I would guess heaven and hell are among the two most discussed concepts in Christianity.
It’s fun to speculate where the concept of life somewhere else came from. Perhaps back when humans were the ones hunted instead of the hunters, people might have concluded animals were so powerful they met somewhere in a spiritual realm and plotted against humans. Natïve Americans saw the divine within animals they killed to eat.
That there was thunder and lightening would have suggested somewhere in the sky was someone causing all this. And, self centered as we humans are, we would have thought whatever happened way up in the sky had something to do with us.
It’s not surprising then to conclude that when ancient movers and shakers were casting about for ideas on how the control those around them they came up with invisible places. Then they invented invisible adjudicators making decisions about these places. It was a no cost and high return proposition.
We are all interested in the concept of “justice”. I saw Pat Robertson say on TV recently, “I am going to heaven.” If this is true, one has to question the justice in him being awarded heaven for eternity. He falsely promises people prosperity. His first child was born 10 weeks after he got a marriage license.
It’s not just that he be in hell for these “sins”. Nor, should he be awarded heaven for eternity.
I’ll leave it to others to decide such justice about places that, so far as I know, don’t exist.
If you were to make a movie that included the voice of God, would you make the voice clear, muffled, high pitched, low pitched or with an echo chamber? They have all been used.
I read today a discussion of what the voice of God sounds like. The writer concludes his voice sounds like your own thoughts, like you are talking to yourself. He thinks we can discern when it is God.
This explains why Pat Robertson thought he heard God telling him Mitt Romney would win the election for President. Robertson was actually talking to himself.
Could this be why so many people say they heard God telling them this or that? Could it be all of them were mistaken and the voice they heard was their own?
Furthermore, could all the references in the Bible where people heard to voice of God, including Jesus, have been mistaken and were talking to themselves? We can’t know for certain unless someone else was there and heard the same thing. No independent person has heard God talk to someone else.
That God/Jesus/Spirit will return to earth some day has the same problem. There is no way to objectively decide what this being will look like. Without some agreement before hand there will never be agreement the divine returned. Some might say it has happened, others will say this thing is not the real one.
This causes me to doubt anyone has ever, or will ever, hear from a god.
Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention now agrees same sex attractions are not the choice of an individual. This admission means there is now no place to hide.
Agreeing that there is no choice in one’s sexual orientation is like admitting there is no choice in being born without legs. No one would say using crutches is a sin. Having sex with one you are married to is not either.
At the same time, there is expansion of the “emergent Church”. While liberal denominations themselves have suffered losses, they are morphing into the growing movement of the emergents. The influence of the emergent church is not only in its congregations, but also in its liberal ideas creeping into existing denominations. This branch is patient and welcomes converts from the conservative side.
Younger members of all denominations are different. Among millennial evangelicals, those who became adults around the year 2000, about 43% support same sex marriage. One in three believe there are other paths to salvation besides Jesus Christ.
Emergent church thinkers envision conferences, projects and cooperation among older denominations that cross lines between them. There may be new churches sponsored by a consortium of liberal denominations.
Mohler’s retreat on homosexuality should not be a surprise. Even though he became President of the Southern Baptist Seminary in a coup to oust those who did not adhere to orthodoxy, the orthodoxy itself was on sinking sand.
Now, he and his ilk must stand on the side and watch their orthodoxy fade while that of their enemies’ gain.
Lots of candidates for President have told us God told them to run. I can’t even remember all of them now. I recall Michelle Bachmann was one.
All the candidates who claimed they heard instructions from God to run for President were defeated. That has to mean 1.) they were lying and did not hear from God, 2.) God is not all powerful, cannot accomplish even the smallest of tasks, so therefore could not have created the universe or 3.) God plays games with people setting them up so he can humiliate them by making sure they lose.
Now, candidate, Ben Carlson, has joined those who have heard from God he should run for President. I predict others will get the same message from God.
To cut these candidates some slack, however, it should be mentioned it is very difficult to know when one has “heard from God.” There is no universally agreed upon standard for what a voice from God sounds or looks like.
Things like this have been in a state of confusion since the beginning of the faith. It has never been made clear which events actually happened and which were visions or dreams.
The confusion even confounds Pat Robertson who thought God had told him Rommey would win the last election. He later said he must not have heard that from God after all.
It would refreshing if a Republican candidate would say, “I believe in God. I pray to God. But, I never really hear anything back from him.”
Last night I attended a charming performance of the famous musical, Guys and Dolls. It was an abbreviated version, done at a Junior High School in Rochester, Minnesota. A cast member was our Granddaughter, Mali.
The setting for Guys and Dolls, which premiered in 1950, is New York City. This minimalist production had only a couple of building fronts and a door with the sign, SAVE A SOLE, with a Christian cross. It was a skid row mission.
Much of the story involves women in the mission trying to save the play’s Damon Runyon type characters from their moral downfalls, gambling and drinking. It amused me that in 1950 people, apparently Christians included, could laugh about considering gambling and drinking to be “sins” to be taken so seriously. I looked in Wikipedia and there is no mention of a Christian backlash, even though the play clearly made fun and did parody of a certain branch of Christianity.
It got me to wondering where else in the arts Christianity has been taken so lightly and Christians joined in the fun. The character, Harold Hill in The Music Man referred to the game of pool as the path to the downfall of youth. I don’t remember any reference to religion but what we would call today “values” were chuckled at.
