On God and Relationships with Others

Blogger Lana has posed a fascinating question: Why does theology affect how we relate to each other? The related question, of course, is how theology affects how people relate to each other. Here is what Lana has to say:

I think ideas do matter. Because we are not just emotion, but are also mind, our ideas effect how we relate to other people (and if your a Christian, your view of God).

For example, I no longer believe everyone who is not a Christian goes to hell. This has changed my view of other people a lot. It has also changed my view of God. When I was a Calvinist, I saw God as one who saved who he wanted — for his glory — and dammed other people to hell — for his glory. On a homeschool forum in high school, I even started a thread entitled, “Is God selfish?” where I argued that God could not be selfish because the definition of selfishness is not focusing on God (admittedly my Calvinistic definition); the hypocrisy of the whole argument is that inside I was deeply troubled by a God who was more concerned with his glory than giving others a chance for salvation.

When I gave up Calvinism, and later the traditional understanding of hell, I was able to see God as much more loving, and I also felt more comfortable socializing with those who were not a Christian. I felt more free to share God’s love with them because I began to see salvation as an inward experience of God rather than an event or prayer that keeps people out of hell.

It makes sense that my understanding of theology effects my ability to relate to other people.

Kacy, another blogger, has written an excellent and thought provoking response to Lana’s question in God, the Third Wheel.

One of the reasons I left religion is because I realized I loved my own children more than I loved God. I knew that if someone threatened to kill my children unless I denied God, that I would deny God in a heartbeat and never feel bad about that decision. It was then I realized that PEOPLE were more important than personal beliefs about God and that I didn’t want to belong to any religion that said God had to be number 1 (pretty much all of them). I had a similar experience to the way I related to my husband in our marriage. There was always God, the third wheel, and I was told that keeping God close would enhance our marriage. It really didn’t. In fact, I realized I could be more open and honest with my husband when I didn’t feel the need to temper my speech through Christian-ese. Leaving Christianity has freed my heart, to love others, without the mediation God as a third wheel in human relationships.

I think both Lana and Kacy bring up some extremely important points.

Like Lana, when I stopped believing that everyone who didn’t trust in Jesus’ blood for their salvation was doomed to eternal torment in hell, the way I related to and viewed those around me was completely transformed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: becoming an atheist has made me a kinder and more compassionate person. Leaving my conservative evangelical beliefs behind freed me to truly love people as people. I no longer make every relationship about converting people, I no longer view those who don’t share my beliefs as somehow “other” and doomed or sinful, and the result is that I can view others as people rather than through a filter of sorts.

I also love what Kacy said about God being a third wheel, because my experiences mirror hers exactly. Like Kacy says, I was always taught that having God involved in your relationships with others improved and deepened those relationships, and that those who didn’t believe in God could never truly love anyone but themselves. Here is an excellent example of what I was taught, complete with a diagram I remember being shown in church and Bible club:

Here is a diagram that I drew on a napkin for someone once to help explain how every relationship we have here on earth has to be a “relationship triangle” or it won’t work. This applies to every relationship; husband & wife, boyfriend & girlfriend, parent & child, brother & sister, etc. No matter how hard you try to get close to each other, you will never get closer than the opposite sides of the wall that divides you. The only way to get truly close to each other is if each person in the relationship is focusing on their personal relationship with God. As you both grow closer to God, you will both grow closer to each other.

The closer each person is to God, the closer they get to each other.

The further away each person is from God the further away they get from each other.

At the time, of course, I believed every word of this. But in the end, my own experiences have been very much the opposite. Like with Kacy, God functioned as a third wheel in every relationship I had, be it with a significant other or with a sibling or with at friend. Trying to get closer to God didn’t bring me closer to other people in my life as I was promised it would. Indeed, God was the silent third partner in every relationship, always present and not infrequently threatening to come in between me and others in a variety of ways. God simply got in the way.

