Monthly Archives: June 2015

If there is no Hell, what is the point?

     I have never been afraid of Hell. I’ve never had a dream that I was in Hell. I doubt I ever seriously believed in it, though it was a teaching of the church I attended as a child. For me, the doctrines of penal substitution seemed logical in the sense of a need for some kind of balance, but not in the sense of staying out of Hell. For me, the idea of annihilation has always been worse. What if there’s nothing? What if I am simply no more?

    Existential crisis much?

Existential Snoopy
    I do feel that I have some assurances that annihilation will not be how I experience eternity. I have the experiences I call Glimpses from which I derive a personal knowing of certain deific personages. I believe that I’ve had encounters with natural spirits, ancestors, and even one I call Jesus or Yeshua Ben Yosef. In a small non-denominational Christian church in Indiana, I was taught that God is Love, that the Holy Spirit lives within me as a source of life and of counsel, and the Jesus died for my sins.
    Jesus died for my sins. What does that mean? In another post of mine, “Does God fix the problem of sin with sacrifice, or with String Theory?” I confessed that I believe the true miracle – and the point that joined all humanity with God – was more the birth of Christ than the crucifixion. At the moment of divine conception, all humanity – maybe even all of the material cosmos – was joined and imbued with the life eternal. Could there still be a Sheol, though? Logically and philosophically, yes, but as my favourite Christian author, C. S. Lewis put it, “The doors of Hell are locked on the inside,” which I take to mean that we each live in the Hell or Heaven of our choosing, figuratively and possibly literally. Since I also believe that the Bible is only the beginning of the word of God — as interpreted by both writers and readers — this quip from one of the greatest 20th-century masters of English literature is as authoritative as St. Paul, and I no more agree with Lewis on everything as I do Paul.
     Furthermore, I don’t believe one needs the Bible to provide a moral code, at least not beyond Matthew 7:12, 22:36-40. These two snippets of scripture are a complete summary of the entire subject of morality. The Bible is not a book about morality. If religion were only about morality, your Bible need be only half a page long.
    If this is what I believe about the workings of Salvation, and that being <<saved>> is the default — a sort of plenary predestination (yes, I’m Presbyterian) — then what is the point of Christianity? Why do I still claim the name, Presbyterian? Remember my reference to Predestination just a few words back? Well, that’s only part of it. I’ve never, ever thought of faith as either a reason to be a moral person or a get-out-of-Hell-free card. Get-out-of-jail-free
    All of humanity have the opportunity to pursue some kind of relationship with the greater cosmos. For Atheists, it is one of finding connections between the individual and the whole — “We are made of starstuff,” a quote attributed to Carl Sagan, is one of the most spiritually power-packed statements of our time, and yet it neither requires nor assumes any belief in the supernatural. Every religion on the planet has at its core the charge to pursue greater knowledge, greater devotion, and closer relationship to the god or gods of each faith.
    Are they all correct? That depends. Every religion is right about *something*. Even the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is right about its assertion that you don’t need God to be a good, moral person. It is enough “to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it, too.” (Douglas Adams) I just happen to think that these “fairies” represent holding an unspeakable wonder of the universe – a personification of the spirits of nature which I do think are there. Who am I to say that those who experience science through magic are any more wrong than those who are in awe of the magic of science? If magic is merely science mixed with pure, child-like wonder, then the cosmos is full of magic; is MADE of magic! You can appreciate the garden as well as the fairies if you like.
Grumpy fairy doesn’t care if you believe in fairies.
    Why then am I a Christian? The traditions of the Christian church, like all religions, are rooted in the struggles of my ancestors and their experiences of wrestling with God. I could certainly experience and wrestle with other aspects of the divine through other religions, but it is this one through which my forebears prospered and suffered. My little Earthly body grew within and learned about God through these traditions. Therefore, these traditions — church on Sunday, seasonal celebrations of saints’ days, Easter, All-Hallows Eve, Christmas, Yule, and Hogmanay, as well as the celebrations of the wheel of the seasons — these have the most power to create experiences and enrich a spirituality that amplifies the more noble echoes of those who came before. Those echoes that are not so noble (the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the witch burnings, misogyny, genocides, centuries of homophobia) are dissonances important to remember and to be called out as failures so that the better parts of my past kindred can retain their value, rather than “Throwing the baby out with the bath-water.” Through participation in the rites and nobler traditions of my ancestors, I continue the line of people in laudable pursuit of God, and live alongside the One for whom my 14-billion-year existence from star-stuff to human, is as clear and navigable as a walk down to the chemist (see Douglas Adams, “Space . . . is really big”).
I agree with the atheists, I just put more emphasis on "Made."
I agree with the atheists, I just put more emphasis on “Made.”

Does God fix the problem of sin with sacrifice, or with String Theory?

