Category Archives: theology

The problem of those unable to Love, or the question of hell as a reality.


Let’s begin with some good news: The synchroblog is on again!

And because life shouldn’t be too simple the first subject is ‘hell’, one of the most difficult subjects I know to write about, and a subject that has traumatized a lot of people and driven them away from religion. And yet it’s an important subject that we cannot escape if we’re thinking about our faith. Since the usual discussions about the subject are generally unproductive and often just degenerate in theoretical tail-chasing and exercises in giving God a very bad name I’m going to approach it from a completely different angle…

And I’ll start with a question:

Are we ready to face God?

Are we ready to face God for all of eternity, with no part of us hidden?

Are we ready to stand in the full light? If ‘heaven’ or ‘the new heaven and Earth’ is a place where the full Divine Presence is everywhere and no-one can escape it even if they try, will we feel at home there? Will we enjoy this?

Are we ready to lose all of our sins, and be transformed to the person we were meant to be in God? The person who can stand in the full Presence of God?

If not, there is a problem. A serious problem even. No shadow can survive the full Light. No junk that burns up can survive the Eternal fire, only precious metals. No person who wants hate and evil can enjoy a place where there’s only Love.

Are we ready to feel at home in a place where all hate and sin and selfishness are not just absent but also impossible? Could we live in such a place? Could we enjoy such a place?

Only Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Only Love, Light and perfect Justice. Are we ready to surrender to God and give up all other things?

Heaven (whatever form it takes) will be no fun if we’re not completely aligned with Love. That’s exactly why Jesus sums up the whole law into the double commandment of loving God with all of our person and loving our fellow human as we love ourselves. That is not just a law to test us if we’re able to follow commandments. It’s a severe training to enable us to live with God in eternity. Our life here is not just a test to see if we can follow certain rules, as a Muslim once told me. We have to become a creature that lives with God in Love for eternity, following Christ and plugging our Lives in into the Divine Presence. Being redeemed and reformed and recreated into the Image of the perfect Lover.

Which is a process as long as we’re here, but an extremely important one. And a very important factor here is our will. We might be failing people who fall into sin again and again, but if we do not at least have the will to Love, and to be able to completely discard all sin, evil, illusions and so on we will have no place in heaven.

Think of the wife of Lot…

It’s even more serious: the full presence of God might just be hell for those who hate God. We don’t just need forgiveness of our sins and removal of the penalty as some Christians seem to teach. That’s only a first step, but such a view is way too soft on sin and not seeing how dangerous sin is as a Reality. We do need the total eradication of all sin out of our lives if we want to be able to live. And here those who think they’re serious about sin often completely miss the mark here. We need transformation. We need to become a new person. Mere forgiveness is only a start. We need to start a new life in Christ. And that is not just a metaphor. It has to be a Reality, or we will be nothing at al. A good Friday only gospel is not enough. Christ reconciled us with God, and brought us on the Way. The first Christians were called followers of the Way. The way of the cross and the resurrection. The way of overcoming death with life, and living in Love in this world of hate, to not give up Love even if it means to have to pray ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do’ while you are being executed to death.’

Certainly, whatever hell is, Jesus came to save us from it, to solve that and other problems, and not make it more complicated. And Jesus came to show us how the core of life revolves around Love.

Without love you’re nothing, even if you have the perfect religion, right doctrine, faith that moves mountains, and so on (1 Cor 1: 1-3). Without love we gain nothing, and all is lost.

So what with those who are unable or unwilling to be transformed into a being aligned with Love? There are 2 possibilities, which are both terrifying if you think of the consequences..

First there is C.S. Lewis’ idea of hell as absence of God. Somewhere in his books he says that there are two kinds of people. Some will say ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done’ in the end, even with reluctance, and they will be the ones that will be with God for eternity. But others will refuse God, refuse Love, refuse Truth, and in the end God will say ‘your will be done, your kingdom come’, and leave them to their own will. The dwarves ‘who won’t the taken in’ in the last Narnia book are a good example of that. They create an illusion and shut out the Reality of the Land of Aslan. This is a hell, and one that’s locked from the inside.

