Monday, December 21, 2009

Hell: Fact or Fiction?

SKEPTIC: It seems to me that Christianity is based on a system of bribes and threats. If you believe, you get to live in heaven forever after you die and if you don't, well, sorry, but God will torture you forever in a fiery pit called hell.

It's the latter option that I think is particularly offensive, and which is a giant disconnect for many people who might otherwise be open to joining the ranks. I have a really hard time trying to get my head around the idea that a "just" and "loving" God wants to forever torture a good and loving person just because he believes in a different religion or no religion at all. Seriously? God is so spiteful that he will torture billions of people forever? If our earthly father acted in such a heinous fashion, he'd be arrested for child abuse.

PREACHER: What is the difference between a bribe and a reward, or of a threat and a warning? Is it not based on the authority and character of the one giving it? When the IRS warns me to be honest in my tax return, I take it seriously because there are stiff penalties based on law if I am caught cheating. Likewise, when the IRS allows tax deductions for charitable giving I see it as a reward for doing something the IRS recognizes as worthwhile. If some incredulous person tried to lure me to do something wrong to get money, that would be a bribe. If someone with no credentials told me to pay them money or else ...., that would be a threat. The only reason you see God's promises and warnings as bribes and threats is because you have rejected His authority and don't believe that He exists.

Doesn't atheism come with its own set of bribes and threats? If you assume that your Creator doesn't exist, then you can enjoy lots of sex in your favorite color without feeling guilty. Atheism's ultimate threat is, "If you've believed in God all your life and He doesn't exist after all, won't you be very hurt and disappointed?" Quite an empty threat for someone who knows God personally!

I don't think you can equate God's judgment of guilty sinners (and since all men are sinners His judgment is just) with child abuse. We don't become His children until we believe on His name and accept Christ's substitutionary death on the cross for our sins (that act demonstrates His love). Otherwise we are just His creation. Since He made us, He has the right to do with us as He chooses. If you believe it is a woman's right to terminate the life of her child in the womb, shouldn't God have the right to withhold eternal life and blessings to those who refuse to seek and acknowledge Him?

SKEPTIC: "Bribe/reward" - "threat/warning", you're arguing semantics. But the bottom line remains (according to mainstream Christian theology), God is going to punish billions of very nice earthlings by torturing them over a fiery flame in some sort of demented barbecue for all eternity. Just because they didn't find their way to the one and only "true" religion - Christianity. Sorry mormons, muslims, jews, hindus, buddhists, skeptics, freethinkers, and atheists. Pack your bags and get your passport stamped - you're goin' to hell.

This doesn't seem just a wee bit sadistic to you?

As far as your contention that atheism employs comparable bribes and threats, you're saying that getting to have lots of sex is comparable to going to heaven? Hmm...okay, you got me there. That's a perfectly solid comparison. I'm down with that. Seriously. But to then compare being "hurt and disappointed" to being baked alive in an eternal oven - I dunno. I'm not quite seeing the equality there.

PREACHER: I think you missed my point. It wasn't about equality, it was about the disparity between our views that I was talking about.

SKEPTIC: I'm still looking for some sort of logical justification for this horrendous theology. You justify it by saying that "Since He made us, He has the right to do with us as He chooses," which I suppose is the justification that any abusive parent would make, to use an earlier analogy.

PREACHER: He is not a parent under the authority of the state or human opinion, He is the Creator - the ultimate authority.

SKEPTIC: Well, I suppose you're right. It would be hard to drag God into a court of law and hold him accountable for his transgressions, since he gets to overrule pretty much anything in the universe. I guess it's the ultimate veto. He's God and so if he wants to torture billions of people for eternity, I guess that's just fine with you. You'll just trust that he knows what he's doing.

You conclude by arguing, in some sort of odd comparison to abortion, that God should "have the right to withhold eternal life and blessings to those who refuse to seek and acknowledge Him." Once again, we are in agreement! If Christian theology taught that non-Christians wouldn't get an invitation to the big party in heaven - fine. That's fair. But to then require them to be tortured forever seems a bit rude.

PREACHER: Certainly from a secular humanistic perspective God is not good. (You probably have a book with that as its title sitting on your bookshelf.) And, not only is the final state of unbelievers unbearably cruel, history is full of terrible sufferings of humanity - disease, natural disasters for which it would seem reasonable to blame the Almighty directly.