For someone who loves the scriptures of Jewish and Christian heritage, but who sees the stories of Creation, the Garden of Eden, Noah, Jonah, Job, etc… as a rich mythology designed to teach life lessons rather than history, the penal substitution theology of the cross is irreconcilable. There is, however, another way to see it, and it is no less beautiful and no less miraculous.
Would a message of hope have lasted beyond two generations without the sensational story of a hideous punishment, sacrifice, and resurrection? Maybe. My hypothesis is that salvation happened when God made a physical connection with humanity at the nativity of Christ, and that the crucifixion was necessary to send the message of hope thousands of years through time so that it would spread to the ends of the Earth. God didn’t need a sacrifice to accept and love Humanity, Humanity needed the sacrifice to accept that we could be loved by an eternal God.
3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
-Psalm 130
Nearly every culture in the ancient world in which gods were worshipped made sacrifices. They sacrificed for fertility, they sacrificed for crops, for good weather, for favour in battle, etc… Sacrifice was ostensibly the way people got the attention of the gods. Why the sacrifices?
Here is one logical back-tracking from a sceptical approach.
In many cultures, to ask a favour of the local ruler required a gift. You brought the king a bushel of fruit, grain, or a nice lamb shank or else you couldn’t even get an audience. Kings liked this arrangement. It was like taxes, only better because you didn’t have to send the army our to collect. However, to ensure the practice continues, the king has to show that it is more than just a bribe — it’s God’s will, and to demonstrate this, the king orders priests to sacrifice to God, showing that even the elite must make gifts to obtain favour.
In this logic-play, the idea of sacrifice is a kind of power economy. The ruler
Here is a less sceptical view.
” The Hebrew term קָרְבָּן (korban) is commonly and incorrectly translated “sacrifice” meaning, to give something up, actually means “that which brings closer.” The related term, מִנְחָה (mincha) means “gift.” The Biblical form of this ritual was not about appeasing the gods, but was about finding some way to get closer by bringing gifts.”
-Gil Yehuda
I think it’s rather a combination of the two explanations. Sacrifices make us rely less on the things we have, reminding us that being close to God is a matter of getting the rubbish of life out of the way. However, we have this problem that we believe that we cannot be forgiven without sacrifice. I think this is only partially true. God, who keeps no “record of sins,” has already forgiven. The problem is we have such a difficult time forgiving ourselves, even for just being mortal – the only real Original Sin (and one imagined).
So, if I suspect that there is no Original Sin, no Fall, no theological need for sacrifice – how can I say I believe in God and why do I believe in Jesus and his resurrection? Because these ideas about sacrifice evolved over millennia of mixing politics and established religion. The real God, who most believers say exists outside of what we think of as space-time, is the source of life and love, and probably a great many things about which we know nothing. We think we are minuscule, which of course we are relative to size of a star like Arcturus, but I just said that God exists outside space-time. Such a God is beyond scale, and therefore is as concerned with sub-atomic particles as with a galaxy. How do we achieve God’s attention? We don’t because having God’s full attention is a property of existing in this universe.
So why Yeshua? Now it’s time for some real wacky conjecture and dipping our toes into the cold waters of String Theory.
We say that God exists outside of time outside space, yet intimate and imminent every moment. I think the personage of Jesus was indeed, somehow, a part of God – and since you can’t split God, all of God, though perhaps a facet. This does something interesting in string theory. Highly simplified, one part of string theory is that you can view all of time as one static element and then slot that into a group of higher dimensions. Now, think about your family tree. Now imagine what it looks like without the separation that the linear passage of time creates. It’s really weird, but without that temporal separation, you are physically connected to both your parents (ewe, yes) and they to your grandparents, to great-grandparents, to ancestors — you get the idea?
Now insert Christ. All of humanity for all of time – from beginning to end – is now physically connected to God. Boom! The miracle of the nativity bridged the gap between the eternal and the temporal.
If that’s all that was required, why the cross? Think now the last time you tried to console someone who felt responsible for a tragedy that, logically, was not their fault, but who just can’t accept that they aren’t to blame. They may say things like, “If only I had been there sooner, I could have stopped that horrible thing from happening.” They may even know in their head that there was nothing could be done, but emotionally they can’t let go of fault.
The miracle of the cross is not that Jesus died on it. You get nailed to a cross, you die. The miracle of the cross is not even that Jesus rose again — okay, supernatural, yes, but think about it. Jesus is THE eternal being of the cosmos who exists both without and now within all of space-time. The source of life and love is not likely to stay dead.
This is the miracle of the cross: that the eternal God of the universe, the supreme architect of space-time, used his mortal form as a sort of grief counselling to show humankind that whatever it is that we think we have done to separate ourselves from God’s eternal, complete source of life and love, He took care of it. Yes, he took our blame, the Bible is right about that. But the blame He took was that which we placed on ourselves..
God didn’t need a sacrifice to accept and love Humanity, Humanity needed the sacrifice to accept that we could be loved by an eternal God.