Vacuous Answers to Reasonable Questions – Part Two

In the first half of this musing, I brought up my general dissatisfaction with the Roman Church and how She has mistreated the Scriptures over the last century and made up doctrines which were not known by the Apostolic Fathers.

I recently came across yet another Facebook RC Traddie posting which seems to take a certain delight in the prospect of sinners roasting forever in the flames of hell.  Here is a bit of what he posted, a snippet from a “vision” that was had by St. Anthony Claret.

First, the fire is all-extensive and tortures the whole body and the whole soul. A damned person lies in Hell forever in the same spot, which he was assigned by divine justice, without being able to move, as a prisoner in stocks.

The fire, in which he is totally enveloped, as a fish in water, burns around him, on his left, his right, above and below. His head, his breast, his shoulders, his arms, his hands, and his feet are all penetrated with fire, so that he completely resembles a glowing hot piece of iron, which has just been withdrawn from an oven. The roof beneath which the damned person dwells is fire; the food he takes is fire; the drink he tastes is fire; the air he breathes is fire; whatever he sees and touches is all fire….

But this fire is not merely outside him; it also passes within the condemned person. It penetrates his brain, his teeth, his tongue, his throat, his liver, his lungs, his bowels, his belly, his heart, his veins, his nerves, his bones, even to the marrow, and even his blood.

“In Hell,” according to St. Gregory the Great, “there will be a fire that cannot be put out, a worm which cannot die, a stench one cannot bear, a darkness one can feel, a scourging by savage hands, with those present despairing of anything good.”

A most dreadful fact is that by the divine power this fire goes so far as to work on the very faculties of the soul, burning them and tormenting them. Suppose I were to find myself placed at the oven of a smith so that my whole body was in the open air but for one arm placed in the fire, and that God were to preserve my life for a thousand years in this position. Would this not be an unbearable torture? What, then, would it be like to be completely penetrated and surrounded by fire, which would affect not just an arm, but even all the faculties of the soul?

Does this at all bother you, this description which seems to be more in line with the actions of some pissed-off pagan “god” than that of our heavenly Father, of whom the Bible says He is love?  I don’t doubt that love has a good and sometimes severe spanking as one of its remedies for a rebellious child, but any father who would strap his child’s hand to a stove, turn on the flame, and leave it there as a punishment for misdoing would be summarily thrown in prison as an child abuser.  Yet this is the picture of God we get from the minions of the Roman Church.  And some of these folks seem to absolutely delight in this, as if this is a good thing for God to do to His wayward children.

So in response, I posted the following in the thread:

 Thinking out loud. Just wondering.

1. If this picture of hell is true, then why is the Old Testament simply silent about the existence of hell? Why did God not warn Cain before his murder of Abel that if he did so, he would be in an eternal fire of torment? Did God love the people of the OT less than those in the NT who have heard all these warnings?

2. Where in the Scriptures does it say that a offending (sinning against) a man of great stature. honor, and power deserves a greater punishment than doing the same sin against a poor beggar? I thought the Scriptures stated that God is no respecter of persons. How then does sin committed in a finite state deserve an infinite punishment?

3. If this truly is the end of all who persist in sin, and if God loves all mankind and wills that all be saved, then how is it that God allows the devil to tempt, trick, and triumph over mankind to our personal destruction? Why does God not give to all mankind, to every human being, a personal knowledge of Himself that would bring people to Himself? Why even allow temptation if it will result in damnation such as stated in this article?

4. Why did a great number of the saints of the Early Church teach that hell would have a restorative purpose to cleanse the soul and that hell would eventually come to an end? Why is there no mention of hell in the original Greek languages, nor any mention that the place of torment (Sheol) will last forever?

5. What does this picture say about the character of God? The God of this man’s visions sounds more like Zeus than Jesus, who is the God who came and incarnated Himself to save mankind.

6. If Hell lasts forever, then the devil wins, doesn’t he? I mean, if God is unable to eventually, through means not known to us, chastise, cleanse, and bring all souls to repentance and to Himself, then His power to save is not as great as that of the devil’s to damn. Have you ever considered this? If I was the devil in hell with billions of souls I had stolen from God and gotten to hate Him forever, cursing Him forever in the pit of hell, I would be bragging to God and rubbing it in His face that He was not omnipotent after all.

7. If sin and death will be finally defeated and no longer exist in the New Jerusalem of the Kingdom, then how can there be a hell where people continue to sin by hating God and cursing Him and His very existence? Doesn’t make sense to me.

8. How do I love such a fearful God who would do such things to poor human creatures? I am but a terrible sinner myself, and despite my best efforts and going to the Sacrament of Confession, I continue to sin. This vision gives me no hope and certainly does not make me feel like I have a loving heavenly Father.

I received the following reply, to which I have put in my current commentary in red

Edward: 1. Dahlia posted a link below regarding this.

The link was to another site which gave a vacuous and atrocious excuse for apologia regarding the idea of an eternal hell. The author simply threw up verses of scripture without any exegesis or explanation of them, to which I would love to see a rebuttal based on the fact that the Greek in the NT doesn’t say anything of the sort. The Greek word “aionios” does not mean “eternal.”  Yet all English translations, which are rooted in the Latin of Augustine, who admitted that he hated the Greek language and didn’t understand it, have this Greek word saying eternal.  Is this then really the “Word of God” when the very meaning of the original language has been changed?

2. This has more to do with rejection of earthly authority, which leads to rejection of heavenly authority. If you look at the Ten Commandments, the first few deal with how to respect God, but then we get to Honor thy Father and Mother, which deals in part with earthly authority. Hierarchy on earth teaches humility and respect to mimic the hierarchy in heaven where one must also have these traits.

Totally does not answer the question I asked. Show me a place in Scripture where it says that someone who offends a king is to be punished with a different and more severe punishment than someone who has offended a commoner. In the Bible, if I steal a sheep from you, I am required to pay it back, along with a certain addition for loss of the sheep’s productivity. No mention is mentioned in the Levitical laws of whether that sheep belonged to a king or a pauper.  Yes, there is rebellion against authority, but that is a different class of crime with a different punishment. There is punishment for defiance and rebellion against legitimate authority, but that was not what I was talking about here. I was talking about proportional punishment for sin.

3. If you’re on a deserted island with your wife, can you boast of her faithfulness? No, because she has no alternatives to you. God permits temptation because triumph over temptation breeds virtue and greatness.

One of the Top 10 WORST answers I have ever heard in my life!!!  Did you forget that we are not talking about some minor crime and punishment here. We are speaking about being tricked into eternal torment.  Eternal.  It doesn’t end, Bozo!!! That is far, far different from being tricked out of a ten dollar bill by a street corner con artist. The Scriptures state that God wills the salvation of all mankind. ALL.  If eternal torment is true, to allow the devil to trick and deceive me into damning my soul is in no way the actions of a God who wills that all be saved – and the Calvinists are right. That vision of God is an ogre who arbitrarily chooses some to be his slaves forever (love is not in the Calvinist paradigm) and damns others for His own glory. That is paganism as I see it, not the God of love who  died to save all mankind.

4. Please cite sources for which saints actually said this.

St. Issac the Syrian for one.   Here’s a list of the writings and Early Fathers who preached Patristic Universalism.  Do your homework and stop being so lazy. It is profoundly lazy to allow others to think for you and then sit there and parrot what they teach.  Anyone can do that. I did that myself for 25 years as a  Protestant before I got up off my duff and actually read some Early Fathers and realized that Protestantism cannot be found in any of the  Early Church writing.

5. God is perfect justice. Zeus didn’t punish people with eternal fire, so I think your comparison is stretching. Sinning against God, who is all good and in Whom all good is contained, merits great punishment. It may seem excessive to us, but if it is revealed to us through scripture and saints that this is what sin deserves, then that means we must reform our consciences and intellects to this will of God instead of whining like petulant children that it is too hard.

Exactly.  Perfect justice, which does not hang a child for stealing a loaf of bread. Perfect justice is outlined in the Bible, and through those writings, God shows us that lex talionis, the law of retaliation, whereby a punishment resembles the offense committed in kind and degree is the proper and just way to punish for offenses. Eternal burning fire that never ends is not lex talionis.  It is someone venting their spleen in anger and getting even, often way out of  proportion to the offense which was committed.  Such is neither a worthy description of our heavenly Father, nor descriptive of His impassibility. He is unchanging, therefore such passions as men have do not belong to Him.

6. The devil does not win over God because he is doomed to suffer for eternity. Not only that, but he has no power to damn because souls damn themselves. Is it winning to be the eternal king of the dung heap with the greatest of sinners as your subject?

Missed the entire point that I made.  Even in eternal hell (if such as you believe exists) the devil would gloat over the billions of souls which rightfully belong to God, but which he stole from under His nose.  If I as your enemy were to destroy your mansion with fire and you rebuilt only one room and then lived in its semi-destroyed state for the rest of your life, who won?  Mankind – that is, all of us who would ever exist – were cursed by the Fall. If mankind, all of us who would ever live, were not somehow redeemed and brought back to our original purpose, that is, divinization, then the devil wins.  It’s that simple.

7. Sin and death will be destroyed in the New Jerusalem. God is perfect humility. Sinners completely removed from Him in hell cursing His name doesn’t grate on Him the way it would to our prideful selves. You are thinking as man, not from His greater perspective.

Exactly the point I made earlier. God is immutable. He is not about getting His revenge. He doesn’t sit on the edge of His heavenly throne with fire in His face, growling in anger, offended, barely restrained by the hands of Jesus and the Virgin Mary from coming down and whuppin’ our butts.  That isn’t God, but you Romans and your eternal hell and visions of God are the ones who are thinking like man and putting ideas of mankind to God. He isn’t like that.

8. We do not get to make God in our image. If there is an all-powerful and all-good being who reveals to us that eternal pain is the only alternative to Him, then we must strive to live in Him and not be distracted by excusing the bad behavior of others because we disagree with the perfect omnipotent Creator. The problem is us in that instance, not God. If He did create the universe and author all life, we should be willing to concede that He may be able to see and know things that we don’t and give Him the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t even understand the point you are making here, but I will address the first sentence. It is not I who is making God in man’s image.  God Himself has given us His image in Christ Jesus.  God has told us that He is love.  You are the one not dealing with that. 

Does love seek to gain revenge, the kind of revenge of which the eternal hellists speak, or does love seek to restore after justice has been done?  Some people are never satisfied with mere revenge.  Look at the stories of men who have dug up enemies, long since dead, and burned their bones before scattering them on the river. That is the kind of thinking that the hellists have. 

In closing, take this passage from 1 Corinithians 13 and see if you can really apply it to the torments of eternal hellfire which are so popular among Western Christians:

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,  Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

Charity never fails.  Can it fail to bring to repentance even the most stubborn of sinners?The Early Fathers didn’t think so.  Only the Roman Catholic Church, with its saints who had visions of almost all mankind going to eternal hell, thinks this way.

These are just my thoughts today, which is what a blog is – a place to vent, to publish what I think, and encourage conversation.  I would like conversation on this subject, but only if you can give me some deeper thoughts than what I encountered on Facebook. I am worn out from fielding vacuous nonsense trying to pass itself off as deep thinking.

