Blog Highlights

Featured

For ten years this blog served as a place to explore thoughts and questions about Evangelical Christianity and Mormonism. Those reading and commenting came from a number of different worldviews but mostly represented different strains of Protestantism and Mormonism (yes there are different strains of Mormonism). For a number of different reasons I stopped writing new posts.

A friend recently told me that he’s started reading the blog and that prompted me to decide to collect some of the highlights into one place. Some of the post are still popular because the other authors and I figured out various ways to title our posts to catch search traffic on various topics. Other times we were looking to inspire a lot of comments and wrote provocative posts. This list isn’t a list of most popular or most commented. It’s what I think should endure. When people continue to pass through they can see what was best here and where they can learn the most.

We Push Them Out . .  Into What? 
One of the first posts that caught the attention of the Bloggernacle.  I had noticed the propensity for ex-Mormons to reject Christianity entirely and wondered if Evangelical polemics against Mormonism had a responsibility.

An Open Letter to Fellow Evangelicals
A core tenet of Mormon theology is that Mormonism can and does change.  Whether Mormons recognize it or not Mormonism is in a transition phase.  It’s important for Evangelicals to understand how and why Mormonism is changing. Continue reading

The Good News for the Latter-Day Saints

waymentntI was extremely pleased to discover what I think is the most significant development in LDS religion since 1830.  Dr. Thomas Wayment, a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies, has offered a new translation of the New Testament aimed at LDS readers.  (Get it here or here.) The translation is comparable to other modern translations of the New Testament.  During my ten-year journey to understand Christianity I have seen no development more important for both the LDS and Evangelicals who feel called to share the good news with them.

Given the often impenetrable and inaccurate prose of the King James Version — the official LDS version of the bible — this development promises to open up a common understanding of the New Testament in a way comparable to the translation of the Vulgate into the vernacular language.

Another critical development that comes this year is the LDS church’s emphasis on extra-curricular bible study. In the past, the Church has implicitly discouraged organization of Bible study outside of its curriculum.   This has changed, with the recent shortening of the Sunday program, the church has encouraged more study at home and President Nelson has explicitly stated that understanding our salvation is a personal matter and that members have a personal responsibility to learn the gospel on their own.

For those who believe that the Christian faith comes by hearing of the word, nothing could be more important to LDS culture than sanctioned access to a clear statement of the truth of Christ. It is my hope that these developments will be more and more LDS into a knowledge of the truth of Christ and fellowship with the universal church.

 

What Do You Do With a Problem Like Freedom?

I saw this amusing video where confused college students willingly walk into proud and unaware declarations of hypocrisy concerning religious freedom.  Videos like this prove little about the actual merits of an argument because it’s not hard to find someone who supports a position while simultaneously not having thought it through very deeply.  It could be that there are thoughtful people with great reasons for holding a viewpoint, but you can be sure the producer of the video isn’t going to put them in the montage for one reason; they aren’t funny.

Nonetheless, you should watch this video because it’s funny and it supports my point of view.

I was talking through these issues with a gay friend of mine who agrees with me that florists, photographers and bakers shouldn’t be required to provide services for events that conflict with their religious values. Continue reading

My Cat is a False Teacher

This is our family cat, Pigeon. She was a shelter cat that we brought into our home almost 11 years ago. We love her. This is a picture of her sitting in my bed. If you’ve ever owned a cat you can tell that we love her because you know how difficult it is to get a good picture of a cat. If you’ve ever owned a black cat you know that it is nearly impossible to get a good picture of a black cat. A picture like this takes work!

pigeon

Despite our family’s love for Pigeon we have cast her out of our home because of her false teaching. Pigeon believes in the Gospel of Overflowing Urine. About 6 months ago she decided that her pee should no longer be reserved for her litter box and that she would like to share it on our carpet.

If you’ve never been around cat urine, you should know that it’s THE biggest problem with owning a house cat. If you are not vigilant about it your entire house can easily be consumed with its distinct odor. Once a cat smells its own urine it feels at liberty to pee in the same vicinity again. This begins to spread throughout the house and eventually the cat views the entire house as a litter box. Like all strong odors, if you live in it long enough, you begin to get used to it and lose the ability to notice it. If your house begins to smell like urine YOU begin to smell like urine. If you smell like cat urine you may not even realize it, but everyone else will. You probably knew someone like this at school. If you don’t take action when you first start noticing the problem you may find yourself a convert to your cat’s false teaching. Continue reading

General Authority Compensation

CompensationAs you are probably aware of by now, MormonLeaks recently produced a few financial documents dealing with General Authority compensation: a set of pay stubs from Henry B. Eyring (then an apostle) from the year 2000, and a January 2014 internal memo noting that members of the First Quorum of the Seventy would have their “living allowance” increased to $120,000 that year.

