So, Tit for Tat invited me over to comment at one of his recent posts (here) and some of the commentary has me putting on my dual hats…one marked “faith” and the other one marked “skepticism.”
I can think on both sides of my brain…I can think on both sides of my spirit, too.
There is a lot of talk about “Why do we need Jesus to save us if the story of Adam and Eve is likely allegorical and thus there is no original sin?”
I’m not going to go there precisely. I’ve already made some comments over there and probably will have the chance to make more. But I did want to put into perspective some related issues, and follow Jesus’ lead by doing it parable style.
“Son, I have a great inheritance for you…a trust that shall be yours…but I need you to do certain things, and act certain ways to take charge of it when you are of age. If you cannot do these things, I cannot let you inherit it.”
“Because I need to know that you are ready for it, and equipped to learn those things you will need to know to use and manage it wisely.”
“All right Father.”
But the son did not do what was required of him, and it was clear to his father, who was patient, that he would not.
“Son, because I love you, and because I know you have faults and the world is full of distractions, I offer you a way to make right on what you have done, and correct your course, so that you can still show yourself ready to inherit what I offer.”
“Thank you Father.”
But despite his opportunities to do so, the son did not correct his ways, and eventually found himself imprisoned for some of his wayward actions. After he had been in the prison for some time, with every opportunity to examine those things and that had led him to this point, his Father asked, “Do you understand now, and are you ready to change? I love you, and wish to see you do well. But you must choose your path, for you have no more chances.”
That’s it. No big exciting finish. Because the fact is, the end of the story is unknown and isn’t the same for everyone. Some people don’t even have to get to that last step to get the message.
God gives us a path to follow. Christianity is not the only faith, and as much as I fully believe it is the best path, and that it is the culmination of a plan that God put in place to show us the way, the fact is that many faiths touch upon the same basic themes. Many of us talk about those things as if they are natural parts of our morality and as if they are things that exist outside of spiritual teachings. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But isn’t it interesting that we’ve traditionally gotten those lessons, through the ages, in the form of spiritual or religious doctrine.
And yet we still turn away from the path we’ve been shown, and we still refuse to reach out to God and explore our spirituality. We still refuse to acknowledge our very fundamental failings and we show no remorse for having stepped off the right path. We have no shame. No repentance. No desire to change and grow spiritually. Instead, we focus on ourselves, and how great we are, and how flawed everyone else is.
And yet God gives us another chance. He sends his son, who lives the right way and teaches us the core things we need to know. And we kill him because in the end, many of us don’t want to change and don’t want to hear what he has to say.
Now, this is a point at which, as I’ve noted before, people say, “But if the Garden of Eden is allegorical, we don’t need Jesus.”
But we do. That’s just it. We didn’t change on our own. We aren’t willing to. So we have an example, and someone who is able to be a true intermediary between humans and God, and judge fairly. We have someone who paid the price for us. The price isn’t paying for original sin, but for all sins. The sins we continue to commit, the ones we’ve committed before, the ones we are going to commit in the future. Jesus wasn’t a sacrifice for some single original sin but to repair the rift between God and man that has almost always existed. Even if you can’t see his death as making sense in washing away sin, at least see it as yet another example God sets forth for us:
I sent my son, to teach you in peace and love, and show you by example, and heal you, and do miracles, and still you killed him rather than listen.
Jesus is the example of just how far gone we are. And the symbol that even then, after we kill him, he and God are still there for us. That they haven’t given up on us.
And so people ask, “If God goes through all that trouble, then why have Hell? He should be willing and able to give us chances until we get it right.”
At a certain point, we simply have to choose. We have to show that we are ready to change and grow, just as in my clumsy parable above. Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows my views on Hell and what its purpose is, and that I think there can be redemption even from that place…up to a point. But eventually, there is a final choice. The question “Have you learned anything yet?”
And many are not going to repent. Or be critical of themselves. Or take the steps necessary to move on and grow.
I find it highly unlikely that our purpose is simply to go to Heaven and be a bunch of lazy bums. I think God has many more destinations and plans for us. He is preparing us to take on responsibilities and powers. If we have the spirit of God inside us when we become born again, then that means power. Power to use constructively and creatively, I believe.
But power requires responsibility to be used well.