Vacuous Answers to Reasonable Questions – Part One

Some issues in life can be resolved with a fair amount of speed, the answers coming forth being both factually explained and clearly understood.  Others, such as my continuing interest in Patristic Universalism, which flies in the face of sixty years of being taught that there is an eternal hell of torment, do not go away so quickly.  Add to this my confusion over which Church is the true Church (yes, it does matter!) and you have a man who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking with others about these subjects.

Right now I am in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which church is in union with the Church of Rome, aka the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church believes itself to be the Church, and as such, also insists that anyone who is “in communion” with Her must hold to Her dogma.  Therein comes the rub.  I find that I no longer can swear my allegiance to all the teachings of the Catholic faith as expressed in Roman Church. Notice I did not say that I question and doubt the Catholic faith, just certain peculiarities of the Roman Church.

“What’s the difference?”

The difference is this:  the word katholicos in Greek, from which we get the word “catholic,” means “universal” or “of the whole.”  St. Vincent of Lerins  defined the catholic faith as “that which has been believed everywhere, at all times, and by all people.”  This shows a continuity of faith expressed in what is called “Holy Tradition.” Holy Tradition is simply a reference to those teachings about the Bible which were believed from the beginning.  For instance,  when the heretic Arias went about teaching that Christ Jesus was not God in the Flesh, but merely a creation of God, he defended himself at the Council of Nicea by appeal to and reasoning from the Scriptures alone, making himself the first to practice “sola scriptura.”  The Fathers of the Nicea, on the other hand, responded by appealing to Holy Tradition, in essence saying,  “Well, that’s all very interesting, but this is not what has been taught from the beginning.”  They referred back in history to all that the Church had taught through the saints and bishops who had come before and what they had said.

Which puts the Roman Church in a peculiar and bad light, since She teaches things that were never known by the Apostles or those whom they taught.  For a list of the problems with the Roman Church, you can to go Roman Presidency and Christian Unity in our Time by Fr. Thomas Hopko.  Father Hopko clearly outlines some of the additions to the Apostolic Faith which Rome has added over the  last millennia, and especially during the Medieval Ages, when the picture of sinners being roasted in an eternal fire gained popularity in the West.

The Catholic Church is not the Roman Church. She is a  unity of twenty- three different sui juris churches who are in communion with Rome. This means that they share the opinion that the Holy Father of Rome is the head of the Church on earth, a position with which Orthodoxy does not agree.  These are the churches in unity with Rome:

To be sui juris, or self-governing means that while the pope is the head over the Catholic Church,  each independent and self-governing body creates within itself certain particulars of practice and ordains their own clergy.  Thus, the Orthodox Church does not look favorably upon the pope appointing bishops within a sui juris church.  As they see it, he is out of his jurisdiction,. And this overreach has caused no small amount of angst in the Byzantine Ruthenian Church in America, which has been, for a number of decades, highly latinized, meaning that their Liturgy is no longer distinctively Eastern. They are slowly regaining their tradition, but things like married clergy, which is our right as Eastern Catholics, are coming very slowly after almost a century of the Roman Church telling us that we cannot do such a thing. Pope Pius X in 1907 issued an apostolic letter enjoining celibacy upon all Catholic priests in the United States. Many Greek Catholics were angered. They argued that by the 1646 Union of Uzhhorod their clergy had been granted the right to marry before ordination. Some members of the church snubbed the papal letter, and it remained unenforced.

This is the kind of meddlesome stuff I am speaking of, and it has left a distinctly sour taste in the mouths of many geriatric Ruthenians who are old enough to remember being bullied by the Roman Church.  One priest, Fr. Alexis Toth, after enduring enough of the overreach of Bishop Ireland from the Roman Catholic  Church, simply gathered together his congregation and left, becoming united to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Now why did I go into all this?  Because in dealing with Roman Catholics, there is a real tendency among them, especially the “Traddie” types, to insist that I, as an Eastern Catholic, must believe everything that is in the Roman Catholic Catechism.  There is still that triumphalist mentality among many Romans that if we are “catholic” then we must be Roman and adhere to Roman teaching.

PROBLEM!!!!

Many well-catechized Eastern Christian, understanding that our patrimony and history is from the Orthodox East and not the Roman West,  do not accept the teaching  of indulgences, the Immaculate Conception, and other ideas which have been added since the schism of 1054 AD.  In addition, I recently found out that the Latin Church played rather fast and loose with the translation of the Scriptures.  Matthew 3:2 in the Douay-Rheims translation of the  Bible is such an example:

3: 1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

And saying, do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Ah ah!  NO!  That is not what it says in the Greek!  The Greek word is “metanoia,” which means to change one’s mind, not to go into a cell somewhere and beat yourself bloody with a whip, which is the epistemological end  this idea of “doing penance” will eventually take you to.

Now if the “pillar and ground of truth” can create a major league screw-up like that, either deliberately or by accident, then I think I have every good reason to question if they have been less than honest in other areas regarding the Christian faith.  Areas such as the teaching of a fiery eternal torment for sinners,  the terror of which is most convenient to keep sinners in line with the behavior you wish them to exhibit.

Of course, and I’m not the first or original one to say this, looking at the state of the Roman Catholic  Church today,  I would say that the threats of eternal hellfire aren’t doing a very good job of fearing people into correct dogma and moral behavior.

Part Two

Trump, Transgenders, and Truth

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Well, as of  Wednesday morning, the cookies have really hit the fan in the Liberal media community.  Donald Trump has made it clear:  transgendered are not to serve in any capacity in the military.

So now we will face a dependable stream of indignation from the Left,  accompanied by the usual circus of boneheaded bigots from the Right, such as the KKK who will defend Trump, and in doing so, make people who oppose the normalization of transgender behavior seem like droop-jawed, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. I cringe to think that any day now, the people of Westboro Baptist will come out with a statement of their hatred,  smearing all Christians with the tar brush of their dyspeptic souls to make us look like hate-filled cretins for simply pointing out a fact: certain sexual urges and behaviors are not normal. It is a real no-win situation for those of us who wish to care for people, no matter how messed up they might be, and yet who have certain moral standards which cannot be flexed to accommodate the whims of the time. I guess this is where, for better or worse, I get to put in my .02 and let the arrows fly at me from both sides.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said that we are to love everyone,  no exceptions. We don’t get the luxury of hating anyone, even our enemies. This is a very tall order, one that most people lovingly oh and ah about when they read it in the Sermon on the Mount, but do not like to actually engage in.  It is highly more fun and self-aggrandizing to have a group of people to whom we can point and call names than it is to interact with them, especially if they A.) insist on pressuring us to do something we do not want to do  B.) verbalize their hatred for us in the most vile language possible, or C.) want to outright kill us.  Loving forgiveness, however, is exactly how Christ responded to His enemies who did all three of these things to Him, and killed Him in the most excruciating manner known to mankind.  Take time to reflect on just what He was going through on the Cross when He uttered those well-known words, “Father, forgive them, for they  know not what they do.”

At the same time, there is this delicate balancing act in which one who is a follower of Christ must not compromise with the moral, spiritual, and scientific realities of our lives while caring for others, which puts us in an uncomfortable spot when visiting with friends and family who may have the desire to not only flaunt their chosen lifestyle, but be very demanding and evangelical about it.  How does one maintain a friendship and at the same time say, “I’m sorry, but you’re wrong about that?”  A great deal of tact is required.

I have a dog in this fight.  My youngest daughter decided that she wanted to marry a man who thought himself a woman, which I guess made my daughter a lesbian. (?)  I’m not sure. It was too bizarre a relationship to understand.  The breaking point came when my daughter demanded that in addressing her spouse I refer to  him by his chosen female name, rather than his proper name, John.  I tried reasoning with her to no avail. She was having no parts of it. For her it was “my way or the highway” as far as her relationship with her father went.  I spoke to a couple of Christian counselors and a priest regarding my next course of action. They assured me that I could not validate John’s choices by going along with the demand to use his female name. I wrote what I thought were a couple of tactful letters explaining why John was confused and needed help.

This simply enraged my daughter. I wrote a final letter in which I discussed everything except John, hoping to maintain a relationship with her, which was something two of my other children said I should attempt. I have not heard from her since. This is the common response of not only transgender people, but of most folks who do not wish to hear others tell them something they do not wish to hear. My best friend of many years broke off his relationship with me after I converted to the Catholic faith.  I have written to him a couple of times and never received a response. Running from conversation rather than engaging in it, especially if your position is weak and cannot be defended, appears to be the order of the day.  How many people really want to listen to the other side, especially if the other side has arguments against your position which are hard or impossible to refute? This is what makes reaching out to those in the transgender “community” so hard. They do not want to consider that perhaps they need help, and become abusive when we try to suggest it to them, no matter how kindly we express our concern for their chosen behavior.

So how do we view Mr. Trump’s already notorious decision that transgender people are not to be allowed in the military?

The first problem to consider is that of what you might call esprit de corps. Our fighting forces are not the place for disruptive social experiments. Ranking officers know that the only way a unit can fight and win is if the unit thinks and acts as a cohesive whole.  This is why boot camp breaks men from self-centered individuals into single, united force. The individual is enmeshed into the group, and group-think takes over. Such things as women in combat, open and flagrant homosexuality, and transgenderism cause immense problems within the unit, therefore, they cannot be tolerated if the unit is to perform according to its expectations – that is, to kill the enemy and break things. The battlefield is no place for distraction in thinking about side issues regarding various forms of sexuality. And as one Iraq vet tweeted in response to the ongoing media kerfuffle , the battlefield is no place for those who are already under the stress of questioning who they are. While not everyone who is transgender will react the same under stress, the battlefield is not the place for experimentation regarding who will respond correctly when the bullets start flying.  Lives are at stake.

There is also the fact that most men are not terribly comfortable around open, expressive forms of sexual deviance from normal sexuality. This leads to the second point in my discussion – those who identify as transgender are about .03% of the entire population. The normal expression of sexuality is males attracted to females and vice-versa. Even those who identify as homosexual represent only around 5% of the population. Why then this great push to act as if they represent the vast majority of people? A space alien observing our media from afar would come to that conclusion,  and that heterosexual relationships are the oddity.

When I was in the workforce, I observed a wonderful and intricate robot which was packing boxes of candy into a carton. This is what it was designed to do. If, however, the machine suddenly began to pick up the boxes of candy and fling them against the far wall, the manager would have wasted little time in shutting it down and looking for the reason it was not operating according to its design. And no one would have accused him of hate speech if he said, “This thing is not acting right. We need to fix it.”

The human body is a wonderful machine. Through it we can enjoy the many delights of our world. By looking at it and studying its design, we see that it is divided into two forms – male and female. The male and female body are designed with parts that have certain functions. No one tries to breath through their liver. The liver is not made for that.  Likewise, the reproductive organs are made in such a manner that the male and female are complimentary, designed to unite with each other and produce life.  This is their function, and the body has a wonderful computer, the brain, which is designed to send signals to the rest of the body to accomplish this.  These signals are called “sexual attraction” and should attract males and females to each other.

It is no more correct to say that a person who is attracted to the same sex, or who thinks he is a female trapped in a male body, is functioning normally, than it would be to say that a packaging robot flinging candy all over a warehouse is acting according to design. Yet this is what we are being told we should say regarding those who think they are transgender people. Scientifically, through the observation of the human body, we have to say this is problematic. Their computer – the brain – has some wires crossed somewhere, and the compassionate thing to do is to find the source of the problem and fix it, not to let the machine keep flinging candy against the wall while we tell people it is operating normally.