One of the pay stubs for Elder Eyring is for the pay period ending December 8th, meaning it was likely the second-to-last pay stub of the year, and it shows a year-to-date of $83,132.75. This means that, seventeen years ago, an apostle was likely being paid $86K-$87K a year. (This would match what was told to me by a former church tax auditor c. 1998, that the apostles are paid a “high five-figure amount” while the First Presidency is paid a “low six-figure amount.” It would seem that my source from all those years ago was accurate.) The publication of these documents has produced some tension in LDS thought given the common Mormon criticisms of the “priestcraft” of other paid Christian clergy. My thoughts are as follows:

(1) LDS friends, it is time to give up the “priestcraft” accusations, no “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts” about it. It’s nothing but hypocrisy at this point.  While it’s true that you have very few professional clergy—as in people who planned and trained specifically for a paid career in ministry (I would limit this group to LDS chaplains and some LDS educators)—your top leaders are compensated, and they are compensated well. They are compensated much better than the average pastors and other clergymen (and women) whom you are criticizing. Please do feel free to criticize largesse, consumerism, and materialism in our churches when you see it, but the principle of a full-time minister being reimbursed for his or her service is a sound one, and one that you clearly share.

Continue reading

Why Good People Drive You Crazy with Bad Politics

If you’ve been bothered by what other people post about concerning politics and religion you’re not alone. “How could they like him?” “What does this matter?” “Why are they persuaded by such stupid stuff?” I might have a way to explain it to you and help you change their mind.

I’ve just read “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt. It’s a secular book on moral psychology. He doesn’t attempt to explain how you can be “righteous” but instead explains HOW people make moral decisions. I highly recommend you read it on your own. But I’m going to offer a book report with a few highlights for those too busy for it.

The first thing you need to know is that moral judgments are like this picture of a man on an elephant. The elephant represents your intuitions. The rider is your moral reasoning. Notice the size, weight and strength difference between the two. If the elephant leans left the rider looks left to see what’s causing the elephant to lean. If the elephant leans right the rider looks right. The rider despite his superior intelligence has almost no control over the elephant. He might find a way occasionally to persuade the elephant but almost always he goes where the elephant goes. Continue reading

The “influence of a broken heart”

I have a client let’s call him Mark, who a deep crush on his seventh grade classmate, lets call her Nina.  Mark had a crush on Nina in sixth grade. In seventh, Nina left his friend group and Mark started drinking beer every day.  Although the two went different paths in life the human connection was real. Twenty years later Mark found Nina on facebook and chatted her up. Impressed by the attention, and nostalgic for Mark’s 12-year-old style of romance, Nina agreed to meet him at a restaurant. Mark seemed his same sweet self, if dim-witted, self. He told her of his rambling life of drugs and petty crime, his being in and out of jail, his desire to make a new life for himself. Nina  refused his invitation to be his girlfriend, but she agreed to give him a job selling purses and accessories at trade shows.

Mark worked for Nina three or four times, but she fired him because he was an irresponsible worker. Mark became angry, later that day he came to her house, punched her and took her car.  During the year he spent in jail he wrote her every week. The letters became more  insistent that she respond, he threatened to send people to hurt her family. He called her as much as he could, dialing her ten or twenty times in a stretch. She was afraid to be at her home because of the harassment.

When he was released from jail he was fitted with a GPS device.  He went to Nina’s house, waited for her to arrive with her son, and pushed her inside. Her son went to the backroom and called the police. Mark savagely beat Nina until the woman next door came and in and told him to stop. The neighbor found him standing over her her, holding a tire iron. He fled when she told him to leave. Clumps of her hair were found in various places in the room.

Nina’s life was never the same.  She was still plagued with health problems due to the internal injuries from the attack, which remained after three surgeries. She lost her business as crippling anxiety kept her from selling in public as she used to.  At the time of Mark’s trial, she was struggling to make ends meet, having been denied disability benefits.

