The Christian Faith was born in the experience that we have come to call Easter. It was this Easter experience that invested Jesus with a sense of ultimacy. It caused his followers to regard his teaching as worthy of being preserved. It was the reason that Saint Paul could write, “if Christ has not been raised then your faith is in vain.” Clearly without Easter there would be no Christianity. That assertion hardly seems debatable. At this point I discover that I am at one with the most literal fundamentalists.
What is debatable, however, is the question of what the experience of Easter really was. Here the distance between the Christianity of biblical scholarship and the Christianity of the fundamentalists opens and begins to widen. Fundamentalists are quite sure of their truth. On Easter the crucified Jesus, who was laid in the grave as a deceased man on Good Friday, was by the mighty act of God, restored to life on Easter. He had thus broken the power of death for all people. If the body of Jesus was not physically restored to life, the fundamentalists claim, then Easter is fraudulent. There can be no compromise here. Those who waver on this foundational truth of Christianity have, according to this perspective, abandoned the essential core of their faith tradition. Well, my only comment on this would be to borrow the words from an old song and say, “It ain’t necessarily so!”
When one reads the New Testament in the order in which these books were written, a fascinating progression is revealed. Paul, for example, writing between the years 50 and 64 or some 20 to 34 years after the earthly life of Jesus came to an end, never describes the resurrection of Jesus as a physical body resuscitated after death. There is no hint in the Pauline corpus that one, who had died, later walked out of his grave clothes, emerged from the tomb and was seen by his disciples.
What Paul does suggest is that Easter meant that God had acted to reverse the verdict that the world had pronounced on Jesus by raising Jesus from death into God. It was, therefore, out of God in a transforming kind of heavenly vision that this Jesus then appeared to certain chosen witnesses. Paul enumerates these witnesses and, in a telling detail, says that this was the same Jesus that Paul himself had seen. No one suggests that Paul ever saw a resuscitated body. The Pauline corpus later says, “If you then have been raised with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Please note that the story of the Ascension had not been written when these Pauline words were formed. Paul did not envision the Resurrection as Jesus being restored to life in this world but as Jesus being raised into God. It was not an event in time but a transcendent and transforming truth.
Paul died, according to our best estimates, around the year 64 C.E. The first Gospel was not written until the early 70’s. Paul never had a chance to read the Easter story in any Gospel. The tragedy of later Christian history is that we read Paul through the lens of the Gospels. Thus we have both distorted Paul and also confused theology.
When Mark, the first Gospel, was written the Risen Christ never appears. The last time Jesus is seen comes when his deceased body is taken from the cross and laid in the tomb. Mark’s account of the Resurrection presents us with the narrative of mourning women confronting an empty tomb, meeting a messenger who tells them that Jesus has been raised and asking these women to convey to the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. Mark then concludes his Gospel with a picture of these women fleeing in fear, saying nothing to anyone (16:1-8). So abrupt was this ending that people began to write new endings to what they thought was Mark’s incomplete story. Two of those endings are actually reproduced in the King James Version of the Bible as verses 9-20. But thankfully, these later creations have been removed from the text of Mark in recent Bibles and placed into footnotes. The sure fact of New Testament scholarship is that Mark’s Gospel ended without the Risen Christ ever being seen by anyone.
Both Matthew, who wrote between 80-85, and Luke, who wrote between 88-92, had Mark to guide their compositions. Both changed, heightened and expanded Mark. It is fascinating to lift those changes into consciousness and to ask what was it that motivated Matthew and Luke to transform Mark’s narrative. Did they have new sources of information? Had the story grown over the years in the retelling?
The first thing to note is that Matthew changes Mark’s story about the women at the tomb. First, the messenger in Mark becomes a supernatural angel in Matthew’s story. Next Matthew says the women do see Jesus in the garden. They grasp him by the feet and worship him. This is the first time in Christian history that the Resurrection is presented as physical resuscitation. It occurs in the 9th decade of the Christian era. It should be noted that it took more than 50 years to begin to interpret the Easter experience as the resuscitated body of the deceased Jesus. When Matthew presents the story of the risen Jesus to the disciples, it is on a mountaintop in Galilee where he appears out of the sky armed with heavenly power. Recall once again that when Matthew wrote this narrative the story of Jesus’ ascension had not yet entered the tradition.
Luke follows Mark’s story line about the women at the tomb, stating that they do not see Jesus in the garden on Easter morning. Luke, however, has turned Mark’s messenger into two angelic beings. He has also transferred the locale of Easter to Jerusalem specifically denying Mark’s words spoken through the messenger that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. Luke has heightened dramatically the physicality of Jesus’ resuscitated body. In Luke, the resuscitated Jesus walks, talks, eats, teaches and interprets. He also appears and disappears at will. He invites the disciples to handle his flesh. He asserts that he is not a ghost. Finally in order to remove this physically resuscitated Jesus from the earth, Luke develops the story of Jesus’ Ascension.
Even in the Ascension narrative, however, Luke is not consistent. In the last chapter of his Gospel the Ascension takes place on Easter Sunday afternoon. In the first chapter of Acts, which Luke also writes, the Ascension takes place 40 days after Easter. Whereas the messenger in Mark, who becomes an angel in Matthew, directs the disciples to Galilee for a meeting with the risen Christ, Luke specifically denies any Galilean resurrection tradition. He orders the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they are endowed with power from on high. The narrative is clearly growing.
In John, the Fourth Gospel (95-100), the physicality of the Resurrection is even more enhanced. In the 20th chapter of this Gospel Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene in the garden and says to her, “Mary do not cling to me.” One cannot cling to something that is non-physical. Then John suggests that Jesus ascends immediately into heaven before appearing, presumably out of heaven, that night to the disciples, who are missing Thomas. Though Jesus appears able to enter an upper room in which the windows have been closed and the doors locked, he is once again portrayed as being quite physical. This physical quality is further enhanced a week later when Jesus makes a second appearance to the disciples, this time with Thomas present. It is in this narrative that Thomas is invited to touch the nail prints and to examine the place in his side into which the spear had been hurled. All of these appearances take place in Jerusalem.
Chapter 21 of John’s Gospel portrays a Galilean appearance much later in time after the disciples have actually returned to their fishing trade. Here Jesus directs them to a great catch of fish, 153 of them to be specific. Then he eats with them. Finally he restores Peter after his three-fold denial.
The Easter story appears to have grown rather dramatically over the years. Something happened after the crucifixion of Jesus that convinced the disciples that Jesus shared in the eternal life of God and was thus available to them as a living presence. This experience was so profound that the disciples, who at his arrest had fled in fear, were now reconstituted and empowered even to die for the truth of their vision. This experience had the power to force the Jewish disciples to redefine the God of the Jews so that Jesus could be seen as part of who God is. Finally this experience was so profound that it ultimately created, on the first day of the week, a new holy day that was quite different from the Sabbath, to enable Christians to mark this transforming moment with a liturgical act called “the breaking of bread.”
When these biblical data are assembled and examined closely, two things become clear. First something of enormous power gripped the disciples following the crucifixion that transformed their lives. Second, it was some fifty years before that transforming experience was interpreted as the resuscitation of a three days dead Jesus to the life of the world. Our conversation about the meaning of Easter must begin where these two realities meet.
Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic, inspired late-19th-century Americans to uphold the founders’ belief in separation of church and state.. He spoke publicly on religion, slavery and women's suffrage. His influential speeches were posthumously collected in a twelve-volume work known as the Dresden Editions.
In his 1879 essay “Some Mistakes of Moses” Robert Ingersol expresses a deep pity for the men of the cloth who sought to preach a gospel based on the inerrant word of God (Bible). The reality was they had to make a living, even if it requited turning their minds away from human progress and modernity. As Ingerson observed, "It is a part of their business (these preachers) to malign and vilify the Voltaires, Humes, Paines, Humboldts, Tyndals, Hæckels, Darwins, Spencers, and Drapers, ..."
Sadly, this same mentality lives on today. In America there is an ever growing distain for critical thinking and scientific inquiry. Sadly, both are viewed as threats to the santity and power of the Christian fundamentalist world. This very mentality may explain why todays Christians continue along a path of self-loathing rather than self-love.