Anyway, many thanks to Lana for posing the question and to Kacy for taking it up in such a very adept and eloquent way. What about everyone else? What are your thoughts and experiences on this issue? How would you answer Lana’s question?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Steve

    It’s “affect” in this context :)

    “to effect” means “to cause” which isn’t quite right here.

    • Uly

      The general rule of thumb is that nine times out of ten, when you use a verb you mean affect and when you use a noun you mean effect. The other one time will really screw you up, but they don’t happen that often.

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        This is Murphy’s law, the sooner you said it, the sooner a title post with that exception came around XP

  • smrnda

    Third wheels or third parties can screw up lots of relationships of all kinds. Rather than relating to the other person openly and honestly, you’re constantly told that there’s a third party you should go to for advice or validation first, and then you approach your SO or parents or child with the plan the Third Party gave you.

    I kind of noticed this when I did a stint of attending an evangelical church for a while. The church would have never said this openly, but it seemed like they were waging a war against love and marriage as I understood them. To me, the two people whose opinions matter in a marriage are the people who are married. It’s not a terrible idea to occasionally go to a third party, but this should really be at a minimum.

    But it seemed like the goal of the church was to drive a wedge between husbands and wives, and marriage turned into a performance which was built around meeting group expectations rather than about intimacy with the other person. The men would get into a men’s discipleship group, and a man would serve as a leader and mentor who would tell them men how to be good husbands. (If you want to be a good husband, listen to your wife.) Likewise, the women would get partitioned and then a woman would mentor the women and tel them how to be good wives, and then occasionally a man might step in to give the ladies an insight into the male mind. To me this made no sense, since I don’t think there’s any possibility that these third parties could know enough about individual relationships to do any good.

    To me, it seemed like a bunch of nosy people who couldn’t stand that other people had a private life or relationship from which the Group was excluded. Couples who didn’t want to ‘open up’ and tell the Group everything about their marriage, and then be open and grateful for all advice wouldn’t have lasted long. Perhaps this was filling a need that some people have to present themselves as experts on all topics, but it just seemed the opposite of intimacy.

    I’ve always wondered why people would do that, but I think in the Christian world (perhaps all religions) marriage is seen as a kind of merit badge, and you don’t get your merit badge unless you do it right (according to your local orthodoxy.) It isn’t a relationship between two people who happen to be capable of a connection with each other that isn’t possible with just anyone else – it’s meeting expectations of the group to gain status and approval.

    But yeah, it makes you filter yourself through the standards of the faith you belong to, and makes other people have an expectation that you will do this, and then they feel like you don’t want them as they are, but also filtered through the religion.

    • Mogg

      In situations like this, the group (or authority such as the pastor or elders) exert pressure to conform, and if you don’t you don’t get to be a member of the group, or yes, earn your marriage merit badge because you aren’t good enough. At its worst, it also gives leaders of the church a dirt file on you so that if you’re not conforming they have a weapon in the form of information which they can publicise in order to force your compliance, or to ostracise you by letting everyone know that your behaviour was not up to scratch. It’s amazing how often I heard rumours of a private nature about someone who had left the church – almost certainly information told to elders in confidence. I have no doubt that the same thing happened to me after I left.

    • Steve

      That kind of cult-like behavior and control seems to be pretty common in fundie churches from what I’ve read. It’s really about controlling every aspect of people’s life and robbing them of their inviduality. As Mogg said forcing people to conform in order to define the “in group” more clearly. They just dress it up as advice and help so people don’t realize it.

    • Ibis3

      I think in the Christian world (perhaps all religions) marriage is seen as a kind of merit badge

      And isn’t it strange to think that, for hundreds of years, marriage was seen by Christians as almost a failure–at best, a second-rate way of living? For centuries, the way you got the merit badge was to renounce marriage and live in celibacy.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    I definitely get what you mean about how believing everyone else is going to hell stopped you from valuing people as people- instead, every interaction has to be about converting them. I’m a Christian, and that’s something I think about- how Jesus put so much emphasis on LOVING others, but how do I fit that in with a belief in hell? So now I’m questioning the concept of hell. Wish me luck. :)

    • Makoto

      Not sure if this will help – I’m a former Christian, now atheist, over such issues – but my thought process as a Christian was that the bible and other writings/translations/tenets were done by humans, who have agendas. They are imperfect, and therefore the whole concept of hell may have been created due to the humans’ imperfection.

