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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Newsweek Editor Writes Book on Resurrection/Heaven

Lisa Miller is the Religion editor of Newsweek magazine. She has recently written a book entitled: Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife. An excerpt from the book appears in the April 5th edition of Newsweek.

The article begins:
It's Easter-that most pleasant of springtime holidays-when children stuff themselves with marshmallows and stain their fingers with pastel dyes. In reality, of course, Easter is about something darker and more fantastic. It's a celebration of the final act of the Passion, in which Jesus rose from his tomb in his body three days after his execution, to reside in heaven with God. The Gospels insist on the veracity of this supernatural event. . . . Jesus died and rose again so that all his followers could, eventually, do the same. This story has strained the credulity of even the most devoted believer. For, truly, it's unbelievable.

Lisa, it turns out, is a skeptic, but as most Americans, she is fascinated about the afterlife. As she states:
While 80 percent of Americans say they believe in heaven, few of us have the slightest clue about what we mean. . . . Despite the insistence of the most conservative branches of all three Western religions on resurrection as an incontrovertible fact, most of us are circumspect. The number of Americans who say they believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ has dropped 10 points since 2003 to 70 percent, according to the most recent Harris poll; only 26 percent of Americans think that they'll have bodies in heaven, according to a 1997 Time/CNN poll.
With the popularity of Eastern religions in the West, 30% of people now report believing in reincarnation (2003 Harris poll). She mentions that cremation is also on the upswing with about 33% of Americans opting for that instead of burial. Historically, Christians have eschewed cremation as it was seen as a descration to the human body which they believed would one day be raised.

She argues:
Resurrection presented credibility problems from the outset. Who, the Sadducees taunted Jesus, does the man who married seven wives in succession reside with in heaven? The subtext of their teasing is obvious: if the resurrection is true, as Jesus promised, then in heaven you must have your wife, and all the things that go along with wives: sex, arguments, dinner. Jesus responds in a typically cranky way: "You just don't get it," he says (my paraphrase). "You are wrong," he said in Matthew's Gospel, "because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God."
The main alternative to a resurrected body, going back to Plato, is the immortality of the soul. This concept, Lisa says, is easier to swallow than resurrection. After death, the soul-unique and indestructible-ascends to heaven to be with God while the corpse, the locus of our senses and all our low human desires, stays behind to rot. She continues: The belief in resurrection is more radical. It's a supernatural event. It's a special act of grace or of kindness on God's part." For my part, I don't buy it. I do, however, leave the door open a crack for radical acts of grace and kindness-and for humbling ourselves before all that we don't understand.

She also has a chapter on the near-death experience (NDE) which has become a "proof" for some Christian apologists of life after death (see Dinesh D'Souza, Life After Death: The Evidence). She refers to the work of
Andrew Newberg an associate professor in the radiology department at the University of Pennsylvania who has made his reputation studying the brain scans of religious people (nuns and monks) who have ecstatic experiences as they meditate. He believes the "tunnel" and "light" phenomena can be explained easily. As your eyesight fades, you lose the peripheral areas first, he hypothesizes. "That's why you'd have a tunnel sensation." If you see a bright light, that could be the central part of the visual system shutting down last.

Newberg puts forward the following scenario, which, he emphasizes, is guesswork. When people die, two parts of the brain, which usually work in opposition to each other, act cooperatively. The sympathetic nervous system-a web of nerves and neurons running through the spinal cord and spread to virtually every organ in the body-is responsible for arousal and excitement. It gets you ready for action. The parasympathetic system-with which the sympathetic system is entwined-calms you down and rejuvenates you. In life, the turning on of one system prompts the shutting down of the other. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in when a car cuts you off on the highway; the parasympathetic system is in charge as you're falling asleep. But in the brains of people reporting mystical experiences-and, perhaps, in death-both systems are fully "on," giving a person the sensation both of slowing down, being "out of body," and of seeing things vividly, including memories of important people and past events
.

This sounds like an excellent, easy to read book, which could serve as a good antidote to the all the fluff that is out there such as Heaven: My Father's House by Anne Graham Lotz (daughter of Billy Graham), as well as all the sensational books on the near death experience.

If one wants to make a ton of money, one should write a book on the afterlife. People are fascinated by the subject and many desperately wish to live on in some form after death.

For interesting views on heaven from a lot of different sources, Muslims, Secularists, Fundamentalists, Liberal Christians, and so forth, see the On Faith discussion in the Washington Post. At the bottom of the article, click on previous to read someone else's view of heaven.

Thanks to Cipher for pointing me to this video of Lisa Miller discussing her book:

74 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Re: Lisa Miller - I just happened upon this yesterday. Read the comments, a couple of which led me to this. Catholicism is as bad as Protestant fundamentalism; the entire belief system is designed to keep people in a permanently infantile state.

    Bloody God-awful religion. I know all I do when I come here is complain, but I really can't find even one good thing to say about it. I can just about tolerate liberal Christianity, but I have to agree with the fundies (one of the few things upon which we do agree) - it isn't really Christianity. Fundamentalism as a movement may be only about a century old, but the core elements of fundamentalist belief - PST, salvific exclusivism, inherent depravity - reflect what most Christians have believed for most of the past two millennia. Liberal Christianity is the innovation.

    The entire business is despicable, and I have nothing but contempt for people who indulge in it. I wish it would all just go away. (Your young friend Michael, if he reads this, will see this as more evidence that I'm not one of the "elect".)

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  3. Cipher,

    Thanks for the links. Very interesting. Yes, you are right, fundamentalism, i.e., a literal understanding of the Bible was THE view among Christians until the rise of biblical criticism in the late 18th century. Of course, there were Socinians and Deists before that time but they were not considered Christians.

    Its interesting to see how Christianity, especially in America, is seeking to make their beliefs more palatable to the general public. Hell is being "watered-down" (pun intended) or eliminated and God is being presented as someone who wants to give you a happy and successful life (ala Joel Osteen). Of course, this drives the Calvinists and other fundamentalists crazy as they see this as a sell-out. But, as I pointed out in my articles on infant salvation, even the fundamentalists like MacArthur, Mohler, and Piper cannot bring themselves to say that infants may not go to heaven--even though their theology should demand it. It would be too much of a public relations disaster for them.

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  4. Ken,

    I'm gonna take a look at that Graham book. Christian "fluff" was another clue to me that a lot of it lacks substance. It's about some kind of warm feeling that women are supposed to try to stay in because Jesus loves us and cares about all our problems as we're dealing with husbands, children, our "ministries", etc.

    I guess her book's not on those subjects, but you get my point.

