Get PJ Media on your Apple

PJM Lifestyle

Why the Weight of Heaven Crushed My Christianity

How years of infinite theological debates like Rhonda and Walter's disillusioned me from belief in God for a over a decade.

by
Dave Swindle

Bio

October 13, 2013 - 9:00 am
Page 1 of 6  Next ->   View as Single Page

John_Dee_Ashmolean (1)thomas_jefferson_sir_isaac_newton_hybrid_illusion_by_angrydogdesigns-d60t6rgfranklin

My religious inspirations are Renaissance and Enlightement Hermeticists who sought to blend ancient wisdom, Biblical religion, scientific exploration, and the political expansion of Western Civilization. Photos: John Dee, Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin.

Now that the eminently talented, thoughtful writer/activist Walter Hudson has helped start the discussion Rhonda Robinson’s series on Judaism and Christianity’s common values sought to provoke, I feel compelled to weigh in from my unorthodox, Judeo-Christian occultist perch. I would invite other PJ Lifestyle writers to join in as well on this inter-faith, theological discussion.

The disagreement, pursued with respect: Rhonda believes that Christians should emulate the Jewish disinterest in heaven:

Boteach explains that “Jews do not follow Judaism for the purpose of reward in the afterlife.” Honestly, neither should Christians. And I would venture to say, most don’t.

It’s easy to see where that is the perception. That’s what most evangelists preach: the infamous knock on the door, followed by “If you die tonight where would you go?” style of evangelism.

Boteach points out that by focusing on reward in the afterlife it implies that there is nothing worth redeeming here. As I thought about this I had to agree. This life is a gift from God. This is His creation, which pleases Him. It is only right and good that we leave it a better place than we found it — out of our love for Him.

Walter dissented:

Pastor John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis refers to this fulfillment as Christian hedonism. What may sound like an oxymoron makes sense once explained. Piper demonstrates from scripture that “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.” In other words, fulfilling our purpose brings us eternal satisfaction. It’s the ultimate win-win, where obedience results in fulfillment, much the same way a child heeding his father’s guidance fares well. God knows what we need. We need Him. When we surrender to that, we are fulfilled. It is entirely about Him, but nonetheless serves our interests. Despite the deceitful influences of our sinful heart, no conflict exists between what truly fulfills us and what God commands.

When we understand this, the problems with Boteach’s response to the evangelical question of eternal disposition become clear. While worshiping God may not be about us, it certainly involves us and serves our interests as fully as it serves God’s. While our worship does not save us from hell, we certainly ought to seek such salvation. The Bible does not teach that God offers heaven as a reward for virtue points accrued on Earth, and any professing Christian which believes that their works will save them needs to return to the Gospel in search of grace.

That said, let’s be crystal clear. You want to be in heaven. You do not want to be in hell. Christians, Jews, and everybody else better take a profound interest in these eternal destinations, because God’s purpose will be fulfilled one way or the other. We will bring Him glory. The only question is whether we will do so as eternal witnesses to his undeserved grace and loving mercy, or as eternal examples of his perfect justice and holy wrath.

Nothing a Christian does secures entry into heaven. We do not strive to obey God’s commandments to maintain heavenly eligibility. We strive to obey God’s commandments because, as our creator, He issues them with authority. He knows how we work. He has the lockdown on best practices. He wrote the book. We thus follow his instruction as we might that of any manufacturer who knows their product best. To his eternal glory, He serves our every interest, even those we work in sin against.

I’m with Rhonda in this now whereas in a previous life I would’ve sided with Walter. I am no longer a midwestern Billy Graham Crusade-style Evangelical Christian. In fact I’m not a traditional Christian at all anymore. After a decade of wandering across mystic and occult and mushy inter-faith spiritualities and political ideologies all with an undergirding in Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger-style radical quantum agnosticism I’ve returned to belief in God. Specifically and consciously the God of Israel.

My values — the understanding of Good and Evil and the logical implications of a transcendent deity existing beyond our comprehension who has created all human beings in His Image — come from the Bible. Hence why my Jewish and Christian friends come to comparable moral and political conclusions on the important stuff.

But when we shift from values to theology then our differences begin to manifest. Values are about defining one idea as higher or better than another. The most important being the hierarchy established in Genesis — one God above all, every human being on an equal level and held to the same moral standards, and then all of the cosmos beneath us for our domination. One God means one Law for all. Humans above Mother Nature means that the more primitive, nature-worshiping traditions of ancient Canaan — human sacrifice and temple prostitution in particular — are off limits.