      Hope that helps! These days I just hope to help others and do what I can to make the world a better place, as I see it as our one shot to do the right thing. No need to worry about hell or rewards, just about loving people.

    • http://www.mymusingcorner.wordpress.com/ Lana

      lol, I wish you luck. :) If you are a Christian, perhaps you have heard of or might be interested in this perspective of the hell concept. http://christianstt.com/by-his-blood-is-grace-just-another-way-of-saying-universalism/

      Basically its saying that Jesus “saved” everyone, but some experience God, others don’t. Those who experience God on this earth will have a deep experience in heaven. Those who don’t want have that experience in heaven, their experience will be much darker. I am not entirely comfortable with that position (still researching as I probably don’t understand it), but the scriptures they use do raise some good points.

    • http://www.lara-thinkingoutloud.blogspot.com Lara

      Yes! Good Luck! Have you ever read anything by Brian McLaren? He has been really helpful for me in my journey.

    • http://Patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      You might find this post from a blog I follow interesting. Best of luck!

  • http://belljaimie@ymail.com Jaimie

    Having god in a relationship can screw up a heck of alot. Since the Holy Spirit is basically just a mental projection of beliefs, prejudices, and personal desires, then who’s do we believe when there is a clash? The Christian community says defer to the man.

    Since these women shared about their beliefs in Hell, I thought I would too. Hell is the first thing I stopped believing in. Then, the desire NOT to go to Heaven. Pretty weird, but I was slowly coming to the realization that I didn’t like god very much and I was not looking forward to spending eternity with him. Other beliefs dropped off, and for an outsider looking into my brain, it would seem like no in particular order. At the end, they all came crashing down.
    Jesus as savior was the hardest because we are so indoctrinated to believe in the virgin birth and resurrection. The fissure that started the widening crack in that system was “he ascended into Heaven”, supposedly in bodily form. Since ancient people generally believed that Heaven was up and Hell was down, this made perfect sense for them. In today’s knowledge of the world, I had to ask the question, ok, where did he go? Outer space?
    I know many people have beliefs that dropped off and still shoulder on in their religion. I was one of them. When I finally cast off those shackles I was, as the Bible says, free indeed!

  • Rosie

    It’s way easier for me to be accepting of myself and other people now that there’s no Hell to worry about. And that thing about bringing God into relationships never did work out for me either. The most it ever did was give the abusive boyfriend an unquestionable authority to back up his abuse.

  • http://complicatedfeelingsabout.wordpress.com Katherine

    This is interesting to me.
    I hear where you are coming from, but I have a very very different experience. Granted, I am not Christian, I do not believe in hell, and I do not see god as an authoritarian force in my life. In all of my previous relationships any religious/spiritual practice I had was distinct and completely separate from the relationship. It had a tendency to make me feel like I couldn’t ever open up all the way to those partners, because my beliefs are important to me and it seemed that I could never share that part of myself. Nowadays, my fiancee and I pray together on the regular, and it definitely feels like it makes our relationship stronger. It’s not like the triangle (although, if the triangle is to be believed that moving TOWARDS YOUR PARTNER (or any other person you have a relationship with) would also make you closer to god, and that is something interesting to think about) it isn’t necessary or required for our closeness, but it does seem to help.
    I know some religious people might see this as an insult… but I think it’s like a hobby. If you feel similarly about it, and it makes you both feel good, it can be wonderful to share that. But if you have a major disagreement about religion, or if god makes one or both of you feel guilty or shameful or bad… then maybe it works the opposite way. But when Christians talk about how “putting god at their center of their relationships” makes those relationships stronger, I think I understand something about the emotional place that comes from.

