Category Archives: Religious polemics

Featured post in the religion category

We are brothers aren’t we?

Few days ago my child asked me about why do the Jews and the Arabs hate each other.

Well…. I am not going to venture into the reasons that caused the child to notice it, nor for that matter, will I dispute whether such hate actually exists. I will tackle only my responsibility as a parent to explain what my child observed. Here I must clarify also that by “Jews” was meant practitioners of Judaism and not anyone of Jewish origin, and by Arabs what the child really meant was practitioners of Islam. The reason I am making this clarification is because I myself was wondering if I am observing some germinating seed of racial prejudice or a generalized observation of behavior among people who self-identify to belong to one of these particular groups. So in the end the question boils down to why practitioners of Judaism and Islam harbor ill will towards each other.

At first, I decided to best my grandmother (bless her soul) who, when faced with a difficult question, would simply respond: ‘God only knows.’ But after ranting and explaining to my kid long enough that his eyes begun to glisten and a yawn pierced his fading attention span, I realized that I was saying the same thing my grandmother used to, just with many, many more words.

So without any further ado, allow me put you to sleep with the journey of discovering the brotherly relation between the Muslims and the Jews.

As you might recall, it all goes back to the Old Testament, the book of Genesis and the birth of Ishmael. Chapter 16,17, 21 and 25 to be exact, deal with this interesting story which can be abbreviated so: Abraham was promised by God, that his seed will be as numerous as dust of the Earth, so Abraham decided to help God a bit. The good book does place the blame on Sarai, who originally came up with this idea, but if Sarai suggestion is allowed to be so powerful, then men have no actual authority, and we are just blameless sheep led to slaughter by these superior females. Although I am positive that such an outlook would be welcomed by some women activists, I am quite of the opinion that this ‘blame’ was written in just to exonerate the ‘wonderful’ father of the Hebrew nation.

At that point lets indulge ourselves in the intricate setup to help God, as devised by Abraham and Sarai. Genesis 16: 3-4 (KJV)

And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.

And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.

Ok, before we go any further with that:   notice that Sarai gave her (Hagar) to be his (Abraham’s) wife. So the initial intent by the writer seems bearable: Hagar becomes Abraham’s second wife, which in those times and in that culture was considered acceptable. Then why do we have Hagar despising Sarai, once she became pregnant? The writer turns the table and makes Sarai the victim here when she says: And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the Lord judge between me and thee. But anyone can see, that the slave girl was simply given up for rape. She was never married to Abraham, or at least no one mentions it, and later she is treated and sent away like a dog.

If you know anything about rape victims, especially about victims of repeated sexual abuse, you will realize that a Stockholm syndrome is very likely and therefore the victim will find enmity with the situation, circumstance or person who perpetuates such situation, rather than the perpetrator himself.   Also in cases where Stockholm syndrome did not take root, the victim will rationalize that the perpetrator is not the only culprit, but those who aid and abet him are as responsible as the perpetrator.

So there should be no wonder that Hagar would despise Sarai, the problem here is that Sarai knowing that Hagar is pregnant, fears that her own status might suffer, so she begins the process of removing Hagar from her path.

At first, Abraham gives the fate of Hagar to Sarai. If she were one of his wives, he would have not done so, but once again his actions shine light on this situation. Hagar is just a slave and has no status. Sarai deals harshly with the girl and Hagar flees. (Gen 16:6) but then a messenger from God pops in and tells Hagar to return and be meek: Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands (Gen 16:9). In exchange he promises to make her descendants countless. She returned and gave birth to a son: Ishmael.

Years later when Ishmael was thirteen, Sarah gave birth to a son named Isaac. Again Sarah started concocting against Hagar and her son and eventually demanded that Abraham send them away. Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac (Gen 21:10). Here the good book mentions that Ishmael was mocking, but does not go into details. Guess mocking was a terrible and unforgivable crime that deserved a great punishment.

