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March 19th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Rob Bell punches back against claims of heresy

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

New York (CNN) - For two weeks while controversy swirled around him, Pastor Rob Bell stayed silent. His critics said he was playing fast and loose with heaven and hell, salvation and damnation. The eternity of souls was on the line, they said.

All this was over Bell’s new book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” Critics tore into it before the book even hit store shelves on Tuesday, some going so far as to label Bell a heretic. The controversy pushed the book into the third spot on Amazon’s sales ranking, virtually assuring the book a place on The New York Times Best Sellers list.

On Monday night, dressed in black and sporting his trademark black-rimmed glasses, Bell strolled quietly into the auditorium of the New York Ethical Culture Society. This was his chance to hit back.

“I never set out to be controversial,” Bell told CNN before the event. “I don’t think it’s a goal that God honors. I don’t think it’s a noble goal.

“What’s interesting to me is what’s true. And what’s interesting to me is what’s inspiring. And what’s interesting to me is where’s the life? Where’s the inspiration? That’s what I’m interested in. If that happens to stir things up, that was never my intent, but I’ll accept that.”

Bell said he was surprised by the controversy around his book. Critics said he was preaching universalism, a theology that suggests everyone goes to heaven and hell is empty.

“I’m not a universalist. So that’s just not true.” He reiterated that again in the event that evening where he expounded on that idea and said that he didn’t believe God reaches down and sweeps everyone to heaven.

'Good environment for dialogue'

After a budding career as a rock star was derailed by a freak illness, Bell set his sights on the seminary. Now, at 40, he has risen to become America’s hipster pastor and one of the most influential preachers in the country.

He is quick-witted, non-denominational, and he unabashedly loves Jesus. He preaches to 10,000 people at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, the church he founded. His first four books sold nearly a million copies combined, and his short film series, Nooma, has sold more than 2 million DVDs.

He will tell you he again and again he is a pastor, not a theologian or a biblical scholar.

But for a guy who dresses in black, Bell has made his mark examining the gray areas of Christianity. His questioning of traditional approaches without always giving answers has brought him fans and made his critics gnash their teeth.

“It’s very appealing because he brings lots of facts and lots of information into it and lots of historical context into whatever discussion he has,” said Kristi Berderon, a 25-year-old Bell fan who drove an hour from New Jersey for the event. “He leaves it open-ended. He lets you think and draw your own conclusions for yourself instead of spoon-feeding what he grew up hearing or what he was taught in seminary.”

She and her friend Tommy Hayes are a lot like the others in the crowd tonight: wearing skinny jeans and dark-rimmed glasses - and openly exploring their faith. Berderon’s parents are Southern Baptists; she was home schooled and raised in the church. Today she attends a non-denominational church and self-identifies as a “Christ follower” but bristles at being called a Christian.

Danielle Miller and Maryalice Spencer took a two-hour train ride from Walden, New York, to hear Bell speak. They walked 25 blocks and stood in line in the cold to get in. Miller uses Bell’s short films as a discussion starter in her church. “I think it’s always good to ask those hard questions, and I think that’s what he’s doing, and it creates a good environment for dialogue,” Miller said.

Bell was in New York City to sit down with Newsweek’s Lisa Miller for a conversation on stage and take questions from the 650 audience members and thousands more watching the event streaming live on the Web.

Bell and Miller on stage at the New York Ethical Culture Society auditorium.

Before the crowds arrived, a contemplative Bell settled into a pew to talk with CNN about the book and to answer his critics.

The book began, he said, five years ago. “As a pastor, you interact with so many people [that] some of the same questions keep coming up. And ultimately you keep bumping up against what people really think about God.”

In his church and around the country, he saw what he considered a misrepresentation of the Christian narrative in the Bible.

“At the heart of the Christian story is [the message that] God loves the world and sent his son Jesus to show the world this love. So that’s fundamentally first and foremost the story. God is love and God sent Jesus to show this love.

“In our culture Christians are known for a number of other things. … Rarely do you hear people say, ‘Oh yeah, those are the people who never stop talking about love. Oh a Christian church - that’s where you go if feel beaten down and kicked and someone has their boot on your neck. You go there because it’s a place of healing and a place of love.’

