Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review: Hellbound? - A Documentary About Hell

I finally got around to watching Hellbound.  Hellbound is a documentary, that looks at how the doctrine of Hell is viewed in Christianity.  In it, various clergy and theologians are interviewed for their take on God and Hell.  As an ex-evangelical, I enjoyed it.

There is a good sampling of people and I think all of the views were honestly represented without much spin.  There were folks who were pro-Hell and others who leaned to a more universalistic end.  Though it is obvious the director wants to point you to a universalistic end, he is fair to the other opinions.

Much of the theology is represented by various folks within evangelical circles.  Greg Boyd and Mark Driscoll are interviewed, rather than Catholic priests and Lutherans.

As an atheist, what was clear to me was that each person's "god" was a reflection of their own personalities.  It was no wonder that to the folks of Westboro Baptist, "God" pretty much hated everybody.  On the other end, the universalists who wanted to love everyone, had a god who would save everyone.

Look in the mirror, and God looks just like you.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Facebook Faith #49: You Are A Sinner

Recently on Facebook, a Christian was trying to explain to me that, without Christ, I was going to end up in Hell.  She told me that I am a sinner and deserved such treatment from God.

I explained that since I do not believe in Hell or God, I had no such worries.  I also told her that I do not think of myself as a sinner.  She replied with a common witnessing maneuver:
"So have you ever stole anything?? Have you told a lie ?? If yes, what does that make you?? "

I told her that makes me a person who has made a mistake, and a mistake does not a person make. I may have a student who has told a lie, but I would be wrong to therefore cast them forever in my mind as liar. That would simply be damaging. In any case, why would we choose to frame someone according to their mistakes rather than their goodness? Someone fed the poor today, what does that make them? They encouraged someone who was down, what does that make them?

Fortunately, I don't even think Christians who use this argument actually feel that way about their fellow humans. They meet nice kind people, and they recognize them as nice kind people - they don't tend to think '"Hmmmm... at some time in their past, they must have lied... so this kind, niceness must really be a facade!" No, even Christians have the ability to recognize great people regardless of their foibles.

But here is one of the problems with much of Christianity. Their belief system wants to cast every human being in a bad light. In order for the world to NEED Jesus, it has to be full of sin and darkness.  So Christians bend toward seeing humanity and the Earth that way. Christians frame a mistake as a life sentence to place others in need of what they have.

It reminds me of a missionary named Daniel Everett. He worked with an Amazon tribe that had had nearly no outside contact. He found them to be a happy contended people. He realized his job was to convince this happy contented culture that they were actually bad and corrupt.... so he could then offer them Jesus to save them.

Having left the faith, I now see it as creating a lot of co-dependency. Faith needs to keep people weak and needy, and I hear it in the rhetoric of believers every day. Their memes on Facebook declare their unworthiness, powerlessness, and corruption - but thankfully they have God to empower and forgive them. They have been taught to define themselves according to their weaknesses and failures, and they pass those teachings on to others.

I used to think of myself as a sinner, I thought of how often I let God down. I thought wrong behavior was my defining characteristic. However, I discovered it was all contrived. Once out of the faith, I realized... I never "sin". It is massively infrequent that I cause pain or harm to another human being.... in fact, most of my day is spent giving good turns and encouragement to everyone around me.... yet I spent decades believing there was something inherently wrong with me.

No more... my chains are broken and I have run free.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Facebook Faith #48: Politically Correct Bibles?


 
I used to be a conservative Christian.  Then I was a liberal Christian.  For a brief time, I held on to a vague theism.   Finally, a few years ago, I abandoned belief in any deities or supernatural entities altogether.
Yesterday, I read a post on my brother’s Facebook page.  He leans toward the liberal end of Christianity and had shared an article about what things Jesus might have said if he gave a speech at Liberty University.  The ideas presented tended to run 180 degrees from what Ted Cruz had offered during his time there this week.
One of my brother's fundamentalist friends commented that the article was na├»ve, and he went on to share his frustration with liberal Christians who choose to make the Bible politically correct.  He does not want a “warm, fuzzy” God or Bible!

Inserting tongue into cheek, I replied:

You tell em' ****! Don't let these liberals water down God's word! When God told people to stone a bride at her father's door, he wasn't kiddin around! What happened to the good ol days when God would send his soldiers in and have them wipe out every man, woman, and child - cept the young girls... hell, no... God let them keep the young girls... God's a good ol' boy, and he knows his soldiers have needs! I'm tellin ya! You haven't seen nuttin til you see God get ticked and the only way to calm him down is to put some innocents up on a pike! Woo-Hoo doggie! Damn! There is NOTHING like divine blood-lust! You keep preachin the hard WORD ****! Don't let these liberal believers mess with your ass-kicking Yaweh!