There is another related but opposite idea, coming from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, that I’ve already alluded to in this post, the idea of hell as Presence of God for those who hate God. The ‘lake of fire’ in revelation, which is seen as hell by a lot of Christians, is interpreted as Divine Presence. (See Alexandre Kalomiros, the river of fire). Sadhu Sundar Singh has described a very similar thing. Funny enough the picture at the end of C.S. Lewis’ ‘the great divorce’ which provided my metaphor of the shadow in full Light also points at this idea.

So hell as a reality for those who are unable to be reconciled with God could work in both ways of completely being cut off from God who respects our free will, or experiencing the all-pervading Holy Presence .

Both are terrifying. To me they both sound like they could end up in annihilation. IF God is the Creator and Sustainer, getting completely cut off from God will just result in non-existence.

The same is true with the shadow in the full light.

On the other hand, maybe God is able to reach people even in that state. Maybe the fire purifies. Maybe the love of God is able to reach everyone in the end. I pray that this could be possible, but knowing how humans are I fear for it. So I don’t know. But I trust Gods love. I trust that God blesses the good and the bad alike as Christ says in the sermon on the Mount. I trust that if God asks us to love our enemies that God will be able to do much more than that, and will do much more than that, since God is love.

……………..

This post is part of the May Synchroblog, in which numerous bloggers around the world write about the same topic on the same day. Links to the other contributors are below. If you enjoyed my article, you will also enjoy reading what they have to say about the topic of hell.

More posts here on my blog about similar subjects:
Holy Saturday meditation 2018: the harrowing of hell
Keep me ignorant so I’ll stay out of hell?
6 + 2 questions for the hell debate
The worst of all sins, the Jesus creed and an orthodox hell…
do we need a hell in order to forgive our enemies????
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
The scary consequences of baby universalism…
would universal reconciliation make the gospel worthless?

 

Advertisements

The sexist umbrella that makes no sense at all


The subtitle of this blog is ‘My book of the damned’, because I sometimes touch on subjects that are completely off the radar for most people, even though they might be rather interesting or important.

Today we have the opposite, instead of saving something from the realm of damned and shining light on something interesting that is ignored by the mainstream I’ll shine some light on something that should be banished to far beyond the realm of the damned because it’s both harmful and stupid.

I’m speaking of the so-called ‘umbrella of protection’ diagram here, which seems to be used in certain ‘Christian” environments to explain how the order of the family is supposed to be. According to someone in my facebook list it’s even used in Flemish churches, although I’ve never encountered it myself luckily.

Just look at it for some seconds. Think about how umbrellas work. This is not how umbrellas work. Not even my little ponyland or Utopia are there laws of physics and logic that could be bended to make an umbrella work like this. No matter how you twist the whole thing, all umbrellas except the biggest one will always be redundant.

Now I know that a bad metaphor does not necessarily make an idea invalid,  and neither does a bad explanation of it.  So I know that I have to say something about the ideas behind the whole thing. But I can be rather short.

If the idea that the man is the mediator of God for the wife, and the wife is the mediator of God (through the man?) for the children, then the basics of Christianity are denied here. And the basics of protestantism too (the priesthood of all believers. Making the man a priest for all of his household members has some very weird theological implications outside of Christianity (like nullifying the idea that Christ brings is the one who connects us to God for women and children). And it’s as nonsensical as the ‘all men are leaders, all women are followers’ trope. No, most men are not leaders (and some women are). If everyone is a leader the word doesn’t even have any meaning anymore. And even though they are a minority, the bible certainly has a lot of women leaders and a lot of men who are not leaders.

If this is solely about protection then even psalm 23 doesn’t make sense in this worldview, and is only for me. Women should pray ‘my man is my shepherd, mediating the Lord for me’, while children should say ‘my mother is my shepherd, mediating my father who is mediating the Lord for me’. This is pure nonsense. God will protect anyone, and needs no authority over us to do so.

