|“To start off, the harsh reply wasn't just BS or "jerkin' you around". It was a tool to see if you were someone worth talking to.”
To start off, the harsh reply wasn't just BS or "jerkin' you around". It was a tool to see if you were someone worth talking to. If you had enough balls to reply to that email with something rational (which you did), then you were worth talking to. If not, I'm not going to waste my time (and, incidentally, it would have shown me that the email was essentially right on target).
And you might be a fundamentalist Atheist, but your website is freakin' brilliant. A helluva lot more interesting than "infidels.org". Which is why I wanted to talk to you.
WHAT BOX TO PUT ME IN:
And you asked me to fess up if I am a "liberal". I can't be considered part of that group theologically, since I believe that: (a) God is personal and knowable, and not some fuzzy "ground of being" like the force in Star Wars; (b) God is a Trinity; (c) God reveals Godself through miracles and revelation, and the "epicenter" or "most important part" of this revelation is recorded and interpreted in what we call the Bible; (d) the historical person of Jesus Christ is the fullest self-revelation of God (as he is God in human form), and the only way to fully experience God is through Him; (e) The moral laws of the Bible (not cultic or sacrificial laws) are still in effect for today, as interpreted and applied in the context we find ourselves in.
So, most liberals run screaming from me when I say that kind of stuff and call me a fundamentalist. Yet, I believe that the Bible has to be interpreted in the most generous, gracious way possible without contradicting what it actually means. I think when you look at how both Jesus and St. Paul used the Hebrew Bible and opened up its meaning to new situations (especially in conflict with the constrictive interpretation of folks like the Pharisees), then you gotta be open to interpreting the Bible as expansively as possible. After all, in 95% of the judgment passages of the New Testament, the threats of hell issued by Jesus and his followers were not aimed at "regular folk" or even "sinners", but at the most pious and religious people in their culture: the Pharisees, Sudducees, Teachers of the Law, and the folks who wanted to impose Jewish cultic law on Gentile converts (see Matthew 23).
Now, when I say stuff like that, conservatives run screaming or throw Bibles at me and call me liberal. I will also tell you that before I have been an Evangelical-fundamentalist who taught literal 6 day creation (no longer!), as well as a Pentecostal holy roller, as well as a Megachurch consumer-Christian. I still believe in the centrality of Jesus and the healing power of the Holy Spirit. And yes, I still "speak in tongues" on occasion. I also enjoy Wittgenstein and Foucalt and [post]modern philosophy. But more than that, I enjoy CS Lewis and a Catholic philosopher named Peter Kreeft. Currently, I serve in the Episcopal-Anglican Church where I hope to be ordained as a priest. Politically, I am a Libertarian who tends to vote for whoever stands for the most limited government possible.
So, whatever mental box you want to put me in, have at it.
WHAT THE HELL IS HELL?
You wanted answers on why I disagree with points 11 and 12. As I worded it, they are:
11. [Christians] will be happy in heaven while people we love are burning in hell.
12. Hell is a place of externally imposed punishment that is permanent, filled with literal fire.
Here's the short answer. I believe that hell is a redemptive process, and not a permanent destination. It is a cosmic quarantine for the disease of sin until that sin is healed completely. Sin is essentially self-centeredness. It is the choice to use others- whether God or humans- as means to our own personal ends. To use them and treat them as only useful to get me what I want. In order for us to live in perfect community with one another, this selfishness has to be eradicated, or else community becomes hell. In the words of Jean-Paul Sarte: "Hell is other people". When I look at the evening news, the schools my students go to, most communities, many marriages, and way-too-many Churches, I would have to agree with that statement.
Whatever hell is, it starts right here, right now.
If God were to let this life replay itself after death on into eternity, he would have to be one sadistic sonofabitch. So, I guess he could either quash us out of existence after death (basically your position, plus God), or heal us (basically my position). God could also just recycle us 'till we get it right through reincarnation, but that is kind of sadistic too, especially since on most accounts we forget all the lessons we learned from life to life. And, of course, God could infinitely punish us for a finite amount of sin and an even more finite time to learn not to sin (basically the majority conservative Christian position). I don’t have to tell you how sadistic that makes God.
So, for those who are still sinful upon death (which, I think is just about all of us), I believe God puts us in a solitary quarantine where we can either be healed by Christ by turning toward him, or be alone by turning away from him. And this will last as long as we want it to. Using metaphors (not literal descriptors) we call this both fire and darkness. Run with the metaphor here: God is called a "consuming fire" and a "refining fire", because he is pure love (consider our metaphors of "burning with passion" or "burning with regret"). Fire burns, love refines, it makes us pure. To turn away from this love is to turn to solitary nothingness- pure darkness. Hence the descriptions of hell as both fire and darkness in Scripture.
