Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Let's Talk Heaven

Happy (upcoming) Easter! I came across this article below that brings up some interesting questions with regards to how people think "Heaven" will be. Or if it will be at all. Or if it is simply metaphorical.

I would like to address a couple of points that this author touches upon:

1) "Cremation, once viewed as the ultimate desecration of the human body, an insult to God who makes the resurrection happen, will soon surpass burial as Americans' preferred way to dispose of a corpse."

I think that it is enivronmentally responsible of a believer to choose the cremation route. If one believes God will resurrect the body, then God (who is all powerful) can construct your body back into its original state from a scattered pile of ashes in the blink of an eye. To think that one's body needs to be preserved for it to be resurrected in "original form" needs to rethink their view of God's power.

2) They quote that great theological cop-out: "We cannot know what God has in store for us."
To admit we don't know sh*t about sh*t is not a cop-out. It is being honest. It is assuming humility as a human of limited intelligence. Who can know God's mind for sure? Find me someone who has 100% of all the theological answers. I would more readily accept this "cop-out" than an absolutist idea.

Aside from being concerned with finding the answers about Heaven, I really like the questions that it brings up and I have a great book I would like to tout that deals with this precise question.

In C.S. Lewis' wonderful book The Great Divorce, a man gets to heaven to find that he can essentially no longer do what he loved to do on earth - research and writing - because all of the answers, an angel tells the man, "are all laid out before you. You need to search no more." This perplexes the man who found the pursuit of truth to be his passion and love. Upset that he no longer can write and research for answers in Heaven, he goes down to check out Hell.

I am also reminded that being good for the reward of Heaven alone is not...all good. Being good for goodness' sake is better. It is truer. Love motivating love is pure. I think of this parable:
Saint Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Spanish mystic, saw an angel rushing towards her, carrying a torch and a bucket of water. “Where are you going with that torch and bucket?” she asked. "What will you do with them?" “With the water,” the angel answered, “I will put out the fires of hell, and with the fire I will burn down the mansions of heaven; then we will see who really loves God.”

Many philosophers have debated the intent of being good. If there is no reward, will one still be inclined to be good?

Even Aristotle had a matrix of intent in Nichomachean Ethics:

Virtuous - those that truly enjoy doing what is right and do so without moral dilemma
Continent - does the virtuous thing most of the time, but must overcome conflict
Incontinent - faces the same moral conflict, but usually chooses the vicious ("full of vice") thing
Vicious - sees little value in virtue and doesn't attempt it
Highest Good is...
  • desirable for its own sake
  • not desirable for the sake of some other good
  • all other ‘goods’ desirable for its sake
This is very similar to the oft-used saying from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves."

While I would love to be able to draw and strive to better myself in the afterlife like the man in The Great Divorce, I think in the end what matters is not the reward we get in the form of Heaven, but how many lives we have touched in betterment and in Love in our time on this earth. I think that while each person will be judged on their individual actions and character, so perhaps is Heaven customized to our individual dreams of it.

Far From Heaven
By Lisa Miller - NEWSWEEK - Published Mar 25, 2010 - From the magazine issue dated Apr 5, 2010
Find this article at http://www.newsweek.com/id/235418

It's Easter—that most pleasant of springtime holidays—when children stuff themselves with marshmallows and stain their fingers with pastel dyes. In reality, of course, Easter is about something darker and more fantastic. It's a celebration of the final act of the Passion, in which Jesus rose from his tomb in his body three days after his execution, to reside in heaven with God. The Gospels insist on the veracity of this supernatural event. The risen Lord "ate barbecued fish [Luke] and walked through doors [John]," is how a friend of mine, an Episcopalian priest, puts it. This rising—the Resurrection—remains at the center of the Christian faith, the narrative climax of every creed. Jesus died and rose again so that all his followers could, eventually, do the same. This story has strained the credulity of even the most devoted believer. For, truly, it's unbelievable.

Resurrection—the physical reality, not the metaphorical interpretation—puts everything we imagine about heaven to the test. My new book, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlife, argues that while 80 percent of Americans say they believe in heaven, few of us have the slightest clue about what we mean. Heaven, everyone agrees, is the good place you go after death, a reward for struggle and faithfulness on earth. In most of our popular conceptions, we have bodies in heaven: selves, consciousness, identity. We do things. People yearn for reunions in heaven with friends and relatives—and even with their pets. "I want to lay my head on Grandma Lucy's lap," the Christian memoirist Barbara Brown Taylor wrote in an essay. "I want to shell field peas with Fannie Belle and listen to Schubert with Earl." Some people imagine heaven as the place where their most material yearnings are fulfilled. The evangelist Billy Graham once spoke of driving a yellow Cadillac in heaven; the heroine of Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones eats peppermint ice cream; suicide bombers in the Middle East fantasize about the sexual ministrations of 72 dark-eyed virgins. In all these visions, embodiment is the crux of the matter. If you don't have a body in heaven, then what kind of heaven are you hoping for?