Mr. Trump has once again stuck his foot in his mouth by insisting that the United States cannot afford to have the military sponsor “gender reassignment” surgery.  The Left has already seized upon this as a species of verbal legerdemain from the leader of a country which is spending money on war toys hand over fist.  Trump picked the wrong thing to say – again – and those of us who have legitimate concerns  regarding transgenderism will have to pay the price in the arena of public debate.  Some advice to anyone who wishes to speak against transgenderism in the military.  Do not speak in any way of the expense to the armed forces of sex-reassignment surgery . You will get your ass handed to you, and you deserve it. If you are going to drool over our military spending money in the trillions of dollars for an endless ability to sustain war, your argument against transgender surgery paid for by the military will seem the ultimate in hypocrisy.

So here is my take on Mr. Trump and what he said. I reserve the right to be utterly wrong on this, but I think I have some good points:

  1.  Regarding the military, this is not an issue of money, since we have an unlimited checkbook for throwing around $830,000 Cruise missiles like kids tossing water balloons at each other on a sultry summer day. The money is not the issue with me. It shouldn’t be with you, especially if you are one of those right-winger, war-hawk types who thinks that bombing the hell out of anything that moves is the answer to every problem on the face of the earth. It is strictly an issue of not creating disruption among the troops. Soldiers enlist to fight, not be distracted by wondering about another man’s sexual preferences.
  2. Scientifically speaking, someone who is a man and thinks he is a woman has a problem with the computer between his ears and needs psychotherapy.  If you are born a man, your brain should think like a man.  If it doesn’t, you need help.  Walt Heyer is one of many men who have come to understand that a sex change operation is not an automatic cure for deep-seated psychological problems. You can read his story here. Walt and many others like him who have come to regret their sex change surgery, are ignored by the Liberal media. Meanwhile, the suicide rate among those who have identified as transgender is 31%.  Something is seriously wrong, but Liberalism doesn’t want to go near this reality with a 10-foot pole. What they are doing instead is searching high and low to find as as many examples as they can of openly transgender men in the military who appear to be well-balanced and normal people.  None of them will speak of the fact that normalcy doesn’t include 45% of teens who identify as transgender attempting suicide.  They won’t go near the report by Dr. Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins Hospital in which he states that to be transgender is a mental disorder.  No, the Left is working overtime to present such thoughts as just one facet of normal life.  But our bodies and the science behind them says different.
  3. Finally, religiously speaking I come to the most difficult part of our burden for those who find that they do not have normal sexual urges. God loves all people. We as Christians need to share that love, but it is all too easy to be aloof and judgmental. In my own way, I am every bit as broken in God’s sight as my daughter and her spouse.  Despite this reality, I must stand for that which is the truth of God’s creation – maleness and femaleness – and the proper use of our sexuality.  In no way does standing for this mean that I am somehow “holier-than-thou.”  If my priest were actually allowed to share what I confide in the Confessional, you would know this to be fact. What the Christian faith wants for all of us broken people is that we find our deepest fulfillment in becoming what we were created to be – children of God who walk in freedom from debasing passions. This includes not only LGBTQ people, but straight men who are enslaved to pornography,  women who flit from romance to romance not being able to find real intimacy, and the myriads of addictions which enslave people: racial hatred, war-mongering, addiction to money and power, lust for food, drink, and the many other poor substitutes for a real, living intimacy with both God and others which brings true peace to the heart.

To stand for the truth in a world that is enamored with lies is a truly loving act, especially when the lies are damaging people in a myriad of ways. This is the time when the Church needs to proclaim the Good News that God loves all, that peace, freedom, and healing from passions can be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. We as Christians have the truth. Let us use it both lovingly and wisely to bring people the peace they are seeking through so many false venues.

REFLECTIONS ON DYING

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There was a time when I was taking twenty-seven pills a day. Every day. Every day was the same tiring routine for me. Twenty seven pills is a lot of pills to take, especially for someone who has always found swallowing pills to be a hard business. I kept them in one of those brightly-colored, plastic pill containers you can buy at any drug store or grocery store with a pharmaceutical aisle. Red, yellow, blue, purple. Four plastic rows of four colors that separated my pill-taking in to four times of the day– morning, noon, supper, and bedtime – although I was not all that prompt about taking them. My nutritionist told me that  missing occasionally was okay, as long as I was making the attempt at taking them, which, of course, gave me an excuse to cheat and sometimes skip a morning or evening.

Evenings were harder for me than mornings. By evening  of any day I am tired and I just want to go to bed.  Pills and the world took a back seat to my desire to just get to sleep and put one more day behind me.

I took this conglomeration of pills because sometime back in the 1980’s, before there was proper screening, I received a pint of infected blood. I went almost twenty years without even knowing about it until one day I decided that as part of my routine yearly physical, I should have the doctor do a complete blood panel.

His follow-up letter was terse and to the point. Something not right with the blood test. An anomaly of some sort. We want you to come in so we can retake your blood and find out what exactly is going on. Something is not right. I didn’t think much of it. I had been healthy for decades, never having had a major surgery or illness that I could remember. Probably nothing.

It turned out to be Hepatitis C.

So why do you take all those pills every day? And what’s this about a “nutritionist?”

The simple fact is that after I did a little online research of the illness, I didn’t like the odds stacked against me with the use of what is termed “conventional medicine.” The standard treatment is a drug – if you can call it that because it is found normally in the body – called Interferon. It is quite expensive, the full spectrum treatment costing around $50,000 for a year’s dosage, but it works only about a third of the time, and makes the person taking it as sick as a dog. I mentioned this last part in the form of a question to the nurse in the office of the gastroenterologist  to whom my family doctor referred my case.

“Oh, yes!” Her smile was cheery. It wasn’t she who was about to enter into a journey of misery.  “We recommend you take your shot on Friday so you can be sick the whole weekend.” Again with the big smile.

I squelched a desire to say something profoundly nasty to her, walked out of the office, and the following week drove to see an old friend at her health food store. Marta listened intently, then described to me the various herbs which would attack the virus and detoxify the liver to help it rejuvenate. It’s a marvelous organ, this giant filter for the body. Cut one in half and it will regenerate the missing half. I had microscopic beasties trying to destroy mine, eating away at the cells, pushing me towards liver failure. It was war, and I in turn declared war upon them and began to supplement myself with all manner of good things which would aid my liver by detoxifying it and helping it regenerate. The only sad part of it all was an elongated and very sad farewell to Yuengling Lager. No sense in helping the little bastards kill me.

A few months later, my family doctor showed me a copy of the letter the gastro doctor had sent to  him. It was filled with all sorts of impressive sounding medical jargon, describing in detail the numbers and factors in my blood test which proved I indeed had contracted Hep C. I found the last summary paragraph to be profoundly irritating. It said something to the effect of  “Mr. Hara has decided to pursue a course of vitamins and supplements by which to treat his infection. We expect to see him when he is finished with his little experiment.”  The tone was unmistakably snotty. I wanted to call him up and tell him what a pretentious ass I thought him to be, but I decided I had better things to do with my life. Never setting foot in his office would be one of them. That was twenty years ago. I’m still alive and doing fairly well. He’s probably dead by now.

I was doing well for a number of years, or so I thought, but a visit last year to my second wife’s gastroenterologist showed that I had progressed from Stage One, where I had been for many years, to Stage Three.  Stage One is the beginning stage. Stage Four is “You need a liver transplant – NOW – or you will be dead within months.”  To my lifelong gratitude – however many years I do have left – Dr. Scudera and his marvelous assistant, Rachel, got me on one of the new medications which do actually effect a cure rather than give false 30% cure-rate hopes.  I am now, as of last month, officially free of the virus.  The next part of this horrid little adventure is to hope that the scarring in my liver does not turn into cancer.  We will have to keep an eye on that every six months, but for now, I am alive, my liver damaged but functioning, and my future much more hopeful.

Back to the pills.  They were a daily reminder of my mortality. None of us likes to think about such grim business as death, but the combination of pills and the general aches and pains of a sixty-five year old body were undeniable reminders that my days are growing shorter.   Four years later now, I am even closer to that day which is marked on God’s celestial calendar as “Edward Hara comes Home today.” I think of it fairly often, the slowing of my energy and numerous problems reminding me that I am not going to live forever. I have already outlived a number of my friends who died too early. We say that – “died too early” – but believing as we claim to that all is in God’s hands, they really died right on time. It was just too early for us, for our friendships, for the time we wanted to spend with them and didn’t get to. Sometimes I see obituary notices for famous people and I am led to think, “Hmmm….he was three years younger than I am.” and it again prods me to double check my will. I believe there are some loose ends that need to be tightened up.

So I spend a lot more time nowadays thinking about death from time to time. What is it going to be like? No one knows. Oh, I’ve heard the “bright light” stories of those who claim to have died and been brought back to life on the operating table. I find them unsatisfactory at best. For one thing, the accounts tend to be contradictory and lean towards the particular religion of the person who “died.” Catholics see the Blessed Virgin Mary. Protestants don’t. Okay, can we get our stories straight here?

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve had three members of my immediate family die and I wasn’t there when it happened – by deliberate choice. My father was the first. I laugh at how long he lived – a few months short of ninety– considering how badly he took care of his body as a young man. A medium to heavy regimen of cigars, cigarettes, and booze and he absolutely refused to see a doctor for a yearly checkup. Dad simply had no time for them. He was a stubborn old cuss about it, too, despite my Mom’s nagging him to get a checkup. A bum hip joint finally tightened up to the point that he couldn’t ignore the pain. Old bones grinding together until he could no longer put on his tough guy face and pretend everything  was okay. An operation, a nice, new titanium hip replacement, and even after all that, it was still a chore to get him to see a doctor.

A few years later he wound up in Doctor’s Hospital in Lanham, unable to breath through what was left of his lungs. He was transferred to Georgetown Medical Center where he died one night, alone and without the benefit of anyone being by his bedside. I kept thinking that I should go down and be with him, even though he was unconscious, but the hospital was three hours from where I lived and I couldn’t justify in my mind going there and waiting and waiting and waiting, not knowing how long he would remain. So my father died alone and I stayed in Pennsylvania to take care of my wife, who was also sick.

She was the next to die.

Karen was healthy until the infamous Three Mile Island incident took place. I had the fortune of being out of town on business – a convention in Atlantic City which my employer insisted I attend in order to learn about new products and meet some of the clients we represented. She was alone in the mobile home, only ten miles from the power plant as the reactor melted down and a cloud of radioactive materials was sprayed all over the surrounding landscape. Without a car – Karen never learned to drive and didn’t wish to – she was there for the whole weekend. Two years after that, her thyroid began to act up, followed by adult onset diabetes. The two packs of cigarettes she smoked daily didn’t help either. By the time my father died, Karen was on oxygen, dragging the little green tank around behind her on wheels or using the portable sit-down unit as she sat on the couch watching TV. I spent four years watching her slowly waste away, an ugly business made even worse by spending the last two years in a coma after a stroke took away her ability to move and communicate.

One day, our adult children came to me, before the first of two strokes reduced Karen to an immovable mass of flesh, a person trapped in a world without motion or the ability to communicate anymore. We could all see her going downhill and they sat me down for an important discussion. One by one they agreed that they didn’t want to see Mom put in a nursing home.