For those who know Christ and want to be like him, they will receive this healing with joy. For those who are like Christ, but do not know him (maybe Gandhi), they will joyfully realize him who is the true source of their love. For those who did not know Christ and who are very selfish and sinful, they will receive this healing with greater or lesser degrees of agony, like when you take someone to the hospital who does not believe they are really sick. And for those who know Christ but who do not want to be like him (which, I fear is most Christians), it will be truly hellish. Again, see Matthew 23 or 25:31-46.
It also seems that as we grow in love, we are given the responsibility and privilege to help others on the way to God. This seems to be true both in this life and in the next. Paul says that we are to be Christ's "agents of reconciliation" in this life (see 2Corinthians 5). And, in the next life we are told that we will "judge the world" with Christ. Since judgment in the Bible means liberating people from evil, rather than giving a condemning court sentence (see the book of "Judges"), it seems that this job of "judgment" will be to help liberate people from sin. Furthermore, Jesus gives this curious parable of Lazarus and Abraham reaching out to a guy in hell (see Luke 16). Jesus never gives us the end to the story. But, it is clear that they were either visiting him in hell to either gloat (ha ha ha, you are in hell!), or for a redemptive purpose. Knowing the character of God, I side with the latter.
When we are finally perfected in love, we are resurrected at the last resurrection, and live in perfected community with God and all humanity. At that time, all sin and evil will be thrown into the consuming fire of God to be destroyed forever, so that all persons can enjoy God and each other fully. Revelation explicitly pictures myriads upon myriads of saints and angels in heaven worshipping God, it only explicitly shows a few things actually thrown into the "lake of fire". Furthermore, these are all things, not people, such as the sea, death, and hades (all places that hold the dead), and the "devil" (the power of condemnation), the "beast" (the coercive power of government), and the "false prophet" (false religious systems). I don't believe any actual persons are thrown in the lake of fire at all (see Rev ch. 14, 20).
We will finally be fully mature and God-like in our ability to give and receive love, and at last we will fully mirror the Holy Trinity who has existed for all eternity in perfect communion as Father, Son, and Spirit. We will not be a community of infants, selfishly dependent on some cosmic Father figure, but a community of kings and queens, fully intellectually, emotionally, and socially mature, sharing in perfect unselfish love forever, centered on the Triune God who is the Source of all our life, love, and purpose. I hold this confident hope because I really believe the dozens of times in Scripture that it says:
(1) God wills to save all: 1Ti 2:3-5; 2Pe 3:9; Eze 33.11; John 3:16-17;
(2) God can save all: Psa. 33:11; Isa. 46:10; Jer 30:24; Rom 8:28;
(3) God promises to save all: John 3:17; 12:32; 1Jo 2:2; Heb. 2:9; 1Ti 4:10; Rom 5:12-21; 8:28-39; 11:32; 1Co 15:21-28; 2Co 5:15-19;
(4) God is present even in hell: Psalm 49:15; 139:7-12; 1Sa 2:6; Hos 5:14-6:2; 13:14; 1Pe 4:5-6;
(5) The punishment of hell seems remedial and redemptive, not retributive: Mat 25.46; 1Th 1.8-9; 1Co 3; Heb 12;
You can either interpret Scripture by using God's judgment to interpret his love, or his love to interpret his judgment. You can either allow damnation and wrath to interpret redemption and grace, or allow redemption and grace to interpret damnation and wrath. Either exclusion interprets inclusion, or inclusion interprets exclusion. The Bible has BOTH sides on all of these things. As an interpreter, whether you like the Bible or not, you have to give primacy to one side to be the "key" to interpret the other. I think Jesus and Paul used God's love and grace as they "key" to interpret his wrath and judgment. I choose the same. I think way too many Christians choose just the opposite.
Thus, my "timeline" for death and hell is this:
- Life right now
- Physical death
- Hell / Purgatory / Heaven (the same reality experienced in different ways depending on the orientation-toward-God's-love of those in it)
- Completion of growth (takes different amounts of subjective time depending on how much we need healing)
- Final judgment and destruction of evil
- Eternity in perfect communion
This is my 1200 word answer. If you want the long answer, with all the Biblical stuff, check out:
This view is not new in Orthodox Christian Tradition, but it is minority (unfortunately). It seems to have been held by St. Paul (who said he would have gone to HELL if it meant salvation for all his people- see the passages above and Romans 9:3). It was definitely held by Origen of Alexandria (200's AD), and by the "Cappadocian Fathers" (Greg, Greg, and Basil) who wrote in the 300's AD and who are the primary architects of the Trinitarian understanding of God that Christians have today.