After the trial, Mark wrote the judge in an effort to receive leniency in sentencing. He explained:

I admit my wrongs and I am aware of what caused me to act in such a inhumane manner, I understand I am not the best of people, but inside lives a person who does have good intentions but unfortunately I struggle of substance abuse & misfortune – I do believe I acted under the influence of a broken heart.

Undoubtedly Mark was right.   Human behavior is always worse under the influence of a broken heart.  After spending his teenage years drunk or stoned every day, after his criminal record made him unemployable, I am sure he was heartbroken to realize that in the state he was in, he would never be valued by anybody. If Mark was more introspective he might have turned his rage and violence against himself.  Instead, his pride, combined with his heartbreak  — an unceasing disappointment in his own condition–  led to a sustained rage against the woman with whom he was so disappointed.  Having nothing but his pride to lose, he turned to violence for satisfaction. It is an all-too-familiar story.  The “influence of a broken heart” plays out in almost all violence and passion, collective and individual.

Mark is the sort of man that David referred to as a miscarriage in the 58th Psalm — among those who “go astray as soon as they are born”.Whatever that thing we call Mark is — a soul, a person, an animal, a monster, a child of God — it is not going to be worthy of our love and forgiveness.  Reason and our law of right and wrong have made Mark forever guilty of bringing his brand of heartbreak on this woman and ruining her life.  His crime cannot unhappen, and his disappointment will remain as long as he has reason and memory.  Like the vindictive king, many of the people of California would have been happy if he had been aborted before birth, and at the very least, condemned to prison for as long as possible. What sort of salvation from himself or his community can he find under these circumstances?

No matter what church you hail from, is there something that your religion can point to that will free him the expectations he had of himself, the expectations that his community had of him? Is there some reprieve from the ultimate source of these expectations?

A scientific materialist might say that nature offers no reprieve for Mark. They might agree with King David that there is no hope for such people, that they cannot be saved, and are better off dissolved to nothing, imprisoned, condemned or aborted.

The LDS might tell Mark that he can find joy now through first abandoning his evil mind and adopting the right practice. If he does, the Spirit will be there to help him do that if he really wants to be good. If he is worthy, he will be blessed and exalted, if not he will find himself loved by God after he suffers for his sins.

To the LDS, I would ask, is there something that offers joy and love to the worthy and unworthy alike?  What words will point Mark to that joy?

 

Time For a New Word

The word “evangelical” is quickly getting stretched into incoherence thanks in large part to lazy reporting about the Trump Presidential campaign.  This is an excellent argument about the need to imagine a new word.

So it’s time redefine—or better, reimagine—what “evangelical” means. If the very heart of the evangelical movement is actively living out the Bible’s message that the world can have hope in the person of Jesus Christ, then nothing could be further from the heart of a true evangelical then siloing off from the rest of the world in order to advance a political agenda. True evangelicalism is not about maintaining a particular earthly kingdom, but about calling people into the kingdom of God.
So what kind of word should we use to rename this blog?

What Mormons are like. . .

Jack inspired me to get off my butt and write some jokes about what Mormons are like:

Like Punks, Mormons are  lower-class people that don’t want to conform to traditions.

Like Rastafarians, Mormons are lower-class people that use religion as a way to get higher in life.

Like Catholics, Mormons are lower-class people that respect priesthood authority.

Like charismatics, Mormons are lower-class people that are not ashamed of whatever comes out of their mouths when they are feeling the spirit.

Like Democrats, Mormons are lower-class people that think that one can win in the world through will and intelligence.

Like Republicans, Mormons are lower-class people that think that charisma is more imporant than coherance.

Like Americans, Mormons are lower-class people that think that their holy documents are somehow superior to everything ever written.

Like Hindus, Mormons are lower-class people who believe that their pathetic lives fit in with some cosmic order of things.

Lke Muslims, Mormons are people who swear by prophets.

Like the Insane Clown Posse, Mormons are chaotically creative lower-class people who believe in God.

Like New Agers, Mormons are people who think they they are in constantly in touch with extra-terrestrials.

Like wrestlers, Mormons are lower-class people who torture themselves for an imagined glory only they can understand.

Like Christians, Mormons are lower-class people that condemn themselves under the law.

