For Heathen Dawn, on Christianity


#1

I wanted to respond to your criticisms of Christianity, and I thought it should go in a new thread.

:For me, it was the appeal of being in both worlds—on the one hand, Wicca is very life-affirming and nature-revering, like some forms of atheism:

I would venture to say that taken as a whole, Christianity is far more life-affirming and nature-revering than atheism–but then you did say “some forms of atheism.” Still, traditional Christianity believes that God is present throughout the universe and that everything exists only because of God’s presence in it–by my way of thinking, it would be hard for an atheist to be as life-affirming or nature-revering as that.


#2

:The chief reason why I haven’t tried Christianity is hell—the idea that otherwise innocent people go to eternal torment just for holding the wrong belief. You may argue I have a Protestant strawman in mind, but that’s the only version I know well.:

Well, I would argue that what you’re describing doesn’t fit any classic, traditional form of Christianity. Some evangelicals/fundamentalists come close, at least in the way they often put it (“it doesn’t matter how good you are, if you don’t accept Jesus you will burn for ever”). But in fact even hardline Christianity (Catholic or Protestant) doesn’t really fit your description, because traditional Christians don’t believe that anyone (at least no adult) is innocent. Rather, Christians believe that everyone is a sinner–that we have a kind of moral and spiritual disease that causes us to hate and manipulate and lie and destroy, even if we do it in very respectable ways. The only cure for this disease, Christians would say, is Jesus Christ and the union with God’s life that Jesus offers. Without Christ, everyone will ultimately become a thoroughly self-centered, hate-filled person.

But here’s the catch. We all agree that many Christians–that is to say, people who profess faith in Christ, go to church, etc.–are selfish, hate-filled, deceitful people. So clearly it’s possible to have an intellectual belief in Christianity without knowing the life of Christ in your soul. The question is: is the reverse also true? Is it possible for someone not to believe in Christianity intellectually but to know God anyway? Traditionally, Christians would have said that this might be possible, but would be very rare and difficult. Fundamentalists, of course, would say it’s impossible. But many Christians, including me (and this is also the teaching of the Catholic Church), would say that it is quite possible, and we can never judge someone’s spiritual condition from what religion they belong to. We still believe that all knowledge of God comes through Jesus. But it might not come through intellectual belief in Jesus.

In short–no Christian thinks that right belief is the same thing as saving faith in Christ. Hardline Christians think that you have to have right belief (with perhaps a few exceptions) in order to have saving faith. More moderate Christians, such as myself, think that just as you can have right belief without true faith, so you can have true faith without believing all the right things, although of course right belief is very helpful. (And yes, there are many liberal Christians who would say that Jesus is not the only way to God and it doesn’t matter what you believe. I’ve left them out because as I see it they have compromised Christian tradition way too far–but of course fundamentalists and other hyper-conservative Christians would say the same about me.)


#3

: Another thing is Christianity tends to devalue earthly life:

It’s true that many Christians traditionally have said some very pessimistic things about earthly life, the physical body, etc. Many of us would argue that this attitude came from Greek philosophy (though stiffened with a good dose of Biblical zeal) rather than from Christian faith per se. But after studying the record, you may think that’s a cop-out. Just do study the record before you make up your mind. (Compare early Christian ascetics with pagan writers like Plotinus, for instance.) We would also argue that many other religious groups in the ancient world had a much more pessimistic view of human life, and that our doctrines of Creation and Incarnation kept us from totally disparaging the body. After all, we believe that the world is a good creation of God, and that the human body was good enough for God to wear, and is the temple of the Holy Spirit. I’d also point out that most traditional religions have a pretty negative view of earthly life, for the obvious reason that life was pretty difficult and painful for most people until modern times. I’m not sure that ancient pagans were as joyful and celebratory about life as modern neo-pagans want to believe. Sure, they thought life was a lot better than death, but given their view of death, was that saying much? Sophocles, for instance, says that you can’t call anyone happy until the moment they die, because only then can you be sure that life won’t take a sudden turn for the worse and end up miserable. (I’m not denying that you find a lot of zest for life and joy in nature in ancient literature–but I find exactly the same thing, arguably more of it, in medieval European literature. In both the ancient and medieval worlds, the people who sat around and theorized or moralized tended to talk about how miserable life was, while the poets and artists were busy celebrating it.)


