Thursday, July 13, 2006

Good News! You're going to hell!

It's been on my mind more and more lately, I think hearing quakers talk about "sharing the good news" or really "gospel" in any context (it means good news, right?)

And in my experience, the "good news" that christians want to share with non-christians (or likely other christians who they don't think actually have it "right" quite yet) is that the news-eee is headed for the fiery furnace unless they do (believe) what the news-er says.

Now, this is, of course, from my news-ee perspective. I know the news-ers see things quite differently (primary, they believe that it's a fact that everyone is going to hell, so they don't see that as part of the "news" but of course, for many of us it comes as quite a shock. here we were thinking we'd just fertilize gardens, or maybe come back as a cow if we're lucky, but NOO, we were clearly mistaken, and that news is quite shocking, and dare I say, not good.)

So, I'm a little freaked that I hear quakers using this term more (and "gospel") not because I think that's what they really mean (I still haven't heard quakers talk much about hell - though that's come up for the first time as well recently! - scary stuff!)

What is the quaker "good news"??? Is it necessarily Christian?? If so, what does that mean?? We wouldn't even know the word "christ" had not it been a handy political tool for years of roman emporers. This causes a certain reluctance in me to center my faith around it.

But (what some call) Christ spirit, I think I know it. Not like a book, but like a tree in my yard, like the smell of my home.

I heard Temple Grandin on the radio the other day. She's autistic (I think) and talked about language and how some people don't think in abstractions, and therefore in words. She said she doens't have an abstract concept "bowl" - to know what you are talking about when you say it, she has to think of a certain bowl that she's seen - like the one she ate breakfast out of this morning.

I don't understand. Sometimes I think I could think almost entirely in abstractions, and have been "caught" by frustrated friends who want me to actually respond to something that's actually happening, rather than to theorize about such a situation.

I can't tell whether Christ and the word "christ" are the same thing or its inverse. Christ spirit seems quite abstract to me - no form, except when it's tangible, immediate.

But why is that Christ, and not just the experience it is??? What's more, why does it matter that it's Christ??? what does the word mean??? that it's true? that it's good and not bad? why would connecting it to a 2,000 year old story mean that??

I think perhaps my brain just doens't work that way, I have spiritual autism, or most other people do :)

Back to the gospel. I do believe that there is "good news" out there. Perhaps that the kingdom of God is at hand, that there is no waiting to live as if justice and love reigned.

But most often I hear the "good news" as something negative, perhaps not always "you're going to hell, unless" but usually some "tamer" version "you can join my club, but beware if you refuse.....", "you are outside my circle of concern, unless", "I hereby declare you uninteresting/blind/spiritually bereft/morally bankrupt, unless you......"

I have met a few christians who preached the good news effectively, but they never ever not once said a thing about what I should do, or what I was missing out on. One of them never said thing one about christianity period. she was a nun who volunteered at the co-op that I worked at. She just radiated love. Mostly we cut and wrapped cheese, and talked about politics, or preschool children, together, but if anyone might have ever "converted" me, it might have been her. Another is a friend who speaks of her relationship with christ frequently, but not aggressively, and again, simply radiates it. She "converted" her husband from a "Rush Limbaugh dittohead" (his words) to a man who could march proudly with the lesbians in a pro choice rally. And she convinced me that God loves everyone passionately, for real. Mostly by telling me how much he loved her ex husband (whom she still hates) but more by simply radiating that love.

I don't think, actually, that she thought I was missing out on a thing. Her God's love is so powerful that there's no way I could miss out on it, even if I tried really really really hard!!!! I suppose that there's something about being blind to it, an "open thine eyes and see' version of the "good news" - but that seems so plain, We're swimming in it, why insist that it's hidden in a very old book when it's all around us, and filling us up???

a puzzlement


Kody Gabriel said...

Whoa. I think we were writing parallel entries at the same time tonight.

I haven't published mine yet. But it's... really a very similar entry to yours. In very different language.

*shakes head in befuddled awe*

liberata said...

Hi earthfreak and kody,

I think you're getting down to the nitty-gritty here. I once wrote (but never published) what I believe many people "hear" when the "good news" is preached by --OK, I'm going to go out on a limb and say most Christian churches, the one I grew up in (Catholic) included.

I think the message, often, or at least at first, couched in euphemistic terms is often a variation of one of the following:

--Christ died for your sins, and his father is still pissed!

-- Christ died for your sins, and you owe him big!


