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What Would People Think?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Response to Zhubin, Part 2

In this second post (for the first post, see here), I want to respond to something Zhubin said which has less to do with the truth or falsehood of Christianity, and more to do with why Christians annoy the everlovin' crap out of him:

[I]f you can reduce the unfathomable diversity of spiritual thought throughout human history to a set of enumerated beliefs that must be literally accepted, and you honestly believe that anything less will be punished with eternal suffering, then our conversation is over, and you can shut the fuck up about the beauty of your faith. It's ugly, through and through.
How did this happen? When did "God loves you so much he sent his Son to die for you and freely offers you grace if you will accept it" become "join us or die"?

Certainly much of the blame falls on Christians. From the fire-and-brimstone preachers to the smug bumper stickers, Christians have often portrayed hell as eternal, horrific torture meted out on people for not being Christians. I can't read Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God" without getting pissed off. The God who "holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire [and] abhors you" is not the God I recognize.

But let's start over. Let me explain precisely what I think is beautiful about the faith I follow and the Christian God I believe in. This may not interest you, but if any of my readers believe, like Zhubin, that Christianity is "ugly, through and through" I'd appreciate if you'd at least listen to my reasons for disagreeing.

It starts with the ugly - but hard to dispute - idea that we humans screw up. A lot. Just look around you. There's war, addiction, emotional cruelty, injustice, broken friendships, failed marriages, ruined ecosystems, lies, manipulation, poverty, selfishness. Who among us has perfectly lived up to even his or her own standards of right and wrong, much less any external system of morality (whether that system comes from religion or otherwise)? If we're not guilty of murder, then I bet we're still guilty of indifference or even the occasional cruelty toward our fellow human beings. The religious term for this state is "sin", but you can call it what you like.

The other opening idea of my faith is a perfect God who (a) desires a personal relationship with each of us and (b) knows what's best for us. (Hey, he made us. Just like the manufacturer of an I-Pod knows best how to operate it and how not to.) But here's the key - by acting out our moral failings....by choosing our own way instead of his, we are personally rejecting him. We are severing that relationship. If we keep it up for a lifetime, we have freely chosen to be apart from God and He finally lets us stay away from him.

And that's what Hell is. It's an eternal separation from God. It's not, as is sometimes popularly portrayed, an eternal torture chamber to punish people for not being Christian. Don't get me wrong, eternal separation from God is horrible....we were designed for a relationship with him. But it is something freely chosen, not something imposed upon people for being in the "outsider" group.

Here's where the beauty part comes in. Despite our freely chosen rejection of him, God reached out to us anyway. He chose to come down in human form to be among us. While here, he healed the sick, hung out with society's rejects, and taught about radical, self-sacrificing love. And then, while we were still mired in our failings and self-absorption, he backed his words up with actions. By willingly suffering a horrific death and rising back to life, he took the guilt for our wrongdoing and re-opened the path to re-establishing our relationship with him. It's still our choice whether we want to take that path and establish that relationship; he hasn't robbed us of our free will. But he's given us a way.

A God who doesn't just look down from on high at our plight as screwed-up, broken souls....but who actively joins us and suffers with us......who makes the ultimate sacrifice so that we have the choice of a relationship with him. There's a word to describe that: Love.

In addition to the ultimate example of love in the form of Jesus, Christianity gives me teachings like "love your neighbor as yourself" and even "love your enemy", teachings so radical and earth-shattering that they would transform the world if only they were lived up to....and have transformed the world in part whenever people have lived up to them. (I once discussed the radical nature of these teachings here. Zhubin commented extensively on that post, though for some reason his comments are now attributed to "anonymous.") Beautiful? Damn straight it is.

The great failing of the church is how rarely we Christians have lived up to those teachings, and how often we have failed to convey the beauty of the teachings and of the actions of Jesus. But that's an indictment of Christians, not Christianity. (And that's not really what Zhubin was complaining about in the quote above, anyway.)