#4

: and to construe all the beauty of nature as merely the prowess of God.:

I’m not quite sure what you mean by that. Apparently you think that the Christian understanding of creation somehow denigrates nature. I can’t see it myself, but I don’t know if that’s just because you evaluate things differently or because you don’t understand the traditional Christian view of creation. From early on (see Irenaeus, in the 2nd century), Christians believed that God created the world out of generosity, in order to have something outside Himself to reflect his goodness and share in His joy. Christians saw the natural world as full of signs (the medieval theologian Bonaventure called them “footprints”) of God. According to medieval Christian philosophy (borrowed, it’s true, in great measure from Plato and Aristotle), everything exists by participating in God, so that all existing things, from angels to primordial slime, resemble God and share to some degree in his life. You can see this as denigrating creation, I suppose, but to me that seems to turn it upside down. Since we believe God is ultimate goodness and beauty, obviously we are praising and revering nature by saying that it is His handiwork, reflects his glory, and participates in His being.


#5

:And another thing is the status of women in Christianity isn’t something to write home about (I’m not a woman but it bothers me still).:

In traditional Christian civilization, true. But again, that is true of other religions as well. You say “Abrahamic,” but is Hinduism any better in this regard? What about ancient Greek paganism? I’m not denying that you could find some traditional societies with a more positive role for women, but I don’t think they were the rule. I don’t accept the idea that goddess-worship automatically translates into a higher role for real women. Bear in mind that some feminists argue that medieval devotion to Mary actually led to a lower status for real women. I’m not sure that’s true, but it certainly was compatible with some rather vicious misogyny. In some societies, the same thing seems to be true of pagan goddess-worship. Does the evidence really show that Indian culture has a more positive role for women in areas where the Great Goddess is worshipped? I haven’t heard that it’s so, but I could be wrong. The worship of goddesses was very prevalent in the ancient Mediterranean, but that didn’t keep those societies from being horribly misogynistic (sorry I keep using that example, but those are the pagan societies I know most about–also that is the cultural matrix from which the Abrahamic religions originated, so that if you want to compare Christianity and paganism, that’s the best place to start). Much speculation about Neolithic goddess-worship having led to a matriarchal society is, I believe, based on very thin evidence.

Furthermore, is it accidental that modern ideas about human rights, including women’s rights, originated in Christian (or more precisely, Judaeo-Christian) societies. Admittedly, these ideas were often resisted by the Christian establishment, and they came to dominance only at the point at which secularism was mounting a significant challenge to Christianity. But you and I apparently agree that secularism is not the way to go. You are, by your own account, looking for a combination between theistic religion and other concerns, including respect for women’s equality. And it seems to me that actually Christianity has a substantially better record than any other religion in that regard, precisely because it was Christian civilization that gave birth to the modern world.


#6

One final note: I suspect from what you have said that you would link our modern problems of abuse of the natural world with the Christian cultural heritage. If so, then isn’t it inconsistent not to also give Christianity credit for having created a more favorable environment for women? Both women’s rights and environmental destruction are in fact the products of modern, secular society, but one can, if one is so inclined, link them to Christian principles. Of course, my tendency would be to do the opposite–absolve Christianity from blame for the environment while claiming credit for modern notions of human rights. Which I admit would be equally inconsistent!