“We can all take care of her.”

The mood and the subject were serious but there was upbeat determination. Mom would stay home, surrounded by loving children and husband. That was the plan, the ideal we all thought we could pull off until the social worker who cared for Karen’s medical payments and other issues got wind of our plans. She made us sit down with a home care nurse, who gave us a very detailed explanation of just what it is like to care for someone with her level of illness. We listened, our faces becoming more somber with each detail until we understood that the job would entail far more than we could handle at her level of illness. A few weeks later, the first stroke settled the issue and Karen died at York County Nursing Home on September 26th, 2006. She was fifty-four years old. And again, I was not there for the death of someone in my family.

Nor was I there for my mother’s death. Mom lasted a long time – 97 years to be exact – which is really somewhat amusing to me because all her life she made people think she was constantly on death’s doorstep. I grew up hearing her litany of complaints, her aches and pains, and the constant swirl of doctors for every malady. Maybe my Dad’s refusal to go to any doctor was backlash against it all. My brother took care of her for the last ten years of her life after Dad died, and he deserves a medal of some sort for doing so. Mom was always demanding and insistent on getting her way, but as her mind began to slip into foggy moments of dementia punctuated by semi-lucidness, all the latent impulsiveness came out and was taken out on my brother.

He once told her that her hair appointment had been cancelled and in response she screamed at him and shoved him. Even though she was only about eighty pounds at the time, she almost knocked him over and down the steps to the den because it took him by surprise. During the last six months of her life he called me weekly to unload a torrent of complaints punctuated by angry swearing. He couldn’t afford a nurse round the clock and because of that, he wasn’t sleeping, which made things even worse for him. Every time he would manage to doze off, as if some devilish radar operated in Mom’s mind, she would call him to be picked up and put on the toilet. He screamed, he yelled, he cursed in frustration, yet three months after she died, I spent half an hour on the phone trying to alleviate his guilt for the times he screamed at me, “God, I wish she would just die!”

I saw her the night she died. She barely weighed fifty pounds. At under five feet tall, Mom had never been a large woman to begin with, yet the shrinking of her already tiny frame made her look strangely like a little girl. She appeared not at as a woman who was almost a hundred, but a rather, a five year old child, small, delicate, frail. We talked for around an hour. She asked me about her grandchildren – over and over and over again – because her short term memory was gone. I gave her the same answer each time, kissed her goodnight an hour later, and left her in the care of my brother and the hospice nurse. He called at seven the next morning to tell me that she was gone. And I wasn’t there either.

This has been my relationship with death. I haven’t wanted to see it, stalking, taking people away, making them do the things they do in the last moments of their lives before they give up the ghost. But now it stalks me and I am not only aware of it, I realize that there is no getting away from it. I cannot deny it. Every ache in my body, every time I am sick, which is more frequent now, reminds me that I am not young anymore.

I admit now what you, dear reader, have probably already realized – I’m scared of death. I am embarrassed to say this because I shouldn’t be.  I shouldn’t be because I profess to hold a religious faith which teaches that there is life beyond the grave, and a very beautiful one at that. Nonetheless, it is too….too unknown for me. Will it hurt? What will it feel like? What will it be like to be conscious on the other side of this life? I am a person who likes answers. Mysteries intrigue me, but only because I enjoy figuring them out and coming up with answers, something tangible I can grasp with my understanding. Death evades such clarity and understanding. Death mocks me with unknowingness, a mystery unwelcome by all.  I mean, really, who spends free time pondering death? It is not the invited subject of the cocktail hour or the dinner party. It is the unwelcome one, the dark, slinking visitor who whisks all away without warning. The hope of every man and woman is to go to sleep and simply not awaken, yet all about us we see violent and painful death impose itself upon mankind. The reality of such potential ugliness scares me, and my inability to figure it out, to come up with any form of answer as to what that moment will be like, scares me even more.

What will it be like and when? I don’t know. All I do know is that I am a lot closer to it than I was ten or twenty or thirty years ago. The day continues to move ever closer. Perhaps if I had not been such a coward – if I had taken the time to be with my loved ones – perhaps the mystery would not be so imposing. My daughter, Jennifer, who was with her mom at the moment of death, said that she suddenly sat up, took a breath, and died.  I had a friend do the same thing.  I have read in stories of people who see family members, who see the bright light and feel peace.  Will that be my experience?

I have run from death, and in doing so, have created a terrible mystery for which I have no answer.

What Dreams May Come

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It is a dangerous thing to stray too far off the reservation.  Once a person begins to examine teachings and doctrines which are not the officially approved version, it will not be too long before one may well find that what you have been taught all your life is officially sanctioned, high quality bullshit.  This is what happened to me when I began to examine the Catholic faith as a Protestant.  Protestant teaching is bullshit – pure and simple – and some of it is not only stinky nasty, it hurts people.  Like any fecal matter, it contains disease micro-organisms which can make you sick and even kill you spiritually. I’m beginning to think much the same about Roman Catholicism.

I know this. I went through it for 25 years, thinking that what I was smelling was perfume and what I was sharing with people was filet mignon.  No – distinctly not.

Why am I so exercised about this?  It is because doctrines being put forth by what we might term “Traditional Christianity,” i.e., that God only saves a select few, that God is angry with sinners all the day long, that those who are Christians are God’s distinct “friends” and those who are not are His enemies, create a psychology which profoundly affects how you live.  If you are being dangled over the fires of hell, and the only thing that keeps you from falling in is to be 100% right in your behavior and what you believe, fear will make you believe anything to escape that fate, including the wretched treatment of all those who are not of your theological camp.

After a life of evil and debauchery, I had a profound conversion experience. Unfortunately, while this experience had many good effects on my life, not the least of which was to save me from my suicidal urges and give me a focus upon which to live, the ideas I was taught about God and His salvation did the following:

1. Made me an annoying bore at any family gathering, insisting to people they better
“get saved” or they would go to hell forever. When my mother-in-law died, my sister-in-law was rightly indignant over my concerns that she had never “made a decision for Jaaaaaayzuz.”  By what possible right did I think myself to be the judge of her heart and soul? Arrogance!  Massive arrogance.

2.  I was pounded with a very literal interpretation of the Scriptures, including the one that says “spare the rod, spoil the child.”  My children all grew up with a shit-load of condemnation from me because they weren’t holy enough.  I didn’t have little saints running around my house with halos, so the only thing I could think to do was to spank, spank, spank, hoping in vain that it would “drive the devil out of them” as my Fundamentalist mentors assured me. In retrospect, I don’t even know what it was I was looking for in them, I just knew it wasn’t in line with my Fundamentalism.  They were just normal kids having a normal good time, but I was so anal that I missed that – and missed what could have been a lot of good times with them.  I don’t think Dad was a lot of fun for them to be around.

If I had another chance, I would never raise a belt to my kids. I would do more of loving counseling  when they misbehaved, more of the hard work of showing them examples of how bad behavior would end up badly for them, more appeals to their conscience and much more hugging and showing of love.  But no, I took the easy way out – whup their ass and expect that to magically work.  This was the way I was raised, but I was too dense to realize that it obviously didn’t work for me at all.  I was just like my father, who whupped my ass but never once in his whole life ever said “I love you” to me You can read about my relationship to him here:

Father’s Day 2017

This is the kind of Christianity that Fundamentalism (I’m speaking of the Bob Jones, Independent, Bible-believing, KJV Only kind) creates. Nasty, harsh, judgmental people who are condemnatory of everyone and everything. Don’t think about going to the movies.  Movies are  ” gasp”  sinful!  There is, in fact, a rather extensive list of things that are sinful in the Fundamentalist mindset.  Roman Catholicism doesn’t own a franchise on this thinking. (*please note: I am not speaking of things that really ARE sinful, such as fornication before marriage.  I am speaking of legitimate pleasures that one is made to feel horribly guilty about, complete with threats of eternal fiery hell if you step outside the accepted norm.)

My children grew up with a heavy dose of “No, you can’t do this.” “That is bad.” “These people are Catholics and they hate God.”  “You’re going to go to hell if you keep doing that.” and on and on and on and on.  Who in their right mind would find a God like that in any sense attractive?  No wonder my children now want nothing to do with Christianity – and I blame myself entirely for this.  They were looking to see Jesus – loving, kind, gracious Jesus who cares for all. What they saw was an angry, uptight, unhappy man who spent his time condemning them as his Fundamentalist teachers condemned him. I listened to theological morons, and in doing so became a moron myself.

More than this,  what has such thinking done in the world over two millennia of Christian thinking?  The fear of hell – of eternal burning torment and separation from the joys of God and heaven – has led people not only to a deep judgmentalism of others, but behaviors which treat them as less than God’s children and not worthy of the dignity we are all entitled to as bearers of God’s image.  Dutch Calvinists, upon finding black people in South Africa who worshiped pagan gods, immediately saw them as “God’s enemies” because they were not “of the elect.” After all, if they were of the elect, then God would have revealed Himself to them and they would be good little Calvinists.  Therefore, being the enemies of God (not to mention the biological misfortune of being black),  the Dutch Calvinists immediate set out to subjugate them and rule over them. Apartheid was the result.

The same is found in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, the SDA Church, and all others who hold to the teaching of Eternal Conscious Torment. “We are God’s people and you are not!”  Then they gleefully pronounce hell upon you for not being of their brand of Christianity. I’m sick of it, not only for what it is doing in this world, but for what it did to me.

So I am investigating an old teaching of the Church which sometime around the fourth century was consigned to the doctrinal scrap heap, probably because the hierarchy of the Church found that it was not very useful in keeping people in line.   I am about 98% convinced that Patristic Universalism is true, that God’s love is so overwhelming and beyond our understanding that it doesn’t stop at the grave, and it certainly is not in line with Dante’s morbid pictures of an eternal torment. And even though I wrote of the doubts with which I struggle regarding Universal Salvation in this blog post, what I wrote really doesn’t resonate within my heart.  The depths of my very being says that Patristic Universalism is the only belief that really shows the depths of God’s love, the reality of what drove Christ to the Cross, and the true justice of God – justice being the restoration of all things.

This morning I read reflection on an online quote from Urs Hans Von Balthasar:

Balthasar’s reflections on the mystery of Holy Saturday suggest the notion of universal salvation.  If the crucified Christ sojourns to the farthest regions of hell to disturb the loneliness of even the most hardened sinners,  does that mean that all people will be saved?  (My note: according to Romans 5:18, all are already saved.  The issue is not that, but whether or not they can and will receive it, either here or in the next life.) Balthasar wrote a book on the topic of apokatastasis not long before he died in which he examined the tradition on this topic (particularly the patristic tradition) and offered his own ideas.  His position on that topic closely resembles that of Rahner – he quotes Rahner several times in his book.  Balthasar argues that eternal loss is a possibility that each person must consider for himself or herself alone, though not for others, since hell is in essence the sinner utterly alone. (We in Orthodoxy takes issue with this idea. See Dr. Alexander Kalomiros’ speech The River of Fire ). But through the Cross and the Resurrection of  Christ, the saving love of God has been revealed and effected.   This means that the believer may hope that all will be saved.  (The Patristic Fathers spoke of it with more than just a “hope” but a real assurance that this is so).  To hope for one’s own salvation and not for the salvation of all would be unchristian, since Christ died for all.  He proposes the following thesis:  “Whoever reckons with the possibility of even only one person’s being lost besides himself is hardly able to love ureservedly…. Just the slightest nagging thought of a final hell for others tempts us, in moments in which human togetherness becomes especially difficult, to leave the other to himself.”

