Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Born of Water

September 7, 2011 Leave a comment

John 3:5-6

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

People generally take these verses one of two ways. One group believes that someone “born of water and the Spirit” is someone “born of the Spirit” because, to them, the phrase “born of water” refers to baptism. The other camp believes that the phrase “born of water” refers to physical birth, and water alludes to the amniotic fluid that surrounds a fetus inside the womb and bursts from a mother ready to give birth.  According to people of this mindset, to be “born of water” is to “be born of flesh”, and I share this belief.

People have written exhaustively in defense of both of these viewpoints, and I don’t feel compelled to defend my point of view. If you really care to know, pages 316-325 of the book Lectures in Theology by  Bennett Tyler and Nahum Gale published in 1859 defend it more eloquently than I ever could on my own. You can find it here for free. I might summarize it in the next post, but for now I just want to say that this interpretation suggests that the unborn cannot enter heaven.

According to that interpretation, during Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, he mentions the requirement of two births three times, four times if you include verse 6. This provides extra fodder for the debate over where life begins and the debate over abortion, and either side could use it to bolster their argument. However, I can’t think of an argument based on this interpretation that could entice either camp to change their way of thinking. I have a stance on this, but I think focusing on that stance misses the point. Although I do believe debates over abortion have merit, I think a well-adjusted, thoughtful person would care more about how to keep women from having to make that choice than whether the legal right to make that choice should exist (I say life instead of human life intentionally).

Whether you feel that engaging in sexual intercourse without intending to procreate is immoral or that engaging in sex solely for pleasure is healthy, I don’t think anybody wants to bear the social cost of  other people’s unwanted pregnancies that could have been prevented through abstinence or the use of contraceptives. I don’t understand why people who believe sex outside of marriage is immoral would want people who commit immoral acts raising children they don’t want especially if those same pillars of society will do literally nothing to help that child become a righteous person except trying to achieve the reasonable goal of reshape the laws of this country to reflect their belief system. I also don’t understand and haven’t met a responsible adult who thinks sex is a great thing you should do often who also believes people should engage in a behavior if they can’t own up to all of the potential consequences. It’s like telling someone without the ability to pay off a loan to buy a house because it’s a great investment. It just makes sense to employ all of the tools available to prevent fertilization of an egg so maybe that the number of unwanted pregnancies can one day be so small that we are willing to bear the cost.

Miscellaneous Thought:

This thing went pear shaped on me. I was actually thinking of using that verse to try to bolster my stance on where life begins before I realized, while trying to write this post, that it was a stupid, stupid idea. So I decided to write something that I could make a good argument for without having write pages on the subject, cite scientific and religious authors who agree with me, and ultimately fail to do anything to move people entrenched in their stances. So if the shift in focus from religious to political was jarring, it wasn’t my original intent, but I think what I wrote has the potential to be more fruitful than what I originally wanted to write.

Also in my mind, pear-shaped is a ridiculous term that I don’t think I’ll ever use seriously. Additionally, the amniotic sac entry on wikipedia has a pretty raw picture of someone pulling the amniotic sac out of a woman. I honestly didn’t expect it to look so sac-like.

Categories: Faith, Politics

The Bible’s Thorniness

September 5, 2011 Leave a comment

This quote from has articulated much better than I have how I feel about the Bible at its best.

“In my opinion, it is a rich tapestry of egoless narratives, poems and letters. Most of the writers were not chosen for their skill, I don’t believe, but each of them has an uncanny ability to remove pretense from their work. Even Christ’s biographers depict Him without sparing us His humanity. He gets angry, He gets annoyed, He is hard to understand (and indeed hard to follow) and while He seems to love the world, He’s as alien as E.T., pointing always toward the heavens rambling about going home. It’s brilliant stuff when you stop reading it to figure out if you’re right or wrong about something. It’s life-changing, actually, the way your life gets changed by a friend over time.”

I only disagree with the idea that all of the New Testament letters are egoless. Several of them were written from the perspective of people who believed they had received God’s most important revelations, understood them, and lived by them. How could they not feel driven to write authoritatively? The shallowness of my faith might hinder me from strongly relating to the letters penned by those type of writers. Ultimately, I find it easier to identify with men of faith from the Old Testament and draw far more inspiration from the words of Jesus in the gospels.

Let me start with some non toxic examples to demonstrate why I take issue with these men speaking so authoritatively.

2 Cor 14:33-35 “33For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

Now people, including me for a time, say that this instruction was for their time, but, in context, we can’t say this was just the cultural expectation because he reinforces his instruction by pointing to it as something “the Law”, big “L”, requires of women. He starts this declaration about the status of women in the church by highlighting a particular aspect of God’s nature. Then he says, “As in all the churches of the saints,” before saying women shouldn’t talk in church even to ask a question. He didn’t mean to write “As in all the churches of the saints in this era” either.

My understanding was that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus created a new covenant for us, and followers of Christ were no longer bound by the old covenant. In fact, the apostles told gentiles in the early church that they didn’t have to meet the law’s requirement of circumcision and that they didn’t have to follow the law’s old dietary restrictions. One of God’s early positive commands to Adam and Eve in the garden was to “be fruitful and multiply”, but you find an apostle in the New Testament discouraging people from even getting married unless they had to much trouble controlling their lust while elsewhere another writer says that, in order for men to serve as a church leaders, they need to be model husbands and fathers.

Jesus himself never says women should stay quiet and submissive as a rule. My favorite quote from Jesus regarding women is in Luke 8:21 where he says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” When the sinful Samaritan woman at the well realizes Jesus is the Christ and runs to tell the people in town her testimony, Jesus doesn’t stop her and tell her to find a man to tell it to so that the good news can be spread properly. If you check out that story, the sight of Jesus talking to a woman makes the disciples uncomfortable, but none of them has the balls to say anything about it. When they try to get him to eat something, Jesus’ response reflects that knowing the outcome of his conversation with the sinful Samaritan woman sufficiently appeased his hunger. In my opinion, the author of that passage in 1 Corinthians 14 completely misunderstands the role of women in spreading the gospel and serving the church.

