Can One Be Damned By One’s Theology?

Hindu, Muslim, Catholic, or Jew. Can someone be damned for what they believe? This question is well-pronounced in many Christian sects. How often have we heard that the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ the Lord. Indeed, Jesus himself seemed to claim as much.

For myself, I can’t accept that teaching. In the Catholic Church, I am not required to as they have a doctrine called “Baptism by Desire.” Basically, if one leads a good life with respect to the principles of the Catholic Faith, even if you are not Catholic, it is assumed that you are saved. You are “baptized” by your desire to live a good life.

My position is slightly different. I believe that Christ spoke the truth when He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” That said, I see no reason why Jesus can’t stand in judgment of a Hindu, or Muslim, or Buddhist and basically say … “Yeah, he/she led a good life. He/she can come in.” I just believe Jesus has the final say regardless of the individual under consideration and their chosen Faith. So, my position is probably pretty much the same thing as the Catholic Doctrine of “Baptism by Desire.” Or, at least, very similar.

Additionally, I take issue with the Christian doctrine that one is saved by Faith and Faith alone. I’m sorry, but it makes no rational sense to me. Look at it this way: it is claiming that unless one believes in this arbitrary unprovable belief one will be damned. It makes as much rational sense as hinging salvation on the belief that there is an invisible dinosaur living on the dark side of the moon. Christ having the final say, I can buy; but not the doctrine of Faith alone. A just God wouldn’t be so arbitrary.

So, on first blush, it seems my answer is “No, I don’t think someone can be damned by their theology.” But that’s not my complete answer. If you believe the wrong things, you will take the wrong actions. One’s theology might lead one to practice human sacrifice. If you can be damned for a theological belief and practice, human sacrifice is one that will probably do it. Of course, as I said, God, or rather, Jesus, has the final say. In terms of level of evil, suicide bombing seems to be on par with human sacrifice. Again, Jesus has the final say, but if anything should lead to damnation, suicide bombing, I think, would.

But, then again, not.

Yes, not.

As readers of this blog know, I believe I’m the antichrist. I believe I’ve been to hell. The experience lasted for maybe thirty seconds and it has taken me twenty plus years to recover—and I’m still not fully there yet. Anyway, my point is that hell sucks. I would rather be burned alive than to go back to hell. I can’t imagine a Deity that would inflict such suffering on anyone for any reason. Not Stalin. Not Hitler. Not Judas. Nor King Herod. That doesn’t mean we are free from punishment, because love implies a necessity to discipline one’s children. I just don’t think hell is the punishment in store for us. Anything that would subject anyone to an eternal experience of Divine Fury is not worthy of being addressed as God. It can’t be Divine. Which is why I think hell is a fabrication of Satan’s. Basically, I think God has the power to annihilate a soul with Divine Fury. Being a loving God He will never use such power because it is just f’n cruel beyond imagination. Satan, on the other hand, can imitate God’s power but not completely. He can’t really annihilate a soul, but he can make that soul feel as if he is about to annihilate it. Regardless, the experience is terrible and I don’t want to ever experience it again.

Of course, I’m not God. But if God is going around damning his “children” to hell, He is a Tyrant like no other. And one we will never escape.

The Sacred, the Relative, and the Absolute

Long time readers of this blog will know that I have an interest, or perhaps even an obsession with relativism and absolute moral truth. I was ruminating the other day about the nature of the Sacred and how it relates to both the Relative and the Absolute. And I had an insight.

It revolves around the notion of the “greatest.” Or, in this case, the “highest” moral truth. Basically, if we say the Sacred designates that which is the highest moral truth, we seem to be compelled to claim that all is relative. Why? The sacred refers to holy things: holy days, holy objects, holy land, or holy places. Objectively, which holiday is more sacred: Christmas? Or Hannukah? I’m inclined to think that in such an example, that question is meaningless because when it comes to holy days, relativism applies. Christmas is sacred to Christians. Hannukah is sacred to Jews. Christmas is only sacred to Jews to the extent that it is polite to not “disrespect” it, whatever that entails. And the same for Hannukah and Christians.