Hagar in the Desert

Think for example of Abraham, one of the most notorious figures in the history of religion, and certainly a man of God even though not always the best example in family relationships. When his wife Sarah kicks out his pregnant second wife Hagar the angels protect her, even though she just lost her ‘male umbrella’ according to this umbrella paradigm. Later the same thing happens with her son Ishmael when he’s 13. (Picture Gheorghe Tattarescu, 1870, Romania, I doubt angels actually look like that though)  God can protect any of us well enough without having any ‘umbrella’ of any authority over us. And for sure, we should protect the ones we love, but the whole hierarchy chain of the umbrella theory is very cramped and weird.

Where does it come from? It appears that this scheme comes from some bloke called Bill Gothard, who’s also leader of a homeschool movement and seems to be a rather weird cult leader (A FB-friend of me has been hurt and traumatised severely by his influence when growing up). His institute has even turned the theory and other rather weird authoritarian things in very cute but rather brainwashing songs for children and as you see from that link and the comments, more people have been very much hurt, damaged and traumatised by his approach.That alone should be enough to just discard the whole thing, and watch out for his influence in Evangelicalism. Here’s a good introduction to the story of Gothard (although not a super readable website) for those who want to dig deeper, and the afore-linked homeschool anonymous site has interesting stuff too.

To add a layer of irony, this whole Authoritarianism-gone-wrong stuff thwatchmanat is so pervasive in American Christianity is partly a Chinese import. Like the creepy extreme shepherding movement, Gothard is influenced by Watchman Nees ‘Authority and submission’ paradigm, which puts extreme emphasis on absolute submission.  (sample chapter from Nee here) Watchman Nee as a Chinese Christian was influenced by his culture -as anyone is- and imported a bit of Confucius here when it comes to the role of authority and hierarchy, which was taken to an unbalanced extreme.  For those who like to check for themselves: Here’s the whole reasoning behind the theory of ‘umbrella protection’ which is very clearly influenced by Nee if you’re familiar with his way of thinking.

But let’s go back to the diagram and look at it as it is drawn.  if we just open our eyes, the diagram itself cannot hide the truth that all of this is plain nonsense and the truth is still plain and open for anyone with eyes to see. The only ‘umbrella’ we need is the protection of God Himself. No other umbrella under it would ever do anything at all and they are all useless and unneeded…

Yes, we all are a blessing to each other, and we all help each other, but we’re all under the same umbrella together. It’s a basic Christian truth God is available to all of us through Christ.

peace

Bram

Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, and the Risen Jesus


On Easter the greatest mystery of the Christian religion is celebrated: the resurrection of Christ. Today I’m going to zoom in on the first witness of the Risen Jesus, who was a remarkable woman.
She was the first person to ever proclaim the resurrection, to an audience consisting of the 12 [male] apostles even. Yes, I’m talking about Mary Magdalene, who is a fascinating woman, even without all the extrabiblical additions to her story, which range from being Jesus’ wife or even secret lover to being a prostitute.

What she clearly was though, if we read the canonical texts, is a devout follower of Jesus the rabbi, not something very common in her culture. Only men followed rabbis, except when Jesus thought otherwise. She also was clearly a woman who loved Jesus a lot. And she was chosen to be the first witness of one of the most significant moments of human history, the resurrection of the Incarnated Christ.
I’m quite sure God has chosen this woman of all people for this task with a reason. In an age where women were taken much less serious as a witness this is an important sign of many in the gospels how women are important to God. God doesn’t care that men don’t listen to women. It is very silly and unjust to not listen to women as men anyway…

The fact that she was the first to ever preach the resurrection gave her one of the most honourable titles possible to the ancients. They called her the apostle to the apostles. The Eastern Orthodox, who generally are much more conservative than protestants and Roman Catholics -they generally don’t care for any idea that’s newer than the ecumenical councils of the first millennium- still honour her with that title.