--Christ died for your sins, and we're going to see to it that you pay!

At best, the "good news" is something like this childhood memory, recounted by Marcus Borg (raised as a Lutheran) in The God We Never Knew, p. 17:

"Pastor Thornton shaped my childhood image of God in yet another way. He was a finger-shaker. I am not speaking metaphorically but literally: he actually shook his finger at us as he preached. Sometimes he even shook his finger while pronouncing the forgiveness of sins:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, hath had mercy upon us, and hath given his only Son to die for us, and for His sake forgiveth us all our sins. [from the Lutheran Hymnery]
Those words, accompanied by a chastising finger carried a message: though told we were forgiven, we knew it was a close call."

I now subscribe without qualification to the belief enunciated by Quaker pastors Philip Gulley and James Mulholland in their book If Grace is True:

"Now I [the two authors adopt a first person singular voice in their book] now have a new forumla. It too is simple and clear. It is the most compelling truth I have ever known. It is changing my life. It is changing how I talk about God. It is changing how I treat other people. It brings me untold joy, peace, and hope. This truth is the best news I've ever heard, ever believed, and ever shared.

I believe God will save every person."

If you've never read this remarkable book, you might enjoy it. The conclusion of the two authors flies in the face of any forumulation of the Christian doctrine of salvation I have ever heard. The talk about God' extravagant love, something that we simply cannot fathom, and something that goes beyond what we poor humans are able to conceive of when we talk about "justice" and "mercy."

I believe that this book would spark more controversy except for one simple reason: who gives a damn what a couple of Quaker pastors think?

In the Light

Plain Foolish said...

As you know, I am not a Christian, though I know a lot about historical Christianity, Christian theology, and the Christian scriptures - I went to Catholic school and to Baptist Bible camp. I have a lot of respect for people I see loving their neighbor and returning good for bad, no matter what their religion or what name they give for it.

My great-grandfather, himself a Christian, was a man filled with love - one day, he and my grandmother were harvesting potatoes, putting aside a smaller bag of the littlest ones for the family. Sometime in the afternoon, they came back to where the small sack was set aside to discover that it had been stolen. My grandmother, a little girl at the time, was fiercely indignant. If they had'a asked, Daddy, we'd a' given potatoes to 'em. (Though in her mind, she says today that she thought that they could have had some of the big potatoes since she, like me, likes the really small ones.) Granddaddy told her that some folks had nothing left but their pride and it was too much to demand that someone give up the only wealth they had left for a bag of potatoes. He asked her to kneel with him there on the edge of that field and pray for the folks who were so hungry that they had to steal potatoes. I just can't see a man who behaved like that believing that most of the world was destined for eternal punishment.

earthfreak said...

Kody! We are on some kind of parallel (or criss-crossing?) path or plane, I think :) I was really sad I didn't get to talk to you at gathering.

Liberata - yes! exactly that. I have read Borg, and found "meeting Jesus again for the first time" very exciting, but still not exactly speaking to my condition...

I have also read "If Grace is True" - and found it moving and accurate. I had actually already really internalized the idea, so it was a "yup" more than an "aha!" moment (actually it crystalized for me when talking to this (catholic) woman who is so very angry at her ex, but has complete faith that eventually God will gather him in and heal his hurts and he will be redeemed - I believe something similar now about an ex who hurt me terribly. I am terribly angry, and know that I can't be around her, but I am joyous that God loves her, and hope with great faith that she will someday be healed and whole)

I agree, it's sad that the book hasn't created much of a stir. Forgiveness and love doesn't "sell" like violence and revenge. hmmmmm

JPF- As usual, a wonderful story. I, too, have met "christians" whom I think really "get it" - who live it, who try to walk in Jesus' footsteps. I have met nonchristians who manage to find the path on their own (or by other means) as well.


earthfreak said...


I also wanted to acknowledge that perhaps I miss those quiet, loving christians, because, as I just said, forgivenss and love don't "sell" (or get noticed) as well as violence. An interesting point to ponder.



Thee, Hannah! said...

Temple Grandin has Asperger's, like I do. We tend to take things more literally than most so abstractions can be more of a problem for us. It's a neurological thing. We can get it, we just sometimes need a little more practice.

Thee, Hannah! said...

Pardon me if I've completely misread this.

