Monday, December 5, 2011

Why I No Longer Believe in Hell

This is a cross-post from my other blog. But if you like, you can take it as a response to Aran's post: I'm "coming out" as one who believes that forgiveness overcomes everything.

So my theology has gone through a multitude of changes over the years, mostly because the experiences of my life have led me to a single conclusion which many standard notions of God don’t actually allow for: God is love.

It says this in the Bible, sure, but it also says lots of things about Hell in the Bible, too. Do an all-loving God and Hell mix? Sure, say theologians, God is a just God, he punishes the unjust for eternity and all who go to Hell deserve it.

But here’s the thing: No one deserves to go to Hell. Nobody. Not mass murderers, not rapists, not child abusers, not anyone. There is no crime which deserves an eternity of punishment, and no human being so totally devoid of all worth that their time in eternity would be best spent in ceaseless agony/fire/loneliness/separation/darkness/whatever Hell is supposed to be. Exactly why would a crime within a relative nanosecond of the universe’s lifespan warrant horrific punishment for longer than the life of the universe itself?

And even, somehow, if there was a crime that warranted such a punishment, love would forgive it. Love forgives everything. If harm is done lazily, because it knows it will be forgiven, love waits patiently for the harmer to come around.

But wait, say the theologians – you need to accept the forgiveness for it to be valid. If you choose not to accept the forgiveness, it will be your own choice to be thrown into Hell.

Not so. Love doesn’t care whether its forgiveness is acknowledged – and it doesn’t punish people for not accepting forgiveness – what kind of forgiveness, accepted or not, involves punishment? Not the kind of sincere forgiveness which I describe. Not accepting forgiveness, and choosing to live on in guilt or shame or ignorance or power-hunger, is its own punishment, for it brings only unhappiness to its perpetrator. Harm attracts its own consequences. No additional punishment is necessary. The results of declining to accept forgiveness last only as long as the refusal itself. No longer.

Keeping in mind that I’ve come to this as a result of experiences in my own life, I’ll use the premise that God is Love to make one more point: A god who forgives all and loves all and condemns no one to Hell is infinitely more loving that any god who would condemn someone to Hell. And seeing as I believe that I could become, with decades of practice, the type of person who, given the choice, would condemn no person to eternal punishment, that pretty much means that I could become more loving than any supposed god who would abandon and torment anyone. And if I, a human, full of many negative things besides love, could achieve this (and I do believe it is possible), than how much more love and forgiveness could a being of pure goodwill and compassion be capable of producing?

A hell of a lot more. Or should I say a heaven?

Coming out as truth

Yesterday, I had an epiphany. I come out to people so it's easier for them to share their own truth. In other words, by sharing my true self with other people, they can more easily share their own truth with me and with even more people. I knew this, of course, but I got it down to one nifty sentence. Don't you think that this would make a great button "I come out so it's easier for you to come out, too."? I don't want people to think of "coming out" in terms of sexuality or gender identity, either. Think of the numerous ways we separate ourselves, whether it be religion or politics or work or school or whatever. By revealing our truth, others can reveal theirs, too, and the world will be a better place because we will understand each other just a little bit better.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How I got here and all that stuff

I've been re-reading Aldo Leapold's Sand County Almanack (thanks to James and Kristen) and realized this is a spiritual language I'm comfortable with -- it speaks to me in truly religious ways. Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek is in the same category. I see God in Nature, in a complex math problem, in the many ways people express themselves (art, music, literature or poetry, etc.) I believe that there is good (God) in everyone that connects us all.

As a young person, I was exposed to many ideas about faith. Important influences on my spiritual development were Buddhist readings (particularly Zen Flesh Zen Bones), Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, the Tao, and the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I did not attend church until I was in college, when I started attending the Unitarian Universalist Church. I was extremely active there for the next 30+ years. I have never practiced Christianity and so I don't have the Christian background many Quakers do -- whether they are embracing Jesus or reacting against a more rigid Christian religion. I simply don't find Jesus any more or less compelling than any other historical figure.

How I came to Quakers

When was first around, I took the "what's your religion" quiz. It said I was 96% UU. But it also said I was 100% Liberal Quaker. (I've always wondered what that 4% was based on -- it didn't say. Social equality, peace and simplicity were particularly important to me, but those were also UU traits) I searched for a Toledo Quaker group and finally decided one didn't exist -- but always kept Quakers in the back of my mind, thinking it would be interesting to check it out.