If the writer of that letter could have commanded something so inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching and ministry, how can you not feel the need to question whether some of the other positions taken by letter writers in the Bible line up with what Jesus said and did? Jesus never says following the written word equates to following him or following his disciples equates to following him. He says in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He says in verse 15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus doesn’t say you have to believe all of the principles and rules written in letters considered canonical by future believers. Whether or not you believe the entire Bible is the infallible word of God, Jesus never says you need to follow and believe all the rules and principles laid out in books 39 through 66 in order to grow in your relationship with him or in order to receive the grace he extends.

All the parts of the Bible don’t come together to create a complete, coherent picture. Each author presents their personal perspective on how God moved in their life or in the lives of others. An old testament example of inconsistency is a God in the book of Job who allows his faithful servant to suffer and all his children to die because Satan begs permission versus a God who, in any other book of the Old Testament, dispenses rewards or punishments according to how well the people in covenant with him meet its requirements. The gospels come close to a unified vision only because all four books set out to explore the thoughts, teachings, and deeds of one man who physically dwelt on earth for a little longer than three decades and whose public ministry lasted for an action-packed, short 3 years.

(no transition, need help)

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” On its own, I don’t fully understand what that means, but I know it doesn’t mean that you must abandon your critical thinking skills in order to discover a unified theory that links every single letter, narrative, and poem the Bible has to offer. For example, the mind of the flesh might think, “Jerking off to some explicit images feels good now so I’m going to ignore the notion that it will damage my relationship with God and others.” However, having the mind of the Spirit does not require you to

1) know that everything an unsaved person is and does disgusts God

2) believe no other possibilities but eternal torture exist for anyone who doesn’t have the same relationship with Christ that you believe you do.

3) believe the universe and everything in it was created in 7 solar days

4) believe women need to wait till they get home to discuss the sermon with their husband lest they disrupt church with vibration of their vocal chords

5) believe any other sort of debatable hooey

According to Jesus, you could accept any number of things as fact and still not have a place in his family or a role in leading anyone else to Him. Jesus doesn’t require his followers to be literate enough to study or  understand any of these debatable topics.

Look at John 16:7-14

7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the [Bible] will not come to you. But if I go, I will send [it] to you. 8 And when [it] comes, [it] will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the [Bible] comes, [it]will guide you into all the truth, for [it]will not speak on [its] own authority, but whatever [it] hears [it] will speak, and [it] will declare to you the things that are to come. 14[It] will glorify me, for [it] will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

If you’re familiar with the passage you will notice that I replaced every pronoun and noun referring to the Holy Spirit. I did this because it best conveys how some Christians view the Bible. The way some talk would lead you to believe that the Holy Spirit’s main job is to help you understand the Bible so the Bible can do all of the stuff that Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would do. John 5:39 applies to a lot of us today  “[searching] the Scriptures because [we] think that in them [we]  have eternal life”. Most of us doing that are also trying to seek out Jesus, but multi-tasking is failing us here.

Often, when we’re struggling for the right words to say to someone, a Bible verse comes to us, and we think we’re living out the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:20. However, a believer looking to take advantage of their full birthright should expect more than the right quotes if they consider what Jesus has to say about the fruit of the Holy Spirit in John 14:12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do”. Using the birthright metaphor reminds me of the story of the prodigal son who goes off on his own thinking he has his full birthright, spends it all, returns to his father’s house hoping to work as a servant, and receives a loving, gracious welcome home from his father when he returns. We could also be the son, ignorant of all the things his father would give him, who never left home, but never enjoyed it there either. I could never fully fault putting the Bible on a pedestal for denying us our full birthright, but it’s easy to be overwhelmed and distracted by it rather than encouraged and challenged by it. A useful resource can turn into the thorns that immobilize an individual and slow or hinder their growth.

I know I spend a lot of time thinking, debating, and negotiating, but hopefully I can spend more time doing and responding and arrive somewhere I can take full advantage of what the Spirit has to offer instead of flipping through pages trying to find each nugget and morsel a book has to offer.

Categories: Faith

Sinister Simulation

June 10, 2010 Leave a comment

This 22 year old architect from the Philippines “spent four years wallowing in equations and graph paper” and created a self-sustaining city named Magnasanti using the game Sim City. When I played Sim City, I found it frustrating at every turn and could never get to a point in the game where I really felt in control. If the budget wasn’t bleeding money, fires, monsters, or rioting citizens seemed intent on destroying my cities. I used to feel a bit impotent in my inability to respond properly to the demands of the game, but, after finding out that it took an aspiring architect just under four years to master the game, I don’t feel so inadequate.

His name, Vincent Ocasala, even sounds like the moniker of a fictional mastermind, and people who read about his feat, watch the youtube video, and read his interview seem to find him a bit terrifying but, to me, he more closely resembles the genius anti-hero archetype found in animes such as L from Death Note and LeLouch of Code Geass. I don’t know the effect that completing this game had on his mind because his philosophy seems a bit villainish, and he shows an unbridled affection for the game that he slaved over for years in order to successfully master. I don’t find him so immediately sinister because this interview seems like a smaller part of an unfinished story.

It’s possible that Sim City has its limitations and Vincent’s city exists as one of many possible solutions that the algorithms in the game allow for. If the creators designed the game deliberately so that only this type of city could maintain the highest population level without cheats, then I would identify them as the shadowy figures lurking behind the scenes in this existential tale.