My point in all of this is not that Christianity can be absolved entirely, but that the evidence is a lot more two-sided than you seem to recognize. If goddess-worship is a point in favor of paganism, then grant Christians some credit for the veneration of the Virgin. If Christians are to be blamed for the destruction of nature, then give us credit for the more positive achievements of the modern world as well. In the end any kind of correlation between historical developments and religious ideology is hard to make, because it’s almost impossible to sort out what is due to culture and what to the religious principles themselves, or to particular historical circumstances, or to a wrong turn that is not intrinsically part of the religion and can be corrected by resources from within the tradition itself . . . . So none of this is to persuade you to be a Christian. I’m simply trying to argue that the issues you raise are not, themselves, reasons for dismissing Christianity without consideration.

Yours truly,

Edwin

P.S. Sorry this was so horribly long, but you raised some very substantive issues and I wanted to give them a serious reply. And I’m distracting myself from my doctoral dissertation, in spite of my resolve to finish a chapter today . . . .


#7

First, I’m sorry to have only just now noticed this post. Mea culpa.

You say world-affirmation and the status of women in old paganism wasn’t stellar, and I agree. I fully recognise I’m a neopagan and that my religion and way of thinking are far removed from the palæopagan modes.

As for the relationship between Creator and creation: I must tell you I believe in an external Creator-God of the universe (creation date: 15,000 million years ago, the Big Bang). And I recognise that the spectacle of the Creator Himself is the most beautiful and ecstatic to hold. But I’m wary of forgetting the wonder of the creation. As an Orthodox Jewish yeshivah student, my soul was choked from leaning on the Talmudic tomes all day, and only at the end of the day, going out and looking at the stars, did I feel fulfilled. If you say the Creator can be praised by being with nature, then I am in harmony with your religion; what I wish to avoid is immersal in dry and dusty scriptures. I have to say that, in that, you Catholics have the edge—whereas the Protestants have sola scriptura and no rituals at all, Catholicism has candles, incense and the Eucharist. When asked on Christian Forums what religion one would be if not one’s own, I replied Catholic Christian.

Now to the problem of afterlife reward and punishment. Let us grant that one sin is like a spot on a shirt, rendering it unfit; but must the grace of God be limited to one’s earthly lifetime for cleaning that spot? I don’t believe in hell at all, I think it’s a stupid way of dealing with sinners. I believe in heaven and in purgatory; purgatory for all sinners, to the time extent of their sins, and then admission to heaven. The idea of eternal hell I cannot accept.

Thank you for your patience, Contarini. Blessed be.


#8

Actually, hell is not God’s way of dealing with unrepentant sinners, it is the sinner’s choice. If I make rules in my house for my children to follow, with the effect of disobedience being expulsion from the house, who is dealing what to whom. I made the rule, it is my house after all and my right to decide how it will be governed. I made the rules very clear, along with the consequence for disobedience. If you choose to be disobedient, then how much of a leader/ruler am I if I don’t hold you to the consequence? If I let you lapse, I would create chaos in my home. The children would become the rulers, by virtue my lack of integrity. But God, being the author of integrity, cannot violate His own command, as it would make Him imperfect, and He cannot be anything less than perfect.

He calls us to love Him, He even shows us how, and is very lenient when we don’t through no fault of our own. But if we actively and purposefully disobey and disavow Him, and the consequence is exlusion from His kingdom, we have no-one to blame but ourselves. Hell is the alternative to Heaven, and both require purposeful intent to achieve. Purgatory is the holding tank for people who DESIRE heaven, but are imperfect in their achievement. It is not for people who are actively rebelling against their Father.


#9

[quote=Apologia100]Actually, hell is not God’s way of dealing with unrepentant sinners, it is the sinner’s choice.
[/quote]

Um, that doesn’t make sense. No-one chooses to be eternally tormented.


#10

NO one wants to be incarcerated while in prison. In the end, we are sent to hell for chosing not to act upon the grace given to us by God, no matter ones faith. All men are given grace sufficient for their salvation, but not all act upon it. Is it always a conscious act? No, but it is up to each of us to act upon the grace. In the end, everyone in hell will know why they are there and everyone in heaven will know why they are there.

Catholicism teaches that if you know the Truth and walk away, there is no salvation for you, but if you, by no fault of your own, do not know the Truth, you can still be saved.