    As for the resurrection-at my last church the pastor always said "He is risen" and we replied "He is risen indeed." I guess they are saying what they claim is an encouraging truth. But I always had the feeling "are they trying to convince themselves?" or like a cult thing. I've seen preachers on TV do that-they have you repeat a phrase, so it can get more firmly implanted in your brain.

    On the afterlife, I've never studied reincarnation, but it certainly sounds more merciful. If you royally goofed in the first try, you get other chances to do better I guess. Seems nicer than hellfire.

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  5. even the fundamentalists like MacArthur, Mohler, and Piper cannot bring themselves to say that infants may not go to heaven

    It says a lot about a belief system when John Piper is one of its "softer" characters.

    Yes, you are right, fundamentalism, i.e., a literal understanding of the Bible was THE view among Christians until the rise of biblical criticism in the late 18th century.

    Do you know Mike Clawson? He's a a progressive evangelical, involved in the Emergent Church movement, who used to (and may still) be a contributor to Hemant Mehta's Friendly Atheist blog. I argued with him about this a few times when I used to participate there (had to stop; I was too mean-spirited toward Christians to suit the other atheists!). He kept telling me how wrong I was, that fundamentalism is the innovation, that there is a tradition within Christianity for a wider, more inclusive theology - but he never gave me one example, one piece of evidence. He just kept telling me that he'd been studying theology for years, and that I was simply wrong.

    People see what they want to see, Ken.

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  6. Ken,

    This is Lynn. I just commented above, and my comment says "sammay said" for some reason. I don't know how that happened.
    Oh, I was able to commment without signing in to my google account (the first time.) On this comment, I had to sign in.

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  7. Here is a kind of life after death you can be sure of...
    http://www.whatwasdone.com/Age.php?&Age=-1

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  8. Cipher, I don't share your animus toward religion and religious devotees. I've seen plenty of good and kindness come from people on account of their faith -- whether I share that faith or not. But that's me. My experience must differ a lot from yours.

    I do agree with you about liberal Christianity being an artificial form of the faith. I spent about seven years trying hard to be one, knowing deep down I was only co-opting the Christian name without holding Christian beliefs. It's a complete fraud. For all my complaints about fundies, the biblical cherry-picking among libs is shameless and blatant. When it comes to intellectual dishonesty, they are without peer.

    To the lib Christian, whatever modern secular liberalism esteems at the moment always turns out to be EXACTLY what Jesus himself endorses -- whether gay marriage, nationalized health care or reduced carbon emissions. (Imagine how every commentator from St. Jerome onward missed all that obvious stuff.)

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  9. I do agree with you about liberal Christianity being an artificial form of the faith... For all my complaints about fundies, the biblical cherry-picking among libs is shameless and blatant.

    Steve, I can deal with a liberal theist, of any tradition, who says, "I think there's reason to believe in a transcendent reality, and the various sacred texts represent humanity's attempts to conceptualize it." Plus, there is something to be said for the argument that the fundies do just as much cherry-picking to keep us out of heaven as the liberals do to get us into it! However, when they then claim that what they're doing represents "real" Christianity, ignoring the evidence of 2,000 years - that's when I get annoyed.

    (Actually, I'm annoyed by all people of faith these days, but that's another story.)

    I've seen plenty of good and kindness come from people on account of their faith

    Yes, but when that faith compels them to believe that at the end of the day, you're going to hell for all of eternity - in my view, that negates (or seriously compromises) whatever "good" they may otherwise manage to accomplish.

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  10. As my wife is evangelical -- and I am the one who changed (she never bargained for this) -- I have spent a lot of time looking for a liberal church where we can attend. Unfortunately, we live in a rural county, far from any big cities. 90%+ of the churches here affirm inerrancy, and the only liberal churches are liturgical.

    But even the liberal churches affirm the Bible as an "inspired" text and as their "primary" authority. I have also noticed that the lay members of liberal churches around here are typically very conservative, holding to inerrancy, even if the church's faith statement doesn't. Could it be that liberal churches -- which often promote uncritical Bible studies among their parishioners -- are seedbeds for fundamentalism too?

    Also, I have a hard time sitting through even a liberal church service. Part of my problem is that I no longer hold a "high view" of the Bible at all. I don't think that I can. For me, having read it devotionally for decades, it is an abusive and extraordinarily manipulative text -- swinging between chilling passages like Rom. 9 (who are you, O man! -- nothing more than a lump of clay) and beautiful loving passages like I Cor. 13.

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  11. Could it be that liberal churches -- which often promote uncritical Bible studies among their parishioners -- are seedbeds for fundamentalism too?

    Eric, I think it's probably more a function of geography. Up here in godless liberal Boston, the liberal churches really are liberal.

    If they're a seedbed for fundamentalism at all, it's because as life becomes increasing complicated, a lot of people are looking for a secure foundation - plus, the liberal churches have lost a lot of fervor, so they've lost members to the more conservative denominations, which tend to be more passionate.

    Also, America seems to be getting dumber.

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  12. Eric,

    I can sympathize with you. Fortunately, my wife shares my agnosticism although she was reared in a fundamentalist setting too and spent one year at Bob Jones. What got her was not the intellectual problems with evangelicalism so much but the gross inconsistency of the people and especially the leadership. What sent her over the edge was working a couple of years in the business office at the largest fundamental Baptist church in Arizona.

    I can't stomach liberal churches nor can I stomach the Unitarian Universalist churches. To me they seem all about politics. I am a libertarian and I don't see big government (either the Dem or the Rep variety) as the answer.

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  13. ---

    Ken,

    I just wanted to disagree with you about Piper. I think Piper would agree that unsaved babies and children do go to Hell. His defense, of course, is that God has predetermined who would be his sheep and who wouldn't, so any "unsaved" children would have been unsaved no matter how long they lived. Remember, he's a Calvinist, and they just "trust" God that whatever happens was part of His will. What I could never get past was, what defense or explanatino COULD God give that would make me forget that the brute fact of Hell is that people are suffering unimaginable and conscious torture for ALL ETERNITY (remember, if you think Heaven is better than you can imagine, then by what rationale shouldn't you also believe that Hell would be worse than you could possibly imagine?)

    I used to be a huge Piper fan; in fact, the two times I saw him speak live were big parts of my life as a believer. It's sometimes hard to believe how much my views have changed, because I no longer hold him in such high esteem, obviously.

    Regarding the topic of this post, Heaven, I think it's telling that no one can speak intelligently about what Heaven will be like, how human free will would still exist there, and by what types of mechanisms God will bring about such a utopian existence. Why is God so silent on these details? Even if we humans couldn't bring them about to a perfect degree, if God were to tell us how such a utopian state should be run, we could have been trying to perfect it, but he is completely silent. I imagine a Christian could object that if we were all believers, we would live in utopia, by default, but that could be said of any ideology. And that still wouldn't resolve the fact that even believers commit sins against one another, sometimes egregious sins.

