A meditation on religious conflict

[This is a prose poem that came out after I finished up writing brief about a particularly gnarly run in with original sin and the law that punishes it. Enjoy!]

“Religious War has signified the greatest advance of the masses so far, for it proves that the masses have begun to treat concepts with respect.  Religious War start only after more refined quarrels between sects have refined reason in general to the point where even the mob becomes subtle and takes trifles seriously and actually considers it possible that the “eternal salvation of the soul” might depend on small differences between concepts.” – F. Nietzsche

“But if all religious teachers were honest enough to renounce their pretensions to godliness when their ignorance of the knowledge of God is made manifest, they will all be as badly off as I am, at any rate; and you might just as well take the lives of other false teachers as that of mine. If any man is authorized to take away my life because he thinks and says I am a false teacher, then, upon the same principle, we should be justified in taking away the life of every false teacher, and where would be the end of blood? And who would not be the sufferer?” – J. Smith

Science tells us that our universe began as a single point, and that human beings are super-developed animals with incredible imaginations that in their limitless symbolizing and shaping of the world with their art spawned religion, civilization, and consciousness of our unfathomable beginning and becoming.

The orthodox catholic tells us that God is the unknowable Father that is the source of this point, but that he is nothing within it, that God is the substance of the man Jesus the Christ that became part of the created world, and the substance of the Holy Spirit that fills creation and the strange human souls that take on the the image of this substance but are condemned to be separated from it.

Mohammed tells us that man is nothing like God, and absolute and unknowable, who has no child and wills all that happens and all that exists, God is the final arbiter of this created reality and should be feared and loved.

The Buddha tells us that we are not separate souls, and God is irrelevant to our enlightenment to this fact; only in our giving up ourselves and our souls can we awake to the reality of God.

Paul tell us that man is a debased spirit separated from God, clothed in corrupt flesh but redeemed to God’s image through assent and capitulation to the reality of the single Christ, the God who submitted to death and suffering to save the world from it.

Moses tells us that there is a law from heaven that all must follow and that one people were chosen to proclaim it.

Joseph Smith tells us that God is the same as us: a single eternal soul living within the uncreated universe who discovered intelligence and then glory though the laws of reality that fill the immensity of space and makes all things as they are.

The Hindu tells us that we are all the shifting faces of God, the absolute reality that sits behind all appearances, and that only those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender themselves to other gods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own many natures.

Pilate tells us that truth is an illusion and then spilled the blood of the man the Christians call God by the power of the law and might of Rome.

Jesus tells us that God’s law and all other truth is swallowed in Christ, the mystery and promise of God’s love, that God’s kingdom has nothing to do with Rome that killed him, but is in midst of the love and joy that springs from His blood and suffering and ours.

The Evangelical tells us that we should proclaim this last Word above all others, and attests that there is no end to this blood that saves us.

It seems that in this blood there should be an end to the blood Nietzsche and Joseph Smith spoke of, but how remains its mystery.


Be afraid. . . be very afraid.

I saw this video the other day, and I have to say that it struck a deep chord. At first it made me very happy that BYU was finally allow some open social outlet for gay students to socialize.  Then it hit me how big a challenge it will be for Mormons and Evangelicals to deal with the fact of homosexuality.

Listening to these kids stories about how they discovered that they were gay in the context of being active, faithful mormons made me realize, perhaps for the first time, how ridiculously awful it would be to be a 12 year old mormon kid discovering that you were gay.  I remember how religious I was at that age, how devoted, finding out that I was gay would have been the ultimate betrayal and would have ended my spirituality or my connection to the Church.  And the nature of the reaction of my friends and family would be the test of whether Christianity was bunk or not. Perhaps the reason that when I was young, I never saw or heard anything like what I hear in the videos. Because it was not in front of me, it was really easy not to realize the crucible that the believing Mormon gay child is in. If I had, it would have been hard to stay Mormon or Christian at all.

