Monday, March 24, 2008

An Easter Reflection on Original Sin and the Secular State

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?"

And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'"

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:1-5)

Original means ‘first’ I reckon, not ‘origin’ or font of all sin, although a strong case could be made for that, for it is through this first sin that mankind continues to screw itself, mucking about ineptly through life. Looking at the verses above one might be forgiven to think that the first sin was gullibility. We are gullible if we are unsure of the source of our information, or lack faith in that same source. (Was it Chesterton who said that if Man stops believing in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing. He would believe anything?) I don’t know the reason Eve chose to believe in the serpent but it is pretty obvious that she found the serpent’s case – that God had reason to lie to her and Adam – compelling. Notice that Eve said, “…neither shall you touch [the tree]…”. God didn’t warn against touching the tree. Either Eve added this herself, or it was Adam who told her this to, as rabbis put it when talking about the Talmud, put a hedge around God’s word to make sure that one doesn’t transgress. Or perhaps she had some help believing it; it certainly isn’t too far-fetched to think that the serpent has been working on her for sometime. This calls to mind the admonition in Revelation to take care not to add or subtract from what is written in the book. In Adam Clarke’s commentary, he said Jewish writers wrote that as soon as Eve said this, the serpent pushed her against the tree and said “See, thou hast touched it, and art still alive; thou mayest therefore safely eat of the fruit, for surely thou shalt not die.”

And eat she did and gave some of the fruit to her husband and their eyes were opened, and they became ‘like God, knowing good and evil’. With history as our guide, we can surmise that ‘knowing good and evil’ means that man can define good and evil, that is, formulate his own standards of what is good and what is evil – to create his own morality apart from the standards of God – for history has shown that it is when man defines good and evil on his own, he has come to grief. Man then, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, became their own god. Jesus himself did not deny the godhood of man. In John 10:34, when the Pharisees accused him of blasphemy ("It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.") Jesus quoted Psalm 82:6 to them ("Is it not written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'?”) who were created in the image and likeness of God. In trying to formulate their own standards of morality, mankind runs smack into the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before (or above) me.” No other gods, not even ourselves. And it makes sense, for it is the height of folly to place man as the ultimate authority on anything concerning morals because of our tendency to screw things up. Every attempt at man-made utopia here on earth has ended in disaster.

Which brings us now to the Secular State which we have been made to believe is the best way to run things. I believe this as well but with caveats which we will be looking at in a bit. In the present political crisis, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) have been roundly criticized for their half-assed pronouncements against the scandal-ridden Arroyo administration which just goes to show that what they have to say still matters. We are still a long way off from weaning ourselves from the influence of the Catholic Church. But this is not so elsewhere. In Europe for instance they have more or less succeeded in stigmatizing any profession of faith in the public sphere. In the recent debate over the preamble of the European Constitution, they were quite determined to deny the role Christianity played in the formation of European culture. It was as if Christianity didn’t exist. They finally settled on acknowledging the role ‘religion’ played in the forming of Europe. The seeming phobia against Christianity borders on the ridiculous and is in marked contrast with what is going on in our other ‘parent culture’, the United States, where the so-called ‘religious right’ is a political force to be reckoned with. Why the disparity? It could be because the leaders of present day Europe grew up in the turmoil of the 60s and 70s when Europe’s youth flirted with Communism and its concomitant rejection of religion. This flirtation with Communism and rejection of religion could be because historically, the Church has allied itself with the oppressive power of the State in Europe. In America on the other hand, Christian denominations have been a force against the abuses of the State. They were at the forefront of the fight for freedom from the British Crown, the abolition of slavery, and the fight for civil liberties for all regardless of race. Here at home of course the close association of the Church with the Spanish occupation and with the subsequent secular political leadership in both the national and local scenes has seen the growth of the Protestant churches, but anticlericalism has failed to take hold in any significant way which I can only attribute to the innate spirituality of the Filipino. Dean Jorge Bocobo of Philippine Commentary points out that the revered Jaime Cardinal Sin was a fixture of the Marcos government, making beso-beso with Imelda in her numerous ribbon-cutting ceremonies – moderating the greed, one might say – until the murder of Ninoy Aquino. It was probably those heady days of EDSA I when the Filipinos appreciated the Church again as a major force in social change. Before that they were mostly in the background, especially the bishops, even while the rank-and-file priests in the countryside spoke out in sermons against military abuses against human rights. It has always been the priests and nuns at the forefront; the bishops the slowest to react. But it was enough to save the Catholic hierarchy in the eyes of the people.