So, if you want to criticize the James Dobsons and Ralph Reeds of the world, I'm right there with you and will join you. (Heck, it's how I began this blog just over 2 years ago.) If you want to criticize the Jim Wallises and Tony Campolos of the world, I'm willing to listen and maybe agree. If you want to criticize the Mother Teresas and Martin Luther Kings of the world....well, I'll have to respectfully, but vehemently disagree with you. But still, let's talk. If you want to criticize me.....well, I may well deserve it and I hope I'll be grown-up enough to listen.

Christians are often - but not always - an ugly bunch, which is a damn shame given the beliefs we supposedly espouse. But Christianity is beautiful and no, I will not shut the fuck up about it.


  • A question about Hell then: If it's not torture, why is it eternal? More specifically, why can't grace be accepted after death and not merely before? Assuming that God exists, knowledge of his existence is presumably much more obvious in the afterlife. It seems terribly cruel to consign people to Hell for a choice they can only make with the limited knowledge granted them in this life.

    Or do you believe that the choice can be made after death? This seems to go against the usual Christian doctrine, but it would be a lot nicer to scientific doubters like me and Zhubin.

    By Anonymous Jacob, at 5/10/2007 12:59 PM  

  • If you don't believe in God, how is eternal separation from God horrible? Isn't it just the life you've been leading, which hopefully you enjoyed in the first place? And if you don't really care if there's a God or not, why does knowing that there is one matter?

    And how about us who don't feel that we need this whole God-becoming-human thing to maintain a relationship with God? Are we isolated too?

    For some reason I'm reminded of a Jewish idea of the afterlife. After we die, we go to a place where we study Torah with Moses. For the righteous, this is heaven. For the wicked, this is hell.

    Oh, and does Jonathan Edwards' writing start out something like, "There are two afterlives: one for the rich, and one for everyone else..." Jesus wasn't a carpenter, he was a millworker...

    By Blogger Jeff, at 5/10/2007 1:38 PM  

  • I need you to specify something for me before I respond. You're somewhat vague when you talk about "choosing our own way instead of his" and "severing that relationship" with God. What, specifically, in your belief, does one need to do to go to hell?

    On the same note, answer this question honestly: in your belief, is Gandhi, who did not believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God and his savior, in hell?

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/10/2007 2:24 PM  

  • Rephrase of my question in light of Zhubin's statements - can a non-Christian be in Hell and not perceive it as such?

    By Blogger Jeff, at 5/10/2007 3:23 PM  

  • Jacob - I can honestly say I don't know. The way some theologians have put it, those who have separated themselves from God have - by the time of their death - become so set in their ways that they would rather be independent of him than join him in paradise.

    Jeff - Johnathan Edwards/John Edwards....damn, that took me a while to get what you were saying. To answer your 2nd paragraph - Well, if you don't accept the premise that we are separated from God by our own actions and unable to make the re-connection, then yes the whole God-becoming-human thing is unnecessary. I'm not, in this post, arguing whether Christianity is factually correct. I'm arguing that Christianity, on its own terms, is a religion based on the ideas of mercy and love and that is beautiful. To answer your 1st paragraph - I believe we were designed for a relationship with God, and thus to not have one is horrible.

    Sometimes, I hope I'm wrong. I don't want to believe that those I love (which includes everybody that comments on this blog....except maybe spammers) will be unfulfilled. But that's my understanding of how we find fulfillment, and so I hope that others find it too.

    Zhubin - To be separated from God, one needs to fall short of living up to perfect moral standards. We can debate about what the standards are (indeed, there's lots of debate within Christian circles whether certain things are right or wrong), but ultimately that's a moot point for our purposes because probably most of us fall short even of our own standards. By that qualification....yeah, everybody is headed for hell....by which I mean everybody is separated from God because everybody has, at some point, chosen to do something they knew was wrong. And that separation remains unless we take the path freely offered to us through Jesus.

