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February 24, 2006


Paul Wright

I've noticed that wealth and community tend to compete. What I mean is, I've met poor people with a lot of togetherness, and other with no money problems, but all kinds of relational mess-upness. Who needs hugs the most?

The classic youth-group description of the Kingdom of God that I remember is "now and not yet". I think you did a good job of balancing those two truths in your response.


Thanks for the response, Hugo. Beautifully said.


I've noticed that wealth and community tend to compete. What I mean is, I've met poor people with a lot of togetherness, and other with no money problems, but all kinds of relational mess-upness. Who needs hugs the most?

I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that humans thrive in, for lack of a better description, conflict. People get bored if they've got nothing to work against. If the problems aren't physical - food, shelter, clean water, freedom from violence - then people have to invent problems like relational strife. I see it all the time. When people are bored, they get aggrivated and start to bicker, which ends up breeding a lot of bruised egos and bad blood between individuals.

I've also noticed that money and relative material comfort make it a lot easier for people to be self-centered (I mean not so much selfish necessarily, but viewing the world from a point of view of benefit to only oneself), particularly people raised in affluent homes. There's a sort of "it's all about me" attitude that comes with the yuppie lifestyle. For some people, even community service and helping other people is primarily motivated by the emotional benefits - they do it because it makes *them* feel good about themselves to have helped somebody else.

One could argue that this is true of all philanthropic activity, but I'm not prepared to go into the philosophy behind the existance or nonexistance of true altruism, but some people are absolutely unapologetic about their self-focused motives. Heck, in the broadway musical "Avenue Q" there's a whole song about this.

I think much of this is a result of the fact that if you are in a poor community, your very survival can often depend on your neighbors and there's a general sense of "nobody else is going to help us, so we'd better take care of ourselves" whereas in a rich community, each home has the resources to survive at least on a short-term basis as an "island" at least in a material fashion. Obviously, there's a high price when it comes to emotional and spiritual survival, but as that's someting intangible and middle to upper middle class culture focuses on the material, a lot of these people won't even see the damage.


To a chronic depressive, eternal life is a torment invented by a malicious God. Even though I am not currently in the depths, I respond more to the notion of God working through us in the present than to an unreal-to-me cure-for-eternity. It is of course true that I am a materially comfortable middle-class American.


Hugo, great post on the eternal YES of God. Reading your thoughts reminded me alot of how Karl Barth talks about the mission of Jesus Christ. For Barth, Jesus is God's definitive YES to our humanity (due to the hypostatic union) that beckons us into the promises of divine life. And it is the YES of God revealed in Jesus that will have the final (affirmative) word for humanity. So, all that to ask, is Barth hovering in the background for you? If not, then I definitely have to read this Wallace Stevens guy. Sounds like he rocks.



Heaven is all very well for the people who believe in it; but I now
really feel for the kids in your congregation who cannot bring
themselves to do so. Your message of agape was to me profoundly
moving precisely *because* it centers upon human love for one another,
rather than directing it to an entity that may or may not exist, and that
some people will never experience in the way they do the love of their
fellow humans.

Faced with the inevitable unfairness and often horrifying cruelty in
the world, I understand why people would make what comfort they
could---a loving god, a beautiful heaven. I have little doubt of this
(though I do also believe evil people have bent this hope to their own
ends). The human mind is infinitely adaptable, and will do what it
needs to survive. (I find the idea of a loving [omnipotent] god very
appealing, but ultimately ir-rational; but I also realize that others
find my agnosticism equally irrational. Human experience varies
widely, and I have no wish to be disrespectful.)

The agnostic's life view of `Life is a b----, and then you die' is not
an easy nor pleasant one; but it certainly makes imperative to impose
as little harm on others as possible, because their precious, precious
time is finite. To make all okay because heaven will right the
inevitable injustices of the real world is to me horrible because it
devalues those who have no faith in heaven (and faith is a gift, yes,
that cannot be forced, and thus, not available to all) and worse,
because it devalues human suffering in the here-and-now. If we all
truly believed there was no heaven, no evening up, would not the onus
to reduce suffering and slaughter now be greater?