What human being would think a city should have the ability to function indefinitely in this form:

“Technically, no one is leaving or coming into the city. Population growth is stagnant. Sims don’t need to travel long distances, because their workplace is just within walking distance. In fact they do not even need to leave their own block. Wherever they go it’s like going to the same place…

There are a lot of other problems in the city hidden under the illusion of order and greatness: Suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle – this is the price that these sims pay for living in the city with the highest population. It’s a sick and twisted goal to strive towards. The ironic thing about it is the sims in Magnasanti tolerate it. They don’t rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time.”

“The city symmetry uses a modified version of the symbol [the Bhavacakra, the wheel of life and death in Buddhism] to represent the sinister intent of enslaving all of its citizens for all eternity.”

“…none of its citizens seem to live past the age of 50.
Health of the sims was not a priority, relative to the main objective. I could have enacted several health ordinances which would have increased the life expectancy, but I decided not to for practical reasons.”

If you make it all the way to the end of the interview, there’s a twist. If you’ve seen animes like Death Note or Code Geass, then you know that the anti-heroes, for the sake of righting wrongs on a global scale, must resort to using harsh, unsavory methods in order to act as catalysts for the type of revolution that their world desperately needs. Instead of viewing it as an illustration of right ideology, Vincent explains it instead as a cautionary tale:

“It shows that by only focusing on one objective, one may end up neglecting, or resorting to sacrificing, other important elements. Similarly, [in the real world] if we make maximizing profits as the absolute objective, we fail to take into consideration the social and environmental consequences.”

This serves as a prime example of video games as high art especially if the creator’s intended to do this, and it wasn’t simply a failure to produce an unbeatable game.

The love of money is “a” root of evil, but idolatry in any form can be detrimental to an individual or a society as a whole particulary when it involves the pursuit of things that we collectively consider worth pursuing. An unchecked pursuit of safety, comfort, or happiness can easily lead to the devaluation of the value of human life, possibly the life of the pursuer, possibly the life of a person who happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, or possibly the value of human life in the context of a society.

I think that I’m a bit idealistic; I don’t think there was ever a time in history when a society ever came close to a proper approximation of the value of human life. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” falls short especially when people start throwing around phrases like, “You have nothing to worry about if you’re innocent. I’m innocent and…” Take the case of Henry Skinner in Texas who sits on death row because his lawyer valued his time and his paycheck more than Henry’s life and the justice system values the perception of being just so much more than this man’s life that waiting a month for DNA testing could sully that glistening reputation .

Also there’s the case of 3 guilty-until-proven-innocent detainees, who died in U.S. custody because of how highly we value national security and how alluring a cash reward for turning over people to the U.S. was for people in their home countries (further rant by me here )

As an economics major and a part-time philosopher, I know a little bit about the actual difficulty of calculating the value of human life, but that doesn’t give us license to be callous monsters.

Ghost in the Shell Laughing Man

"I thought what I'd do was I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes"

I’ve been comment-starved since January.  Let me know if you

Categories: Faith, Life, Politics, video games

Survival of the Righteous

June 7, 2010 Leave a comment

A year or two ago, I learned that the concept of survival of the fittest and natural selection were not inextricably linked. Survival of the fittest has its roots in the idea of natural selection, but the theory of natural selection has the ability to stand on its own. I value the theory of natural selection highly, and I see it at work not only in biological sciences but also in business, in philosophy, and in politics. I also see it more clearly now in how religions have competed with one another over the years.

Many Christians believe that the staying power and proliferation of Christianity over time serves as evidence of its veracity; they believe that the inherent truth within and value of Christianity allowed it to survive and thrive for such a long amount of time. This is a survival of the fittest interpretation.

Originally, people who believed in survival of the fittest also believed in a hierarchy in nature. Simply put, the fittest, most capable organisms survive and reproduce in a way that breeds out and displaces the inferior as if nature is some kind of fair competition with set rules and concrete conditions. On the other hand, under the theory of natural selection, an animal may survive just from sheer luck like during, I believe, the first industrial revolution when a certain color of moth outlasted the others because the type of ash spewing from the factories made them less visible while making others more visible. In that example, those moths didn’t develop that color in response to their conditions; they were just fortunate to be that color during that time. I believe that divine providence and its various adaptations over time, rather than its true or appealing message, deserve credit for Christianity’s survival and popularity.

People commonly fall into the trap of analyzing past events and movements from a modern perspective rather than in the context of the world at that time. Christianity has evolved over time, but I feel that we look at Christianity as if the things that we value today have been the things that Christians throughout time have always valued. We forget that it took the actions of Martin Luther in the early 1500s to repopularize the idea that Christians are saved by grace and establish the foundation for the Protestant tradition that so many Christians today participate in one way or another. We also forget that history provides us with plenty of examples of leaders throughout time who cared very little for the two greatest commandments.

We tend to say that in spite of the more infamous leaders Christianity survived, but we forget that in order to preserve, expand, or consolidate their power, selfish men must regularly do things that benefit the group because they recognize in some small way that they still derive their power from having the support of the masses. These leaders commonly made shrewd, intelligent, and ruthless decisions in order to preserve their power and keep their religion alive. They may not have been godly men, but their worldliness regularly allowed them to enjoy success in their time and ultimately keep Christianity afloat long enough and spread it far enough that people could eventually value it for the reasons that we value it today.

(I’ve been using a lot of common pronouns and not specifically describing leaders. It’s because I’m lazy. If you really want to know, scroll down on this website , and just google several of the names of the popes found on that page.)

Over various eras, Christian values have shifted in obvious ways. Many of the elements have remained consistent, but the ability of Christians over time to shift emphasis from place to place while maintaining a certain consistency fits perfectly with the concept of adaptation. Christianity in our era is significantly different from and more diverse than Christianity during the Age of Enlightenment. As much as we like to give Christianity credit for its influence on Western thought and society, we must also recognize that Christianity has had to adapt to changes in Western thought and society similar to how an animal, such as a beaver, may have and exercise the ability to alter its environment but is limited by the resources offered by that same environment. In some instances throughout history when people have done things in the name of Christianity that we beg critics not to focus on, Christianity was able to survive and even spread its influence more aggressively as a result of those actions. In those instances, the aggressiveness and political savvy of political and church leaders rather than the credibility and consistency of Christianity’s message allowed for its success and expansion.