Like ranchers, Mormons are lower-class people who spend their time herding livestock stamped with their own brand.

Like police officers, Mormon are lower-class people who think that special rules apply to them because they enforce the law.

Like soldiers, Mormons are lower-class believe you receive more glory if you die in the line of duty.

 

 

Because I’m Tacky: Mormon / Ex-Mormon Style

tackyRecently, some short-sighted YSA leaders in Provo urged ward members to go to Amazon and post positive reviews of the Book of Mormon. When their suggestion got out, the ex-Mormon community exploded with class and rushed to Amazon to saturate the book with negative reviews instead.

Consider this my plea to both parties: don’t. Giving Amazon reviews to books of ancient Scripture (or even, you know, relatively modern, nineteenth-century Scripture) is tacky in the extreme. It’s like giving a Yelp review to your local McDonald’s.

Continue reading

How do we answer the realists?

In my ongoing attempt to explain the Christian law to my children, and gain a clearer perspective on it as well, I thought I would try present an ancient view that I often shows up in public discourse and then compare it with a common Mormon view and a classic Christian response.

[The original writer’s name has been changed because I am not claiming to represent his views accurately.  (Yes, I am deliberately twisting an ancient view to fit the present conversation what can you expect, I’m Mormon.) ]

Here goes:

Cal the Realist: I am getting fed up with Christian moralizing. The truth is that you Christians who pretend to be engaged in the pursuit of truth, are – especially in your rejection of gay marriage and naturally driven sexuality- are appealing only to the popular and vulgar notions of right and wrong, which are not natural, but only conventional. Conventional law and nature’s law are generally at odds with one another and hence, and if a person is too conventional to say what he actually thinks, he winds up warring against himself and solidifying his own mental slavery to the conventional law.

Christians perpetuate slavery to convention by telling  people that they should reject sin and live in righteousness.  But most sane men understand that to endeavor to live according to the  “righteousness” described in the Christian law is patently unnatural.  This is because all men are naturally disinclined to obey the Christian conventions.  Thus, socially ostracizing those who have the courage to disregard the conventional rules – as the Christians do with gay people – is a recipe for stagnation of civilization.  This is because the Christian law is in a pathological war with the law of nature.

You may say that your Christian law is based on nature, but as the lives of your saints show us, nobody who carefully obeys the Christian law has any real power in this world. According to the Christians, everything your body tells you it wants is sin, and following the law is almost always the unnatural path: turning the other cheek, avoiding all litigation, proclaiming peace through forgiveness of enemies. Christians themselves are loathe to tolerate this sort of “righteousness” in their leaders.

Continue reading

Kicking Against the Pricks

On the road to Damascus, Paul found Christ.  Seeing Paul lost in his sin and murderous self-righteousness Jesus pointed out: “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:5.)  In this metaphor, the “pricks” are the sin that dwells within us. The sin sprouts the thorns that goad us when we recognize that we cannot be what we demand ourselves to be.  Joseph Smith seemed to almost grasp the biblical meaning of the phrase in D&C 121:38 where he described those in church leadership that sought to hide their own sins with their authority as those “left to kick against the pricks.” The message of Paul’s ministry was that in Christ can we dissolve these thorns so they never bother us again.

Spencer W. Kimball — the beloved LDS Prophet — put a new spin on this phrase. Starting  in a conference talk in 1955, Kimball began to use the phrase as a description of the state of those who stand against the leadership of the LDS Church:

There is the man who, to satisfy his own egotism, took a stand against the Authorities of the Church. He followed the usual pattern, not apostasy at first, only superiority of knowledge and mild criticism. He loved the brethren, he said, but they failed to see and interpret as he would like. He would still love the Church, he maintained, but his criticism grew and developed into ever-widening circles. He was right, he assured himself; he could not yield in good conscience; he had his pride. His children did not accept his philosophy wholly, but their confidence was shaken. In their frustration, they married out of the Church, and he lost them. He later realized his folly and returned to humbleness, but so very late. He had lost his children. “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).”

Here the “pricks” are not the thorns of sin but the psychological and political consequences of criticism of Church leadership. On an all-too-poignant level, this passage represents hard reality of the Church’s position. The church has determined that there are some sins the gospel does not reach, and the sin of participation in gay marriage is one of those. The latest of the Church’s responses to its critics gave me shivers because it’s tone reflects the same terrifying chant of: “thinking differently than the leadership will destroy your family”. It really sucks.