    As for Gandhi, let me answer your question and let me address the premise which is behind your question. Was Gandhi perfect? For all his greatness - and he was probably the greatest man of the 20th century - I'm guessing he still probably screwed up at some point in his life. That means, like all of us, he was separated from God. Now Matt Novak has chided me for acting like I knew what was in the depths of a person's heart (that person being Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), but taking as a premise that, as you say, he didn't accept the path offered through Jesus, then he remained separated from God.

    Again, let me state without reservation, that Gandhi was/is a better man than I...one of the best, most peaceful, most loving men in history.

    Now let me address the unstated premise behind your question - any religious belief which does not reward Gandhi's numerous good deeds is horrible and ugly. Underneath that is a still more elementary premise, heaven - if it exists - is something earned by good deeds. Or, another way of putting it, heaven's where the good people go and hell is where the bad people go.

    That's the idea taught in pop culture. But that's not really what's taught in Christianity. Placement in heaven or hell (or, more appropriately, possession of a relationship with God or a lack thereof) is not something doled out on relative merit. Heaven/relationship is a gift freely given out of radical, self-sacrificial love...but a gift that can be freely rejected.

    So it's not that I deserve a relationship with God and Gandhi doesn't. It's that I - an undeserving mess - have accepted this merciful gift and Gandhi chose not to.

    Does this make sense? Have I explained things clearly? Or have I - in a desire not to lose friends - obfuscated? I'm trying to clear away the fog left by years and years of oversimplification perpetrated by Christians and pop culture. And I'm probably not the most qualified person to do it. Nevertheless, I will continue to attempt to respond honestly.

    By Blogger Ben, at 5/10/2007 4:06 PM  

  • I've got a series of responses here too:

    Jacob - I think "eternal" is a bit misleading, because it seems to imply "days with end" or something along those lines. In actuality, the Divine realm is a world "without time." Completely. It's a different state of being, in which you either are or are not, in God's presence. If you're not, you're "always" or "eternally" not, but those are misnomers because they imply the passage of time.

    Jeff - I know that my Church teaches that Jews are not isolated, that they had and continue to have, a covenant with God. Presumably that means they can get to Heaven - at least if the Judiac covenant facillitates that result.

    Zhubin - Us Catholics also believe that a person can be baptized into Christ by "seeking the truth and doing the will of God in accordance with [that person's] understanding of it" (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1260). As for whether any individual in particular is in Heaven or Hell, well, that's really not for us Christians to say. Personally I'm inclined to hope that everyone is in Heaven. Sort of a sunshine and lollypops answer, but it's honestly how I feel about it.

    I also think Ben does an excellent job in cutting to the chase of your question. It really isn't about deserving or not. And that's one of the biggest struggles for people both inside and outside of Christianity. Read the Prodigal Son parable; I can't tell you how much of a struggle that one is for me.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/10/2007 6:22 PM  

  • I think now is a good time to point out a division in what we're talking about.

    I really enjoyed reading your post, Ben, because it's clear that your grasp of Christianity is a very enlightened one. Your realization that the way to heaven was "through" Jesus meant that he wanted everyone to act like him sets you apart from the healthy majority of Christians. At least, a healthy majority of Christians like the ones I know in East Tennessee. You're right - there's nothing ugly about the Beatitudes or the concept of real, earnest love for all humans.

    While I don't believe for a second that Jesus was divine in any way, I really like the idea that Bishop John Shelby Spong puts forth in his various writings; that an atheist such as myself should be able to read the Bible, believe nothing of the divinity it claims to represent, and still receive a profound message about how to live a good life. He's right.

    The problem with Christianity, and what disgusts me about it (and maybe Zhubin, but I don't want to put words in his mouth), is this: the emphasis on Jesus' divinity and power, and the consequences for those who disobey, totally obscures the "core" message that you understand so well.