“I’m passionate about calling people back to [Christianity’s] roots,” Bell said.

'Theology of evacuation'

In his new book, Bell challenges the traditional notions of heaven and hell.

“For many people the fundamental story was one of escape - Jesus is how you get out of here. I think for many people in the modern world, the way they heard it was fundamentally, ‘This place is bad, and there is some other place, and Jesus - believe, accept, trust, confess, join, get baptized, whatever sort of language got put on it - Jesus is how you get to some other realm where things are good.’

“So essentially it’s a theology of evacuation. And my understanding is the Bible is first and foremost a story of restoration. It’s a story of renewal.”

“The fundamental story arc of the Bible,” he said “is God is passionate about rescuing this world, restoring it renewing it. So discussions about heaven and hell … for many people are irrelevant and esoteric. … But what happens is, what you believe about heaven and hell deeply shapes how you engage this world now.”

Bell said if a believer has their eyes on heaven, they can miss the opportunities to bring people a taste of heaven here on Earth - and they can miss seeing the hell around them.

“Greed, injustice, the sex trade in Far East Asia, we see hell all around us, whenever people reject what is good and human and right and peaceful and all that,” he said.

“I begin with this world right now and the observation that we are free to choose. It’s the nature of love. So then when you die, I would assume [given] the nature of love you can continue to make these types of choices.”

For Bell the here and now is just as important as any possible life to come. “I think it’s very very important to point out … [that] we are speculating about after you die,” he said.

“In the Jewish context in which [Jesus] lived and moved, you didn’t have that articulated belief system about when you die. It was very rooted in this life - dirt and wine and banquets, family and fishing. [In] his stories, it’s all a very visceral – this world is our home, this world that God loves, that God is redeeming - so that’s the starting point.

“I think for many people they were taught you’re either in or out. But Jesus invites us to a journey that’s a fundamentally different way to think about it, and that frees you up from a lot of things that I think haunt people, bind them up and make them miserable. Then it creates all sorts of space for wonder and awe and mystery and the unexpected,” Bell said.

His perspective does not line up with many of the traditional views about heaven and hell, of separate spaces and places with streets of gold or lakes of fire.

For Christians who see salvation and heaven as crucial elements to their faith, Bell’s message can be abrasive - which in part led to so many people pouncing on his book before it was released.

What stirred many critics was a promotional video in which Bell asks whether Mohandas Gandhi, India’s non-violent leader, was in heaven. Bell’s answer offers a good insight into his view of salvation.

Bell would not be surprised if he saw Gandhi in heaven. “Jesus was very clear. Heaven is full of surprises. That’s central to Jesus teaching.”

Bell insists there is room for mystery in salvation and that Christianity is open to discussion.

“The historical orthodox Christian faith is extremely wide and diverse,” Bell said. “No one has the last word other than God. I am taking part in a discussion that’s been going on for thousands of years. Everyone can play a part in that discussion.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Devil

soundoff (1,308 Responses)
  1. Elizabeth

    A man who doesn't believe in infinity would ask such questions. What is infinity plus 1? It is almost as though you do not believe in mathematics.
    Suffering is always personal, no matter on what scale. The horror is not in the statistical numbers, but that even one person would suffer. There is almost no explanation for mortality, not among atheists either. We are dust, the atheists would say, but so would the believers say the same thing. Then your question pertains to the meaning of life, not the meaning of the material elements that our bodies are composed of. God is a God of the living, not the dead, a very profound statement. The Resurrection is found in the quality of being which is life, not death. Asking what is life, more than the interaction of chemical compounds, is the basis of philosophy. Arguing in words, you re-affirm that you are alive, even if your words show a frustration with a lack of a connection with life. Those who will find hope in their future will do so in some mysterious way in spite of their hardships, but with help from others. Indeed, to be alive means that each of us must acknowledge the needs of others who are alive, and help them with compassion. Life can be a lesson or a test, but that stands outside of the reality of life which is that we need eachother so much.

    March 21, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • Julie

      Path matters

      You are a good example of a negative person allowing their negative outlook to shape your religious beliefs. If there were no good in man, why would God give a crap? Are you saying that he doesn't? I understand your belief that you can only reach heaven through your Jesus, but Jesus never harped on man the way you just did. He saw the good in people, that's why he found man worthy to be saved. He just thought man needed guidance on the issue.