Though I was being a bit sardonic, the actions I listed are accurate according to the Bible.  God ordered massacres and executions, sanctioned rape, and required the blood of innocents to appease his anger.  
Christians work around the violence of God in the Bible in any number of ways.  Some ignore it, then fail to teach it to new converts, thus creating a myriad of believers who truly just don’t know.  Some take a non-literal view of the bible – it was written by a tribal people who ascribed their violence to their God.  Some, like my brother’s Facebook friend… seem a little too enthusiastic about all of that violence.

In my view, either the Bible is no more true than any other ancient myth, or the deity described there is a being worthy of nothing more than disdain, and only cultural inertia keeps people under his spell.

Yes, Jesus taught about love most of the time… but Thich Nhat Hanh talks about it all the time… and HIS book is so much better.  It seems to me that those desiring personal betterment have much better text choices available.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Facebook Faith #47 Bill Burr and Curling

"Non-theists already have a good idea that they are wrong and don't care.... "

I was in a Facebook discussion recently where a believing gentleman said the above quote. It kind of shocked me, because I had never heard a believer really articulate that to a non-believer.

As a believer, I had heard similar things said within our own circles. Whether spoken aloud or not, we all believed that those of outside faiths, or no faith, really - deep down - knew they were wrong. They just clung to their ideas out of arrogance or rebellion. In their pride, they would never admit that we were right. I think that was why the notion of Hell didn't bother us too much. They really were choosing Hell, and in the end we would finally be proven right!

Those thoughts fell apart for me as I began to get to know my Mormon neighbors after moving out to Salt Lake City. Listening to their stories and hearing their hearts, I could not deny that they believed their stories as sincerely as we did ours.

So... if I believe my stories to be true... and they believe their stories to be true... and we both have stories of transformation and redemption occurring in the lives of people... maybe... maybe transformation is not a holy thing... but a human thing...

and... here I am.

This was brought to mind this morning as I watched the comedian Bill Burr, talk about his exit from faith. In his case, he realized thinking the stories of other religions absurd, might apply to his stories as well. I particularly relate to his analogy of how he "let go" of religion.... spot on!


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Facebook Faith # 46: Heresy Is A Beautiful Thing!

The following is a conversation I had on Facebook recently. A friend had brought up her concerns with Rob Bell's recent comments concerning the Bible and Homosexuality. I put in my two cents that I thought Bell was being a little misunderstood. That probably would have been the end of my commentary, but an old church mate jumped in with her two cents implying Bell was a heretic.

I find the topic of heresy fascinating. Most of the greatest souls our world has ever known were regarded as heretics by the religious powers of their time. They advanced science, philosophy, human rights, and even religion... all while being derided by the protectors of orthodoxy.

Given that, it amazes me that we cannot seem to learn the folly of using the charge of heresy to shut down ideas and close up our ears. No, like EF below, Orthodoxy is real and must be defended... it "is a matter of life and death."  It never occurs to her that it might just be a little too convenient that, out of the myriad of voices out there claiming Orthodoxy, hers just happens to be the right one! Well, not hers... it's "God's".  :)

Anyway, below is the tennis match between EF and me. My friend JL jumps in and adeptly shows an example of what I am confident are MANY cherry pickings of scripture on EF's part. As I discovered in my many years in church circles, NO ONE cherry picks scripture from the bible more than the person who says they don't cherry pick scripture.  :)

Here it is:


  • Andrew Hackman Not that I am a defender of Bell, but I think his point was not that HE felt those letters were irrelevant... but using those letters to others, and that is one's only reasoning, is not going to make much impact. Anymore than someone quoting the Book of Mormon to an Evangelical as a reason one should or should not do this or that. The average Evangelical would just roll their eyes and say, "Why do I care what the Book of Mormon says?" Likewise would be the reaction of a non-Christian with the Bible.
    2 hrs · Edited · Like · 2

  • AK Andrew Hackman...Point taken!
    3 hrs · Like · 2

  • RB Christianity can't conform to modern times. I think that's the problem that people don't see. 

  • RM Hebrews 13 reminds the church: 7Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.… If we truly believe in His word then He has not and will not change. Why would we NOT continue to speak this truth 2000 years later. Are the 10 Commandments irrelevant in society too? Can you only imagine if society followed the 10 Commandments? Simple acts of kindness and obedience. We are human. We are sinners. We need a savior. And I THANK God my Savior does NOT change. I take great comfort in that.
    2 hrs · Like · 3
  • BP Scripture has to be given context...all of the Epistles were written in a particular time and in a particular place and addressing a specific issue...can you imagine if someone just opened your email and picked something to read with no context? Now, the Bible is sacred...the Holy Spirit was involved in the Canon being decided upon, so we know it's not just a random collection of stories and letters...it was not chosen randomly from someone's inbox...but, the Holy Scripture still has context. To just quote back texts, or "letters from 2,000 years ago" to defend a point is a disservice to the scripture and the argument. Scripture is sacred, but it still must be read in context to get at its intended meaning for the original hearers, and for readers today.
    2 hrs · Like · 1
  • EF Studied heresy a bit in Oxford, and, well...
    2 hrs · Like · 1

