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Old 02-13-2011, 07:50 PM   #9
Darth InSidious
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Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: The Eleven-Day Empire
Posts: 5,775
Current Game: KotOR II
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Originally Posted by Tysyacha View Post
(NOTE: This is an open letter that I first wrote to one of my best LF friends.)

I went to church this morning, mainly to spend time with my mom and dad and to cry out for help to the higher power/God in which I believe. However, the time in which I thought I'd be free to do so without fear, guilt, or condemnation was poisoned--ruined--by a rather Orwellian sermon. What I mean is this: In his novel 1984, George Orwell talked about the concepts of doublethink and doublespeak--thinking and saying two completely opposite things while believing in them both, completely. As a teenager and young adult, I didn't understand this at all, but now that I've experienced a bit more of life, I feel I have a good grasp of it. Again, let me explain. This whole THING is hard to explain, as shown by my use of the word "thing"!!!

Our church's pastor is doing a sermon series entitled "Losing My Religion". He's encouraging us, meaning the church congregation, to have a genuine relationship with God instead of focusing on "religion"--the do's and dont's, the rituals and prohibitions, the doing of specific things to win God's love instead of being--living--in God's light and love. Granted, I don't really know what it means to "live in God's light and love" anymore, but our pastor kind of takes it for granted that since we're all Christians and have been to church for years, we do--or should, at least--know what this means.
My first reaction to this: surely, "living in God's light and love", focussing on one's relation with God, requires keeping God's commandments? John 14:15 comes to mind here: "If you love me, keep my commandments".

Christianity is not a static religion of sitting chanting to ourselves and congratulating one another on being enlightened while we munch oatcakes. "Faith without good works is dead", St James tells us (James 2:20-26):
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You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
That's not to say that prayer is unimportant, or that we should forget giving what is due to God - far from it. But that must complement good works, and keeping God's commandments. Love of God, surely, means a desire to be obedient to His will? So far as I can see, you can't separate 'being in a relationship with God' from 'keeping God's laws', any more than you can be in a healthy relationship with a spouse while secretly betraying their trust.

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Anyway, that's the point of his sermon series on the surface. However, at least in my mind, if a sermon provokes far more questions, objections, and fear in me than peace and understanding, then something's wrong with it. Something's wrong with its premises.
I don't want to disagree exactly here, but it seems to me that maybe sermons should bring fear and confusion rather than peace. Christ didn't come to make us feel good about ourselves, and He upset a lot of people in His own time.

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1) On the ONE hand, my pastor talked about love--specifically how (God's) love is sacrificial and unconditional. This is consistent with what I've been (doctrinally) taught about God's love.

-1) On the OTHER hand, along with this message of love, he talked about the bad news--what I call "the catch": "Some people are condemned already, because they don't believe in Jesus."

If God's love is supposed to be unconditional, and "condemnation" means an eternal withdrawal of God's love--that's what I believe that Hell is--then isn't "belief in Jesus" a condition of God's love? If you don't believe in Jesus, say my pastor and church, then you will be judged guilty and separated forever from God and His love. How, then, can they honestly say that God's love is unconditional? To me, this is a crystal-clear example of what Orwell called doublethink.
That's a good question. Not only is it a good question, it's a difficult one, and one which Christians have struggled with for a long, long time. And to be honest, there's no easy answer. Some of the Church Fathers suggest that for those who die unrepentent, the presence of God is painful by virtue of their being.

For myself, I think it's not that, exactly. Rather, I think it's a case of God's commandments being those things that will draw you closer to him by the effect they have on you.

Because our actions affect us just as they affect others. If you think murderous thoughts all day long, you're going to have a harder time constraining that desire. If you are constantly uncharitable about others, it's that much harder to be charitable. And so on.

Sin is not a law, as such, to me; God doesn't see our sins and say "naughty you, for that I'm not speaking to you!" Rather, 'sin' is an action (or even a thought) which orients us away from God. Ultimately, I think all sin is egocentric - it's about me, and that means, inevitably, turning away from the Other. Sin is a choice, and a pushing-away of God. To me, it seems God does not reject people but they reject Him.

If you are so unfortunate that you have never heard of God, or of Christ, if you've never met a Christian, if you live somewhere so remote or so secular that no missionary has ever reached you, how can you be condmned? Again, I don't think you can. If you seek what is good, and if you seek what is true with a sincere heart, surely you can't. But a lot of people I think do reject God, and I believe will reap the reward for that, which is not dealing with him after death, either.

I also don't think anyone is necessarily condemned. We can say "if you believe, are baptised, and follow God's commandments, you will be saved", because Our Lord said as much. What we cannot say is, "you are going to hell."

Or to put it differently: I know where Christ's Church is; I'm not too certain where it isn't.

Indeed, my own Church teaches that hell could be completely empty, though it's not a generally accepted position, for reasons jonathan outlines.

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2) On the ONE hand, my pastor talked about the very beginning of John 3:16. It says, "For God so loved the world..." Meaning, God loved all the people in the world, from the beginning of time until the end of time. Fair enough, say I, because as my pastor also exclaimed, "God IS love!"