HE WHO ENDEAVORS TO CONTROL THE MIND BY FORCE IS A TYRANT, AND HE WHO SUBMITS IS A SLAVE.
I WANT to do what little I can to make my country truly free, to broaden the intellectual horizon of our people, to destroy the prejudices born of ignorance and fear, to do away with the blind worship of the ignoble past, with the idea that all the great and good are dead, that the living are totally depraved, that all pleasures are sins, that sighs and groans are alone pleasing to God, that thought is dangerous, that intellectual courage is a crime, that cowardice is a virtue, that a certain belief is necessary to secure salvation, that to carry a cross in this world will give us a palm in the next, and that we must allow some priest to be the pilot of our souls.
Until every soul is freely permitted to investigate every book, and creed, and dogma for itself, the world cannot be free. Mankind will be enslaved until there is mental grandeur enough to allow each man to have his thought and say. This earth will be a paradise when men can, upon all these questions differ, and yet grasp each other’s hands as friends. It is amazing to me that a difference of opinion upon subjects that we know nothing with certainty about, should make us hate, persecute, and despise each other. Why a difference of opinion upon predestination, or the trinity, should make people imprison and burn each other seems beyond the comprehension of man; and yet in all countries where Christians have existed, they have destroyed each other to the exact extent of their power. Why should a believer in God hate an atheist? Surely the atheist has not injured God, and surely he is human, capable of joy and pain, and entitled to all the rights of man. Would it not be far better to treat this atheist, at least, as well as he treats us?
Christians tell me that they love their enemies, and yet all I ask is — not that they love their enemies, not that they love their friends even, but that they treat those who differ from them, with simple fairness. We do not wish to be forgiven, but we wish Christians to so act that we will not have to forgive them.
If all will admit that all have an equal right to think, then the question is forever solved; but as long as organized and powerful churches, pretending to hold the keys of heaven and hell, denounce every person as an outcast and criminal who thinks for himself and denies their authority, the world will be filled with hatred and suffering. To hate man and worship God seems to be the sum of all the creeds.
That which has happened in most countries has happened in ours. When a religion is founded, the educated, the powerful — that is to say, the priests and nobles, tell the ignorant and superstitious — that is to say, the people, that the religion of their country was given to their fathers by God himself; that it is the only true religion; that all others were conceived in falsehood and brought forth in fraud, and that all who believe in the true religion will be happy forever, while all others will burn in hell. For the purpose of governing the people, that is to say, for the purpose of being supported by the people, the priests and nobles declare this religion to be sacred, and that whoever adds to, or takes from it, will be burned here by man, and hereafter by God. The result of this is, that the priests and nobles will not allow the people to change; and when, after a time, the priests, having intellectually advanced, wish to take a step in the direction of progress, the people will not allow them to change. At first, the rabble are enslaved by the priests, and afterwards the rabble become the masters.
One of the first things I wish to do, is to free the orthodox clergy. I am a great friend of theirs, and in spite of all they may say against me, I am going to do them a great and lasting service. Upon their necks are visible the marks of the collar, and upon their backs those of the lash. They are not allowed to read and think for themselves. They are taught like parrots, and the best are those who repeat, with the fewest mistakes, the sentences they have been taught. They sit like owls upon some dead limb of the tree of knowledge, and hoot the same old hoots that have been hooted for eighteen hundred years. Their congregations are not grand enough, nor sufficiently civilized, to be willing that the poor preachers shall think for themselves. They are not employed for that purpose. Investigation is regarded as a dangerous experiment, and the ministers are warned that none of that kind of work will be tolerated. They are notified to stand by the old creed, and to avoid all original thought, as a mortal pestilence. Every minister is employed like an attorney — either for plaintiff or defendant, and he is expected to be true to his client. If he changes his mind, he is regarded as a deserter, and denounced, hated, and slandered accordingly. Every orthodox clergyman agrees not to change. He contracts not to find new facts, and makes a bargain that he will deny them if he does. Such is the position of a protestant minister in this Nineteenth Century. His condition excites my pity; and to better it, I am going to do what little I can.
The only known image of Ingersoll addressing an audience
Some of the clergy have the independence to break away, and the intellect to maintain themselves as free men, but the most are compelled to submit to the dictation of the orthodox, and the dead. They are not employed to give their thoughts, but simply to repeat the ideas of others. They are not expected to give even the doubts that may suggest themselves, but are required to walk in the narrow, verdure-less path trodden by the ignorance of the past. The forests and fields on either side are nothing to them. They must not even look at the purple hills, nor pause to hear the babble off the brooks. They must remain in the dusty road where the guide-boards are. They must confine themselves to the "fall of man," the expulsion from the garden, the "scheme of salvation," the "second birth," the atonement, the happiness of the redeemed, and the misery of the lost. They must be careful not to express any new, ideas upon these great questions. It is much safer for them to quote from the works of the dead. The more vividly they describe the sufferings of the unregenerate, of those who attended theaters and balls, and drank wine in summer gardens on the sabbath-day, and laughed at priests, the better ministers they are supposed to be. They must show that misery fits the good for heaven, while happiness prepares the bad for hell; that the wicked get all their good things in this life, and the good all their evil; that in this world God punishes the people he loves, and in the next, the ones he hates; that happiness makes us bad here, but not in heaven; that pain makes us good here, but not in hell. No matter how absurd these things may appear to the carnal mind, they must be preached and they must be believed. If they were reasonable, there would be no virtue in believing. Even the publicans and sinners believe reasonable things. To believe without evidence, or in spite of it, is accounted as righteousness to the sincere and humble Christian.
The ministers are in duty bound to denounce all intellectual pride, and show that we are never quite so dear to God as when we admit that we are poor, corrupt and idiotic worms; that we never should have been born; that we ought to be damned without the least delay; that we are so infamous that we like to enjoy ourselves; that we love our wives and children better than our God; that we are generous only because we are vile; that we are honest from the meanest motives, and that sometimes we have fallen so low that we have had doubts about the inspiration of the Jewish scriptures. In short, they are expected to denounce all pleasant paths and rustling trees, to curse the grass and flowers, and glorify the dust and weeds. They are expected to malign the wicked people in the green and happy fields, who sit and laugh beside the gurgling springs or climb the hills and wander as they will. They are expected to point out the dangers of freedom, the safety of implicit obedience, and to show the wickedness of philosophy, the goodness of faith, the immorality of science and the purity of ignorance.
Now and then, a few pious people discover some young man of a religious turn of mind and a consumptive habit of body, not quite sickly enough to die, nor healthy enough to be wicked. The idea occurs to them that he would make a good orthodox minister. They take up a contribution, and send the young man to some theological school where he can be taught to repeat a creed and despise reason. Should it turn out that the young man had some mind of his own, and, after graduating, should change his opinions and preach a different doctrine from that taught in the school, every man who contributed a dollar towards his education would feel that he had been robbed, and would denounce him as a dishonest and ungrateful wretch.
The pulpit should not be a pillory. Congregations should allow the minister a little liberty. They should, at least, permit him to tell the truth.
They have, in Massachusetts, at a place called Andover, a kind of minister factory, where each professor takes an oath once in five years — that time being considered the life of an oath — that he has not, during the last five years, and will not, during the next five years, intellectually advance. There is probably no oath that they could easier keep. Probably, since the foundation stone of that institution was laid there has not been a single case of perjury. The old creed is still taught. They still insist that God is infinitely wise, powerful and good, and that all men are totally depraved. They insist that the best man God ever made, deserved to be damned the moment he was finished. Andover puts its brand upon every minister it turns out, the same as Sheffield and Birmingham brand their wares, and all who see the brand know exactly what the minister believes, the books he has read, the arguments he relies on, and just what he intellectually is. They know just what he can be depended on to preach, and that he will continue to shrink and shrivel, and grow solemnly stupid day by day until he reaches the Andover of the grave and becomes truly orthodox forever.
I have not singled out the Andover factory because it is worse than the others. They are all about the same. The professors, for the most part, are ministers who failed in the pulpit and were retired to the seminary on account of their deficiency in reason and their excess of faith. As a rule, they know nothing of this world, and far less of the next; but they have the power of stating the most absurd propositions with faces solemn as stupidity touched by fear.