But the recent events in both America and the Philippines have the Church seemingly siding with the State and is fomenting an anti-religious backlash. In America, the religious right continues to be the backbone of the War Party’s political support, while here in the Philippines, the CBCP is seen as propping up the Arroyo administration. Although I believe that the chances for European style secularism to arise here in our country are slim, I would like to point out that those who hold to this No-Religion-Allowed philosophy have got it wrong. I am all for a Secular State, one that accepts all religions, but I’m not for banning religion from the public sphere.

The most wrong-headed argument against Christianity in the public sphere I have heard is that it might ‘offend’ those of other religions and those with no religion. They might feel excluded and all that. That to me is poppycock. I remember a recent blog exchange about an atheist’s feeling of ‘exclusion’ from a prayer in a public event. I remember pointing out that it was a prayer, so of course those who do not share the belief in the Christian God are excluded and indeed would prefer to be excluded from participating in the communal prayer. But that doesn’t mean they are excluded from the community of citizens. As Christians we are expected to accept everybody as brothers created in the image and likeness of God no matter what their faith (or un-faith) is because that is what God wants us to do. A Christian nation can and should tolerate other faiths. ‘Tolerate’ I’ve read somewhere requires discipline. It isn’t indifference to other religions, but is an act of will. I choose to tolerate you and your faith (or un-faith) because you are my brother, my fellow human being. The Secular State need only to accept that society is made up of different faiths and guarantees that each and every one of its citizens is free to practice that faith. Now there’s a rather glaring rub here. What if my religion requires me to sacrifice babies once every 20 years during the Festival of Kukurukuku? Is the Secular State required to tolerate me? If the answer is No, then I have to ask why. By what right does the State prevent me from practicing my religion? It is quite difficult to answer that question without appealing to a higher power that says it’s wrong. If for example the State says it’s illegal because the lawmakers whom the people voted for have passed a law declaring baby sacrifice illegal, I could argue that the constitution of the Secular State guarantees freedom of religion in the Constitution (I’m assuming of course that the Secular State is a liberal, progressive one.). Anyway, fine, I say. If the law says it’s illegal then it’s illegal, never mind if it tramples upon my constitutional rights. But since the laws are made by man, then it’s all relative. If for example as years pass, the demographics change, and more and more people become adherents of my faith, and less and less people think it is wrong, then there will come a day when the law will be enacted to make it legal to sacrifice babies. And it wouldn’t be wrong because lawmakers whom the people voted for in a free and fair election have passed the law decriminalizing baby sacrifice. (The example is of course absurd but the principle isn’t so far-fetched. Secular Western Europe is slowly becoming extinct as they refuse to reproduce, while the Islamic population continues to grow through immigration and because of the fact that these people continue to reproduce. In a few decades, we may see the rise of an Islamic Europe.)

The Secular State needs God, a higher power, an ultimate authority beyond the authority of man, to which citizens can appeal to because everybody recognizes it. (Note that I'm not arguing here for the existence or non-existence of God. I am arguing for the necessity of a higher power to form a civilization.) Men have tried to form a Secular State without God, to replace the morality from God with a new man-made morality, where the ultimate authority is the Secular State and those that run it. Utopia! Imagine there’s no heaven, no countries, no religion too. A world government under man and the world will live as one. Except that isn’t what happened. Once God was eliminated, the utopian dream turned into a nightmare: the Holocaust, pogroms, the gulag, the cultural revolution, the killing fields. (To be fair, Hitler wasn’t an atheist in the strictest sense. He was a pagan, a New Ager, if you will. In any case, like the atheist Communists, he sought to replace the ultimate authority of God with his own ultimate authority, and Christianity with a new religion based on the superiority of the Aryan race.)

Here in the Philippines, we have gotten it right. Our Constitution recognizes God, a tacit admission that he is our higher authority to which citizens can appeal if the State becomes abusive and enacts laws that trample upon our God-given freedom; if the institutions of government tramples upon the powerless and ravishes the defenseless. It is only a belief in God that can guarantee our freedom since freedom is from God. The dignity of a human being comes from God, his right to life. Without God there is no reason to believe we have these rights. Without God our rights are no different from the rights of a chicken. Indeed that’s the whole philosophy of Peter Singer and PETA. It is the only rational thing to believe in if one denies the existence of the source of our rights. Scratch that, without God, it is also rational to believe that we don’t have to respect other people’s rights. We would have no reason to believe in right and wrong in any moral sense. We can reject all these rights and morals. The French atheist philosopher Michel Onfray suggests just that. And it’s rational. Absent the mythical moral authority of some divine Flying Spaghetti Monster in heaven, all things are permissible and may the fittest survive. The greatest good for the greatest number and tough luck if you’re in the minority. It is not the irrationality of the atheism of Richard Dawkins that is dangerous (He likes singing Christmas carols – how irrational!) but it is the rational atheist that we have to watch out for. That’s why it’s easy to tolerate Filipino atheists. You know that they grew up with Christian morals and would still live by them even though they deny the authority that is its source. And it is easy to work for the attainment of the Filipino Secular State if we can be sure that it will not banish God from the public sphere.