-2) On the OTHER hand, he talked about how WE, as HUMANS, not just as Christians, are "born bad". If God despises evil--things that are bad--which I'm sure my pastor and I both agree that He does, then how can God love US if we're BORN bad/evil? If God loves all the people in the world, from the beginning of time until the end of time, and yet such people are every-single-one-of-them BORN evil, then the concept of God's love makes no sense at all. It's utterly contradictory, and another brilliant example of what Orwell deemed doublethink.
First of all, I can't commend what jonathan says on this enough, because he's got it in one. I don't believe people are born evil, and are inherently evil. What we are, however, is flawed. Original Sin didn't destroy our connexion with God, or our hope of salvation. Damage it, certainly. Make us more distant from God, certainly. Make it more difficult for us to get close to God, certainly. But make us 'evil'? No. Make us capable, make us find it easy, sometimes even desirable to do evil? Yes. That is why we needed the Covenants, Old and New, that God made with us.

I'm not a fan of CS Lewis' writings, but there's a line of his from one of his books, which jonathan used to have in his signature:
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Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.

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This next example might be the most insidious of all.

3) On the ONE hand, my pastor talked about how living in God's grace and mercy means "you have nothing to lose (because you've gained salvation through Christ) and nothing to prove (because you don't have to try and win God's love anymore. Jesus did all the 'proving' for you)."

-3) On the OTHER hand, his view on salvation is called the "perseverance of the saints," meaning that if you not only continue having faith, but also if "your life reflects your faith in Jesus" (meaning you do enough good deeds and don't swear/don't drink/don't slander or gossip/don't cheat, etc.) THEN you will be saved. He made the point that "you can't just pray a prayer that invites Jesus into your heart and then live your life sinning all you want." Fair enough--I hate hypocrisy anyway. However, isn't this another condition of God's supposedly unconditional salvation? I'd hate to be on my deathbed worrying if I'd been pure enough, and done enough good deeds, to be authentically saved. Underneath all of my pastor and church's pious words and rhetoric, is it REALLY the truth that I have everything to lose (my salvation) and everything to prove (myself and my "genuine relationship with God") through my good deeds?
Well, that's the problem with believing in justification by faith alone, I think. Christ, in this way of thinking, opened the road: it's up to you to walk it. And part of walking it is doing good works, and praying, and desiring (and working) to conform yourself totally to Christ.

Being baptised and then sitting and twiddling your thumbs and feeling pleased with yourself just isn't going to cut it.

The truth, as you put it, seems to me to be this: you've got the chance at salvation and eternal life. Grab it!

You don't have to 'prove' it, though, so much as make it happen yourself. God has agreed to meet you halfway: he has become human, and suffered and died as a human. You have to try to become more God-like, to make yourself like Christ, or, in the words of the Gospel, to "be perfect, like your Father in heaven is perfect".

"I'd hate to be on my deathbed worrying if I'd been pure enough, and done enough good deeds, to be authentically saved."
In my Church, we administer the Last Rites for this - to help someone die at peace and in closeness to God. But we also believe that if there are little sins on your conscience at death, your soul can be purified afterwards.

But that's also why we examine our consciences, and ask, "what sins have I committed recently", or today, and make a firm resolve not to commit them again. Not that we necessarily succeed, but we may inch a little forward. There's a line from a play by Beckett: "No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Always failing better at perfection seems to me to sum up what a Christian life should be.

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I was wrong--there is a fourth example that blows the previous three away:

4) On the ONE hand, my pastor made the point that God wants a real relationship with us.

-4) On the OTHER hand, he also made the point that "our response, and our relationship with God, must be genuine (in order for all of this to work)." However, he never told us who decides what is and is not a "genuine" relationship with God. Supposedly, God should and does, but he never said that explicitly. That worries me. Thoughts? I have a knot in the pit of my stomach...
I disgree that God never told us what is a genuine relationship with Him. In the Gospels, Christ tells us exactly that, I think. This is what I've been trying to say: God's commandments aren't a list of 'do's and don'ts', legalistic rules for a bureaucrat Deity. They are what will allow us to draw closer to Him, to become more like him.

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Note: Why have I done the 1) -1), 2) -2) enumeration that way? As you can probably tell, it wasn't just to list my points, one by one. What is 1 + -1, 2 + -2, etc.? That's right, zero, and that's why I feel so empty inside instead of full right now. I don't really understand--about God's love, about Jesus, about salvation and condemnation/going to Hell, and especially about what a "genuine relationship with God" is.
That's understandable. From what I can see, your pastor said something highly confused and not very sensible.

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I also don't understand what "losing my religion" would free me from--at least as much as my pastor understands the concept of "losing my religion". Do I make any sense at all? Perhaps not, but that's about as much as I can explain it.
You make lots of sense. I think the problem is that your pastor preaches an incomplete doctrine. And so it's no wonder he ties himself in knots. But I wouldn't panic. Pray, ask God's guidance, trust in the Lord.