Now let’s talk about divine providence. I don’t have a problem saying that God’s action allowed Christianity to endure and expand for as long as it has, but, in my mind that’s radically different from saying that Christianity’s validity deserves credit for its ascendancy. There’s a difference between a competitor defeating its rivals through skill and will and the competition organizer awarding points to him or her because the organizer has a stake in the competitor’s success.

There are several instances of this throughout history that serve as examples of divine providence, but I’ll pull just a few examples from The first one actually spurred me to think about Christianity in these terms and had to do with the fact that a cultural formality halted the Mongolian westward conquest.

“Folks, this was the Mongol Invasion of Europe. And shitty Europe, with its clunky knights and piss-poor peasantry, could do absolutely nothing to stop it. The Mongols…defeated the armies of such greats as Hungary, Austria and the Holy Roman Empire…

Then, the Mongolian leader, Ogedei Khan, died. And everyone had to go back to Mongolia.

Why? Because Mongolian cultural traditions required everyone to go back home when a new khan ascended…

One recent book speculates that the Mongols’ destruction of the Islamic heartland, and their comparative non-destruction of Europe, was what allowed the West to become the power center it was…New trade routes opened up, and new contacts were made between the major centers of population…

So while China and the Middle East were getting their shit burned, Europe was gaining new contact with the East. This, in turn, motivated the Age of Exploration. Hence why the West has nukes and computers and technology today, while everyone else has goats and carriages.”

If that guy didn’t die then and they didn’t adhere so strictly to tradition, you must realize that the world would be a radically different place. Before the Mongolian’s destruction of Baghdad, as tells us, Baghdad had been “the biggest deal on the planet for at least 500 years”. The Islamic countries in that region were culturally, scientifically, and militarily superior to the European nations; they were just unfortunately closer to the Mongols than Christian Europe.

One thing that I feel like discussing here is that the American hating, terrorist spawning brand of (Wahabi) Islam that a lot of people have come to see as the true face of Islam was developed in the 1950s. Before then, out of the major religions, Muslims were as liberal and progressive, possibly more so, as they were. Talk about adapting wrong.
*Back to topic*

From another article, I rediscovered that Mongolians used bubonic plague in biological warfare, the same bubonic plague that killed 30 to 60 percent (big variation) of the European population. This turned out to be a good thing

“First, the Plague left behind a sudden shortage of labor, thus landlords were forced to compete for workers by offering higher wages and better treatment. A lower population also brought cheaper land prices, more food for the average peasant and a relatively large increase in income among the lower classes over the next century.

In fact, it has been argued that the Black Death brought about the end of Feudalism, the establishment of Capitalism and was one of the major factors that caused the Peasant’s Revolt and ultimately, the Renaissance.”

Without the plague brought over by Mongols who couldn’t conquer the Europe because of one death in the family, Europe would not have developed the resources and power necessary to dominate the world and allow for proliferation of Christianity.

Also #1 on this list, , it’s possible that when Constantine claimed that he “saw with his own eyes in the heavens a trophy of the cross arising from the light of the sun, carrying the message, ‘Conquer By This’…it was apparently just a massive, flaming meteorite that just happened to be flying by at that moment “. If you still say that God made that meteorite happen at that precise moment, then the only reason that Christianity got to enjoy their status as a state-sponsored religion for the first time was because Daddy “cheated”.

There are several other instances of Daddy cheating throughout history that I don’t really care to get into, but I am sure with google, cracked, and some fresh eyes I could find more for you later.

The point of all this isn’t to question Christianity’s veracity or to say that there’s nothing appealing about it; it’s just to say that being true or right or good doesn’t guarantee you success, certainly not in this world. I remember reading a historical fiction called I, Claudius that really hammered this into me. It painted a picture where the most noble, competent people were killed off by the ambitious and power hungry who feared their popularity; as I alluded to before, part of the reason for Christianity’s success lies in the fact that along with the noble and competent the ambitious and power hungry also rose to high ranks in the Christian hierarchy. It might seem a bit too harsh to lack at it that way, but I think that the good being persecuted and the selfish enjoying success is something that the Bible tells us to expect. While we can expect God to bless us and make life a more rewarding experience for us, I don’t like when Christians look at validation from the world as evidence of their righteousness. I also wrote this because it’s always fun for me to find new examples of natural selection.

Extra – Dunno Where to Stick It
Another example of my beef is when the bare minimum requirement of a nation’s law slightly resembles God’s law, if one viewed God’s law, as Patton Oswalt would say, “in a half remembered nightmare through a cracked window of regret”, and Christians point to it as justification for seeking legal means to impose their system of morality on others and disregard the country’s continuous emphasis and evolving respect for the rights of the individual. That’s for another post though or maybe for revision of an old post.,535/,17239/

Hell Theorem

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

An old series of questions resurfaced for me about Christianity that revolved around the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant. The first question arose when I came across this article , Johann Hari’s review of a book discussing people’s beliefs on the afterlife. In his article, Hari introduced something to me that I’d never recognized before.

Hari writes:
“We know precisely when this story of projecting our lack into the sky began: 165 B.C., patented by the ancient Jews. Until then, heaven—shamayim—was the home of God and his angels. Occasionally God descended from it to give orders and indulge in a little light smiting, but there was a strict no-dead-people door policy. Humans didn’t get in, and they didn’t expect to. The best you could hope for after death was for your bones to be buried with your people in a shared tomb and for your story to carry on through your descendants.”