33 comments:

cvj said...

When you say that 'the Secular State needs' a God, doesn't that come close to man creating God?

While it can be argued that creating an external reference such as God is necessary, i think the problem comes when men start assigning attributes to God.

Also, there are the Buddhist states like Thailand where there is no God and they seem viable enough. They haven't lapsed into totalitarianism.

Jego said...

When you say that 'the Secular State needs' a God, doesn't that come close to man creating God?

Yes, in a way. But what Im driving at is that we shouldnt deny that our government is based on principles we learned from Christianity. Catholicism in particular. We cannot deny this part of us. And we didnt create Catholicism. We received it more or less intact and complete and anything beyond that, like assigning extra attributes to God, is not within what we received and we would instinctively think it's wrong so I think we're pretty safe in that regard. The Spanish occupation was tough of course, as the Spanish occupiers for the most part didnt live up to the ideals of the faith they brought us, but we have learned havent we? We have learned that God wants us to love him and to show our love to him by loving not just those who are ours, but also those who are not.

Buddhism, although technically atheist, believes in a supernatural reckoning for sins which is like our Christian heritage an acknowledgment that there are moral laws that oversee the laws of the land. In any case, the secular state can thrive in a Buddhist country as well as the Thais have shown. They shouldnt banish Buddhism from the public sphere.

(For the record, Im not Catholic.)

cvj said...

Jego, i believe most people are hardwired to believe. I couldn't deny belief in God even if i wanted to. I agree with your thesis that religion should not be banished from the public sphere. Let things take its own course.

All of today's European secular societies were once Catholic or Protestant like ours but i guess all the contradictions in Christianity gave rise to secularism.

Winnie McCrann said...

This is a very interesting discussion, and a lot more open-minded and rational than some of the media debates on the subject here in the UK. As a Catholic I'd be interested in commenting in a bit more detail when I have time but for the time being I I'd like to say that an important point about Judaeo-Christianity is that it is based on revelation, but that does not mean it is anti-rational. Nor is Biblical morality against natural law, but rather enfleshes it, if you like.
I think when the early rationalists rejected organised religion they meant us to keep the morality, and I think that view pretty much held sway until recently. Now, at least in the UK, most people under 40 are religiously illiterate, and so it's difficult to have an intelligent and reasoned debate.

I think the discussion on original sin is a very interesting one, and certainly a good point to begin on questions of morality. Original sin is one of the least developed and least explored doctrines, though I think there's a growing need to get stuck into this topic amongst theologians.
I don't know if this is Church teaching - I'll have to look that up - but my personal impression has always been that when Adam and Eve were told not to eat of the fruit of the tree, it was the tree of knowledge of good and evil and it is not the knowledge of good and evil that makes man like God. The devil tells lies, and is called 'the Father of Lies'. God is all good. Man is like God in his creativity. But man is not God, he is like God, and man cannot know evil without being tainted by evil. This point comes out in Dante's Divine Comedy. Remember he takes as his guide, on his journey through hell, then up to purgatory and then to heaven, the Greek poet Virgil. Virgil of course represents Reason. This is the Catholic marriage between faith and reason. Reason can take us to the gates of truth, but not beyond them, because Truth is a Person (and therefore requires a personal relationship) and that is why Virgil can accompany Dante to the gates of heaven but cannot enter. And the necessity for Virgil's presence becomes obvious very early into the journey, when Dante finds a cruel dictator buried in ice and Dante becomes overwhelmed with emotion and revenge and begins kicking the dictator in the head, thus lowering himself to violence and revenge. Virgil, the man of reason, moves Dante on.

But Original Sin is spot on about the human condition - that we know right from wrong, and yet do wrong. And this first sin, according to the Bible, is not gullibility - man is given more dignity than that - but pride. This was also the devil's sin, which came before Adam and Eve.