When I read that last part, I immediately thought of that beautiful scene in Robin Williams’ movie WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, where he finds out that his wife will not make it to heaven, and he decides if he cannot have heaven with his wife, he will be with her in hell, no matter what horrors await for him there.  That, dear reader, is love. Not the mushy, emotion-filled, gooey sentimentality which passes for love in our society but is out the door at the first sign of trouble or grief. Real love says of its beloved,  “I will go through anything and all things for your sake. I cannot imagine even for one second not being able to have you with me.  I will give everything I am and have to not only have you with me, but to make you as whole as I possibly can.”   

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Is this not the very essence of salvation?  I easily imagine that this is the heart of God, who indeed as the Living Word, set aside everything He had with the Father – His glory, His authority, a multitude of angels to serve His will – to come for mankind and rescue us.  Unlike Dr.  Chris Nielsen in the movie, Christ knew exactly the horrors which would face Him on the Cross. Like Dr. Nielson – He didn’t care. He was undeterred by them.

I’m off the hell-bound reservation now.  All you believers in ECT can pronounce your anathemas and damnation of my soul until you turn blue in the face. I am finding a new God, one who is utterly unlike the god of Fundamentalism and Medieval Roman Catholicism – the God who loved me enough to die for me. The more I understand the depths of that love – little by painful little, step by step – I find that I can also have a hope in that love for all mankind, even the worst among us.

Love never fails.

Reasons Why Patristic Universalism is a Vain Fantasy

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Romans 1: 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.

24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

31 Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what we have here is a three-volume leather-bound trilogy on why hell will have its permanent residents.

Before I address this subject, let me say that  A.) I do not believe that God is anything less than omnipotent and able to bring about all His good will.  B.) I do believe that, strange as it may seem, the poor young lady in this picture may yet be a candidate for God’s salvation.

Why would I say that?  Well, it’s because neither you nor I know if she has crossed that line where the heart is no longer able to respond to the overtures of the Holy Spirit, either here or in the next life. ( A controversial statement, since what is called “Traditional Christianity” declares that there is no opportunity for repentance in the next life – something the Universalists deny ).  Scripture, however, seems to support this understanding of the importance of not neglecting our spiritual state:

Proverbs 29: 1 He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.

Notice the “that without remedy” part. There appears to be a point to which the soul comes in its rebellion against God in which it is incapable of any ability to turn from its path to destruction.  If you have been reading any of my other posts, you should realize that I have been trying to defend Patristic Universalism.  Upon first appearance on my spiritual radar, I was intrigued by its hopeful message. Certainly God is love and loves all – even the bizarre creature gracing the top of this page.  I’m sure that the heart of God is moved towards her as He sees not her strangely tattooed and mutilated body, but rather sees the potential in her, as in all people, to become a child of God, to fulfill the divine purpose for which he created each of us – divinization and the sharing of the divine love. What we cannot see as we strain to find anything likable about her, God sees. And Scripture is clear that it is His will that all be saved and come to the knowledge of Christ.

Yet as I observe the spiritual, moral, and emotional landscape of this world, I find myself hearkening back to the Psalms in which it is stated over and over and over that the wicked will not repent, they find delight in their evils, and care not for the things of God.

And it is not just this young girl.  It is this guy also:

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Most people don’t know him. This is Ivan Boesky, a  Wall Street criminal.

In 1966, Boesky and his wife moved to New York where he worked at several brokerage houses. In 1975, he opened his own firm, the Ivan F. Boesky & Company, with $700,000 (equivalent to $3.1 million in 2016) in seed money from his wife’s family with a business plan of speculating on corporate takeovers. Boesky’s firm grew from profits as well as buy-in investments from new partnerships. By 1986, Boesky had become an arbitrageur who had amassed a fortune of more than US $200 million by betting on corporate takeovers and the $136 million in proceeds from the sale of The Beverly Hills Hotel. Boesky was on the cover of  Time magazine December 1, 1986.

In 1987, a group of partners sued Boesky over what they claimed were misleading partnership documents.  The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigated him for making investments based on tips received from corporate insiders. These stock acquisitions were sometimes brazen, with massive purchases occurring only a few days before a corporation announced a takeover.

Lest it seem that I pick on Mr. Boesky in particular, he is just one of The 15 Most Notorious Wall Street Villains who ever cheated people out of money.

There was a reason why our Lord warned against lust for riches, and told mankind that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.  In his own way, if you could see the soul of the greedy rich man,  you would see the same tattooed evil.  An Armani  suit and a silk tie does not make a holy soul.

In Orthodoxy soteriology (the study of salvation), hell is not a place.  It is a spiritual state in which the soul   A.) sees the reality of all the evil it has done B.) sees the reality of what it could have become but will never be  C.) is still consumed by lusts which it will never fulfill. Thus, John D.  Rockefeller, who once was asked by a reporter “Sir, you are the richest man in the world. How much more do you need” and replied, “Just a little more, sonny. Just a little more.” is still feeling the tormenting lust for money, the insatiable desire for yet one more dime, even at this hour. When Hugh Hefner dies, unless he repents, he will be tormented for all eternity by his intense, unrestrained desire for fornication.  And the young woman above, whose appearance is a walking billboard of her hatred for God and all that He stands for, will be consumed by that hatred forever. Add to that the torment of seeing what they could have become, and you have an unspeakable misery which cannot be relieved.

This is not God’s will for them.

I can imagine our loving heavenly Father continuously expressing His immense and unfathomable love for them in the next life, only to meet with hearts of stone that cannot turn to Him.  There is a line which, once crossed, takes us into a place where we can never return from.  Don’t argue with me, Universalist.  Argue with Scripture, for I have given it to you.

This is not what I want nor do I hope for – for anyone. I have a hope – and that is what it is, a hope,  a wish, a desire –  and not a dogmatic belief, that God may indeed find someway to break through the toughest tattooed skin and bring the most greedy of souls to repentance.  I want even the worst of sinners to be spanked by God, some for a long time, and then have the ability to turn to our Father in repentance and find a home with Him. I cannot imagine anyone really wanting to see another person tormented forever. You would have to be a person of a dreadfully hard and uncompassionate heart to want such a thing.

But the more I observe mankind and see how the wicked are relentless in their pursuit of evil, how every rational and well thought out plea – from scripture, philosophy, and morality – falls on deaf ears, how every mention of God’s love is met with mocking or outright hatred, I find myself thinking that this is a hope that can never be achieved.  It is the obdurate stubbornness of the human heart, so hard that even when God in love appeared as man, healing all who came to Him and casting out demons, people turned against Him and cursed Him on the Cross.  That is hardness of heart.

God does not lack power or will to save. Romans 5: 18 states that God has saved all who have and will ever live, bringing them to Himself and plundering Satan’s house of it’s illicit loot of souls. This is why in Orthodoxy we say that all souls will be in the presence of God – some to eternal delight and some to eternal misery.  God owns all things, and has taken back Creation from the thief and usurper who stole them in Eden.

To understand what I am speaking about, read the presentation of Dr. Alexander Kalomiros, The River of Fire.  This is the Orthodox view of the next life, and I believe it is correct.

It is not that God has not done everything to save all mankind (Calvinism is an appalling and egregious lie, a smear on God’s character) No, it is that the wicked do not want it, and in Orthodox soteriology, what you become in this life you carry with you into eternity and forever.  The wicked do not want Him now, and except they find repentance before they are hardened beyond that ability, will not want it Him the next life. This is why the practice of the faith, seeking God, ascetic practices such as fasting, and repentance for our wrong-doing are so important here and now.  The practice of the Christian faith makes an ontological change in us which makes us ready to joyfully enter into the fires of God’s love.  As steel, when put into the furnace, joins and becomes fire, so will those who repent and turn to Christ.

The same is not true for the wicked. The same fire which proves steel, making it into what it is designed to be, only torments wood, destroying it.

Making Merchandise of Grace

Image result for Icon of the Last Judgement

Icon of the Last Judgment

I imagine that someone, somewhere, has already written this piece in some manner. With the Sacred Scriptures stating that “there is nothing new under the sun,” what I am about to say is most likely old news to a lot of people.  But while some news may be old to one person, it is always new news to the person who personally discovers it for himself. It is kind of like the person who hears about Jesus for the first time, accepts the message of God’s abundant grace through Christ, and can’t stop talking about it in his excitement of being forgiven his sins. When he goes on and on about Christ to those who have been Christians all their lives, they smile, and perhaps even are happy for his excitement and joy of finding the reality of Christ’s love, but for them, this is old news.  It is nothing new, it is simply something that is “new” to the convert.

Converts can have a multitude of blind spots, which are caused by the intense love and attraction they feel for the main locus of the belief to which they have converted. In my case, that love has run into many years for the Catholic faith, and was particularly intense in the first three years, a sort of mountain top experience which has been dubbed in certain circles as “Convert Fever.”

Yeah, and I had a particularly bad case.

The singular most important point of my conversion was that I had connected with the very first Christians in believing that the Eucharist is really the very Body and Blood of Christ, rather than some juice-n-crackers memorial meal with little significance other than what one put into it by  stopping a minute to conjure up mental pictures of Jesus dying on the Cross for our salvation. I felt that I was finally home, that I had managed to wade through the morass of theological constructs to find what the Apostles had taught. And most importantly, that this settled the constant arguments of doctrine between the 40,000+ non-Catholic denominations in the world, all claiming to have the true truth and all disagreeing with each other.

My recent and most vexing discovery over the last three years has been to come to understand the large (might I say vast) difference between the Roman West and the Greek East in the understanding of God’s salvation program.  My assumption was that both had the Sacraments and both were pretty much on the same page, especially since the Church was one, united body of believers before the schism of 1054 AD.

This is not so, and in examining the soteriology of the West, I get the distinct sense that while they may not mean to do so, the West is selling God’s grace. This merchandising of salvation for money is what initiated the Protestant Reformation for Martin Luther when he watched Tetzel and his minions beating every last cent out of the poor to buy their loved ones out of Purgatory.

“What?  You mean if I purchase an Indulgence for my father he will get out of his suffering in Purgatory?  Maw, go get our last chicken and sell it in town. I can’t let Daddy be another moment in Purgatory.”

Really?  Never mind perhaps that good ole Paw was a wife-beating misanthrope who went to church twice a year when he wasn’t drunk so that people wouldn’t talk about him. Do you see the problem here?  The Eastern view of the next life is that we go to be in the presence of Christ, where our true state is revealed.  We either love God (imperfectly at best, but nonetheless love Him in our feeble way) or we hate Him. No amount of coins tossed in a plate is going to change Paw from being a very rotten human being,  neither here nor in the next life.

The Light of Truth, God’s Energy, God’s grace which will fall on men unhindered by corrupt conditions in the Day of Judgment, will be the same to all men. There will be no distinction whatever. All the difference lies in those who receive, not in Him Who gives. The sun shines on healthy and diseased eyes alike, without any distinction. Healthy eyes enjoy light and because of it see clearly the beauty which surrounds them. Diseased eyes feel pain, they hurt, suffer, and want to hide from this same light which brings such great happiness to those who have healthy eyes.