    Almost no Christian gets around to trying to develop a sense of caring for the world around them, because the very concept of accepting Christ's divinity on faith as your ticket to salvation precludes this necessity. You don't NEED to care about the world when you believe it's inherently flawed, but that you're one of the "saved" ones. The responsibility that Christ puts on each Christian to be as Christ-like as possible is lifted. Make whatever mess you like, God's gonna clean it all up.

    This is a very, very dangerous frame of mind.

    Actions speak louder than words, and the actions of Christians in this nation are NOTHING like the actions of their Christ. What ends up in our courtrooms, the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount? America is by far the world's richest nation, and one of the most resolvedly Christian ones. We give a smaller percentage of our GDP away to the poor than most other developed nations. Have we - ever - turned the other cheek? I can't think of a case.

    As an idea, Christianity isn't ugly at all. The reality of the situation is much, much different.

    And you could attempt to defend Christianity by saying that Christ's message's power isn't lessened by the fact that most Christians don't get it. While that's true in a sense, let me ask you this: do you think people would be more likely or less likely to take responsibility for their own actions if they DIDN'T believe that Jesus was magically going to sweep down one day, kill the bad guys with laser beams, and transport his "saved" to heaven?

    What if what they believed was that there was no God, or that God was at least unreachable, but that Jesus was a man who had a divinely-inspired epiphany of how to create Heaven on Earth?

    What if they believed that the evil in the world was not the poisonous work of a fallen archangel, but the work of ignorant people who sought to impose their will on others?

    Faith in the divine pre-empts and effectively prevents all of these realizations.

    By Anonymous Allan Weir, at 5/10/2007 11:23 PM  

  • Ugh, I can't edit. Damnable machines.

    I'd at least like to publicly apologize for all those extra commas.

    By Anonymous Allan Weir, at 5/10/2007 11:42 PM  

  • Allan -

    I think it's interesting that you've singled out a specific type of Christian theology in your critique. Maybe it's because that's what you're most exposed to, maybe because it's what's most concerning, maybe there's some other reason. Whatever.

    You write, "the very concept of accepting Christ's divinity on faith as your ticket to salvation precludes this necessity [of acting Christ-like]."

    I think what you're getting at here is the protestant - especially Evangelical - view that we are justified "by faith alone".

    For the record, there's another way of thinking in Christianity that says we are justified by both faith and works. I for one feel this is the more Biblical view - and I get the impression that you'd agree.

    I just think it's very important that we acknowledge that within Christianity there are different philosophies and theologies that take different approaches, and that those differences can be especially relevant when we're discussing some of these issues. I don't know how a protestant would respond to your challenge, but I know my response is along the lines of "The Christian faith does require us to live as Christ, and if we fail to do so, there will be consequences; faith alone is simply not enough."

    I don't know if that's particularly response worthy, but if anything comes to mind, I'd be curious to hear what it is.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/11/2007 12:31 AM  

  • And that's what Hell is. It's an eternal separation from God. It's not, as is sometimes popularly portrayed, an eternal torture chamber to punish people for not being Christian. Don't get me wrong, eternal separation from God is horrible....we were designed for a relationship with him. But it is something freely chosen, not something imposed upon people for being in the "outsider" group.

    So, wait... I am going to hell because I have chosen to stay separated from God... and Hell is eternal separation from God... which is what I would choose anyway... and that's supposed to be a bad thing?

    If God does exist, and His rules work the way Christians think they do, then He's not the kinda guy I want to have a relationship with. So yeah, good, to Hell with me. If, on the other hand, God exists and he's actually a benevolent, omnipotent being, then I can't imagine him excluding me, or nearly anyone else from Heaven, so then why should I care--I'm going to Heaven anyway.

    My overriding problem with any belief in God is that, aside from the improbability of the whole thing, the lack of evidence, and all of that... I simply can't conceive of an omnipotent being that would care whether or not it was worshipped. I can't conceive of an omnipotent being that would choose to exclude anyone. I think Christianity's conception of an omnipotent God is incompatible with omnipotence, and is a projection of human insecurity onto the hypothetical divine. Humans exclude people because of our insecurity. Omnipotent beings have no motivation to exclude anyone from anything.