    Of course, this is what we should expect if the idea of Heaven is just purely fantasy. If such a place were impossible, then of course, no one could explain how such a place would work. Moreover, why can't God institute Heaven on Earth now (or in the past)? Why must God siphon off only believers and quarantine them from non-believers before beginning the process of creating a utopia?

    Any ruler surrounded by ardent devotees could create a utopia sheltered from the rest of existence. I would imagine that God, a being endowed with unlimited power, knowledge and presence would be able to do that which no mortal being could do. But continually I am told that God acts in a way befitting that of a mere man.

    Again, exactly what we'd expect if God were a figment of men's imagination.

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  14. Oh yes, John Piper. The Baptist church we last attended was doing a Sunday School series on Piper's "Christian Hedonism" study.

    We dropped in on the class one Sunday morning. And one of the "study" questions asserted that unbelievers could not experience love.

    I was stunned. I'm still stunned. The capacity of Evangelicals to completely divorce themselves from any sense of shared humanity -- to the point where they can view all unbelievers as incapable of love -- is utterly stunning.

    That was the last Sunday School class I've attended, because I couldn't bring myself to another one.

    Thanks, John Piper. You were one of the influences that pushed me over the edge.

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  15. I think Piper would agree that unsaved babies and children do go to Hell.

    Yeah, he is a bastard - and he isn't the worst out there. There are Calvinists who get after him for being too soft.

    I think I've posted this here before; it's from a twenty year-old article of Piper's that I've had on my hard drive for a few years:

    I have three sons. Every night after they are asleep I turn on the hall light, open their bedroom door, and walk from bed to bed, laying my hands on them and praying. Often I am moved to tears of joy and longing. I pray that Karsten Luke become a great physician of the soul, that Benjamin John become the beloved son of my right hand in the gospel, and that Abraham Christian give glory to God as he grows strong in his faith.

    But I am not ignorant that God may not have chosen my sons for his sons. And, though I think
    I would give my life for their salvation, if they should be lost to me, I would not rail against the
    Almighty. He is God. I am but a man. The potter has absolute rights over the clay. Mine is to
    bow before his unimpeachable character and believe that the Judge of all the earth has ever and
    always will do right.


    Leaving aside the inevitable pathos (God, they just love the drama, don't they?) - can you imagine growing up knowing your father feels that way? "If God sends my kids to hell, it's okay." I loathe my parents, and even they aren't that bad.

    A couple of years ago, I had a very brief encounter with his son Abraham on the aforementioned Friendly Atheist blog. I posed the same question, "Can you imagine growing up with that?", and said something about it being unreasonable or unconscionable. Abraham showed up just long enough to say (as, I'm sure, he's been taught to do), "It isn't a question of whether or not it's reasonable, but whether or not it's true." Mike Clawson, who was at Wheaton with him, suggested he might want to try considering a wider perspective, but he didn't respond. I doubt the poor boy's had a single independent thought during his entire life (also, he works for his father, and is dependent upon him for his livelihood).

    It's an horrendous, self-perpetuating sub-culture that simply isn't going away any time soon.

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  16. I was stunned. I'm still stunned. The capacity of Evangelicals to completely divorce themselves from any sense of shared humanity -- to the point where they can view all unbelievers as incapable of love -- is utterly stunning.

    They've constructed their own parallel reality, complete with its own revisionist history, science, a metaphysical system - and, as you can see, it's own psychology - and they're trying to impose it upon the rest of humanity. This is what makes them so dangerous, and why it's vital that they be stopped. It really is - or has the potential to develop into - a form of Fascism.

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  17. Exploring,

    No, even John Piper is not that hard-core. He says: Infants, I believe, do not yet have that capacity; and therefore, in God's inscrutable way, he brings them under the forgiving blood of his Son. In another sermon, he adds: God in his justice will find a way to absolve infants who die of their depravity.

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  18. God in his justice will find a way to absolve infants who die of their depravity.

    But he won't extend the same courtesy to adults.

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  19. I am surprised that Piper would think that one of his children would not be elect but I guess that is because he is Baptist and not Presybterian. The Presybterian Calvinists generally hold that if a child is baptized as an infant, they are guaranteed to be a part of the elect as long as their parents (really their father) is genuinely elect. That takes away all of the unnecessary worry that Piper was putting himself through.

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  20. BTW, Charles Spurgeon maintained that any children who die in infancy are elect. The fact that they die before they reach maturity is proof-positive that they are elect.

    As Spurgeon pointed out, it is not that God chooses someone to salvation because they are going to die in infancy. Rather, He has ordained that only those who have been chosen for salvation will be allowed to die in infancy. God's justice in condemnation will be most clearly seen by allowing those who will not be saved to demonstrate their inherent sinfulness through willful, knowing transgression.

    You see, even the most hard-core Calvinist cannot bring himself to say that infants go to hell, especially if they are in a pastoral role where they have to deal with this issue regularly. I know there are a few who probably say so, but I am sure their churches are tiny and made up of the incurably insane.

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  21. I once heard Pat Robertson say that he was, at one point, offered the position of pastor in a Presbyterian church, but he turned it down because he disagreed with that teaching. As he put it, "God doesn't have any grandchildren!"

    I think the Southern Baptist personality profile includes a complete willingness to abandon any and all of one's fellow human beings (coupled with a shameless tendency to refer to their impending damnation in a jovial manner).

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  22. Cipher,

    I wonder if evangelicals who say they believe in hell really do? When I was a Christian this used to bother me greatly. If my neighbor or my friend is lost, I should be willing to crawl over broken glass to give them the gospel, yet well over 90% (my guessestimate) of evangelicals never share the gospel with anyone.

    I am convinced that one's actions is the best indicator of what they truly believe, thus I think most evangelicals don't really believe in Hell even though they claim they do.

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  23. NDE's and reincarnation have both come up here, as they should. For those unfamiliar with me, I was long and deeply an Evangelical, now thoroughly persuaded otherwise.... Part of that includes belief that many lines of REAL evidence (not 2nd/3rd hand visionary accounts, etc.) do point solidly to continuation of consciousness. The case for reincarnation, at least as an option for the continuing "soul" (personalized consciousness), is growing much stronger. Check Paul Von Ward, for one strong source--empirical, verifiable work, building on the weaker but significant work of Ian Stevenson, etc.