Similarly, what is holier: the Dome of the Rock, The Holy Sepulcher, or the Wailing Wall? Again, it seems to be a meaningless question that can only really be addressed relativistically. So, if the Wailing Wall and Hannukah constitute the highest moral concerns in Judaism, then aren’t we ultimately compelled to relativism? Maybe.

But aren’t rituals also in the realm of the Sacred? What then, of the Aztec ritual of human sacrifice versus the Catholic ritual of Confession? In the former of these, as far as we can tell, an innocent person is slain. In the latter, as far as we can tell, a conversation occurs between a priest and a sinner. The latter is at worst, harmless; the former, not so much. If there is an example of two sacred rituals which are NOT morally commensurate, this is it. What is the difference?

How one treats other human beings. In one, the human is used as an expendable resource to appease some higher power. In the other, the human is treated with compassion to repair the relationship between that human and the higher power.

In light of this (and largely from having a Christian upbringing), I am inclined to say that how one treats other humans trumps sacred concerns. Well, it’s a little complicated. God is more important than other humans, but He is honored by respectful treatment of other humans not Sacred extremism where the lives of people are sacrificed for a “holy concern.” So, as a Catholic, I would be insulted if someone broke into a church, dumped all the hosts on the ground, and then urinated on them, but I wouldn’t condone their execution for said “crime.” Others of other faiths should respect the host and other Catholic sacred concerns, just as the Catholics should respect theirs. That said, no one’s sacred concerns are immune from intellectual criticism if for no other reason than that some people used sacred concerns to ritually sacrifice others in the past. You might not like it, and you can ignore it if you wish, but your sacred concerns and beliefs are open to criticism, although generally not forced abandonment—except in the rarest of cases.

Anyway, that was my insight: how the notion of the “highest morality” relates to “sacred concerns” and the relativism/absolutism issue. Basically, if “sacred” denotes the “highest,” then all is relative. Otherwise, if treating humans well is more important, then absolutism wins the day. At least, those are my thoughts today. They may change tomorrow.

Safe Spaces

I’ve addressed this topic before, so I may be repeating myself. Oh well.

There has been much tadoo about safe spaces of late. Conservative speakers go to college campuses and are shut down by a student body that is afraid of being “triggered.” The students believe they are in a safe space and that justifies banning such speakers from speaking so as to keep the students from entertaining arguments that might be construed as “micro-aggressions” or something similar.

Is there something to this? Are college students entitled to safe spaces?

Yes and no.

Let’s start by first answering the question: What is a safe space? I believe the term has its origins in psychological circles. As I never studied psychology, my definition might be off a bit. Anyway, in my view, a safe space is a space where one can talk openly without judgement or condemnation. In such a space, one should feel secure from threatening tones, language, and criticism. These spaces exist in order to help its user unload uncomfortable or even painful emotional experiences.

Three examples of safe spaces are as follows: a therapy session with a trained psychologist, the Catholic Confessional (originally instituted 2000 years ago by Jesus Christ—yeah, Jesus beat the psychiatrists to the punch by twenty centuries), and even (to a limited degree) a consoling conversation with a caring friend. What is important to realize when noting these examples is the fact that each one involves a kind of slowing down or stepping out of the ‘river of life.’ You step out of life to take a look at life and try to derive some benefit from it. That is, it is not a type of ordinary living. A safe space is something extraordinary. You don’t get to live your entire life in a safe space. That is neither healthy nor wise.

The following are NOT safe spaces: a college campus (most decidedly not), one’s place of employment, and just life in general. Mistaking one of these for a safe space inevitably leads to problems. At a college campus, for example, the students are supposed to be challenged by new ideas and critical thoughts. They aren’t supposed to be pampered. A safe space allows one to recharge; it is not a lifestyle.