Perhaps by the time they've reached your group, your teenagers have
already made their peace with the concept of heaven but I have to
believe there are youth aren't ready to leave christianity yet cannot
rationalize their belief in the hereafter. To deny the deeply
oppressed heaven seems to me cruel; but to require it seems equally

Or shall all principled christians who cannot believe in heaven leave
their church?



Beautifully, beautifully expressed, Hugo. I'd just like to add a quick note: the freedom and joy found in salvation is internal and although many people are seeped in horrific situations, God's grace is able to give us peace and even happiness in the midst of physical, mental, emotional and social upheavals. We have not been placed in a position wherein we must choose happiness now or happiness later. I recall an old Bette Davis movie where her character reads a child’s story about a fairy godmother that offers up happiness to a girl in her youth or happiness when the girl is old and the girl must choose. God’s grace is not so compartmentalized nor does it hinge on our situation here on earth.


Rejiquar, rest assured that my original point about living out our salvation in agape love stands. I'm not going to be doing any less "lovin' on" the kids -- I just will be a bit more clear about the full meaning of salvation.

Blackcoffee, indeed -- nowhere are false dichotomies more dangerous than in discussions of salvation!

The Gonzman

rejiquar asks: Or shall all principled christians who cannot believe in heaven leave their church?

All principled people who cannot confess to belief in the Nicene Creed* should decide if they are seeking (and open to the teachings thereof) of their church or not. If not, then sadly, I have to conclude that yes, they should leave the church they attend. If you aren't there for worship, or to answer questions about a faith you are at least possibly willing to embrace, why are you there? Free donuts? Pick up chicks? To be seen for a photo-op for your political campaign?

There are many things a religion is. Two things it is not: Performance art, or an encounter group. It's one thing for a non-believer to come for a one-off visit to observe, or to attend quietly and respectfully with her husband/his wife, but at a certain point the constant participation and questioning of doctrine one does not believe in, and is unwilling to change their beliefs, is profoundly disrespectful and dishonest.

We have entirely too many people in this world who want all the respectability of belonging to a church, but who don't actually want to even attempt to follow the teachings thereof. And then we have the "Well, I don't want anything to do with the Christians, look at Dave, he prefesses to be a Christian, and here he is swindling people, shooting up... Hell, he doesn't even believe in it!"

Well, you read that, and think for a minute - Dave ain't a Christian, he's a (Non-Christain of some sort) PRETENDING to be one. He isn't a Christian hypocrite - he's a non-christian hypocrite. What such people are annoyed about are Christians not policing their own.

Well, I'm jiggy with policing our own. (Even though when you do - like your Bishops telling presidential candidates that if they stand at odds with church teaching, they need to stop seeking the photo-ops and if they aren't IN communion, stop recieving communion - you're still a sonouvabeech. Well, when you're damned if you do and damned if you don't, such people who refuse to be pleased are what I call bigots - but that's another story)

I'm against religion being used by unscrupulous and corrept politicians and their ilk to look good, by gangsters to put a veneer of respectability on themselves, by "pillars of the community" as a place to be seen. There are certain things that you must believe, and even some things you must practice (or refrain from practicing) to be counted as one of the faithful - for example, as a catholic, I find "Pro-Choice Catholic" to be an oxymoron. Such people are in need of the church as a hospital for sinners.

Which segues into the usual objection, the trite little "Hospital for sinners, not museum for saints." Well, yes ... and no. Even a hospital has a staff cafeteria, and, well, they don't let the patients in where the food is prepared regardless; sick people tend to spread disease, and spiritual sickness is no exception. And that's what Sunday worship is, is feeding the flock. By all means, if you are hungry, come to the food pantry, believer or no. Come even if you hate us.