    I believe we should pay at least some attn. to the fact that a majority of the world believes in some form of reincarnation, and not directly tied (in many cases, at least) to strict religious dogma. But Von Ward and others are getting very detailed.
    The "widespread belief" is not evidence, just raising of a flag that should make us pay some attention, as many are.

    Related tho not directly tied (so far) is the vast amount of NDE research. Now metastudies (studies of studies) are coming out, such as by Dr. Jeffrey Long. And medical and other researchers have taken several specialized areas to study in depth. This is becoming serious, recognized science pretty rapidly, tho some skeptics persist (which is good and proper overall, tho I have been strongly impressed with the inadequacy of such work I've seen so far). Stay tuned... there is much more on the way in both these areas.

    As to people like D'Sousa trying to use NDE research to bolster traditional Christian theology and views of heaven, it's irresponsible and downright disgusting how he goes about that... not read the book, but heard him interviewed at length, and read other things by him. How he gets tagged "brilliant," and considered a great apologist is beyond me!

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  24. ---

    It is stunning that those of Piper's worldview, if they truly assess the status of "true" Christianity across the globe, would have to admit there is probably (and this is being generous) about 5% of the world that is actually regenerated, born again Christians. By true Christianity, I mean those who hold to the truly foundational beliefs of Biblical Christianity. For example, Piper would have to exclude those of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox persuasion, since they both deny justification through grace alone in faith alone, instead espousing works as an integral part of salvation.

    Therefore, these people are denying any connection between themselves and over 95% of the world's population. Since these numbers aren't dramatically changing every generation, and unless they believe God is simply saving people right at the brink of death (and if he is, what's the point of evangelizing?), they have to accept that over 6 BILLION people today will be spending eternity in Hell. How do they sleep at night?

    I know I sure couldn't find a moment's hope once I fully understood the complete implications of such a worldview.

    Yet, they say they can just trust God. The problem is, is it even possible that God can be so good, that you having been completely sanctified, and thereby maximally loving and compassionate, could find any peace and solace once the cold hard reality of such a large number of people suffering eternally becomes undeniable reality?

    Here's a simple question I try to ask fundamentals, and I usually don't get an answer, but when I have, it reveals their true heart, I think:

    Would you rather your reality be true, wherein nearly 95% of the world's population (past, present and future) would be in Hell for all eternity or would you rather an atheistic worldview be true, wherein no one would be heaven, but NO ONE would suffer AT ALL once they died?

    As much as Christians want to point out that I no longer have "ultimate meaning and purpose", whatever the hell that means, I would choose the latter option in that question a million times over.

    I think I know what most of you here woudl choose to. :)

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  25. Natural Spirituality,

    I would like to belief that consciousness survives death (as long as it is a pleasant existence) but I find it hard to believe. It seems more like wishful thinking to me rather than reality. I am open though to hearing the best arguments for such as I pride myself on being an agnostic and thus open to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

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  26. Exploring,

    The interesting thing that MacArthur says (following BB Warfield)is that there will be more people in heaven than hell. This is because of the high infant mortality rate throughout history. He says that is why Jesus says that kingdom of heaven is likened to children.

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  27. ---

    Ken,

    I've heard him speak otherwise, and more recently, he said, regarding a topic very much like this, "if my beliefs don't line up with Scripture, then to hell with my beliefs", and since I've never seen any Biblical support for an "age of accountability" or infant salvation (unless you regard the offhand comment by David regarding his child who died soon after birth as support), I assumed that Piper wouldn't align himself with such an unbiblically supported teaching. I suppose I shouldn't assume.

    Also, Piper follows in the footsteps of Augustine, John Edwards, and John Owens, and from what I've read from them, infants and children in Hell=not a problem! Peachy!

    Regarding the idea of infant/children damnation, I never found the notion despicalbe unto itself, for how could be anymore inherently repugnant than anyone spending eternity in hell? I believe that no one (not Even Hitler, Stalin, etc.) deserves an eternity of pain. Why should the notion of an infant being damned be anymore revolting to me than the notion of a mother or an ederly man or a cripple or a humanitarian or a doctor?

    Hell is a damnable doctrine, and in the paraphrased words of Charles Darwin, I can't see how anyone could desire that such a thing be true at all...

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  28. I wonder if evangelicals who say they believe in hell really do? When I was a Christian this used to bother me greatly. If my neighbor or my friend is lost, I should be willing to crawl over broken glass to give them the gospel, yet well over 90% (my guessestimate) of evangelicals never share the gospel with anyone.

    Ken,

    Their minds are highly compartmentalized, and you get into questions about the nature of belief, but the short answer is - yeah, they believe it. They simply don't care, or they don't care much. As long as they get into heaven, that's all that matters. As you saw, Piper was perfectly willing to wave goodbye to his own children - and these examples are everywhere, online and in print, if one cares to look (which I wouldn't recommend, as it will depress you utterly).

    It's a form of addiction. As long as the addict gets whatever s/he thinks s/he needs - the fix, the momentary high - everyone else can quite literally go to hell. Other beings have no autonomous reality; they're merely a means to an end.

    This is the reason I say they're the worst people who've ever existed.

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  29. Oh - and as far as your being willing to crawl over broken glass goes - you got out, didn't you? The ones who aren't troubled by it are the ones who remain. That's why I also keep saying that any attempt to engage them is useless. The Ken Pulliam's will find their way out. The others will never want to.

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  30. Heh! I'm sort of a Calvinist atheist, aren't I?

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  31. ---

    Ken,

    Let me pause to thank you for this blog. Your comments, considerations and research have opened up some previously unexplored perspectives on Christianity that I hadn't considered. So, thank you!

    Re: MacArthur's contention that heaven will be more greatly populated then hell, I wonder what he does with Jesus' contention that straight is the path and narrow the way, and few find it. I also wonder what his NT justification is for accepting that infants go directly to Heaven. What does he do with Paul's proclamation that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, therefore all are inherently deserving of God's wrath.

    Moreover, Paul declares that to be saved, one must actively acknowledge that Christ is their savior. I wish I had a Bible with me, but I think it's in Romans 10 where Paul declares that believers must utter with their mouths that Christ is their savior, or something to that effect.

    Just wondering if you had any indication of how he deals with these issues, or does he just gloss over them?

    Thanks.

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  32. Exploring said: "Moreover, why can't God institute Heaven on Earth now (or in the past)? Why must God siphon off only believers and quarantine them from non-believers before beginning the process of creating a utopia?"

    For all the Christian talk about heaven, the idea of "heaven at death" as the main goal of faith is extremely obscure from a biblical perspective. It was a belief among many first century Jews that God would establish a messianic utopia on earth with David and the patriarchs in leadership roles -- a belief Jesus appeared to have shared. The Jehovah's Witnesses are more accurate on this point than the rest of Christendom.