Here Abraham has a second though, he got used to Ishmael as his son, but God intervenes and says it’s OK to chase the boy and his mother away into wilderness. Abraham was such a wonderful man, that he trusted that God will take care of them. Strangely he did not trust God that much before he slept with Hagar, or when he mocked God for promising him a son when he was about a hundred years old. Please notice that Abraham mocking God was not punishable in any specific way while Ishmael mocking someone that was not even mentioned, got him kicked out from his home.

Hagar giving Ishmael water from the Miraculous Well in the Desert. Charles Paul Landon (1760-1826). Oil on canvas, 75 x 103cm.

 

Again an interesting piece comes mentioned: God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah’s advice (Gen 21:12) to chase the boy away. This is the second time Abraham is exonerated of making a bad decision, and a woman steps in his place, this time backed by God. So there should be no qualms that the writer of this text made sure Men are not to be blamed for any bad decisions.

What strikes me in this story is what follows in Genesis 22. Here Abraham is tested for his faithfulness and ordered to sacrifice, Isaac. When he complies, God intervenes and stops the sacrificial murder.

The reason this is so striking, is because I have not mentioned God’s responsibility in this whole fiasco. It is easy to blame Sarah while trying to exonerate Abraham, but what did God do or did not do to make things happen. First, God communicated with Abraham and gave him his covenant, he made his promises (of multiple progeny) and he promised him a land. He intervened when Hagar escaped from Sarah, the first time and the spoke with Abraham taking Sarah’s side to kick Hagar out. God also intervened to save Hagar and Ishmael in the desert and to stop Abraham from killing Ishmael. But somehow, somewhere God was absent when Sarah gave Hagar to be raped by Abraham.

When Sarah mocked God’s messenger and his promise of a child, He heard it and reprimanded her. But When Sarah concocted her plan on Hagar, no one stopped her.

The author of this text was so concerned with explaining enmity between the two groups, while keeping his people blameless that he missed implicating his own God as a culprit. And since according to the book, God was a culprit in this situation, therefore it is correct to state that: only God knows why.

Part Four: What do you want from us God?

 

Now that we have inkling into what a sin could be (or what it is not). We might ask ourselves: was it all necessary? Did Adam and Eve (real or metaphoric) really need to sin?

To explore this subject I will reach into the doctrine of Justification and use it to pull my proverbial rabbit out of it. For those who are unfamiliar with this concept, let me refresh your memory:

IMG_1708Justification or more specifically Christian Justification is the concept that God forgives us, and proclaims us to be righteous because of Christ’s righteousness (Rom 3:24-26; 4:25; 5:15-21).

Basically if we go back to my previous post Part Three: Sin as “Missing the Mark” we see that Christ paid off our debt. This act made us eligible to ‘hit the mark’ in our relation with the Divine, while He got imputed with our sin.

From Theopedia:

Imputation “is used to designate any action or word or thing as reckoned to a person. Thus in doctrinal language (1) the sin of Adam is imputed to all his descendants, i.e., it is reckoned as theirs, and they are dealt with therefore as guilty; (2) the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them that believe in him, or so attributed to them as to be considered their own; and (3) our sins are imputed to Christ, i.e., he assumed our ‘law-place,’ undertook to answer the demands of justice for our sins. In all these cases the nature of imputation is the same (Rom. 5:12-19; comp. Philemon 1:18, 19).”

It is interesting that the Bible shows us the example of this through the story of Tamar. In this very complex and multifaceted account, we can dig out multiple moral lessons, yet I have not seen anyone IMG_1725make the following interpretation: Tamara stands for a metaphor of Christian redemption with God/judge at fault yet reproachable only by his own sense of righteousness.

Let’s see how it work starting with the background from Genesis 38 (MEV):

 Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord killed him.

Then Judah said to Onan, “Go have relations with your brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up descendants for your brother.” But Onan knew that the descendant would not be his, so when he had relations with his brother’s wife, he let his semen go on the ground, so that he would not give a descendant to his brother. 10 What he did displeased the Lord; therefore He killed him also.