But alas, there is no longer any possibility of escaping God’s light. During this life there was. In the New Creation of the Resurrection, God will be everywhere and in everything. His light and love will embrace all. There will be no place hidden from God, as was the case during our corrupt life in the kingdom of the prince of this world. The devil’s kingdom will be despoiled by the Common Resurrection and God will take possession again of His creation.  Love will enrobe everything with its sacred Fire which will flow like a river from the throne of God and will irrigate paradise. But this same river of Love – for those who have hate in their hearts – will suffocate and burn.

“For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). The very fire which purifies gold, also consumes wood. Precious metals shine in it like the sun, rubbish burns with black smoke. All are in the same fire of Love. Some shine and others become black and dark. In the same furnace steel shines like the sun, whereas clay turns dark and is hardened like stone.

The difference is in man, not in God. The difference is conditioned by the free choice of man, which God respects absolutely. God’s judgment is the revelation of the reality which is in man.

Saint Symeon the New Theologian says that it is not what man does which counts in eternal life but what he is, whether he is like Jesus Christ our Lord, or whether he is different and unlike Him. He says, “In the future life the Christian is not examined if he has renounced the whole world for Christ’s love, or if he has distributed his riches to the poor or if he fasted or kept vigil or prayed, or if he wept and lamented for his sins, or if he has done any other good in this life, but he is examined attentively if he has any similitude with Christ, as a son does with his father.”

 I think that by now we have reached the point of understanding correctly what eternal hell and eternal paradise really are, and who is in reality responsible for the difference.

In the icon of the Last Judgment we see Our Lord Jesus Christ seated on a throne. On His right we see His friends, the blessed men and women who lived by His love. On His left we see His enemies, all those who passed their life hating Him, even if they appeared to be pious and reverent. And there, in the midst of the two, springing from Christ’s throne, we see a river of fire coming toward us. What is this river of fire? Is it an instrument of torture? Is it an energy of vengeance coming out from God in order to vanquish His enemies?

No, nothing of the sort. This river of fire is the river which “came out from Eden to water the paradise” of old (Gen. 2:10). It is the river of the grace of God which irrigated God’s saints from the beginning. In a word, it is the out-pouring of God’s love for His creatures. Love is fire. Anyone who loves knows this. God is Love, so God is Fire. And fire consumes all those who are not fire themselves, and renders bright and shining all those who are fire themselves (Heb. 12:29).

God many times appeared as fire: To Abraham, to Moses in the burning bush, to the people of Israel showing them the way in the desert as a column of fire by night and as a shining cloud by day when He covered the tabernacle with His glory (Exod. 40:28, 32), and when He rained fire on the summit of Mount Sinai. God was revealed as fire on the mountain of Transfiguration, and He said that He came “to put fire upon the earth” (Luke 12:49), that is to say, love, because as Saint John of the Ladder says, “Love is the source of fire” (Step 30, 18).

The Greek writer, Fotis Kontoglou said somewhere that “Faith is fire, and gives warmth to the heart. The Holy Spirit came down upon the heads of the apostles in the form of tongues of fire. The two disciples, when the Lord was revealed to them, said ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us in the way?’ Christ compares faith to a ‘burning candle.’ Saint John the Forerunner said in his sermons that Christ will baptize men ‘in the Holy Spirit and fire.’ And truly, the Lord said, ‘I am come to send fire on the earth and what will I if it be already kindled?’ Well, the most tangible characteristic of faith is warmth; this is why they speak about ‘warm faith,’ or ‘faith provoking warmth.’ And even as the distinctive mark of faith is warmth, the sure mark of unbelief is coldness.

God is a loving fire, and He is a loving fire for all: good or bad. There is, however, a great difference in the way people receive this loving fire of God. Saint Basil says that “the sword of fire was placed at the gate of paradise to guard the approach to the tree of life; it was terrible and burning toward infidels, but kindly accessible toward the faithful, bringing to them the light of day.”  The same loving fire brings the day to those who respond to love with love, and burns those who respond to love with hatred.

Paradise and hell are one and the same River of God, a loving fire which embraces and covers all with the same beneficial will, without any difference or discrimination. The same vivifying water is life eternal for the faithful and death eternal for the infidels; for the first it is their element of life, for the second it is the instrument of their eternal suffocation; paradise for the one is hell for the other. Do not consider this strange. The son who loves his father will feel happy in his father’s arms, but if he does not love him, his father’s loving embrace will be a torment to him. This also is why when we love the man who hates us, it is likened to pouring lighted coals and hot embers on his head.

“I say,” writes Saint Isaac the Syrian, “that those who are suffering in hell, are suffering in being scourged by love…. It is totally false to think that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is a child of the knowledge of truth, and is unquestionably given commonly to all. But love’s power acts in two ways: it torments sinners, while at the same time it delights those who have lived in accord with it” (Homily 84).

God is love. If we really believe this truth, we know that God never hates, never punishes, never takes vengeance. As Abba Ammonas says, “Love never hates anyone, never reproves anyone, never condemns anyone, never grieves anyone, never abhors anyone, neither faithful nor infidel nor stranger nor sinner nor fornicator, nor anyone impure, but instead it is precisely sinners, and weak and negligent souls that it loves more, and feels pain for them and grieves and laments, and it feels sympathy for the wicked and sinners, more than for the good, imitating Christ Who called sinners, and ate and drank with them. For this reason, showing what real love is, He taught saying, ‘Become good and merciful like your Father in Heaven,’ and as He rains on bad and good and makes the sun to rise on just and unjust alike, so also is the one who has real love, and has compassion, and prays for all.” 

Now if anyone is perplexed and does not understand how it is possible for God’s love to render anyone pitifully wretched and miserable and even burning as it were in flames, let him consider the elder brother of the prodigal son. Was he not in his father’s estate? Did not everything in it belong to him? Did he not have his father’s love? Did his father not come himself to entreat and beseech him to come and take part in the joyous banquet? What rendered him miserable and burned him with inner bitterness and hate? Who refused him anything? Why was he not joyous at his brother’s return? Why did he not have love either toward his father or toward his brother? Was it not because of his wicked, inner disposition? Did he not remain in hell because of that? And what was this hell? Was it any separate place? Were there any instruments of torture? Did he not continue to live in his father’s house? What separated him from all the joyous people in the house if not his own hate and his own bitterness? Did his father, or even his brother, stop loving him? Was it not precisely this very love which hardened his heart more and more? Was it not the joy that made him sad? Was not hatred burning in his heart, hatred for his father and his brother, hatred for the love of his father toward his brother and for the love of his brother toward his father? This is hell: the negation of love; the return of hate for love; bitterness at seeing innocent joy; to be surrounded by love and to have hate in one’s heart. This is the eternal condition of all the damned. They are all dearly loved. They are all invited to the joyous banquet. They are all living in God’s Kingdom, in the New Earth and the New Heavens. No one expels them. Even if they wanted to go away they could not flee from God’s New Creation, nor hide from God’s tenderly loving omnipresence. Their only alternative would be, perhaps, to go away from their brothers and search for a bitter isolation from them, but they could never depart from God and His love. And what is more terrible is that in this eternal life, in this New Creation, God is everything to His creatures.

As Saint Gregory of Nyssa says, “In the present life the things we have relations with are numerous, for instance time, air, locality, food and drink, clothing, sunlight, lamplight, and other necessities of life, none of which, many though they be, are God; that blessed state which we hope for is in need of none of these things, but the Divine Being will become all, and in the stead of all to us, distributing Himself proportionately to every need of that existence. It is plain, too, from the Holy Scriptures that God becomes to those who deserve it, locality and home and clothing and food and drink and light and riches and kingdom, and everything that can be thought of and named that goes to make our life happy” (On the Soul and the Resurrection).

In the new eternal life, God will be everything to His creatures, not only to the good but also to the wicked, not only to those who love Him, but likewise to those who hate Him. But how will those who hate Him endure to have everything from the hands of Him Whom they detest? Oh, what an eternal torment is this, what an eternal fire, what a gnashing of teeth.  ( Excerpts from Dr. Alexander Kalomiros – The River of Fire .  A speech given to the 1980 Orthodox  Conference in Seattle WA, July 22-25)

This is the Orthodox understanding.  Heaven or hell are not dependent upon what we have done.  They depend entirely on what we have become.  It is the condition of our soul at death which determines the condition of our afterlife, and no amount of money tossed into a plate can buy a change in a soul’s condition. That is something that is from God’s grace alone, wrought in us as we cooperate with God’s energies working in our souls.

What does this mean?  It means that you cannot simply buy a Scapular or Miraculous Medal and expect that you will be assured of heaven. That is making merchandise of God’s grace – and presuming upon it as well.  You have to change.

On the website Orthodox.org I read a paper on the “Miracle at Fatima” which took place in 1917.  In discussing Fatima, the author wanders into some of the very issues which I am addressing here:

On the occasion of the revelation in 1925, the so-called “Great Promise” was given; this promise states: “I promise to assist at the hour of death with the graces necessary for salvation all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, go to confession, receive Holy Communion, say the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the object of making reparation to me.” This promise clarifies the Communion of Reparation of the First Saturdays which was mentioned in the third appearance in July, 1917.

Now first of all, this reception of communion in Roman Catholic churches is one of the two conditions for the conversion of Russia; but this is obviously unacceptable for Orthodox Christians. Further, the idea that the Theotokos could give one at death “all the graces necessary for salvation” entails a teaching which is completely foreign and contrary to Orthodoxy. The view of grace presented here is the very materialistic one associated with indulgences, as if grace were a commodity which could be stored and distributed; but grace is God’s uncreated energy at work in the world, not something that can be handed out by the saints in exchange for our good works. Our calling as Christians is to follow our Lord Jesus Christ in obedience to God in every aspect and moment of our lives; that obedience, possible only with the grace which comes from the new life in Christ which we receive in Baptism, brings us into a new relationship to God. To think that one could purchase one’s salvation by performing a few pious acts on five consecutive Saturdays trivializes the whole Christian life and makes a mockery of our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection.

In point of fact, the First Saturdays are another instance of the parallelism between the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the seventeenth century Margaret-Mary Alacoque received this promise about the Sacred Heart of Jesus by special revelation: “In the greatness of the mercy of my Heart, its all powerful love will give to all those who receive Communion on the first Friday of every month for nine consecutive months, the grace of full repentance that they shall not die under my displeasure nor without receiving the sacraments, and that my Heart shall be their sure refuge at that last hour.

The most vivid picture of this Western thinking which comes to my mind is that scene in the Godfather where Fredo, having been caught betraying The Family, is taken fishing  by one of his brother’s goons.  Fredo knows the jig is up, and he begins to pray the Rosary in what appears to be a sort of last gasp attempt to do something to miss the fires of hell.  But Fredo is not changed on the inside. If he were to somehow shoot the goon about to kill him and escape to Mexico, he would the same ego maniacal little gangster he has been all his life. And he would meet God in that way – his Rosary meant nothing. It was a last ditch attempt  to escape punishment, to perhaps impress God and not get a hell-beating. This is a far cry from a sincere life of repentance and seeking God in which the soul experiences theosis in this life and becomes like Christ.

God is not bought off. His grace is not for sale. But more than that, He has saved the whole world through Christ Jesus, every man, woman, and child who will ever live.

Romans 5:  1Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.