Then there is man's inhumanity to man. That God doesn't seem to intervene suggests that if He exists at all He mustn't be very great. And, the state of man doesn't seem to improve. The 20th century has been labeled the most violent of all history. I don't see a change for the better in the 21st century so far. Even today a growing majority of the human race barely eeks out an existence while a privileged minority like you and I can enjoy a life abundance. Isn't that reality? And, those who try to make this reality better are called "good". How ironic for you that very many of those who are trying to make the world better are also followers of this evil religion that says there is a day of Divine judgment on all of humanity and those who are not acceptable to Him (that includes everyone who have not accepted His Son) have a very uncomfortable eternity.

The eternal all-knowing almighty God who has revealed Himself in creation, history, and more specifically in the Bible doesn't really need our seal of approval. He can do whatever He wants (even what may seem sadistic to us) and still pronounce only Himself good. (It is interesting that Jesus said that there is no one good except God.) Our opinions about how He manages the universe are irrelevant to Him. And if we cease to exist when we die as you believe, then our complaints are at most only a temporary annoyance to Him.

I find His revealed explanation about why the world is in such a big mess very reasonable. He created a perfect world that He called very good. It was ruined by man's choice to rebel against Him, but He promises to restore everything to perfection again. What is really amazing though is that He promises that those of us - part of this ruined creation that needs to go to the incinerator, who put our trust in His Son and what He sacrificed for us, get to stick around with Him for the rest of eternity enjoying His restored creation. He is more than just good. He is unbelievably merciful.

SKEPTIC: You begin by making a pretty good case for atheism, but then conclude that all the horrible things that happen in the world can be laid at the feet of man. God is just an innocent bystander. If Adam and Eve had just had the good sense to not eat that darned fruit, all the horrible things that have befallen mankind would never have happened. D'oh!!

I'm not at all sure why you would consider it ironic that many of the people who try to help make the world a better place are Christians. Of course, there are many individual and groups who do good work in the name of Christ, just as there are many secular and humanistic people who do the same. All should be respected for the work they do.

But I do agree that you can't blame God for all the bad things that happen - since God is just someone we as a species have made up. Once you accept the fact that there is no God, you finally realize the simple truth -bad things happen sometimes, and good things happen sometimes. It's called life.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Do Christians Hate Gay People?

SKEPTIC: I came across the above video on Tangle (formerly GodTube), a Christian video sharing site that is normally pretty conservative in its viewpoint. However, in this particular video, a Christian experiences an amazing epiphany after a gay business friend asks him, "Why do you Christians hate us so much?" As he ponders the question, he comes to realize that it's true that "Christians have treated gay people with distain and with hate." He goes on to reflect that "when someone doesn't agree with my Christian worldview, I can become unloving." And not once did he bring up the nonsensical "Love the sinner, hate the sin," which is the standard Christian canard used to explain their attitude toward gay people.

The problem with that, of course, is that by labeling gay people as "sinners," you are judging them and setting yourself up as morally superior to them. And that sort of judgment can lead to all sorts of bigotry and discrimination against gays. In any event, my hat is off to this man for his ability to come to grips with the true nature of his feelings and his apparent willingness to try to change them.

PREACHER: I can agree with the guy in the video. I am also very ashamed of the "Christians" who call gay people bad names, pick on them, and go around with placards and bumper stickers that say, "God Hates Fags." I believe they are reacting in fear to how the gay community might mess up our world for future generations and call down God's judgment. Unfortunately, their foolish actions and words are just causing more alienation, and not really helping the problem they are trying to address. (You may notice that I don't include myself with them. I am not aware that I have ever called a gay person names, picked on them or said that God hates them. I would never want to.) It is very unfortunate that Christians who are reaching out to gay people in love and helping them in many practical ways (I personally know of many who do) don't get very much publicity.

The guy in the video did say that you should stand up for what you believe. He was confessing his and many Christians unloving actions, words, and attitudes towards the gay community. But he wasn't saying that homosexual acts and gay marriage were good things. Although he didn't use the words, I believe he would agree with "Love the sinner, hate the sin." That phrase is only nonsensical to those who find their identity only in what they think, feel, and do. I believe one's identity is much more than just those aspects. (Though maybe, as an atheist, that is all you have to go on.)

Those who find their identity only in what they think, feel and do, get bent out of shape even when someone lovingly points out something about their behavior that is wrong. Love wants the best for other people. Accepting unhealthy immoral behavior is not love, it is indifference.