Seeing the kids in the video, still very much engaged in Mormonism on a sincere level, It made my heart hurt. I don’t know really how I would be able to deal with it. My brother, who knew gay friends at BYU, and struggles with depression, told me with all sincerity that he would have certainly killed himself if he was gay. The straight majority in the church simply does not recognize the gravity of the situation.   These kids cannot be both gay and Mormon without seriously twisting something that is part of them.

The fact that homosexuality exists as a natural phenomena among those that are close to God within the faith throws a very powerful curve ball at both Mormons and Evangelicals. Unlike with heterosexuality, which is channeled and controlled, homosexuality must be eliminated, or certain deeply held tenants must be abandoned.

When it comes to Evangelicals or Mormons I don’t know who has the bigger problem. For Mormons, being gay shatters the careful conception of what the pinnacle of life on earth is all about (covenants, eternal marriage, pro-creation). In my experience, People don’t talk about being gay in Mormon Church, it is not accepted, most of what is said about it is by the vocal minority who is firmly anti-gay.    Evangelicals might have an easier time.  I think it may be easier to “sin” and talk about it, and even being an active sexual “sinner” and still feel connected to Evangelicals christianity.  Partly because Mormons may kick you out if you are at all open and unrepentant about it.  However Evangelicals seem to play a lot bigger part in anti-gay activism, because of the sheer size of the group in comparison with Mormonism, and the de-centralized nature, there are a lot more vocal bigots in Evangelicalism.

The problem is that both groups can be deeply un-Christian about how they approach the problem.  The black mark this leaves on Mormonism and Evangelicalism, in the eyes a gay person who embraces their sexuality, or to anybody else who holds their sexuality dear is difficult to overstate.   An institutional stance that is anything short of deeply empathetic and loving makes a church seem like a absurd charade of the love that Jesus spoke of.

The reason why homophobia may be intractable is that Mormons and Evangelicals should be afraid on an institutional level.  The fact of natural homosexuality requires institutional change if either group is to remain followers of Jesus.  It’s hard for me to see how either group provides a satisfying answer to the person who feels God in and through their experiences of sexuality AND openly embraces a “alternative lifestyle”.   Which means, no matter how spiritually compelling either Mormonism or Evangelicalism is, they are going to appear to be very limited or broken for anybody who understands that God wants some people to be gay AND close to Him.   Just as they have to tweak their theology to account for the unfathomable size and complexity of the universe, they are going to have to change in order to get in line with this reality.  Of course this very sort of change may cause foundations to crumble.

I never quite saw this fact before this video. Hearing and seeing the human problem is necessary to make non-gay realize it.  My guess is that more open, honest and loving discussions of homosexuality within Mormonism and Evangelicalism will mean dramatic changes within both, or simply a larger exodus from a faith that has lost touch with the real world.

At this point, if my child was gay, I would actively try to de-convert them from both Evangelicalism and Mormonism because, at least to this child, neither seem to be carrying the torch of Christian love and understanding.

Believers, what can be done?

Romans 12

[I am a life-long Mormon but admittedly not conventional in my views.  I write this from my own perspective which may be an example of Mormon thought but perhaps not typical of it.  I am using both the NIV and the KJV.]

In Romans 12 Paul starts a new line of thought. Shifting focus from salvation, grace, and election, to how Christians should live in the context of these  realities.

A Living Sacrifice ( verses 1-2)

The  most significant and interesting concept Paul brings up in the chapter is found in the first two verses:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

To me, these verses capture an essential mystery of Christianity, and perhaps of the spirituality of love in general.   When we give ourselves,  we are transformed by something outside the world.  Lose your life, and you shall find it.(Matt. 10:30)   Paul speaks of an offering, a willful giving of something of value to us, the only think we have in the end, ourselves.  Upon giving this sacrifice, Paul says that our minds can be renewed and we can begin to  know the will of God.