    Also, on an unrelated note, I posted this link on my blog: Christianity as conceived by Michael Bay. Every single thing about this Church's website is hilarious.

    By Blogger Barzelay, at 5/11/2007 2:50 AM  

  • I just saw that guy, Bishop Eddie Long, or whatever, on a news clip about a physcist allegedly proving God. Hilarious!

    I can't conceive of an omnipotent being that would choose to exclude anyone.

    I think you've got a point there Barzelay - given His druthers, an omnipotent being would choose to include everyone. But that's incompatible with respecting our free will.

    What's more unbelievable? An omnipotent being that allows people to be excluded from heaven or an omnipotent being that forces heaven upon us, despite our free choice to reject it?

    I'd have to go with the later.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/11/2007 11:00 AM  

  • Well, you can rationalize and justify all you want, Ben, but at the end of the day you're telling me that a person can be condemned to eternal suffering solely for not believing in Christ's divinity.

    If I may be candid, I find that idea to be the most morally abhorrent idea in the history of human thought. It doesn't matter how many "love thy neighbors" you drape around it; if that idea is there, then Christianity is fundamentally and irredeemably a cruel religion.

    I understand the idea that we're all imperfect, and that heaven does not require good deeds, just forgiveness. What I find appalling is the idea that, out of all the conditions God could require for this forgiveness, he requires us to believe in a specific doctrine of the divinity of a specific man, and that a failure to believe in it deserves eternal punishment.

    You justify it as a "free choice," but you know that's weak, Ben. People do not freely determine their religion in an intellectual vacuum. The majority of the world's population have grown up in an entirely different culture, with an entirely different religious background, and an entirely different mental framework for approaching God. Many of them have never even heard of Jesus. For them to be cast into hell because they did not accept one alien religion out of the thousands of alien religions is cruel beyond words.

    I know your perspective assumes the truth of your religion, and so you're naturally obligated to justify it. But, if the fact that it took you six paragraphs to finally get to the point is any indication, you don't like it any more than I do. You know there's something deeply wrong with a person suffering eternally for something so irrelevant to their capacity for love and kindness. So you just murmur it, because you're ashamed to admit that you believe your non-Christian friends are going to hell. Or you try to deflect the criticism onto Christians' emphasis of hell, as if anything else could possibly be more important to someone than their eternal damnation. Or you try to talk up the love-thy-neighbor concepts, and ignore the fact that you believe that God couldn't care less about what you do so long as you swear your loyalty to his Son.

    But it doesn't matter. None of your rhetoric about the "beauty" and "mercy" of Christianity matters at all, if Christianity will send Gandhi to hell. All it does is give the rhetoric an unbearable irony that I don't want to hear, which is why I beg Christians to just shut the fuck up. For all the talk of love and peace, Christianity just wants loyalty, and that's why it's ugly.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/11/2007 1:02 PM  

  • Matt, you write that:

    "... there's another way of thinking in Christianity that says we are justified by both faith and works. I for one feel this is the more Biblical view - and I get the impression that you'd agree."

    Firstly, my understanding of Catholicism is that it includes quite a few additional qualifiers (beyond faith in Christ's divinity/sacrifice) to getting into heaven: baptism, communion, confession, atonement, time-out in purgatory, etc. In the case of Catholicism, the ritual and the dogma and the faith together obscure the point of what Christ was teaching.

    It goes back to what I was saying about the difference between "believing in Jesus and trying to be Christ-like" as an idea versus the reality of how the religion is structured. Evangelicals, by my view, simply place all their eggs in one hilariously inadequate basket.

    Secondly, the admission that even believing Christians don't agree on how to be the right kind of Christian doesn't really help the argument that it's the "one way" to salvation. What "one way" is that, pray tell? Even the faithful can't unify in an answer!