This is the essence of the Judeo-Christian value system as I understand it. If anyone would like to dispute this definition (which is largely inspired by my favorite talk radio host Dennis Prager who I listen to every morning while editing PJM) then please do. I’ll have a longer discourse on this subject hopefully soon. (Sorry I’ve been remiss on my long write-up of your Ask a Jew Prager-Hewitt events, RJ Moeller! I will focus and get that done soon! My first draft got too long so now I’m going to simplify and refocus it.)

Theology is less concerned with practical, day-to-day matters and instead with providing frameworks for discussing unknowable, ultimately unanswerable questions. Theology also dictates the style of worship, given that different theologies will emphasize different aspects of the Divine. The definition helps:

the·ol·o·gy

  [thee-ol-uh-jee]  Show IPA

noun, plural the·ol·o·gies.

1.

the field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God’s attributes and relations to the universe; study of divine things or religious truth; divinity.

The catalyst for my disillusionment with Evangelical Christianity began over a struggle not with Judeo-Christian values, but with a particular theology. I didn’t understand the difference then — as most people do not. Thus I ended up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Because I grew angry with one man’s theology and his rigid preaching in its favor, I made the mistake of eventually abandoning Christianity altogether. (In retrospect I wish I’d done what the Christian youth group friends I’ve kept for 15 years did — just moderate their theology to accepting more mystery and clinging less to dogma while still remaining Christian.)

It all began with this unanswerable question that I encountered in the middle of my sophomore year in high school:

“So if you have to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior in order to go to heaven then doesn’t that mean that my Jewish grandmother who just died is being tortured in hell and that when I’m reunited with my family in heaven she won’t be there?”

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (26)
All Comments   (26)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Your story sounds eerily similar to that of so many Catholics who came to the faith later in life. Keep traveling...you'll get here eventually.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
“So if you have to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior in order to go to heaven then doesn’t that mean that my Jewish grandmother who just died is being tortured in hell and that when I’m reunited with my family in heaven she won’t be there?”
Don't be silly. Everyone, both living and dead will have a chance to accept Jesus as their savior.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hell isn't a place or state of being where God tortures souls. If anyone tortures souls, it's Satan. But my understanding of Lucifer is from the perspective of rebellion. Sin is going against God's will. The devil says that we don't need God, we can exist without Him, without His grace and His rules. Hell is separation from God - a place absent His grace and His rules.
If you want to be in a place absent God you get what you wish. If you want to be with God and accept His love, you get your wish. God isn't going to force you to be with Him for eternity. Nobody is forced into Hell, it's about free will.
I don't know if there's a time limit on acceptance or when that limit is crossed - but it seems to make sense from an entirely mortal and human perspective that once you're separate from God He no longer hears your prayers. But this is applying Earthly logic to an infinite being (how can He be infinite a state separate from Him exists?)
God knows everything that was and is and will be - but that's too limiting. He also knows what can and can't be, what could have been and what never could happen. He knows what we would have chosen and what we will choose and ultimately who we are far, far better than we know ourselves.
Would Hitler have been a nicer guy had things gone differently? Maybe, I don't know. God knows.
Gradation of sin is a mortal concept. With God it's black and white - you're either perfect and free from sin, or you're not. None of us is perfect so we all need Grace.
Would Hitler go to Heaven if he accepted Christ's sacrifice?
That I do know, because God told me. Yes, he would.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
So much EXCELLENT thoughts and words crafted by caring, thinking people are rare to find on the internet, where such conversations usually rapidly deteriorate into name calling, slander and all sorts of rhetorical/logical errors. This will be an interesting conversation. There will be many things to say and many things to listen to.

I was struck with this sentence: " But that does not mean that it appeared in a vacuum or that the God of Israel has not revealed aspects of His nature to other peoples around the world and throughout time. (referring to the Bible)"

Let me offer a simple analogy. At the US Secret Service school, agents are taught to identify forged dollars. At no point in the class is a single forged banknote offered for study. Instead they are given fresh-off-the-press banknotes and a magnifying glass. They study and study this, and become such experts on the topic that their testimony can put people in prison for life. Anything except a beautiful American dollar bill is a forgery.

So too I have found this true of Scripture. The more I study of it, the more beautiful it becomes. The more beautiful it becomes, the more I want to study it.

So, other books, such as the Book of Mormon, or the Kabballah, or any of hundreds of other books are forgeries.....they are false, they are outside of my purview. They do not come anywhere near the inherent authenticity and reliability of the Bible. There just is no 2nd place. The more I learn of it, the more that those other books are repellent to me.

It is the work of a lifetime to explore even a fraction of what the Bible has to offer. There are depths upon depths upon depths of Wisdom there, and no other books come close to it.