Despite the insistence of the most conservative branches of all three Western religions on resurrection as an incontrovertible fact, most of us are circumspect. The number of Americans who say they believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ has dropped 10 points since 2003 to 70 percent, according to the most recent Harris poll; only 26 percent of Americans think that they'll have bodies in heaven, according to a 1997 Time/CNN poll. Thanks to the growth here of Eastern religions, reincarnation—the belief that after death a soul returns to earth in another body—is gaining adherents. Nearly 30 percent of 2003 Harris poll respondents said they believed in reincarnation; of self-professed Christians, that number was 21 percent. Reincarnation and resurrection have, traditionally, been mutually exclusive. Among Christian conservatives, a private hope of reincarnation would be seen as not just illogical but heretical.

Cremation, once viewed as the ultimate desecration of the human body, an insult to God who makes the resurrection happen, will soon surpass burial as Americans' preferred way to dispose of a corpse. Already, a third of Americans are cremated, not buried, and that trend line is headed straight up. Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University and author of the forthcoming God Is Not One, believes that the rise in cremation is linked to a growing disregard for the doctrine of resurrection. "It seems fantastic and irrational that we're going to have a body in heaven," he says. Even the Roman Catholic Church has softened its stance on cremation: bodies are better, it said in 1997, but ashes will do in a pinch.

Resurrection presented credibility problems from the outset. Who, the Sadducees taunted Jesus, does the man who married seven wives in succession reside with in heaven? The subtext of their teasing is obvious: if the resurrection is true, as Jesus promised, then in heaven you must have your wife, and all the things that go along with wives: sex, arguments, dinner. Jesus responds in a typically cranky way: "You just don't get it," he says (my paraphrase). "You are wrong," he said in Matthew's Gospel, "because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God."
Even in biblical times, resurrection deniers who hoped for an afterlife took an alternative route. This is what scholars call "the immortality of the soul." Embraced by Plato and popular today especially among progressive believers (Reform Jews and liberal Protestants, for example) and people who call themselves "spiritual but not religious," the immortality of the soul is easier to swallow than resurrection. After death, the soul—unique and indestructible—ascends to heaven to be with God while the corpse, the locus of our senses and all our low human desires, stays behind to rot. This more reasonable view, perhaps, has a serious defect: a disembodied soul attaching itself to God in heaven offers no more comfort or inspiration than an escaped balloon. Consolation was not the goal of Plato's afterlife. Without sight or hearing, taste or touch, a soul in heaven can no more enjoy the "green, green pastures" of the Muslim paradise, or the God light of Dante's cantos, than it can play a Bach cello suite or hit a home run. Rationalistic visions of heaven fail to satisfy.

Another popular way out of the Easter conundrum—"I want to believe in heaven but can't get my head around the revivification of human flesh"—is to imagine "resurrection" as a metaphor for something else: an inexplicable event, a new kind of life, the birth of the Christian community on earth, the renewal of a people, an individual's spiritual rebirth, a bodiless ascension to God. Progressives frequently fall back on resurrection-as-metaphor, for it allows them to celebrate Easter while also expressing a reasonable agnosticism. They quote that great theological cop-out: "We cannot know what God has in store for us.

The intellectual flabbiness of this approach causes agonies for such orthodox Christians as N. T. Wright, the Anglican bishop of Durham, England. "People have been told so often that resurrection is just a metaphor," he once told my editor Jon Meacham and me in an interview for this magazine. "In other words, [Jesus] went to heaven, whatever that means. And they've never realized that the word 'resurrection' simply didn't mean that. If people [in the first century] had wanted to say that he died and went to heaven, they had perfectly good ways of saying that." The whole point of the Christian story is that the Resurrection really happened, Wright insists. The disciples rolled back the rock on the third day, and Jesus' body was gone. This insistence on the veracity of resurrection is no less sure in Judaism, where the Orthodox pray thrice a day to a God "who causes the dead to come to life," or in Islam. "I swear by the day of resurrection!" proclaims the Quran. "Yes, Indeed!

And so, the paradox. Resurrection may be unbelievable, but belief in a traditional heaven requires it. I think often of Jon D. Levenson, a Jewish scholar at Harvard Divinity School who hopes to bring the idea of resurrection back to mainstream Judaism, where it has been lost in practice for generations. I visited him one cold November afternoon because, as a literal-minded skeptic, I wanted him to explain to me how it works. How does God put bodies—burned in fire or pulverized in war—back together again? Levenson looked at me, eyes twinkling, and said, "It's no use to ask, 'If I had a lab at MIT, how would I try to resurrect a body?' The belief in resurrection is more radical. It's a supernatural event. It's a special act of grace or of kindness on God's part." For my part, I don't buy it. I do, however, leave the door open a crack for radical acts of grace and kindness—and for humbling ourselves before all that we don't understand.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Double Wham-tastic!