Something should be done for the liberation of these men. They should be allowed to grow — to have sunlight and air. They should no longer be chained and tied to confessions of faith, to mouldy books and musty creeds. Thousands of ministers are anxious to give their honest thoughts. The hands of wives and babes now stop their mouths. They must have bread, and so the husbands and fathers are forced to preach a doctrine that they hold in scorn. For the sake of shelter, food and clothes, they are obliged to defend the childish miracles of the past, and denounce the sublime discoveries of to-day. They are compelled to attack all modern thought, to point out the dangers of science, the wickedness of investigation and the corrupting influence of logic. It is for them to show that virtue rests upon ignorance and faith, while vice impudently feeds and fattens upon fact and demonstration. It is a part of their business to malign and vilify the Voltaires, Humes, Paines, Humboldts, Tyndals, Hæckels, Darwins, Spencers, and Drapers, and to bow with uncovered heads before the murderers, adulterers, and persecutors of the world. They are, for the most part, engaged in poisoning the minds of the young, prejudicing children against science, teaching the astronomy and geology of the bible, and inducing all to desert the sublime standard of reason.
These orthodox ministers do not add to the sum of knowledge. They produce nothing. They live upon alms. They hate laughter and joy. They officiate at weddings, sprinkle water upon babes, and utter meaningless words and barren promises above the dead. They laugh at the agony of unbelievers, mock at their tears, and of their sorrows make a jest. There are some noble exceptions. Now and then a pulpit holds a brave and honest man. Their congregations are willing that they should think — willing that their ministers should have a little freedom.
As we become civilized, more and more liberty will be accorded to these men, until finally ministers will give their best and highest thoughts. The congregations will finally get tired of hearing about the patriarchs and saints, the miracles and wonders, and will insist upon knowing something about the men and women of our day, and the accomplishments and discoveries of our time. They will finally insist upon knowing how to escape the evils of this world instead of the next. They will ask light upon the enigmas of this life. They will wish to know what we shall do with our criminals instead of what God will do with his — how we shall do away with beggary and want — with crime and misery — with prostitution, disease and famine, — with tyranny in all its cruel forms — with prisons and scaffolds, and how we shall reward the honest workers, and fill the world with happy homes! These are the problems for the pulpits and congregations of an enlightened future. If Science cannot finally answer these questions, it is a vain and worthless thing.
The clergy, however, will continue to answer them in the old way, until their congregations are good enough to set them free. They will still talk about believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, as though that were the only remedy for all human ills. They will still teach that retrogression is the only path that leads to light; that we must go back, that faith is the only sure guide, and that reason is a delusive glare, lighting only the road to eternal pain.
Until the clergy are free they cannot be intellectually honest. We can never tell what they really believe until they know that they can safely speak. They console themselves now by a secret resolution to be as liberal as they dare, with the hope that they can finally educate their congregations to the point of allowing them to think a little for themselves. They hardly know what they ought to do. The best part of their lives has been wasted in studying subjects of no possible value. Most of them are married, have families, and know but one way of making their living. Some of them say that if they do not preach these foolish dogmas, others will, and that they may through fear, after all, restrain mankind. Besides, they hate publicly to admit that they are mistaken, that the whole thing is a delusion, that the "scheme of salvation" is absurd, and that the bible is no better than some other books, and worse than most.
You can hardly expect a bishop to leave his palace, or the pope to vacate the Vatican. As long as people want popes, plenty of hypocrites will be found to take the place. And as long as labor fatigues, there will be found a good many men willing to preach once a week, if other folks will work and give them bread. In other words, while the demand lasts, the supply will never fail.
If the people were a little more ignorant, astrology would flourish — if a little more enlightened, religion would perish!
SAVIOR OF THE WORLD
1 Timothy 4:9-10 says, “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance 10. (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our trust in the Living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially those who believe.” If, in fact, Jesus is the
Savior of (not just for) all men, and especially those who believe, is it not quite who don’t believe, have never heard or perhaps didn’t hear accurately?
The way I understand it, “Grace works without requiring anything on our part. It’s not expensive. It’s not even cheap. It is free.” Ephesians 2:11 says, “It is by grace you have been saved by faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no man can boast.
”Let’s pause a moment and notice Charles Spurgeon’s commentary of the a forementioned passage from his book,
“By Grace Through Faith.” “I think it well to turn a little to one side that I may ask my reader to observe adoringly the fountainhead of our salvation, which is the grace of God. “By grace are ye saved”….Remember this; or you may fall into error by fixing your minds so much upon the faith which is the channel of salvation as to forget the grace which is the fountain and source even of faith itself. Faith is the work of God’s grace in us. No man can say that Jesus is the Christ but by the Holy Ghost. “No man cometh unto me,” saith the Jesus, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” So that faith, which is coming to Christ, is the result of divine drawing. Grace is the first and last moving cause of salvation; and faith, essential as it is, is only an important part of the machinery which grace employs. We are saved “through faith,”
but salvation is “by grace,” Sound forth those words as with the archangel’s trumpet: “By grace are ye saved.” What glad tidings for the undeserving!”
WHAT'S FAITH GOT TO DO WITH IT?
In some ways, faith may be more of a privilege than a requirement for salvation. As a born-again Christian myself, it goes without saying that believing and receiving what
Jesus did and who He is, absolutely has a powerful affect on and influence over the heart and in the life of a believer; however, it does not necessarily change or effect the eternal destiny of the person. The ultimate destiny of the earth and God’s creation of the human race is all in the sovereign hands and control of the Sovereign and loving God.
We must ask ourselves, does believing make a person born again or does being born again make you a believer? Does the Gospel make a person righteous or does it simply reveal a condition that is already there-a condition wrought and bought by the blood of Jesus Christ? I am not challenging redemption, I am challenging what act or fact produces the other.
In a practical sense, would God send His son to buy our salvation and then make it contingent on whether or not the missionary could hear and obey the call, raise enough support to get a ticket to the foreign land in time to reach the lost heathen dying of some dread disease? Why would Jesus pay the awful and awesome price to save the world and then trust its reality or its realization exclusively to a group of western Evangelicals, who for the most part can’t even agree on the simple subject of water baptism or how and when to take communion, let alone with whom to take it? Romans 3:1-3, deals specifically with the question of faith and the imminence or pre-imminence of the role it plays on the part of the redeemed in relation to the ultimate work or act of redemption. It becomes a matter of the “works of faith” in comparison or perhaps in contrast, to the “faith that works”. James 2:14-26 asks the question, “Can faith (random) save anybody? The author’s answer suggests, “Not necessarily.” There is also the comment that even demons believe and shudder with fear. Later on, in verse 25, James calls Rahab, a non-Jewish, Canaanite prostitute, “righteous,” because of her faith and/or confidence in God to give them the city of Jericho.
Verse 3 of Romans 3 ask another question regarding the role of faith in the salvation and identification process. He asks, “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness, (trustworthiness or credibleness)? Paul answers in
the 4th verse, “Not at all! Let God be true and every man a liar.”
His point is that God’s faithfulness to Himself, His Word and His ultimate Will regarding the redemption of the race, is not affected by man’s faith or lack of it.
Ephesians 1:11 says, “In him, (Jesus) we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will." Verse 7 of that same chapter says, “In him we have redemption through
his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace, that he lavished us will all wisdom and understanding.”
The popular assumption is that Paul was speaking exclusively of Christians, with regard to redemption and forgiveness, but ask yourself the question, “Why would a loving God reserve forgiveness and redemption for only a few or a limited number of those he created in the world if, in fact, God so loved the entire world and is in fact the savior of all men?
Is God a respecter of persons? Is he discriminatory or prejudiced toward or against some and not others? Is he trustworthy? Or better yet, ask yourself, “Who did Jesus
fail to redeem in the finished work of the Cross?” “What segment of humanity was his blood too weak to reach and wash?”
Who did he leave out of his Will and Purpose in “working all things out”?