11 Then Judah said to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow at your father’s house until Shelah my son grows up.” For he thought, “He may die also, just as his brothers did.” So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.

So we have here Judah, one of Josephs brothers, who in his own household, as per Judaic tradition, is the patriarch an absolute ruler. Yet there is a law or tradition demanding that the widow of his first born son must be allowed to raise descendants by the remaining brother if the first one dies without an heir. This law is a bit strange to us in modern times, especially with our knowledge of genetics, but then again, the genes of each of the sons are of the paternal lineage. From the father’s perspective it does not matter which son produced the heir. This strange law however imbibes the woman with some rights that she acquired by marrying the oldest son. Since the oldest son receives the greatest share or possibly the entire inheritance, his wife as result is placed in a socially advantageous position. Albeit archaic, this law protects women’s interests and is in fact a right step in the direction of women’s rights and the IMG_1710recognition of maternal lineage in ancient Hebrew society. But enough about the particulars. Suffice to say they had a law that was sacred to them and Judah had to abide by it. Unfortunately, he did not. He lost two sons to this woman and now he had the third one (notice the symbolism of three) the youngest one whom he wanted to protect. He was fearful for this boy and possibly jealous. He had no intention of giving him up. Thus Tamar, by no fault of her own (she was never seen as the culprit in the previous two husbands demise) resorted to a trick. A trick that in fact could have gotten her killed. She pretended to be a temple prostitute when Judah came to town. Again from the book of Genesis 38 Modern English Version:

15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16 Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”

“And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked.

17 “I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said.

“Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?” she asked.

18 He said, “What pledge should I give you?”

“Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. 19 After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again.

Now we off course know what had to happen later:

24 About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”

Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”

What an interesting turn of events. The woman who was wronged by him in refusing to give her due, is now a law breaker and as such can be disposed of. Notice that no one mentions the man. There is no repercussion for Judah sleeping around with a prostitute. In fact, his behavior seems normal. He just saw a woman who sells her body on the street and it was no surprise to him. He quickly approached her and negotiated the price. Ever wonder how many other times he did it? Apparently there in no sin in that, but her…. Oh the harlot! Burn her to ashes and forget she ever existed!

Lucky for Tamar, she had planned all that and at the critical moment she whipps out the seal, cord and staff.

26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again.

How nice of him to figure out that it was him at fault in this situation. But notice the last words:” And he did not sleep with her again.”

So here is how I see this story as a metaphor for humanity and God:

Tamar is the creation of God who is given something from Him, but it does not work out the way it was intended. So God sets humanity up by withholding something.

From Genesis 2:

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

It seems a terrible thing until we learn that there is a remedy with a twist:

The devil or serpent says to Eve in Genesis 3:

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So this vile creature contradicts what God said or does he? We see later in Genesis 3 after God caught man stealing his fruit of knowledge:

22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

So let’s skip for a moment that the serpent was not 100% wrong and that God did not tell100% truth, for man “has become like one of us.” But there was a remedy: The tree of Life. Apparently the man was able to eat from it before, but now he was no longer welcome.

Tamar was partaker of the inheritance of Judah, but now that she committed the sin of adultery, she no longer was welcome to the inheritance. But her plan was well laid out. She had with her objects that justified her actions. And those objects were given to her by no other than Judah. She still slept with a man that was not her husband (by no fault of her own) just like men sinned without knowledge by no fault of their own. And just like Judah in the Tamar story, God gives men something that will justify men’s actions: Jesus Christ in whom we are justified.

In some Christian circles the sin of Adam is known as a happy fault, for it gave us such a great redeemer. This whole set up into sin had to be necessary for us to come into inheritance of God’s promise with full awareness of its value. Adam and Eve, could never appreciate the tree of life until they had tasted death.

Next time we will tackle the issue of prayer, what is it and what should it be. So don’t’ miss the ride next week. Until then, Blessed Be

Part Three: Sin as “Missing the Mark”

 

The Bible is very peculiar when it comes to defining a sin. Most people and religions which utilize the Bible as their source and consider it a sacred text, interpret sin as disobedience to the Divine. They take God’s parental stance towards mankind, where the Divine without reason or explanation tells ‘his children’ to do something, they fail to do it for whatever reason and then punishment commences.

