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.

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