Another scripture that emphasizes God’s sovereign commitment to Himself in redemption is, 2 Timothy 2:13 which says, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
Some have asked the very legitimate question, “What is the purpose or advantage of being a Christian or what value is there in being born again?” As alluded to earlier, The Apostle Paul assumed a similar question in Romans 3:1, when he addressed what he thought his Jewish brethren were thinking. “What advantage then is there in being a Jew or what is the value of circumcision?” Paul answered, “Much in every
way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. “If the world is already saved, then what is the value of being a Christian and what is the purpose of being “born again”? The KJV uses the term “oracles” for the NIV’s “word”. It is in Greek, “Logion” and it means an utterance or oration, to be fluent, with the message. The Apostle calls it the “word’ or ‘message’ of reconciliation,” in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. These terms are derivatives of the Greek word “logos” or in English, “logic”. There is a both a practical and spiritual logic to the idea of God’s plan of redemption for mankind. It is a workable and working plan that is in process and is God’s ultimate scheme or schematic for the planet-the earth project.
My contention is that the plan works and is working. It is not a failed plan. When Jesus said, “It is finished!” He didn’t mean “half or partially finished.” If His reference was, in fact, to the redemption or reconciliation of the world to God, as indicated in II Corinthians 5:18-19, then my declaration of universal reconciliation and ultimate salvation of all is both entirely Scriptural and entirely logical.
We all sing the words of the song, “Lift Him Up.” Notice the lyrics: “How to reach the masses, men of every birth, for the answer Jesus gave the Key. He said if I, If I be lifted up from the earth, I’ll draw all men unto me.” If, in fact, “all” means “all”, then there should be no real question here. Mind you, we
are not just quoting a song; we are literally singing Scripture from the Gospel of John chapter 12 verse 32. Unless you interpret the word “all” as, some, a few, or, only those who accept or believe it, then it, (all) is a very inclusive term that excludes none.
Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”. Again, if we believe that reference to be in particular to Jews, but in general to “us all,” then the penalty or
punishment for sin has been paid by Jesus. The debt is paid and, thus, cancelled, and we are free to live the life of the redeemed and to, as the Scripture says, “say so!” (Psalm 107:2)
Another point regarding the John 12:32 reference, to Jesus stating when lifted up, He would “draw” all men (mankind) into Himself. The word draw as here used in the original Greek is the word helkuo, and it means literally, to drag. The word occurs in
this particular tense only four times in the NT.
According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, it is probably akin to the word, “aihreomai”, which means “to take for oneself”, to “choose or prefer”. It can be compared to the word helisso, which means, “to coil, wrap, fold up or roll together”, (like a package). This particular use of the word only appears four times in the NT and in each case, the object being drawn is either unwilling, (James 2:6), inanimate, (John
21:6) or perhaps unaware, ( John 6:44 and John 12:32).
Again, the onus is put and kept upon the Sovereignty of God, rather than the fickle and/or inconsistent will of man.
Romans 3:23-24 says, “...all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came (past tense) by Christ Jesus.” ”...The law of God condemns us all until, while we are still sinners, grace comes and liberates us from it’s curse without a single condition attached; no improvements demanded, no promises extorted, just the extravagant, outrageous, hilarious absurdity of free grace and dying love.” (Capon) Robert Farrar Capon is an Episcopal priest from New York.
One of the accusations attributed to my “Gospel of Inclusion” is that it is a new heresy espoused by those influenced by the end-time or last days’ doctrines of demons mentioned by Paul in his 1st letter to Timothy, in Chapter 4 verses 1-5. However, it has been my happy experience to learn that the idea of the ultimate salvation of all was the prevailing theological posture of the first 400 to 500 years of Christian Church history. It was the prevailing doctrine in Christendom as long as Greek, the language of the New Testament, was the language of Christendom. According to Dr. J. W. Hanson in his book, “Universalism the Prevailing Doctrine,” the first comparatively complete systematic statement of Christian doctrine ever given to the world was by Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 180, and universal salvation was one of the tenets.
Clement declared that all punishment, however severe, is purificatory; that even the “torments of the damned” are curative. Origen, another of the early church fathers explains even Gehenna as signifying limited and curative punishment, and both, as all other ancient Universalists,declarethe‘everlasting’ (aionion) punishment, is
consonant with universal salvation. To quote Clements of Alexandria, “He saves ALL universally, but some are converted
by punishment, others by voluntary submission.”
Universalism was generally believed in the best centuries, (the first three, when Christians were most remarkable) for simplicity, goodness and missionary zeal. With the exception of the arguments of Augustine, (A.D. 420), there is not an argument
known to have been framed against Universalism for at least 400 years after Christ, by any of the ancient fathers. All ecclesiastical historians and the best Biblical critics and scholars agree to the prevalence of Universalism in the earlier centuries. From the days of Clement of Alexandria, to those of Gregory of Nyssa and Theodoret of Mopsuestia (A.D. 180-428), the great theologians and teachers, almost without
exception, were Universalists. The first theological school in Christendom, that being in Alexandria, taught Universalism for more than 200 years.
To quote Clement again, We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer: to redeem, to rescue, to discipline, in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life” “All men are his....for either the Lord does not care for all men...or he does
care for all. For he is savior; not of some and for others not...and how is He savior and Lord, if not the savior and Lord of all? For all things are arranged with a view to the salvation of the universe by the Lord of the universe both generally and
It appears to me that the early church fathers were not only advocates of the doctrine of universal reconciliation but, also of “Ultimate reconciliation” as well. Gregory of Nyssa said, “All punishments are means of purification, ordained by Divine Love to purge rational beings from moral evil and to restore them back to communion with God”
“....God would not have permitted the experience of hell unless He had foreseen through redemption, that all rational beings would, in the end, attain to the same blessed fellowship with Himself.” Let’s ponder for a moment, the way Mr. Capon closes the above quotation, He says, that all rational beings would “in the end,” attain to the same blessed fellowship with Himself.”
The issue of “Final Things” or the eschatology of the fear-based theologies of the world’s religions, including Christianity, seems to be the overriding struggle paralyzing their adherents in horror and debilitating insecurity concerning how this entire scenario will ultimately turn out. If you doubt the outcome, you inevitably doubt the out-from. If you cannot and do not trust the Author, then you will not trust the Finisher of our Faith.
Revelations 22:13 says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Most people don’t have difficulty beginning or starting a thing, whether marriage,
business or ministry-it is the completion of the thing that seems to be the great paradox of choice.
The great question seems to remain, “How will this all end? What will be the final outcome of this intriguing ordeal we call Life?” God, who is omniscient, knew from the day He created man in His image and likeness, what man was capable of doing and what he would, in actuality, do. The scripture says Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. (Revelations 13:8)
In Luke 10:17-20, Jesus tells His disciples to rejoice, not because demons are subject to them in His name, but because their names were written in heaven. Since this took place before the Cross or resurrection, how were their names already written? And who could have written them but God himself perhaps in creation or before it. The suggestion must be that this entire issue of the redemption of humankind to God was discussed and decided before the foundation of the world.
Capon explains it like this: “In God the end is fully present in the beginning; the beginning is fully realized in the end. He didn’t have to change his mind, drop a stitch, pull out a row, reverse engines or slam on his brakes.” The sins of Adam and Eve in the garden didn’t shock heaven and throw it into chaos. The Master plan was already in place and there was a natural flow of response by God’s power and Grace.
The book of Revelation ends with the masses of humanity “cast into the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the SECOND death” (Revelation 21:8) Even before John received his revelation, Paul writes the ultimate response to the question of death, the first or second. He says in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that the last enemy to be destroyed, (rendered inoperative) is death. Could that statement by the Apostle include the ultimate victory of Christ’s blood even over the Lake of fire, the second death?
The Greek word for brimstone is “Theion” and it means flashing/sulphur. It is a derivative of the word “Theios” which means “godlike or in the neuter, divinity.” Both these words are derivatives of the Greek word, “Theos” which means “deity or God.” If the lake of fire is burning with divinity or god-likeness, or perhaps God Himself as a purifying agency, then the ultimate triumph of Christ over the last enemy is that much more logical.