Years later, I met Judy in a writer's group (a Unitarian group, BTW) We became friends, and I found out she was a Quaker. Long story short, we came with her one Sunday, and have been coming ever since. Thanks Judy!

The community we've found here really means a lot to me, and the Silence sustains me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Don't get hung up on labels

Friends, this is the message I gave yesterday at Meeting for Worship as best as I can remember it:

Why do we affix labels to others and ourselves? What good does it do to separate ourselves from others? To create "us" and "them" and "this group" and "that group?" We are part of different groups. Why do we say that we're x, y, and z and that we're not part of a and b? What good does it it do to be x, y, & z and not understand a or b? If we don't see the good in a or b, then how can we understand? How are we to know that a or b doesn't lead to x, y, or z? We all have a common humanity, and we are all unique. Don't affix labels, Friends, or at least, don't get hung up on them.

After Meeting for Worship was over, we had some really good discussion, which gave us some more things to think about. Here are some of them:

Labels are not necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, self identification can be a very powerful thing. The problem occurs when we can't get past the labels.

Think about how groups include or exclude people. Humans are hardwired to form groups, probably as a survival instinct. Often, though, we exclude the people who are different from us. How do we work on not excluding people?

We also talked about the complexities of group dynamics in encouraging people to smoke and overeat. How can we discourage people from ever starting to smoke? How can we encourage healthier eating habits when food has so many emotional issues tied to it that nothing to do with proper nutrition?

One person asked, "Why is poetry so inaccessible?" I responded by saying that I write poetry for myself to process things. If others can read it and get something from it, great, but that's not the real reason I write poetry. Susan said that some poetry is inaccessible because you have to know about the influences on a poet & understand some of the history.

We talked about other things, too, but I decided to post this to give others things to think about as well.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A space opens, and you step in

Last week I had lunch with a friend who works for Mennonite Central Committee in New Orleans. She's currently doing anti-racism training with Occupy New Orleans, as well as other groups. She is, in other words, a professional activist and community organizer. I admire her. I've had yearnings to do that kind of work, especially since the Occupy Wall Street movement got going ...
"But you're teaching," my friend said.
Undeniably true. I won't teach forever, though.
"But what you've been telling me about are your writing projects," she said. "Listen to yourself."
The truth is, I'm a little frightened by all of it.
The technology of this blog has me spooked (thank you, Sarah!).
The business of writing, getting it right, then hunting a publisher, then marketing the book is as daunting as ever.
I have not even visited Occupy Toledo.
What's frightening? Confusion. Rejection. Failure.
Nothing new, and everything new.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Milestones II

Milestones in my spiritual journey: Not necessarily in chronological order.

The booklet

My wife's oldest brother, a Presbyterian minister, along with the resident minister in a Jamestown church presented a series of 10 sermons in 2002 to 2003 which challenged the traditional Christian theology heard in most main-line and evangelical churches.  These two had the bravery and enough confidence in their congregation to present the sort of theological understandings learned in seminary that most minsters shrink from sharing with their congregations.

Having been recently awakened to the possibility of a 'real Jesus' by having participated in The Heretics group (mentioned in my previous post), I was ecstatic to find others sharing similar views -- viz., these two ministers and their congregation.  That is, most of their congregation, since some members left that church not being able to accept the modern theology.

I was so taken by these sermons that I thought they should have a wider audience.  Although they could be viewed on the church's web site, we (the ministers and I) decided to collect them in a self-published booklet, Life Jackets for the Planet, for wider distribution.    The booklet was never given sales publicity but, by word of mouth, it came to be used by 5 different church groups for study.  Numerous copies were also given to individuals.  The positive response it elicited made me feel that I was in tune with a wider developing theology.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How the moon and Godde might be mixed up!

This past First Day, i spent time with the FDS kids. I tried to share with them parts of my spiritual journey but i am afraid they came away with the idea that i think the moon is Godde!!

I was trying to explain how long ago when i had to make a very difficult decision, i talked to Godde and said "i give up (surrender), i'll do whatever you want" and i was instantly surrounded by very bright light (and an overwhelming sense of peace.) The decision took care of itself and i was never troubled about it again. I've also never gotten to experience that Divine light and peace again but as i get older and get closer to going to the Light again, i think about it more often.

The second story i told them was about a later time when my older son was very sick and i could not help him. I was walking on a night with a full moon and the white light reminded me of the earlier experience and it gave me peace and reminded me that Godde will take care of us.

Somehow, i don't feel i told the stories very well for the kids so if you ever hear them say the moon is Godde, please tell them it is not so!