Can We At Least Be Honest?

Can We At Least Be Honest? May 2, 2018
Courtesy of Pixabay

If you read my previous post, then you are probably well aware that my patience with Christianity is wearing thin. Does that mean I’m renouncing Jesus? No. Does that mean I’m going to stop believing in the Gospel? No. Does that mean I’m heading back to atheism? No. It just means I’m frustrated and felt comfortable enough to voice my frustration.

I’m frustrated, first and foremost, because Christians are refusing to have honest discussions with each other. We aren’t, by and large, coming to the table and actually listening to the voices of others, especially those whom we have the most disagreements with. And it’s a shame because I think the beauty of Christianity, like any faith tradition, should be that the entire body gets to have a voice.

Unfortunately, however, this isn’t occurring nearly enough. It seems that more often than not those in the current majority are acting as the gatekeepers of the faith, dictating who’s in and who’s out, who’s orthodox and who’s heretical, who’s a true Christian and who’s a false brother or sister. It’s all just so disgustingly self-referential.

Of course, that is not always the case. Last Monday, I sat around the bonfire and had a wonderful conversation with a Buddhist, a retired Christian Universalist philosopher, and a former pastor of mine who is, for lack of a better term, Arminian in his theology (that is, he believes in eternal torment of some sort). And you know what happened? We had a wonderful time. We all listened to one another, heartily disagreed on certain points, poked fun from time to time, and parted ways amicably. What we didn’t do was demonize, accuse, and twist things in order to prove ourselves correct.

What a welcomed relief it was, especially for a Universalist such as myself. Generally, we are on the outside looking in, so to speak. But not on this night, not by this pastor. What he recognized is that we all should be allowed to voice our opinions, theological, exegetical, hermeneutical, philosophical, and otherwise. For that, I was extremely grateful, and just a bit less frustrated.

Then I stumbled upon an article on Patheos entitled “GQ Says the Bible is Overrated. Here’s What They Got Right” and my frustration returned. Here’s the bit that annoyed me the most:

“Just look at the rush from the pulpits to embrace . . . such concepts as ‘everyone goes to heaven’ because ‘God is love.’ Newly created views on hell, sin, humanity, and Jesus himself become social causes and fads that sweep up believers at an alarming rate.”

Now, there is nothing wrong with you if you aren’t a Universalist. There is nothing in the early creeds, for instance, that says one has to affirm universal reconciliation in order to be called a “Christian.” But dammit, please, please, please stop saying that rejecting the notion of hell as eternal conscious torment is a new idea! Can we at least be honest and admit that nobody who is alive today invented this doctrine? Please?

As I pointed out in my article “Indeed Very Many: Universalism in the Early Church,” the notion of “everyone going to heaven” is nothing new. It is not, as David Rupert suggest above, a fad that sweeps up believers at an alarming rate because, well, fads don’t last nearly 2,000 years. Rather, it is something taught by so much of the early church, including Bardaisan, Clement, Origen, Didymus, Gregory of Nyssa, Methodius, Macrina, and many others.

Nevertheless, as I just stated, you don’t have to believe in Universalism in order to come to the table. And the laundry list of early theologians who were Universalists isn’t proof that they are theologically correct. They could be wrong. I could be wrong. But guess what? So could all those who affirm eternal torment or annihilationism. At least admit it.

At the end of the day, none of us really know what is going to happen after we die. All I ask, however, is that you permit me to hope. Be like the pastor I just fellowshipped with and listen without judgment. Take the chance that those you disagree with may actually teach you something. And if they don’t, then they don’t. You’ll at minimum be no worse for the wear.

Until next time. Have a great day and be at peace with each other.

Namaste.

About
Matthew J. Distefano is the author of four books, including the recently released "Heretic!: An LGBTQ-Affirming, Divine-Violence Denying, Christian Universalist's Responses to Some of Evangelical Christianity's Most Pressing Concerns," out now on Quoir Publishing. He is married, has one daughter, and likes to spend his free time hiking, gardening, and cooking. You can read more about the author here.
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  • Scott Sloan

    My wife and I started going to a church in Columbus called the Buddhist Christian Mother Earth Church (http://buddhistchristian.org). It is based upon the teachings of Tich Nhat Hanh. We love it, and it is a place where I can deconstruct peacefully, she can practice her mother earth spirituality, and we can learn virtue taught by Buddhists. I plan on reading Tich Nhat Hanh’s book Living Buddha Living Christ.

  • It’s a wonderful book. I think you’ll love it.

  • I once had a discussion with a deacon (now a priest) about the potential for praying backward in time, so that fallen angels wouldn’t fall. The concept came after reading Origin; I forget what document or passage. I was warned about universalism in response, with great concern expressed about my spiritual well-being.

    Your frustration is understandable. Perhaps it is easier to find real dialog with people from significantly other faith traditions than with those closer to our own?

  • I think there is something to that. If I were to convert to another tradition, or become an atheist or something, I think people wouldn’t care. When I continue to be a Christian and then teach/believe doctrines contrary to their own denomination, then that is where problems arise.

  • WisdomLover

    “If I were to convert…”

    I don’t think that should be terribly surprising.

    If you convert to another religion, your opinions contrary to those of the body of believers you are leaving becomes a political problem that, at least for the present, has a pretty good solution: We all agree to leave people we disagree with in peace.

    At the other extreme, if you are in a church and are routinely saying things that are contrary to the teachings of that church and can’t understand why they can’t just accept your disagreements, then you are a problem with the fellowship of that body of believers.

    Between those extremes you will find decreasing degrees of frustration the farther away you get from the membership of the body you disagree with.

    I, for example, couldn’t care less that you disagree with me, because we’re pretty far apart. That’s actually part of the charm of your blog. I think we agree about this much: that sometimes it’s good to test our opinions against those who disagree with us.

    (And thanks, BTW, for maintaining this forum where that happens not only for me, but for others.)

  • Sure.

  • Your discussion around the bonfire sounds wonderful! The absolute certainty of some christians wearies me to the bone – it is the exact opposite of life-giving. It’s not just that your beliefs are ‘wrong’, some people treat you as if you, as a person, are wrong. So when you are with someone who is convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are right and correct, it leaves no room for you to even simply be…

  • Zactly

  • d_hochberg

    Since Jesus taught there was a Hell I do not see how you can ignore it.