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  33. Cipher said: "Steve, I can deal with a liberal theist, of any tradition, who says, 'I think there's reason to believe in a transcendent reality, and the various sacred texts represent humanity's attempts to conceptualize it.'"

    Yeah, me, too. Fair enough. I may actually agree with that statement myself.

    Cipher: "Yes, but when that faith compels them to believe that at the end of the day, you're going to hell for all of eternity - in my view, that negates (or seriously compromises) whatever 'good' they may otherwise manage to accomplish."

    I agree, that's a terribly obnoxious view of divine justice. Even when I was a Bible-centered person, I found a way to dump that doctrine and embrace annihilationism instead. (OK, so you're just going to BURN ALIVE for a brief time -- better?)

    Honestly, though, I don't think most Christians today believe in hell because they want to. They feel the Bible is pretty clear on the issue, so they embrace it out of duty. The shallower thinkers among them never ponder its implications and tend to put in out of mind.

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  34. Exploring,

    You said: Regarding the idea of infant/children damnation, I never found the notion despicalbe unto itself, for how could be anymore inherently repugnant than anyone spending eternity in hell? I believe that no one (not Even Hitler, Stalin, etc.) deserves an eternity of pain. Why should the notion of an infant being damned be anymore revolting to me than the notion of a mother or an ederly man or a cripple or a humanitarian or a doctor?


    I agree that it is barbaric to think of punishing anyone forever and ever. We would probably all agree that Hitler deserved to be punished and we might be willing to punish him for awhile, even torment him, but eventually we would say, okay, thats enough, let put him out of his misery. But the God of the Bible never shows mercy to the damned. That is barbaric in the highest degree.

    As for infants, it would be really cold-hearted to tell a parent that their infant or toddler is now in the flames of hell. You would lose your congregation really fast as people cannot accept that kind of harsh belief. Thats why I say its a PR move on their part to argue that infants go to heaven even though it contradicts their theology. Where they are inconsistent is that other people have trouble believing that the "heathen" who has never heard the gospel would also go to hell. That has led to some arguing for universalism or a second-chance or God judges them based on the light they have, etc. However, MacArthur, Piper, Mohler and the other popular Calvinists will condemn those folks for being inconsistent with their theology but when it comes to infant salvation they do the exact same thing as these other Christians that they condemn.

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  35. Cipher,

    Olan and Witness would say that you are simply confirming the veracity of Scripture. LOL

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  36. Exploring, in my two posts on the subject, I linked to MacArthur's sermons in which he attempts to deal with all of the issues you raise. See here and here.

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  37. Thats why I say its a PR move on their part to argue that infants go to heaven even though it contradicts their theology.

    Ken, I think you're probably right. Either that, or the subject really does touch upon whatever minuscule bit of compassion still exists within their stony hearts. Or they're just too friggin' squeamish (something that wouldn't trouble the Pyromaniacs at all).


    Olan and Witness would say that you are simply confirming the veracity of Scripture.

    No doubt!

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  38. ---

    Thanks Ken. I'll go over them tonight after work. I really am interested to see how they sidestep some of the clear teaching of Paul

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  39. The shallower thinkers among them never ponder its implications and tend to put in out of mind.

    Steve,

    Most people never critically examine their "beliefs"; indeed, they go through life avoiding thinking deeply about anything. I imagine it's a survival mechanism.

    This is especially true of fundies. Least introspective people going.

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  40. One reason Warfield and other Calvinists believe heaven will be more populous than hell is because many are postmillennialists. They soften their painful Reformed theology by postulating an earthly "golden age" in our future. In that age, nearly everyone is Christian and the world becomes a peaceful realm for several thousands of years. The sheer number of Christian believers during that time will tilt the balance toward a Christian majority for all of A.D. history.

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  41. ---

    Good point Steve, but it simply begs the question; why couldn't God start this utopian rule right after Jesus' resurrection or, even right after the Adamic fall, thereby cutting off at the pass billions of people headed for an eternity of hell? He obviously is unable to institute it; why wait?

    Why are my expectations of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent deity so much greater than that of his most ardent supporters? Haha

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  42. ---

    Correction: should have been 'He obviously is ABLE to institute it..'

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  43. Steve,

    That is correct about Warfield but MacArthur is a premill and he believes that heaven will also have a greater population than hell simply on the basis of the high infant mortality rate through history

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  44. And yet, I'm sure MacArthur thinks it's a good thing to stop diseases that kill many children in the third world, as well as abortions in our own society. But those efforts all help remove the sure-thing ticket into glory for millions of children. Instead, they are allowed to grow up and be exposed to the statistical likelihood of hell.

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  45. ---

    Good point Steve. Under MacArthur's worldview, modern medical advancements that decreased infant mortality by leaps and bounds have been, quite possibly, the worst thing to ever beset the human race. Or, maybe God is just not 'electing' quite as many people as he used to.

    If Christians really wanted to assure the numbers in Heaven increase, do whatever they can to make sure that modern neonatal medical advancements don't disseminate throughout the globe. Oh, the horror of all those children being born healhty, then growing to maturity and being completely decimated by God's infinite wrath!!

    The rationalizations that beleivers have to come up with to make their belief system more tenable once it inclues a doctrine of eternal damnation, and even worse, reprobation, is literally mind-boggling.

    On a related note, I also find it interesting that the God of annhilationists finds the God of Arminianism (people go to Hell because they choose to) immoral, and the believers in Arminianism find the God of Calvinism (people go to hell because God predestined them to) immoral, and the Calvinists find the God of hyper-Calvinism (even infants go to hell) immoral, yet when I find them ALL immoral, I'm considered a God-hater.

    Interesting....

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  46. And yet, I'm sure MacArthur thinks it's a good thing to stop diseases that kill many children in the third world, as well as abortions in our own society.

    This always gets me. Aborted fetuses go straight to heaven, but they're somehow being deprived of the joys of this world - despite, as you say, the statistical likelihood of their going to hell.

    Came across this recently. If you read through the comments, you'll see not all of them think babies go to heaven.

    It really is time to start quarantining them.

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  47. Exploring,

    You said: Or, maybe God is just not 'electing' quite as many people as he used to.

    I think that is an interesting point. The Calvinists like MacArthur would have to say that God used to elect a lot more people than he does now.

    In reality, the use of any medicine is really against the sovereignty of God concept. If God is in charge of when we die, then are we playing God to try to keep people alive as long as possible?