      Path... I am not a negative person, but thanks for the ti'tle, I love being labeled becaue I share a thought.
      Jesus said to the man in the bible, who asked, what shall I do good master, to inherit the kingdom of Heaven.
      Jesus replied..Why thou callest me good? No one is good, except the Father.

      I guess he was being negative too?

      March 22, 2011 at 7:06 am |
  2. Muneef

    That higher power they worship is what we. Muslims call Allah,(God).
    That higher power choose and sent messengers,inspired them scriptures to teach us, what was that for?

    Al-Baqara sura 02:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    And verily We gave unto Moses the Scripture and We caused a train of messengers to follow after him, and We gave unto Jesus, son of Mary, clear proofs (of Allah's sovereignty), and We supported him with the Holy spirit. Is it ever so, that, when there cometh unto you a messenger (from Allah) with that which ye yourselves desire not, ye grow arrogant, and some ye disbelieve and some ye slay? (87).

     Al-E-Imran sura 03:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    It is not (the purpose) of Allah to leave you in your present state till He shall separate the wicked from the good. And it is not (the purpose of) Allah to let you know the Unseen. But Allah chooseth of His messengers whom He will, (to receive knowledge thereof). So believe in Allah and His messengers. If ye believe and ward off (evil), yours will be a vast reward. (179).

    Al-E-Imran sura 03:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    And lo! of the People of the Scripture there are some who believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto you and that which was revealed unto them, humbling themselves before Allah. They purchase not a trifling gain at the price of the revelations of Allah. Verily their reward is with their Lord. Lo! Allah is swift to take account. (199) O ye who believe! Endure, outdo all others in endurance, be ready, and observe your duty to Allah, in order that ye may succeed. (200).

    March 20, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • Joey

      Hi Muneef,

      I believe God is a triune God:I believe that the Father is God, I believe the Son is God, and I believe the Holy Spirit is God. I do not worship 3 gods, I worship 1 God and he is a triune God. I gave a message about this subject a couple weeks ago. I am not the Paster of a Church, I am actually a student that was asked to give a message during one of our prayer meetings at school. I prayed to God to lay on my heart what he willed for me to preach...God laid on my heart to minister the Truth about Jesus.

      May you find favour in Gods eyes Muneef, if you have time please feel free to witness my sermon for yourself, it is on YouTube under Joey Giordani. Thank You.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • Muneef

      Joey.

      Thank you but should say that Quran Sura 05:73 disapprove with than notion... While sura 02:87 and 253 assures that Jesus was supported by the holly spirit...

      March 21, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Muneef

      Joey.

      Thank you but should say that Quran Sura 05:73 disapprove with that notion... While sura 02:87 and 253 assures that Jesus was supported by the holly spirit...

      March 21, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  3. Mark

    AlB...

    Sorrr for the delay in response, I got held up by the "waiting for moderation" message.

    Tough one, man. That's a challenging question, and one I see a lot on here. I think it's a very valid question and I never dismiss it or discredit anyone for asking it. I'm gonna jump back a little and reiterate something I mentioned in my first post. I don't really go in for labels all that much. I know that living here in "the west" we tend to label our "religion" the Christian religion. I know that means different things to different folks. Some are Catholics, some are Baptists, some are Ep-iscopalian, some are Methodists, etc etc. The reason I say all that is because it helps me to make two points:

    1. I don't believe that Christianity is the religion of choice. When I die one day, I will stand before God and give an account of all that I did in this Earthly body. The good AND the bad. The one question that I don't expect God to ask me is, "What religion did you affiliate with?". I expect the question to be, "Mark, what did you do with my Son Jesus Christ?" "Did you accept Him?" "Did you accept the fact that He died for you to pay the sin debt that you couldn't pay?" "Did you forsake your efforts to be good enough on your own to make it to Heaven, and put your trust in Jesus?" My answer to that question will be YES. Now, do I affiliate most closely with the "religion" of Christianity, yes. Do I expect that label to be enough, no way.