I have already mentioned in the previous post the peculiar set up which lead to the fall of Adam and Eve. It seemed they were in a situation where sin was unavoidable. This does not seem very just and righteous.   Man reached for knowledge of what is right and what is wrong and got whacked for it. How were they supposed to know that this was bad?

This theme of knowledge being something craved by men and jealously held on by God or gods seems to repeat itself in many traditions.

In Greek mythology, Prometheus steals fire from Zeus to give it to humanity. The fire can represent purification and knowledge, but in the most mundane version it simply gives warmth, protection and the ability to survive in a primitive world where humans are weak, and defenseless against the terrifying powers of nature. In evolutionary terms, learning to harness the fire is one of the most important events in human pre-history. Yet in the end Prometheus get punished for that.

The Lenape legend of the rainbow crow, has the bird bring the fire down to earth from the Spirit Creator, but in the process the bird loses its beautiful feathers and his singing voice. It’s a price it must pay for this sacred knowledge that is vital to humans.

In the book of Enoch, the Angels come down to earth and marry humans. They teach mankind various arts such as (Form Enoch 1):

And Azazel taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the metals (of the earth) and the art of working them. Semjaza taught enchantments, and root-cuttings, Armaros the resolving of enchantments, Kokabel the constellations, Ezeqeel the knowledge of the clouds, Araqiel the signs of the earth, Shamsiel the signs of the sun, and Sariel the course of the moon.”

But the Bible, if looked at as a whole, rather than specific instances, shows its own growth. It’s like a diary of ever evolving man-God relation in which the Divine tells, orders, huffs and throws tantrums, then feels sorry and gives man another chance, then the circle repeats, but each time the Divine gets less angry and makes more concessions to reach amends with man. Ultimately sacrificing ‘His own Son’ to pay for a debt that The Most High himself imposed.

Of particular interest here is the book of Job. In it, the author ensures we understand that Job is a righteous man who fears God and shuns evil. We are also made aware of the play behind the scene where the Adversary comes to God and challenges Job’s devotion. The reason why I find this book so peculiar is that for the first time we see a departure from the classic circle of God ordering man, man failing, God punishing then offering reconciliation. This time the Accuser does not tempt man, he tempts God and God succumbs to temptation of a challenge. No matter that Job passes the challenge with flying colors and God restores his health and wealth, there was a price to be paid by Job for God’s play. Job never recovers his sons. The author makes sure to inform us that Job has new sons and daughters, but either I am missing something or the people who wrote it were so cruel as to think that if I lose a child, a new child will make it all better. Maybe time heals the pain for the loss of the loved ones, but it does not take it completely away. So Job was punished and suffered for no reason other than to satisfy God’s curiosity. Here I want to quickly rebuff those who run to God’s rescue claiming that Job was a man and therefore a sinner and was burdened with at least the ‘original sin’ so he was not righteous, cause only God is righteous. First, the author does state in the first paragraph that Job was righteous, so negating that information only negates the scripture itself so shame on you. Second and what I find more important is that God does not need anyone as a Counsel. In fact, in the book, we have the dialogue between Job and his friends. The friends constantly nag that Job must have done something bad to deserve the punishment, while Job denies it. In the end God steps in and proclaims Job to be right. And then comes the whammy: Who are you to question me. Or more exactly Job 38:1-3 says

Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man;  I will question you,  and you shall answer me.

And Job 40:1-2 says:

“The Lord said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?     Let him who accuses God answer him!”

These statements are a total turning point in man-God relation. The man is nothing while God is everything. There is nothing man can do to justify himself against God, and Sin plays no part in it, at least not the way we are used to understand it

Let us recall from my previous post that it appeard like man was set up to disobey God in the first place. Now we see that a  man who is righteous and blameless (Job 1:1) got his butt kicked and then was told not to question it. Sin played no part here, yet the next words that Job says are another game changers Job 42:1-6

“Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things;     no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’     Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,     things too wonderful for me to know.Job and Power of God

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;     I will question you,     and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you     but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself     and repent in dust and ashes.”