The sacrifice reference is critical, it entails a choice on our part, something that we give, not that God takes. It also implies that we have something that is pleasing to God, and in that sense Paul’s thought stands against the idea of total depravity of humanity.

Paul points to a phenomena that, perhaps unlike the forgiveness of sins, is something that you can test, that you can try and experiment with.  As you give yourself, your mind will be renewed to something that is beyond yourself, beyond this world, or at least not according to the natural patter. This promise motivates and hits home  more than Paul’s detailed talk of forgiveness of sins, or salvation, which frankly either seems flat wrong to me or far in excess of what we can reasonably say.

If it is by grace that we are saved, we are not really involved in the transaction, if its not up to us, then it is a deal that God seems to be making with himself or for his own purposes.  And to that extent, this deal can’t really interest me because it is beyond my understanding. However, Paul here talks about something we are completely involved in, and have control over and can see the results from.  It gives a challenge and a promise.  It mirrors Jesus of the Gospels:  If we do His will, we shall know of the doctrine (John 7:17)  If we keep Christ’s commandment of love, God will come live in us:  (John 14:21)

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. “

Jesus here, like Paul in Romans, does not promise salvation from God for our sacrifice, he promises His very presence in our minds, the ability to see the world rightly, to participate in the life of God through understanding and seeking His will.

C.S. Lewis discusses the centrality of the sacrifice and its effect in in Mere Christianity:

“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”

Neal A. Maxwell gives an LDS view of the central place of the sort of submission Paul talks about:

It is only by yielding to God that we can begin to realize His will for us. And if we truly trust God, why not yield to His loving omniscience? After all, He knows us and our possibilities much better than do we.

“Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ … even to the … yielding their hearts unto God.” (Hel. 3:35.)

To me, the ready availability of this sacrifice and its blessings are perhaps the most profound proof of God’s presence and love.  It’s a move away from the tangible sacrifice of the bodies of animals, to an different ethic of love.  I believe all those who submit to the “new commandment”  that Jesus instituted, whether they explicitly identify as Christian or not, or have the “correct” theology or not will experience a “renewing of the mind” that will make them see the world in another way.

Paul, in the preceding chapters has explained that Christ had allowed for a fundamental change in the world, its redemption. Participation in that redemption has to come with a new mind and the product of the new mind is charity.

Humble Service in the Body of Christ (v. 3-8)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Paul’s analogy of the Body is an apt follow-up to his invitation to sacrifice. An essential element in yielding to the transformational power of the sacrifice, is recognizing that you are not “all that”.  Its a submission into a community, acceptance of a place and acceptance of others’ place.

Love in Action (v. 9-20)

In the final verses of the chapter Paul gives the Romans a general recitation of virtues and practical religion. The fact that Paul culminates his theological discussion of salvation and election with this sort of preaching reminds me of Blaise Pascal’s observation:

669 ” All that tends not to charity is figurative. The sole aim of the Scripture is charity.”

The fact that Paul gives this list of virtues in the way he does dispells any notion that Paul does not see practical love as central to living the Gospel. He knows that if the Romans believe what he says about salvation and grace but don’t submit and practice love, they will be blind or lost.   I think the importance of seeking virtue in the context of salvation and sacrifice is best stated by Peter who brings it all together:

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

I particularly like the last verse in Romans 12:

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Paul’s counsel is in line with Jesus’ counsel to “resist not evil”, the true Christian path to overcoming evil is through virtue.  God does not overcome evil with intolerance, violence, or hatred, but with the good.

Personally, Paul’s description of the supernatural renewal of our minds toward charity, and sacrificing ourselves to God to that end is the only thing that really makes good sense in Romans.   The more I think about his descriptions of the fall, sin, election, and grace, the more inscrutable these ideas become to me.   However, I can understand love and its effects and its power that truly apart from the “pattern of this world”, and I believe that sacrifice to this end is  the only ”  true and proper worship” that I can understand.