    2. There are probably a lot of people who accept the label of "Christian" simply because of geographical reasons that think that when they die, everthing's going to be just fine, OR, conversely think that just because someone lives in a different part of the world that they're "gonna fry". (I too find the "gonna fry" mentality repulsive)
    I view the label of Christianity no different that I view the label of Hindu, or Buddist, or Muslim. If you're relying on that ti-tle to get you to Heaven, I'm afraid those people are going to be sadly mistaken. It's a relationship, not a religion that will determine people's eternal destiny. I know there are people who live in all corners of the world, who come from all different walks of life that will be in Heaven. I've grown up in a "Christian" environment, there are millions of people who've grown up around Hinduism, or Buddism, or Islam who will come to the realization that Jesus is the way. It really comes down to forsaking "my own efforts" more so that forsaking a given "religion". But, when I get to Heaven, I fully expect to see millions of Easterners, Middle Easterners, Westerners, etc etc. and the one thing they will all have in common is that they were all saved by grace through Jesus Christ.

    "For by Grace are we saved through faith, and that not of ourselves. It is the gift of God, lest any man should boast".

    March 20, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

      Thanks for the thoughtful answer, Mark. I imagine you would be a very interesting dinner guest. Take care.

      March 20, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Mark

      AlB...

      You too. Very interesting talking with you.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  4. Sunshine

    You do realize that everyone is weak and Jesus knew this which is why he stated when two or more are gathered in his name he will be there too. It's when Christians actually come together that we can strengthen ourselves, give each other guidance. Christians may read the bible but we also have to talk with each other, deal with our struggles, strive to follow what he commanded. It's only when we share our thoughts that we can figure out if we know the truth or not. I am not sure you do.

    March 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • Evolved DNA

      Sunshine...Sounds like we just get advice from each other.. which is most likely an evolutionary trait as we are social animals like the other great apes..and we need each other to survive. You do not need the supernatural for that.

      March 20, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  5. jake429

    I'm just surprised that the reporter didn't try to get Bell to answer the universal question: "Do you think that anyone who is not a Christian can go to heaven?"
    I think that his answer would have told us more about him than any five minute news piece....

    March 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. (Revelation 22:14)

      He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36, 1 John 2:3-5).

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I thought he answered that with the, "it wouldn't surprise me" statement about meeting Gandhi in heaven and I don't think he was assuming Gandhi "found Jesus" at the last minute.

      March 20, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Jasmine

      jake429, I haven't read Bell's book, but from articles that I have read about him and some promo video he did, it appears his basic theory about Heaven vs. Hell is that God loves man so much that even if man sins against Him, God's love will force man into heaven. Totally opposite of what the Bible says re: entering heaven (see John 14:6). And, whatever happened to free will? My opinion on this guy is that he's only in it for the money. Really sad.

      March 21, 2011 at 3:57 am |
  6. Daniel

    The Bible : Needs to be outlawed.....................The bible proves that people are easily influenced , can not think for themselves on issues concerning life and death and are in constant search for a religous leader .
    Christianity started out as a cult and it is still a cult .

    March 20, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      So you are saying we should believe a man who has no eyes to see, nor ears to hear. Just another dry bones, spiritually walking dead among us.

      In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1. John 1:14, Hebrews 4:12-13, Galatians 3:8.

      Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! Deuteronomy 6:4 (Zechariah 14:9)

      Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord: and besides Me there is no savior. Isaiah 43:10-11 (Isaiah 44: 6-8, 24; 45:5-10, 18, 21-22)

      He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, but he who refuses correction goes astray. (Proverbs 10:17)

      Those who go astray from the word of God, are not in the truth, and are not saved; and their words are words of deceit, as Psalm 119:118 declares,

      You reject all those who stray from Your statutes, for their deceit is falsehood.

      God rejects all those who stray from His word. It does not matter what the subject matter is. There is no salvation for any who heed not holy writ, as Psalm 119:21 proclaims,

      You rebuke the proud, the cursed, who stray from Your commandments.

      How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge. (Proverbs 1:22)

      Their complacency will destroy them (Proverbs 1:32).