Let’s end this post with the resurrection bit from the gospel of John, in a translation of N.T. Wright:

11 But Mary stood outside the tomb, crying. As she wept, she stooped down to look into the tomb. 12 There she saw two angels, clothed in white, one at the head and one at the feet of where Jesus’ body had been lying.
13 ‘Woman,’ they said to her, ‘why are you crying?’
‘They’ve taken away my master,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they’ve put him!’
14 As she said this she turned round, and saw Jesus standing there. She didn’t know it was Jesus.
15 ‘Woman,’ Jesus said to her, ‘why are you crying? Who are you looking for?’
She guessed he must be the gardener.
‘Sir,’ she said, ‘if you’ve carried him off somewhere, tell me where you’ve put him, and I will take him away.’
16 ‘Mary!’ said Jesus.
She turned and spoke in Aramaic.
‘Rabbouni!’ she said (which means ‘Teacher’).
17 ‘Don’t cling to me,’ said Jesus. ‘I haven’t yet gone up to the father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I’m going up to my father and your father – to my God and your God.” ’
18 Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples, ‘I’ve seen the master!’ and that he had said these things to her.

(New Testament for Everyone, which is the translation of N.T. Wright, via biblegateway)

Peace and happy Easter!

Bram

See also: Jesus against the sexism of his time: Martha and Mary

Holy Saturday meditation 2018: the harrowing of hell


A few years ago I had a habit of posting meditations here for the darkest day of the Christian liturgical year,  which holy Saturday certainly is, and today I will continue that tradition, but with a completely different twist.

On Holy Saturday, in between the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday and the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, we remember Christ being in the grave. This was the darkest day of all. For the disciples this appeared to be the end. Their rabbi and alleged Messiah was dead, and a dead Messiah is a false one…

All hope seemed gone, and as far as I can make out no-one had ever understood Jesus’ own predictions about coming back after three days enough to have hope in anything like the stuff that we know would happen. For us it’s easy, we’ve heard the story countless times… The disciples didn’t have that privilege.

I’ve always done my Holy Saturday meditations from this human point of view:
Peter Rollins and his parable of Lucifer in heaven
Friedrich Nietzsche and the parable of the madman
the psalters’ song ‘momamic’

But there is another way of looking at it. A more realistic way even, if you are able to switch your frame of reference. And while the human viewpoint is not unimportant, there are other viewpoints that should not be ignored.
In the older church there was another focus for this day in between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. It is the day when Christ was in the realm of the death, rescuing the imprisoned souls. Classical Christianity called this ‘the harrowing of hell’ and it was quite an important doctrine in ancient Christianity that even got a mention in the apostles’ creed.

And as you see some really weird artworks were made when people tried to depict it. The one on top of my post for example is credited ‘Psalter, Oxford ca. 1220 (BL, Arundel 157, fol. 110r)’, and was going round on facebook today thanks to the fine people of discarding images. This means it’s from the late medieval times, well after the first church but still a while before the reformation.
The interesting thing with art on this ‘harrowing of hell’ how hell/Hades is sometimes actually pictured as the mouth of a very hungry monster. A monster that lost the fight though…

So what is the moral of my post here? That there are different layers of reality, and we don’t always see what’s going on in other layers. while the disciples were having their darkest hour and had lost all hope, Christ was at work beyond what anyone here could see, freeing souls from hell…

We don’t always see what’s happening, but we do have the promise that the Good, the True and the Beautiful will win in the end, and that the hungry jaws of hell will not have the last word! The deeper magic from before creation will win in the end, and the Light will destroy the shadows of night, and we will see the morning.

The Light will win

peace

Bram

Anthropological field notes#256: Stryper, ‘God damn evil’ and the grumpy blue Zeus of Babylon


Anthropological field notes on exotic cultures and their religion #256: Stryper, ‘God damn evil’ and the grumpy blue Zeus of Babylon

The (at least in some very select cirles) legendary American Christian very oldschool heavy metal band Stryper has announced a new album for later this year named ‘God damn evil’, and revealed the album cover, as well as the song list. Here’s the album cover, which will probably look better in LP format than CD format: (link here)

Notes:
The title and some local taboo words:
Some people in the US seem to be genuinely offended by that title, seemingly because of a local taboo word used in it. For me as a European it’s always a surprise which words are seen as ‘bad’ words by conservative Americans. I would think that God damning evil and evil being damned by God is something a lot of religions agree upon anyway.

