ve said repeatedly, which is that the main point of the Christian gospel is not about what happens when we die, but about the present reality of the kingdom of God in the here and now.

  • Spurs Fan

    I…just…can’t..leave…this…post….

    cipher, quite apart from any debate about theism or atheism or anything else, can I just say that I’m honestly concerned for you

    I find myself agreeing with Mike here (shocker!). After all, Cipher, you’re free to get whatever meaning out life (or lack of) that you want. You’re a grown, er, person, and I don’t necessarily think your way of thinking is unhealthy.

    Still, I do find this to be an interesting topic. After moving from my christian faith of many years to just now really embracing my atheism, I’ve struggled with finding new “meaning”, and I must say that I’m beginning to come across it, most of it in the every day sense (the joy of wrestling with my two small children, great conversation with my wife and friends, satisfaction in my work, happiness in service to fellow human beings whenver I can offer it, etc.), as opposed to the “grand scheme” sense. So, I’m interested in why you feel this way…

  • cipher

    Have you ever read the book of Ecclesiastes?

    Sure. In fact, I’m friendly with an Orthodox rabbi who made a similar observation the other day; said I was like the author. I agree, of course, with Kohelet (except for the disclaimer at the end!); it’s the only honest book in there!

    I still see a lot of beauty and joy in life and I’d definitely say that on the whole existence is preferable to non-existence.

    Well, it’s a matter of perspective. I think that, on the whole, Christian theology has been shaped by those who are existence-affirmating, as opposed to existence-negating. I said this here the other day; I once heard a Catholic priest say that it is better to exist than not to, and that eternity in hell is actually a gift from God in that one still gets to exist. Of course, he didn’t have the advantage of being able to ask someone there! (Christians tend to philosophize freely when someone else’s eternity is on the line!)

    Please hear me, if life really does seem so bleak to you – I mean if this is your lived experience and not just a philosophical point that you’re making – then I really hope you’ll seek some sort of counseling, or just a community of friends that can help you discover some joy and meaning in life.

    It is my lived experience, which is my point, actually – I’m aware of pretty much all of the theodicies the world’s faiths have been able to conjure, and I can see no way in which the enormity of the suffering of sentient beings isn’t Gods fault – if He exists. My point was that, although I agree with you that our faith in God’s existence shouldn’t really be important to him – unless He’s some sort of massive ego case, which really is how most Christians picture Him, although they’d never acknowledge it (they seem to be especially obsessed with the concept of His “honor”, for some reason – “God will not be mocked!”) – I can’t see any way in which being face to face with Him would change my mind. If He exists, He’s impotent, or psychotic, or a bastard, or all three.

    Also – this presupposes that our individuality survives the death process intact. If we accept continuity of consciousness for the sake of discussion, the experience of mystics of all traditions – those who’ve supposedly had direct, unmediated experience of the Absolute – has always been that we aren’t who we think we are, that our individuality is illusory. So, who is it who is going to be “face to face” with God?

    Re: counseling – been there. More useless than religion. Thanks for your concern, but I’ll be all right. I’m 51, and I’m still here. (Seriously, though – all that pastoral training, and that’s the best you can come up with – “See a shrink”?!)

    I’ll say one more thing. Mike, you’re encountering me at the tail end of more than thirty years of meandering through the world’s religions. Without going into it in detail, I went looking for God. I didn’t find him. It wasn’t a purely academic exercise; I was engaged in a “quest for meaning” (I never know how to describe it in a way that doesn’t sound clichéd). I think I can trust you not to pull the typical Christian rationalizations on me (you didn’t really want to believe, you didn’t see what was right in front of you, etc.), so I’ll ask you this – if He exists, if we are as precious to Him as you people are always saying we are, why did I walk away empty-handed? You believe that Christianity represents His fullest revelation to us. Why didn’t I get it? If it can’t save one eager, seeking individual (and a Jew, no less – one of His chosen people!) who searched earnestly and wanted desperately to believe – what good is it?

  • cipher

    So, I’m interested in why you feel this way…

    You mean me?

    That, unfortunately, is beyond the scope of this blog. Let’s just say that I’m the end result of my experiences, as are we all. As I just said to Mike – it’s a matter of perspective.


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