The purging power of God in the flames of the Lake of fire, into which all remaining impurities are purged, means we can rejoice in the ultimate declaration of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55, which was a repeat of the words of the Prophet Hosea (Hosea 13:14), “Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting?” The power of death is sin (washed away by the blood, John 1:29) and the power of sin is the law (abolished now by Jesus, Ephesians 2:15). But, thanks be to God! He gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ! The question posed to death (grave) infers it has lost its victory or its triumph. And death has lost its sting, which means in effect, its poison or toxicity its lethality. Through the cross, death has been defanged and defrocked. It literally has no power whatsoever! Hebrews 2:14-15 suggests that death has been neutralized, literally put out of a job, or lost its original functionality. The question Paul poses to death and the grave in the Corinthian passage is, in effect, a mockery of death. It literally pokes fun at death like children do to each other when one loses a game on a school playground. “Ha, ha, ha, death has lost its victory.” It kind of reminds me of the song the munchkins sing in the movie “The Wizard of Oz” after the menacing wicked witch of the West dies: “Ding Dong the witch is dead, the wicked witch is dead.”
The utility that gave death its sting (sin) has been cancelled, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away (expiates) the sin of the world” John 1:29 and 2 Corinthians 5:19. And the utility that gave sin its power (law) has been both fulfilled in Jesus (Matthew 5:17-20, Colossians 2:13-15) and abolished in His flesh (Ephesians 2:15).
If, in fact, Jesus nailed the law (with us) to the cross as recorded in the Colossian passage, then the punishment for sin has been assumed by Jesus; thus making hell or any further punitive action irrelevant, except perhaps for its curative value. Except for some form of corrective significance of purgation (purging) as inferred by some of the early church fathers, the way I see it, hell will have no significance in the ultimate finality of God’s plan for a peace prevailing eternity where every knee bows
and every tongue confesses the Lordship of Christ.
Many scholars interpret the word “punishment” used in Matthew 25:46 (kolasin in Greek) to mean purgative or curative.
In Revelations 20:12-14, an emptied death and an emptied hell is cast into the lake of fire, which proves it’s (hell’s) limitation. As pointed out earlier, the lake of fire will, more than likely, have an awesome as well as, if you insist, awful purifying effect. It will, in effect, burn off any remaining dross of unbelief, rebellion or disobedience. Remember, even those “under the earth” will proclaim the Lordship of Christ and bow their knees to his Excellency. (Philippians 2:9-11)
In closing, many may find it difficult to see a totally triumphant Christ, but I don’t. I believe with all my heart that the Last Adam far exceeds in efficacy the first one. I believe as well, Jesus is in fact superior to Adam and that the better covenant with better promises are exactly that. (Hebrews 8:6).
I realize that much of what I say is a real stretch for most believers, even the nontraditional ones. However, if you want or choose to believe in a more “excellent way” and a completely victorious church, headed by a completely victorious Christ,
then what you’ve just read will resonate with your spirit, even it if initially troubles your mind.
My prayer is that you will give it serious and prayerful consideration as something sent of God, revealed in this particular season and prepared for a 21st century harvest of souls and Kingdom advancements unprecedented since Pentecost and the days of the 1st century Pauline Epistles.
[BACK TO PART 1]
"When Men Made God a Man: Religion, the Patriarchy and the Culture of Misogyny" by Maya Spier Stiles North
When men made God a man: Religion, the patriarchy and the culture of misogyny
Women are inferior to men: “A man is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.”
— 1 Corinthians 11:7
Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other… As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and forsake them in beds apart, and beat them.”
— Quran 4:34
Since women are not capable of living independently, she is to be kept under the custody of her father as child, under her husband as a woman and under her son as widow.
— From the Hindu text Manusmriti
The female’s defects … greed, hate, and delusion and other defilements – are greater than the male’s.”
— The Buddha
When you go out to war against your enemies and the LORD, your God, delivers them into your hand, so that you take captives, if you see a comely woman among the captives and become so enamored of her that you wish to have her as wife, you may take her home to your house.
— Deuteronomy 21:10-14 NAB
Police said the three men drove around while sexually assaulting the woman in the vehicle, before driving back to the same corner where they had abducted her. They then took her car keys and drove off in her car, as well as the vehicle in which they had assaulted her.
— Helen Freund, The Times-Picayune
The theory goes, as I have heard it, that the first societies were matriarchal, but when men realized that they had something to do with conception, they ceased the worship and respect of women, embraced their greater upper body strength and more directly aggressive natures, raised a meaty fist, and clubbed the women to the ground. And thus was born the patriarchy.
As for when this happened, the debate rages on, but the posited number is in the range of multiple millennia. These dry words do not encompass the millions upon millions of women owned. Beaten. Ravaged. Sold. Murdered. Enslaved. Silenced. Destroyed. Can your mind encompass the number of raised fists landing to rend flesh, to break bones, to reduce a human being to a sobbing heap of powerlessness and agony? Can it? Can it encompass the number of women who have been pinned down, bodies opened by cruel hands as their most tender and sacred flesh is plundered and ripped? I can. It haunts me. It ravages my heart. It brings back memories. Patriarchy without religion makes this horror merely brutal. Religion gives patriarchal religion the sanction of sacredness: women’s usability and abusability systematized and given rule of law — and all in the name of love – or at least, the general principles of existence. Patriarchy is what gave God the male gender. In Christianity, whether it was the direct and actual God or the putative descendant of God, the only womb involved was in the implanting of the Sacred Male in its nurturing container. No faith that can fairly be determined as patriarchal even entertains the idea of a gender-neutral god, at least not in its more original form, although some branches have been evolving. Men, who have only been moving away from the patriarchal in the last 90 years or so, saw that God was a man and that they were men, too, and therefore men were like God – divine and all-powerful — and women, not being anything like God, were far, far less. So with God on their side, they began to quantify, in detail, all the ways in which women were worthless except as only barely animate property that could produce sons and saleable daughters at the man’s whim, along the way blaming women for the men’s own lusts and complete unwillingness to control their impulses.
Even today, the numbers are staggering. One out of every three women on this planet has been physically assaulted by an intimate partner, and these sources include reports by the United Nations and the World Health Organization, neither of which are prone to exaggeration. This means that in a world with 7.064 billion people where there are 1.01 men to every 1 woman, there are likely about 3.5 billion women. If one out of three women in the world have suffered gender violence in whatever form, these women would currently number something around 1.18 billion women will have been beaten, raped or murdered – or any combination of the three – in the course of a lifetime. And these are only the ones reported. With the act of reporting being potentially even mortally dangerous, I can only imagine how many more there are.
These are just statistics from domestic violence. Men feel quite comfortable being violent to women they have never met. So far the statistics I am finding say that of all the violence committed against women, 22 percent of it was perpetrated by strangers. Even 20 years ago, The National Crime Victimization Survey reported that, in the United States, women 12 and older suffered five million assaults of undifferentiated nature. That would mean that in a single year, 1.1 million women were assaulted by a man or men they did not know. At random. Because they could. And because the patriarchal culture, bolstered by the empowerment of God-given superiority, had created a world where the nullification of women’s humanity was divinely sanctioned. But all the numbers in the world cannot give you the picture of what it looks like, what it feels like — the sounds, the impossible cruelty of it. It was just a little while ago that a woman dear to me was kidnapped at gunpoint. They threw her in a van, these three men, sanctioned by God as entitled to rule all within this world, encouraged by the Jewish and Christian scriptures to rape at will, created a hell in which this woman will have to fight to defeat and escape — if she ever can. In many societies, she would never be allowed out of her torment. In these societies, it is the woman who is shamed, who is blamed, who is rejected and repudiated – and even murdered – for the sin of having been raped. Often, the most savage of those who brutalize these woman all over again will claim to be devoted members of their religion. Stop for a moment and visualize this happening over and ever. Every year. Year after year. And ask yourself this: If faith was, in fact, faithful to its tenets of love and goodness instead of fomenting a love and glorying of war, the sanctioning of women’s inferiority, objectification, violence and ravagement, all in words putatively written by or divinely inspired by the God of many religions – would the brutality against women even exist? Would it be so intrinsic to the culture that it scarcely even warrants more than a moment’s mention – if mentioned at all? For a moment, please consider the possibility of a world where faith was, in fact, faithful, power was gentle, and all people walked side by side instead of one five steps behind the other. In such a world, perhaps we would finally, finally see the day where women – and children – could walk without fear. In my dreams…
Just finished watching this video. I'm sure some will argue Honey is a "secular humanist" or "lacks faith” or does not believe in the “inherently of scripture.” In reality he is simply asking questions many Christians have pondered or struggled with and have chosen to be silence about. Part of the practice of faith is the willingness to be uncertain and if that uncertainty requires asking questions, then so be it.