Rephrased from a Christian perspective, he asserts that God’s chosen people, under the old covenant, generally had no expectation of a life in heaven after death. I haven’t comprehensively studied this on my own, but, from what study that I’ve done up to now, it rings true. There are some cryptic prophecies in Daniel about the end times, and in chapter 12, it specifically mentions resurrection from the dead.

Daniel 12:2 from

” Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Bible scholars acknowledge that interpreting end times prophecies are a more than a bit tricky especially with such a small excerpt, but the word “many” stands out as important to me especially considering people who want to try to take these verses as literally as possible. The verse says many, not all, and mentions no criteria. Furthermore, all of this appears to occur on earth where, if it’s to be taken literally, a conqueror has gone through and altered the geopolitical landscape by uniting several lands under his leadership and devastating those that refuse it. This king mysteriously dies, and a new chief prince, Michael, takes the stage and restores God’s people, but the messenger relaying this information to Daniel makes no comment on the fate of those still on earth formerly under the old leadership. After this, more general prophecies are given with the angel promising Daniel resurrection, but this messenger offers no more specific details about the fate of those living who are not in covenant with God. While the angel specifies who God will deliver using Michael as protector, he never specifically explains the criteria for resurrection.

So if we resist a desire to use enigmatic biblical prophecy to prove a belief in the afterlife, then we’re left with the realization that the old covenant’s blessings and curses only applied on earth, to God’s chosen people who decided to enter into contract with him, and the people that entered directly into conflict with them. From what I could gather, death awaited the members of God’s chosen people that chose to obey him, those who chose to disobey him, and those who did not enter into a covenant relationship with him. God continuing to dole out earthly punishment on the offspring of a disobedient person stands out as the only clear consequence that could follow death.

After gaining somewhat of an understanding of the terms of the old covenant, I turned my attention to the new covenant and understanding the differences and why the differences existed. The same article by Johann Hari presented a “practical” reason for why the Judaism developed a belief in the afterlife that, according to wikipedia, exists as a canonical part of Jewish rabbinic literature, the Talmud, today.

Hari writes:
“In the run up to heaven’s invention, the Jews were engaged in a long civil war over whether to open up to the Greeks and their commerce or to remain sealed away, insular and pure. With no winner in sight, King Antiochus got fed up. He invaded and tried to wipe out the Jewish religion entirely, replacing it with worship of Zeus. The Jews saw all that was most sacred to them shattered: They were ordered to sacrifice swine before a statue of Zeus that now dominated their Holy Temple. The Jews who refused were hacked down in the streets.

Many young men fled into the hills of Palestine to stage a guerrilla assault—now remembered as the Hanukkah story. The old Jewish tale about how you continue after you die was itself dying: Your bones couldn’t be gathered by your ancestors anymore with so many Jews scattered and on the run. So suddenly death took on a new terror. Was this it? Were all these lives ending forever, for nothing? One of the young fighters—known to history only as Daniel—announced that the martyred Jews would receive a great reward. “Many of those who sleep in the dust shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt,” he wrote and launched us on the road to the best-selling 1990s trash 90 Minutes in Heaven. Daniel’s idea was wildly successful. Within a century, most Jews believed in heaven, and the idea has never died.”

I take two important nuggets from this. I’m pretty sure Daniel wasn’t the same Daniel found in the book of Daniel. Also Daniel quotes from Daniel, but he gives it an interpretation that up to that point of intense persecution and martyrdom wasn’t the popular one. I know some of you more spirit minded people might have trouble with the idea that heaven for men was the invention of man, but I don’t want to argue that. In fact, I enjoy thinking of it as an invention of God way more. Hebrews 4:15 identifies Jesus as “a high priest who is [able] to sympathize with our weaknesses” and “who [has] in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin”.

I like to think that God did come down as Jesus and literally had this approximately 33 year long experience where he completely understood how difficult it was to be a man and sought to ease our burden and give us all something extra to hope for. Jesus being God and God, in my belief, being an entity unbound by time or space could have pulled that experience from that moment in time and done whatever he wanted and made it apply in whatever way he deemed just. I don’t know why, if God technically knew this all along, he didn’t reveal it earlier himself, but I’m sure he had a good reason, and the chosen people, who were able to formally be a part of that old covenant and obeyed God, seemed to find serving him satisfactory up until the old covenant was abolished. If anyone would have a quarrel with God about the old covenant, it would be them and not us, but I found that the one of the things that links our two covenants is that God required very similar things from the people of each covenant.

When God grew frustrated with his people, he sent prophets to tell them that their failure to follow what Jesus later identifies as the two greatest commandments upset him most. They sought other gods or didn’t devote themselves fully to him, and they demonstrated a clear lack of effort to love their neighbor. When Jesus comes, much of his teaching revolves around expanding upon how a person’s behavior can reflect or fail to reflect their commitment to following those two great commandments. In John 10:30, he declares that he and “the Father are one”. If a person is able to accept that, then one should easily acquiesce to Jesus’ insistence that we “believe in him” by viewing it as a simple expansion of the 1st Great commandment. After acknowledging the similarities between the two, I moved on to what I perceived as the differences between the two.

As I mentioned earlier, from what my study has revealed to me, under the old covenant, simple cold, dead, lifeless in the ground death awaited everybody regardless of your status with God. In comparison with my understanding of the new covenant, I found the old covenant the more kind and merciful of the two in this regard because my understanding of the new covenant led me to believe that eternal life awaited believers, and unbelievers could only look forward to some sort of mysterious eternal torment. The quantifiable benefits seem gracious but not much more gracious when considering that the benefits of being in the old covenant with God included receiving your reward in a clearly tangible, earthly way that could also apply to your posterity, but, with the new covenant, although you had a relatively lighter burden, you couldn’t expect a significantly easier life. A person under the new covenant also hopes for eternal life – something that we lack the ability to perceive because of the huge step, death, it takes to get there. Although when comparing the punishments of the old covenant to the new covenant, the new covenant seemed excessively punitive. It seemed like a person received punishment for their failure to take advantage of a good thing when previously God seemed content to just let you die.