    Thirdly, the concept of "choosing God's path" has a lot of flaws. If God's really omniscient, he has no reason to give us free will. He already knows what we're going to pick!

    Free will also conflicts with God's omnipotence, as well as his omniscience. If God designed everything, he designed free will too. So he gave us the tools for our own damnation, knowing full well in advance that the majority of us would fail to make the right choice. Sounds a lot more like a sadistic game that a young serial killer would play with insects than the work of a deity that really cares about each individual.

    And even if free will somehow matters, one must also take into account that apparently God expects us to choose "his path" without any clear indication (other than being born into Christianity) that it's more desirable than any other religion with promises of a happy afterlife. If we were REALLY given a choice between heaven and hell, what idiot would choose hell?

    The magic of belief (or faith, if you insist) unfortunately doesn't work as an answer to the free-will dilemma. This is because many people have faith just as strong as a believing Christian's, but in a different God or Gods. If faith is the vehicle to making the "right" choice, then the bus to heaven has no steering wheel.

    And this says nothing of the people who have gone their entire lives without even hearing of Christ. When did THEY choose? And be careful saying that they get a free "out," because then faith is no longer a requirement. Pure ignorance is just as good.

    Finally, Christ's actions were selfless. Selflessness to the point of self-sacrifice for the good of others is the core of his teachings. But Christianity, in terms of its effects on each believer, is ultimately selfish. Even IF one has faith and pursues Christ-like actions, one is doing so with ultimate self-interest. After all, we're all just trying to get into Club Eternity.

    The very concept of a heaven/hell duality where someone is going to end up burning only encourages infighting a la the Catholic/Protestant divide, along with a side-order of smug self-righteousness.

    Christ was a brilliant man with a penchant for metaphor and a vision of a world where we had the wherewithal to realize that earth is fairly shitty, and we only make it worse by not being nice to each other. But we're so lost in the magic, the mysticism, the belief that there's some power out there that will fix things FOR us that we have utterly failed to grasp the message. It has nothing to do with the existence or nonexistence of a supreme being, and everything to do with what lies within each of us.

    By Anonymous Allan Weir, at 5/11/2007 3:51 PM  

  • Zhubin and Allan both say in different ways that Christianity (or the God of Christianity) demands belief and nothing more....that Christianity is ultimately all about salvation and belief. That's incorrect.

    "Faith without works is dead." - James 2:17

    Yes, all it takes to reconnect with God is faith. But that's just the opening step of Christianity. The rest of Christian life is a process of becoming more and more Christ-like. (With the divine help of the Holy Spirit.) A doctrine of faith alone - one which says that you just need to believe and then how you live your life is irrelevant - is what I called in my first blog post "an amputated gospel"...and it's contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

    It's not, as Allan says, about getting a pass to Club Eternity. It's about growing in that relationship with God and becoming more and more like Christ. That's demanding. It demands action. It demands sacrifice. It demands maturity and giving. It demands giving up self-interest.

    Zhubin - the reason I took six paragraphs to make my points was that I was trying to work past a minefield of assumptions our culture has created about Christianity and religion. And, like I said, I wanted to address the premise behind your question. I'm not ashamed about it.

    You're horrified by a religion that calls for belief as a ticket to reconnecting with God. What, exactly, would be a more just/merciful system? I'm guessing you imagine a system where wonderful people like Gandhi or MLK go to heaven (that is, have a personal relationship with God...though I suppose you would care more that they are rewarded in some way) and where people like Hitler or Stalin go to hell (or are in some way punished...maybe you don't care whether they connect with God).

    I don't think you'd like the results of a purely merit-based system. I think a lot more people would fall short than you'd like.

    Where would you draw the line? Most of us are somewhere between Gandhi/MLK and Hitler/Stalin.