SKEPTIC: Well, it's great that you don't call gay people names or pick on them, but that's not really the issue. The issue is tolerance and acceptance of a group of people who are different from you. Unfortunately, Christianity (more often than not) becomes a barrier to real tolerance because it is so condemning and fearful of gays. When you say that their behavior is "unhealthy" and "immoral," that's not tolerance. That's a very harsh judgement which is based solely on your Christian worldview. Imposing that judgement on someone who is merely living out who he (or she) truly is (not who they suddenly decided to become) is destructive and hurtful. A truly tolerant person's attitude would be "to each his own." A truly tolerant person would congratulate a gay couple for finding someone to love and express support for such a union. But I don't see that happening within the Christian community anytime soon. They're too busy trying to deny rights to gays.

I guess that's the dilemma the guy in the video faces. While he understands that he has been unloving in his attitude, his religion prevents him from truly accepting gays. And while many Christians speak of wanting to show love, when someone accuses a gay person of immorality (like you just did), I suspect that feels more like hate.

And by the way, there is a lot of evidence that points to gay relationships in the Bible, especially the relationship between David and Jonathan.

PREACHER: Frankly, I think that those who see homosexual relationships in the Bible (the writer of the article forgot to mention the relationship of Jesus and the "beloved" disciple John) aren't able to discern between what is actually written in the text and their own imaginations. Even if any of those relationships actually had sexual acts in them, they still wouldn't be justified since other passages in both the Old and New Testaments clearly condemn such acts. Was physical attraction a factor in these relationships? Quite possibly. Did they stimulate each others sexual organs to enhance physical pleasure towards orgasm and demand that the culture of their day call that good, even allowing them to get married? I don't think so.

I prefer not to use the word "gay". Besides the fact that the word's original meaning had nothing to do with sexual preference, it labels a very nebulous group of people as shameful and sinful (according to conservative Christians) and as oppressed and righteous (according to liberals). It also discriminates against more unusual sexual orientations such as feelings of attraction to animals or feelings of attraction to minors. Do you believe that homosexuality is a good thing, but bestiality and pedophilia are wrong? If you were truly a moral relativist, you wouldn't make that distinction. Making that distinction makes your opinion a "moral authority." And, since you claim that there is no Moral Authority in the first place, your shaking of the finger at Christians who do have a Moral Authority and call homosexual acts wrong based on what that Authority has revealed, is only an expression of your opinion, which I don't recognize as a moral authority and is essentially meaningless.

Nowhere does the Bible condemn feelings of sexual attraction. When Jesus said that if a man looks on a woman with lust that he has already committed adultery, I am sure He wasn't referring to the feeling of "Isn't she beautiful," but to thoughts of "I want to have sexual contact with her, let me see how I can accomplish that." When the Bible condemns homosexuality or any other kind of sexual contact for that matter, it refers to the actual act, not the initial feeling. So I make a distinction between what is called sexual orientation and sexual acts. Sexual orientation simply determines what arouses a person sexually. I bet that is different for each person. What you actually act out with your sexual orientation, that is where good or bad are determined based on what our Creator has determined and not on the finite opinions of men.

SKEPTIC: Your response pretty much makes my point. You tie yourself in knots in an attempt to justify your intolerance. When you assert that gay relationships are no different than bestiality or pedophilia, you expose your true feelings about gays. You can claim that you don't hate them, but that kind of rhetoric doesn't qualify as any kind of love in my book. You claim you don't hate gays, and yet you hang a sign outside your Christian faith that says, "Gays need not apply," and I'm pretty sure that you also believe that an "unrepentant" gay person won't be admitted to heaven. Personally, I think it's Christians who need to "repent" for their bigotry and intolerance against their fellow human beings who happen to to be gay. But I'm not holding my breath on that score.

In regard to David and Jonathan's "friendship" in the Bible - I guess no one will ever know for sure what went on in the privacy of their room, but when David says of Jonathan in II Samuel 1:26, "Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women," I think it's not unreasonable to wonder about the nature of their relationship.

As far as lust goes, I'm in favor of it. The biblical injunction against it is ridiculous. If men and women didn't lust for each other, the human race would soon die out. Is that what you want?