After these words, God restores Job to his ‘original’ glory and even rebuffs his friends reminding them that Job did speak the truth. So what happened? Was Job right or wrong? Let’s look at the last two verses above and see the ‘little’ change  in Job. Before he heard “of” God but now he “saw” Him, and that made it all better. Even to the point where Job despises himself and repents… for what? This is where the new interpretation of sin as ‘Missing the Mark’ comes handy. We cannot fully understand what Job saw, because we were not there and we can only read about it. But the meeting man-God has raised Job’s awareness from hearing ‘of’ God to ‘seeing’ Him. Whatever that experience was allowed Job to finally ‘Hit the Mark’ and be fully satisfied. We must remind ourselves that Job did not carry the burden of the Sin as we are normally led to understand it. Basically Job has not disobeyed any of Gods laws and yet he was still missing the mark. The conclusion slowly becomes obvious. Sin is not disobedience of God’s law; disobedience is the result of sin.  We should first follow the law in order to be closer to understanding of what sin is. Only then can we  “repent in dust and ashes”  and see the mark so this time we won’t miss it.

Now if you ask me: if sin is Missing the Mark, what is that mark? Unfortunately, I would have to be a righteous man, to be able to see it, so I can only speculate, and that is a subject for the next blog series.

Till then  Blessed Be.

Part two: What is a Sin?

Now that we have some idea about redemption (See previous blog), we need to ask ourselves why do we need it. The simples answer is: because of the sin.  OK then what is sin.

The simple definition is given as: “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” Here we encounter two new ideas that are a bit ambiguous: morality and “divine law”. I will give the reader the benefit of the doubt (for now) that they are capable of conceptualizing what is moral and what is immoral. In addition there are some who claim that the original translation from the bible should render the word sin as: “missing the mark.” So let talk about these two concepts:

The divine law as rendered in sacred scriptures (more about them in following blogs) define behavioral criteria against which we are measured by the entity (or entities) which themselves are above that law and are in position to establish those criteria. There seems to be no problem with that. After all, our secular governments establish laws, some of which we do not agree with, yet we are expected to abide by, with dire consequences for failure to do so. The only difference is that we can disagree with our governments and depending on them we may or may not voice our opinion. In case we are not allowed to voice our opinion, under penalty of imprisonment or death these governments cannot enforce out thinking. We might have to sing and praise the freedom and equality provided to us, but we still can disagree in the secret depths of our hearts and are free to pursue avenues that will result in change of those governments. Just look around at former socialist regimes or similar political structures such as fascism and we can clearly understand this concept. But this is not so with the Divine. The Divine establishes the law but as in the words of Paul in Romans 3:20: “Therefore by the works of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.”  So following the law is insufficient because the Divine “Father who sees in secret” (Matthew 6:4) will know your intentions as well as your actions. Our governments can police our visible actions but the Divine can “see in secret” and therefore will know if we disagree with the law.

For those who like the law this is not a problem, but for those who disagree this is the worst case of mental imprisonment. Especially that some scriptures assign the word “good” as one of many attributes of the Divine.  What then if someone disagrees with that attribute?  What if someone disagrees with the law?  Well, supposedly we can tell the difference between good and evil,(remember the tree of that knowledge?) an so we will always be capable of discerning.  Unless of course someone claims that Adam and Eve ate of that tree but we have not.  So let’s go there for a moment. garden

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were told to … “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17).  The presumption therefore should be that they have not eaten of that tree until the transgressed.  But if that tree was granting the magical power of knowledge of good and evil and they have not eaten from it, they were lacking that knowledge and thus had no ability to discern that disobedience is evil.  It looks like they were at a disadvantage and they were punished for something they learned to be a sin only after they committed it.  On a side note: public disobedience is punished by law, yet if we never disobeyed, there would not have been American Revolution which was the ultimate disobedience against the established legal order.

