Not only is the torture that neo-conservatives are so in love with morally reprehensible – it isn’t even necessarily effective. Can you even imagine it – that the “better way” might actually be a better way?
I think that this article makes a number of common mistakes in the discussion around Hell in the modern church, and I thought it provided a solid opportunity for me to point out these mistakes – if nothing else, then because I don’t think what is described has much hope of actually reaching any thoughtful progressives or postmoderns.
While talking about the article and what it has to say, I’ll be quoting portions of it rather than the whole thing because it is significantly longer than I want my posts to be on this blog.
As to when I’ll have time to do this – we’ll see. I’ve quit one of my three jobs after an 82+ hour work week recently and the realization that my work on the book has basically stalled out for a month now…so maybe I’ll have more time now and then.
In the meantime, read the article. Its interesting – another traditionalist trying to deal with postmodernity. Where it mis-characterizes or seems condescending, I don’t think it is intentional, and I assume it is well-meant. If you honestly believe God is waiting to throw us in hell (and that this is somehow good and loving), then keeping people out of that horrific situation is definitely a priority, so I understand that much.
I realized I’ve talked about this stuff before, so I’ll try to only say relatively new things in this treatment of the article.
What sparked this new post is – the article is clearly aimed at someone like me, and it doesn’t reach me, and I want to say why, because I think I have good reasons not to be reached here.
The Grand Isle Statement
I absolutely agree with number 1. There’s no way that voting against full inclusion of homosexuals in the life of the church will ever have a positive effect on any denomination.
I can’t agree with number 2, but that’s because I’m just not the biggest fan of a centralized authority telling me what to do. I’d rather work it out with people I know and have relationships with. If that’s called “local option”, then that’s what I want, rather than the alternative, which seems to be “non-local option” or “distant option”.
Revisionist. Good to know what I am now. I assume that our denominational conflicts over slavery and women’s ordination were won by “revisionists” as well, so I see that I’m in good company at least.
Number 4 is absolutely true, just as number 1 was. Upholding Amendment B will never do anything to further the gospel or to reach out to the world or to make the Church stronger. Never ever ever.
I’m okay with number 5. I haven’t gone fishing in a long time, but I used to enjoy it, and I picture people who go fishing coming home pretty relaxed, whereas our fight over icky homos is making everyone pretty upset – especially when they lose. I’ve advocated this path in the past, and I do so again now.
The following is a comment I posted to Tribal Church as part of a discussion that started on the subject of atonement. This is something I’ve said before in various ways, but I think this is one of the shorter and more efficient formulations.
“And yet, I cannot ignore power in the story of sacrifice that still impels me. There was, for some reason, this thought in so many ancient religions that in order to atone for our sins, in order to appease God, in order to make peace with the divine, we ought to pour out life-blood, whether it was a pigeon, or a lamb, or what have you. There is this narrative that we carry within us. It is part of who we are as human beings.”
In the book Lamb (which is comedy, but also very insightful at times), the idea is put forward that one of the things that Jesus sought to do was to abolish the human practice of atoning sacrifice. I think this is a compelling idea.
So is it not possible that, while there was a human need for sacrifice to atone, Jesus’ sacrifice was the ultimate, definitive demonstration that this need for blood before reconciliation is demonic and always counter to God’s will? I mean, the crucifixion is the worst case scenario. God becomes a human being and after we meet God, we decide to ridicule, torture and execute God publicly…and we do it with relish. What could *possibly* be worse?
In continuing to see substitutionary atonement as positive, then, we might be continually propping up something that God thought was so perverse that God underwent it personally in order to demonstrate how it is never redemptive, never justice?
If one takes this view, then there is still the necessity, theologically and in terms of narrative, that Jesus be crucified, because it has to go that far, it has to come to that terrible moral and theological impasse, before we are shocked out of our need for retribution, our need for blood as a prerequisite for reconciliation. So, Jesus “died to save us from sin”, and Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection function to atone and to reconcile, but not because the sacrifice was *good*, but precisely because it was the most terrible evil one can imagine.
Here it is again. I didn’t come up with a better way to say this, so I might as well say it in some way at least. (This is an interesting exercise. Please do not blow it out of proportion.)
The Fundamentalists’ Fundamentals aren’t that interesting to me. Some of them are answering questions I’m not asking and not very interested in (Mary’s virginity), some are usually not well-defined (“inerrancy” is a wiggly word that means a number of things, surprisingly), and some aren’t even consistent (is it Christ’s miracles or his pre-millennial second coming?).
Its led me to the audacious task of naming my five fundamentals of Christian faith – five things that I think are sort of the “Christian minimum”. This is an odd task because of the great deal of weight I usually give to self-identification (if you call yourself a Christian I’m very likely to give you the benefit of the doubt), but its an interesting exercise. I’ll also try to put them in some sort of logical order.
Here they are – the Fundamentals!