The artwork: Babylon and the evil of money
The artwork is very interesting although controversial. One wouldn’t expect otherwise from anything related to the metal scene. And as much metal artwork, once you’re used to the style it’s rather corny.
I don’t really recognise anything resembling God in a Christian sense, but there’s an interesting blue Zeus-like anthropomorphic giant deity destroying a (presumedly) US American city with very prominent banks and money, backed by fireballs and winged angelic figures in the background.

Does that mean that US American cities and banks are evil and damned by God? Interesting thought, and rather refreshing also for a mainstream American band in times of Republicanist Trumpism. US Christianity seems to be rather lacking in recognising how evil money can be at the moment, and it will rather worship the market and the rich than follow Jesus words about the poor. So having American mainstream artists acknowledging this is probably a good thing.

Typological remark: Cities as archetypal motif are common in the bible, with usually the good city ([New] Jerusalem) against the bad city (Babylon). This clearly is Babylon, which is connected to merchants and money in revelation 18.

The artwork: blue grumpy Zeus the destroyer
From a Christian small o orthodox perspective the deity figure shown is more problematic. Whatever that grumpy Blue Zeus thingy is is, it certainly is not God in a Christian or even Abrahamic monotheist sense, and assuming that God (outside of Christ in the resurrection or things like the orthodox trinity icon of Abrahams visitors) can be portrayed in such an anthropomorphic way is completely against the ten commandments and rather bad theology.
Even Michelangelo’s ‘creation of Adam’ is probably more problematic than we think, and it gives us completely wrong ideas if we really believe God looks like that. God is not a man, God doesn’t look like a man. Especially not a bearded European dude. The violent scene itself is also rather problematic.

For the music we’ll have to wait. I don’t expect any Earth-shattering sounds to be honest.

 

Zen dragons and false pictures of reality…


Let’s start with a little Japanese Zen parable that I stumbled upon, and that I like a lot for some reason:

In China there wKunisada_II_The_Dragonas a man named Seiko; he loved dragons. All his scrolls were of dragons. He designed his house like a dragon-house and he had many figures of dragons. So a real dragon thought, “If I appear in his house he will be very pleased.” So one day the dragon appeared in his room, and he was very scared of him, and almost drew his sword to cut him. The real dragon said, “Oh, my!” and he hurriedly escaped from the room.
“Don’t be like Seiko!” – Dogen Zenji (1200-1253)       (source)

Why do I like this little parable so much?
Because it is a very good description of a human tendency to avoid Reality and run away in our own selfmade pictures, systems of thought and descriptions of reality of it, as if they are the real thing. And then live as if this is the real thing. This applies to all kinds of stuff: God, the natural world, human relationships, and so on…
We make our interpretation the real thing, until it leads its own life, and in the end our own version will be more important than the actual thing, the ‘dragon’ in our parable, and we might get rather disturbed if a real dragon would show up, like our friend Seiko did.

This doesn’t mean that we as humans live without our ‘scrolls of dragons’. We humans interpret and describe the world in language and systems of thought, and without this mediation we cannot see the world. That is a natural and necessary thing, but the danger is always there that our mental interpretations run away from us and from reality, and form a world on their own, unhindered by reality itself.

One version of this is scientism, where our modern scientific observations and interpretations of reality (and the consensus about them that we have at this present moment) become all there is, with nothing else. We squeeze all of reality into one interpretation of what can be observed with our 5 senses and our instruments, and then equate that with Reality. I’ve never understood how people could ever fall for such a thing, but it remains a popular outlook on the world, probably because it makes our world seem more controllable, and the uncontrollable forces like gods and devils are eradicated by just ignoring them…

It can gen more serious than that though: when the ‘dragon’ in question is God, the Creator of Reality and Ground of being ‘him’self, this becomes conceptual idolatry. Instead of believing in God and putting our trust in the Creator, we end up following a construct of our own making. Instead of making connection to the God behind all constructs, we end up worshipping a selfmade deity only existing in our head, since we think we can completely describe God, and that God is nothing but what we describe with our theological language.
None of our descriptions will even describe a natural thing for 100% though, let alone God.