I am a vicar in the Church of England. I've been a priest in the Church for 20 years. For most of that time, I've been struggling and grappling with questions about the nature of God. Who is God? And I'm very aware that when you say the word "God," many people will turn off immediately. And most people, both within and outside the organized church, still have a picture of a celestial controller, a rule maker, a policeman in the sky who orders everything, and causes everything to happen. He will protect his own people, and answer the prayers of the faithful.
And in the worship of my church, the most frequently used adjective about God is "almighty." But I have a problem with that. I have become more and more uncomfortable with this perception of God over the years. Do we really believe that God is the kind of male boss that we've been presenting in our worship and in our liturgies over all these years?
Of course, there have been thinkers who have suggested different ways of looking at God. Exploring the feminine, nurturing side of divinity. Suggesting that God expresses Himself or Herself through powerlessness, rather than power. Acknowledging that God is unknown and unknowable by definition. Finding deep resonances with other religions and philosophies and ways of looking at life as part of what is a universal and global search for meaning. These ideas are well known in liberal academic circles, but clergy like myself have been reluctant to air them, for fear of creating tension and division in our church communities, for fear of upsetting the simple faith of more traditional believers. I have chosen not to rock the boat.
Then, on December 26th last year, just two months ago, that underwater earthquake triggered the tsunami. And two weeks later, Sunday morning, 9th of January, I found myself standing in front of my congregation -- intelligent, well meaning, mostly thoughtful Christian people -- and I needed to express, on their behalf, our feelings and our questions. I had my own personal responses, but I also have a public role, and something needed to be said. And this is what I said.
Shortly after the tsunami I read a newspaper article written by the Archbishop of Canterbury -- fine title -- about the tragedy in Southern Asia. The essence of what he said was this: the people most affected by the devastation and loss of life do not want intellectual theories about how God let this happen. He wrote, "If some religious genius did come up with an explanation of exactly why all these deaths made sense, would we feel happier, or safer, or more confident in God?"
If the man in the photograph that appeared in the newspapers, holding the hand of his dead child was standing in front of us now, there are no words that we could say to him. A verbal response would not be appropriate. The only appropriate response would be a compassionate silence and some kind of practical help. It isn't a time for explanation, or preaching, or theology; it's a time for tears.
This is true. And yet here we are, my church in Oxford, semi-detached from events that happened a long way away, but with our faith bruised. And we want an explanation from God. We demand an explanation from God. Some have concluded that we can only believe in a God who shares our pain. In some way, God must feel the anguish, and grief, and physical pain that we feel. In some way the eternal God must be able to enter into the souls of human beings and experience the torment within. And if this is true, it must also be that God knows the joy and exaltation of the human spirit, as well. We want a God who can weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.
This seems to me both a deeply moving and a convincing re-statement of Christian belief about God. For hundreds of years, the prevailing orthodoxy, the accepted truth, was that God the Father, the Creator, is unchanging and therefore by definition cannot feel pain or sadness. Now the unchanging God feels a bit cold and indifferent to me. And the devastating events of the 20th century have forced people to question the cold, unfeeling God. The slaughter of millions in the trenches and in the death camps have caused people to ask, "Where is God in all this? Who is God in all this?"
And the answer was, "God is in this with us, or God doesn't deserve our allegiance anymore." If God is a bystander, observing but not involved, then God may well exist, but we don't want to know about Him. Many Jews and Christians now feel like this, I know. And I am among them.
So we have a suffering God -- a God who is intimately connected with this world and with every living soul. I very much relate to this idea of God. But it isn't enough. I need to ask some more questions, and I hope they are questions that you will want to ask, as well, some of you.
Over the last few weeks I have been struck by the number of times that words in our worship have felt a bit inappropriate, a bit dodgy. We have a pram service on Tuesday mornings for mums and their pre-school children. And last week we sang with the children one of their favorite songs, "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock." Perhaps some of you know it. Some of the words go like this: "The foolish man built his house upon the sand / And the floods came up / And the house on the sand went crash." Then in the same week, at a funeral, we sang the familiar hymn "We Plow the Fields and Scatter," a very English hymn. In the second verse comes the line, "The wind and waves obey Him." Do they? I don't feel we can sing that song again in church, after what's happened.
So the first big question is about control. Does God have a plan for each of us? Is God in control? Does God order each moment? Does the wind and the waves obey Him? From time to time, one hears Christians telling the story of how God organized things for them, so that everything worked out all right -- some difficulty overcome, some illness cured, some trouble averted, a parking space found at a crucial time. I can remember someone saying this to me, with her eyes shining with enthusiasm at this wonderful confirmation of her faith and the goodness of God.
But if God can or will do these things -- intervene to change the flow of events -- then surely he could have stopped the tsunami. Do we have a local God who can do little things like parking spaces, but not big things like 500 mile-per-hour waves? That's just not acceptable to intelligent Christians, and we must acknowledge it. Either God is responsible for the tsunami, or God is not in control.
After the tragedy, survival stories began to emerge. You probably heard some of them: the man who surfed the wave, the teenage girl who recognized the danger because she had just been learning about tsunamis at school. Then there was the congregation who had left their usual church building on the shore to hold a service in the hills. The preacher delivered an extra long sermon, so that they were still out of harm's way when the wave struck. Afterwards someone said that God must have been looking after them.
So the next question is about partiality. Can we earn God's favor by worshipping Him or believing in Him? Does God demand loyalty, like any medieval tyrant? A God who looks after His own, so that Christians are OK, while everyone else perishes? A cosmic us and them, and a God who is guilty of the worst kind of favoritism? That would be appalling, and that would be the point at which I would hand in my membership. Such a God would be morally inferior to the highest ideals of humanity.
So who is God, if not the great puppet-master or the tribal protector? Perhaps God allows or permits terrible things to happen, so that heroism and compassion can be shown. Perhaps God is testing us: testing our charity, or our faith. Perhaps there is a great, cosmic plan that allows for horrible suffering so that everything will work out OK in the end. Perhaps, but these ideas are all just variations on God controlling everything, the supreme commander toying with expendable units in a great campaign. We are still left with a God who can do the tsunami and allow Auschwitz.
In his great novel, "The Brothers Karamazov," Dostoevsky gives these words to Ivan, addressed to his naive and devout younger brother, Alyosha: "If the sufferings of children go to make up the sum of sufferings which is necessary for the purchase of truth, then I say beforehand that the entire truth is not worth such a price. We cannot afford to pay so much for admission. It is not God that I do not accept. I merely, most respectfully, return Him the ticket."
Or perhaps God set the whole universe going at the beginning and then relinquished control forever, so that natural processes could occur, and evolution run its course. This seems more acceptable, but it still leaves God with the ultimate moral responsibility. Is God a cold, unfeeling spectator? Or a powerless lover, watching with infinite compassion things God is unable to control or change? Is God intimately involved in our suffering, so that He feels it in His own being?
If we believe something like this, we must let go of the puppet-master completely, take our leave of the almighty controller, abandon traditional models. We must think again about God. Maybe God doesn't do things at all. Maybe God isn't an agent like all of us are agents. Early religious thought conceived God as a sort of superhuman person, doing things all over the place. Beating up the Egyptians, drowning them in the Red Sea, wasting cities, getting angry. The people knew their God by His mighty acts.
But what if God doesn't act? What if God doesn't do things at all? What if God is in things? The loving soul of the universe. An in-dwelling compassionate presence, underpinning and sustaining all things. What if God is in things? In the infinitely complex network of relationships and connections that make up life. In the natural cycle of life and death, the creation and destruction that must happen continuously. In the process of evolution. In the incredible intricacy and magnificence of the natural world. In the collective unconscious, the soul of the human race. In you, in me, mind and body and spirit. In the tsunami, in the victims. In the depth of things. In presence and in absence. In simplicity and complexity. In change and development and growth.