But if you don't believe, and don't want to believe, why bother with Sunday Mass? I mean, just from where I'm sitting it's about as dumb as a sack of hammers to get up, get dressed, drive, stay through the end, drive home - for what? Something you find banal? Trite? Irrational? Even obscene, as some have intimated? It just begs for the question to be asked: "Why?" Why indeed? Why bother? I guarantee, whatever the answer you give, I can answer back, that isn't what worship is for. And if you are that kind of person who attends anyway, but it doesn't mean anything to you, than it is your kind who is "Dave." And to be brutally honest, we need far fewer of you. You're bad for us. And we're bad for you.

You regard Jesus as some quaint philosopher who might have some small relevance today, or some "wise teacher" or something - well, fine, but .. the rest of us here in Holy Trinity regard him as the Son of God. We're at cross-purposes, if you will pardon the pun. I'm sure the Unitarians would be a better fit for you.

*We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke through the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic(universal) and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.


Gonz, there are people who attend church who attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus, but who may not deep in their hearts accept all the added theology, or understand it at a heart's level. Sure they can parrot back the bit about heaven and hell on an intellectual basis, but they can be honest enough to realize that they are responding on an ethical basis and not yet on a revealed basis. Not all conversions are instantaneous.

On the other hand, I attend a congregation that practices open communion, so I don't think I give offense whatever my true opinion on the nature of the Communion (trans, con, whatever).

The Gonzman

Gonz, there are people who attend church who attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus, but who may not deep in their hearts accept all the added theology, or understand it at a heart's level. Sure they can parrot back the bit about heaven and hell on an intellectual basis, but they can be honest enough to realize that they are responding on an ethical basis and not yet on a revealed basis. Not all conversions are instantaneous.

Nancy, that's why I clarified with eing open to the teachings. I know from bitter experience though, that there are those who just plain are at loggerheads with most everything my own church teaches, be it abortion, communion, ordination, marriage, you name it. Not just unsure, but 180 degrees opposite. It's why I finally made the break a couple years back from y old liberal parish which was local to me, and went to an FSSP chapel, was because of a liturgical director who saw "no reason to kowtow to Rome on things like the GIRM."

Now, it's fine not to be Roman Catholic and not be concerned with what the Vatican has to say, but to claim communion with Rome, and then tell the Vatican and the Holy Father to go whizz up a rope - well, I really don't see the sense in it. And we're not talking stuggling, or stumbling, but outright "Take your edicts and put them where the sun don't shine." I don't get it.

I'm with Benedict on this. I'd be much happier with smaller, more faithful congregations than lots of butts in pews for the sake of butts in pews. If you're watering down your theology just to keep butts in pews which are really - when all is said and done - nonbelievers anyway, you aren't saving many souls, and you're not doing the work of the great commission.

On the other hand, I attend a congregation that practices open communion, so I don't think I give offense whatever my true opinion on the nature of the Communion (trans, con, whatever).

Now - even a consubstatiationist believes in the Real Prescense, but the more you move away from it - in the RCC, it isn't offered that way. Nobody is going to check for a secret handshake or magic underwear if you do come forward - though if you are publically out of communion, the priest at my church may offer you a blessing if you move forward and move on past you, but it is a sign of real unity to us. And as for me, even though it's not a sin to attend services at a heterodox - or even pagan, in the broad sense of the term - church, participation in the form of aiding their liturgy, or recieving communion, or offering worship is right out.


"I'd be much happier with smaller, more faithful congregations than lots of butts in pews for the sake of butts in pews. If you're watering down your theology just to keep butts in pews which are really - when all is said and done - nonbelievers anyway, you aren't saving many souls, and you're not doing the work of the great commission."

This is precisely what I believe. A religion should be what it is, and then it's up to people to determine whether or not they feel a calling to it or not.


Dear Mr. Gonzman:

Rest assured, excepting on the rare occasions I go to church with my
family, (that is, my mother or adult sibs) I no longer attend mass
(yes, I was raised Catholic) for precisely the reasons you delineate;
and when I do, I behave in precisely the way you suggest---that is,
respectfully, but non-participatorily.