From what I have shown so far, disobedience does not necessary equals evil and a set up done by the Divine in the Garden of Eden leaves something to desire. In fact leaving a child in a room with hot iron and a warning not to touch it will have disastrous consequences if the child is too young to understand the implication of the warning.  This coupled with the length of time the child is left alone, will most certainly lead to disaster.  In case of Adam and Eve we are never told how much time did they spent in the Garden before they goofed.

So Adam and Eve had the law against them, their own lack of knowledge and …Statistics. Poisson distribution of timed events shows that the probability of a random even occurring increases with the time interval in which the event has not occurred.  So keep Adam Eve in the Garden long enough and they will unknowingly break the law.  Some will say that Adam was told, but we must realize that without the Tree of Knowledge he did not have the mental capability to heed the warning and neither did Eve.

This is where I need to conclude that either the Divine is a cruel and evil entity, or our understanding of Sin as disobedience is wrong.

In the next blog I will explore the idea of “missing the mark” as this seems a more plausible explanation and will bring us closer to understanding what this Sin is.

 

Until then Blessed Be.

Part One: The problem of Redemption.

Redemption is defined as “the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.”

Also it is “the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.” It is a form of payment, like a ransom, a buy out from slavery, a bail.  In Christianity it is commonly believed that Jesus Christ gave us our redemption and that he is our savior.  This means he paid for us, or ‘bought us out’ from something.  To believe this, one must first believe in a need to be bought out.  Similarly in Buddhism, to believe the Tripitaka is the path to salvation, you need first believe (or be convinced of) the first principle of Buddhism:  That all life is suffering.

wheel

Consequently we first need to accept, believe or be convinced, that we need salvation.  In this context we are talking about salvation from hell (damnation).  This translates simply to a fact that we are damned, judged and convicted a-priori by God himself. Something does not add here.  Why would God, if such exists, convict you for something you have not done or for something that was done by your ancestors, or their ancestors (original sin)?  Many people at this point do not want to accept that God could do such a thing and they turn away from the Most High by stating what seems obvious: Such god could not be a good God and therefore it is either Evil or simply does not exist.  What comes to mind now is a very emotionally charged yet philosophical statement paraphrased by the Black Veil Brides: “That god does not exist, I cannot deny. That my whole being cries out for a god, I cannot forget.”

This just shows that we have an affinity, or a deep rooted need to believe in God. This irrational desire within us, was captured in the line of thinking by Descartes in his proof of God’s existence. Once you accept Descartes view the very next question poses itself:  So if God exists why are we damned?  Or are we?

Rather than follow a causal path proving our damnation, thus need for redemption thus the gift of salvation from Christ, I will tackle redemption its own merits and then go in reverse to our damnation in the following blogs. For now I will allow us a short benefit of the doubt and show how things fall in place.

Let us assume that Jesus Christ did give us the gift of redemption. So now what? I am saved and can go on my merry way doing anything I want? Good, let’s start by taking out some jerks that stepped on our toes in our lifetime (thy shall not kill).  Then let’s take some stuff that does not belong to us (thy shall not steal), just cause we want it (thy shall not covet), and maybe even, lie , cheat  and all the goodies that come along.

What? No?  I cannot do that?  But I though salvation is a gift, and gifts should not come with strings attached.  When I give someone a $100 as a gift, I do not care how they spend it.  If I give someone money to buy something specific, then I am actually not giving them the $100 but I am giving them that thing which is purchased. I limited the gift to that specific item which happens to cost $100.  Do I then tell that someone what to do with the gift?  If so, then again that was not a gift.  If I hand someone a $100, and tell them it’s a gift but they must buy a specific book, and then I tell them to read it, and then to write an essay of 20 pages, what have I given them?  It was not the $100, neither it was the book.  I have in fact made that person do something, and if they gained anything such as knowledge or experience, they have in fact worked for it.  So my gift was not a gift of knowledge either.  It was a gift of facilitating their experience, because without the $100 and without the book, they could not have worked to get the experience and the knowledge.