The problem with the way the LDS deal with same-sex attraction probably stems from the way Mormons ignore original sin. Mormons simply cannot believe that humans might be really screwed up from birth in a way that willpower won’t fix. The good news of the New Testament is that in Christ, God has both seen and forgotten these screwed-up ways and granted you freedom to do so as well. The biggest problem I see with the policy is that the message the Church is giving its membership is not  “our sins can be dissolved in Christ”, but that “our sins will keep us from God.”   This was Paul’s message before Damascus, not after it. Paul’s ministry was focused on the fact that, in Christ, our sins will not keep us from God.

Like the Pharisaic Jews, Mormons believe our path to the celestial is through obedience to the law. However, in siding with the pre-Damascus Paul, Mormons are actually mistaking the law with the gospel. The “gospel” according to the Latter-day Saint tradition is what Paul refers to as the “law” — i.e. the combined commandments of God. Mormons believe that “living the gospel” is obeying the law.

A New-Testament Christian would understand that the law was the source of the pricks that goaded Paul. It was the law that Paul was trying to enforce when he persecuted the Christians, and the law that he found safety from in Christ on the road to Damascus.

Because Church leadership cannot distinguish the law from the gospel they now are denying the gospel to those that may break their law.  As I said, this really sucks for those denied access to the Church after being told as children that the Church is the only source of the “gospel”.

But I think those of us who despair at the new policy do not need to rally against the Church, any more than Paul needed to rally against the Pharisees or Rome.  His message was simple, straight, and narrow and so is our path to peace.  Whether the pricks are our sins as Paul describes, or the church leadership, as President Kimball describes, we don’t need to kick against these pricks — in Christ we are made free from their control.

Explaining Why Rob Bell No Longer Attends Church

In a 2014 interview with Religion Dispatches it was reported that the post-Evangelical author Rob Bell and his family are not part of a local church:

Now resettled near Los Angeles, the couple no longer belongs to a traditional church.  “We have a little tribe of friends,” Bell said. “We have a group that we are journeying with. There’s no building. We’re churching all the time. It’s more of a verb for us.”

Based on other interviews it seemed the Bells felt called to move to Los Angeles to pursue opportunities in television. Meanwhile Bell has refashioned his message into a psuedo-spiritual, Self-Help, Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism much more inline with the other prophets in Oprah’s spiritual stockade.

What’s strange to me about the Bells move is that they have not found a church home. Continue reading

“Show Us Your Leaders”

Three_White_ApostlesA black couple began attending my church a few years ago, one of them the provost of a local evangelical college. They said they had settled on my denomination (Evangelical Covenant Church) because the leaders truly seemed to have a heart for racial diversity. This couple did not want to attend a traditional black denomination nor be the only black couple in a predominantly white church. They wanted a church that could reflect the complexity and racial diversity of the kingdom of God.

Very few white denominations will deny that they would like to attract more members from minority groups. Most pastors enthusiastically told this couple that they would love to have them and were all about racial diversity. This couple would evaluate the sincerity of that claim with one simple challenge: “Show us your leaders.”

Continue reading

God and the Word (Part 1)

“All things come into being according to the Logos.”

“The Logos is one only. It is unwilling and willing to be called by the name of Zeus.”

(Heraclitus, 600 B.C.)

“In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God and the God was the Logos.”

(Saint John, 90 A.D.)

Twenty-five centuries ago a small group of thinkers called sophists attempted to use a certain kind of intuitive thinking to re-define the way they talked about the world. Their intellectual heirs and disciples — the scientists and philosophers — continue to produced the most sophisticated views of the world.  Heraclitus’ is — arguably — the most influential of these these post-pagan thinkers.  In many ways, all of western civilization– both Christian and atheist — are deeply Heraclitian in the way they explain the world.

Heraclitus saw a unity of all of the patterns of energy that make up the comos.  This unity he termed the Logos, i.e. the Word. The term Logos pointed to the unseen order that shapes the energy (fire) that is the substance of all things. He correctly proclaimed proclaimed that the Logos — not the gods —was the reason for all things.