Either morality is objective and transcendent or it isn't. We judge HItler by objective standards of morality. We generally assume - all cultures do - an objective transcendent morality, which is why it would be perfectly rational for a secular state to adopt an objective morality, and in fact irrational to do otherwise.

Winnie

Jego said...

Hello Winnie. Thanks for dropping by.

Now, at least in the UK, most people under 40 are religiously illiterate, and so it's difficult to have an intelligent and reasoned debate.

Ive noticed too that those who criticize religion, especially Christianity, Catholicism in particular, have these wild ideas about it. It goes way beyond straw men. But you have to admit that believers sometimes know very little about their faith. I think it was Chesterton (again) who said, 'I like preaching to choir because most believers know very little about what they believe in.' Or something to that effect.

As for Man's godness, Jesus explicitly told the Pharisees, 'It written in your law that you are gods.' If man is god, he is a rather inept one, for he has failed to complete his 'education' in the garden by failing lesson number one. In some commentaries from the Greek Orthodox Church I read, Man was banished from the garden for his own good. Because if he stayed and ate of the tree of life, he'd live forever, but it would be a life of everlasting suffering since he knows not what he is doing, or rather, knowing what to do, he does them not, wretched man that he is. God had to find another way for Man to achieve theosis.

which is why it would be perfectly rational for a secular state to adopt an objective morality, and in fact irrational to do otherwise.

Either that or deny an objective morality and live according to some utilitarian principle, 'the greatest good for the greatest number' or 'the greatest good for those whom we in power determine to deserve it'. Morality then becomes subject to the whims of Man, good and evil determined by him -- the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This too is rational. Denying an objective reality, morality is then based on the will to power or some other scheme. That's why Richard Dawkins was irrational when he said: "No self respecting person would want to live in a Society that operates according to Darwinian laws. I am a passionate Darwinist, when it involves explaining the development of life. However, I am a passionate anti-Darwinist when it involves the kind of society in which we want to live. A Darwinian State would be a Fascist state." If there is no objective morality, if we are just products of some Darwinian process, then there is no reason to live according to a morality that says even the weakest, the least fit among us, deserve to survive. Like I said, it is not the irrational atheist that is a danger to civilization, but the rational atheist.

cvj said...

Do you worry about the rational atheist because you believe that there is no rational basis for compassion?

Jego said...

There is a rational basis for feeling compassion of course, maybe even a Darwinian one if one coaxes it out, but there is no rational basis for defining objectively what is good and evil. Absent an objective source or definition of good and evil, good and evil then could be anything. Stalin was a rational atheist. Im sure he felt compassion to those that are his, but he felt none for the enemies of the revolution, and that to him is good for the State. There was a time when Eugenics was practiced in the US, sterilizing undesirables and all that. And it was rational and had sound scientific basis -- for the good of the species. It was the Catholic church that was at the forefront of the fight against it.

Preston D. said...

CVJ, are you here? Kindly list down (in your blood or here) what you said as conflicting points of Christianity. Thanks.

cvj said...

Jeg, i suppose by 'defining objectively', you mean outside of the subject. Maybe that's because there is nothing inherently good or inherently evil. 'Good/evil' like 'truth/untruth' are codes that observers (like you and me) assign to what is being observed.

Resty, for me, 'Congressmen in cassocks' aside, the main contradiction of Christianity the simultaneous existence of God's infinite love (aka infinite goodness) and eternal damnation. I know the Catholic Church has some explanation for this but whatever explanation it gives does not erase the contradiction. As a believer, you just have to accept it and over time, something has to give.

The other contradiction is not inherent in Christianity but is embodied in all relgious belief, i.e. that between religious and scientific truth. Either you ground relgious truth in revelation (as Winnie has done above) which means you have to find scientific proof for it. Otherwise, you have to find a way to accommodate both world views which is not an easy thing to do if you value intellectual honesty. Nevertheless, man is not completely rational which is why i still keep my lights on at night.

Jego said...

Maybe that's because there is nothing inherently good or inherently evil.

That's it right there. That's the human failing, the fruit of the forbidden tree. Man says there is no inherent good and inherent evil so we have to determine which is which on our own. But Christianity says there is, but we are not capable of seeing it clearly. We see through a glass, darkly. Who was it who said that if God didnt exist, we would have to invent him? Civilization needs God, whether you believe he exists or not. Without God, man is the sole judge of right and wrong. I mean why not get rid of cripples, the infirm, the insane, the retarded, the elderly, those who have a tendency to pass on genetic diseases, or those who just consume resources? The species would be better off without them since it will ensure only the fittest survive. Why would it be wrong to do so? There is no such thing as good and evil anyway apart from what we determine to be so.

