Monday, March 7, 2016

Is Love greater than Faith?

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. - 1 Corinthians 13:13

Is Love really greater than Faith? That's what Paul said, but it is not what the church teaches today. No, the church clearly places Faith above all else. 
Love is nice. It's kind of like the frosting on the cake. But it's not the thing that is going to get your ticket punched to get into heaven, according to most religious leaders today. You can be the most loving person in the world, but without the right kind of 'Faith' it is all for naught. But as long as you have Faith, Love is inconsequential. It's a nice extra - a bonus - but you can always be forgiven for not loving enough. But not having Faith is the unpardonable sin, according to church doctrine today.
So clearly, Faith is far more important and greater than Love.

And that is a shame. Because I think when you place faith ahead of love it turns the gospel message on its head. Because now instead of the "good news" that God so Loved the world that he gave his only son, we have the not-so-good news that the vast majority of people are going to hell because they failed to "believe in him" so that they would not perish...
The very next verse in John states "
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." But that's not what we are taught to believe today. Jesus may have come to "save the world," but he set the bar so high that only a relatively small group of people will pass the entrance exam.

But wait a minute! The test isn't THAT hard, is it? All you have to do is "accept the free gift of salvation." Simple! Anyone who turns down a gift like that is probably deserving of their fate. Right? At least, that's what we are led to believe. But is it really that simple? Apparently, even for those who are raised in the Christian religious tradition, it is a perilous and narrow path that few manage to travail during the course of a lifetime. How much harder then for people raised outside of this faith tradition, that they would be required to turn their back on their family, friends, neighbors and everyone they ever loved who passed on before them. In order to save themselves, they have to accept the idea that everyone else they have ever loved will be suffering eternal torment. What kind of heaven would that be for them? No wonder it is difficult to find converts among the modern-day gentiles. 

When Paul set out to convert the Gentiles he was determined to lower the bar so that more people could get in. He argued in his letters that Gentile converts should not be forced to circumcise themselves or follow all the complex dietary and ceremonial laws that defined the faith tradition for Jews of that time. Paul argued that the Gentiles and the Jews alike were all justified by Christ's death on the cross. But by emphasizing the faith aspect over the love component, today's Christian leaders have raised the bar back again to a level that I don't think Paul intended.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Do You Believe in Magic?

What does it mean to believe in something?
It has to be more than just believing that something exists for the purposes of religion. It is noted that in the Bible the devil and his demons clearly 'believe' in God. In fact, throughout the New Testament, they recognize Jesus as God incarnate while the disciples are still struggling to determine what they themselves believe.
So to just believe that God or Jesus exists can't be enough. Some would say you must also have faith, but what does that mean? Is that different from belief and how so?
If you are on a boat, it would make sense that you would believe the captain of the boat exists, but do you also believe in him in the sense that you trust he will be able to guide the ship safely on its course and deliver you to your destination? Is that what it means to 'believe' in God?
And why is that such a key thing in religion? Whether I believe in the captain of the ship or not is irrelevant to whether or not it will arrive safely at its destination.
And how do you make yourself believe something if you do not believe it already? Can you force yourself to believe something? And how do you know what it is you really believe anyway? Do you REALLY believe in God? Do you trust yourself when you say 'yes'? What if you are not sure?
And what do you mean by 'God' anyway? Maybe your concept of God is different from someone elses. Does that mean you believe in a different God? How can you be sure?
There is no way to know for sure what other people believe. They may be telling you they believe one thing when they really believe another. They may not even know themselves what they believe. It is hard enough figuring out what you yourself believe.
So how can that be the most important thing in life? And why? What is the purpose of life anyway? Why are we here? Are you telling me that God created the universe and put us here just so that we would believe he exists? What is the point of that? Or believing that Jesus is his son? It doesn't make sense that that would be the most important thing.
And as I noted in the last post, Jesus didn't say that it was the most important thing when asked that question directly. Instead, he talked about love.
So maybe that is the more important question. Do you believe in love?


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Introduction

This is a blog from a progressive Christian perspective on beliefs or the lack thereof and their significance in the grand scheme of things.
I want to dedicate this blog to my dear friend Robert Shearer who passed away last year. I wish he was still here and could be a co-contributor to this blog. Much of my thought in this area was shaped over the years I spent debating theological topics with my friend.
I hold the view, or should I say 'belief,' that beliefs are overemphasized in most churches today. I hold to the idea that it matters more what one actually does and how one lives their life than it matters what they think it is that they believe. But if you go to any leader of a mainline or evangelical church and ask them what is the most important thing you must do to get in good graces with God, they won't tell you to 'do' anything. Rather, they will tell you things that you must 'believe' to get into heaven and avoid eternal damnation in hell. You must first believe in Jesus and accept him as your Lord and Savior. And then you have to.... ummm.... No, wait, that's pretty much it. There's a lot more stuff they will want you to believe, but that right there is your ticket to heaven.
But when Jesus was asked the same thing - what is the most important thing to gain eternal life - he didn't say anything about believing. Instead, he talked all about loving.... loving God with all your heart and all your mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself. So why don't church leaders say that instead of this stuff about accepting Jesus as your savior?
Loving is an active verb that requires you to do something. Believing is a passive verb that doesn't require any action whatsoever. I think the churches have become too passive in one sense and too exclusionary in another.
So I will be visiting these topics and many others in this blog and I welcome comments and feedback.