I think of this as letting go of the self-centeredness that sometimes creeps into feeling that we're "right" about something: We're right because we're "saved", we're right because we're more logical than the Fundamentalists, we're right for whatever reason. When we're not worried about being more "right" than another faction (non-Christians, Christians of another denomination, nonbelievers, whoever), it's a lot easier to accept that God [""] loves them even if you don't like them.

Thee, Hannah! said...

. . . not, I should ad, that I'm an authority by any means on not being self-righteous . . .

earthfreak said...

But if you WERE an authority, you wouldn't be self righteous about it!

I know what you mean. And self righteousness is a big struggle of mine.

Still, I find that I believe (?) that "all will be revealed" in time - that my version of "heaven" is when everyone's "stuff" falls away or into place, and we lose fear and anger and understand the pain and joy that we've caused in our lives and stuf.

I *tend* to think that this will be more of a radical shift for other people than for me (those fundamenalists will have to deal with the fact that that everyone's NOT going to hell, my ex girlfriend will be shocked to see how evil her behaviour really was, while basically my beliefs will mostly be affirmed.) yeah, well, I'm human, what can I say??? But I also know that this isn't as true as i tend to believe it is. I have had my worldview shaken before.

Sorry, I was thinking maybe it was aspbergers, but she was talking about autism more. I don't even really know what the "dividing line" is.

Plain Foolish said...

My brother jokes about our tendency to self-righteousness. One day, my mom who's pretty loosely vegetarian had decided that all of Thanksgiving dinner was going to be vegan in order to more easily accomodate my brother. I was in the kitchen working alongside her when my brother came in and asked about the mashed potatoes. Mom pointed to the EarthSpread Margarine and the unflavored soy milk. Kid brother gets a "I'm setting you up" look on his face and asks how he's going to be self-righteous if everyone's eating the same thing. I told him if he wanted, I'd make some special vegan baked sweet potatoes, so he asked what the difference was. I informed him with an evil grin that I'd been wearing leather sandals when I put the last batch in, and I'd go barefoot to put his in. He laughed.

Thee, Hannah! said...

Ha ha! Leather-free cooking!

I'm with Earthfreak on the idea of Heaven as freedom from "stuff"--material stuff, dogmatic stuff, all kinds of stuff.

Chris M. said...

Pam, thanks for asking these questions. I was moved by your phrase, "I know it... like a tree in my yard, like the smell of my home."

It's important to recognize that there are hundreds of "types" of Christianities. So yes, there are Christianities that would assign you to Hell after death. And though I label myself a Christian, many of the same Christianities would assign me there with grim satisfaction, too!

And: there are plenty of Christianities that don't assign that fate to either one of us.

I'm with Liberata and you on the Gulley/Mulholland recommendation. I was going to bring it up but then saw Liberata's comment. I didn't read that one, I read If God is Love, the follow-up book on the same theme. It's heresy, pure and simple. Good stuff.

Personally I identify as a Christian because that's where I come from and where I see myself going. I'm more inspired to relax into love, into relationship, into dropping my "stuff" by the stories, metaphors, images, and parables I find in the Bible.

I don't think you have to read the Bible. I think you do have to acknowledge the Christian roots of Quakerism -- and that's something I have seen you do consistently and repeatedly on yours and others' blogs.

So, I'm not too concerned if you're not labeled as a Christian. Your story of the nun, for example, is evidence enough that you "get it", too. Whatever name or image you give "it". I hope I'm not being overlong. I want to reach out and say, "It's okay, that awful stuff's not my gospel either." I'm still seeking as to what "my" gospel is, but it's got a lot in common with that nun.

earthfreak said...

Chris, thanks for the comment. I was sad not to find you, and time to chat, at gathering too (what was I doing?)

I do acknowledge the christian roots of quakerism, but I also balk at suggestions that therefore the branches, the future, must all be christian.

In a similar way I am quite aware that quakerism was initially a brittish religion - that's where the people were who started it. They were white, and spoke english. Pretending that any of those things isn't true isn't useful or honest at all, but pretending that therefore modern day quakers must be white and speak english (and have british roots?) would be ludicrous.

Of course, it's different, because quakerism is about spirit, and christianity is (theoretically / sometimes) about spirit, while race or language group isn't. But it's not entirely different, in my opinion.

It seems to me that some people were granted a measure of light, to see certain truths and wonders, and those people had been raised christian, and were surrounded by christianity. They interpreted everything through a christian lens. That's fine, and it was in essense a christian religion,

But what I love most about quakerism is the openness to continuing revelation. Whatever we know, we are never done knowing... The fact that George Fox had (I assumed) never read the Koran or the Upanishads doens't mean that they are of lesser value than the Bible, just that he hadn't read them. We can, and so we are in a different place, we dont' have to be restricted unnaturally by things that constrained him naturally.