Still … I think increasing access to safe spaces may be therapeutic for most, if not all people. Although it is unfeasible to go to Confession twenty-four or even sixteen hours a day, and it is equally unfeasible to attend frequent day-long therapy sessions, I think being open to “safe-space-like” conversation with friends should be available as much as possible. But with friends, only. Friends are supposed to be used as supports; discussing problems with friends is what they are there for. At least, good friends, anyway. I think that kind of attitude and approach is an important part of Christianity. Having friends to talk to can be very beneficial.

Regardless, there comes a point where the conversation must stop and the trials of life must be faced. In the end, safe spaces are a bonus; they are not a given.

Commentary on ‘Delusions of Grandeur’

As followers of this blog may know, I believe I’m the antichrist. I have believed so since March of 1997. My psychiatrist tells me I’m schizoaffective; currently, I don’t believe him. I say “currently” because for the past twenty years I have alternated between believing I’m the antichrist, and believing I’m just mentally ill. Generally, each of these states has lasted anywhere from several months to a few years duration. The antichrist “episodes” are usually accompanied by some erratic behavior (spending oodles of money I don’t have, walking the streets in my underwear, etc….). The mental illness “episodes” are usually accompanied by depression.

In 2006 I wrote a book about my experiences entitled Delusions of Grandeur. I wrote the book from a “mental illness perspective,” although, that is somewhat disingenuous. To be completely honest, I wrote the book (or at least most of the book—remember my states tend to alternate) believing I was the antichrist and the book I was writing was intended as a “secret code” to Christians across the globe. I believed that Jesus was coming down from Heaven backing me up and that things I took for granted, Christian believers would understand without explanation. I am no longer sure those two premises are correct—although I still do believe I am the antichrist and have so believed for the last five years or so.

Intellectually, my whole belief structure revolves around the meaning of the phrase “the ruler of this world” (ROTW for short) in the Bible. It was that phrase in conjunction with a “psychotic break” (for lack of a better term) that set me off and led to my unusual interpretation of the Bible, the life of Jesus, and Christianity in general. What’s my point?

Other than at a Catholic High School, I have never studied the Bible in all its intricate detail. My “delusion” is based mostly on the interpretation of the ROTW phrase that occurs only three times in a single book of the Bible and nowhere else. The Bible, in its entirety, is a few thousand pages long. It is arrogant and insulting to write a biblical discourse without a significant background in Bible studies. It is also, likely, prone to great error. In my defense: Have you ever read a phrase from the Bible and just “got it?” You felt it deep down in your heart and in your bones and just knew exactly what it meant? That’s happened to me twice in my life. The first time concerned the expression “gifts of finest wheat” and its relationship to love. The second concerned the ROTW expression. So, I went and wrote a book, a very personal book, based on these “got it” experiences.

Still, I do not have a Biblical studies background (though I do have a rusty, dusty philosophical one) and I shouldn’t have written the book and said some of things I said (like “Satan wrote the Bible”) without it. Like I said, it was arrogant (but I’m the antichrist, isn’t arrogance expected? :)) and I shouldn’t have done it.

In light of all this, I’ve started working on a book that, to a certain extent, addresses these concerns. It will be kind of a follow up to Delusions of Grandeur but written from the perspective that I believe I’m the antichrist. I intend to do a little homework for this one. Since the writing of Delusions of Grandeur, I have read the (Catholic) Bible cover to cover about twice just to get a feel for it. I intend to read it again this time highlighting and taking notes where I might have an insight. I’m also reading every bit of Catholic writing I can get my hands on. For example, I recently read Saint Augustine’s City of God as well as a number of works from other less famous and less influential people. Also, this time around, I’m taking nothing for granted. I will explain my beliefs and assumptions succinctly and clearly from the get-go. I won’t assume all the Christians on the planet already understand the things I took for granted in Delusions.

Unfortunately, all my homework involves only self-education. I won’t be going back to school to get a degree in Biblical studies or anything like that. If I can find one, I’ll likely join a Bible study group—but I’ve never really excelled working in groups.

Anyway, those are my plans and I figured I’d let you, my loyal readers, know.