Redemption isn’t about kissing God’s ass and behaving because he tells us to or because he’ll punish us if we don’t. Redemption is about seeing what’s wrong with us and wanting to fix it. Asking for the help of God in making us better than we are, and better than we ever thought we could be.
Because we don’t seek improvement, not really. Just look at how we approach life. We look for cures to problems that we wouldn’t have if we lived right in the first place. Why create ways to burn off fat or vacuum it out when we could have stopped heaping on our bodies to begin with, long before? Why do self-help gurus so often tell us to look for the things in our past that shaped our decisions, but so rarely ask us to explore what the fuck is wrong with us that we let those past events dictate future behavior. Humans don’t like accountability. And yet it’s exactly what God is looking for.
That work begins on Earth, ideally with going to God through Jesus. But the process doesn’t stop there. Too many Christians think it does, and too many non-Christians think the Bible tells us that once we’re born again, we can do anything and be forgiven.
Redemption isn’t carte blanche but rather a sincere step in doing the right thing.
The question is, will you take that step early on, or will you wait until you’ve gone through hell and back (perhaps literally) to clue in?
That’s a choice every person makes for themselves. But there is nothing wrong in God expecting us to make that choice for ourselves, and ultimately giving us the kind of inheritance that we have earned.
Or, we can see religion, all religion, as fallacy.
In my world, I have right and wrong. Sin does not enter into the equation. If I seek
redemtion, I must look to myself. It is there where the problem lies, it is there where I must fix my problems.
If, in myself, I can find no redemption, I am lost.
And that’s totally your prerogative to belief thus.
But most people not only don’t look into themselves, but they rarely look at their effect on others.
And as for “right” and “wrong” we certainly have some social contexts for that, but how much of what we accept as right and wrong derives from religion.
In any case, I don’t ridicule your beliefs; I simply think that you are denying a big part of yourself. But I respect your right to think that I’m simply misguided in my faith. 😉
I think people have misconceptions about what Christianity offers.
It’s not pie in the sky, it’s not blanket absolution for the lazy.
It takes hard work.
Many of the folks calling on God’s name aren’t his children. I pray that I am.
I truly believe that if you consider the world and the Bible with an open mind you will find the truth it holds. But maybe that’s just my own delusion.
Question for you Deacon…do you believe in the Trinity? I can’t remember if we had talked about this or not.
@ Big Man,
I agree with you, and while I think I’m on the right track, and that my heart (and soul) are in the right place, I don’t put near as much work into it as I should. My own human failings at work there.
Ah, the Trinity…
Do you mean, do I believe in a three-part God? Not really. Do I believe in Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Yes.
I believe Jesus is God’s son. I don’t believe he was God Himself put into human form. The way Jesus related to God and the ways in which he referred to himself and God lead me to believe that while Jesus is divine, and has, in many senses, inherited God’s power and is co-equal to him (or close enough not to make any difference to my mortal ass)…he’s a separate entity.
There’s too much talk about God not being able to sin or know sin in the Bible for me to believe that Jesus is God, or he couldn’t have been tempted. And if he wasn’t essentially human, than he didn’t really die on the cross, and the resurrection wasn’t really a resurrection.
As for the Holy Spirit, I don’t know. Given the way it is referred to in the Bible, the suggestion seems to be that it is a thinking being, not simply God’s power going forth. But whether the Spirit is “equal” to God or not, I just don’t know. The Holy Ghost is one of the most confusing entities/forces to me.
Hi again Deacon, thanks for answering.
Could I ask one more thing…that I should have done with the trinity question?
What denomination are you, or do you relate to any particular dogma?
I’m just nosy.
Raised Catholic, though largely not churchgoing as small child. Though during tween/teen years, went to Mass regularly with my dad.
Very irreligious in college and most of my 20s…to the point of pretty much not thinking about anything religious at all.
Became born again in my very late 20s. Went the Protestant route this time, but non-denominational, really.
Currently attending a Congregational/United Church of Christ-affiliated church.
Thanks Deacon. I respect your choices too
I’m not absolutely sure we can credit religion with our moral code. Not entirely, anyway. I believe that our morals are the result of our empathy, or The Golden Rule, as a religious minded person might think. With me, I don’t believe this comes from a god. I think it is an evolutionary process. We’ve learned that we cannot survive if we behave certain ways.