19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

It is not up to us to earn or buy our salvation.  That is done – finished – finito – completed. Mankind is invited to enter into union with Christ Jesus through baptism into Him (Romans 6:3) and from there to begin the journey in to god-likeness.  Roman soteriology does not talk about this process. They do have an understanding of Divinization (which is called Theosis in the East) but in fifteen years in the Catholic Church, I can count on one hand the number of times I have either heard about or read about this from the Roman Church. What I do see is this constant yammering that if you do this or do that, you are assured of heaven, sometimes on the non-stop direct express which passes Purgatory.  I find such selling of God’s grace to be reprehensible at best, and an insult to the Gospel and the work of Christ. In a sense, it is “cheap grace.”

Now in all fairness to the Roman Church and Her dogmas, if you have a Scapular, pray the Divine Mercy, and you are in addition living a life of devotion to Christ and eschewing sin, then these things can be an additional help to you in your journey. But if you wear the Brown Scapular and that is the sum total of your devotion to  Christ, expecting that He is going to welcome you into heaven simply because you have this lovely little piece of brown cloth around your neck – you are in for a most rude awakening. God’s grace to us does not work that way. It is synergistic, which means that as we cooperate with Him, obeying His commands and His Church, following the faith and receiving the Sacraments in good faith,  He works mysteriously within us to make us more and more like Christ.

So what is my problem and why did I write this article. Because I’m not seeing a lot of this taught from the Roman Church.  What I mostly read are articles in which sinners are promised eternal life because of what they have done – not  because of what they are.

While this is not along the lines of the heretical teaching of Evangelicalism that once you “accept Jesus” you are set for heaven, it it close. This is one of the things that the Roman Church is going to have to change if there is to ever be reunion of the East and West.

Dr. Scott Hahn & Bad CD’s

Image result for Jesus on the Cross

 

Recently I purchased a CD from our local Roman Catholic parish where my wife is a member.  I have recently become engaged in an ongoing study of the issue of Patristic Universalism, or Apakatastasis.  I saw this CD about hell, presented by Dr. Scott Hahn, and hoped I could get some good and substantive answers to the many questions that are now swirling around my brain in regards to this doctrine. The people on the side of Patristic Universalism have some serious things to consider, and my hope was to find out if there was a good refutation of these things from Dr. Hahn.

I was deeply disappointed.

I wrote a letter to Lighthouse Communications, the people who create and distribute the CD’s teaching Catholic dogma to the faithful, hoping for a letter in return.  I am also deeply disappointed to have received not even the kindness of an acknowledgment of writing.

Here is the letter I sent:

Sirs:
I recently saw one of your CDs on display in our local parish.  Because I have a current interest I in the subject addressed in the CD, I purchased it.  The CD is WHY IS THERE HELL? by Dr. Scott Hahn. After having listened to it, I feel compelled to write to you regarding its contents.

For a man of Dr. Hahn’s intellect and abilities, this was a profoundly disappointing performance. There is an increasing discussion in social media regarding the teaching of Patristic Universalism. It is in this light, and having listened to several authors regarding the possibility of God’s immense love bringing all home to be with Him, I was hoping for a strong intellectual dissent from Dr. Hahn which would help me in my search for the truth.  I did not get it.

Dr. Hahn did not address the following issues which are very much seminal to the universalist argument:

1.  The existence in the Church, prior to Augustine, of a large body of work and notable saints who taught that God’s love will eventually bring all to Himself.  Chief among these is St. Isaac the Syrian, along with notable such as Clement and Jerome.  In all Christendom, from A.D. 170 to 430, there were six Christian schools. Of these four, the only strictly theological schools, taught Universalism, and but one endless punishment. The idea of eternal torment (ET) did not take root until Augustine presented it, along with other radical ideas which broke with the Early Fathers who had come before him.  I heard not single word from Dr. Hahn regarding this fact, but only a sideways condemnation of Origen and apocatastasis, a rather typical cheap shot which is taken by defenders of ET.  Origen was condemned, but apocatastasis was not, only Origen’s distortions of it. But this is the tactic of the weak fighter – pick on the easiest target out there and have at it.  Hahn tries to say on the CD that ET has been the traditional position of the Church.  Maybe in Rome starting in the sixth century, but not in Greece.

2.  For a man who is, by his own testimony, well-versed in Greek, his refusal to address the corrupted translation of the Greek New Testament into Latin by Latin fathers    who not only knew little Greek but, by their own admission, despised the language, speaks volumes to me. It has the look of someone running away from a fight he knows he cannot win.

The many places in which the Latin translators have translated the Greek words “aion” and “aionios” as eternal are not true to the meaning of those words. Translation from one language to another is a tricky business at best. It is made even worse when those doing the translating either are ignorant of the linguistic meanings of the original texts, or even worse, have an agenda to fulfill. I was hoping that Dr. Hahn, being one who knows Greek, would address this, but alas, he runs from the fight.

3.  Philosophical issues:

A. What are the philosophical ramifications of the clear scriptures which state that “God is love” and that he is merciful. Dr. Hahn refuses to enter into discussion of whether a true father burns his child in and eternal and never-ending fire for a temporal sin?  Is such behavior really consistent with a God who is not only identified as love, but has told us to forgive our enemies?  Does God exempt Himself from the very moral behavior which He enjoins us to practice?  Dr. Hahn does nothing to address this, other than a weak passing attempt at trying  to link God’s retribution to His love. He fails. Revenge is not love and has nothing to do with love. Correction and restoration are true of a father’s heart. Love always seeks remediation and restoration of the fallen.

Furthermore, Dr. Hahn does not go into detail in explaining exactly what justice is and the different types of justice which exist: retributive, restorative, and remedial.  Another opportunity for deep explanation of Catholic thought is entirely lost.  It seems that the Western Church has decided upon God getting even with His enemies is proper eschatology and that’s that.

B. Tied in with that, another issue which was not addressed is this: why do we pray for the dead if their state is unalterably fixed immediately at death?  It is a waste of time and  breath if that is so. There is also no specific text in scripture which states that the state of the dead is inalterable. It is an argument from silence at best.

C. What does it say of God’s omnipotence if His will can be thwarted by mere man or any creature?  There are explicit statements in Scripture which state that Christ is the Savior of all men and all mankind. (1Tim.  2:4) Is this the will of God, or merely a fond wish from Someone unable to make all His holy will come to pass?  Dr. Hahn doesn’t come near this with a 10-foot pole in his dissertation, taking the easy road of supposed Church tradition.  Yet, as mentioned above, this is not “Church tradition” until established in the 6th century.

D. There is an absolutely pathetic attempt to defend ET by an appeal to the “glory and majesty of God” in which Dr. Hahn says that because of God’s infinite majesty, the punishment therefore must be also of infinite nature. This is Anselm of Canterbury’s skewed idea, and it falls entirely out of line with proportional justice found in the Scriptures. The principle of Lex Talionis teaches us that the punishment fits the crime, not the office of the person.  There is nothing in Scripture which indicates that stealing a loaf of bread is to be punished by being cruelly tortured and then torn apart by four horses.  Yet that is the equivalency of punishment that ET suggests for temporal sins.

E.  Here is something I would very much like ask Dr. Hahn and have his answer: if it is true that God desires (wills) the salvation of all mankind and desires that none be lost, if He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, then why does He allow demons to tempt and deceive men into eternal ruin?  This is not the action of One who wishes the salvation of all, any more than if I say that I wish the purity of my sons and then subject them to vile pornography on a daily basis. One must ask the question then, to what purpose is the allowance which is given the devil is on earth?  If it is to get men to fall into sin, to damn them forever to eternal miserable torment, and God allows it, then to me that  places a rather large black mark on the character of God.  Indeed, the God of ET found in the Western Church eschatology strikes me as being more like the pagan gods of Rome than the God Who manifested Himself in love in our Lord Jesus Christ, being willing to die for all mankind and Creation.

F.  If God loses even one sinner in eternity, can not the devil have something of which he may gloat about forever?  If sinners are lost, is the Cross truly a victory? Has Christ really won if there are yet enemies, even if they are in hell forever, who spend all eternity hating him with every fibre of their being.  Can the will of God be thwarted? Have those in the ET camp even taken the time to consider the philosophical ramifications of the loss of even one soul in eternity?

To sum up Dr. Hahn’s whole argument on this CD, it would seem to be “The Church teaches it, the Scriptures teach it, and that settles it.”

No, it doesn’t settle it – at all. It doesn’t settle it because in the original Greek, you cannot support eternal punishment. Aionios and aion have to do with the concept of the “age” and not eternity.  This is dishonest scholarship. The Church is supposed to be the faithful transmitter of the truth “once delivered to the saints.”  If universalism was taught up until Augustine’s writings began to destroy it, one wonders if the Church has been derelict in Her duty?  And since I was taught in RCIA that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, these discoveries are causing me no small amount of spiritual angst, much the same as when I discovered that John Calvin’s teachings were not practiced in the first century.

Doctrinal issues are supposed to be hashed out in councils which discover the truth and reflect the mind of the Holy Spirit (Council of Jerusalem – Acts 15). Since when did the independent musings of a single man, Augustine, carry the weight of the whole Church without being looked at or discussed before being accepted as truth, especially when they attacked the current dogmatic teachings of the time? The same must be asked about the development of the idea of hell as written about in the Medieval Ages and expressed in Dante’s Inferno.  This is especially troubling when you consider that the Church is identified in Scripture as “the pillar and ground of truth.”  What am I supposed to think when I see that the original autographs of the Scriptures and the teaching of five centuries has been ignored?  To what purpose?  Could it be to “keep people in line by fear” as a means of control, as has been suggested by some?  Given the historically wretched behavior of some of the power hungry hierarchical members of the Western Church, that suggestion may not be far off-base.

There is so much more that could be addressed, but I close with this thought.  The CD is a sad excuse for quality apologia.  “The Church teaches this and you better believe it – OR ELSE!”  That is not apologia, and as a convert who was brought into the Church by Dr. Hahn’s teachings, I am quite frankly appalled.  With the quality of Universalist apologia out there from the Patristic Fathers, the Scriptures, and Catholic philosophers, if you want to win this battle, you will have to do much better than this production.

Dr. Hahn, if you want to prove yourself and truly defend the teaching of ET as being truth, debate Professor John Kronen or Professor Eric Reitan. David Bentley Hart and Fr. Aiden Kimel would also provide a stout intellectual and scriptural defense of the universalist eschatological paradigm. In short, there is no lack of highly scholarly defenders of universalism. Or is this CD just an attempt to keep the mindless unwashed in line with threats of eternal fire?  If so, I am sure that you have succeeded, but I will not so easily be swayed without a strong defense of the ET position. And that CD was NOT IT!

 

God’s Hand & Our Free Will

On a rather old (2008) blog site I found yet another argument regarding apokatastasis (the doctrine that God will restore all Creation to its former pre-Fall glory). It is of interest to me because one of the participants is Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Bishop of Vienna and Austria.  The blog was about his discussion of St. Issac of Syria, given at the Catholic Church’s first World Congress on Divine Mercy. What makes this blog even more interesting is the presence of His Grace, Bishop Hilarion, in the comments section to clarify the discussion being held regarding apokatastasis and his comments at the World Council.  For those interested, you may read the comments here.