I'm writing about the following articles a little late to their actually being "breaking news" but better late than never.

First up is Glenn Beck. One of my least favorite people who I lump into the same group with such hatemongers as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. Beck urges people to leave churches that preach social justice. Now, when this news was technically "new" I posted it on Facebook and it accrued nearly 20 comments in 2 days, 2 of which were in favor and could not argue with any sense of aptitude, clarity or depth the reasons why they agreed with Beck on this other than something about separating politics from the church teachings. Sorry, anything that has to do with social justice and economic justice is going to be mentioned in the basic New Testament scripts. Because Jesus did not practice his love in a vaccuum to everyone on the same social or economic spectrum.

Now, I fancy myself pretty familiar with the Bible and while the actual modern terms of 'social justice' or 'economic justice' may not have been included verbatim in the Biblical texts of olde, the example and actions that Jesus portrayed scream it from the mountaintops. Jesus instructed people to care for the poor, give to the needy, clothe those who have none, feed those who are hungry, visit those in prison...and if you are asked for your shoes, take off your cloak and give it as well, expecting nothing in return (to summarize). That, Mr. Beck, is social justice. By giving to those who are in dire need, that is the fulfillment of economic justice on the most fundamental level. The ill-formed logic of this nutter is that Communism / Socialism will break out if enough people are cared for and given enough, apparently. The Bible and the Constitution can be misconstrued to fulfill your foaming-mouth hatemongering agenda, Mr. Beck. And God watches.

And in the article below, Beck channels the lingo of typical conspiracy quacks: _____ is really code for _____. It smacks of backward extremism to look into an ancient text so full of love and the basic tenets of "Love thy neighbor" that you can pull something out like that, twist it up and present it in the interest of his own f***ed up divisive agenda. And while I personally am not a member of an institutional religion, I think the (lack of) reason he presents to people to actually leave their churches, of which I imagine are a rock for many of them, is utterly errorsome and I loathe to think that any of his blind sheep would heed that misleading and harmfully polarizing blight. Shame on him for spreading the disease of lies  - around the Bible, no less.

This Christian Universalist will now quote a brilliant atheist, Voltaire: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

The second part of this post focuses on the Gay Sex Scandal of the Catholic Church, which can be seen in the article below the Glenn Beck BS.

I'm only going to say this: Anything done in the dark will eventually come to light. That is all.


PoliticsDaily.com - 3-8-10

On his daily radio and television shows last week, Fox News personality Glenn Beck set out to convince his audience that "social justice," the term many Christian churches use to describe their efforts to address poverty and human rights, is a "code word" for communism and Nazism. Beck urged Christians to discuss the term with their priests and to leave their churches if leaders would not reconsider their emphasis on social justice.

"I'm begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!"

Later, Beck held up cards, one with a hammer and sickle and other with a swastika. "Communists are on the left, and the Nazis are on the right. That's what people say. But they both subscribe to one philosophy, and they flew one banner. . . . But on each banner, read the words, here in America: 'social justice.' They talked about economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth, and surprisingly, democracy."


Huffington Post - Adam Taylor First Posted: 03- 5-10 07:28 AM  Updated: 03- 5-10 12:50 PM

The Vatican has been thrown into chaos by reports that one of the Pope's ceremonial ushers, as well as a member of the elite Vatican choir, were involved in a homosexual prostitution ring.

The allegations came to light after Italian newspapers published transcripts of phone calls recorded by police, who had been conducting an unrelated corruption investigation.

The tapes appear to record Angelo Balducci, a Gentleman of His Holiness, negotiating with Thomas Chinedu Ehiem, a 29-year-old Nigerian Vatican chorister, about men he wanted brought to him for sexual purposes. Balducci was allegedly paying 2,000 euros ($2,714) for each man he met, according to the Irish Times.

Balducci is recorded describing precise physical details of the men he wanted. The transcripts record that during five months in 2008, Ehiem procured for Balducci at least 10 contacts with, among others, "two black Cuban lads," a former male model from Naples, and a rugby player from Rome.

A report by the Italian Carabinieri on the case said: "In order to organize casual encounters of a sexual nature, he availed himself of the intercession of two individuals who, it is maintained, may form part of an organized network, especially active in [Rome], of exploiters or at least facilitators of male prostitution."

The police probe into corruption resulted in Balducci and 4 others being arrested. Allegations of prostitution were only revealed later, and have resulted in Ehiem's dismissal from the Vatican choir.

Balducci held a high position within the Vatican and carried the coffin of Pope John Paul at his 2005 funeral. He has now lost his position as a Gentleman of the Holiness. His trial for corruption is still pending.
The Catholic Church has weathered a storm of controversy in recent years over allegations of sexual abuse by its members. Whilst homosexuality is not outright condemned within the Church, it is taught that homosexual acts are "are intrinsically disordered."

And as a follow up to this article, this piece came out on Friday, March 19, 2010