For the contradiction between God's love and hell, I have some answers but I'll let Resty have a crack at it. My answer isnt mainstream Catholic.

As for the contradiction between science in religion, that only happens when religion is taught as science and science is taught as religion. Otherwise, there is really no contradiction. Science could be defined as 'the formal study of how God did things in nature'. That definition wouldnt change scientific findings over the last 500 years.

cvj said...

Jeg, not sure if that meant you agreed or disagreed with that statement, but what i want to emphasize is that the designation 'good' or 'evil' always has to be done by an observer (aka a 'subject'). What is arguable, to my mind (and in this i think we're in agreement), is whether such an observer is or has to be 'God' or whether, absent such an entity, men and women as members of society can arrive at a workable criteria on their own.

That definition of science cannot be accepted as scientific truth since such assertion is exempted from the authentication process as practiced within the scientific discipline. I can live with that inconsistency but not everyone can.

Jego said...

I basically agreed with the statement. Our theology says that man and women as members of society cannot arrive at a workable criteria on their own. Or can arrive there only by walking through a veritable valley of death. But sure, they can arrive at a workable criteria on their own... maybe. But at what cost? Perhaps we eventually would be able to arrive at something similar to the ideas on rights and freedoms and the worth of a human life, but how many lives must be needlessly slaughtered before we get there? Im not too optimistic about us finding a workable criteria on our own but there's always that slim chance we stumble on the right path.

Re: science. All definitions are tautologies and therefore exempt from the authentification process. We just have to get enough people to agree on the definition. (The fact of course that the definition of science is still being debated in Philosophy of Science classes is beside the point.)

Jego said...

The fact of course that the definition of science is still being debated in Philosophy of Science classes is beside the point.

On second thought, maybe it is the point. ;-)

Preston D. said...

This is for CVJ. I quote here what somebody said in reaction to his comment above:

"There is no manifest contradiction here. The only "contradiction" here lies in the mind of the unbeliever. Exactly, if God's love is infinite, then the rejection of that love should also be infinite - an eternal series of continual rejection to the infinite love that God unceasingly offers. Hence, Christianity (Catholicism in particular) ironically teaches that the existence of hell as clear proof of God's eternal love for creatures.

Being a traditional Catholic, I reject the so-called "primacy of science" in the realm of knowledge. One does not prove the ultimate veracity of things through the frailty of science (which contradicts itself every 20 years), rather it is having faith in the unchanging and full inerrant Word of God and His revelation. In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas demonstrates that even on the question of human certitude, Divine Revelation holds the first place, since unlike science which bases its conclusion on the relativity of the human mind; Divine Revelation comes from the very infallible, and inerrant mouth of God, who created the things that we know, the things that we'll come to know, the way we know those things, and the things that we'll never know. Thus for a Catholic, intellectual honesty is when one admits the insufficiency of his mind, and readily asks the crutch of Revelation."

Jego said...

Thanks for that, Resty. Like I said, my answer isnt the one given by Catholics. It is more in line with the Orthodox Church.

To the Orthodox, the rejection of God itself is hell. God's love is experienced by those in him as a good thing, while the very same love is experienced by those who reject him as hell. But since God's love is 'infinite', this suffering cannot be infinite. It will last only as long as the person continues to reject God. Once that fella in hell chooses to repent and seek God, he will then be brought out of hell.

Another view is from Origen, one of the Church Fathers, who believed that the so-called fires of hell arent a punishment, but a purifying fire, much like what Catholics believe Purgatory is. Once the purification process is complete, the person will be welcomed to God's presence. Another Church Father, Gregory of Nyssa (I think) believed that God's love is such that if the devil repents, God will forgive him and welcome him back.

cvj said...

Does that mean that God does not practice Unconditional Love?

Preston D. said...

God's offer of unconditional love is for those who decide to be for Him/Her. God gives us humans that freedom: the power of choice, which is not given to anyone else in the whole of creation.

cvj said...

If God's love is conditional on a person's acceptance, doesn't that negate the 'unconditional' aspect. Isn't it then more accurate to define God's love as 'a limited time only offer, terms and conditions apply'?

Jego said...

An analogy would be a gift. A gift that is given to everybody no questions asked, no strings attached. A fella can choose to accept it, or leave it. In any case, the gift is given and will not be taken back. It could be different in Catholicism -- Resty could expound on that -- but in the Orthodox Church, there is no deadline within which somebody chooses to accept the gift; no limited time offer. He can freely choose to accept it anytime.