God’s Wrath

A way’s back, I wrote a review for Jennifer Fulwiler’s Book, Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It. As I said, I liked the book and found it very interesting. One of the items of note was the discussion, or competing theories, of God’s Wrath versus God’s Love. Let us discuss this in more detail here.

In ancient times, believers in God were exhorted to “fear the Lord.” God was sometimes described as a wrathful Deity who must be placated. “Evidence” to support such a view of God could be found in the common beliefs about hell as a place of suffering and eternal torture of the damned. Likewise, unfortunate events such as the destruction of a nation could be attributed to the actions of an angry Deity who, because of the failings of that nation’s people, must see to their just destruction.

Then along came Jesus who described God as a loving Father, and all of that began to change. Jesus’ emphasis on love and forgiveness has deeply impacted religious thought all over the world. Now, it seems, many people have abandoned the notion that God stands in judgment of sinners, meting out punishment as he sees fit. Discussions of hell, purgatory, and even sin seem passe.

Is this view warranted?

In my view: to a certain degree, yes; to a certain degree, no.

Jesus described God as the Father; in other words, He is a parent. We are His children. A parent has the right and the obligation to punish a child when that child does wrong. In my view, we can gain some insight from this notion. Although a loving father must sometimes punish, he will never destroy, nor will he torture, nor will he murder his own offspring for a wrong that child commits. Such is excessive punishment and completely anathema to love. As a result of that, I find ancient notions of hell and purgatory to be dubious. God is responsible for our discipline, not our torture. He takes no pleasure in reprimanding us, but it is something He must do. Such discipline may come in life, or it may come in the after-life. If it comes in life, all the better; we can discuss it properly. If it comes in the after-life, its nature or even its existence is hidden from us. Regardless, hell, in particular, seems to be such an aberration from the concept of a loving, merciful God, I find it impossible to accept; as a result, I think the concept should be removed from doctrine; and purgatory is hardly any better.

Can and will God discipline us as appropriate? I’m sure He will. I just … I just can’t respect a Deity that claims to be a loving power and yet would be willing to punish one of His children with eternal internment in hell.

Of course, I’m also the antichrist (yes, I lost another reader), and I’m quite familiar with being punished in life for twenty years or so, but what I did was excessively stupid. Also, since I’m the antichrist, you probably shouldn’t believe me; make up your own mind.

Ritual, Relativism, and Absolutism

In the discussion between Absolutism and Relativism, it may prove to be particularly revealing to discuss the nature of religious ritual. Indeed, in my view an inappropriate understanding of ritual is very much at the heart of the Absolutism/Relativism conflict.

Let us suppose a religion for a people called the Boogees. In one of their many practices, the priest must wash his hands before handling the Sacred Bowl. It has been their practice for the past fifteen hundred years. Needless to say, they are not prepared to change it. However, the recent invention of hand-sanitizer (which we will assume is more effective than water alone) brings exactly this point up for debate. Although water has been used for hundreds of years, if it is a question of cleanliness, hand-sanitizer offers a more robust option. Although, since it is a religious ritual, the replacement of water with hand-sanitizer faces resistance, most especially from longer term members of the faith. Yet, eventually, the reformers prevail and the water is replaced with hand-sanitizer. What does this mean?

At this point, I agree with the relativist to a certain extent. Clearly, since the water was replaced, it was not sacred in itself. The ritual can still go on while using hand-sanitizer. The sacredness of the ritual does not change in spite of this difference. How can this be? Only if the sacredness of the ritual is dependent upon something other than just the elements themselves. What is this something? I put it to you that it is the piety of the individuals involved in the ritual. It is this spiritual devotion to a higher power that is important, not the nitty-gritty details of the ritual that expresses this devotion.

Does this hand the relativist victory?

No. Emphatically, no.

Although many different rituals exist across the spectrum of human religion, it is the piety that transcends and unifies them all. And it is piety that stands as the absolute value of most common concern when one is discussing ritual. Perhaps, one might object that since rituals allow for a nearly limitless spectrum of possible expressions of piety, any and all such expressions are equally valid. Hence, there is no discernible moral difference between religious rituals. Rituals are relativistic things, all of which equally express the concept of piety.