    Maybe it would be a system like "if you do more good than bad, you go to heaven." When you come right down to it, that's a system that doesn't demand love...just complacency. I think most people operate on this assumption...which allows them to live lives of indifference....allowing suffering and poverty to happen...just so long as they aren't the monsters selling drugs to kids or some such action. It's exactly that attitude that often justifies a selfish, un-compassionate life while pointing out that there are always worse people.

    Or maybe it's a system where everybody goes to heaven...after all how could a loving God separate himself from people for eternity? (As Jacob asked and Matt answered.) But under a system like that Pol Pot would be in heaven. You can't tell me you would be satisfied to have truly, unrepentantly evil people in paradise.

    In order for one to know God, Christianity demands nothing more than accepting a freely offered gift. That relationship, in turn, demands love and self-sacrifice. Sounds beautiful to me.

    (As for the fact that people's choices are influenced by their culture, making it harder for some people to choose Christ.....choices aren't made in a vacuum. Every choice we make is influenced by the culture around us. What makes you think this choice would be any different? It's still a choice. Many, many people have chosen to go against the grain of their culture to take the path to God through Christ. Starting with the apostles, really. Some theologians believe that those who truly never hear about Christ can still follow him at some fundamental, almost unconscious level...a concept I confess I don't fully understand. Maybe that's part of the equation, though.)

    By Blogger Ben, at 5/12/2007 10:09 AM  

  • Zhubin and Allan both say in different ways that Christianity (or the God of Christianity) demands belief and nothing more....that Christianity is ultimately all about salvation and belief. That's incorrect.

    No, it's not, Ben. Perhaps Christianity - or at least your interpretation of it - would like more of you than belief, but it's not necessary at all. That's the whole point of Grace. You may live the most Christ-like life possible, but you are no more deserving of heaven than Pat Robertson, or even Torquemada.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/12/2007 1:51 PM  

  • What about us Catholics then?

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/12/2007 3:11 PM  

  • I don't really see any difference, Matt. It's marginally better with the "good works," but that's still a necessary and not sufficient condition. You still believe Gandhi is in hell.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/13/2007 11:40 AM  

  • Or maybe it's a system where everybody goes to heaven...after all how could a loving God separate himself from people for eternity? (As Jacob asked and Matt answered.) But under a system like that Pol Pot would be in heaven. You can't tell me you would be satisfied to have truly, unrepentantly evil people in paradise.

    I'm actually fine with that. Your religion assumes that this life is a test, and we'll receive a reward/punishment based on our performance in it. If you look at life in a more Eastern way, where we are all part of the same universal nature, journeying through life together, then heaven and hell make no conceptual sense.

    Every choice we make is influenced by the culture around us. What makes you think this choice would be any different?

    Because this choice is forced upon me by a deity removed from those cultural influences, with the consequences occurring outside of the cultural context (and with the highest stakes possible), and yet I have to make my choice hampered by those cultural forces. You would think that a just God, forcing me to choose between eternal paradise or suffering, would at least make my choice a fair and free one.

    Many, many people have chosen to go against the grain of their culture to take the path to God through Christ...Some theologians believe that those who truly never hear about Christ can still follow him at some fundamental, almost unconscious level...a concept I confess I don't fully understand.

    Well, whatever helps you sleep at night.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/13/2007 11:54 AM  

  • As I wrote before, "Us Catholics also believe that a person can be baptized into Christ by 'seeking the truth and doing the will of God in accordance with [that person's] understanding of it' (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1260)."

    Thus, presumably, even faith is not a necessary condition for salvation, because those who never hear about Jesus can still be "baptized" into him via the way they live their life. In short, the Catholic faith essentially holds that if you actually follow the natural law (in the philosophical sense, not the scientific sense used in that other post) you'll be doing God's will, and seeking to understand God, thus, you can be in God's favor.