Jego said...

You know what would make the analogy better? If the gift were a gift cheque for SM supermarkets. It's yours, but it's up to you if youll use it to buy groceries or not. :-D

cvj said...

Jego, people are not usually compelled to accept gift cheques under pain of torture.

Jego said...

The gift cheques are given no strings attached. And torture? That's Dante. The Orthodox Church dont subscribe to that. In fact, although they do have opinions on what happens after you die, they dont have doctrine on it and are generally agnostic.

Oh wait, are you arguing that since it's under pain of torture, it's not a real choice? That people would rationally choose to avoid short term pleasure because of the consequence of long-term pain?

cvj said...

Looks like the Orthodox 'hell' is quite different from the Catholic (and Biblical) 'hell'.

On your second paragraph, no i was not arguing along those lines. I just think that the gift cheque analogy is not apt because of the gravity of the consequence of non-acceptance which, to my mind, is in conflict with a God who professes Unconditional Love.

Preston D. said...

I also find the Orthodx's conception of hell surprising.

Anyway, back to "unconditional." I really can't give you an easy answer at this point. All I can say the question is a puzzle, a mystery. I've asked the same question before, including the inconsistencies of the concept and freedom, and decided, personally, that there really is no freedom. I have several blogs on that question, the question of freedom. The only freedom that matters, according to the Christian viewpoint, is the freedom to obey? Contradiction? Illogic? I'd prefer to call it paradox because it holds a deep truth somewhere if we but dig deeper.

Preston D. said...

Then again, let me offer you this thought, which can be possibly address your dilemma: God's love is not unconditional because of hell? But what is hell anyway? They say that God never throws anyone to hell. It's the individual soul's choice to go to hell. I bet hell is a place that's logical and necessary because God's love is also a love that's based on justice. Hell has to be created, not out of God's own liking, but because of the rebellious angels' (and equally rebellious souls') choice. Hell is an inevitabel (or logical, if you are looking for logic) consequence of that choice.

Jego said...

By the way, my reference for Orthodox belief is the book The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. He is a Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church.

Jego said...

Looks like the Orthodox 'hell' is quite different from the Catholic (and Biblical) 'hell'.


Youd be surprised. There is no 'Biblical' hell, if you mean a place of eternal torment for people. Jesus used Gehenna which the KJV translated hell. Gehenna is an actual place outside Jerusalem where trash was burned (along with the bodies of criminals). During King James's time, hell just means a hole in the ground. Any hole in the ground. You bury your potatoes in hell for the winter. In the Bible, the fires of gehenna consume people, that is, they kill them. The only fella in the Bible who doesnt die by fire is the devil since he's spirit and can't be consumed.

Jego said...

I just think that the gift cheque analogy is not apt because of the gravity of the consequence of non-acceptance which, to my mind, is in conflict with a God who professes Unconditional Love.

Yeah, well it's an analogy. A 'perfect analogy' is an oxymoron because if you have a perfect analogy, you dont really need an analogy. Just use the real thing. Besides, an analogy is mostly rhetorical, not expositive. ;-)

Going back to the theology of unconditional love, it doesnt preclude human free agency. Analogy ulit: I can love a woman without asking compelling her to love me back. 'Compelled love' isnt love. She is free to love or not love me back, but it doesnt change my love for her. It's hers.

Preston D. said...

argh. too many typos. sorry. just read it very fast na lang

cvj said...

Resty, i am in agreement when you say these things are a 'mystery' and if i adopt the point of view of a believer, i'm prepared to leave it at that. What i disagree with is denying that such a mystery or paradox or puzzles are not contradictions. They are. Such are the tensions within the Christian faith that a believer has to live with which is why he/she is required to have faith, as a way to get past these mysteries. After all, wasn't that God's response to Job's questions?

Preston D. said...

A distinction needs to be made between an obvious contradiction (which I'd call "illogic") and a paradox, which is just a seeming contradiction, but in fact contains a profound truth somewhere. With regard to the heaven-hell issue, you say it's plain contradiction; I'd hazard that it is a paradoxical matter. I'd say hazard because I'm just guessing in my personal capacity as a believer by choice ('cause I've been down the skeptical road before).

cvj said...

Resty, it's not a logical as much as a moral contradiction. But maybe different rules apply to God because he is God.

Preston D. said...

Okay, you have a point. Will leave it at that, though: a mystery. God being God, I don't think He'll reveal it anytime soon.