What Christian issues taken very seriously today will be chuckled at by Christians themselves a few decades from now?
My guess is Christians will, in time, chuckle that gay marriage was once a sin.
“They quit the church. Mostly, they don’t come back.”
These are the words of an analyst in the Baptist branch looking into declining church membership. He was referring, not to the young people, who are disinterested in church at twice the rate of their parents, but the parents themselves. An important group in the decline of denominations are people who have spent decades in church and, for one reason or another, stop.
The nonbelieving groups I have participated in are made up mostly of people past twenty years old. They are the “dones”.
The pace of change seems to increase. This may be an illusion since there has always been change to one degree or another. There can be no mistake, however, some kind of change is taking place in religion.
There are those who say this disinterest in church life in but a cycle that happens and then reverses. Countless columnists on the web say we need another Christian revival like happened decades ago. One can never say he knows the future, but a revival does not seem in the offing today.
For those who need a church down the block to fulfill their lives, I hope for you it will remain there. The number of church closing signal the make the odds somewhat in question.
The “nones” and the “dones” may have the last word.
I remember being surprised years ago in adult Sunday School at First Presbyterian. A lay member had dug into the history of Presbyterianism and touched on its great events. Previously, I had no idea how many times down through the centuries different groups had splintered off.
This past decade we have seen quite a bit of splintering over the gay marriage issue. So far, the United Methodist denomination has not broken up.
There is an irony in this splitting off. The people who are so upset over issue A. or B. are VERY serious about their religious views. The result of all the splitting, however, is that many others can no longer take religion seriously because the splitting signals a chaotic brew of opinions without an ultimate truth.
My own view of human nature and social change is that splits of religious groups cannot help but continue. That is because social change must keep chugging along like it always has. Some people like the changes and some do not. Within a denomination it means some are fightin’ to leave the others.
Of course, the Christian people themselves don’t see the splintering in this way. They see it as following the letter or the intent of the Bible.
The link, written by the New York Times religious writer, even considers the potential for a schism in the Catholic Church. He is not recommending it, only pointing out that the unexpected often happens in religion.
Pope Francis is exhibit A.
One of my favorite writers on religion is Johanna Brooks. She was raised as a Mormon and has maintained an interest in it. She writes especially insightful articles about her church. Where many look at their church and walk away entirely, she stays and fights.
She makes the case that Mormon hierarchy does not fully acknowledge the moral failings and false information of its history. Only very recently, for example, did it acknowledge, not on the front page of its website but on a back page by a non credentialed author, that among the many wives of Joseph Smith was a 14 year old girl. The church does not morally condemn Smith, but reflects on how much suffering his original wife went through.
The Mormon church has a theological governing board which seems much like the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. It is all male and once it draws a line in the sand it is difficult to erase it.
To this day, a divorced Mormon man can remarry with the full blessing of the church. A divorced woman cannot. As one would expect, the role of women in governance matters is almost nonexistent.
There is also the matter of racial segregation in its past. Like the Catholic Church refuses to completely acknowledge the Church was wrong in its dispute with Galileo, the Mormon hierarchy refused to acknowledge its past racism. They did so only when forced to during Mitt Romney’s Presidential campaign.
So much wrong to apologize for. So few apologies.
A broad swath of the faith is appalled at the new view. This view is that there really is no sin and no hell. In other words, there is no judgment.
This focus on sin and its consequences is so ingrained in the mind of the conservative Christian, Catholic or Protestant, it cannot be pried loose with a crowbar. The faith to them is about sin and their own expertise at identifying it. It’s not about this soft and cuddly idea that by following certain steps one can be forgiven.
It is tough to make a business model out of hammering on sin. If the preacher/priest hammers away on sin, he/she will eventually be asked just what exactly constitutes a sin? Coming up with an answer when the collection plate needs money is not a good idea.
A woman who lives on a farm near a small Iowa town told us her Methodist church is now running in the red to the tune of $1,100 dollars a month. With the recent higher farm prices there are enough young people in the community, often children of the members, to support the church. They have no interest.
I would guess those young people have no interest in hearing about sin. Especially, they are not interested in hearing things they think are fine being called sin, either by preachers or by fellow members.
By not accommodating cohabitation, gay marriage, skepticism about miracles and rejection of hell, the church has an uphill climb.
The National Cathedral in Washington, DC, is a religious place where various events that involve our government or its politics play out. Presidential funerals are held there. President W. Bush appeared there following 9/11.
Besides being a tourist stop, the National Cathedral is an Episcopalian church. An Episcopalian congregation gathers there every Sunday.
My friend, Avrahaum Segol, has done a lot of research as to how the National Cathedral came to be a close buddy of our national government. Avrahaum is a Jew and objects to the place the Protestant Christian Cathedral plays in our national life. He makes a good point.
Originally, what is now the Cathedral was not supposed to have been a church at all. When George Washington was working on the project to move the nation’s capitol from New York City to Washington, he included in the plans a meeting house. It was to be a place where citizens could discuss various views and work out their differences. The original plan, developed by Charles L’Enfant, included such a building.
Ultimately, there was not money for President Washington’s idea. The Episcopalians came along and said, “We have money to put up a building with the same intent as President Washington had in mind.”
The other day, Muslims held prayers in the Cathedral. I would guess Native Americans have held religious events there. Now, some Episcopalians are acting like their church has been soiled.
If it is going to be called a “National Cathedral”, American citizens who are Muslims should pray there.