Augustine, however, sealed the fate for Western Christian tradition (including Roman Catholics and Protestants), because he was a huge proponent of hell as a final destination. Most of the West followed this. Yet, curiously, the Catholic Church has never officially declared that anyone would ever stay in hell forever, and their current Catechism leaves room for the possibility of eventual universal salvation (that is better than a lot of Protestants!). And, none of the major universally accepted Creeds of the Church says anything about hell, other than the fact that Jesus descended there and defeated it by rising from it (cf. Apostle's Creed, Nicene Creed).
More recently, people like the Scottish Presbyterian preacher George MacDonald, apologist and novelist CS Lewis, theologians Karl Barth and Gabriel Fackre, evangelical philosopher Thomas Talbott, NT scholar William Barclay, and priest-physicist John Polkinghorne, have all held similar views. If you are interested, here are some books:
1. William Barclay. The Apostles' Creed. Westminster John-Knox Press. Chapter 14 is the best summary of redemptive hell and Christian universalism I have ever seen.
2. CS Lewis. The Great Divorce.
3. CS Lewis (editor). George MacDonald: 365 Readings. Collier Books. Great for the poetry, if not anything else.
4. Robin A. Parry (editor). Universal Salvation? The Current Debate. Eerdmans Press. This book features articles by Thomas Talbott and other evangelical universalists.
5. John Polkinghorne. The Faith of a Physicist. Fortress Press.
Now, you can either critique this (which is welcomed), or ask me to clarify another one of the 14 points. By this reply, you may be able to see how I will answer several of them. Hope this was "substantive enough" for you, and I look forward to hearing your comments.
May you find what you are looking for,
Student Pastor, Church of the Apostles
Church site: churchoftheapostles.net
Youth site: natebostian.blogspot.com
My blogs: twocitiesblog.blogspot.com
First, can I open by stating the fact that I think the Bible is bullshit. I think that the reason God and His word are reinterpreted again and again (just as you're doing now) is evidence that the whole thing is bogus. And you rewriting God's word so that it's more fair, and somehow fits in with your idea of logic proves that it's all in your head, and in everybody else's head, from here, across the Bible Belt, through to the Vatican, over to the Middle East and beyond. It's all in everyone's head, depending on where you're born, and the people you're surrounded by, it's all in your head. Your letter plainly shows this.
How is it that you came upon your conclusions? Why did you take liberties with the bible, and pick and choose what parts to believe, and what parts not to believe? Did you go with what seemed most fair, start at that point, the work your way backwards from fairness to establish the "truth?" Are you pulling this all out of your ass, and teaching it all as truth, even though it's not what the bible says? It's not John 3:16. It's not proven. It's not written. It is all theorizing beyond the grave without anything to substantiate the claims. All of this, while we've got clear and dramatic proof that humans evolve. We have the same emotions, instincts, and passions that other "soulless" living creatures among us. We die and turn to dust like every other living creature, without an afterlife, without a grand plan, without trumpets sounding, or a red carpet leading to a pair of pearly gates.
I was at this point where you're at now. That point where I'm making up my own belief system to fit my own morals, so that everything would be fair, and somehow make it all make sense so that I would somehow get that "heaven" I thought we all deserved. In fact, I took it even further, saying that I believed everyone who dies immediately sees that God is the way and is allowed up to Heaven. Who cares what the bible says anyhow? We can make religion whatever we want it to be!
The box that I put you in is someone who lives outside of reality. You've yet to see that your imagination has gotten the best of you, and despite what Disney teaches, believing does not make something so. There is a clear, logical reality that we are all a part of, and denying that does not make the world a better place. It is no more educational than those who once taught the laws of Zeus.
I know you're not shocked to hear this reply from me. I'm an atheist. I think the bible is folklore, while you're still trying to make sense of it. I'm also realizing that you never answer questions directly. And your inability to keep your replies simple, and minimal is making reading them a gigantic chore. I don't think I've been able to read this last letter from you even once straight through without my mind wondering.
You've definitely laid the groundwork for me no longer caring about your opinion on any of these 14 topics.
If you can't get it together and simply answer my questions in a couple paragraphs then you will force me to nap through the rest of our correspondence.