A lot of Christians seem to justify this by saying how intolerant of sin God is, in spite of his love of the person or people, and go further by saying that by not entering into the new covenant God considers you bound by the law of the old covenant although the consequence of not entering into or following the old covenant was simply death, never hell. Christians use Paul’s writings as a justification particularly where Paul talks about how the abundant evidence of God in all of creation gives people no excuse and their sinful nature condemns them. My problem with that and with how the New Testament epistles present the covenant first arose when considering how closely their descriptions of the new covenant matched Jeremiah’s description of it in Jeremiah 31:31-34.

“31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,* says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

People tend to make the assertion that all are and have been bound by the law of the old covenant and not entering the new covenant condemns you to hell, but, in spite of the fact that it never used to do that, Jeremiah refers to that covenant as a broken. Jeremiah also implies that God actually places it in people’s hearts rather than already placing it in there or even expecting it to be apparent to them.

My other source of irritation about this arises from my understanding that a person or, in the case of Israel, a group of people has to consciously enter a covenant. God doesn’t just force covenants on people as soon as they have a psychological, physiological understanding of “self” in the context of the world around them. I take issue with the sinful nature argument also. God’s desire to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and “the world” in Noah’s time does demonstrate that humans have the ability to fully adopt and live according to a sinful culture where depravity becomes the norm, but Abraham in his time does encounter some upright people, particularly the Pharaoh and King Abimelech who both have misunderstandings with Abraham but are ultimately left to live in peace for a considerable amount of time when Abraham’s deceit is made apparent to them by God.

God knows what he had when he got us, and I’m sure he knew Adam and Eve would disobey him in the garden even though it displeased him. In my mind, they had to break the one rule they had to live by in order to demonstrate that they had the gift of choice. If Adam and Eve just continued to always do good, then he would just have intelligent creatures that always did the right thing, but he valued the ability to choose and he gave it to us. A choice isn’t a real choice unless both options have their appeal and both options have their drawbacks. A properly functioning person with all of their faculties doesn’t struggle with the choice of whether or not to jam a knife in their eye, but a properly functioning person does at one point struggle with the choice between sharing what they have, withholding it, or taking something that belongs to someone else. I don’t think that the fact that we sometimes find sin appealing makes us sinful anymore than the fact that we sometimes enjoy doing virtuous things makes us virtuous. The struggle to choose doesn’t make us sinful; it makes us human (rather than sociopathic or incapable of doing anything but the kindest thing we can imagine in any particular situation).

If people were so inherently sinful since creation, then why was Enoch capable of walking so closely with God, before the old covenant was introduced and before God declared that he would start placing it on people’s hearts, that God took him and why was Noah (who got so drunk after he got on dry land lol) chosen to repopulate the earth after the flood and why is the Old Testament littered with so many demonstrations of uncanny virtue. Either God particularly strengthened them or they did it mostly on their own, but, either way, it doesn’t imply that everyone automatically starts out in a state that God finds repulsive. I can think of many times where God showed grace to people in covenant with him like when he allowed Gideon to test him, or when he gave Samson the strength to do what he was born for after he squandered his strength, or giving Moses the opportunity to lead his people, or whenever he communicated to people in general. I reiterate, God knew exactly what he had when he made us freely choosing human beings who could feel the tug of both impulses. He just values it that much when we decided to do what he asks of us freely.

I also like to think that the conscious choice of God to go relatively “quiet” between the old and the new testament lends credence to the argument that God understands, values, and respects humans ability to choose. I think, logically, that if he kept acknowledging the old covenant as he always had that people would not have anticipated a new covenant and would have engaged in with less fervor. I believe he wanted humanity and some of the tribe of Israel in a state that best allowed them to accept and proliferate the knowledge and the existence of the new covenant.

No one but your family can bind you into a covenant that you’re unaware of, and you don’t enter into his family until you enter the covenant. Part of this logic leads me to believe that death and a life without God’s blessings are the just consequences and the only consequences for not entering the covenant. I also believe analyzing Jesus own words in context will lead to the same conclusion, and it has done so already in my small amount of study.

John 3:16-17
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’*

Here Jesus promises eternal life but he doesn’t promise eternal punishment to unbelievers. He reinforces the idea that he came to bring salvation not condemnation, and goes on to say that those who do not believe are condemned already. Jesus goes on to say that people preferred darkness over life because their deeds were evil. It’s a chicken-or-the-egg clarifier for me. People prefered darkness not because they were inherently evil, but because their deeds were evil. Here Jesus repeatedly talks about the actions of people leading them to adopt a preference (as in how people are capable of choosing to adopt a depraved lifestyle but it’s not an automatic thing) not the preference of people manifesting in their actions.

Jesus labels unbelievers “condemned already” because “they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God”. I feel like the “condemned already” squares with my perspective. They are condemned already on earth because of their unbelief, he doesn’t promise everlasting condemnation to them. To me, Jesus asserts unbelievers already miss out on the benefits of embracing the new covenant rather than warning of forthcoming punishment.

My next example involves how Christians commonly associate the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” with hell, but ignore the phrase’s actual meaning in the context of the world of the Bible. Today we associate teeth gnashing with large amounts of physical pain or uneasiness, but throughout the Bible, the phrase “expresses viciousness, anger, rage, or hateful words with the intent to slander, insult, blaspheme, or destroy (citation at end of paragraph(s)).” In the different places where he uses it, Jesus specifically addresses people who want the old covenant to still work and uses this phrase to describe the amount of frustration they will feel when cast into the “outer darkness”. Christians commonly see outer darkness as some sort of metaphor for hell, but “allowing the Bible to define itself” (a paraphrase of my source) you can find that outer darkness simply refers to death, “the utter cessation of thought, consciousness, and being”. Different translations and interpretations of the Bible have possibly served to pervert our understanding of this commonly quoted text rather than further our understand of the intent behind Jesus’ words. I got all my info from just one page, which is bad, but I’m hell bent on proving my point

A misinterpretation of parables might serve to give us the wrong idea of the afterlife. I don’t have anyone to cite on this one. I don’t think that I arrived to this conclusion completely on my own but the logic is strong, and I think if you google it then you’ll probably find a scholarly article that says what I say better.