And I freely admit my last comment was foolish and rhetorical, since
as soon as I read your response I remembered that in fact my mother is
both devout and, by current teachings, heretical: she does not believe
in harps and angels. My dad, I think, *hoped* for his chance for
heaven, but no more. Both my parents felt that for many years that it
was imperative to have some external reminder (i.e. organized
religion) as a sort of course correction, if you will, to stay more
nearly on a good path.

My mother has since admitted that perhaps one can be moral without
belonging to an organized religion. Even though that battle has been
won (so to speak---surely there must be a less bellicose cliche, but I can't
think of one offhand) I'm still intensely interested in the way
religion in general, and christianity in particular intersect with ethical

Beautiful as our church was, as a child I found mass profoundly
boring, and I've always wondered if that didn't push me towards
finding an excuse to get out of getting dressed up, going, and sitting
on those lovely, but very hard, oaken pews. In any case, round about
the time I discovered the law of conservation of energy and matter in
7th grade---or perhaps I should say, was taught it, at our Catholic
church's school no less, (and which always seemed to me profoundly
more threatening to theology than evolution ever could be) I concluded
there was no energy to support disembodied souls or heaven, and no
suggestions on the part of my parents about unseen and
undetectable-to-modern science divine energy was going to convince me

That is the view I hold today, and knowing what I do about paradigm
limitations on perception, I acknowledge that, to some degree, I hold
this view on *faith*, because it feels right to me. I happen to think
I have rationality and science on my side, but I hope I know enough to
understand that there is still a great deal out there unexplored---and
maybe there is some sort of energy, unseen, undetectable, that holds
souls together in the hand of god outside our corporeal lives.

But my wistful question was not for my middle-aged self which has been
firmly rooted in the agnostic camp for over two decades, but my
teenaged one: the one who would've liked to believe in christian love
and the teachings of Jesus (of which the most important always seemed
to me and still seems to me to be to love your neighbor; loving god is
all very well, but what need has a complete-of-in-itself deity of our
love? but in loving others and world around us---Its creation---now
that always struck me as a worthwhile and ultimately more demanding
divine command) but couldn't reconcile what s/he perceived to be those
parts of catholicism that simply don't mesh with a modern
understanding of science.

In fact, I happen to believe the answer to my question depends upon
the person: my real plea, phrased more directly, is: don't, in your
hurry to embrace a heaven, push away those who wish to be christian
but who are focused on this earthly world, who for whatever reasons
have no desire to be agnostic (as I've said, it's not an easy road)
but cannot reconcile their current, still developing understanding
(that perhaps one day *may* include god and heaven) with those
unearthly things.

And I must respectfully disagree with your characterization of a
pro-choice catholic as `oxymoron'. The catholic church has always
required of its members to think for themselves, to do what they
believe is right, *even if it contradicts the pope*; and moreover,
the church's position on abortion has changed over time (and, in my
opinion, not for the better.) I believe one can be a principled
catholic and be pro-choice, particularly before quickening, and at all
times to save the life or health of the mother.


The Gonzman

Rejiquar - look. You read the creed, and it speaks of "The Life of the world to come." What form will that life take? I don't know - It's a union with God, in eternity - not eternally, of which there is a difference. I don't believe much in harps and angels either, and I think many will be vastly suprised to find something on the order of a duty roster. Even matter. God seems to like matter. For some reason He created a lot of it.

As for God not needing love - There's an old saying that love isn't love until you give it away; if God is love - well, you do the math. Made in His image, after all. I regard God as an optima, rather than an ultima; I've found this to reconcile many of the "Can God make a rock so big he can't lift it" kinds of questions.