    • http://complicatedfeelingsabout.wordpress.com Katherine

      but you know, that’s probably a very specific thing that only happens when two religious-humanist, kind-of-pagany, gay ladies meet each other. I realize I am by far the minority.

      • Hilary

        Or Liberal feminist type Jewish gay ladies. :-)

      • http://complicatedfeelingsabout.wordpress.com Katherine

        Yes! I realized after I wrote that that probably LOTS of folks who fall into all sorts of different categories could have the same (or a similar) positive experience to ours. I just wanted to point out that it’s very specific in many ways and the majority of American religion seems to push folks into the kind of interactions Libby is talking about here. I feel lucky that my experience was different, and happy for everyone else who also had a positive experience with this stuff!

  • TheSeravy

    Bottomline, dyfunction is the foundation of religion and they profit from it. By policing relationships, they get rid of competition and create problems. You keep going back to the same people who created the problem in the first place. You buy the books, the audiotapes, bumper stickers,, attend talks, donate, Quiverfull approved gender appropriate gifts etc. It’s a very convenient cycle.

    • Kodie

      If it feels like it’s not working, that means it’s working.

      • Mogg

        And if it feels like it’s working, then you’re obviously doing something wrong because, you know, only sinners get an easy time in this life, don’tcha know.

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com krwordgazer

    Except for the period of my life that I was in fundamentalist religion, my experience of God has been positive. I don’t find God to be a “third wheel” in any of my relationships because my relationship with God is not about fundie-style guilt and competition between the spiritual and the natural. On the contrary, I find that viewing all humans as loved by God and made in God’s image, makes it easier for me to accept each person for whoever they are. Not all religion is dysfunctional. Hell is not a required belief of Christianity, and neither is the us-them mentality.

    • M

      If Hell isn’t a required belief of Christianity, what is? I know that sounds kind of snarky, but it really isn’t. What is your base definition of a Christian?

      • ctcss

        Why do you think belief in Hell needs to be a central belief for a a Christian? A Christian is simply someone who follows Christ. In my religious upbringing, I was taught universal salvation, that hell does not exist, nor does the devil. I also was never taught to regard Jesus as God, but rather as the son of God. Thus, the point of following Christ was not a negative one (trying to avoid eternal punishment in hell) but rather was a positive one (seeking to understand what it means to be a child of God, that is, to seek to understand God in the same way that Jesus understood God.)

        Not every religious outlook is focused on a negative goal. Given a free society, it certainly seems possible for a person, should they desire it, to seek out a theology that offers hope rather than condemnation and fear. After all, “gospel” means “good news”, not frightening or dismaying news. Given that Jesus’ ministry seemed to focus on healing and redemption (caring for the needs of the sinful, the downtrodden, the grieving, the sick, and the outcast), a positive goal for Christian theology seems rather apt to me.

  • Asher Jean

    I started off life as a fundamentalist evangelical conservative, went through a brief spell as a liberal Christian, slid into atheism, and then after a bit I came back to Christianity – definitely a progressive branch of it, but still solidly “orthodox” as it has been defined by the historic Church. So “I’ve been everywhere, man, I’ve been everywhere”.

    This ring true to me. I remember the sense of total betrayal that I felt when I left Christianity, and my friends instantly “project-ed” me – LET’S GET HER BACK, TEAM! The worst part was knowing that I had done that to every single one of my atheist/other-religioned friends. I felt sick, because I knew exactly how everyone saw me now – I knew that I was no longer a full human being who liked P!nk and ate vegan and thought working out was stupid – ALL I WAS was now a single issue – I was a “non-believer.” I had lost my 3D existence. Just like I had been taking away the 3D existence of every non-Christian I had ever met until then.