      Christ said,

      Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)

      Life is had "by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (i.e. Genesis to Revelation). It is trust in the word of God that saves, as James exhorts,

      Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)

      It is the word of God that saves (e.g. Luke 8:11-12). It is the word of God that must be believed (e.g. Genesis 15:5-6; Romans 4:3). If you are directed away from faith in the word of God, whatever the issue, this can lead to the destruction of your soul.

      Ecclesiastes 12:5 Also [when] they shall be afraid of [that which is] high, and fears [shall be] in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:

      Ecclesiastes 12:6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.

      Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

      Ezekiel 18:4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

      Ezekiel 18:20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.

      Ezekiel 18:21 But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

      Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. (Revelation 22:14)

      He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36, 1 John 2:3-5).

      Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. (2 John 9)

      "For the wrath of God IS revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. . ." Romans 1:18-32

      They will find themselves weeping and gnashing their teeth (Matthew 8:12; 22:1-14; 25;14-30; Luke 13:28).

      Jesus warned,

      Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13)

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Sunshine

      Do you actually agree with the people from this site or are you just quoting from it?

      http://www.atruechurch.info/

      March 20, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  7. Joey

    The big problem I see in most of these posts is that people think God is religious......the people who believe that religion causes war, pain, suffering, division, etc are 100% correct....but religion is not of God, religion is of man. Jesus wants us to have a relationship with him, just like the loving relationship you have with your spouse or child. Jesus taught that religion is a tool that does nothing more then separate people from God. Bottom line....God wants your relationship, not your religion. As for some people having a hard time embracing a God that allows suffering, all I can say to that is... this Thursday I am giving a message at my school about "Why God allows suffering"...I will upload this message onto YouTube on Friday April 1st 2011....so please if you have 20 free minutes available listen to my perspective on why God allows suffering....you will find it under Joey Giordani.
    In conclusion God does loves you, and me, please try to avoid letting the actions of some men and women deter you from who God truly is.

    March 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Jess

      I would "like" this if there were a like button. I second you.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • NL

      Joey-
      "but religion is not of God, religion is of man"

      James 1:26-27
      "26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

      Apparently either God does, in fact, accept some religion, or the writer of James had a momentary dropped signal from the Holy Spirit, right?

      March 20, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Joey

      Hi NL,

      Thank you for bringing up the teachings of James. James was a blessed man with many great teachings. I wanted to acknowledge your reply. I just got out of the shower and am on my way to school, I will be sure to reply to you in full when I get home this evening.

      May God bless your day my friend,
      Joey

      March 21, 2011 at 7:12 am |
  8. Sarah

    I think that if we just say that a person 'gets into heaven' or 'goes to hell' we're missing something – if heaven is God's vision for the world, there can be no evil, no selfishness, no greed, no negativity there. But every last one of us human beings has some measure of that in us.
    I've thought about this a lot. I think that judgement is having to look at that evil which is in you, and having it ripped out of you. Some people will be nearly whole after that, but for some people, all that will be left is a shell, or maybe even just a tiny speck. That which is left of us after all the 'bad' is removed is what can stand the light, the presence of God.
    So none of us will 'get into heaven' – at least not unchanged. And none of us will be condemned to hell – at leat not in entirety. But the grace of Jesus will be standing there in judgement, realizing how deep and integral your evil has been, and the Lord of Mercy then saying, "So. Do you want to be made whole in me?"

    March 20, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Julie

      NL

      Julie-
      And when atheists do good works, which is far more common than you were probably told, we do it out of love for other humans first. Charity existed long before Jesus. Jesus' followers actually criticized him for not doing enough charity and for allowing huge sums of money to be spent on pampering himself, if you remember your gospels. Why do Christians believe that they are following his example in doing good works then?

      Julie>> Answer I think you are referring to this passage?

      Mary of Bethany loved Jesus deeply and had "sat at Jesus' feet and heard his word" (Luke 10:39 NKJV) gladly at an earlier time. Jesus said of her then, "Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:42 NKJV) Mary was still choosing that good part which would not be taken away as she poured the oil onto the Lord's head and onto his feet wiping his feet with her hair (John 12:3). It was not cheap. A footnote in the New Living Translation of the Bible at Mark 14:5 says that the 300 denarii cost of the oil would be the equivalent of 300 day's wages.