Heraclitus’ view of the Logos mirrors how science sees the truth today. His philosophy, like science that evolved from it, is a form of scientific monotheism that both encompasses the pagan ways of viewing god and transcends them. He saw that the gods of the pantheon, like nations, are the products of human war and storytelling rather than either the existence or divinity of their personality.  The gods were all accidents that happened according to the laws of the way things work, i.e. the nomos.

Heraclitus believed it was necessary to submit to the government’s law as a matter of intellectual conscience. The law of the Logos was that we must always act according to the logic common to all — the light that illuminates every person — rather than our own private logic. Heraclitus counseled everyone to be subject to the governing authorities, because — ultimately– there was no authority except that which the Logos had established.  Anybody who rebelled against the legal authority was rebelling against what the Logos had instituted and rightfully suffered the terror of the punishments of the government.  This was also — in essence at least — the political faith of Pharisees like Paul and the Christian theologians that followed. 

Heraclitus’ logic also told him that some things weren’t true, regardless of what the prophets, oracles, and sophist lawyers said, and some things we should do, regardless of what the prophets, oracles, and lawyers said. This is still the faith of America and American law.

The sophistry of Heraclitus was so influential that Christianity adopted it nearly whole cloth merely because the religion was forged in the Greek language. 150 years after Jesus, church father Justin Martyr acknowledged that Christianity was part and parcel with the reasonable monotheism of the Logos.  He wrote in First Apology, chapter 26:

“We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Logos of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived according to the logos are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them. . .”

Augustine had a similar opinion. He wrote in his Retractions: 

For what is now called the Christian religion existed even among the Ancients and was not lacking from the beginning of the human race until “Christ came in the flesh” (cf. 1 John 4:2; 2 John 1:7). From that time, true religion which already existed, began to be called Christian.

Heraclitus, like the Christian theologians that followed him, saw that men naturally lack experience with the Logos, they were born in the darkness and often cannot see the light of the Logos even when it was obviously in front of them. Most were too busy playing the complicated games that the gods made them play rather than to sit quietly and logically contemplate the way things were. They could not hear or see the Logos because they were preoccupied with the various brands of nomos that each of the gods stood for.  In a more familiar vernacular: he recognized that men cannot hear the Word because they have become obsessed with the Law.

Heraclitus himself did not seem to have access to Christian joy. After recognizing that the gods did not rule, he refused to play any of their games, and — according to legend — after writing his philosophy, he spent the rest of his days in isolation in the wilderness, weeping for the world, and consuming only herbs and grass.  Twenty-five centuries later, his is the faith of the sophisticated classes who have abandoned ancient faiths and claim to live by the same logic that guided Heraclitus. This is still the faith of the upper-middle-class, who also seems to share Heraclitus’ path to disaffected despair, and organic food.

John’s first verse reads like a conscious answer to Heraclitus, as an answer to the dense philosophical riddles that made the Greek thinker famous.  It immediately tells the reader that the Gospel does not ignore the most profound thinking that came before it. It begins the story where Heraclitus left off by making the astounding claim that there was a man that revealed the Word itself.

— More later. . .

The difference between the Mormon and the traditional Christian worldviews. 

By the “world”, I mean absolutely everything. (By “worldview” I mean any consistent way of talking about absolutely everything.)

The traditional Christian contends that there are quite many things that can be said about absolutely everything.

Joseph Smith’s view entails that there is no single way of talking about absolutely everything.

The Gospel to a five-year-old – Part 2

I tried this once before, but — as was obvious in the long, rambling –– I overshot the intended audience by quite a few years.   Here is another attempt at translating the Gospel into language a contemporary young deist — like a kindergartner — could understand:

God is the mysterious source of all things.  God is the source of the orderliness of the universe, including the law of right and wrong.  We cannot say anything coherent about the nature of God because it is necessarily incomprehensible, but we posit that there is a source that injected order into the chaos of simple matter that is the universe.  We can prove this source “exists” because there is order and not chaos.

The interaction between human society and the individual human yields law. These are the patterns of behavior that humans think they should follow. This law is “written in our hearts” — i.e., we understand the law in our bodies and brains through our intuition, conscience, and culture.   When we violate the law we are guilty.  Guilt exists when facts of our choices do not fit the pattern of the law. We can’t erase the law inside us easily.  To abandon the law inside us, would be to abandon our past and future care about society and culture.  There are some who are this way, but for most the law sits over our thoughts.