    Now, when I did ultimately come back to Jesus it was pretty much without anyone “leading me” to faith. It was some books, some well placed comments by a ridiculous, self-righteous little man who could have had NO idea the impact his words would have, and mostly: some people who cared for me irregardless of my religious status. They loved me like you would not believe. They were not busy trying to save me. They just took care of me.

    Since then, and since returning to Christianity, things have changed for me. I think that my “job”, as a Christian, is just to love people. To love them well, to love them regardless of what they believe or what they do, and to show that love in real and tangible ways. I still believe in “hell” (more in a “Great Divorce” sort of way – as in, “all souls that are in hell choose it”, and that without that choice there can be no hell, and that there is perhaps an eternity in which to continue to have the opportunity to make that choice). But I don’t see myself as a savior anymore. Jesus does that crap. My role is to love. If someone doesn’t encounter Jesus through me, that doesn’t mean that they never will. I don’t feel pressure any more. I meet people, I try and love them, and I put it all in God’s hands. Maybe they will find God through a self-righteous, foolish man with no compassion in him at all, like I did. Maybe they will find God in a book. Maybe they’ll find God in an airplane. Damned if I know. That’s not my job.

    Essentially, when Christians imagine that the salvation of the world rests on their shoulders, people become objects. When we assume that without us, God can’t work, we make ourselves gods and we are bad at that. When we assume that if WE don’t get the Gospel in, it will never get in, we show a lack of trust. When we just love, recklessly, without worrying about the consequences, we’re trusting that God saves, not us.

    So those are my thoughts. Tl;dr – Christians should stop evangelizing. :-)

  • http://thechurchproject.me Tracey

    Wanted to add that I didn’t have a negative God-as-third-wheel experience. I always took the two great commandments (love God and love others) as one thing. Loving others was loving God. Hearing other comments on this, I suppose it may have been related to the fact that as Catholics we tend to place low to no priority on converting people. I’m not really Catholic anymore, but I appreciate this as one of the positives Catholicism gave me.

    As for hell…I guess I haven’t decided. I do recall once hearing a story that hell is a place where people are seated at a glorious feast but no one can eat it because their arms are straight and cannot bend to put food in their mouths. As it turns out, heaven is exactly the same, a banquet attended by people with unbending arms. The difference is that in heaven, the people feed each other. I always liked this because it emphasizes our choices and outlook rather than a tyrannical God.

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com krwordgazer

    To M:
    At some point along the line it was pointed out to me that practically all the references to Hell in the New Testament (there are none in the Old Testament – “Sheol” is a word that means “the grave,” not “Hell” as Christians think of it) occur either in Jesus’ parables or in the highly symbolized book of Revelation. Exactly what Jesus meant when he referred to “Gehenna” (translated “Hell” but actually an apparently metaphorical reference to the garbage dump outside Jerusalem) is not nearly as clear in the Bible as many Christians claim it is. The traditional doctrine of Hell is certainly open to question; universalism (all will be saved) and annihilationism (the truly wicked, like Hitler, will be completely destroyed) are also positions held by Christians who adhere to the foundational teachings of Christianity.
    I think the foundational teachings of Christianity are: there is one God; Jesus is the divine Son of God; humans need salvation and Jesus is the Savior who gives eternal life; the Holy Spirit of God enters our hearts upon salvation to help us live as Jesus wants us to; and we should respond to God’s love for us by living a life of love and service to our fellow human beings.
    Anyone who believes these things, I would call a Christian. Believing in Hell is not required.

    • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com krwordgazer

      I might add that I myself share the core evangelical beliefs that the resurrection of Christ occurred as an actual event in history; that the Bible is inspired by God and authoritative for faith and practice (though I don’t agree that it is “inerrant” or a “divine how-to book” of rules for life as fundamentalists do); that the Holy Spirit regenerates the human heart upon conversion; that the one God is Triune in nature; and that Christ will one day return in the flesh to set everything right on earth. I think evangelicals and fundamentalists have added a lot more to these basic beliefs than is necessary, and that it’s very sad that they use doctrines like inerrancy, young-earth Creationism, male authority over females, automatic damnation of everyone in other religions, and exclusion of LGBTQ people, as tests to reject the orthodoxy of everyone else.

      • http://www.mymusingcorner.wordpress.com/ Lana

        My question is when has our doctrine ever “saved” someone according to our own preachers? Yet, people disagree with mainstream, and somehow doctrine makes all the difference. I agree with you that the Bible is vague about hell. Another interesting perspective is the Trinitarian one. Basically the idea is that everyone has been saved and is going to heaven, but not everyone is going to like it. for those who don’t want to be there, it is hell. I am not sure I agree with that few, but I can see a good case in scripture that everyone’s sins has always been redeemed, that when Jesus said, “father forgive them, they know not what they are doing,” that forgiveness extended to people whether or not they knew God.

      • machintelligence

        Basically the idea is that everyone has been saved and is going to heaven, but not everyone is going to like it. for those who don’t want to be there, it is hell.

        You may be on to something there.

        In a speech by Christopher Hitchens I recently saw he described heaven as a celestial North Korea. I thought it was marvellous. Thoughts?….

        “[Religious belief] is a totalitarian belief. It is the wish to be a slave. It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengeable, tyrannical authority who can convict you of thought crime while you are asleep, who can subject you – who must, indeed, subject you – to total surveillance around the clock every waking and sleeping minute of your life – I say, of your life – before you’re born and, even worse and where the real fun begins, after you’re dead. A celestial North Korea. Who wants this to be true? Who but a slave desires such a ghastly fate? I’ve been to North Korea. It has a dead man as its president, Kim Jong-Il is only head of the party and head of the army. He’s not head of the state. That office belongs to his deceased father, Kim Il-Sung. It’s a necrocracy, a thanatocracy. It’s one short of a trinity I might add. The son is the reincarnation of the father. It is the most revolting and utter and absolute and heartless tyranny the human species has ever evolved. But at least you can ******* die and leave North Korea!”

        Or for another view: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zNdMc6wGtU

      • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com krwordgazer

        Machineintelligence, I think that the North Korea analogy does describe spiritually abusive religion. It is certainly not true that it describes all religion– and as to why people believe in/accept spiritually abusive religion, I think there is a psychology of abuse that applies to this, as to other kinds of control and abuse.
        The picture of God that Hitchens depicts comes very close to being a straw man; I can’t speak for other religions, but it is only a segment of Christianity that comes anywhere near believing in a totalitarian tyrant god.

  • Hilary

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because I do use my religious beliefs to navigate relationships, and I think – I try – to be ethical and kind. So am I an ethical person because of my beliefs, or did I pick and choose specifc beliefs out of my religious traditions because of innate ethics? I don’t have that answered, but I do know what impact different parts of my religious upbringing have had on me.

    I am a liberal, feminist Reform Jew, not Christian, not athiest formerly Christian, and not fundamentalist of any type. I’ve never had to worry about non-Jews going to hell, because we don’t believe you have to be Jewish to be ‘saved’ and we don’t believe in original sin. The righteous of all people have a place in the world to come, and I don’t have to worry about the fate of anybody’s soul but my own. I follow the Jewish belief of sin, which is that we are all born innocent, we are all born equally created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of G-d, and we all have a yetzer ha-rah, an impulse for evil, and a yetzer ha-tov, an impulse for good. Part of the sabbath morning prayers includes reciting “Elohai neshema shenatata bi tehorah hi” O G-d, the soul you have given me is pure.

    So every human being that I deal with or hear about, I have to remember that they were once born innocent, and have the potential for both good and evil, no matter what jerks they are in real life, or how horrible I hear what they’ve done in the news. This does not mean I don’t protect myself or other people from human cruelty, but it helps me to remember not to de-humanize or demonize people who I disagree with or who have done horrible things. Yes, they must be held accountable to justice in this world, here and now. Still, this has helped me to step back and calm down when dealing with difficult people in my life.