How does this in-ness, this innerness, this interiority of God work? It's hard to conceive, and begs more questions. Is God just another name for the universe, with no independent existence at all? I don't know. To what extent can we ascribe personality to God? I don't know. In the end, we have to say, "I don't know." If we knew, God would not be God.
To have faith in this God would be more like trusting an essential benevolence in the universe, and less like believing a system of doctrinal statements. Isn't it ironic that Christians who claim to believe in an infinite, unknowable being then tie God down in closed systems and rigid doctrines?
How could one practice such a faith? By seeking the God within. By cultivating my own inwardness. In silence, in meditation, in my inner space, in the me that remains when I gently put aside my passing emotions and ideas and preoccupations. In awareness of the inner conversation.
And how would we live such a faith? How would I live such a faith? By seeking intimate connection with your inwardness. The kind of relationships when deep speaks to deep. If God is in all people, then there is a meeting place where my relationship with you becomes a three-way encounter. There is an Indian greeting, which I'm sure some of you know: "Namaste," accompanied by a respectful bow, which, roughly translated means, "That which is of God in me greets that which of God is in you." Namaste.
And how would one deepen such a faith? By seeking the inwardness which is in all things. In music and poetry, in the natural world of beauty and in the small ordinary things of life, there is a deep, indwelling presence that makes them extraordinary. It needs a profound attentiveness and a patient waiting, a contemplative attitude and a generosity and openness to those whose experience is different from my own.
When I stood up to speak to my people about God and the tsunami, I had no answers to offer them. No neat packages of faith, with Bible references to prove them. Only doubts and questioning and uncertainty. I had some suggestions to make -- possible new ways of thinking about God. Ways that might allow us to go on, down a new and uncharted road. But in the end, the only thing I could say for sure was, "I don't know," and that just might be the most profoundly religious statement of all.
"A Primer On Science, Religion, Evolution And Creationism Human Origins Initiative", Broader Social Impacts Committee Co-Chairs: Dr. Connie Bertka And Dr. Jim Miller
Science, Religion, Evolution And Creationism: Primer
A Primer On Science, Religion, Evolution And Creationism
Human Origins Initiative, Broader Social Impacts Committee
Co-Chairs: Dr. Connie Bertka And Dr. Jim Miller
Introduction: The Broader Social Impacts Committee
The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) invites the public to explore the depths of our understanding of what it means to be human in relation to the most reliable scientific research. The answers to the question, “What Does It Mean To Be Human?” draw on a variety of sources: scientific understandings of the biological origins and development of Homo sapiens, studies of social and cultural evolution, and global and personal insights from contemporary experience. It is in recognition of these broad factors that public engagement materials, events, and contributions to the Human Origins web site are being developed by the Broader Social Impacts Committee (BSIC) to support the exhibition in the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins.
Organized by the Museum’s Human Origins Initiative, the BSIC is a group of scholars and practitioners from a wide range of religious and philosophical perspectives, many of whom also have experience in the academic field of science and religion. This committee helps inform the Smithsonian about the range of cultural perspectives the public brings to the exhibit, considers ways the museum can encourage the public’s engagement with the science the exhibit presents, and helps equip museum staff and volunteers to participate in a respectful conversation where science intersects with cultural and religious interests. The committee recognizes the unique opportunity the subject of human origins offers for the exploration of challenging cultural topics, which in turn can inspire greater public interest in, and understanding of, science.
Thus, it is with input from the committee that the co-chairs have prepared this primer. It provides a brief introduction to issues that arise at the crossroads of science and religion, particularly in relation to the scientific accounts of evolution and human origins that are presented in the exhibit. The primer is organized around two broad topics: science and religion and evolution and creationism. A question and answer format is used to highlight common concerns for each of these topics. Cultural divides in the United States over the acceptance of evolution and scientific understandings of human origins make this interchange relevant. They also offer an opportunity to inspire a positive relationship between science and religion.
Science And Religion
Visitors to the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins bring with them many assumptions about science, about religion, and about their relationship. These assumptions may impact, positively or negatively, their willingness and ability to engage the scientific presentation of human origins. The questions below are offered as a guide to begin thinking about science and religion in the context of the possible interactions of religious worldviews with a scientific account of human evolution and origins.
1. What is science?
Science is a way to understand nature by developing explanations for the structures, processes and history of nature that can be tested by observations in laboratories or in the field. Sometimes such observations are direct, like measuring the chemical composition of a rock. Other times these observations are indirect, like determining the presence of an exoplanet through the wobble of its host star. An explanation of some aspect of nature that has been well supported by such observations is a theory. Well-substantiated theories are the foundations of human understanding of nature. The pursuit of such understanding is science.
2. What is religion?
Religion, or more appropriately religions, are cultural phenomena comprised of social institutions, traditions of practice, literatures, sacred texts and stories, and sacred places that identify and convey an understanding of ultimate meaning. Religions are very diverse. While it is common for religions to identify the ultimate with a deity (like the western monotheisms – Judaism, Christianity, Islam) or deities, not all do. There are non-theistic religions, like Buddhism.
3. What is the difference between science and religion?
Although science does not provide proofs, it does provide explanations. Science depends on deliberate, explicit and formal testing (in the natural world) of explanations for the way the world is, for the processes that led to its present state, and for its possible future. When scientists see that a proposed explanation has been well confirmed by repeated observations, it serves the scientific community as a reliable theory. A theory in science is the highest form of scientific explanation, not just a “mere opinion.” Strong theories, ones that have been well confirmed by evidence from nature, are an essential goal of science. Well-supported theories guide future efforts to solve other questions about the natural world.
Religions may draw upon scientific explanations of the world, in part, as a reliable way of knowing what the world is like, about which they seek to discern its ultimate meaning. However, “testing” of religious understandings of the world is incidental, implicit and informal in the course of the life of the religious community in the world. Religious understanding draws from both subjective insight and traditional authority. Therefore, some people view religion as based on nothing more than personal opinion or “blind faith,” and so, as immune to rational thought. However, this is an erroneous judgment. Virtually all of the historic religions include traditions of rational reflection.
4. How are science and religion similar?
Science and religion both have historical traditions that exhibit development over time. Each has places for individual insight and communal discernment. Analytic and synthetic reasoning can be found exhibited in both. Science and religion have been and continue to be formative elements shaping an increasingly global human society. Both science and religion have served to jeopardize and contribute to the common human good.
5. How can science and religion be related?
Typical assumptions about this relationship fall into one of three forms: conflict, separation or interaction.
A conflict approach assumes that science and religion are competitors for cultural authority. Either science sets the standard for truth to which religion must adhere or be dismissed, or religion sets the standard to which science must conform. For example, some atheists adopt this approach and argue that science reduces religion to a merely natural phenomenon. Conversely, some religious adherents, while claiming to accept science, will identify specific points at which mainstream scientific findings must be distorted or abandoned for the sake of religious convictions. Such an adversarial approach tends to rule out any constructive engagement between science and religion.
Individuals who prefer a separation approach hold that science and religion use different languages, ask different questions and have different objects of interest (e.g., nature for science and God for religion). By highlighting the differences between science and religion, conflict is avoided. While this approach allows a person to explore what science has learned about human origins without fear of conflict with religious beliefs, it also encourages that the science be left, so to speak, at the museum threshold so that it has no impact on other non-scientific explorations of what it means to be human. A consequence of separation is that the science of human origins can be viewed as irrelevant to what might be the deepest of human concerns.
It should be noted that it is true that science is practiced without reference to religion. God may be an ultimate explanation, but God is not a scientific explanation. This approach to science is called methodological naturalism. However, this method of isolating religious interests from scientific research is not an example of the separation approach. Historically, this bracketing out of religious questions in the practice of scientific inquiry was promoted by religious thinkers in the 18th and 19th centuries as the most fruitful way to discover penultimate rather than ultimate explanations of the structures and processes of nature.
A third possibility for the relationship between science and religion, one of interaction, at minimum holds that dialogue between science and religion can be valuable, more that science and religion can constructively benefit from engagement, and at maximum envisions a convergence of scientific and religious perspectives. Generally, this view encourages an effort to explore the significance of scientific understanding for religious understanding and vice versa. With this approach science remains relevant beyond the museum for many people who might otherwise ignore scientific findings.
