Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Sharon L. Baker has an interesting article at the Huffpo today. On the question of hell, she's actually plugging her book on the subject. It's an interesting topic. In all of Christian theology this is one of the focal points and perhaps the most difficult to reconcile with Jesus focus on forgiveness and love.
This is Dr. Baker's summation:
I wonder how many other pastors pounding pulpits across the world have their parishioners running scared out of their wits and into the kingdom of God, taking out fire insurance as a precaution against the threat of hell. "Who cares?" you might say. "As long as they purchase their policy in time, who cares why they buy?" God might. God may desire to save us from the flames in order to spend eternity in loving communion, not by scaring us to death but by luring us with divine compassion, urging us gently with a caring hand, forgiving, reconciling, and calling us to do the same.
Okay, everyone who's read Dante's Inferno raise your hand. Don't be shy. Surely you had to read part of it in your World Literature class in college. Oops, no one ever actually reads what they're assigned they use Cliff Notes. I'm one of the few who I've ever encountered that's actually read all three of Dante's Divine Comedy.
Here's an even more obscure attempt of describing Hell:
A science-fiction writer drinks too much, showing off for fans at a convention, and falls out an eighth-floor window. He wakes up in a brass bottle in the vestibule of Hell, and Inferno details his adventures trying to work his way out. A lot of Dante is recalled, but these authors have more fun with the damned than Dante, and invent a few newer sins to bring the tale up-to-date, including such things as a book collector who kept hoarding beyond the capabilities of his storage, and lost priceless books to mildew, rats, and insects — a hoarder and a waster at the same time.
The one quote I remember from this book where it asks: "Who can take seriously a god who keeps his own private torture chamber?"
After I came home from Seminary and was going through a divorce I started reading everything Sci Fi. I'd read Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein in high school, but during college and grad school other than watching reruns of Star Trek this genre took a back seat. I discovered Harlan Ellison, Anne McCaffery and many other great writers. The afore mentioned book caught my eye after reading their "Earth's too fragile a basket to place all of man's eggs in." Lucifer's Hammer.
Enough preamble. My take on the theology of eternal punishment.
Christianity falls in the catagory of Ethical Religions. That's a religion with a system of rewards and punishments. The Norse concept of hell (the germanic word used for the Greek Hades and Hebrew Gehenna) was a place of eternal cold, which is why Dante has Satan encased up to his waist in ice. Understandable since the harshest environment they encounter is winter. The Hebrews being from a desert environment found the heat the worst environment imaginable so it's understandable that a place of eternal heat would be their concept of eternal punishment. Gehenna was actually the town dump of Jerusalem outside the dung gate. Since all the trash was thrown there along with the animal waste which caused high concentrations of methane gas it was a place of continual fires. When Jesus refers to the afterlife for non-believers he refers to Gehenna which could be interpreted as a place of eternal fire or being thrown out of with the trash. The concept between those two interpretations is huge: literal or symbolic?
Is hell a place of eternal fire and torment, or is it being separated from God? Evangelists find selling "get out of hell free cards" easier than the promise of heaven. The Catholic Church even sells them (Indulgences) or makes you do penance. This is what makes Christianity different from other ethical religions. The others have a clearer concept of justice. Those who lived bad lives are punished, those who lived good lives are rewarded depending on what the culture's concept of good and evil. Jesus changed the rules from good and evil to believer or non-believer. No matter how bad you were, if you are saved before death you're in. Those who lived good lives, but worship differently are punished. Where's the justice in that?
Christianity is not about Justice, it's about forgiveness. It's about mercy. It's about Love. If it was about justice everyone would go to hell, no matter how good a life they lived. Christ's main point of the sermon on the mount where he compares being angry with murder, lust with adultery.
As Hamlet says: "If everyone were given what they deserve, who would escape whipping?"
Here's more rhetorical questions: If after death we have spiritual bodies, what damage could physical flames do? Wouldn't the flames also be spiritutal? Does separation from God need to be physical torture or can it be mental anguish? Does faith have to be only concrete? Isn't there room for abstract thinking too?