The religious side of making our own dragons can get dark. When I posted this parable on facebook one of my friends noted that this is what Americans do with Christ. And I can see her point in these days of Trump I am afraid, any religion that could go along with Trumpism is opposite to what I read in the gospels and all of the New Testament, about humbleness, enemy-love, rejection of Mammon and power, and so on…

(There also might be the danger that a picture of God living in an enormous thoughtfield becomes a more potent entity and behaves like an egregore or ‘godform’, and this might be the case for Murikan Jeebus, the tribal war god that is completely unlike Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Incarnated Son of God in almost every important detail except some cosmetic ones, but that is another story. It is the same with the supposed Allah of IS who wants most people dead by the way; who is a blasphemy compared to how the Muslim tradition and scriptures envision the God of Abraham and Creator.)

It’s also quite important in more mundane relationships by the way. If instead of letting people be who they are we make our own set of expectations for them, we will only have a friendship or even marriage with an illusion, not with a person. See also my post Do you love your wife or a picture in your head? for more about that idea. The weird thing is that even Christians seem to fall for this habit of making ideals and then trying to conform people to them.

(Which is the opposite of Platonism btw. Platonic ideals are a priori and can only be discovered, while these constructs are a posteriori and completely made up by us humans.)

So what is my point here?

I do think that it’s very important to learn to see what really is there. To not just follow the finger pointing to the moon, but look at the actual moon. And to let it be the moon without expecting it to be cheese or an alien base from the time before time.
It is very important to let reality be, and to interact with what is really there, not with illusions. To cultivate ‘first sight’, as it is called in Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books. In the words of the kelda of the Mac Nac feegle clan, who speaks almost normal English here:

‘First sight is when you can see what’s really there, not what you heid tells you ought to be there. […] Second sight is dull sight, it’s seeing only what you expect to see.’
(The Wee Free Men, P. 132)

Think also of the words of Jesus in the sermon on the Mount:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)

How we do that depends on the subject or object, but a radical honesty with ourselves is always the beginning, and an openness to being wrong. But I don’t have all the answers here, and am only learning myself while stumbling along the way. I just know that this is extremely important, if we want to get anywhere at all.

What do you people think?

peace

Bram

 

 

Loose thoughts: should justice be focussed on punishment?


I was thinking about what the idea ‘justice’ means lately, and more and more I’m really wondering why for our culture punishing the perpetrator is looked upon as much more important than compensating the victim as much as possible, which imho should be the main focus of justice. (along with making sure the evil guy will not repeat being evil, which isn’t the same thing as revenge.) But in some cases compensation isn’t even on the radar. This is just weird and rather counter-intuitive to me.

Revenge nor punishment will ever set anything right for the victim, and while it might  be psychologically good for the victim to have the perpetrator punished, it will not really help any of the wrong to be undone at all.

Yes, I also understand that the threat of punishment can be good to keep people from doing wrong, but that still doesn’t mean that the actual punishment is really the best of what justice has to offer…

But frankly, if we don’t focus on setting the wrongs right and undoing the evil, there will never be any progress.  We will only satisfy our low desires for revenge.

I was browsing the code of Hammurabi, (the oldest human book of law that we still have) and between all the death sentences (prison as a punishment is a rather rare modernist idea) I also see a lot of compensations for crihammurabimes.
Take for example this law (not completely preserved):

“23. If the robber is not caught, then shall he who was robbed claim under oath the amount of his loss; then shall the community, and . . . on whose ground and territory and in whose domain it was compensate him for the goods stolen. “

While good old Hammy surely has a lot of attention for punishment, he doesn’t neglect the compensation even when there is no identified criminal (of his family) that can compensate.  And isn’t it logical indeed to let the community do this instead of insurance companies out for money for shareholders, and to bring this aspect back to the focus of justice? Justice as setting right the wrongs, not punishing the evil ones?

I’m not sure where I’m going here with my thoughts on restorative justice, but it makes me wonder about atonement theories and why I don’t feel anything for certain popular versions of  them in our modernist and post-reformation Christianity. God setting things right and undoing wrong seems more foundational to me than the rather base thinking of ‘evil needs to be punished no matter what’…

so what do you think?

peace

Bram