One final question for you: What do Christians think gays should do? Stop being gay? That's like asking someone to stop being left-handed. Now I know that most Christians believe that people aren't born gay - that it's a choice. Of course, they have to believe that, otherwise they'd have to admit that God created them gay, and that would blow their mind. I also know that Christians believe that God can remove the gayness from a person, an idea which is ridiculous on its face. Just ask Super Christian Ted Haggard, who still struggles with his sexuality. Is he really better off now, having hidden and suppressed his true sexual feelings all his life?

Here's an idea: maybe Christians could just start to accept and respect their fellow travelers on this planet and stop trying to impose their two-thousand-year-old code of morality on everyone else. (Hey, I can dream, can't I?)

PREACHER: Again I see you like to use that "gay" word. It is used to separate out a group of people that have a particular way of feeling called sexual orientation, who may or may not actually act on it. It is a dastardly word that stigmatizes people and puts them in a contrived minority so they can be victims of the rest of society. I make a distinction between two groups: those who simply have a physical attraction to the same sex but use self-control versus those who commit immoral sexual acts and demand that everyone else call what they are doing good. (I make the same distinction with heterosexuals, too: married couples vs. flagrant adulterers.)

The first group I welcome with open arms to join the Christian faith. I respect their willingness to be honest about their feelings and would stand up for them against the shameful castigation that the majority in society might throw at them. The second group may come to my church, too. However, I wouldn't allow them to be leaders in my church, especially with the youth. That is because I believe that the homosexual lifestyle is immoral, based on the moral Authority, not just my opinion, that I trust. (You certainly realize that "hating gays" is not a Christian monopoly. I know plenty of Moslems, Buddhists, and even atheists who find homosexuality disgusting and wrong.)

From your comments, it seems to me that you place great value in sexual fulfillment. You seem to make it the apex of life, as if it were the ultimate good. I would even go so far to say that you have made it your "god". I suppose that anyone who makes sex their "god" would want to have that completely fulfilled. And, that would include being able to satisfy those irrational feelings that we call sexual orientation. Your sexuality then becomes your primary identity. Instead of being something you do, it becomes you.

SKEPTIC: Sex is my god? Well, I have been known to utter "Oh my God!" when having particularly good sex, so you may be on to something.

PREACHER: For me, the sexual experience spices up the marriage relationship between a man and a woman. Otherwise, it is nothing but a cheap thrill. It seems to me that those who insist that fulfilling and acting out their sexual orientation as the greatest good have made a cheap thrill the central meaning and purpose of life. When you think that way, it will be assumed that every endearing relationship must have a dominant sexual element to it. How absurd!

SKEPTIC: Okay, first of all - a cheap thrill is better than no thrill at all. But no one is talking about sex being "the central meaning and purpose of life." It's Christianity which has elevated the subject to sacred status and written a bunch of rules to be followed and declared that if you don't follow the rules, you're immoral and are going to burn in hell forever.

PREACHER: It is clear to me that proper expression of and about sexuality is intricately connected with morality. I say that homosexual acts are immoral. You say that my intolerant position on homosexual acts is immoral. I base my position on what the Bible teaches (it happens to be my final moral Authority), the opinions of the majority of humanity, and the "what if everyone did it" test. (Of course, some of your ecological extremists might applaud the decimation of the human population.) You have your opinion, the opinions of the gay community and some liberal thinkers, and the results of some controversial research done by the gay community.

Now, you claim to be a moral relativist, and don't claim to have any moral authority, nor do you set yourself up as a moral authority. It seems to me that you have abdicated your right to call anything immoral or wrong. You are able to express your opinion about whether you like something or not, but you cannot speak with authority and say that anything is really right or wrong. Hence, your complaining about my intolerance towards "gays" is meaningless, a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

But I will keep my peace with the "gay community" as long as they don't demand that the rest of us call their lifestyle good and insist that we should emulate it, support it with our taxes, and teach it to our children.

SKEPTIC: So in conclusion, you don't like the word "gay" because you've assigned some sort of nefarious special meaning to it; my opinion is meaningless and yours is the only one that matters because you got it from The Magic Book; you're cool with gay people as long as they don't "do the deed" or spread the gay virus to the young 'uns, and it's okay that Christians hate gays because lots of other people hate gays, too.

But I guess maybe I should be grateful that so many good Christian folk are willing to take upon themselves the thankless task of telling the rest of us how to live our lives.

So I'll make you a deal...

I will keep my peace with the "Christian community" as long as they don't demand that the rest of us call their lifestyle good and insist and that we should emulate it, support it with our taxes, and teach it to our children.

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