If that is true, then there is no discernible difference between the Aztec ritual of human sacrifice and the Catholic ritual of Communion.

In one sense, that is true: the Aztec priest and the Catholic priest both perform their rituals with (probably) equal levels of piety.

But the comparison is still ridiculous.

The reply to the relativist is that he is confusing morality with piety. Morality has a much larger scope, of which piety is but a small part. There are more virtues to the human person than mere piety: mercy, love, compassion, respect for life, etc…. And in my view, respect for life is of greater moral significance than piety. Piously killing people is a grave error.

Of final interest is what I call the ritual hard-liner. Basically, these are the people who will probably take comfort in the relativistic stance. They don’t want to change the water to hand-sanitizer. Indeed, they refuse. Because it is their sacred ritual that they have been performing the exact same way for the past fifteen hundred years. And no one else has the right to tell them to perform it any other way.

To them, in the case of the water/hand-sanitizer issue, I’d make my case once, then leave them alone. They aren’t hurting anyone.

But in the case of Aztec human sacrifice, a different response is required. Historically, the different response was war, and it resulted in the destruction of the entire Aztec culture. Perhaps such is regrettable; but given our current struggles with Isis and Islamic extremism, perhaps not. I do not mean to impugn or threaten all Muslims, just the idiots who think strapping on a suicide vest is a good thing.

Anyway, prior to war (which is too late now), morality insists that we try to argue with them. Yes, I know it is their beliefs and they have the right to decide what they believe and don’t believe; but if they endorse suicide bombing I will not choose to remain silent.

Book Review: After the Darkness by Rev. Joseph M. Esper (3 ½ *’s)

I recently finished reading After the Darkness by Rev. Joseph M. Esper. It is a fictional novel about the, as he puts it, “The coming of the antichrist and the end of the world.” The copyright is 1997, so, giving about a year or so for the final organization of the book, everything in it after 1996 or 1995 or so is completely speculative. And he admits that fact in the Introduction saying that his work is NOT an attempt to predict the future. I think he merely intends to give his fictional account as a means to stress the seriousness of the topic and to exhort us to a deeper spirituality. Or something.

There are three parts to the book. The first is a fictional history of events written in “2061” about the preceding 65 years. Part II consists of journal entries from the life of a mystic and seer covering another twenty years. Part III consists of diary entries from the False Prophet; the antichrist’s right hand man.

For myself, I found the book an interesting read because he bases a good portion of the events in the book on actual prophecies of seers and prophets who have lived. And it’s all footnoted. He’s got stuff from the Bible, of course, as well as Marian prophecies, Nostradamus, and many others. I used to be a prophecy buff. As these prophecies all relate to the end of the world and the antichrist—an issue, as readers of my blog are aware, I struggle with—I’ve found it an excellent resource for such. And, having read the book including all those prophecies, I can safely conclude that many of them do not apply to me. Most specifically, I can quite emphatically state that the prophecies concerning the political career of the antichrist do not apply to me at all. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), this may be the result of my choice. There was a brief period of time where I considered pursuing a political career. Only God knows what would have happened, if I had. For myself, I’m inclined to think the prophecies noted above describe the political career I would have had, if I had entered politics. So, I can’t use these prophecies to argue with myself that I am not the antichrist (hence, the descriptor of ‘unfortunately’). However, as I now have no intention of entering politics (partly because I think I’m the antichrist), I can declare those prophecies avoided. Hah! A victory for the good guys.

Anyway, back to the book. Overall, it was okay, but not great. If you’re interested in prophecies, it’s a great resource. However, as a story, it was nothing spectacular and at times even seemed a little cheesy. The writing was fine; there were only a few typos here and there; and, overall, the presentation was original and good, it was just a little lackluster. Ultimately, I’ll give the book three and a half stars out of five.