Yes, you can praise the Creator by enjoying the beauty of creation, but the Creator (God) has given us a better way: the Mass. It is His Will that we worship him in the manner He set forth for us in union with his entire Church so that all of creation can sing his praise.


#11

[quote=Heathen Dawn]Um, that doesn’t make sense. No-one chooses to be eternally tormented.
[/quote]

No one chooses to be thrown into prison, either. It is a consequence of choosing to break the law that puts people in prison.

People “choose” it by rejecting Christ. God wants nothing more than to include everyone in His kingdom, but if people don’t want to be a part of it, they have no one to blame but themselves (as Apologia eloquently put it). Christianity is the only religion with a deity where God reaches out to man instead of man trying to reach God.


#12

My complaint against Christianity is that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Nothing warrants eternal torment. Even Stalin, bad as he was, doesn’t deserve to be eternally tortured. It’s mere sadism with no remedial value. I think too highly of God to believe He has instituted such a system. The sinner is punished to the extent of his crimes and no longer than that.


#13

[quote=Heathen Dawn]My complaint against Christianity is that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Nothing warrants eternal torment. Even Stalin, bad as he was, doesn’t deserve to be eternally tortured. It’s mere sadism with no remedial value. I think too highly of God to believe He has instituted such a system. The sinner is punished to the extent of his crimes and no longer than that.
[/quote]

Put aside the eternal tourment issue. Look at it this way. A person who in life refused to be united with God would not choose to be united with Him in death. It is that simple: show God you are not interested and he grants your wish. Now, what is the eternal punishment of Hell? Separation from God.


#14

[quote=ralphinal]Put aside the eternal tourment issue.
[/quote]

I can’t.

Now, what is the eternal punishment of Hell? Separation from God.

But does it involve torment? Yes or no? If yes, then my complaint stands as it is.


#15

[quote=ralphinal]Put aside the eternal tourment issue. Look at it this way. A person who in life refused to be united with God would not choose to be united with Him in death. It is that simple: show God you are not interested and he grants your wish. Now, what is the eternal punishment of Hell? Separation from God.
[/quote]

Being tortured in the ‘lake of fire’


#16

I know, I know. Gehenna, lake of fire, all of that. But, in the end, Hell is chosen as people choose to turn away from God. It is hard to explain why separation from God is worse than the lake of fire thing to someone who does not accept God, but it is. Besides, the Lake of fire was origionally meant for the fallen angels, sinners are just tag alongs.


#17

The concept of Hell bothers me to, perhaps I will learn something here.
First of all I know *now *that God is about love not vengence and wrath - that was my first misconception.
I’ve learned from being a father myself that very often the most loving and caring thing I can say to children is “no”, to protect them from their own inexperience and ignorance of the world and that correction of misbehavior is inseperable from my love for my children. I cannot allow misbehavior to continue or I am not doing all I can to help my children succeed in the world.

Let’s start here with a proper understanding of the Catholic view of Hell:

newadvent.org/cathen/07207a.htm

I have group in a few minutes, I’ll get back to you later.


#18

The website Kevin gave is an excellent place to start.


#19

[quote=ralphinal]The website Kevin gave is an excellent place to start.
[/quote]

I love New Advent, it’s a godsend to me.
My impression of Christianity always was that it was simplistic and ignorant. Discovering New Advent showed me different, I’ve spent hours on that site just looking up different terms, people or events.

Anyways, if we’ve digested what the Church says about Hell, then it’s time to examine what gets us there. I looked up

Original Sin
newadvent.org/cathen/11312a.htm

and Justice
www.newadvent.org/cathen/08571c.htm

if you understand Aristolean logic these are good reads too:

www.newadvent.org/summa/306100.htm
www.newadvent.org/summa/310903.htm
www.newadvent.org/summa/102102.htm

I get some of it but not all by any means.


#20

Another point of view: how could someone who had consciously rejected God and His message all of their lives be comfortable spending eternity in heaven with the God that they had rejected?

DaveBj


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