  • BP  EF...who is the heretic? Me? Rob Bell? I'm not asking to start an argument...didn't understand what you were getting at with your comment.
    2 hrs · Like · 1

  • Andrew Hackman heretic= that other religious person who does not have the same religious thoughts as me.
    2 hrs · Edited · Like · 3

  • RB Agreed. I have always loved Rob Bell but using the word "irrelevant" for the church felt like a blow to the stomach. I love his teachings about journeying with God. His "think out outside the box" abilities have spoken to my soul. But today his words deeply saddened me. There are many things I would like to take out of the Bible for my benefit and homosexuality is one of them. I struggled with the Bible's stance on it. But that being said, for me it's all or nothing.
    1 hr · Like · 1
  • EF Andrew Hackman actually, that would be more like "judging" -- kind of like what you do to me  that being said, herasy is a serious thing, and it is a serious offense to God. Several religious formed outside of Orthodox Christianity from one belief that was un-Orthodox. Be it marriage, the resurrection of Christ, the authority of Scripture... and several of these teachers that strayed from doctrine lead millions astray. It's a real thing, and it's a serious thing. Much of the NT warns against it. It's not a word I throw around lightly, and certainly not something you use when you simply disagree.
    1 hr · Like

  • Andrew Hackman One person's heresy is another's orthodoxy. There are tens of thousands of different strands of Christianity alone (and more historically)... not even getting into the myriads of other religions.... Each, except for a few gracious strands, think all the others are off... not telling the story right, not representing the deity right, not interpreting right, not baptizing right... the list of errors in the "other" group can be quite prodigious. But thankfully, "we" have got our act together. 

    As an outsider, I find one Christian calling another Christian heretic is truly a case of pot calling kettle black. 
  • EF  hi Andrew. I agree, the word can be overused. And I can see why this to outsiders would be confusing. But Orthodox Christianity does exist, and so does heresy, and it's not defined by one person's opinions. Several denominations exist within this scope. It's why there can be unity among diversity. And while this unity will at times look fragmented, we are to guard against heresy. I am speaking to myself, as well! I think we are all prone to it, as we all want our desires to be met. Heresy is something contrary to doctrine, and while for many years I enjoyed Bell's videos, I find his theology (on a number of key issues) outside the scope of Biblical Christianity.
    44 mins · Like · 2
  • JL Well if we want to follow a strict biblical definition of marriage we better figure out which of these is correct. Or do we remove those we don't like for our own benefit? https://bobcargill.files.wordpress.com/.../biblical...
    33 mins · Like · 1
  • EF JL if you start looking at MAN and WOMEN... the way we define things, the way we live, our standards, what we think is right/ok/acceptable vs. the character and nature of God himself, you are likely to never, ever embrace the Gospel truth
  • Andrew Hackman And I know many Christians who view your slice of Christianity as being outside of the scope of Jesus Christianity. TomAto/ Tomato, PotAto/Potato. Your saying you are in the right slice is just words... with no more merit or credibility than anyone else's. Everyone lobs volleys as to the points they think are in error within the other's camp... each slice claiming the high ground. You arguing to me that you are in the right slice, while the others are in heresy..... well.... imagine if you were talking to a member of the FLDS church, and the LDS church... and each were trying to explain why the OTHER is wrong in their doctrine. From your perspective, their arguments are irrelevant.

    It reminds me of an encounter just before we moved out to Salt Lake. A Jehovah's Witness stopped me as I was getting some Starbucks. We talked for a bit and he closed by asking if we could talk again. I told him that I was moving to Salt Lake City the next week. He said, "Salt Lake City? Don't a lot of Mormons live out there? Aren't they a cult?" I had to repress a grin... His statement was filled with such irony!

    Of course, it would be another 8 years or so before I caught the full irony. 
  • EF Andrew Hackman you don't know my slice of Christianity, and that is precisely the point I am making. My slice doesn't matter. Being in line with Scripture does. I seek to confirm my beliefs around His... not the other way around. And just for kicks it might be fun for you to study the beginning of the Jehovah Witness movement. It began from one person having a false belief on the nature of God. It was heresy. That belief continues to lead millions astray to this day. Not Potato/PotAto... life and death.
  • Andrew Hackman Whichever slice, it is just one of many... claiming dominance... and declaring it's uniqueness.... just like all the others. 
  • MG  "The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense." - the first letter from Paul to the church in Corinth written around 55 AD(CE), first chapter, 18th verse, from The Message translation
    21 mins · Like · 1
  • Andrew Hackman " but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. " An argument advanced by Mormons as well.  Not to belabor a point, but really... every slice is going to make that argument in some form or fashion.
  • JL  EF please don't preach to us. Paul was very clear that women should not preach especially to men. That is biblical. Or was that letter really just for that specific church due to context?

  • EF JL are we in church or is this Facebook? #eyeroll

  • JL 1 Timothy 2:12 says nothing about being in a church.



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