Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fire, Brimstone, and Lollipop Faith

Today's Gospel reading, John 3:14-21, includes one of my favorite bits from the Bible:
"For God so loved the world that he gave 7 his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn 8 the world, but that the world might be saved through him."
(John 3:16-17)
That's reassuring, and poles apart from the "Sinners it the Hands of an Angry God" flavor of faith popularized by Jonathan Edwards.

Since Edwards "is widely acknowledged to be America's most important and original philosophical theologian,"1 I'd better explain a few things.

I'm a Christian, but not a Protestant — and certainly not a fundamentalist Protestant.

I'm a Catholic, one of those "superstitious and idolatrous" papists James Ussher wrote about. (February 5, 2014)

That means I can think the universe is billions, not thousands, of years old, play Bingo, or like rock 'n' roll — without abandoning my faith.

I'm also convinced that Earth isn't flat, Adam and Eve weren't German, poetry isn't science, and thinking is not a sin. And that's another topic. (February 27, 2015)

Getting back to God, the world, and long-term planning; as a Catholic, I must act as if I will live forever — which can be good news, or bad news.

Humanity, each of us, is basically good: like everything God creates. But each of us can make bad decisions, and we're living with consequences of a very bad decision made by our first parents. (Genesis 1:31; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 388-389, 988-1014)

My main job, just like everyone else, is loving and serving God. (Catechism, 1, 355-358, 1721)

Whether or not I do that job is up to me, every moment. Humans are rational creatures, able to decide what we do: or don't do. (Catechism, 1730-1738, 1762-1770)

Despite the claims of folks riding Edwards' coattails, God does not have anger management issues: and isn't waiting for an excuse to drop me into Hell.

On the other hand, nobody's dragged, kicking and screaming, into Heaven. If I decide that I'd rather not act like a rational creature, I can opt out of Heaven. It'd be my decision: a daft one, but mine. (Catechism, 1021-1037)

God Doesn't Hate You: But He's No Patsy

Then there are cheerful thoughts like these:
"...every unconverted Man properly belongs to Hell...."

"...The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you...."

" will be wholly lost and thrown away of God...."
("Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," pp. 6, 9, 15, 18; Jonathan Edwards (July 8, 1741) (via Digital Commons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln))
Some folks, understandably, don't particularly like being told "you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God" if you don't agree with some enthusiastic disciple of Edwards.

I think, and hope, that Edwards meant well.

Good intentions only go so far, though. "I meant well" doesn't work as an excuse. Not in the long run, and that's almost another topic. (Catechism, 1750-1753, 1789)

God doesn't hate me: or you. God loves each of us. That was the point of our Lord's mission. (Catechism, 458)

But God isn't a senile old fool, rewarding folks for doing anything they like. There are rules, standards of behavior. They boil down to 'love God, love your neighbor, see everyone as your neighbor.' (Matthew 5:43-44; Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31 Luke 10:25-30)

I've got very serious face time with my Lord coming, a sort of final evaluation. Can't say I'm looking forward to that, but it's unavoidable. (Hebrews 9:27; Catechism, 1021-1022, 1051)

If you're expecting a rant about Jonathan Edwards, or anyone else, roasting in Hell — you'll have a long wait. I've got enough on my rap sheet as it is, without trying to muscle in on God's territory. (February 1, 2015)
"...judging others leads us to hypocrisy ... a person who judges gets it wrong...because he takes the place of God, who is the only judge: taking that place is taking the wrong place!..."
(Francis I)

"...although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God."
(Catechism, 1861)

"Stop judging, that you may not be judged."
(Jesus, in Matthew 7:1)

Hellfire and Lollipops

(From John Martin, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

I grew up in a region where the Ussher and Edwards version of faith was endemic. On the 'up' side, radio preachers and their attitude about commies, music, and the 'Whore of Babylon' set me on a path that got me into my Lord's outfit; and that's yet another topic.

Reaction to fire and brimstone diatribes encourages — my opinion — some folks to assume that religion is a psychiatric disorder and/or con game. Can't say that I blame them. That stuff is toxic.

Cherry picking another set of Bible quotes, others apparently decided that following God is all about happy faces and good times. I've mentioned the prosperity gospel and syncretic religions before. (May 17, 2013; June 19, 2009; January 27, 2009)

"Love" isn't "approval," by the way.

Not letting a friend drive drunk is tacit disapproval of his decision to endanger his, and others', lives. But it is, arguably, a loving act. Labeling someone a useless drunkard, maybe not so much. (May 5, 2013; April 26, 2011)

Scaring folks silly with threats of hellfire, or handing out spiritual lollipops, may be effective at boosting church attendance — in the short run. But that sort of thing smacks of psychological manipulation: and isn't, I think, a good idea.

Wrenching myself back on-topic, God has standards of behavior. They're simple, but not easy: love God, love my neighbor, see everybody as my neighbor. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:43-44Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-27; Luke 10:29-37; Catechism, 1825)

Sin, Love, and Robots

We're not robots, programmed to do exactly what we're supposed to: so not loving someone is an option. (July 27, 2014; May 23, 2012)

Sin isn't liking the 'wrong' kind of music, or not following social mores of 'decent' middle-class Americans, ca. 1950.

It's deliberately acting against reason and truth. It's also a very bad idea. (Catechism, 1849, 1853, 1854)

Like it says in John 3:16, God loves the world so much that our Lord came to give us a way out of the mess we're in.

But what we do and where we go is up to us.

Loving folks who aren't lovable is hard. So is using our brains, instead of doing whatever feels good — or easy — at the moment. (December 14, 2014; July 11, 2012)

Hell is real, a permanent residence — with no exit — set up for folks who'd rather not associate with God. (Catechism, 1033-1037)

It's not where curiosity is punished, Heaven isn't a celestial country club for folks who live up — or down — to Holy Willie's standard, and I've been over this before. (August 1, 2014January 4, 2012; August 8, 2010)

Living the Truth

"You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble."
(James 2:19)
Believing that I should love God, love my neighbor, and see everybody as my neighbor isn't enough.

I'm expected to act like what I believe matters.
"For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

"6 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

"If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day,

"and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?"
(James 2:13-16)
That gets me back to today's Gospel reading. After that reassuring start, there's a reality check.
"9 And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.

"For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.

"But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God."
(John 3:19-21)
Loving others doesn't sit well for some folks. I can decide that I'll look out for number one, no matter what. That's going to have consequences.

Responsibility and an Ancient Mandate

I could read what James 2:16 says about giving folks who need "the necessities of the body," and start fretting because I haven't ended world hunger.

Happily, I'm only responsible for what I can do as an individual, and as a member of my culture. (Catechism, 1928-1942)

The phrase "social justice" didn't show up until the 1840s, when folks like Luigi Taparelli said that ethics matter more than economic theory — but the mandate to care for those in need is ancient. (Deuteronomy 26:12-13; Matthew 25:34-40)

And that's yet again another topic.

More about faith and giving a rip:

1 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, quoted in Jonathan Edwards (theologian) (Wikipedia)


Brigid said...

Extra or missing comma: "endanger his, and others' lives."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Brigid, got it, and thanks!

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