Unfortunately most Christians do not see it that way. Roman Catholics (RC) believe that the redemption absolves past sins only, and therefore does not cover any future actions (historically it was not always so). So you cannot go and kill that jerk yet.  You must now live a ‘perfect’ life without sin and then you will get to heaven.  Trouble is that no one is capable of living  a ‘perfect’ life, so Jesus’s redemption becomes a gift that keeps on giving (like the Master card), and all you need to do is go back and recharge it, or get re-redeemed through a process called confession.  Now the Church holds the monopoly on this bank and thus controls the flow of the gift. They even go (or went in the past) as far as claiming falsehood and forgery in other ‘banks.’  Reminds me a bit of what Jesus said against the Pharisees:

“Woe to you experts in religious law! You have taken away the key to knowledge! You did not go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were going in.” Luke (11:52)

It remains undeniable that despite their monopoly, the original intent was noble. You can not just take redemption for granted and run wild with it doing whatever pleases you. In addition, limiting redemption to only past events, it made it a true gift, because there were no strings attached.

This line of thinking however did lead to many problematic situations: Sale of indulgences was the main problem that eventually led to the split between Catholic and Reformed Churches. Another issue is brought on by the problem of: what if you die before getting you next dose of redemption from the church bank? Do you go to hell (if such exists)?  To resolve these issues the RC Church inferred the existence of Purgatory,  a temporary hell that will eventually let you out after you paid for your sins yourself.  Purgatory, is a nice idea, but does contradict many scriptures and thus requires some manipulation in theology.

Another issue that was on the menu of troublesome theology was that people were using confession as a kind of a shower. We do not care if we get dirty on the playground because we can always go and get cleaned up. To remedy these previous issue the Church had to come up with another patch (version 1.9.9.9.), mainly the gradation of sins into: mortal, venial and “The Sin against the Holy spirit,” They way it works is you need to take a shower after the first kind or you will be damned,  you are ok after the second kind (especially if you got special indulgence) and you will reimburse Jesus by paying for it in Purgatory, and unfortunately there will be no redemption from the third kind, (strike! You are out!).   Sweet!  But again to come up with this solution, even more theological and scriptural manipulation is needed.  Rather that insert patches to theology of redemption, it might be better to try to understand what sin is.  I will try to tackle this in my next blog..

The Reformed Church did not agree with such point of view and adopted total redemption from all sins at one time. They resolved the problems that followed in the RC Church by redefining the process of redemption.  In their view, man takes an active part in the process.  A gift makes no sense if it is not accepted.  So a man has to do something to accept the gift. So far so good, I like their point of view more but it eventually breaks down with this: We can tell if the person has been saved by their actions, So if a person accepts the gift and then does bad things, it means they never truly accepted the gift.  This is a wonderful interpretation but it leaves us to be the judges of someone’s salvation.  That is contradictory to scripture that says not to judge.

So what should redemption be like? Is it any of the above? Probably not. Redemption is a gift, more like the $100 for a specific book.  It is a facilitation of salvation, not a payment for it.  Someone must accept it actively,(the Reformed view), but also must constantly reload it (Catholic view). A minor side comment to the last part is, that I do not agree with confession (reloading) being confined to the confessional, it is an act that must come from the heart, without constraints of place.  The person involved in the process must reaffirm the acceptance of this redemption over and over.  Think of a man drowning in the ocean, and a tiny boat, comes along to save him.   The boat does not have enough room in it to pull him in, nor to provide him with immediate safety. Instead the boatman tosses a line, which the man can hold on to, while the boatman paddles to the shore.  If the man, loses sight of his true goal and gets distracted, he can let go of the line and sink (die) unless he realizes quickly what happened and grabs the line again (in this analogy the boatman does not swim away if the man lets go of the line, but instantly stops and throws the line again).

Once we begin looking at Redemption in that way, then salvation gains more meaning.  We just need to know what we are saved from, but that is a topic for next time.

Until next time, Blessed Be!