A young man I mentored came to me and I taught him how to study the Bible...in the Greek if necessary (there are several online tools to assist). We read Romans 12:1&2. In the course of a 3 hour discussion, we covered only 12 words of the 40 or so that are in those verses. At no point did I tell him the answers to the questions, but helped him form his own questions, then to answer them. A lifetime really isn't long enough to spend studying His Word, I'm not a theologian--I have no professional training. But I do have the sort of mind that asks these sorts of deep, penetrating questions and then tries to find those Answers. If I may quote Francis A. Schaeffer: "He is there, and He is not Silent"
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
"It is the work of a lifetime to explore even a fraction of what the Bible has to offer. There are depths upon depths upon depths of Wisdom there, and no other books come close to it."

This is your theology. That God revealed Himself to peoples beyond only the Jews and the Christians is mine. Neither of us can prove our positions. Hence why discussions about these go on forever, rarely accomplishing anything.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
After sixty trips around the sun I've come to accept a more rational Christian theology than the one passed down to me. Jesus said "no one comes unto the Father except by me," but He didn't say that this acceptance had to be finalized during earthly life. I believe there will be a final judgement of men's souls by the Almighty, which will occur in the world to come after the universe is burned out or gone, and that the Jewish grandmother, not having accepted Jesus as savior during her earthly life, will have that opportunity in the end.

Jesus also said that the only unpardonable sin is that against the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God the Father), so it would make theological sense that one must (repeat: must) live by the universal moral code which forbids us to murder, steal, rape, give false witness, etc., implanted into our hearts and minds by God's Spirit (and the Bible), in order to qualify for God's eternal judgement, whether Jew, Chrisitan, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto or Atheist. This universal moral code reflects human nature it's self, and is called "Judeo-Christian Values," but can be accepted and incorporated into any good religion. As Jesus said, failure to live by the universal moral standard of God's Spirit (think of Stalin, Hitler and bin Laden) will disqualify one from the Almighty's eternal judgement, and lead directly to eternal death (non-existence), or eternal separation from God (some sort of Hell).

27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
I too struggled with my Christian experiences. I’ve been in and out of several churches, and always walked away feeling something was incomplete or missing. Sure, you go home feeling pretty good on a Sunday and humming hymns, but the pastors never seemed to address tough questions. They all took a feel-goodish approach and avoided big philosophical discussions.
You touched upon some of these questions I have, such as how can a good person who was unaware of Christianity (early American Indians say) all be condemned to hell? It made no sense to me that a kind and loving God could somehow throw a bunch of people into the pits of hell who, through no fault of their own, didn’t know about Jesus. How do you reconcile such a contradiction? I could never get a satisfactory answer. After all, if we are all God’s children as we are told, then as a parent you have to be loving, patient, forgiving, etc. If God were a parent on earth, he’d have his children taken by CPS by now. LOL. But seriously, where does one go to find good answers to these and other questions? Morevoer, the bible was not originally written in English, so don’t we all have to depend on the centuries of translation being accurate? What if it’s wrong? For instance “shalt not kill” is more accurately “shall not commit murder,” etc. So even one word can have a major change in meaning. So therein lays another complication to salvation – if someone messed up the translation and we’re all “doing it wrong.” And what about all these other denominations/sects, not to mention religions? How could we possibly know which is the correct way to live with so many honest conflicts, assuming only one is correct. Does God punish us if we choose wrong? How does that make any sense? If God wants what’s best for us, shouldn’t He pay another visit to earth and say, “Sorry for the confusion, chaps!” And then proceed to hand out straightforward bibles written in every language for all peoples, ending the confusion once and for all? I don’t understand how He can blame, yet alone issue eternal damnation, for things which are arguably His fault. Free will is another one of those tricky bits I could never get straightened out by the churches I’ve been to. What’s the point of so-called Free Will? I am told we can choose good or evil, to worship or not, etc. But that doesn’t make any sense. I mean, if the choice is between worshiping God as He wishes or going to hell, is that really a choice? It’s like a mugger giving you a choice between handing over your wallet or getting shot. That’s not a choice! So what’s the bloody point? A choice with strings attached is not a choice at all. Given the fallibility and limits of human knowledge – I could never know with statistical certainty which was the right religion and sect - I’d prefer to not have free will at all. If it means there is a chance I could simply make a mistake in good faith, yet still end up in hell, I’d rather be a happy automaton with no free will and a guaranteed ticket to paradise. And if there is really no such thing as an “eternal” crime, should there really be an eternal punishment? I mean, we have finite lives on earth, so our crimes or misdeeds would be finite. At least purgatory somewhat makes sense conceptually, in that punishment is proportional with crimes. As you said, it makes no sense for some otherwise decent soul to spend eternity with Hitler in hell. At least in purgatory you can have some satisfaction that Hitler will be smoking a bigger turd than you will. Anyway, thanks for the article. Please, if there are any other books or websites that you can steer me toward in my search for answers, I’d appreciate it.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
The relationship we have is what sets Christians apart from other faiths. In my personal experience, over time, I haven't sought out the world that is my son's life like I should have. Being a missionary where we are is a part of the calling: to comfort, empathize, encourage, etc. Once a loving acceptance is achieved, understanding that God never said that He is fair has a chance to be accepted by someone saddened by the loss of heaven for those close to you. That my life is not about me is a concept that doesn't really compute to most may help some find contentment also. Enduring the onslaught that the devil has in our path are prayerfully softened knowing that God has boundaries set up in dealing with the adversary. Every day is a gift, not by anyone's choice.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
SO glad you brought this up! May I play, too?