Lazarus and the Rich man is in Luke 16:19-31, and the first thing that I think we have to keep in mind is that it’s a parable, a story with a point, not an attempt by Jesus to be factually correct about the states of being in the afterlife. The first theme that pops out to me is the reversal of roles in the kingdom of God. The rich man is not simply a rich man; he dressed “in purple and fine linen” and “feasted sumptuously every day”. This poor man is not simply a poor man, but a man “covered with sores” so desperate to satiate his hunger that he ate what scraps fell from the rich man’s table still unable to prevent himself from dying of starvation.

The story gives readers a highly implausible scenario where Lazarus, a poor man with a severe skin condition in old Israel, is capable of getting close enough to a rich man to get scraps from the Rich man’s table and die at his gate. The nearness of Lazarus to the rich man doesn’t reflect reality; it highlights the callousness of the rich man. The dogs who mercifully lick Lazarus’ sores also demonstrate that even domesticated beasts have a greater ability to show compassion than this personification of high society.

Upon entering an afterlife where people in heaven can literally shout over to people in hell and knowingly tantalize them with the sight of nourishment, we see the two again in a dramatic reversal of roles. Like Lazarus on “earth”, the rich man can see Lazarus living it up, but is incapable of getting any relief. To make matters worse, not only does the rich man find himself unable to get table scraps, but the set up makes them unable to provide him even a drop of moisture from the their fingertips. Lazarus’ status is elevated beyond the rich man’s former status on earth. On top of having access to ridiculous amounts of food and wine, Lazarus gets to spend his time with the famously faithful, sagacious, legendary father of God’s chosen people, Abraham. This type of drastic role reversal is a common theme in Jesus’ teaching – strong/weak, rich/poor, meek/conqueror. The parable’s ending also serves to highlight another fundamental teaching of Jesus.

The rich man asks if he can be Marley to his Scrooge brothers and deliver a warning to them to change their behavior. (If you haven’t watched a Christmas Carol, a dead colleague of the notoriously penny-pinching Scrooge named Marley warns Scrooge to change his ways for fear that Scrooge will suffer the same dreadful fate as Marley in the afterlife.) Let’s be serious. If an apparition, in the form of one of your dead friends, appeared to you and told you to change your ways in order to avoid a grisly afterlife, it would most likely convince you to evaluate your life and make changes to avoid that fate or evaluate your life and make changes that would prevent you from hallucinating. Since in Jesus’ time they probably didn’t provide powerful sedatives and grand theories based on recovered childhood memories for people who claimed to see ghosts, a reasonable person would go with the former approach.

Abraham definitively says it won’t work, but in Jesus’ story, Abraham is not a standard voice of reason. Abraham highlights the value of the two greatest commandments by saying if the rich man’s brothers, like him, refused to heed the consistent cry of the God’s prophets to love their neighbors, including those that a godless society would typically marginalize, then Abraham could not expect them to pay attention to the warnings of their dead brother, a man made of the same stock as them.

Another one is Matthew 13:40-42.  It has the weeping and gnashing of teeth thing that I previously explained, but here Jesus uses a fire and weeds metaphor.  You might already be able to predict where I’ll go from here, but he doesn’t imply that the weeds burn eternally in the fire and neither does the parable or his explanation.  He does with the weeds what anyone does with something that they can’t use. He discards them.  I think even in the case it speaks of death and not of some eternal relentless punishment.

More from the head:
I don’t feel as strongly about this as my writing may indicate, and although I know some biblical scholars have come to the same conclusion, for me, it’s still a hypothesis that I’m testing. I’m open to additional help in testing it.

Many of you know my general stance with the Bible, but I’ll repeat it. I think it’s a valuable teaching tool with lessons for us to learn. Some of the narratives are intended to give a factual account of historical events and some are stories with a purpose behind them, but ultimately it was written and assembled by various men throughout time trying their best to put into words how they saw God moving, what they thought God was saying, and what God actually said.

I think it’s far from perfect, as far as from perfect as (bear with me on this wording) most of the other really good things in this world. While the holy spirit gives us understanding, I personally don’t believe that gift requires us to abandon our critical thinking skills.

*I still think there is hell as told by Revelations, but I think Revelations, although murky, is very specific about who goes there and the list isn’t nearly as all-encompassing as it seems to be in mainstream Christianity.

*I think part of our problem with there having to be something beyond death for everyone is the originally Greek invention of the immortal soul.  I think it’s just part of mainstream western thought to think of the soul as inherently immortal, but I don’t think the Bible suggests that the human consciousness is inherently immortal.  I think the it suggests that Christ can give us that gift, but not that we always had it.

For most of my Christian life, I have believed that it’s dangerous to pick and choose what you believe from the Bible in order to make things easier on you, and I believe it still is. I also think almost everyone does it (including non-believers) and should be aware of it, but if they didn’t do it, it would probably overwhelm them. This thing  benefits me by reassuring me that God is just and rational by my standards; it makes him easier to love.   It’s not an argument for the sake of argument or a possibility that I just want to entertain. It’s something that I think might be the truth, in spite of  knowing that how easy one can accept as truth a comfortable lie.  At the same time, just because you want to believe something doesn’t mean it isn’t true, and  I’ve got loads more borderline heretical stuff to share with you.