1. God exists in a way that is not reducible to something else we can define
This is my issue and probably not an issue for many of you, but this is crucial to my faith. There are so many ways to account for religious and spiritual experiences, so many ways to interpret sacred texts and historical traditions, without believing that they are meaningful on any grand scale. This plays into my problems with orthodoxy when it is presented as objective truth – if I buy into “objectivity”, there are a Hell of a lot of ways to account for everything under the umbrella of religion without any need for God at all. And I’m not prepared to go there – I’m not there anymore, perhaps, is a better way of putting it. So, as I’ve said in my comment threads before – God in mystery, God in paradox, or no God at all. And because of this, I discipline myself as much as I possibly can to be agnostic about my own beliefs and statements. I’ve been accused of false humility before – whatever. Its where I am, whether its humility or not.
2. God loves creation and love is God’s motivation when God acts
I am simply not willing to worship a God who is evil. I will not bow down to a monster under any circumstances. This means that God cannot be in favor of torture or rape or genocide. I will not preach a God who is in favor of evil, or promotes evil, or accepts evil without calling us to resist with ever fiber of our being.
Even more than that, I will preach and teach a God of love. I will do this for a number of reasons, the most important being that this is the God who I know and love, who I believe knows me and who I believe, in my better moments, loves me. If I cannot account for an ‘act’ of God from the standpoint of God’s love, then I do not accept it as God’s action. This is a limitation that I am perfectly comfortable with. If God is not good then God is not God – if God is not good, God is merely another in a long line of ten thousand tribal gods who manifests the violence and ego of human beings writ large.
Do I realize that I am holding God to my moral and ethical standards? Absolutely. (Everyone does this, whether they admit it or not.) I am viscerally unable to worship a monster. If this means I am worshiping a figment of my imagination, at least it will be a figment of love rather than malice. There are a lot of worse things I can do with my time.
3. God is present to our experience primarily as the Holy Spirit
This is just stolen from scripture and the witness of the Church. If you want to know about what I think on this topic, ask. Why this is a fundamental is that you will note that I did not say “God is present to our experience primarily as Scripture.” This is very intentional. I see way too many instances where the Holy Spirit gets subjugated to Scripture, and I think it is a dire problem. Scripture is one vehicle through which the Holy Spirit approaches us. Anybody who thinks She is locked up in there needs to get out more.
Or, to put it another way, if the Bible had never been written, God would still be present to us. How? We can speculate if you want, but I don’t want to take up the space here.
4. God is most knowable through Jesus Christ
I say “most” but I do not mean “fully” because I think that Christ, being God, is un-knowable. Our minds can’t even really grasp the enormity of our planet, and our planet is a tiny blue dot in a field of billions of dots dim and bright. We cannot possibly understand all there is to understand about God – not even close. We cannot even understand all there is to understand about a molecule. What’s a tiny fraction of infinity? If you do the math, its essentially nothing. That’s why our endeavour is described by terms like faith, hope and love. We are not dealing in definitives.
That being said, I do think that one can come to know God to some degree through Jesus Christ – enough to have a relationship, enough to change your life, enough to be “saved” if I must use that hijacked term. I say this out of faith, not out of any pretense to objective knowledge of some sort. I say this because I have seen it happen, because I have been told it has happened, and because I have experienced some of it myself.
5. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God is making us more like Jesus Christ
This is, to be blunt, the point. Justification and sanctification. Being made more fully into the image of God, being adopted to be co-heirs with Christ; greater things shall we do than Jesus did – all that. Yes. That is what we is about. If it isn’t happening, we are wasting our time. Our depravity is not more powerful than God. Our sin is not more powerful than God. Our fear and hatred are not more power than God’s love. These are, again, statements of hope, of trust. But if we are not actually being made new, then this is a waste of time.
What is conspicuous by its absence:
Anything about the virgin birth
I don’t think that sin lives in the female birth canal. That is a Medieval problem that we don’t have to address anymore because we have a much better idea of where babies come from. I don’t think that procreation contaminates us, and so I am agnostic as to Mary’s virginity. It makes no difference to my faith either way. If its important to you, that’s fine with me.
Anything specific about scripture
I’m not about to start telling everyone how they must interpret Scripture. In fact, I don’t think anyone should have that job. There isn’t a key or a glossary appended to the end of any of the books.
We have to grapple with Scripture – not bludgeon with it. I do not take well to being bludgeoned, and I will not bludgeon.
Anything about miracles, the pre-millennial second coming, etc.
On these topics I stay agnostic. My own experience, which has lacked any direct experience of a miracle, forces me to believe in God whether the miracle accounts are perfectly historically accurate or not – if I am to insist on believing in God, which I do.
The problem is, if you study world religions, you find that every culture is full of claims of miracles in its past. Present practitioners of every religion you can think of claim miraculous occurrences. Every single tradition has its claims. I have never found a compelling reason to believe that only our miracle claims are true. For those who want to cram God into their own little box, I say: “Good luck with that. Let me know how it goes.”
On the other hand, I would never close the door on miracles. Well, that hasn’t always been true for me, but it is true now. So, as I said, I remain agnostic on things like miracles and the second coming.
If, by the way, you can show me a genuine miracle, you will get to try to convince me, but you will no longer be able to win a million dollars.