A. Rambam (Moses Maimonides) hypothesized that polytheism evolved FROM monotheism, not the other direction. The earliest generations of humanity passed on the testimony of our First Parents. Later generations began to honor the sun, moon, stars, and other natural phenomena on the reasonable notion that one honored the King by honoring His ministers and officers over the universe... and with time, the King Himself was forgotten and His creations were seen as powers in their own right. Abraham deduced the reality of things and returned the awareness of the King to humanity. Whaddaya think?

B. Crowley makes my skin crawly for all sorts of reasons. But your magical/meditational practice might shift into a higher gear by the use of the Sefer Yetzirah. It really helps to read Hebrew, but here's an English version that's about the best available: http://www.amazon.com/Sefer-Yetzirah-Creation-Aryeh-Kaplan/dp/0877288550/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1381707447&sr=1-1&keywords=sefer+yetzirah

C. I never really felt I understood the idea of Divine Love until my children hit their rebellious phases. I refuse to believe that I can be more patient with foolish, headstrong kids than He is...
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes, we can all play!

A. I adore Maimonides but I don't think his hypothesis is supported by the understanding of history that has developed since he wrote in the 1100s. I don't regard the story of Genesis as a literal historic event that happened.

B. Crowley himself is more problematic than his writings and ideas themselves. Studying his own life more in depth and reading a few of the conflicting biographies is still on my to-do list. I'm familiar with Kaplan and have read a few of his books. I'll check this one out too.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes, it'll be on the agenda.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Putting aside the misunderstanding of Christian soteriology underlying the "unanswerable" question:

"So if you have to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior in order to go to heaven then doesn’t that mean that my Jewish grandmother who just died is being tortured in hell and that when I’m reunited with my family in heaven she won’t be there?"

What is unanswerable about it? It seem to me like a yes/no question.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
So what is your answer then? You want to tell a Jewish girl who's converted to evangelic Christianity that her Jewish grandmother who survived the Holocaust is now roasting in a hell infinitely worse than the death camps that killed most of her family?
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Do I *want* to tell her? No, I don't, but I would point her to the Scriptures which I presume she holds in high regard as an evangelical Christian. Your question seems a bit tendentious, though: "roasting in hell", "torture", etc. Why did you phrase the question that way? Christianity teaches that all people, Jew and Gentile alike, who die in their sins, i.e, outside the cover of Christ's redeeming sacrifice, will be condemned to an eternal, but deserved, punishment. The fact her grandmother lost family in the Holocaust, as horrifying as it is, has no bearing on her destination after death.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Reasoning of this sort is the reason I am not a Christian. The idea of a god that tortures individuals for eternity because they happened to be born into a Jewish (or Muslim, or Hindu, etc.) family, yet is somehow "perfect" is morally repugnant. We rightly call the Taliban (a regime that tortures and murders people of differing religious beliefs) barbaric. How much more barbaric is a supreme being who chooses to visit eternal torment on those who are not raised in an evangelical household!
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes, you would point her to scriptures to justify your theological position that all non-Evangelical Christians go to hell. And I would point her toward the scriptures that universalist Christians use to justify their theological position that God saves everyone.

"Your question seems a bit tendentious, though: "roasting in hell", "torture", etc. Why did you phrase the question that way?"
So you can understand the anxiety that exists in the minds of 13-year-olds who have been taught that their entire families will burn in hell and that all of their family members who have died before them are burning in hell. I'm explaining this in the terms that I immersed myself in it during my teenage years. Can you try and put yourself in the shoes of someone else who comes into Evangelical Christianity differently?