I, too, see christianity as "where I come from" - I can quote the Bible better than any other religious text (which isn't all that well!) what's more I live in a country, and especially move in a culture, where many people I meet know something of the bible, and little of other religions. Wicca, Buddhism, Islam, Atheism, don't offer the same sort of common language.

But I have a deep concern about quakers choosing to cling to christianity, not as a wellspring, but as a fence. What do we gain by shutting out people with quaker but non-christian spiritual paths? I think we miss out on a lot.

I guess the biggest problem, I find, is that the Bible leaves so much unanswered for me, and the language is "old fashioned' and strange. There is other wisdom out there, there are other experiences.

I also believe that giving christianity (rather than, say, kindness, or honesty) a central, essential position is a form of idolotry. I think that this is something Jesus preached against when the pharisees did it. I don't think he'd want to see it done in his name.

But I also don't think THAT'S the reason not to do it!!! It's true, whether or not Jesus said it. This is the biggest divide that I see - are the powerful, meaningful sayings of Jesus important because they speak to the Truth, or help us love each other, or because he said them????

I am very very very wary of the latter interpretation.


Thee, Hannah! said...

This is the biggest divide that I see - are the powerful, meaningful sayings of Jesus important because they speak to the Truth, or help us love each other, or because he said them?

Whoa, you keep saying things that I'm thinking but don't get to talk about around here (in the Bible Belt).

It strikes me that the former appeals to the seeker and the latter to the blind follower. I'm afraid I believe that the unexamined faith isn't much of an improvement over the unexamined life and that we do ourselves and our religion a disservice if we don't test it a little.

Of course, I can do that in the first place because I don't believe in Hell or in a vengeful God so I really have nothing to fear beyond annoying the heck out of the mere mortals in my meeting or my blog acquaintances.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

This posting left me feeling unkindly caricatured.

According to traditional Quakerism (which I unite with), the "good news" of Christianity is that God, Christ, is revealed as an inward Guide in your heart and conscience, and by living moment-by-moment according to His/Her guidance, you can find happiness, peace of mind, & eternal salvation.

The Sermon at the Last Supper (John, chapters 14-17) talks at length about this Inward Guide, which it labels the Paraklete (meaning "Counselor", "Advocate", "Comforter"). This Sermon, too, says that obedience to it is sufficient for salvation. And this Sermon is attributed to Christ himself. Nothing could be truer Christianity than that!

Christian Friends have been repeating this "good news" for 360-odd years -- and are still doing so.

This "good news" makes it impossible for me to know whether you, or anyone else, is going to "hell" or not. For I cannot see into your mind and heart, to know how faithful to the Guide you are being. Only you yourself and the Guide can know the answer to that.

earthfreak said...

Marshall -

Thanks for replying. I'm sorry that this makes you feel unfairly caricatured. Certainly, the impulse for me came out of frustration more than "niceness" but it honestly doesn't feel like a caricature to me.

The most important point being (and you seemed to agree with this) that the "news" is meant to be about salvation, but it depends on "news" (which is "news" to those of us who aren't christian) that there was any question of hell in the first place. - and that is not "good news"

And, in large part, I am reacting to a form of "christianity" that is laregely outside christianity. Those people who I have the impression are frothing at the mouth (unkind caricature? clearly they're not literally frothing at the mouth) to see those of whom they don't approve go to hell.

I have never encountered a Friend whom I would place in this category. Within quakerism I am talking about something else, though it is influenced by the larger community of hateful "christians"

I hear that the message is something else - that we can live by the inner guide, as you say,

the "good news" of Christianity is that God, Christ, is revealed as an inward Guide in your heart and conscience, and by living moment-by-moment according to His/Her guidance, you can find happiness, peace of mind, & eternal salvation.

I can joyfully unite with this sentiment, though it's important to me to make clear that it is possible to heed the "inward guide" without ever knowing it as christ, or choosing to name it as such.

says that obedience to it is sufficient for salvation

I think this is where we part ways, and what I am trying to get at.