      I think once again, we are getting our eyes set on the cost and off the lesson it was meant to relay. First, she did this for Jesus, and came to annoit his body for burial. This oil, being expensive, was her giving all that she had. She gave from her heart and Jesus said it would be recorded as such in the gospels for all to see. Money was not a factor to her, as she gave him her very best. She was giving to Jesus, not to a denomination or other charity.

      What she did was worship God, in her giving. We could say that if we did not worship God, we could spend that time helping the poor. But, then what would the giving really be, to those we helped? It would be social gospel being preached, one that had no roots in God, but the world only. Thus, it would be temporal help,which would exclude the spiritual replacing it with the material and hope for the eternal.
      We must have and must be continually building a spiritual relationship with God, such as in Jesus name.

      You mention Matthew 5:16. Well, in Matthew 6 we also have:

      1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
      2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

      Strange how secular charity seems to work far more in the background than Christian charity does. Franklin Graham, for example. Nothing secret about his giving, is there?

      Julie>Answer The first verse is pretty self evident, and that is not to do something in arrogance, to be seen by all to give credit to yourself . The lesson here is to do something with intent to help someone, and not just so you can pat yourself on the back, which discredits the charitable act up front. In other words, your heart intent. Otherwise, you have already earned your reward, and it would not be worthy of a reward by your Father in Heaven.

      But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

      Again, I think this says whatever you do, do it with the right heart intent. Otherwise, If I did something in secret, and didnt't tell anyone, but somehow unbeknowst to me, the reciever of my charitable gift, may have choosen to expose it...would God not reward me, if I did exactly what he said?

      This means not to brag or take any personal credit for your acts of charity. It could also mean by needy, anything that a person is needy of, besides material goods, mayby compassion, your time. etc.

      Laying up your treasures in Heaven, so that your reward will come via God, not man.

      Last you said:
      Strange how secular charity seems to work far more in the background than Christian charity does. Franklin Graham, for example. Nothing secret about his giving, is there?

      Well, NL, you have to remember that when someone is helping in any national news coverage, where there is hunger, need for clothing, etc. due to a disisater that is constantly being followed by television, internet, news media, it would be easier to have something like that exposed. Its not always easy to escape that.
      If Graham were appearing on news shows, bragging about what he did, then I would agree, he has his reward, period. I know alot of Christians that give in the background as well as secular, and say nothing about it. Nothing wrong with that .

      March 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • NL

      Julie-
      "But, then what would the giving really be, to those we helped? It would be social gospel being preached, one that had no roots in God, but the world only. Thus, it would be temporal help,which would exclude the spiritual replacing it with the material and hope for the eternal."

      But, isn't 'social gospel' a more moral, ethics-based message than this 'relationship with Jesus' gospel that evangelicals have been preaching lately? What's wrong with doing all that you can to help the poor and needy. Even if the problem never goes away completely, isn't the point to try? After all, if everyone just gave up because they couldn't solve a problem single-handedly then charitable organizations would never have been created in the first place, right.

      Have you ever heard The Starfish Story?

      "A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

      She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

      The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied,

      “Well, I made a difference to that one!”

      The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved"

      adapted from the Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley

      "This means not to brag or take any personal credit for your acts of charity. It could also mean by needy, anything that a person is needy of, besides material goods, mayby compassion, your time. etc."

      You may be amazed, then, to discover how many times some Christians brag about how they do vastly more charity than secular people do. Tell me, is this in the spirit that you are talking about?

      "I know alot of Christians that give in the background as well as secular, and say nothing about it. Nothing wrong with that ."
      Nothing wrong whatsoever, I think. Unfortunately, I think many people wouldn't give a dime that they couldn't claim on their taxes as well as a minute of their time that they couldn't claim publicly.That's just sad, isn't it?

      March 21, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  9. April

    It is about relationship..... not religion. I am not a debater as people can get mean and things get ugly.... its not what Jesus came to do. I wont force religion but offer only my experiences and share my story of how my life was changed. I'm not perfect and want people to know he can reach you anywhere in your life. We are straying from love and bordering on hate! He gave his life out of love.