    How do ya like dem apples? (I'm hoping you really like them, since I too find the idea appealing. Since the natural law is something every person has access to, and the natural law is a reflection of the Divine law, then every person, regardless of their situation, has access to God, and therefore can choose to live as God designs. Thus, it is an even playing field, everyone's got a fair shot at accepting or rejecting God, and thus at Heaven.).

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/13/2007 1:16 PM  

  • I like them much more than Ben's apples, absolutely.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/13/2007 2:45 PM  

  • Matt - I'm loving your final interpretation there of "baptism" and its ability to bring us to a nice sleepover-type conception of all religions as fundamentally linked, but it seems a little, well, small-c-catholic for real deal Catholic church doctrine; are you overstretching a sort of incidental catechism here?

    Because I feel like the explicit entrance criteria for Hell would have to be in like Vol. 1 of Catholic doctrine - (and that it takes an explicit acceptance of Christ.) I'm just concerned that you're trying to use an obscure statute to get us all out of our beyond death penalty.

    Though, Zhubin - is this really how you brand Christianity cruel? The cruelty of excluding a specified class from their afterlife based on a list of rules? I would have *absolutely* gone after its real world impacts on history, vs. the theoretical underpinnings. . .

    Condemning someone to Hell for their beliefs is only "cruel" if Hell exists and/or they care. It seems like from any nonbeliever perspective we're excluding from this punishment as a first condition everyone who could possibly care. So minus harm, whence the cruelty that you claim is such a unique differentiator between Christianity and your other global religions?

    You want cruelty, check your agnostic bending atheist ethical humanist friend:

    I believe that in all likelihood, as bullets tore through him, Gandhi the conscious entity ceased to be, in an episode of excruciating pain. I also believe that most of us are headed for the very same thing - fear, pain, nothing. In my mind, I exclude all people from the hope of salvation or a greater good. It seems all other religions offer some hope to at least some class of people.

    So am I a belligerent for failing to believe in a God?

    Tangential but entertaining, my dad used to talk about how he would never take as a copilot this guy in his detachment who had a very deep faith in God. In minute death minus one of an inflight emergency, he didn't want any resigned serenity in the cockpit.

    By Anonymous Murchie, at 5/14/2007 11:39 PM  

  • Murchie -

    Actually, that's full-on Catholic Church doctrine. It's in the Catechism, and if you want to know Church doctrine, that's where you look.

    Now of course, the Church teaches that the best way to Salvation is through a reciept of the Sacraments, which the Catholic Church offers. But Catholics have no problem saying non-Catholics can get into heaven.

    I think a big part of that is that for us Catholics the faith isn't just about Heaven and Hell. It's not just about the afterlife, but also about the way we live our lives in the here and now. I've always thought about it as kind of a parallel to the Jewish covenant; just like the Jews, we Christians have a covenant with God that controls the way we live our lives, regardless of the afterlife. He promised us Jesus, and we promised to do our best to live like Jesus. Whether or not it means Salvation, I'd still follow the example of Christ.

    Kind of a related post over on my blog. http://mbnovak.blogspot.com.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/15/2007 12:00 PM  

  • P.S. I totally had my idea for my blog post before I read your comment Murchie. Really! Honest! Ok, yeah, I ripped you off.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/15/2007 4:05 PM  

  • I figured since most religions were represented here, I might as well give you the Mormon or Latter-day Saint perspective on the debate. I'm a Christian and I believe there are varying degrees of glory or heaven. Men such as Ghandi, MLK and all those individuals who did not know of Christ will still receive a degree of glory in heaven. I believe that even after death they will have an opportunity to accept Christ and in doing so receive a full reward based on their works in this life. God would be unjust and unmerciful to draw a distinct line between heaven and hell and to discriminate against those who never knew of Christ.
    I also believe that those who refuse to accept Christ and His Atonement in this life or after, will enter into Hell only in the sense that they must pay for their own sins.

    John 14:2 In my Father’s house are many mansions

    By Anonymous Lindi, at 6/27/2007 9:18 PM  

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