The good news is both that salvation is available, and that it is conditional. Now, it can imply that the alternative to salvation is hell, but it doesnt' have to (and I think that traditionally Friends don't worry much about this, we focus on the salvation part) - but we live in a larger society where the alternative of "hell" is touted and threatened frequently, so to simply ignore it rather than addressing it can seem to simply agree with "them"

For me, to be good news, it needs to not be conditional. What I read in the gospels (mostly) doesnt' lead me to believe that Jesus actually thought or preached this, but it's been a basic tenet of christianity for a long, long, time. There will always be winners and losers, right?

Well, I guess that I just simply don't need a God who isn't powerful enough or loving enough to "save" everyone. I'm not saying that people don't have to choose it, at some point, but that, for one thing, as you say, we can't ever tell if another is actually chosing it. and also, that I think that, for god to mean anything, we have to get an infinite number of chances (or perhaps, hell as an afterlife doesn't exist, which is more my position.)

I experience "salvation" as rightness with the world, universe, life around us, and I can understand framing that in terms of being faithful to the "inner guide" and the "fruits" of such a choice. I also see that many people (including me, often) live in their own personal hells that (can) have to do with choosing not to follow it (of course some people live in hell because they were born into terrible poverty, or a war zone, through no fault of their own, etc.

So, that got really long. What I'm really talking about is, as I said, the idea that salvation is conditional - this does not seem to me to be "good news" (and NOT because I want to live a degenerate, reprobate life and then get into heaven, but because it is a LONG journey for some, and I don't want to be part of something that is willing to close the door or anyone)


James Riemermann said...

Actually, Jesus did teach that bad people go to hell, and that we should be good in order to get to heaven. It's right there in the sermon on the mount, and elsewhere as well. This is not a misinterpretation, but a demonstration that Jesus was indeed a person of his time, speaking in images that were resonant for his audience. I see this heaven/hell talk as a genuine flaw in the mostly extraordinary teachings of Jesus, and I hope we can grow beyond it. And I think anyone who is unwilling to make distinctions between the Bible's wisdom and its poison--and it does contain some poison--has some serious spiritual work to do.

James Riemermann said...

P.S. I have some serious spiritual work to do, too. I didn't mean to imply otherwise.

earthfreak said...

Naw, James, you're fully evolved spiritually, you're all done, go play.

(I said so)


Plain Foolish said...

Oh, oh, oh - it's sunshiney outside! Can I play, too? Please? Not that I've done all my spiritual work, but isn't it time for recess yet?

earthfreak said...

But more seriously, James, you're right, I think the gospels do talk about punishment for "the wicked" - I see this as evidence of human failure to be completely loving, rather than the will of god (in whom I still don't believe, just to be clear!)

Perhaps I meant more that I ignore those parts (I really did forget, but was thinking of the fig tree cursing, which Marshall and I have tangled about before)

I don't see the gospels as uniquely spritual or "guiding" - Some of what I am talking about is a concern that more and more quakers seem to be saying that I'm not "for real" because of this.

This also gets into my question about whether we value the beautiful things Jesus said because they're beautiful, or because he said them. I find power in exhortations to love my neighbor, and even in interpretations of "turn the other cheek" (as nonviolent resistance, rather than passivity) but have found nothing in threats of hell, and restrictive, sexist, homophobic "rules" or the cursing of fig trees for not bearing out of season (!) so, because I am about following my inner guide, and not about Jesus, I can say , "Oh, that's silly (annoying/scary) - I think I'll chuck it" - I know people who do see the bible as something special (what else to call it?) who are still willing to "chuck" the things that are ludicrous, divisive, hurtful, so it's not a requirement, but overall, it's my experience.


Plain Foolish said...

Actually, one of my favorite bits of scripture is the bit where the vine that Jonah is sitting under withers away. Jonah begins (typically for him in that book - yeesh) whining about how he'd been enjoying that vine, and God says something like - you didn't grow it and yet you whine about it. I helped create Nineveh, and you wanted me to destroy all those people without a chance.

In the Jewish tradition, there is a bit of midrash (folktale that teaches a lesson - and this one has a little more force since it's actually in the Talmud) that God mourned for the Egyptians who were caught and drowned in the sea while chasing Moses and the Israelites. That doesn't sound to me like a god who would gleefully consign anybody to the flames.

James Riemermann said...

You're right, Pam, it's not the will of God.

    You don't know me from the wind
    you never will, you never did
    I'm the little Jew
    who wrote the Bible
    I've seen the nations rise and fall
    I've heard their stories, heard them all
    but love's the only engine of survival

    Leonard Cohen, from "The Future"