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Right now, I feel lost. Used up. Discarded. Thrown away like trash. I lost my job--I was used and expended as any "human resource" would be, and then laid off when there was no longer any money to pay for my continued usefulness as an employee of my workplace. I was forced to move back home, which I did NOT want, because I'm running out of money and my parents are the ones supporting me right now (along with unemployment and government charity).
God values you. And that is why Christ's message was necessary, because it's about (in part) not treating people like another resource.

Of course under these circumstances you feel stressed and exhausted, and worried. But you absolutely must not feel unloved or unvalued.

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I have no right on Earth to ask such questions, and no right to feel this way, because of my circumstances and my supposed status as a Christian. At least, that's how I feel right now.
Why should your circumstances or your status as a Christian deny you the right to feel awful, or to doubt? How could you have faith if you did not have doubt? That would be like light without darkness (and notice St John didn't say, "light shines in light"!).

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I feel abandoned, and like no one understands.
There are two passages I would suggest you read, both too long to post here, but not terribly long. One is Psalm 130 (129 in the Septuagint). It begins "out of the depths". The other is Psalm 22.

Believe me, everyone has been through something like this. Some people call it the dark night of the soul. Consider Atris, in KotOR II (a slightly prosaic example, but still), when she says "I... sometimes feel as if things are collapsing... all around us. It is just at the edge of perceptions, waiting. I fear... "

I don't know, but from what you're saying, I get the impression that's sort of how you feel?

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I feel like if the people around me knew what I really thought, and how I really felt, then they would judge me negatively, and condemn me (withdraw their friendship/love/etc. from me, because I'm "supposed to be a Christian" and not the way I am right now).
If people withdraw their love and support because you're in a rough patch, they're ****ty Christians and ****ty people. You don't give poisons to an ill man, or send a doctor to the healthy. I'm sorry, but smug, self-congratulatory Christianity of the cake-sales-and-tea-with-the-vicar kind, full of propriety and empty of good charity really riles me. Luke 18:9-14.


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Am I an ungrateful--er, female dog in heat? Perhaps, but I keep feeling guilty because I KNOW I shouldn't feel this way, and yet I do. I also feel guilty because I keep suspecting that the "love" I'm experiencing from others comes with strings attached.
People always disappoint us.We will always disappoint others, I fear. It's part of being, as I said, flawed.

You should stop beating yourself up about this. It's natural to feel down when you've had a string of bad luck, and it's natural sometimes to doubt God.

It's also natural to sometimes find your friends and family are more hindrance than help when it comes to spiritual matters - after all, Job's friends all told him to 'curse God and die'. My advice would be not to tie yourself in knots over this, because I'm firmly of the belief that once self-examination becomes self-doubt it is the work of the Enemy. The question is not, "am I evil?", it's "how do I become better?"

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If my pastor wants me to "lose my religion", then I have good news for him: I already have.
I don't think you have really, Tysy. You can't doubt something you already disbelieve, any more than I can doubt Father Christmas if I already know he's not real.

The impression I get here is that your pastor gave a stupid and waffly sermon which was no help at all, and has added a spiritual quandary to a period in your life which was already trying. Losing your job, losing your independence, being supported by your parents (living with them after being away), all of these are very difficult.

It seems to me that you've actually been bottling up a lot of feelings of anxiety for a while, and your pastor just tipped the scale and it's all come out at once.

Seeing your later posts, I think you've also been given some frankly slightly distorted doctrines from your church (although, [probably] not belonging to the same one, I would say that), which you're now finding the flaws in.

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I've lost a lot more than that, too, and I find it absolutely impossible to "get over it" and "deal with it" like every good Christian should. I feel a void inside of me, a "zero". This is MY truth.

Sincerely,
Tysyacha
That void sounds to me like despair. And again, we've all been there. And you're right, you can't just jump up and stick a smile on your face while the world kicks you in the teeth. Being a Christian doesn't mandate that you have to be a giggling, smiling ultra-nice person. Partly because that person is bloody annoying.

And being a Christian doesn't mean never doubting. We call that fanaticism. Even great Christians doubt sometimes. As I said, we tend to call it the 'dark night of the soul' (a term coined by the mystic St John of the Cross), or 'spiritual dryness'. You're not alone in feeling this. And people who have never doubted, or who pretend not to, are either fanatics or disingenuous. Therese of Lisieux wrote of this, but she is now considered a saint.

Being Christian isn't - and shouldn't - be easy. "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it."

It takes work, it's bloody hard, and you sometimes do indeed wonder what it's all for, why you bother, and whether you couldn't have more fun without it. For me, though, the answer is that it's true. And you have to find that truth to follow. But it isn't easy.

On hell and damnation, again, I think you have it a bit skewed. I don't think we have to be absolutely perfect. But it's about putting in the effort, striving to be like God, seeking Him with a sincere heart. It's your intent that matters in this.

And when it comes to hell, I don't really think it's a 'punishment' or a place. It's the absence of God, and the natural result of pushing Him away, or denying him in life. It is, in other words, the result of our own deeds, just as getting to heaven is. In short, the ball's in your court.

I hope things look up for you soon.

I'm sorry, I really should go now; it's nearly one o'clock in the morning here, and I have work tomorrow. I'll try to respond again soon.



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