Religious texts are full of immooral behavior. Often, the deities themselves commit immoral
acts (floods, genocide, slaying of enemies, killing unbelievers, etc). If one is to seek absolute morals from one’s chosen religious text, I can see trouble ensueing.
Take the Bible, for example. God explicitely tells us how we may, or may not, treat our slaves. You and I KNOW slavery is immoral. Not everyone BELIEVES it. Why? Because God said we could have slaves, as long as we treated them as prescribed (some of that was atrocious!).
I don’t see any ABSOLUTE morals written in religious texts. I see many good things, but I also see some very bad things.
Times change, so do our morals. But evil is evil. What is evil today was evil yesterday. What is evil today will be evil tomorrow.
Our perception of evil may change, but the act will be the same.
I understand and at least partially agree with some of your sentiments about mortality. My point was more that I think enforcement of moral codes was largely through religion, and one has to wonder how much of what we think “natural” and proper in terms of behavior was inculcated over time in a more environmental than organic basis.
However, I must point out that slavery and the word “slave” don’t correspond directly to what we have known in modern times or the past several centuries.
Slavery as practiced then was often time limited and more like indentured servitude, if I recall correctly. In some uses in the Bible, slave is more synonymous with low-level worker than it is with meaning a person who has no freedoms.
Slavery wasn’t necessarily about treating people like chattel, at least not in the manner that we saw with, for example, enslavement of Blacks in Europe and the Americas.
I here that argument from time to time. “Slavery was not the same back then” “It was more like indentured servitude”.
I could almost believe that, were it not for soem references in the Bible:
“And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his mone” – exodus 21:20-21
“And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.” – Exodus 21:7-11
Slavery is just a word then?
“If we call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog? Five? No, a dog has four legs. A tail is a tail. Calling it a leg does not make it a leg” – Abraham lincoln
Is slavery just a word? Yes, and no.
That is, many words in the Bible are poorly translated because in different languages, there are subtle shades of meaning that cannot be easily conveyed in English, for example. And words that are very ancient and their original precise meaning is hard to discern. The Bible covers a huge swath of human history, and slavery has existed in many forms and variations. My point isn’t that slavery is good; my point is when religion was used by Christians to justify the enslavement of Blacks, it was used inappropriately, as the slavery in times of ancient Israel (and probably before then) was nothing like the enslavement of the Blacks. I would argue that the enslavement of the Blacks in more recent times was probably one of the most heinous and brutal examples of slavery in history.
Also please note that I used qualifying words (“often” and “wasn’t necessarily”) precisely because there wasn’t one type of slavery. There was debt slavery, slavery as punishment for crimes, and enslavement of people taken during wars. The Hebrews, unlike many groups, actually had rules in place to ameliorate the abuse and suffering of slaves, which is better than some societies (Ancient Rome and the United States, for example). I’m not saying that made slavery “nice.” What I am saying is the Bible “rules” apply to a period in history when slavery was an accepted part of life. As was hereditary monarchy and some other things that we soundly and roundly rejected in the U.S. at the time some folks were misusing the Bible to justify slavery in the U.S. It’s comparing apples and oranges in many ways, and the use of religion to justify slavery was completely inappropriate because of that.
Even in the New Testament, it is unclear with the use of the word “slave” how much is literal and how much is metaphorical and what kind of slavery is being referred to. Where were the writers trying to make a point, and where were they saying that actual slaves should simply be quiet and obey (if that’s indeed what they meant)? I don’t know, but let us also remember that the early Christian church was very much about taking suffering in stride and working through bad times, not trying to overthrow things, and lots of folks in the early church applied that standard as much to themselves as they did to anyone else they wrote to.
Again, none of this should be taken as a way of saying “it was OK” but that there is context in all things, and lots of problems with translating statements from the Bible (especially before Jesus, who set a revised standard) to modern life without applying some contextual filters first.
It’s Ok, Deke.
It’s just I’ve had that Lincoln Quote in my head since High School and I really wanted to use it somewhere 😉
LOL…I can sympathize with that.
I used to collect cool quotes in high school and college, and kept them in a little three-ring binder. Lost that some years ago, which is a shame, since that was back in the days of primitive desktops, the dawning of the age of the first Mac, and the reliance on clunky dot matrix printers, so much of that work was done on a typewriter. Shame to have such labor go to waste… 😉