Logic dictates that guilt is a state that does not go away on its own because: (1) the facts do not change, (2) the law inside us does not change, and (3) guilt is a simple relationship between the facts and the law.   Guilt persists even when a punishment is inflicted. Some of us feel guilt when we violate the law, others don’t . But guilt is independent of the feeling.

When people are conscious that their choices are not in compliance with the law in their hearts they either (1) deny guilt, (2) deny the importance of the law in their hearts, or (3) admit guilt. The first two options lead to injustice, cultural disintegration of the law, and dishonesty.  The third option can lead to a state of self-hatred and sorrow in most people, described as “hell”.  Christians recognize that some people are conscious that they are in hell now, but some are not conscious of hell in this life.  But logic dictates that if the existence of an individual actor is eternal, guilt and the resulting hell are also eternal.

Experiencing “salvation” is the consciousness that comes from self-honesty, admitting guilt, and — in doing so — recognizing that the source of the law has erased this guilt through the mysterious fact of Christ. This consciousness precipitates a state of joy often called “grace”.

The fact of Christ has a redeeming relationship with all guilt.  Christ is available to all persons —  the wicked and the righteous — just like the sun and the rain.  Because the fact of Christ is an infinite fact that exists outside of experience, sort of like a numerical constant, the fact of redemption does not depend on any particular behavior, compliance with the law, or state of mind.

The fact of Christ is the meaning of the phrase “the love of God”.

Following Christ is acting in grace — i.e. admitting guilt, experiencing redemption, and letting our will bend to the law —  and having faith that this will lead to an abundance of life that is worth living.

The challenge of keeping the Gospel simple

In the last discussion, Slowcowboy questioned whether we can over-think the Gospel.  It seems like those that struggle with understanding what Christians are trying to say overly complicate the questions and often seem to confuse themselves.  I agree completely. However I find that the way most people explain the Gospel involves extremely complicated concepts and relationships of facts.  This is especially true when they try to put the Gospel into a simple formula.  Putting the Gospel into simple words is not the same thing as thinking in the simple way that opens up the mind and heart to the salvation that Jesus was talking about.

Some attempt to convey the Gospel by teaching children to sing and believe that “Yes, Jesus loves me!” But the phrase “Jesus loves me” is as indecipherable to most as the equation E=mc^2.  I trust that the relationship between energy and mass that Einstein discovered is trustworthy, but I couldn’t coherently explain it to a trained physicist.  Similarly I could not explain “Jesus loves me” in a way that would make the phrase coherent and relevant to many non-Christians (I still don’t think the phrase is coherent).  My lack of a satisfying explanation does not make “E=mc^2” any less “true”. Likewise the fact that I cannot explain “Jesus loves me” in a coherent way doesn’t make the Gospel any less true. But if a person does not get a satisfying explanation the words will have no effect on the way they see the world.

My guess is that if I asked the average Christian what “Jesus loves me” means I would never be satisfied with the answers given because the words they would choose to describe what they meant are muddled and packed with assumptions that I cannot honestly make. This does not mean the words are not true, but just that they will always sound like irrelevant nonsense if they do not have a satisfying conceptual foundation.

Practically nobody has any idea what E = mc^2 actually means in relation to their experience. Only very few humans have ever really experienced the truth of the E = mc^2, even though it is universally recognized as the “truth”. This is probably why it took so long to discover it.  I think the experience of redemption can be as elusive and difficult for some to grasp, this is probably why it took so long for humans to discover.

At some point in my life I understood “Jesus loves me” and “God loves me”, my guess is I understood them in much the same way that most Evangelicals and Mormons do. But experience, education, and reflection changed the way I think about things so much that these phrases became nonsensical. To make matters worse, I had lost touch with the actual experience of the “love of God”. It was all completely hidden. The Gospel or the Good News is the pattern of thought that wakes me up to the experience of the love of God in the way that Jesus was attempting. Before my conversion, I heard and understood the ramifications of the Good News, and I understood the complex symbology used to convey it. I understood E=mc^2, but did not see the light of salvation.

The good news for me was that salvation was more clearly and forcefully conveyed with something as simple as 1+1=2. I had to forget the complexities of E=mc^2 and think more simply (child-like) for the words of the Gospel to satisfy my mind and open up my eyes.