Why the Weight of Heaven Crushed My Christianity
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.
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:
[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?"