    The rituals of Passover and Yom Kippur have impacted me too. I take these holiday’s seriously, I keep the Yom Kippur fast, and stick to matzah for a week, and I take the services, seders, and litergy seriously. Not literally, but I allow them to give me meaning. In Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, we recite that for sins between one person and G-d the Day of Atonement will atone, but for sins between people Yom Kippur will not atone until the people have made peace with each other. So whatever I do, my relationship with G-d is my busness, but I can’t just pray for forgiveness if I’m cruel or a jerk to another person I have to seriously try to make amends. I am accountable for my relationships with other people and when things go wrong that can’t just be wiped clean and forgiven with a prayer.

    During Passover, there is a point in the seder (the ritual meal) where four children ask a question, the wise child, the wicked child, the simple child, and the child who doesn’t even know what or how to ask. That each type of person is included – wise, wicked, simple, and not even knowing how to start – has impressed on me that all types have to be listened to. You don’t just listen to the one voice you agree with, listen to who disagrees with you, and pay attention to the one who sits in silence not knowing even how to ask.

    I also take seriously the decree against lashon hara, the evil tongue. The Rabbis of the Talmud stated that to cause a person to blush with shame is the same as to have spilled their blood, so it is against my religious beliefs to gossip and slander. If there is one ethical principle I really, really, *really* try to uphold it is this one, both in real life and online. I’ve studied the Pirke Avot and some of the ethics that I’ve learned there I’ve internalized to be part of my ethical code.

    The Pirke Avot is part of the Misheh, the collection of Jewish law, ethicis, religous practices and stories written around 200 ad, from the works of the great sages and Rabbis of the 1st and 2nd century (**cough cough Pharisees cough**) The Mishneh along with it’s commentary form the basis for the Talmud. These are some of the sayings that I use for my own ethics:

    “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to others. The rest of the Law is commentary on that, go and study.” So if I don’t know what to do, I can at least think what I would not want done to me, and then I need to go and study the issue so I understand better what another person different from me is dealing with.

    “Find yourself a teacher, get yourself a friend, and give everybody the benefit of the doubt.” I can always learn somthing, I need friendship and for that I need to be a good friend, I give strangers the benefit of the doubt that I don’t know what else is going on in their life, and I try to give the people I live with and am intimate with the benefit of the doubt by calming down and asking about their side of things when there is a problem. Sometimes I’m more successful at that then others.

    “You are not expected to complete the task, but you are not free to abandon it.” Traditionally the ‘task’ described is either Torah study, or Tikkun Olam, repairing the world one piece at a time. I don’t think this has much to do with how I deal with other people, but it is a great reasurance for me when I feel totally overwhelmed at how much evil, pain and sufering there is, and how little I feel I can do. I’m not expected to be perfect, I’m not expected to get everything done right, save everybody (in a here and now in this world sense, not ‘saving’ someone for heaven in a Christian sense) fix global warming, stop sex slavery and balance the state budget. G-d doesn’t need me or even want me to do everything perfectly in my life, I can try and fail and that’s ok. But I do have to try, I do have to honestly make the best effort I can, I cannot abandon the world and the problems in it, and what I do is important.

    “The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied.” No fucking duh.

    “Do not say, when I find time I will study* because time is never found, only made.”
    *Or wash dishes, clean the kitty litter, pay bills, do the laundry, finish the paperwork at my job, get homework done, ect . . . I wish I was better at this, because I can procrastinate like nobody’s busness when I really don’t want to do something.

    I’m not Orthodox or traditionally observant, but I do take the ethical Jewish traditions seriously – I hope I haven’t bored everybody trying to explain them and which parts I follow.


    • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com krwordgazer

      I really appreciate you sharing that, Hilary, because I think that religion can’t help but affect our relationships if we are serious about both. Thank you for illustrating that all religion is not inherently evil.

    • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com krwordgazer

      I really appreciate you sharing that, Hilary, because I think that religion can’t help but affect our relationships if we are serious about both. Thank you for illustrating that all religion is not inherently evil.
      Also, I think your traditions are beautiful.

  • M

    To krwordgazer,

    Thank you for your reply. That’s really interesting. I live in the Bible Belt (Texas, if you’re super curious), so most of the Christians I come across here are of the fire-and-brimstone variety.

    If you don’t mind, I’m going to keep asking you about non-Hell based Christianity, because I’m quite curious about it. What, if anything, is the punishment for non-believers? Both for believers in different religions and for atheists. In other words, there’s tasty carrots in your version of Christianity (God loves you, fills your heart with happy feelings, and “saves” you (how? from what?)). But what are the sticks, if any?

    • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com krwordgazer

      M– First, I think it’s important to understand a part of Christianity that gets easily mixed up, and even Christians often fail to understand it. Even if one believes in eternal punishment (which I don’t), the punishment is technically not for “non-believers,” but for “sin.” The Christian doctrine is that you are punished for your sins and all humans deserve punishment– but if you believe in (put your trust in, follow) Christ, Christ will save you from both your sins and the punishment for them. “Belief” in Christian doctrine does not mean just thinking something is factually true; and it’s not what people think is factually true that “damns” them– it’s the harm they do to themselves, God and others. “Belief” can save– but it’s not “belief” in something else that damns. And I do believe that Christ can save people who are seeking the good, but who don’t/can’t understand it in terms of Christianity.
      That said, I should articulate my view of “punishment.” I think the revelation of God in the Bible is accommodated to the mindset of the original authors and their original audiences. I think “punishment” as a term of justice is part of that original mindset, whereas nowadays we think it more appropriate to speak in terms of “correction” — that rehabilitation, whenever it exists as a possibility, should be the goal. I also think that there are some people who become so steeped in evil (Hitler, for instance) that correction/rehabilitation is impossible. For those people, I do believe in eternal “punishment” in terms of a final destruction, a ceasing to exist. I think this is what the Lake of Fire in the book of Revelation seems to show, when read carefully– and there are plenty of other passages in Scripture that speak of “destruction” of the wicked. I also think there may be some form of “outer darkness” (as Christ called it in one parable) of separation from God after death for some, but I tend to envision this more as a temporary, purgatory-type state during which the Spirit of God continues to reach out to the soul in hopes of its accepting redemption. It would be only those who will not accept redemption that go to final destruction.
      I don’t think these ideas are incompatible with Scripture, and they are certainly more in keeping with the nature of God as I understand it.

  • freepea

    I am a Christian (since 2011), and I tend disagree with a lot of the rhetoric that my friends at church use. I think people in the church put a lot of pressure on each other that God doesn’t really ask for. I don’t think we have to take every single thing in the bible and force it to apply to our lives. When he asks me to kill someone in my family as a sacrifice or abandon them for the sake of missions, that’s when i’ll start worrying about it. So far, he hasn’t asked me to do that, and I don’t think the fact that he told Abraham to do that means that I need to apply it to my life. I completely identify with sentiment towards things like the marriage-God triangle. I don’t think it’s true at all. It is very possible to get closer with your SO when you are far from God. But I don’t think that’s anywhere in the Bible (and I have been questioning lately how much there is to take away from Paul’s epistles) or resembles anything close to what my relationship with God, so what I don’t understand is how that would lead to abandoning Christianity (please explain?).
    I think I can understand what the person (who feels freed from the heaven/hell doctrine to love others) means. I think this person and the author and a lot of others have hit upon something important that the church sorely lacks – emotional health. We are taught to think nothing of ourselves and are given these ridiculous rules of thumb (the marriage triangle, invite all your nonchristian friends to church, etc.), which results in people repressing their emotions and desires and unnecessarily feeling like failures. I think Christianity is much much deeper than what we make of it. What I learn in my relationship with God is that there is freedom in Christianity to love others and to love yourself and to not need things like that guilt-tripping marriage triangle.