"Christianity teaches that all people, Jew and Gentile alike, who die in their sins, i.e, outside the cover of Christ's redeeming sacrifice, will be condemned to an eternal, but deserved, punishment."
You mean one theological strain of Christianity teaches that. If you want to believe that 90% of the world is going to hell then by all means. But unless you're spending 12 hours a day trying to save that damned 90% -- which is what I planned to dedicate my life to when I was an Evangelical teenager and was strongly encouraged to do by my youth group community -- then I'll question whether you genuinely believe what you say you do. Jesus proclaimed that his followers were to pick up their own cross and follow him, to give away all their money and possessions and devote themselves full time all the time to following Him. Most so-called Christians today don't do that at all. (Though significant minorities do -- many of my best friends and colleagues and Christians who are shining beacons, infused with Christ's love. I admire them so much, and regard them as further proof for God's existence and Christ's divinity.)

"The fact her grandmother lost family in the Holocaust, as horrifying as it is, has no bearing on her destination after death."
It has total bearing on this earth.

The Evangelical Christian position is that every Jew who was murdered in the Holocaust by the Nazis is now in hell too alongside Hitler and all the Nazis who murdered them. All because they didn't pray the special little prayer in the four spiritual laws booklets. Yes, that sounds EXACTLY like the sort of system that a God who so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son would take.

Try thinking of it this way. Imagine if your whole family was infected with a disease that was slowly killing them. And you had an infinite supply of the antidote. And no matter how hard you tried to persuade them to take it they refused. And you know that they could drop dead at any time.That's nerve-wracking. Hence the title of my piece -- the weight of heaven.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
When I was in third grade and read enough to be stupid, I advanced an assertion with a young man, a sweet Jewish lad; that when you die your personality dissolves and you become one with the amorphous Whole. (Yes..... I actually used language like that) He thought for a minute and then looked at me with his soft grey eyes and said......"Well....... what would be the point of that?"....'>.......
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks for your reply, Dave. Can I try and put myself in the shoes of someone else who comes into Evangelical Christianity differently? Yes, by all means. You don't know my background, so why do you assume I didn't come into Christianity "differently"?

You make a good point that many Christians don't take seriously the idea that much of the world is condemned by their sins and should work very hard to reduce that number. I agree with you on that. But I don't agree that Jesus proclaimed that in order to follow Him all His followers were to give away all their money and their possessions. For example, He didn't tell the Roman soldiers to drop their swords and quit the Roman army in order to follow Him. He told them to be satisfied with their pay.

"It has total bearing on this earth." If I misunderstood your point, I'm sorry, but it seemed you were the one who was implying that grandma should get special points toward heaven for suffering through the Holocaust.

No one knows if those who are in hell are cognizant of the identity of those who are "alongside" them. And again: they aren't there due to their failure to say a special little prayer or understand a booklet. They are there because of their sins whether they are Jew, Nazi, Hindu, atheist and even your so-called Christians.

Abraham asked God before Sodom: "Will not the Judge of the Earth do right?"

I have relatives who I regret to say have no interest in Jesus Christ or His Gospel and I fear unless God moves upon their hearts and they repent, they will spend eternity in hell, too. So, yes, I also understand how the girl in your example feels.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
"For example, He didn't tell the Roman soldiers to drop their swords and quit the Roman army in order to follow Him. He told them to be satisfied with their pay."

I thought it was John the Baptist who said this. http://biblehub.com/niv/luke/3.htm

Saying "be satisfied with your pay" to a Roman soldier is the same as saying "be satisfied with your pay" to a Nazi.

"But I don't agree that Jesus proclaimed that in order to follow Him all His followers were to give away all their money and their possessions.'

http://biblehub.com/matthew/19-21.htm
Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

http://biblehub.com/luke/9-23.htm
"Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."

Christians are supposed to SUFFER like Christ suffered. Most so-called Christians today are content to just put some money in the collection plate and go to their feel-good services. They aren't actually suffering for Christ, as Christ suffered.

""It has total bearing on this earth." If I misunderstood your point, I'm sorry, but it seemed you were the one who was implying that grandma should get special points toward heaven for suffering through the Holocaust."

No, what I am doing is pointing out the absurdity of both the Jewish victims and their Nazi murderers ending up in the same place as though they are morally equal. Ultimately the problem of this theology is that the punishment does not fit the crime. Hell is an infinite punishment for the finite crime of not making the intellectual decision to weigh the evidence for Evangelical Christian theology and then choose to accept Christ as your Lord and Savior.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
1 2 Next View All