Some Long Titles that serve as cryptic summaries:
Vengeance is the Lord’s and he may not take it
The Trinity and the transitive property of mathematics
God doesn’t love you that much and the limitations of language
Faith is more effective than reality and other lessons from South Park
Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban

Also unrelated, I wonder if how people take in information has changed radically. I know it seems like a no-brainer, but it has to do with something that I relearned recently. The 10 commandments are mostly phrased “negatively” in terms of “do not” or “you shall not”, but recently I relearned that the consensus opinion is that people respond better to positively phrased commands in terms of “do this” and “you should do that”. I would think that God would want to communicate his law to humans in a way that makes it easiest to absorb and follow.

From the entirety of the Bible, I can tell that wordiness is not a problem with God. Also the idea that more words would have made it heavier to carry is also ridiculous to me. The two greatest commands are worded positively. So maybe the juxtaposition makes them stand out more for us or maybe it’s a chicken or the egg thing.

Email me about grammatical stuff, and I’ll thank you for bringing it to my attention. I’d like it if comments were more opinion and less editorial although I know my writing skill could use plenty of improvement.

Categories: Faith Tags: , , , ,

Live by the Spirit, live forever

January 25, 2010 6 comments

Something obvious struck me about the way things work “in the spirit” versus how things work in the world.  Repeatedly, I’ve listened to people, Christians, consciously describe the tangible world as “broken” and “fallen”, and, for a while, I’ve been questioning what that meant.  In my mind, it seemed that most, if not all, of the evil in the world could be explained by human action and/or inaction.  Famine, poverty, crime, all of it seemed to be part of some simple, nonspiritual, cause-and-effect relationship, and I felt that 1) thinking it through would lead everyone to that same conclusion and 2) understanding this people would be driven to act.  However, today I believe those two conclusions are false because they really don’t take into account how a lot of people actually feel about the state of the world.  How I currently feel about these conclusions has to do with the way that I view the spirit world.

Put simply, in the spirit world everything works like it’s supposed to (a bold claim, I know).  Good is rewarded, evil is punished, and grace is given as needed (and I don’t just mean forgiven sin, grace includes guidance through a trial, help in a crisis, strength for any scenario).  It is the realm in which fairy tales exist, a realm where the hero prevails, where the innocent are saved, where within each malady, a lesson lies.  I want to go back to the first sentence of this paragraph where I say, “Everything works like it’s supposed to.”  It’s interesting that how many, if not most, people feel, possibly as a result of something implanted into them from the time they were small, about how things “should” be never leaves them in spite of all that they see around them.

Actually, it’s possibly incorrect for me to say that because I haven’t done the real research.  I know there are religions and worldviews that a significant number of people adhere to that teach that the way things are is how they should be because…that’s the way they are.  I can understand how that can bring peace to a mind struggling to rationalize why the world is in the state that it’s in, and, actually, that’s the flaw in Conclusion #2 up above.  By seeing evil simply as part of a cause-and-effect relationship, it might lead to seeing it as a permanent fixture rather than something beatable and forfeiting the attempt to conquer it.   Also, I find it telling that even stalwart atheists who don’t believe in spirits or deities still believe that there’s an ideal that people “should” reach for in spite of disagreements on how to get there.  This brings me back to how pervasive the idea of a broken world is, at least, in Western society.

Now for a detour that will inevitably bring us back on the right route.

I recently read a comic book that explained why the Joker, a famous batman villain, did what he did.  It asserted that the Joker believed that his worldview was the true one and through his actions he could make it apparent to people.  The best example of this is in The Dark Knight where he tells the passengers of two different boats that if one of them did not set off the explosives on the other’s boat then both boats would explode.  It was his attempt to prove to the people what they were capable of if pushed, possibly to make them believe that they were truly capable of anything and that survival mattered more than right or wrong; it was his attempt to bring them closer to his way of seeing the world.  The thing that didn’t square with me about the Joker’s belief system was that if it was the truth then it should be playing itself out without his involvement; he didn’t seem to understand that he was trying to make it the truth rather than simply reveal the truth.  This is fine, of course, because he is a psychotic sociopath and making sense is not a prerequisite.  This got me thinking though.  In spite of what we see on the internet, read in magazines, or encounter in real life, something still seems to tell many of us, “This isn’t the way things should be,” regardless of the way things are.

Somehow, so many of us, rather than just wishing the world played by fairy tale rules believe that the world “should” play by fairy tale rules, but, unlike the Joker, we seem to have no good ideas on how to make that world our reality.  It occurred to me that maybe that was what living by the spirit was all about.   That living by the spirit is stubbornly refusing to play by the rules of a broken world not just because God said so but because it’s actually what a lot of us want.  That living by the spirit isn’t about being perfect because perfect people don’t need grace, and they sure don’t have anymore lessons they need to learn.  That living by the spirit can be our daily, personal attempt to live in utopia without actually being in utopia.  The truth that we want to see and wish to demonstrate is that THE Spirit is superior and capable of overcoming the current state of things.  It makes me reevaluate what Jesus and John and others meant when they proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand because it’s not about perfection.  It’s about good being rewarded, evil being punished, and grace given as needed, and when you, when WE, live like those rules apply who can say that the kingdom of heaven isn’t at hand?

Extra:  The title is a play on “Live by the sword, die by the sword” rather than just a random proclamation.  My understanding of  “live by the sword, die by the sword” is that after choosing to live life a certain way for so long, the consequences of doing so become unavoidable, but choosing to live life by the spirit wouldn’t result in “death by the spirit”.  In keeping with the fairy tale metaphor, it would instead result in a “happily ever after” ending which is why I went with the cute, but bold “live forever”.

Also, I don’t think Christians have a monopoly on “living by the spirit” as explained here, but I do think a Christian attempting to live by the spirit daily can be strengthened in ways that cannot be replicated by someone who doesn’t share the same faith.

Also, read “Bad Intelligence”, the earlier post, when you get the chance.  I have a feeling not many of you read it.

Categories: Faith, Life Tags: