the demands of silence

Citation:

https://keweenawphilosophicalpractice.com/2015/03/12/apophatic-theodicy/

 

Apophatic Theodicy

 

“Ten years ago a tsunami ripped through the Indian Ocean claiming more than a quarter of a million lives and displacing nearly two million more. In the face of such devastation, horrified silence is the only proper response I can think of; but many voices arose, claiming that God is clearly dead or that God was again cleansing the earth…

“What is a Christian to do in the face of overwhelming tragedy? In the Gospel of John, Jesus addresses human suffering and Christian hope:

Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. (Jn 16: 20-21)

We Christians can say nothing more than that we hope for some sort of transformative apocalypse, a revelation that will wipe away all tears, give meaning and value to the suffering endured during this life, and reconcile us all to one another and to nature. In other words, the Christian does not have anything to add. Silence and enduring with our brothers and sisters is the only gift we have to give.”

~ from GOD IS WITH US by Ladislaus Boro
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many faces

Nahum:
“The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies… the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.”

Isaiah:
“A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.”

Unsettling contradictions.

The God of Nahum:”jealous… avenging… wrathful … indignant… angry…“. How free could submission to such a deity ever really be? It would be neither a free act of conscience, nor a courageous act, but a submission born of fear.

in contrast to the words of Nahum, the prophet Isaiah reveals a divine mercy we usually equate with the Jesus of the Gospels, who commands his disciples to forgive “seventy times seven”,  to seek not revenge but to turn the other cheek. The Jesus who came not to condemn the world, but to save it. The friend of sinners, freely breaking with the religious taboos of his day and associating with tax-gatherers, prostitutes, adulterers, the unclean, demoniacs, heretics, the diseased. And yet Jesus also said,

 “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Christians explain these apparent contradictions in terms of the old and new covenants – but the paradox is in both Covenants and is not resolved by setting the old against the new. Scholars who know the bible to be an amalgam of redacted texts from diverse authors, ancient languages, from different times and social contexts explain the contradictions by this very disparity of authorship.

In “Christ, a crisis in the life of God” by the former Jesuit Jack Miles, the author proposes the Incarnation is the act of a God struggling with His own conflicted dealings with man. He becomes a man, not as a warrior king – but as a physician come to heal a broken world.

Of course Miles is not ‘doing theology’ here, but looking at the Bible as a work of literature with God as the protagonist.

But even as the dispensation of the Incarnation and the Paraclete have come, the apocalyptic visions of Saint John of Patmos seem once more a return of the wrathful God of the Old Testament. The Gospel carries with it this shadow that will not be erased. When Christians share God’s love, His Wrath is the counterpoint.

doubt

(From: “A letter to my evangelical friend”)

“Doubt characterises a status in which the mind remains suspended
between two contradictory propositions and unable to assent to either of them.
Doubt on an emotional level is indecision between belief and disbelief.” 

Source: Wikipedia

l watched the film Doubt this evening.
John Patrick Shanley (who wrote the original play) said in an interview,

“How do we find certainty in a world filled with doubt?”

Early on in the film Father Brendan Flynn says these seemingly counter-intuitive words:

“Doubt can be our friend”

Is it possible we may find ourselves closer to the heart of Christ in the very midst of our doubts, than in a too-confident assurance of our unmitigated  truth?

Perhaps doubt keeps us seeking, whereas inflexible conviction- like that of Sister Beauvier – too easily deteriorates into cruelty.

Is the enemy of faith doubt, unbelief, or is it hubris?

From a psychological point of view, Karl Jung has some interesting things to say about uncertainty:

“The people who fancy they are sure of themselves are the ones who are truly unsure. Our whole life is unsure, so a feeling of unsureness is much nearer to the truth than the illusion and bluff of sureness. In the long run it is the better adapted man who triumphs, not the wrongly self-confident, who is at the mercy of dangers from without and within.” – Jung: “Depth Psychology and Self-Knowledge” In DU III:9 September 1943. In CW 18: P.18

“I have increasingly learned to value uncertainty.
By uncertainty, I mean the kind of reflective space in which
there is no premature foreclosure on meaning.”
Source & citation- P. Young-Eisendrath. http://www.cgjungpage.org

This “reflective space in which there is no premature foreclosure on meaning” interests me: I am wary of those who claim -emphatically –to know – whether in the area of religion, politics or philosophy. I am equally distrustful of my own predilection to absolutes, generalities and declarations of truth, having discovered how wrong I have often been before, how easy it is to deceive oneself and to be deceived by the categorical assertions of those who seek to persuade us of their ‘truth’. Meta-narratives turn out to be flawed and limiting -intellectual enclaves to exclude the infidel crumble under the weight of their own pretensions to a universal meaning. Every meta narrative – political, religious, doctrinal or otherwise – has its unassailable prophets, it’s dogmas, it’s proselytisers, it’s converts, and finally it’s coercions and condemnations.

Those who know. The enlightened ones. those that disavow your comprehension of life, your discoveries, rejections and intuitions.

****

“In our delusion-ridden world a truth is so precious that nobody wants to let it slip merely for the sake of a few so-called exceptions which refuse to toe the line. And whoever doubts this truth is invariably looked on as a faithless reprobate, so that a note of fanaticism and intolerance everywhere creeps into the discussion. And yet each of us can carry the torch of knowledge but a part of the way, until another takes it from him.” – Jung
Source: Collected Works of C.G. Jung: The First Complete English Edition of the Works of C.G. Jung: Routledge, 11 May 2015

****

References and citations:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doubt_(2008_film)

 

silence

~ from GOD IS WITH US by Ladislaus Boros

between certainties and doubts

“God, how I ricochet between certainties and doubts” – Sylvia Plath

“Doubt is the necessary tool of knowledge.” – Paul Tillich

This post began as a personal letter to an evangelical christian friend, metamorphosed into a sort of a journal entry, and then into a collection of thoughts, meditations and fragments. As the days have passed and I rewrote, added or stripped away, I eventually came to the place where I wonder if this post – or any other of my posts for that matter – has much value or purpose.

As ever, I try to exorcise too many demons at once, with too many words, the net cast too wide – and the whole thing becomes an imbroglio. I end up with more clutter than clarity.

Meandering, tangled, contradictory, the letter was precipitated by three questions my friend asked me:

Are you a Christian? Have you been born again? Can I pray for you?

A puzzling disquiet followed which I want to explore a little. A vague sense of self-betrayal, dishonesty, of duplicity, guilt even, settled in like a damp fog. And I felt like some ungrateful fellow, having been offered and accepted a grand day out, immediately wishing he’d stayed at home with a good book. To be honest, at the time, I felt slightly ensnared, like a fish attracted by a colourful lure, now struggling to free itself from the hook.

****

Cognitive dissonance is the “discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or at the same time” (Source: Festinger).

“aporia: an irresolvable internal contradiction or logical disjunction in a text, argument, or theory.”

Well that’s me, right there.

When asked the simple question, “are you born again?” I found myself at a loss how to respond, given that a yes or a no would each connote so many things which I might contest.

What is a yes, if my life is a negation of the yes?
What is a no, if I long to say yes?

The answer, however vague or evasive this may seem, is, in some mysterious way, to be found in all that I am. The answer is in my story, in the collage of my life – the sum of my doubts, my hopes, my fears, my shadows, the tentative light that plays on the last shimmering autumn leaves, my failures and occasional insignificant gains, my scattered contradictions. The answer, if there is an answer, lies surely in Christ’s acceptance, in the darkness of faith, in the stained glass window that refracts Divine Light, the shards of God which have pierced me throughout my life, and in the musty rooms I have kept closed against Him. Perhaps my answer is in the space between the yes and the no. 

For me, my “answer” can never be a word, some detached “yes” or “no“.

μετάνοια

Metanoia (Ancient Greek):
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metanoia_(theology)
a transformative change of heart; especially: a spiritual conversion
– Merriam Webster

Perhaps this is what my evangelical friend wanted for, or from me:
Metanoia.

http://www.timothyministry.com/2012/07/the-great-meaning-of-metanoia.html

The fiery 19th century preachers (and in the 20th century – Billy Graham and so many others) preached a repentance with severe, punitive connotations; yet metanoia was mis-transliterated from the Greek: “New Testament metanoia is a divine call to a radical mind-shift in the way men think about religion. Therefore “repentance” is an entirely unsatisfactory translation of the amazing word metanoia which gives a completely different feeling to the preaching of Jesus and His apostles. Was the major proclamation of Jesus and the apostles “Repent! Feel sorry for your sins”? Or was it “Metanoia! Think a new way“! Do you see what a difference these two words make?” (Eli Brayley -writer, pastor, and evangelist from New Brunswick, Canada.)

This awakening
cannot be forced or feigned:
the Spirit of God wakens us from our sleep,
we do not stir ourselves from our
half-lit world of dreams,
our shadows.

“To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man—not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Tourists and Travelers

cracks and inconsistencies are constitutive of our lives – Zizek

“Not to be absolutely certain is, I think,
one of the essential things in rationality.”  – Bertrand Russell


“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark
on the things you have long taken for granted.” Bertrand Russell

“Whenever there is a reaching down into innermost experience, into the nucleus of personality, most people are overcome by fear and many run away. . . The risk of inner experience, the adventure of the spirit, is in any case alien to most human beings.  The possibility that such experience might have psychic reality is anathema to them.”

– Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) Source: Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Vintage)

Can our journey ever really be known to ourselves, or to others?

Why is it that others claim emphatically to know the journey that must make?
They seem to know with such confidence what kind of journey mine should be, where I have apparently come from, to which approved cities I must go, which anathema places to avoid.  It is as if they alone hold a “Lonely Planet Guide” to God – and this prescribes the only way for me to travel.

The world is full of teachers, gurus, prophets, motivational speakers and life coaches, disciples and evangelists of this or that faith or philosophy, of God or godlessness. The world is full of (more often than not, self-appointed) experts of the soul. I can claim to know only the uncharted landscape of my own journey – and then it is the ‘knowing’ of a man stumbling through a twilit world.

The tourist has his safely circumscribed itinerary and his slim phrasebook; the traveler finds his way by embracing the vicissitudes and unfamiliar in the lands through which he journeys. He is, at times, lost – but to wander and explore is to discover worlds hardly imaginable to those within the air-conditioned tour bus. In the unknown streets he finds the exquisite little church or quiet square at dawn; the conversation with a fellow traveler or native of the unknown city. The tourist, of course, has the comfort and routine of the tour bus, the tour guide’s well-rehearsed interpretation of things; the traveler grows hot and weary in the dusty streets of the foreign city or countryside – he asks directions but the answers are in a foreign tongue. The food is unfamiliar, the architecture mysterious – yet he regrets not a minute of it.

In our delusion-ridden world a truth is so precious that nobody wants to let it slip merely for the sake of a few so-called exceptions which refuse to toe the line. And whoever doubts this truth is invariably looked on as a faithless reprobate, so that a note of fanaticism and intolerance everywhere creeps into the discussion. And yet each of us can carry the torch of knowledge but a part of the way, until another takes it from him.” – Jung
Source: Collected Works of C.G. Jung: The First Complete English Edition of the Works of C.G. Jung: Routledge, 11 May 2015

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler. “ -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Perhaps Christ invites us to set aside the safety of our definitions, our certainties, and to follow Him into the unknown. Perhaps He invites us to abandon the received – and preconceived – ideas of who He is, and who we are in Him.

Who do you say that I am? Mark 8:29

Jesus spoke with the Roman soldier,
a pagan, worshipper of strange gods. 
He did not condemn him.
Jesus spoke with the woman of samaria: a heretic.
He did not condemn her.

(“Because of their imperfect adherence to Judaism and their partly pagan ancestry, the Samaritans were despised by ordinary Jews. Rather than contaminate themselves by passing through Samaritan territory, Jews who were traveling from Judea to Galilee or vice versa would cross over the river Jordan, bypass Samaria by going through Transjordan, and cross over the river again as they neared their destination. The Samaritans also harbored antipathy toward the Jews (Lk 9:52-53).

That the Samaritans were separated from and looked down upon by the Jews makes them important in the New Testament. Jesus indicated a new attitude must be taken toward the Samaritans when he passed through their towns instead of crossing the Jordan to avoid them (Jn 4:4-5), when he spoke with a Samaritan woman, contrary to Jewish custom (Jn 4:9), and when he said a time would come when worshiping in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerazim would not be important (Jn 4:21-24). When asked whom to regard as our neighbor, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan precisely because Samaritans were despised.”)(Source:http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/who-were-the-samaritans-and-why-were-they-important)

****

p66joh1

The Gospel of John: this is the earliest extant manuscript, found at Jabal Abu Mana near Dishna in Egypt. Image courtesy of Wikipedia and http://www.earlybible.com/manuscripts/p66.html

Born from above

“Born from above”: the words of Jesus of Nazareth, as recorded in the Gospel of John (circa 90-110 AD).

These words appear only once in the Gospels.

Though refuted by calvinists, fundamentalists and inerrantists, the original Greek text is ambiguous here: modern scholars favour the translation born from above over born again, although the original text actually permits both. The ambiguity also lies in the exegesis, in the reading of the context.

The Gospel of John was popular amongst early gnostic christians and for this reason was very nearly excluded from the canon (2nd Century). Iraneus sought to rid christianity of what he considered to be non-canonical gospels (including the Gospel of the Nazarenes, the Gospel of the Ebionites, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Judas, the Diatessaron and others). There was a strong lobby in the Roman church to have the gospel of John excluded; had this consensus prevailed, we may never have known about John 3:3-5 and being “born again“. (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/emergence.html)

“It may surprise people to know that it’s really not until the year 367 that we have a list of New Testament books that conforms exactly to the list of the twenty-seven books we would call the New Testament today. So throughout the second and third centuries there was quite a lot of fighting about which ones are in and which ones not”. (ibid.)

****

Mystery

Mystery, by its very nature, defies rationalization – yet this mystery is exactly what the fundamentalist seeks to rationalize – to quantify and encompass – in a formulaic salvation. He strips out the metaphoric and poetic in a narrow, exegesis. This inclination may be due to an eisogetical handling of Christ’s encounter with the Pharisee Nicodemus. He seeks to extract universal formulas from the text.

“Early Christians and the writers of the New Testament understood the Word to be the message and proclamation of the Gospel and the person of Christ, a point that I believe has largely become lost in contemporary fetishization of the Scriptures among many in the Church today. The written word is witness to the Living Word that is Christ, and provides the only model for the church that, through its pages, teaches us the model of Jesus and of living a Christian life within the Church committed to bringing the Kingdom of God among us. Scripture is the pneuma of God that gives life…” – https://stbenedict.wordpress.com/category/worship/

****

Questions, answers

What do such questions mean?
Does a “yes” mean the endorsement of a particular set of beliefs – and if so, which ones? Which creed, which confession? If we are “saved by faith alone” – then what is the purpose of the question? And an ominous deduction follows: Is there eternal life or eternal damnation in the answer (an answer which excludes everyone else)? Is the answer even verifiable? How? Is it simply a verbal assent? Does a“yes” constrain us to a narrow, inerrantist, fundamentalist ‘theology’? Where does the yes lead? what does the no imply? Is a “yes” to be thrown in with the rogues gallery of conservative evangelical fundamentalists below with their tawdry faith? Their health & wealth heresies, sex & money scandals, or simply their showmanship, hypocrisy and deceit?
Are you “born again” into the fellowship of – God forbid! – the likes of Jerry Falwell, Kenneth Hagin, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggert, Aimee McPherson, Robert Tilton, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Ray McCauley, Creflo Dollar, Jim Bakker, Joel Osteen, Ted Haggard, Joe Barron, Bob Coy, Thomas Wesley Weeks Jr., Henry Lyons, T.D. Jakes … a seemingly endless list of charlatans and wolves in sheep’s clothing? And once in this dubious company – to be denied the obligation and right to exercise discernment, to be threatened with that ubiquitous cultic weapon, the scripture “Touch not the Lord’s anointed”? 

****

Charlatans

Just a few references to set the scene (I’ll add more in time):

1) Religious scholar blasts prosperity gospel,
calls Joel Osteen a ‘charlatan’:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2014/08/religious-scholar-blasts-prosperity-gospel-calls-joel-osteen-a-charlatan/
2) The Televangelists’ Hall of Shame:
http://home.earthlink.net/~19ranger57/halosham.htm
3)‘War on Faith?’
John Oliver and the Televangelists:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/russ-pierson/war-on-faith-john-oliver-_b_7998652.html
4) Televangelist Creflo Dollar Defends His Plans For $65 Million Private Jet:
‘I Dare You To Tell Me I Can’t Dream:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/23/creflo-dollar-jet_n_7129548.html
5) Billionaire Bishop Charged With Bilking Brazil’s Pentacostals,
Sending Money to US

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-ehrmann/edir-macedo_b_973562.html

****

“There is a spiritual battle of epic proportions going on in churches all over the globe that should drive serious Christians to their knees. A whole host of aberrant to downright heretical movements have slithered into contemporary evangelicalism and more are being added to the mix virtually every day.

Unbiblical teaching is rampant in mainline Protestant denominations as well as in non-denominational churches. Inside our churches you will find men and women teaching rank heresy. Sunday after Sunday people flock to churches and become a captive audience to those who preach outlandish lies and half-truths. Televangelists are the worst offenders! Many of them are money grubbing charlatans! As a result of false teachers and cult leaders gaining worldwide access to churches and Christian ministries over these past few decades to spread their false doctrines, evangelical Christianity is experiencing a downward spiral.”

http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/mwest/120308:
Marsha West, a religious/political writer and owner of EmailBrigade.com

****

Denominations and Confessions

As I see it, the various denominations invariably denounce each others positions, even going so far as to accuse each other of following what Saint Paul referred to as “a different gospel”. But if everyone is claiming to have the true gospel, and accuse the other of error, then who is to be believed? I recently came across a messianic website which argues that Saint Paul himself was deceived by a different Jesus to the Jesus of the first Apostles. CARM, or Christian Apologetics Research Ministry- on the face of it a sound source of christian teaching,on further investigation turns out to be narrow, Calvinist and legalistic.

Kairos

I remember as a youth in Apartheid South Africa when the Kairos Document (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kairos_Document) was circulating around the churches, challenging christians to respond to the evils of the apartheid state. While the Dutch Reformed church supported the state and its racial policies (and subsequently confessed it’s heresy and apologized to black South Africans), conservative white evangelicals and pentecostals in the main distanced themselves from and openly denounced the “social gospel“, i.e. anything that was not related strictly to church matters and the spreading of the Gospel. I remember being with young South Africans discussing the content of the document, the general sense of disquiet about it and even open rejection due to its perceived undertones of ‘liberation theology’. Conservative, white evangelicals and pentecostals – in the main – distanced themselves and condemned revolutionary activity (and liberation theology) as a collaboration with anti-christian, atheistic communism or a sort of dalliance with a lukewarm liberal theology. Many churches simply withdrew into a sort of willfully blind, religious enclave of complicit non-involvement. It was not, it was argued by many, the church’s place to get involved with politics or the “Social Gospel”; the Protestant tradition of submission to authority was a useful justification for such withdrawal. There were churches (though there was much disparity even within the denominations and even within congregations)  that did resist the apartheid regime: Alan Boesak’s World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), WCC members, Methodists, Anglicans, Catholics, the sects (or cults, depending on your point of view) such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, and courageous individuals like Beyers Naudé and the Christian Institute of Southern Africa. Occasionally the Baptists protested – in written submissions mostly – the government’s excesses – but I recall no one who “took to the streets” on behalf of the oppressed even when they were being teargassed in the township churches. I remember being struck by the powerful image of the silent protest of the Black Sash women in their strange linear isolation from one another along Jan Smuts Avenue towards Braamfontein – Admittedly by the mid eighties all resistance to apartheid was viewed by most white south africans through the deliberately distorted propaganda lens of Die Rooi Gevaar – which i guess limited the spaces for non-aligned christian action. Given the context of the cold war it was disturbing for most evangelicals to see the World Council of Churches fraternizing with soviet- and East German-backed ANC and PAC revolutionaries; it was unconscionable that Bishop Desmond Tutu could be seen holding hands with communist revolutionaries in front of the flag of the then Soviet Union (According to a 1993 study of archival Soviet data, a total of 1,053,829 people died in the Soviet Gulag from 1934–53 (Wiki); 247,157 Soviet citizens were killed by the NKVD in ethnic shooting actions; in his summary of the estimates in the Black Book of Communism, Martin Malia suggested a death toll of between 85 and 100 million people died as a direct result of communism.
(see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_killings_under_Communist_regimes and (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2011/03/10/hitler-vs-stalin-who-killed-more/)…
(During his early years with the ANC Oliver Tambo was directly responsible for organizing active guerilla units. Along with his cohorts Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, and Walter Sisulu; Tambo directed and facilitated several attacks against unarmed civilians. Of which one of the most notable was the Church Street bombing on 20 May 1983, which resulted in the death of 19 civilians and the wounding of a further 217. In submissions to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1997 and 1998, the ANC revealed that the attack was orchestrated by a special operations unit of the ANC’s Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), commanded by Aboobaker Ismail. Such units had been authorised by Oliver Tambo, the ANC President, in 1979. At the time of the attack, they reported to Joe Slovo as chief of staff, and the Church Street attack was authorised by Tambo. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Tambo)

I include the statistics above simply to indicate that the position of the church in South  Africa in the 80’s was by no means a simple one; there were many devils to contend with.

Rhema Bible Church – the Word of Faith church in which I was “born again”- welcomed as a VIP the then minister of Defense, Magnus Malan (at the the time covertly organizing the torture and murder of political dissidents) – just as the same church is now in bed with our disgraced but unrepentant President. (That this mega-church still ingratiates itself to power still infuriates me).

But here’s a consideration: Even now I feel confused by and ashamed of my association with Rhema Bible Church. Not only because of the heterodox nature of its doctrines which derive from the metaphysical cults ( see McConnell: A Different Gospel”) but I am ashamed that the christian denominations through which I moved as – if it doesn’t sound overly dramatic – I searched for Christ – (Word of Faith, Assemblies of God, Baptist, NCFI and some independent charismatic fellowships) not only did not openly condemn apartheid, but failed to even promote debate about a system that was to be declared a crime against humanity. How could we as christians both the congregant and the church leadership have failed so to tackle gross immorality and crime of apartheid? Was it fear? Indifference? Complicity? The smug pursuit of our own salvation while turning our face from the man beaten and lying in the road (only to see a Samaritan pick him up- a communist Samaritan)?,  Not one fiery sermon did I hear preached against its ubiquitous evil , though I heard enough about prosperity and the insular pursuit of personal salvation. It was the elephant in the room that all but the more ‘christian’ among us chose to ignore (and they were considered radicals). To some extent I blame those pastors for their emphasis on personal salvation (and in Rhema’s case, emphasis on amassing of wealth) over lovingkindness and action on behalf of the poor and oppressed;  but in truth this was MY trespass, my transgression, my shame, my guilt – hardly mitigated by my ever-present unease or my paltry attempts to challenge “petty Apartheid” – to be kind to the oppressed black people I met in the leafy northern suburbs of Johannesburg.

Am I Christian? What is a Christian?

Every day I look for Christ. Sometimes I sense His presence, sometimes I am aware only of His two thousand year absence from the world.

Sometimes I find Him begging at my gate, or hungry and sniffing glue under a Jozi motorway bridge. I find Him in the shattered form of a bird hit by a careless car, in the twisted form of a spastic child whom the televangelist did not heal, in the moth dying in a candle flame, in the scream of animals in a slaughter house, in the growing old and frail of those who once were young and beautiful, in suffering, in the last leaves clinging to late autumn branches, in the cold, pale blue sky of a highveld winter dawn.

Am I born again? In every moment of life there is death and resurrection.

In every moment I die
In every moment
 Christ offers me the refreshing water of rebirth.

This morning, the dawn sun ignites the pride of India outside my bedroom window with luminous russet and gold: the dawn announces that Christ is Risen, that He has overcome the world and everything is reborn in Him.

One day I am the thief who says,
“if you are the son of God – then deliver us from this cross!
the next day I am the thief who says, 
“remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

****

Numbers

There are 33,820 Christian denominations. These are subdivided into “6 major ecclesiastico-cultural mega-blocs:

Statistics courtesy of http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/a106.htm
Justin J. Evans, Research Assistant, Center for the Study of Global Christianity

Which denomination will my “Yes” find me throw me into? 

(see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations_by_number_of_members)


Independents:
African Independent Apostolic
Black American Apostolic
Filipino Apostolic
Indian Apostolic
another 8 groups have “Apostolic”
African Independent Charismatic
Black American Charismatic
Chinese Charismatic
another 14 groups have “Charismatic” or “Neocharismatic”
African Independent Full Gospel
Black American Full Gospel
Chinese Full Gospel
another 10 groups have “Full Gospel”
three have something-“grassroots”
another 20 groups have “house-church network” or “cell-based network”
Bishop T.D. Jakes, pastor of The Potters House, an African-American nondenominational megachurch in Dallas, Texasfive have “Messianic”-something
another 14 are something-“neocharismatic”
another 12 are something-“Oneness pentecostal”
another 18 are something-“pentecostal”
another 12 are something-“radio/TV believers [or “network”]” (i.e. the “pastor” for these independent Christians is some personality on radio or TV)
final 2 on page 17 are something-“Spiritual”
then we have a couple deliverence/pentecostal groups
Word of Faith / Prosperity groups
a couple of “mixed traditions”
some “Zionist” groups
Independent Anglicans or Anglo-Catholic groups in both Catholic and Protestant directions
Independent Adventists
apocalyptic or eschatological (“end times”) groups
Independent Baptists
British-Israelites
Hidden Buddhist believers in Christ
some Independent Orthodox groups
independent Christian Brethren (Plymouth Brethren)
schismatic Conservative Catholics
Independent Congregational, Congregationalists
Independent Disciple, Restorationist, Christian
Independent Dunkers (Tunker, Dipper)
Independent Exclusive Brethren (Closed, Strict)
episcopi vagantes (“wandering” bishops-at-large, very small under 100 members)
Independent Estonian Orthodox
Independent Anglican Evangelical
Independent Fundamentalist
Gay/Lesbian homosexual tradition (i.e. so-called “gay churches” such as Metropolitan Community Churches)
Independent Greek Orthodox
Hidden Hindu believers in Christ
Holiness or Conservative Methodist (non-Pentecostal)
Independent Hungarian Orthodox
Independent Jehovah’s Witnesses
Messianic, Jewish-Christian congregations
Independent “Latin-rite” Catholics
Independent “Liberal” Catholics (Theosophical, Masonic, Gnostic)
another seven Independent Protestant or Orthodox churches
Hidden Muslim believers in Christ
Independent Assyrian or Nestorian
No-Church Movement
Non-denominational (no church or anti-church groups)
Old Believer, Old Ritualist
Old Catholics (i.e. split from Rome after Vatican Council I)
Old Calendarist (Authentic Orthodox)
various schisms from Orthodoxy, in Protestant directions
Orthodox sect/sectarian
Independent Friends (Quakers)
three indy “Reformed” groups (Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox)
more Independent Reformed or Orthodox
Independent Spiritualist, spiritists, occultists
Traditionalist Anglicans
True Orthodox (Conservative Russian Orthodox)
Independent Ukrainian Orthodox
United church (various united bodies)
community church or union congregation
ethnic or monoethnic denominations
independent evangelicals (dispensationalist)
marginal independent Christian (Black / Third-World)
isolated radio churches (unorganized)
single autonomous congregations

Protestants:
Adventist
Baptist
St. Mark Lutheran Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Charlottesville, VirginiaChristian Brethren (Plymouth Brethren, Open only)
Congregational, Congregationalist
Disciple, Restorationist, Restorationist Baptist, Christian
Dunker (Tunker), Dipper, German Baptist, Brethren
Exclusive Brethren (Plymouth Brethren, Closed, Strict)
Anglican Evangelical, Independent Evangelical
Fundamentalist
Holiness (Conservative Methodist, Wesleyan, Free Methodist)
Lutheran / Reformed united church or joint mission
Lutheran
Mennonite, Anabaptist (Left Wing or Radical Reformation)
Methodist (mainline Methodist, United Methodist)
Moravian (Continental Pietist)
Nondenominational (no church or anti-church groups)
Oneness-Pentecostal or Unitarian-Pentecostal: Jesus Only
Baptistic-Pentecostal or Keswick-Pentecostal
Holiness-Pentecostal: 3-crisis-experience
Apostolic, or Pentecostal Apostolic (living apostles)
Pentecostal (Protestant; Classical Pentecostal)
Friends (Quaker)
Reformed, Presbyterian
Salvationist (Salvation Army)
United church (union of bodies of different traditions)
Waldensian
community church or union congregation

“Marginals”
Christadelphian
apocalyptic, eschatological (i.e. “end times” Christians)
Divine Science
Gnostic, esoteric, anthroposophical
Holy Spirit Association for Unification of World Christianity
Jehovah’s Witnesses (or “Russellites”)
Latter-day Saints (Mormons), including Mormon schismatics
Liberal Catholic (Theosophical, Masonic, Gnostic)
schism from Orthodox, in marginal direction
Paulician, Bogomil
metaphysical science or “Divine/Religious Science”
Spiritualist, Spiritist, psychic, occult
Swedenborgian (Church of the New Jerusalem; spiritualistic)
Theosophist, Theosophical, synthesist
Unitarian, Universalist, Free Christian, Liberal Christian

Orthodox
Albanian/Greek-speaking Orthodox
Arabic or Arabic/Greek-speaking Orthodox
Armenian Orthodox (Gregorian)
Russian Orthodox Church of Three Saints, Patriarchal Parish in the USA, New Jersey
Bulgarian Orthodox
Byelorussian / Belorussian (White Russian / White Ruthenian)
Coptic Orthodox
Czech / Slavonic-speaking Orthodox
Estonian Orthodox
Ethiopic, Ethiopian Orthodox, GeOez-speaking
Finnish / Slavonic-speaking Orthodox
Georgian Orthodox
Greek Orthodox
Hungarian / Slavonic-speaking Orthodox
Latvian Orthodox
Macedonian Orthodox
Moldavian Orthodox
Assyrian or Nestorian (East Syrian, Messihaye Christians)
Polish / Slavonic-speaking Orthodox
Romanian Orthodox
Russian Orthodox
Serbian Orthodox
Slovak Orthodox
Syro-Malabarese (Eastern Syrian), Syriac/Malayalam-speaking
Syrian, Syriac-speaking Orthodox or Syro-Antiochian
Ukrainian Orthodox

Roman Catholic
Armenian (Eastern-rite Catholic)
Bulgarian (Byzantine rite)
Byzantine-rite (jurisdiction for more than one ethnic group)
Chaldean (Eastern Syrian rite)
Coptic (Alexandrian rite)
Ethiopic (Alexandrian rite)
Greek (Byzantine rite)
Hungarian (Byzantine rite)
Italo-Albanian (Byzantine rite)
Jurisdiction for both Latin-rite and Eastern-rite Catholics
Latin-rite Catholic
Malankara (Syro-Antiochian, Eastern Syrian), Syro-Malankarese
Maronite (Syro-Antiochian, Western Syrian)
Melkite (Byzantine, Greek Catholic; Arabic-speaking)
plural Oriental (jurisdiction for several Eastern rites)
Romanian Byzantine rite
Russian (Byzantine rite)
Ruthenian (Byzantine rite)
Slovak (Byzantine rite)
Syro-Malabarese (Eastern Syrian)
Syrian, Syriac-speaking (Syro-Antiochian, West Syrian)
Ukrainian Byzantine rite
Filipino Charismatic
Chinese neocharismatic
Chinese Charismatic
Black American pentecostal
Holiness (Conservative Methodist, non-pentecostal)
Afro-Caribbean Oneness pentecostal
Hackney Pentecostal Apostolic Church, Hackney, London 92 Latin American Charismatic
Anglican/Independent Evangelical
Independent Methodist
Indian pentecostal
African Oneness pentecostal
marginal independent (Black/Third World)
White-led Oneness pentecostal
Arab Charismatic
Black American Oneness pentecostal
Independent Disciple, Restorationist, Christian
Independent Reformed, Presbyterian
Zionist African Independent
Korean pentecostal (mixed traditions)
Indonesian pentecostal
New/Old Apostolic, Catholic Apostolic (Irvingite, an Anglican / Presbyterian / Adventist sect)
Brazilian/Portuguese pentecostal
ethnic or monoethnic denomination
White-led Full Gospel
Nondenominational (no church or anti-church)
Independent Baptist
Latin American grassroots
Filipino neocharismatic
Brazilian grassroots
Afro-Caribbean pentecostal
African Independent Spiritual
Indian Charismatic
African Independent Charismatic
Latin American pentecostal
single autonomous congregations
White-led pentecostal

Anglican:
Anglo-Catholic
Central or Broad Church Anglican
Ecumenical (Anglican/Protestant/Orthodox joint parishes)
Anglican Evangelical, Evangelical Anglican
High Church Anglican (Prayer Book Catholic)
Low Church Anglican (Conservative Evangelical)
Anglican, of plural or mixed traditions

And then there is the plethora of “christian” sects and cults each denouncing the next and asserting its own primacy.

The Mormon will tell you his is the one true church and all others are in apostasy; yet the Evangelical will condemn the Mormon as a hell-bound cultist, deceived by the false prophet Joseph Smith and a follower of a false Christ.
The Catholic will disavow the Protestant.
The Protestant will disavow the Catholic Mass, the veneration of Mary and the Saints – the Reformers saw the Church of Rome as no less than The Whore of Babylon while The Holy See regarded Martin Luther as a demon incarnate. You will not need to look far to find fundamentalist christians with the same view of Catholics today.
The Pentecostal will denounce the Catholic as lost in wicked sacerdotalism, and the Anglican as lost in meaningless ritual and liturgy. How often I have heard Pentecostals cast doubt on the salvation of fellow Christians if they have not been “baptised in the Holy Spirit” or baptised in water. Likewise I have read convincing arguments against the charismatic gifts by cessationists. It is far from clear which way one should walk when all claim to have the definitive map book. 


Should I mention here two millenia of intolerance: schisms and divisions, wars and persecutions, inquisitions and trials over nuances of theology?
Is yours the stern Christ of Byzantium
or the angry Christ of Revolution Theology?
Is He the gentle Saviour of the Pre-Rapahaelites
or the macho messiah of Mark Driscoll?
We quickly find ourselves awash with words – themselves mere symbols of the realities they so inadequately represent.

“I just believe God’s Word”

“I just believe God’s Word” is a phrase frequently used by evangelicals, – and on the face of it this seems sound enough. But what Word? Christ is the Word, not the text. And in light of West’s denunciation of the wolves in sheep’s clothing, whose exposition of the Word is to be trusted? who gets to say what God’s Word is? There is the ever present danger that Iraneus was so conscious of – the introduction of new revelations and false teachings; equally Sola Scriptura has been perverted by fundamentalists. That rally cry of the Reformation has led to a fetishization of “The Bible”:The term for this tendency to “over-elevate” Scripture is bibliolatry… an emphasis of the letter of the law over the Spirit. (http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/36259/can-the-bible-become-an-idolGenerally speaking, most tenets of Christianity rely on spiritual tension … Even a good thing, held too closely, can be bad. Its just that people falling into the error usually think they have the right balance.”

Inerrancy

The ancient texts have been widely challenged – by christian theologians no less –  to the extent it is unclear what part of the Bible is inerrant. Catholic and Protestant remain divided over the Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, on interpretation of essential biblical doctrines and texts. The notion of what is canonical only came to a head with Iraneus and the Council of Nicea: Jewish redactors of the Tanakh had no such obsession with inerrancy and piously modified religious texts to reflect their evolving theology.  Before NIcea, “… the fourfold Gospel contemporaneously sponsored by Irenaeus was not broadly, let alone universally, recognized.” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irenaeus). The early church was not unanimous in its choice of canon, nor were the jews.
(http://www.sbbtm.com/newsbbtm/Doctrine%20Teachings/Information/A%20Question%20of%20Canon.htm)

****

3 o’clock in the morning

I awoke thinking about the words of a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and martyr:

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

I first read Bonhoeffer’s poem when I was in England in 1983. The poem is powerful and deserves to be shared in full. It was written after his incarceration by the Nazis:

Who am I?

Who am I? They often tell me,
I come out of my cell
Calmly, cheerfully, resolutely,
Like a lord from his palace.
Who am I? They often tell me,
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me,
I carried the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one who is used to winning.
Am I really then what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, melancholic, and ill, like a caged bird,
Struggling for breath, as if hands clasped my throat,
Hungry for colors, for flowers, for the songs of birds,
Thirsty for friendly words and human kindness,
Shaking with anger at fate and at the smallest sickness,
Trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Tired and empty at praying, at thinking, at doing,
Drained and ready to say goodbye to it all.
Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and another tomorrow?
Am I both at once? In front of others, a hypocrite,
And to myself a contemptible, fretting weakling?
Or is something still in me like a battered army,
running in disorder from a victory already achieved?
Who am I? These lonely questions mock me.
Whoever I am, You know me, I am yours, O God.

Bonhoeffer also wrote that

We should be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.”

“… interrupted by God” … what does that mean?

(At this juncture the obdurate chorus of dogmatic atheists – led by their ethologist, evolutionary biologist prophet Richard Dawkins chants: “What nonsense! What nonsense! There is no God, and we have Proven it!“). Was my colleague’s gentle overture, in a sense, God’s interruption? Or is perhaps the whole of life the interruption of a wider, mystical narrative, the words of which we do not understand and which the aforementioned Atheists derisively reject?

I read Bonhoeffer’s “the Cost of Discipleship” at age 20 when I was, by confession at least, an evangelical Christian (I qualify this because I was already well on my way to abandoning the evangelical fundamentalist worldview, having made a pilgrimage to Taizé in France, talked with Quakers and discovered Karl Rahner, Ladislaous Boros Michel Quoist and other Jesuit thinkers.) Even then – and a thousand times more so now – I felt unsure if I could ever really dare to consider myself a disciple of Christ, I who am so often “... tired and empty at praying, at thinking, at doing, / drained and ready to say goodbye to it all… / one person today and another tomorrow …/ in front of others, a hypocrite, and to myself a contemptible, fretting weakling …”

What is the cost of discipleship?

Bonhoeffer would have replied, the cost is to take up your cross. 

No amount of Christian triumphalism can deny this fundamental tenet of Christ’s teaching in the Gospels: a servant is not above his master. But it is a cost to be reckoned with. Yet here again we are confronted by a disruptive paradox (disruptive, yet welcome: because, to quote Karl Jung, “Only a paradox comes close to comprehending the fullness of life“): Jesus says “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

****

“Jesus himself did not try to convert the two thieves on the cross; he waited until one of them turned to him.”

-Bonhoeffer

It is interesting that Jesus does not anxiously try to “save” the two thieves who were crucified along side him. Here, in the last hours of their lives, in unimaginable pain, there is no pressure to expedite a last minute conversion; no trite, formulaic “Four Spiritual Laws of salvation”; no coercing anyone into the kingdom of God; no intimidating apocalyptic visions of Hell or threats of damnation. There can be no saccharine altar call at Calvary. Like the conversation Jesus has with the Samaritan woman, the encounter is free of cant and cliché. His word is always living and dynamic, never formulaic, whether at the well of Samaria or at the cross of Golgotha.

****

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

(I sometimes think about the two thieves: the one berating Christ and the other defending Him. It is easier to identify with the penitent thief who says, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” than that other victim of crucifixion – the one in his agony cursing Christ – and yet how much more are we like him! And is there not also a metaphor here for our own divided selves? Significantly, Jesus does not rebuke the mocking thief, who also hangs from nails driven into his hands and feet, but whose name is forgotten, whose suffering is apparently meaningless, a man like ourselves who cannot understand why the Son of God doesn’t deliver him from his torture.) The utterance of his unnamed man even in his refusal – or inability – to see the crucified God beside him shouldn’t shock us; it is not uncommon amongst evangelical christians to proclaim The Lion of Judah,  the God of Might – the El Shaddai,  in a wilful or ignorant blindness to the Lamb of God who “.. was oppressed and afflicted… was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

We who use the name Jesus have lost some of the nuance of meaning which is to be found in the original Hebrew name of Jesus – ישוע, yēšūă’ (Aramaic Eashoa).

Jesus is the anglicized form of the Greek name Yesous, which is a translation of the Hebrew  name Yeshua. Yeshua was a common form of the name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (“Yehoshuah” – Joshua).  

Yehoshuah means YAHWEH is salvation and the Jewish warrior Joshua represented a very real deliverer to the Jews. linguistically, the name Yehoshua/Yeshua/Jesus conveys the idea that God (YHVH) delivers or saves (his people) through his servant messiah. (hebrew-streams.org).

Probably the thief who berates Jesus knows this. He desperately wants relief from his suffering and cannot understand how deliverance might be accomplished in apparent powerlessness. And he would have read the sign the Romans set above the cross: JESUS THE NAZARENE THE KING OF THE JEWS And protested like any 21st-century misotheist: why?

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unreasonablefaith/2011/04/misotheism-part-i/

He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? (The Gospel of Matthew)

I am not so unlike that wretched thief.

****

To return to the new birth – perhaps the issue here is, for me, about the modality of the new birth discourse as it is articulated by evangelical Christians:  this modality is by no means a universal one amongst christians many of whom (especially Eastern Orthodox and Catholics) understand birth from above and born of water and Spirit in a mystical rather than legalistic way. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Born_again)

My discomfort is not at all with the Living Water of Jesus Christ, but with the “new birth” as it is articulated in and through the fundamentalist evangelical worldview (which, incidentally, is a relatively new development: “The idea of being “born again” in its popular usage is a fairly recent way to describe Christians, arising in the middle 20th century. It gained popularity within evangelical traditions as a way to distinguish some renewal groups and those whose Christian Faith was seen as vital and assertive from those who were perceived only to carry the name Christian without corresponding commitment. In this sense, it became more a social designation than a theological one… Various early Church fathers wrote of being born again, but always associated it with baptism, not with a personal religious experience… (http://www.crivoice.org)

I discovered an interesting website which considers the new birth (The Voice Christian Resource institute; the quote below is from an article to be found on that site) (http://www.crivoice.org/bornagain.htm)

“… In this sense, the “new birth” is not about an instantaneous conversion experience, nor does it describe one group of genuine Christians from another group who are not as righteous. Instead, it refers to that renewal of a person when relationship with God is allowed to govern life.”  

“In most of the New Testament, the kingdom of God is not a reference to heaven or salvation, but is something to be experienced now (note Luke 17:21). Against the background of Judaism of the day, the kingdom of God was part of the expectation of the future action of God in which he would restore the world.” – Dennis  Bratcher

****

Jesus – beyond the shibboleth

Perhaps what I am arguing for is a way of accepting Christ that is free of the peculiar shibboleths, limitations and formulaic approach which characterizes the fundamentalist evangelical new birth narrative. Even if theirs is valid, for me it does not represent the only “form” or “modus” of belief – and indeed may even represent a sort of 19th century Protestant anomaly in the history of the church.

I believe The Word continually comes to us, offering us the refreshing waters of renewal by the Holy Spirit in every moment – even to those who do not know Him, to those who are wounded and rejected.

This is the mystery of grace.

To whom will He come? and how will He come?

“The wind blows where it wishes,
and you hear its sound,
but you do not know where it comes from
or where it goes.
So it is with everyone
who is born of the Spirit.”

****

Can I pray for you

“God answers prayer”, my evangelical friend tells me with a refreshingly simple faith. And for a moment I enjoy that simple faith, free of doubt and theological conundrums. I say “yes”, and immediately doubt the authenticity of that affirmation.

For then the cacophony of voices assaults my brain: the Word of Faith preachers with their unorthodox teachings, “speaking things into existence“, “declaring things in Jesus’ name”,  of not asking of God (as Jesus taught us to do in “The Lord’s  Prayer”), but of declaring what is rightfully ours in the name of Jesus. These practices of the metaphysical cults have a well documented history of which most evangelicals seem blissfully unaware, even as they perpetuate these spurious of prayer.

My evangelical friend doesn’t use these prayer techniques.
His is an honest and respectful prayer, without duplicity.

“God answers prayer!” I have found this statement to be falsifiable and profoundly problematic. And not only this skeptical misotheist I find myself to have become, but so many deeply Christian men and women have struggled with this simplistic assertion. CS Lewis in his book  “surprised by Joy” explores the mysterious landscape of prayer as he gradually loses his wife to cancer (something callous WOF teachers would use, no doubt, to illustrate a lack of faith on the part of the author and his wife – to add condemnation to their grief). If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that prayer does not always yield the results we want. The small child dies of cancer. The family is wiped out in a tsunami. And only an appallingly callous pastor, an unchristian pastor, would put this down to a lack of faith.

What are we to do with the unanswered prayer?

Do unanswered prayers pile up, like autumn leaves outside God’s door?

Are they scattered in the sky like stars?

Does God sit, unfurling each one like little pieces of paper in His omnipotent hands, weeping over our sufferings?

“Has God become silent? He knows all the needs, anxieties, stupidities,
wrong turnings and miseries of our uncertain times and yet he says nothing.”

-from the introduction to Prayer
by the Jesuit writer, Ladislaus Boros

****

Notes

Ellicott’s Commentary:
“He breatheth where He willeth, in the wide world of man, free as the wind of heaven, bound by no limits of country or of race. The voice is heard speaking to the man himself, and through him to others; there is the evidence of the new birth in the new life. We know not whence He comes, or whither He goes. We cannot fix the day or hour of the new birth with certainty. We know not what its final issues will be. It is the beginning of a life which is a constant growth, and the highest development here is but the germ of that which shall be hereafter…”

****

“A 19th-century source notes that the phrase [“born again”] was not mentioned by the other Evangelists, nor by the Apostles except Peter. “It was not regarded by any of the Evangelists but John of sufficient importance to record.” And, without John, “we should hardly have known that it was necessary for one to be born again.” This suggests that  “the text and context was meant to apply to Nicodemus particularly, and not to the world.” Otherwise, it would have been mentioned more often.”LeFevre, CF. and Williamson, ID., The Gospel anchor. Troy, NY, 1831–32, p. 66.

Interestingly, “a recommitment to Jesus” is the very thing that Pope Francis writes of so captivatingly in “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel” – quoted below) – which, again, makes me think that my disquiet has less to do with Christ’s call to us than the specific evangelical “coding” (or modality) of that call, a “coding” too laden with negative connotations and experiences (and here I think of The Word of  Faith churches, the scandalous Televangelists, my negative encounter with AOG, etc).

****

Or perhaps …

Or perhaps this whole rambling blog is an exercise in futility and obscurantism, an equivocation, a smokescreen to hide my doubting, rebellious, apostate heart? I know at least one Calvinist who said as much. I can hear the voices of those who condemn me, see those who make such accusations turn their faces from me – like their angry God. I can easily turn with similar disgust from myself. I stand condemned even before I open my mouth in defense. “Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses“, wrote Jung – and yet the Superego condemns us tirelessly, and without mercy, and is joined heartily by the voices of those who claim to know the truth.

“As far as we can discern,
the sole purpose of human existence
is to kindle a light of meaning
in the darkness of mere being.”

– Carl Jung
Source: http://blog.gaiam.com/quotes/authors/carl-jung
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Chapter 9, p. 28]

Pope Francis:

” I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”.[1] The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!”


A few definitions

Modality: a particular way of doing or experiencing something:
Axiom: a statement or principle that is generally accepted to be true, but need not be so.
Hermeneutics: the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts.

Eisegesis: [ < Greek eis- (into) +hègeisthai (to lead). (See ‘exegesis’.)] A process where one leads into study by reading a text on the basis of pre-conceived ideas of its meanings. It is rare for someone to be called an ‘eisegete’, because eisegesis has a well-earned negative reputation.
Exegesis: [ < Greek exègeisthai (to interpret) < ex- (out) + hègeisthai (to lead). Related to English ‘seek’.] To interpret a text by way of a thorough analysis of its content.
Logos: (Greek: Λόγος logos, that is, “word”, “discourse” or “reason” i.e., rationality or reasoning) is a name or title of Jesus Christ, seen as the pre-existent Second Person of God according to the doctrine of the Trinity. It has been important in endeavoring to establish the doctrine of the divinity and morality of Jesus Christ and his position as God the Son in the Trinity by Trinitarian theologians as set forth in the Chalcedonian Creed. The concept derives from the opening of the Gospel of John, which is often simply translated into English as: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the translations, “word” is used for logos (λόγος), but in theological discourse, this is often left untranslated.
Aporia: 
Aporia (Ancient Greek: ἀπορία: “impasse, difficulty of passing, lack of resources, puzzlement”) denotes in philosophy a philosophical puzzle or state of puzzlement; “a difficulty, impasse, or point of doubt and indecision”. “… a point of undecidability, which locates the site at which the text most obviously undermines its own rhetorical structure, dismantles, or deconstructs itself”. “Wolfreys in his essay “Trauma, Testimony, and Criticism” characterizes trauma as aporia, a wound with unending trail. Valiur Rahaman in his book Interpretations: Essays in Literary Theory (2011) explained aporia as a creative force in both the artist and his/her art. It is, for him/her, an edgeless edge of the text or a work of art. (Source & Citation: Wikipedia)

Misotheism: (Source: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unreasonablefaith/2011/04/misotheism-part-i/“misotheists represent a far darker, tormented, and deeply subversive strain of God-thinking. And it is a tradition of religious non-conformism that has remained largely in the shadows—until, that is, I decided to shine the spotlight on it in Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism. Although perhaps a minor tradition in terms of sheer numbers, misotheism plays a significant part in the history of ideas and in literature. In my book, I trace the origins of misotheism back to the Book of Job, and from there I see it raise its head occasionally as in Epicureanism, in Milton, in Deism, in Utilitarianism, and especially in Anarchism… The third type of misotheist, and the one that constitutes the most tortuous specimen of God-hater is the agonistic misotheist. Like a jilted lover, he is gravely disappointed by the object of his worship but still hopes that the fault might be on his side and that the relationship could be set on a new footing. The agonistic misotheist is, figuratively speaking, “agonizing” over his hatred of God, trying to invent excuses for God’s bad behavior yet circling back again and again to the frustrating understanding that God just is not what he is cracked up to be.” (Source and citation: Bernard Schweizer, author of Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism, Patheos)

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“To believe something because you are ‘supposed to believe it’ and not because it is true, seems to me to be not only immoral, but actual treachery.”  – Vladika Lazar

“Our attitude towards evil must be freed from hatred, and has itself need to be enlightened in character…Satan rejoices when he succeeds in inspiring us with diabolical feelings to himself. It is he who wins when his own methods are used against himself…A continual denunciation of evil and its agents merely encourages its growth in the world – a truth sufficiently revealed in the Gospels, but to which we are persistently blind.” – Berdayev, Freedom and the Spirit

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless.” – Abraham Heschel

“There are many ways of describing the distinctiveness of Orthodoxy, as against both the Roman Catholic and Protestant versions of Christianity. One way is nicely summed up in a statement by Paul Evdokimov, a lay member of the St. Serge school who did not move to America (he played a courageous role during the German occupation of France, among other things helping Jews to escape from the Nazis). Evdokimov suggests that Western Christianity sees the relationship between God and man as taking place in a courtroom – God is the judge, man is guilty, sentence must be pronounced, Christ takes the sentence upon himself, which allows God to forgive man. The entire transaction is judicial and penitential. By contrast, Eastern Christianity sees the relationship as taking place in a hospital – man is sick, sin is just part of the sickness, Christ is the victor over every part of this sickness (including death, which is the culmination of the sickness). The transaction between God and man is not judicial but therapeutic. It seems to me that this is a much more compassionate view of the human condition and its redemption.”
– Peter Berger is a Lutheran theologian, respected Sociologist, University Professor at Boston University and Director of its Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs.

 
Origins and History: Evangelicalism

“Evangelicalism (from the Greek euangelion, “good news” or “Gospel”) emerged out of disparate movements that swept through Protestant churches in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The first, and in many ways the most influential, was the Pietist Movement of the seventeenth century in Germany, a reform movement within Lutheranism which focused on the conversion and regeneration of the “inner man” and the belief that such an experience was necessary for salvation2. Such an “experiential” focus will mark later evangelicalism. The second was the Puritan movement which attempted to reform the Anglican church toward Calvinist Protestantism; many such Puritans traveled to America in the early seventeenth century, and their Calvinist Protestantism would impact Evangelical thought3. The third group, although starting during the beginning of evangelicalism proper, would greatly impact later evangelical developments: the Wesley brothers and Wesleyanism, whose emphasis on holiness and sanctification would eventually lead to Methodism and Pentecostalism.

The Evangelical movement as such began in the 1730s and 1740s with the first “Great Awakening,” involving the preaching of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and John Wesley, among others, especially in America4. This period represented the beginnings of revivalism, when meetings would be held in various communities and many would decide to “accept Christ” in a conversion experience. This “awakening”, along with the second “Great Awakening” of the 1820s-1840s, resulted in the “Christianization” of young America and the dominance of evangelicalism over the American religious climate.

The nineteenth century also saw the beginning of the conflict that would engulf evangelicalism for the better part of the twentieth century: the rise of “higher criticism” and evolutionary theory, and their attempts to undermine confidence in the validity of the Biblical account of creation and history. Fundamentalism as a movement began within evangelicalism in the early twentieth century as a reaction against these tendencies in liberal Protestantism and society in general. Until the 1930s, evangelicalism and fundamentalism remained together; the subsequent radicalization and separatism of fundamentalism led to a separation between “mainline” evangelicalism and fundamentalism in the 1930s and 1940s5. While fundamentalists may desire to see themselves as evangelicals, other evangelicals would not be very comfortable with them in their fold.

The early twentieth century also saw the explosion of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement and its attendant controversies; while some “evangelical” groups did not want to include the Pentecostals in their midst, other voices prevailed, and Pentecostals make up a large proportion of evangelical Christianity.

Modern evangelicalism emerged from the crucible of historic evangelicalism and the fundamentalist schism; it is often called “postfundamentalist” evangelicalism, and it began in 1942 with the creation of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)6. Prominent in postfundamentalist evangelicalism is Billy Graham and his legacy of large meetings and mass conversions; his overall leadership has kept the disparate segments of evangelicalism together7. Most recently, there has been a “postconservative” movement within evangelicalism, an attempt to transcend the old “liberal vs. conservative” perspective and return to the spirituality of the days of the “Great Awakenings”8. These trends have helped to lead to Emergism, or the Emergent movement, in the early twenty-first century.” –http://www.astudyofdenominations.com/movements/evangelicalism/#origins

Inclusivism : https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inclusivism
I was surprised to read recently that that archetypal evangelist, Billy Graham, for whom I have always had an aversion, was in fact inclusivist in his theology. 

Jude
“If we deliberately go on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins remains, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and raging fire that will consume all adversaries. Anyone who rejected the Law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think one deserves to be punished who has trampled on the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Remember the early days that you were in the light, when you endured a great conflict in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to ridicule and persecution; at other times you were partners with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you yourselves had a better and permanent possession. So do not throw away your confidence; it holds a great reward. You need to persevere, so that after you have done God’s will, you will receive what He has promised. For,

“In just a very while little,
He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But My righteous onef will live by faith;
and if he shrinks back,
I will take no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

The Gospel of John:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_John

The Tanakh Hebrew: תַּנַ”ךְ‎‎, is the canonical collection of Jewish texts, which is also a textual source for the Christian Old Testament. These texts are composed mainly in Biblical Hebrew, with some passages in Biblical Aramaic (in the books of Daniel, Ezra and a few others). The traditional Hebrew text is known as the Masoretic Text. (Wikipedia)

“… it’s my contention that religion actually does matter in Ireland’s troubles. And that it matters, a lot. Just because no-one ever started a fight over the perpetual virginity of Mary or the existence of Purgatory does not mean that faith doesn’t influence us. Religion, in a strange way, is still everything in the north of Ireland. For most people, whether they like to admit it (and usually they don’t), it establishes all the essential elements of someone’s personality. It may reveal what school you went to, who you’re likely to vote for, what sports you play, what national anthem you’ll stand for, what you’re likely to get offended by and what your world-view will be. Religion flows, subtly, beneath the surface, shaping everything above it.
 
How, though? Well, to put it in a nutshell – and I’m being reductive here, so I apologise – Catholics tend to think they’re better at being Irish and Protestants think they’re better Christians. And in both cases, it’s annoying.
 
Northern Irish Protestants are brought up to believe that Catholicism is nonsense. Even if that phrase is never specifically said, there are numerous tiny influences in an Ulster Protestant’s childhood that lead them to the inescapable conclusion that Catholicism is not “real” Christianity. That it’s all superstition, Mary, saints, statues, priestcraft, paedophile priests and spiritual idiocy. Even if you get older and you claim to respect Catholicism because “we’re all Christians,” most Protestants are still utterly convinced, in their heart of hearts, that Protestantism is “real” Christianity. Okay, maybe Catholics aren’t bad, but they’re certainlywrong. Because of Protestantism’s assertion of sola scriptura(Scripture alone) and its belief that the Bible is literally true (i.e. what you see is what you get), it’s impossible for many of them to appreciate that Catholicism is, in fact, an enormously complex system of beliefs that happens to be based on the Bible just as much as Protestantism is, but through a different set of textual interpretations.
This belief gives most Protestants a sense of rather irritating spiritual superiority. Even “bad” Protestants who go to church twice a year, who leave the service early, who shag all around them, swear, drink and generally have a good time, can still feel better about themselves, because no matter how shaky their own faith is, they’re still automatically better Christians than every single Catholic they know. (“Bad” Protestants who are smug, nasty and self-righteous feel this all the time, but I digress.) For most Protestants, Catholicism is the “fan fiction” of Christianity; it’s the unofficial spin-off. It’s not quite real. At a recent table quiz, half the Protestants in the room did not know the name of the last book in the Bible. Had you pushed them though, they would still have sworn blind that they were more authentic Christians than the most devout of Catholics. (Btw, seriously? Revelation, guys. Isn’t that general common knowledge?)
 
In a recent survey conducted of Ireland’s Catholic population, 80% stated that they did not believe in Transubstantiation – one of the core tenets of the Catholic faith. Few Protestants can name all the books of the Bible; even fewer know the relevant history, context and textual debate about what they emphatically believe to be the revealed Word of God. Ireland’s relationship with faith is therefore a troubled one – to put it mildly. No wonder outsiders get it wrong so often. Sometimes, I don’t even particularly understand it myself. We get angry about how religion is misused in our communities, but then we feel guilty about criticising people from our own “side” when they behave in a sectarian manner. We feel as if we’re letting the side down; as if condemning an individual’s actions is somehow condemning the whole community. It’s stupid and it’s spineless. And I’ve been guilty of doing it myself.
 
There are many other causes that keep sectarianism alive in Northern Ireland; just as there are also many factors which are, mercifully, slowly beginning to strangle it and starve it of oxygen. Religion is not the cause of the Troubles, but I can’t help but think that it is still one of the reasons. If it doesn’t cause the tensions, it certainly re-enforces them. And if that is the case, then the verse that springs to mind is the shortest in the Bible and one worth remembering for all believers: “Et lacrimatus est Iesus.” (John 11:35 – “And Jesus wept.”)

The Bible as fetish

A “Fetish” is an object believed to have spiritual or magical power: we sometimes use the collection of texts we now call The Holy Bible in this manner: the word of Faith Movement in particular uses this “speaking the Word” (int0… and over…) in a fetishistic way (betraying The Faith Movement’s origins in the writings of Charles Kenyon and the metaphysical cults (see: A Different Gospel, McConnor) I wonder if this doesn’t also betray the pietistic, Puritan and Calvinist origins of Pentecostalism?

The Culture of Biblical Inerrantism

The following quote is from an article at Patheos:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2012/03/guest-post-the-culture-of-biblical-inerrantism/

“Carlos Bovell … is becoming a leading critic of the evangelical notion of biblical inerrancy, but unlike other such critiques, his is not the rant of an outsider, but the careful, nuanced, and compelling observations of one coming from within an evangelical paradigm, drawing on his own experience.

His main concern is not simply the intellectual difficulties of this theological position, but the spiritual destruction that occurs in the lives of young Christians when they are given no viable alternative.

Today’s post reflects a bit on Carlos’s own journey and gives the background to his recently published edited bookInterdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture (Wipf & Stock, 2011). Tomorrow’s post will be an edited excerpt from his most recent book, Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear (Wipf & Stock, 2012), a book where Carlos addresses head on the culture wars surrounding inerrancy…

If questioning inerrancy is linked to questioning one’s faith, those with legitimate reasons for questioning inerrancy will either live with unspoken cognitive dissonance or speak up and risk losing much.

The idea for the edited volume, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture, was born out of a concern to bring into open discussion the theological and spiritual problems of inerrantism.not onehttps://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metanoia_(theology)Merri

The arithmetic of the damned

Evangelicalism i

“Born Again”. “Saved”. What do they mean? Do they have meaning? What do they connote for us today? What did Jesus mean by “gennao anothen“? Were these mysterious words spoken privately in Greek (or Aramaic) to Nicodemus meant for Nicodemus in particular or were they meant to be a formula for salvation for all of us? If the latter then why did Jesus – and the apostles- not use this formula on every occasion? Am I born again? Am I saved? How can I know? And what is expected of me if I am? What have I to fear if I am not? If a “terrifying judgement”, and condemnation and damnation are the wages of uncertainty, disbelief or doubt, then how is this “good news” good news? What did Jesus mean by being born of water and the Spirit? What does it mean to see the kingdom of God? Why the allusion to the wind?

The term born again is derived from a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, found in the third chapter of The Gospel of St. John:

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”…

These are strange words indeed and I should like, in time, to explore them further (The term “born again” in the Greek is “gennao anothen” which in English means “born from above.” It does not actually translate as “born again” but implies born of God.). The subject of Hell is also deserving of our serious attention (interestingly “Hell” is neither a Hebrew nor a Greek word, nor did it primarily indicate “a place of torment.” Biblical translators actually derived it from a secular German word – spelled hel – meaning nothing more than concealed or covered. The concept of a demon regulated horror-house was indeed derived from that word, but it originally evolved from Teutonic mythology). Thus a careful hermeneutics and exegesis is vital to an understanding of the Christian position. Suffice for now to say that I am not contesting the biblical passage at hand, but rather thinking through the implications of the assertions made by christians who see in the words of Jesus not only a narrow gate to ‘slip through’, but a broad gate to perdition for the majority of humanity.

I find it morally reprehensible and repugnant to write off humanity “without Christ” like so many animals in a slaughter house.

One born again Christian wrote the following callous words on his blog:

“I have no doubt whatsoever that 90% of the people in this world are going to Hell.”

He went on to justify this ina poring bit of doctrine:

“Why? For one simple reason friend, they do not have the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. They have never believed the Gospel message. They have been deceived by Satan.”

You may accuse me of quoting this to make a straw man argument, but his statement is in fact common belief amongst evangelical Christians even if it is not expressed openly and with such crass smugness. In fact quite recently a fundamentalist Calvinist who – due to my having challenged his position on biblical inerrancy – simply assumed I was not a Christian – and assured me that I was going to Hell to be tormented forever by Satan and his demons – whether because of willful disobedience to God or a regrettable blindness. The belligerent Calvinist who insisted he had my best interests at heart had never even bothered to find out what I believed before he dumped his vicious little bit of doctrine on me.

If this claim – that one must be born again – as understood by born again christians in its most basic form as an essential formula of salvation – is true, then there is serious arithmetic to be done. The implications are devastating: of the world’s current population, 1.3 billion Muslims are going to hell. 900 million Hindus are going to hell. Somewhere in the region of 850 million Secular/Non-religious/Agnostic/Atheists will go to hell. 360 million Buddhists will spend eternity in hell. 225 million followers of Chinese traditional religion will go to hell. 150 million followers of indigenous religions will suffer eternal torment together with 95 million followers of African traditional religions. 23 million Sikhs will spend eternity in hell. 14 million Jews And 6 million Baha’i are eternally damned. 4 million Jains will suffer eternal torment, 4 million Shinto, 1 million Neo-Pagans And 700 thousand Rastafarians will be tormented forever, together with 150 thousand Zoroastrians. And these figures only address this generation of the damned: there have been 66 generations since the generation of Jesus Christ, Saviour. The arithmetic of the lost is impossible to comprehend in pure numbers, let alone in its deeper existential significance – in the incalculable depth of the tragedy.

Born again Christians will quickly remind you that “The way is narrow, and few are they who enter thereby”, as if this somehow justifies or mitigate the central horrific idea which has been posited not merely in the sort of horrid blog quoted above – but by the most famous and sincere evangelists. Let us not even contemplate the good men, women and children who will be cast into the place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth“.

But things get worse: many born again evangelicals cast half of christendom into hell too: Catholicism is seen as the whore of Babylon by many conservative evangelicals. So let’s commit 1.2 billion Roman Catholics to the satanic fires. And within the Protestant tradition there are somewhere between 20 000 and 30 000 denominations claiming the fulness of truth and casting doubt on the salvific efficacy of each others doctrines. I have attended fellowships where even in the same pew suspicion has been cast on fellow congregants’ legitimacy.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out…

The cults and sects represent another source of the damned (although each one claims it has The Truth and it’s members are bound for paradise while the rest of us – including born again Christians incidentally – are going to hell. There are some 14.8 million Mormons worldwide who are going to hell. There are more than 8 million Jehovah’s witnesses, close on a million Moonies.

By even the most conservative estimate, in every generation there are simply billions of souls who – after a brief appearance on this world – an appearance which inevitably would be characterised by suffering of one kind or another – are then cast into hell, the place of eternal suffering. (If this is the case it remains a mystery to me why every Christian isn’t employed tirelessly in rescuing non-believers from this terrifying fate and one must respect the enthusiasm of those who are).

Perhaps the most balanced disavowal of Christianity is to be found in Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian” and, although he is widely vilified in Christian academia, the writings of the once-christian, now-agnostic theologian, Bart Ehrman.

“Professing to be wise,  they have become fools…” is a too-easy dismissal by too-comfortable Christians of people of great value and integrity wrestling with very real issues of faith. I have little respect for passengers on a sinking ship who rush to the lifeboat and smugly occupy a seat rather than spending the last frantic hour on board helping to warn and free those trapped below.

Perhaps we think to little about Hell, discuss it too infrequently. We need to know what is implied by the Gospel and what Hell implies about the Gospel and those who preach a narrow version of it.  We need to contemplate what eternal suffering means – in the way that Heironymous Bosch in his nightmarish paintings or Dante in his Inferno did: the sadistic excesses of the torturer continuing unabated forever, with no hope of an angel’s intervention, no good samaritan to wipe our brow with cool water, no hope, no exit, no mercy.

There are alternative understandings of these ancient texts; the most profound, in my view, are to be found in the writings of the Russian Orthodox, existentialist religious philosopher, Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev.

But this is an area of fierce debate, even amongst believers.

A Catholic Perspective:

http://www.catholic.com/blog/tim-staples/born-again-the-bible-way

On the original Greek:

86. “Born Again” or “Born from Above”? John 3:3

http://www.mercifultruth.com/the-real-hell.html

http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/373/what-does-born-again-from-john-33-mean:

Sound interpretation of the passage requires understanding that “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are not generic terms referring to “heaven, the destination of the saved,” but to the reign of God in the Messiah that arrives in Jesus’ ministry. (This is why Jesus speaks in Mt 11:11 of “the least in the kingdom” being greater than John the Baptizer, which would be nonsensical if “the kingdom” were supratemporal or ahistorical.)

This kingdom is something that can only be “seen” if (Jesus tells the teacher of Israel) one is “born again” or “born from above” (the Grk term means either or both, and John loves that sort of ambiguity).

Jesus says that this “rebirth” can only take place by “water and the Spirit.” Every Jew would have recognized the role of water, as it was used in all sorts of levitical baptisms; and while the Hebrew Scriptures repeatedly speak of various actions of the Spirit, preeminently, the Spirit is viewed with eschatological anticipation, reflected especially in such passages as Ezek 36–37 and Joel 2.

The former passage is particularly intriguing, as it depicts Israel as a valley of dry bones, who are brought to eschatological life when the “son of man” prophesies the “breath” (same word as Spirit) over them and they receive revivification. By taking the title of “Son of Man” to Himself (which Jesus frequently does in John including in 3:13, 14), one thing Jesus is doing is assigning to Himself the fulfillment of the role played by Ezekiel in his eschatological vision. Through His action, the eschatological Spirit will bring life to the dead people of God.

Along a similar vein to Ezek, Isa 32:15 foretells that in the time of the “king who will reign in righteousness” (32:1), the Spirit will be “poured upon us from on high,” bringing fruitfulness, righteousness, justice and peace.

The upshot of all of this is that Jesus appears to be using a birth metaphor in place of the resurrection metaphor of Ezek 37, but with a similar idea. He is claiming that the eschatological event long sought, the kingdom/reign of God in His Messiah, has now arrived—but that enjoyment of this kingdom is not something automatic; it requires (as foretold) the entrance into the kingdom by baptism, and correspondingly the life-giving gift of the eschatological Spirit. (The role of baptism in this text is further confirmed by the baptismal controversies in the passage immediately following, Jn 3:22ff; the baptismal theme continues through 4:2.)

http://www.crivoice.org/bornagain.htm