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  48. Cipher,

    Its easy for people to post on an internet forum or engage in an academic debate on whether infants go to heaven but as a pastor you have to deal with real people who are grieving. To be as cold as some of those commenters were would mean your whole church congregation would leave.

    Another example that hit me recently. A man whom I had known my whole life died last year. This man was married to a Christian wife who had every evangelist who ever came to her church come by and visit her husband to get him "saved." He would never budge. At his funeral, what would you expect the minister to say? "Well, we know Mr. X is buring in hell now because he wouldn't receive Christ as his savior." No, instead the comment was made, "well we don't Mr. X's heart and perhaps he called out to the Lord before he died."

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  49. Its easy for people to post on an internet forum or engage in an academic debate on whether infants go to heaven but as a pastor you have to deal with real people who are grieving.

    I suppose. About ten years ago, though, I did read about a pastor who was called in to minister to a couple whose child had died immediately after being born. Upon learning the child was already dead, he said, "What did you call me for? That child is in hell.", and walked out. It wasn't a story from the Depression, either; it was, at the time, a fairly recent account.

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  50. You said "It really is time to start quarantining them."

    Well, for the record, I would fight that as vigorously now as I would have as an evangelical. As a lawyer, I've worked on religious liberty cases before, and I may do so again.

    What you advocate (I hope you are only venting) would tear my family apart; and split me from my own wife. It's really very bad; and I find it very offensive.

    What you are advocating would be -- it really would be -- persecution.

    I read comments like this on ex-christian blogs far more than I would like. It does nothing to advance our future toward anything but more conflict and war.

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  51. Eric, the fact that it is ex-Christians - people who've been in that world, who understand the mentality from the inside - who are making these statements should weigh with you. It should give you pause.

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  52. SteveJ,
    You said,

    I've seen plenty of good and kindness come from people on account of their faith -- whether I share that faith or not.

    Don't be too quick to attribute "good and kindness" as being causally related to a person's faith. Realize that wonderful and virtuous acts are carried out by persons from Christianities other than some of those you might have in mind, from non-Christian religious traditions and by those without religious mindsets of any kind. People everywhere exhibit those human behaviors which the religious like to claim as their own. Those behaviors are a greater part of the human character than is religion: there have been thousands of societies in human history that have not had religion - there are many today, but in all societies there has been love, caring, compassion, kindness and generosity.

    That "good and kindness" is human, not religious. Humanity is ubiquitous among the peoples of the world; religion is not.

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  53. Cipher,

    Your joke that you are a bit of a "Calvinist Atheist" has a kernel of truth.

    You have advocated repeatedly for ex-Christians not to have anything to do with evangelicals.

    It's that very kind of exclusivism, going the other way, that I have grown so weary of and offended at. It's the tendency of members of one tribe to demonize & dehumanize those outside their tribe that I abhor.

    I don't view evangelicals as "the worst people who've ever existed." That statement rivals the dehumanizing/demonizing rhetoric sometimes heard from evangelicals.

    I didn't leave the evangelical tribe just to join another tribe that is just as adament in denying our shared humanity, dignity, value, and worth.

    So there. Now I am anathema both to evangelicals & atheists. Who wants to kill me first?

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  54. If it makes you feel better, Eric, I was never a Christian. I am a perfidious Jew!

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  55. Cipher,

    You, like me, are a human being made of flesh and blood. That's the only category I care about.

    Eric

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  56. Russ, I can only speak from my own experience. I've seen more works of charity from religious people than nonreligious. I also suspect that charitable donations from the religious dwarf those of the nonreligious. There may be various reasons for that, but it's my perception. And I'm not going to deny that perception just because I have problems with Christian dogma.

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  57. http://makarios-makarios.blogspot.com/2010/01/famous-atheist-quotes.html

    Here is a character I encountered about a year ago, on vjack's blog. He's spent the past four years blogging largely about atheists, how awful we are, how we're all going to hell, etc.

    Pay particular attention to the first comment, a comment he seems not to disagree with. This is only one example out of many. The internet is filled to the brim with them. I assume you've seen the website Fundies Say the Darnedest Things?

    This is who they are, Eric. I don't want to get into a prolonged exchange about it, because it obviously involves marital issues for you - but I'm not backing down from this. You want to draw parallels, and it won't stand. You cannot compare the attitudes of the two sides.

    Also, through their commandeering of the political process over the past thirty years, they've created the socioeconomic crisis with which we now find ourselves faced. We aren't coming back from this, and, due to the interconnected nature of the global economy, as we go down, we'll be taking everyone else down with us. We're facing, within the next several years, the end of our global civilization - quite possibly the end of humanity. They proved to be far more toxic to humanity than the Islamic fundamentalists have ever had the opportunity to be.

    They are the worst people in the world. You will not convince me otherwise. So, yes - if there were any possibility (and, of course, there isn't) of salvaging our species by disenfranchising them, removing them from the political process, getting them the hell out of our schools, even restricting their reproductive rights (if fundamentalism turns out to be an inheritable trait) - I'd do it in a heartbeat. I have absolutely NO problem with it.

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  58. Cipher,

    I can see you are really passionate about this and so am I or I would not have this blog. However, I think we must be careful of judging everyone on the basis of the leadership. Yes, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jame Dobson and others have said and done some pretty awful things and they do have biblical justification (at least in a literal interpretation) for it. Yet, there are lots of people who are part of the movement who are there because of circumstance of birth or social setting or because the religion met some kind of psychological need they had, etc.

    Just as I would not have condemned every German citizen for what Hitler did or his most fanatic followers did, I can't in good conscience condemn everyone who is an evangelical. I was one for over 20 years and I know they are not all bad.

    As far as restricting their freedoms, as a libertarian, I am against that. What I am in favor of is removing tax exemption from churches and religous institutions, removing favorable tax treatment for pastors, working diligently to obtain a true separation of church and state, and educating our populace so that religious mythology will have less of an influence in the next generation.

    As for the economic condition of the country, I am worried too. I don't see it all as the fault of the Christian right, however, I think our political process is corrupt and flawed. Politicians are only concerned about getting re-elected and what is best for their party. I wish we had some true statesmen who were interested in whats best for the country. The older I get the more cynical I become about the political process.

    Anyway, I appreciate your passion and your contributions to this blog even if I don't see eye to eye with you on every point. As someone once said, if two people agree on every point, then one of them is unncessary.

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  59. I don't see it all as the fault of the Christian right, however, I think our political process is corrupt and flawed.