I wish to take issue with one comment in particular made in this series of statements:

“One further point: I can understand the wish to believe that everyone is saved. I think all of us agree on this: Hell is a dreadful doctrine, and it is very hard to wrap our minds around it.

But IMHO there truly is no way to posit the salvation of all without ruling out free will. And to rule out free will is to deny human dignity. If we are passive robots who will all be saved whether we like it or not, so to speak, then we are not fully, truly human.

IOW, it may seem kinder to veer toward universalism, but I would very respectfully suggest that it really isn’t. There is no true kindness involved in a belief that negates our human dignity (IMHO).”

Step by step, my response to this is:

  1. Not only is hell a dreadful doctrine, it casts a dreadful slander upon our loving heavenly Father to believe in some of the forms of hell which are so terribly popular among Catholics.  The lurid tales of Dante’s Inferno, the vivid descriptions of many of the modern Catholic “seers,” the ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas and Tertullian in which they claim that the saved will watch the torments of the damned and not only enjoy them, but they will add to the glory of God, these are all to me a perverse character assassination of the One whom the Bible says is love, as if love would initiate such tortures and keep them going forever for the enjoyment of those in heaven and the fulfilling of some bizarre idea of justice.

It is not only hard to wrap my mind around such a teaching, it is even harder to imagine that love would have anything to do with a punishment that goes far beyond what is required of justice to punish a man for his sins.  As one Orthodox writer, who is a Patristic Universalist, said of such a description of the torments of hell:  “You are not talking about Jesus. You are talking about Zeus!”

2.  The writer goes on to make the statement that God MUST respect our free will, and to not do so is to deny our human dignity.  Since I have a distinct dog in this fight, one that the writer may never have encountered, I feel I must respond to this.

If God had respected my free will, I would still be involved in a panoply of sins so disgusting and heinous that I will not mention them here.  Or I would now be long dead and gone from this world.  Given the severity of my wickedness and the insanity of my actions, I think probably the latter. Think of the Hippie Movement of the 1960’s and imagine every licentious, dirty, and wicked thing that the Movement promoted.  That was me, and that was my “free will choice,” so to speak.  I loved the sins of the flesh, I had declared myself an atheist, and I despised Christians. I wanted nothing at all to do with them or their Jesus.  That was my free will.  Go away God! Go away Christians!

So how did I come to the point of repenting and turning to Christ in sorrow for my sins? Did God overtake and remove my free will, eliciting from me a robotic response of repentance which He desired?  Was my will violated in such a manner that I had no choice but to do what I was told?

No, God simply let me “run out my string.”

There is a saying in the Twelve Steps book of AA which says that you cannot make an addict change until he has hit the bottom and is watching his last bubble of air float to the surface. That is exactly what God did with me, allowing me to, of my own “free will,” hit the bottom and realize that all the “fun” I was having was about to kill me.  Far from the sense of carnal excitement I felt when I took my first hit of marijuana, my life had become, in four years of unrestrained hedonism,  a joyless tedium racked with sorrow and drug-induced psychosis.  I was in deep trouble and I knew it, filled with suicidal thoughts but dreadfully scared of the black void which my atheism said was the ultimate end of man.  Of my own free will, I began an intense search for the garden gate which offer escape from this fool’s paradise into which I had eagerly dashed.  No one had to tell me it was get out or die – and no one was coercing me! I had come to the point that I knew it was the only option left for me.  Yet even then, I could have chosen to shake my fist at God and die.  I took the choice to live and began my search.

The gate out of my individual hell came in the shape of a cross.

Did God in any way violate my free will?  Or did He simply allow me to come to a point where the foolishness, the vanity, and the destructiveness of my choices could no longer be ignored, and the “joys” of unrestrained hedonism were not worth the price I was paying?

Do you see the point I am making?  The only objection that the writer really has is the idea that some come later – much later – than others. Every repentance, every Christian   conversion comes about as a result of the awakening of the mind to the reality of God. Repentance – turning from ourselves to God  – is the result. If God did not intervene to change our wills – bending them not by coercive force, but by bringing us to see ourselves as we truly are and Himself as the true desire of our hearts – we would never wish anything to do with Him.  Ever.  This is the very issue the Council of Orange dealt with in response to the Pelegian heresy, which says that man, left to himself, can find God.  He cannot.  God must intervene. He is the Prime Mover to whom we respond.

God moves first. Waits for our response. Maybe we do respond. But maybe we are set in our sins and find delight in them. God is patient and continues to move towards us, always moving first and waiting for our free will response.  Some few respond at an early age, even before they are teens.  Many more respond in their teens, twenties, thirties, forties….some on their deathbeds.

Some die unconvinced.

What do they find on the other side? Truth.  The presence of Christ strips away every vain thought the soul has of itself and the carnal pleasures of sin. Sergius Bulgakov wrote that even the devil, when stripped of all that he has, will come to see himself as a nothing folding itself in on itself, and will thus come to realize the lie he believed  – that he could exist without relationship to God.

Bulgakov pictured Satan as being bitterly divided between the awareness of his angelic creaturely nature on the one hand and his false pretense to be the ‘prince of this world’ on the other hand Bulgakov asked ‘Can Satan’s battle with himself become infinite (and in this sense “eternal”), a bad infinity? Or must Satan lose his strength in this battle and at some point lay down his arms in impotence? Bulgakov’s reply was that after Satan’s expulsion from the world his resources were bound to be exhausted by this internal contradiction, the prince of darkness would give in to the power of divine love in the end.

God’s limitless mercy and the sacrifice offered by Christ extend even into the realm of the demonic

So it will be with the soul.  To see ourselves as nothing, stripped of all false pretense and ego so common in this world, is to come to a point in which the soul will desire, of its free will, to be united to Christ, no matter what in what manner it must suffer to achieve that end.  We were created to be “gods,” to share the divine nature. The alternative is nothingness. Who, of their own free will, would choose that over becoming all that God made us to be, no matter what the cost in purgative and restorative punishment in the fires of God’s love?

“Here Origen, like Bulgakov, emphasizes that the torment is caused by the internal conflict between what the soul has become in its revolt against God and what God had made it to be. Bulgakov also followed Origen and Gregory of Nyssa in stressing the purgative and therapeutic rather than the retributive dimension of this type of punishment.

For Bulgakov, the triumph of God’s will meant that in the resurrection rational creatures would no longer be able to choose between good and evil, but only between the different kinds of good. The progress towards evil would become impossible; only  the progress towards greater good, the passing ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Cor 3 18) would remain a possibility. Bulgakov insisted that such a state did not eliminate human freedom. On the contrary, freedom from evil is the greatest possible kind of freedom rational creatures can possess.”

“Blessed are they who have not seen, yet have believed.”  Why? Because we will miss the painful fires of God’s chastening love which will purge the sinner of all self-importance, all falsity, all ego, and make us desire – of our own free will – our true Home.

And Catholics Everywhere are Outraged!!

It seems that the newest outrage to assault the hearts and minds of true Catholics is that Pope Francis has appointed a Universalist to be head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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OH HORROR OF HORRORS!!!

What a dastardly thing, to have someone in a place of authority who actually believes that there is the possibility that God is really THAT loving!  How dare He?

Dear reader, first click on the link above, read the horrified article, complete with swooning and gasping at the idea that God is forgiving enough to allow everyone to eventually be forgiven, then you may understand my commentary below:

Okay, let’s separate some of the errors from the truth.

1. The teaching of eternal hell and torment for certain persons is NOT firmly established upon the words of our Lord in the Bible. It comes from a wretched mistranslation of the Greek in which the word “aionios” is translated “eternal” and means no such thing. Aionios means “age-long” or “age-during,” and the Roman Church, if it wants to be seen as really interested in the truth, needs to tackle this issue.

2. Jesus, being an orthodox and law-keeping Jew, would have never spoken about hell because no such thing was taught by Judaism. What was taught was that the dead went to “Sheol,” or the place of the dead. There was no idea of this being a place of permanent abode or torture.

3. If there is an eternal hell to avoid, why is the OT simply devoid of such teaching? Why did God not from the very beginning warn Cain that this was what he was in danger of as he contemplated in his heart the murder of his brother? What kind of misanthropic Creator would our Lord be to know that souls were in danger of an eternity of wailing and torture and not warn them over and over and over and over and over until the message sank in?  Is that the action of the One Who the Scriptures describe as love?

4. Your smart-ass comment is noted regarding that either the Gospels inaccurately recorded the words of our Lord or our Lord is a liar. No, the liars came out of the Roman Church with their inability to translate the Greek. This whole thing of men as a “massa damnata” and eternal punishment started with Augustine, who couldn’t read Greek if his life depended on it. Get your facts straight!

5. God does not “want” all men saved. The Bible says this is HIS DIVINE WILL. So you have to confront this issue: does God always bring His will to pass? The proper answer is yes. Your God apparently is a weak wuss who sits around wishing He could save men, but is unable to do so, wringing His hands at the unfairness of it all.

6. At the end, you make an Evangelical-sounding declaration (are you Catholic or Evangelical?) You state that God saves those who ask Him to save them. No, that is wrong. God’s salvation comes when we are baptized into Christ. Asking has nothing to do with it. But even then, Romans 2: 13-16 admits to the distinct possibility of those who NEVER even heard of  Christ being saved.  What do you make of that?

For the longest time, the Roman Church taught that salvation was found in the Roman Church only.  But as explorers began to find the tribal peoples of North and South America, they had to back-track in some amount of embarrassment from this “official teaching” because they realized how unfair it sounded to the honest human ear (and it was indeed not only unfair, but not what Scripture teaches)

7. The Church has not “always” (as in “from the very beginning”) condemned Patristic Universalism. If that were true, then we would have had a council to discuss and dismiss this (Constantinople II does not count because it was not about Universalism – it was about Origen and the Three Chapters). For 300+ years there were four schools, including Alexandria, which taught Universalism.  If this be heresy – and according to the author, soul-damning heresy – then one must explain the utter lack of council to deal with it for over 300 years.  Arianism, Monothellitism, Monophysitism, and a host of other true heresies didn’t require that long to be addressed and condemned.

8. Where is the “Good News” in Dante’s sociopathic view of the afterlife, in Aquinas laughing at the damned and their torment, in Augustine’s morose view that the majority of men will be damned forever? Doesn’t sound much like good news to me at all. At least the universal message has some hope to it.

9. Patristic Universalism does NOT deny that there is punishment for wickedness after death for those who have embraced evil in this life. We simply do not believe that a just God deals out such a disproportionate punishment. It is not justice to punish someone far, FAR beyond what the crime calls for.  It is not without reason that David Bentley Hart has described Anslem’s Cur Deus Homo as “Catholics in the Hands of a Psychotic God.”  (Nice take off on another sociopath by the name of Jonathan Edwards)

10. Why does it bother all you hellists (those who wish to see their fellow man fried forever) that God might actually be more forgiving than you could even begin to imagine? Would you care to answer that for me?

And this is the challenge I end with. Tell me why it bothers you so much to think that God could be so loving that He will restore all mankind? (after proportional punishment for their sins).  To suggest this gets some people in an absolute fevered “Knickers in a Knot” frothing rage, screaming “HERESY! HERESY!” at the top of their lungs.

Well, if I am a heretic for holding that hope, then I am in darn fine company when you look at the list of saints in the Early Fathers who taught this. I think I’ll take their company over someone who seems to be salivating over the prospect of sinners being roasted forever.