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Monday, August 23, 2010
I finally watched Bill Maher’s Religious. I wasn’t surprised. He’s a comedian and makes his living ridiculing whatever he sets his sights on. So does Rush Limbaugh, and most of the mouths that roar on radio or teevee. It seems poking fun at other people is what passes for legitimate debate today.
It was painful as someone of faith to watch the way he painted an entire belief system with the brush of fundamentalism or institutionalized religion. Believe it or not there are many believers that have not assassinated their intelligence to someone who rants and raves from a pulpit or considers themselves God’s elected mouthpiece and they enjoy a meaningful personal relationship with God.
It’s easy to make fun of fundies and the orthodox because they’ve taken reason out of their faith and delivered it into the hands of someone who does their thinking for them.
The mechanism used by charlatans to fleece the flock of all their money and gain political power is literalism. The Bible has to be interpreted literally, and only literally.
Today I’m coining the phrase “Costello Christians” to describe literalists. They are a laugh riot, just like Abbot and Costello’s routine Who’s On First. If you’re not familiar with this comedy classic you can google it. There are about a dozen or more U-tube versions of it.
Lou Costello tries and tries every way he can to find out who’s on first, but never makes the connection that the first baseman’s name is Who. He stays stuck in his literal understanding of the word and can’t make the leap from literal to symbolic. It’s funny because the audience knows the difference and enjoys listening or seeing someone who is that stupid.
Here’s my example of a Costello Christian:
Anyone who wants to argue or defend the idea that Jonah was swallowed by a large fish or whale. Bill Maher devotes quite a bit of his movie on the issue and both he and those he’s arguing with miss the point. The book is not about a fish anymore than Gulliver’s Travels is about Lilliputians or Yahoos. They’re allegories.
Jonah represents the Jews and
The main points of Jonah are:
- The Jews are commanded to proclaim God to the whole world.
- They at first refuse and are punished until they consent.
- The World is spared destruction because of their belief.
- The Jews are upset and pout because they’ve lost their monopoly on God.
The central message of Jonah is:
God and Heaven are for everyone, not just a chosen few.
The Costello Christians want to make it about a fish and give fuel to the fire of skeptics and comedians who rightfully point out how stupid it is to interpret something written as allegory literally.
This is my interpretation of Jonah. I don’t claim it to be the official or only way to read the book. I don’t think anyone who understands it differently needs to be kicked out of the church or burned at the stake.
I wrote a post some time ago entitled “I’ve Been Fooled.” It’s still one of the most viewed posts I’ve ever written. It’s about an allegorical book and movie: The Princess Bride. I admit that while reading the book the author had me actually believing there were countries named Gilder and
Friday, August 20, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
While waiting in the emergency room a few weeks ago I bought this book and started reading it to Mom. We had hours between times they'd do something. When Mom was finally admitted she read on it and finished it at home. Then I started reading it. It was nice having something to read while she was in the emergency room again and I was stuck out in the waiting room at a different hospital with different rules. I finished it today.
Mom wasn't too sure about it at first. She said it was slow getting into it, but turned into a fairly decent story.
I agree with her. After you wade through about a hundred pages of obscure descriptions the story becomes compelling.
The story revolves around those who are from the Otherworld, and can go between the two worlds through certain gates, but the gates can only be opened by Lawrence, the gatekeeper, and he refuses to open them because if he did an uspeakable evil would destroy everyone. Sounds like a simple premise, but the story is rather complicated which is why it takes so long for the story to get going. There is quite a bit of setting the stage so the reader can understand what's going to happen. I rate it *** out of *****.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Click here and here for other Tributes to Bill Chase.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Monday, August 09, 2010
Everything they do is coming up negative, but she's still having chest pains.
Saturday, August 07, 2010
Sunday, August 01, 2010
Guess I'm back to being retired again. Watch out golf courses, here I come.
I'm sending son and his family over today so they can get her some groceries while wife and I go to church.
The attorney I work for gave me a book, Trying Cases to Win: Voir Dire and Opening Arguments by Herbert J. Stern, and he's paying me five hours to read it. The one good thing of spending those days with Mom was it gave me time to read. It's five hundred pages so I guess he figured a hundred pages an hour. It was so full of legaleze that some parts I had to read two or three times to figure out what he was saying. By and large though since it's for the opening and summation that he's hired me to help him it's what I needed to read.