    Ken, not that our political process isn't corrupt and flawed, certainly, but I'm convinced our current situation is largely the fault of the Christian Right. LBJ knew, when he signed the Civil Rights bill, that he'd lost the South for the Democratic Party. Nixon then devised the Southern Strategy, in which the Republicans began to court the disaffected Southerners. It really took off under Reagan, during whose administration the Christian Right and the Republicans formed an unholy alliance. They've spent the past thirty years pushing criminals and lunatics into office, trying desperately to reverse nearly every advance (not that there were many) that had been made to that point. Our current socioeconomic fiasco, from which we are not going to recover, is a direct result of the behavior of those who think Jesus was a free market capitalist.

    If my young cousins, whom I think of as my kids, weren't here, I'd be off to Western Europe in a heartbeat, and I wouldn't look back. I'd rather spend these last few years before everything collapses among godless hell-bound progressives like myself. Unfortunately, I don't feel I have that option.

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  60. Cipher, I realize there's no point in trying to argue with you about this -- but I'm a glutton for punishment.

    In your online travels, you disproportionately run up against the zealots, the obstinate nutjobs. There are droves more who are NOT like that. They include my daughter, some good friends and my extended family members. To tar the whole Christian population with the same brush is unwarranted and, frankly, comes off sounding pretty damned bigoted.

    To say that conservative Christians are a bigger global threat than Muslims is an outrageous statement, obviously born more out of aggravation than objective thought. How many Christians want to behead infidels, stone women or fly an airliner into a building? (Or do you think 911 was an inside job by Bush!??) I don't like James Dobson or Pat Robertson either, but they can't compete with Osama bin Laden and his ilk for evildoing and mayhem. I can't believe it's necessary to even have to argue the point.

    I concur with Ken about our economic downturn. Connecting the dots between the recession and the religious right takes a lot of creative license. Connecting it to paternalistic, big-government statism (of which I'm guessing you're a supporter) and corrupt politicians on both sides is bloody easy.

    I hope you're aware that your talk of forcible action against Christians -- restricting their reproductive rights, et al -- smacks of out-and-out Stalinism. The Soviets put your wishes into practice. Declare someone mentally unsound on account of his religion and ... off to the gulag.

    It sounds as if your bitterness is consuming your rational judgment.

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  61. Ken and all,

    Wow... I come back in several hours, and my earlier comment and your (Ken) reply is way buried. Just one additional response and then a followup:

    As to Christians really believing in eternal punishment or not, I think the disagreement here was mostly semantic. Practically, speaking, they do have serious doubts and tend to ACT as tho it does NOT exist. (And they similarly do not believe in it in relation to emotional or personal situations like deaths of young children or unbelieving loved ones.... So yes, compartmentalizing is part of the mental pretzel-making.) It's mostly the "systematic" theologians and apologists, TRYING to keep coherent what is not so in any Scripture canon (Cath., Prot., etc.), who keep affirming eternal punishment and/or election, etc. ("Christianity Today" did a long, in-depth defense of the doctrine a few years ago, e.g.)

    I think they realize that it may be the most problematic and vulnerable of numerous weak links in their theological chain. To have the link broken, officially, would undermine atonement theory, and open a giant can of worms around various key dogmas.

    Ken, as to continuation of consciousness coming, potentially, from wishful thinking, I do believe that's not too hard to set aside as very weighty. The NDE area does not stand alone as evidence for it. But taken TOGETHER with several other lines of evidence, including those from physics lately (really ever since quantum mechanics), the case comes closer to "objectivity" than mere subjectivity. A very detailed, closely reasoned and excellent book on this kind of issue (not just on consciousness), though little known, is "Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality" by David Ray Griffin, published 1997. HIGHLY recommended for those skeptical from the scientific side, but also challenging of the traditional Christian side. (He does a good summary of the reincarnation work of Stevenson, e.g., and possible interpretations of it... to which can now be added more sophistication/replication, etc. by Von Ward and others.)

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  62. Steve, you haven't paid attention to what I've said.

    To say that conservative Christians are a bigger global threat than Muslims is an outrageous statement

    That's the reason I took care to say, "They proved to be far more toxic to humanity than the Islamic fundamentalists have ever had the opportunity to be."

    Connecting the dots between the recession and the religious right takes a lot of creative license. Connecting it to paternalistic, big-government statism (of which I'm guessing you're a supporter) and corrupt politicians on both sides is bloody easy.

    I'm sorry, but I think that takes creative license. Not that there aren't corrupt politicians on both sides, but the lion's share of the blame lies with the Christian-Republican alliance. There are a number of seriously disturbed people in Congress right now, voted in by conservative Christians (some of them are conservative Christians), whose behavior bears this out on a daily basis.

    I hope you're aware that your talk of forcible action against Christians -- restricting their reproductive rights, et al -- smacks of out-and-out Stalinism.

    Well, as I said, there's no chance of implementing it - but, as I genuinely feel the future of humanity is at stake, if it were possible, I'd have no hesitation. They'd do the same to you, Steve.

    Over the next few years, you'll see that I was right. In any case, I'm tired of talking about it.

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  63. @naturalspirituality:

    It's mostly the "systematic" theologians and apologists, TRYING to keep coherent what is not so in any Scripture canon (Cath., Prot., etc.), who keep affirming eternal punishment and/or election, etc.

    I'm sorry, but no. The idea is still alive and well at all levels of the conservative Christian subculture, and it isn't going away.

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  64. One more comment on this subject. My wife and I were talking this morning about how our minds were shaped by our rearing and especially the impact that the culture around us, including our religion had on our views of other people. We were geared to think from our rearing and our culture that homosexuals were deviants and evil people. One tends to be suspect (I think from evolution) regarding anyone that is different than him. My wife got to know a gay man at her work some years ago and I also met some gay people that totally changed my perspective. I was wrong to pre-judge them but that is was a natural consequence of both my rearing and the particular culture that I was immersed in. When my experience with gay people contradicted what I had been taught, my views changed. Now I am sure there are some really bad gay people and some pedophiles are gay, etc. but it would be wrong to judge all gay people under that stereotype.

    I think people are just people and some have some bad views like many fundamentalist religious people and some of those religious people do some really bad things because of those bad views. This is seen all throughout history and today. Others remaind part of the group and claim to believe like the rest of the group but their actions betray what they profess to believe. These people have attached themselves to conservative religions for a variety of reasons, including the social support, need to identify with a group, psychological benefits from thinking that you are forgiven and now accepted by God, etc. but to think that all of these people are dangerous or that they should be quarantined, etc. is in my opinion misguided. I think the answer is education and while it may be too late for some of the folks, we do have a new generation coming along who because of the internet and the explosion of knowledge are less likely to be controlled by the "group-think" of conservative religions.
    That is my two-cents FWIW.