But I'm not going to try to convert you or anyone else; there are many evangelists who are far more qualified to do that than me. A few points though. Ethics and morality, I've always differentiated between the two as morality is how one behaves when one has no fear of being caught; I've also concluded that morality and immorality are dependant on an objective standard of right and wrong, to have no such standards renders the words meaningless. Without that standard one becomes amoral. This does not preclude ethics, principles, and all manner of things which are considered "good" behavior. (Or vice-versa) If one has no standard of an objective Good and Evil, though - you can say all manner of behavior is stupid, makes life more difficult than it has to be, is insane - but you can't say it is wrong if you don't acknowledge some external authority that is entitled to define what is right and wrong. It will always beg the question of "Oh yeah? Sez who?" Yes, you may use a legal code of man as a source for that "right and wrong" where you equate such concepts with legal and illegal. Have a care, though - by those standards slavery was "good."

As to the abortion and conscience clause - like many things, the conscience clause is widely misunderstood and misapplied, and requires a properly formed conscience to exercise. (http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s1c1a6.htm) Note in the referenced link that it says (1792) Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one's passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct. All that aside, I duly note that the lifesaving exercise of abortion is one that butts up against the prohibition of suicide (And as such, when exercised, does not produce a "no-win" situation, but instead one where whatever decision reached after reflection and wrestling with conscience cannot be wrong), but I still hold that being "pro-choice" s a matter of convenience, sex selection, when used as a form of birth control, etc, etc, is incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church. (Speaking as a political libertarian, I recognize the government as unqualified morally, and unable practically to regulate and differentiate between the two(and should remain silent on the matter at the federal level), but at the very least - except for grave, life-threatening circumstances - it becomes a voluntary and elective procedure; and that goes for doctors and hospitals too, and under no circumstances should public funds of any type be used for the procedure.) This illustrates that there is a vast gulf between legal and moral - legally, at least in my state, if you break into my house I can blow you to hell, and nobody will say boo. Morally, though, if I know you are unarmed, and you have indeed put your hands up and surrendered, if I pull the trigger, I have committed murder, regardless of the legal absolution I have (Fairly speaking if I acknowledge I had you disarmed and covered, I will be charged - I speak of people who use the letter of the law as a thing to hide behind.) Again, I have no wish for the imperfect law of man to dictate morality - it is abjectly and irredeemably insufficient to the task; by it's nature it fails to see any grey area, however thin it may be, and in addition it provides a mechanism by which it gives sanction to a person immoral enough to work the system. Many things legal are deserving of social scorn, this is well and good, as it should be, and does not need to be "fixed."

The central thesis of your reply though is to not push away those who "wish to be christian." By definition, though, such people are seeking, and struggling with articles of faith. This is not my intent; however what I object to is the unbeliever who tends to want to use the church as an instrument of social change as they think things should be. No, the church is not a tool for the profane, and there is ample precedent of it being used as such throughout the historical record - I am sure Torquemada thought he was doing great good, as he saw it, with his inquisition. However, he was monstrous, and I would put any such person who tried to use the church as such as a moral eqivalent to him, and those like him, and there is no place for them, they damage the curch, and the reputation of the church, in addition to being generally obnoxious and disruptive. It is not up to the church to change to suit someone, it is a means by where someone can change themselves to suit God.


I think that the emphasis on heaven/the afterlife has far too important a place in the minds of most Christians. What we are awaiting is not "pie in the sky when you die," but *the resurrection of the dead* - God's kingdom coming on earth, people being *physically* raised from the dead, and the physical world becoming something glorified but still material. We are waiting for the universe to be set right.

"For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.'" 1 Corinthians 15:53,54


Hugo, I'm not sure that your original statement was all that off. Maybe if you'd added a brief 'in this life and the next' at the end, it would have been complete?

I'm no fundamentalist, but I think that the futurism of the NT partly comes simply from what Jesus told them to expect. More significant than that, however, is the fact of the OT futurism. A longing for the future action of God was grounded in the hope that God would put things right, but it seems to me that that was never about "heaven." It was about God acting to put things right in this world. So, with the coming of the Messiah, the beginning of the Resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit, the early believers naturally assumed that God was about to complete his creation-restoring work.

Persecution, as we see in places like Latin America, doesn't necessarilly lead to an escapist hope, as much as activists who believe that if they act God will act through them and then some.

Or so it seems to me! :-)

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