    March 20, 2011 at 6:54 am |
    • Julie

      NL and Path....We as Christians do what we do because we have a heart of stone that has been replaced by a heart of flesh, thus we love everyone, even those who do not return that love. Ezekiel 36:26 Just as Christ loved a lost and sinful world and died on the cross for all mankind, we as Christians, follow His example and do our works to please the Father not man. Matthew 5:16 That is the difference between works of righteousness and works of filthy rags, we as Christians are created in Christ for good works.

      Hope that clears it up.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • NL

      Julie-
      And when atheists do good works, which is far more common than you were probably told, we do it out of love for other humans first. Charity existed long before Jesus. Jesus' followers actually criticized him for not doing enough charity and for allowing huge sums of money to be spent on pampering himself, if you remember your gospels. Why do Christians believe that they are following his example in doing good works then?

      You mention Matthew 5:16. Well, in Matthew 6 we also have:

      1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
      2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

      Strange how secular charity seems to work far more in the background than Christian charity does. Franklin Graham, for example. Nothing secret about his giving, is there?

      March 20, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Rich

      Nor do I, "force" Jesus on anyone. I share my faith, and if they are willing, I and some friends will study the bible with them. If they don't wan't to study, or get baptized, I don't, "force" them. I try to persuade, but I don't, "force", as if you could force someone to follow Jesus. I'll remain their friend, and pray that over time they will see their need for Chris.

      Neither did Jesus, "force" people to follow him. In fact, most of his, "followers" abandoned him, and only 120 were there on the day of Pentacost, waiting to see what would happen.

      March 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • DFi

      I agree April...it's not religion it's relationship..if it was religion i would have bailed ages ago since I was bordering on atheism before I got saved. I am not perfect, never was...but I look to Christ for strength DAILY and I have NEVER been let down and the things that have been happening in my life since I started walking with Christ are unexplainable. I did not come to Christ because I was scared of going to Hell and I am still waking with him because the emptiness I had during those moments of quiet between things in my life is gone, I have this unspeakable peace and JOY. I cannot explain it. This is my testimony, not the fact that I argued my way into convincing myself that Jesus is the Son of God but that I took a step of faith. EVERYONE has a decision to make, we all have free will...

      March 20, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • NL

      DFi-
      " agree April...it's not religion it's relationship."

      James 1:26-27
      "26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

      The 'Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless' sounds like God does, in fact, endorse a religion. So, either God likes both your relationship thingy with Jesus and some religion which would be something else, or he likes just some religion and not your relationship thingy, or this scripture has to be wrong. Which do you suppose it is?

      March 20, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  10. Rich

    @Reality

    Anwer me this. Why would Jesus first followers exagerate Jesus' claims, and teach that he was God, knowing that it would get them killed? Why? Why would they teach that to look at a women lustfully is the same as adultery? What would they get out of it. OR, maybe their message in the bible is from God. Have you actually considered that?

    If there is no standard from above us, how can anyone decided what is right, or what is what God wants? From ourselves, from our lives and hearts, full of contradictions and hypocrisy? We decide what is right? If you believe in God, doesn't it make sense that he would give us a standard, that is from above, not from us?

    I used to think the exact same thing as you, that Jesus was a reformer, whatever that is, and his followers embellished his story.

    Only problem is, THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THAT. We know that apostles taught that Jesus claimed to be God's son, God in the flesh, and that he was a sacrifice for our sins. The New Testament is the only recording of Jesus words.

    But we are morally above Jesus' teachings, so we can declare them man-made and invalid. I used to think that, until I actuall started to READ the bible, then it changed me. I turned 180 degrees, not only in my beliefs, but in my life as well.

    Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote in the New Testament days that there were people claiming that a man named Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That has always been the gospel, from day one.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:47 am |
    • Reality

      Hmmm, let us see what some of the NT and historical Jesus scholars have to say about the "Son of God references in the NT:

      Matt 7:21
      “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven."

      Not said by the historical Jesus, but more embellishment my Matthew. http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php/111_Invocation_without_Obedience

      Matt 9:6 Passage notes "Son of Man" not Son of God.

      http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php/127_Sickness_and_Sin

      Matt 10:32-33, ""Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; /33/ but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven"

      "Ludemann [Jesus, 344] states " this is a prophetic admonition from the post-Easter community. For it, Jesus and the Son of man were 'identical in the future: Jesus will return in the near future as the Son of man with the clouds of heaven. In his earthly life he was not yet the Son of man, since he will come to judgment only with the clouds of heaven (Dan. 7.13f) at the end of days' (Haenchen)."