Evolution And Creationism
The National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution has a responsibility due to its charter to provide the public with an opportunity to explore for themselves the most recent scientific understandings of the natural world, including human origins. However the question, “What does it mean to be human?” is generally recognized as one that does not belong solely to the realm of science. People are well aware that insights from the humanities, including the arts, literature and religious traditions, have much to say on this topic as well. For some people an evolutionary account of human origins may be greeted with skepticism because it challenges their particular religious commitments. In contrast, other people find their religious perspectives are deepened and enriched by an evolutionary understanding of human origins. Although the questions below recognize this range of perspectives, many of the questions reflect expectations that are especially characteristic of people from those religious communities that are skeptical about the science of evolution. Ironically, people in these latter communities often value science and seek scientific support for their particular religious commitments.
1. Do “creationists” necessarily oppose an evolutionary understanding of the history of nature and the origins of species and humanity?
No. In principle all members of the three western monotheisms (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are “creationists” in that they believe the order of nature exists because a reality beyond nature, commonly called “God”, is the ultimate cause of all existence. In this sense of the word, many creationists accept an evolutionary understanding of natural history. However, at least four types of creationism can be identified, and each has a distinctive view of the evolutionary sciences and human origins.
“Young-Earth” creationists hold that the sacred text provides an inerrant account of how the universe, all life and humankind came into existence; namely, in six 24-hour days, some 6-10,000 years ago. Human beings were created through a direct act of divine intervention in the order of nature.
“Old-Earth” creationists hold that the sacred text is an infallible account of why the universe, all life and humankind came into existence, but accepts that the “days” of creation are metaphorical and could represent very long periods of time. While many aspects of nature may be the consequence of direct acts of divine creation, at very least they hold that the very beginning of the universe, the origin of life and the origin of humankind are the consequence of distinct acts of divine intervention in the order of nature.
Theistic evolutionists also hold that the sacred text provides an infallible account of why the universe, all life and humankind came into existence. However, they also hold that for the most part, the diversity of nature from stars to planets to living organisms, including the human body, is a consequence of the divine using processes of evolution to create indirectly. Still, for many who hold this position, the very beginning of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of what is distinctive about humankind are the consequence of direct acts of divine intervention in the order of nature.
Evolutionary theists hold that the sacred text, while giving witness to the ultimate divine source of all of nature, in no way specifies the means of creation. Further, they hold that the witness of creation itself is that the divine creates only indirectly through evolutionary processes without any intervention in the order of nature.
2. What will be the exhibition’s message to the majority (in some polls 53%) of Americans who do not accept evolution?
The exhibition’s main message is the same for all visitors; namely, that the scientific study of human origins is an exciting and fruitful area of research that has provided us with a deeper understanding of both our connection to all of life on Earth and the uniqueness of our species, Homo sapiens. It is intended that those Americans who do not accept evolution will experience in this exhibition an open invitation to engage the science presented, explore the supporting materials, and participate in conversation with staff and volunteers without fear of ridicule or antagonism. Though the viewpoints of those who do not accept the scientific explanation of human origins are not affirmed in the exhibition, the personal importance of their perspectives is appreciated. What the exhibition intends to create is an environment for an enriching and respectful dialogue on human origins that currently can be found in no other venue.
3. Scientific theories change in the light of new discoveries. Why should we believe what science has to say today about human origins when it may change tomorrow?
The perception that scientists completely change their mind with each new discovery is mistaken. Although this has occurred occasionally in the history of science, it is relatively rare.
Unfortunately, media coverage of advances in scientific research often sensationalize the “revolutionary” nature of new discoveries and are also likely to focus on the most controversial interpretations of new findings. What is frequently missed is the broad consensus among scientists in a field, like that of human origins research, which provides the basis for seeking new discoveries. For example, it is broadly agreed that the various characteristics that distinguish our species did not emerge all at once. Walking on two legs emerged before making stone tools, and both of these occurred well before the biggest increase in human brain size. All of these came before the origin of art and symbolic communication. Farming and the rise of civilizations occurred much later still. There is broad scientific agreement even in the light of the most recent fossil discoveries that these changes that define our species took place over a period of about 6 million years. Each visitor to the exhibition has the opportunity to explore both the latest findings of laboratory and field research as well as consider how the scientific community is using these to give a more complete account of human origins. Each visitor is also invited to consider how this account might inform their deepest religious understanding of what it means to be human.
4. What is Intelligent Design and does the exhibit address it?
Advocates of Intelligent Design (ID) hold that there are features of the natural world for which there are no natural explanations and that these features can be shown analytically to be the result of a designing agent. Although ID advocates seldom specify who the designer is, the logic of their argument requires that the designer be beyond nature, or supernatural. However, advocates for ID have not been able to show that their claims are genuinely scientific. While the scientific community welcomes new theoretical proposals, these must lead to active research programs that deepen our understanding of nature and that can find confirmation in either laboratory or field observations. Thus far, ID advocates have been unable to do either.
As an institution of informal public education, the exhibit cannot advocate a religious position. As a matter of public record, a US Federal Court has ruled that ID is not science but instead is a religious viewpoint (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 2005). For all of these reasons it is inappropriate for ID to be included in a scientific presentation on human origins.
4. Still, some people believe that there is a scientific debate about evolution, and that advocates of ID represent one side of this debate. They wonder, “Why isn’t the Smithsonian presenting that side?” They see it as an issue of fairness and expect that ID should be presented equally.
As noted above, the scientific community does not recognize ID as a scientific position. Therefore, it is not one side of a scientific debate. At the same time, the exhibition does provide the visitor with genuine examples of how the evidence for human evolution is interpreted differently by different researchers, for example, in the construction of frameworks for understanding how prehistoric species are related to one another. Here different interpretations of the evolutionary data are presented. While there is lively debate about such alternatives and data is actively sought to discriminate between them, there is no scientific debate about the basic validity of the theory of evolution as the best scientific explanation for the expansion and diversification of life on Earth, including human life.
5. Does the exhibition identify the gaps in the scientific understanding of the origin of humans, gaps that can suggest that God played a role?
It is just such “gaps” in our understanding that fuel the scientific enterprise. It is the unresolved questions about nature that mark the fertile areas for new research, propelling the sciences forward -- including those related to human origin studies. Science, as a particular way of knowing, restricts itself to offering natural explanations for the natural world. When scientists find a gap in their understanding of nature, as scientists they cannot say, “Here is where God acts in some miraculous manner.” Instead, scientists seek to look deeper into nature to discover there the answers that fill the gaps.
It is worth noting that many religious persons take exception to a “God of the gaps” viewpoint, to the idea that the action of God in creation is limited to those areas where there are gaps in human understanding. Supporting materials being developed for the exhibition by the BSIC will help visitors discover resources from various religious traditions that explore religious views on the relation of God and nature.
6. How do people incorporate evolution into their religious worldview?
Religious traditions vary in their response to evolution. For example, Asian religious worldviews do not assume an all-powerful creator God and often see the world religiously as interconnected and dynamic. They tend, therefore, to engage scientific accounts of evolution with little difficulty. However, for Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, the affirmation of a creator God in relation to the world has a central place. As noted in the discussion of various forms of “creationism” above, many individuals in these monotheistic traditions accept, generally, that God created the material world mostly by means of evolutionary processes. At the same time, some of these persons are committed to the view that there are a few specific acts of divine creative intervention: namely, at the very beginning of the universe, at the origin of life, and at the origin of humankind. However, as previously noted, others in the monotheistic traditions hold that God creates entirely by means of evolutionary processes without any intervention, even in the case of humans.
At least for theistic evolutionists and evolutionary theists the scientific exhibition on evolution and human origins stimulates the questions, “Where is God in the process?” and “What does it mean to be created in God’s image?” To the extent that such questions provoke a constructive engagement of scientific and religious ideas, they are an expression of an interaction approach to science and religion. There are many though, who adopt a separation approach to science and religion. For these individuals there is no need to raise religious questions in light of the science of human origins.