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  65. Ken,

    And in your "gay-friend" analogy, I think as an atheist I have the opportunity to challenge rather than reinforce anti-atheist presuppositions. I've decided to see if I can deepen my calm in facing self-defeating and incoherent theologies. I don't have to co-sign their bull-shit but, I don't have to practice personal insult either. I can simply and calmly state I am comfortable in my atheism for good reasons and am committed to many of the same moral aims of those that claim divine command as justification for their ethics.

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  66. BTW, I am ashamed of my former prejudices against gay people. Like I said, we are all just human beings--I don't even like the designation "gay person," or "straight person," or "African-American," or whatever. We need to strip away the things that have divided us as human beings. We are all in this thing together.

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  67. ---

    I'm ashamed of how I judged people and considered them evil and haters of God, just because they didn't share my worldview.

    More than anything, I'm ashamed of every single time I told ANYONE they were going to hell if they didn't believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    I know the anguish and misery that that dogma brought to my life, and to think that I could be responsible for someone else experiencing such misery is sickening to me.

    Cipher, I just have a quick thought for you. These people that you so vehemently dislike (and I feel bitterness towards them at times): remember, they think that this is the truth. If they truly believe these are the facts of reality, what else should they be doing, but adhering to such truth, and the tenets that naturally follow?

    Now, I think we can urge them on to consider how their worldview does or does not comport with reality, and we can censure them for being intellectually lazy or dishonest, but for living up to their creeds, I expect nothing less. It's been said before, but if their worldview is true, and if atheists and other believers are actively leading people away from God and to hell, then many of their actions make perfect sense. (the character of their God, who allows such things is another matter).

    Ken is correct. The only really viable answer is education and skeptical criticism, because it's the truth that matters here. And we must judge the evidence for claims and follow that which has the best explanatory power.

    On a personal note, I still socialize with my old church, and as much as I think they are mistaken about reality, I wouldn't change any of them for a second. They are genuinely the most caring, amiable and gracious people I've ever met. Even though Christianity had a deleterious effect on my life, it was never in the slightest the faults of those in my church, and I still love them as I did during the height of days of being a Christian.

    In a word, they are not all bad, and I'd venture that the overwhelming majority of them are as good as anyone else in the world.

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  68. They'd do the same to you, Steve.

    Oh yes, the things Christians will do to us if only they get the chance.

    Yesterday, I saw the pastor of the little Baptist church down the street. He smiled and waved as always. But this time, I saw something behind that smile. Something flashed in his eyes for a brief second. It said more than, "I want to win you for Christ." It suggested, "I want to castrate you, without anesthesia, and perform a battery of human experiments on you -- you and all your kind. Hoo, hoo, hoo, haaaaaa!!!"

    My blood ran cold as I drove past his church's marquee, which read, "The best vitamin for Christians is B1." They don't realize I can now read between the lines. I now understand the sinister agenda, the coming cataclysm.

    Even as we speak, I'm persuaded that Christians are building work camps deep in the bowels of the earth. They're biding their time, waiting for a GOP majority in Congress. Then they'll drag us from our homes in the dead of night. We'll be chained to long tables, forced to produce Precious Moments figurines and other fish-and-dove merchandise for the remainder of our wretched lives. They'll pump Gaither Trio music into our slave quarters until we wail and beat our sorry heads against the walls.

    Oh, the humanity! The humanity. The humanity.

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  69. Steve,

    I realize you were saying all of the above in a sarcastic mode but I do think that Cipher has a point even if it sounds extreme. The point is that in the past when Christians had power they did kill off those who disagreed with them. See the Inquisition and the Thirty Years War. While I doubt that will happen again as it is unlikely they will ever gain complete control of our country, there is at least one element of Calvinism that advocates such--The Christian Reconstructions. If they had control of our system, they have said they would institute the OT law including stoning of homosexuals, witches and rebellious children. So Cipher's point is not too far-fetched.

    The bigger problem though as I see it as it relates to conservative Christians is that they divide the human race--into saved (children of God) and lost (children of the devil). This type of mentality is just as bad as segregation in my mind. So I do think one could make the point that conservative Christianity is a blight on the world.

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  70. Google Dominionism and Christian Reconstructionism.

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  71. I don't disagree at all about the evil of those extremist fringe groups. But every movement, religious or secular, has extremists out on its lunatic wing. The nice little Methodist lady down the street who bring meals to people when they're sick ... well, she has precious little in common with miscreants like Gary North.

    In the same vein, it seems unwarranted to take a bunch of Mennonites who rebuild hurricane-ravaged homes and lump them in with the worst advocates of religious faith.

    It's not fair to judge everyone in a group according to the actions committed by a paltry percentage of the whole (what percentage of Christians are sympathetic to Reconstructionism??). When people do that to racial and ethic groups, we call them bigots.

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  72. Like Calvinism, with which it is closely aligned, it's a pervasive ideology within the evangelical subculture. It has been one of the primary influences upon the past two generations of evangelical and fundamentalist leaders. If you're interested, you can read Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, by Michelle Goldberg, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges. Here:

    http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v08n1/chrisre1.html

    is an overview by Frederick Clarkson, a journalist who's been covering the evangelical world for some time.

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  73. And then there is the practical matter.

    Cipher, you would have no problem rounding up people on the basis of their theological beliefs and/or commitments and quarantining them, sterilizing them, and no doubt taking their children away too (or they might end up indoctrinated with the same beliefs).

    So I have a practical question. What would be your litmus test for assessing one's theological beliefs and commitments beforing dragging them into the gulag?

    Anyone who calls himself a Christian?

    Or would you be more specific than that? How specific? Propose some criteria.

    And who would you propose to make the decision? A jury? Spanish-style inquisitorial panels?

    In my own perception, your own statements are, IMO, as every bit as extreme as the Rushdoonyists. So who else can we brush with your ideology -- using your own statements as Exhibit A? All atheists?

    Frankly, these kinds of discussions aren't profitable. They disgust me. Far more heat than light is generated. It won't accomplish anything good.

    So that's all I intend to say on this matter. Fire away if that will make you feel good.

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  74. This thread has been much on my mind this past week and a half. As much as a few of you claim to be disgusted by my callousness and bigotry, I find equally repugnant your stubborn refusal to see that world, from which you claim to have liberated yourselves, for what it is.

    This article about the Christian Dominionists was brought to my attention today. It's a few years old, but it contains numerous quotes from Christian leaders, in which they freely admit their intention to commandeer the government and turn this into the United States of Jesus:

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/7235393/the_crusaders/

    Eric, Steve - you're simply wrong, and there's an end to it. You want to think me a hateful asshole? Fine. Eventually, you'll find out that I was right.

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