      Matt 11:27 "All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

      http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php/045_Father_and_Son and

      "Lüdemann [Jesus, 330f] invokes the classic description from K. Hase of this passage as a "thunderbolt from the Johannine heavens." He notes the typically Johannine reference to mutual knowledge between Father and Son, and the absolute use of "Son" as a designation for Jesus. In dismissing the saying's authenticity, Luedemann also notes the similarity to ideas in the post-Easter commissioning scene at Matt 28:18, "All authority has been given to me ..."

      Matt 1:20- 225 (another "pretty, wingie thingie"/angel requirement)

      20/ But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. /21/ She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." /22/ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: /23/ "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." /24/ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, /25/ but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus."

      "Bruce Chilton

      In Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography (2000), Chilton develops the idea of Jesus as a mamzer; someone whose irregular birth circ-umstances result in their exclusion from full participation in the life of the community. He argues for the natural paternity of Joseph and finds no need for a miraculous conception. In his subsequent reconstruction of Jesus' life, Chilton suggests that this sustained personal experience of exclusion played a major role in Jesus' self-ident-ity, his concept of God and his spiritual quest. "

      Mark 1: 11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

      http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php/058_John_Baptizes_Jesus

      "Gerd Lüdemann

      Lüdemann [Jesus, 9] affirms the historicity of Jesus being baptized by John, but does not trace the theological interpretations back beyond the post-Easter community:

      ... Jesus did not regard his baptism as appointment to be the son of God. The underlying concept derives from the community, which believed in Jesus as the son of God (cf. Gal. 2.16; 4.4) and located his appointment within his lifetime. In the earliest period, for example, the appointment of Jesus as son of God came only after his resurrection from the dead (cf. Rom. 1.4).

      "John P. Meier

      The second volume of A Marginal Jew devotes considerable space to a study of John as "mentor" to Jesus. The historicity of the baptism is addressed on pages 100-105, before considering the meaning of Jesus' baptism on pages 106-116. On the basis of the criterion of embarrassment, supported by a limited proposal for multiple attestation (relying on possible echoes of a Q version in John's Gospel and in 1 John 5:6), Meier concludes:

      We may thus take the baptism of Jesus by John as the firm historical starting point for any treatment of Jesus' public ministry. (II,105)
      Having established the historicity of the baptism event, Meier is adamant that the narrative must be seen as a Christian midrash, drawing on various OT themes to assert the primacy of Jesus over John. In particular, Meier insists that the theophany must be excluded from all attempts to understand the event, since it is a later Christian invention rather than a surviving memory of some actual spiritual experience of Jesus.

      Meier's discussion of the meaning of the baptism puts great weight on the fact that accepting baptism implied Jesus' agreement with John's apocalyptic message, and also engages at length with the question of Jesus' sinlessness."

      March 20, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Reality

      With respect to atonement theology:

      Professor JD Crossan (from his book, "Who is Jesus" co-authored with Richard Watts)

      "Moreover, an atonement theology that says God sacrifices his own son in place of humans who needed to be punished for their sins might make some Christians love Jesus, but it is an obscene picture of God. It is almost heavenly child abuse, and may infect our imagination at more earthly levels as well. I do not want to express my faith through a theology that pictures God demanding blood sacrifices in order to be reconciled to us."

      "Traditionally, Christians have said, 'See how Christ's passion was foretold by the prophets." Actually, it was the other way around. The Hebrew prophets did not predict the events of Jesus' last week; rather, many of those Christian stories were created to fit the ancient prophecies in order to show that Jesus, despite his execution, was still and always held in the hands of God."

      "In terms of divine consistency, I do not think that anyone, anywhere, at any time, including Jesus, brings dead people back to life."

      March 20, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Desi

      Hi Rich...I have enjoyed reading your postings here, and agree with what you have said. Adding my own thoughts on a few things, I believe that natural disasters here on Earth, are not Gods doings. It bothers me when I hear people say that God is punishing people for things, and that is why it happens (Earthquakes, etc).
      Things happen due to the natural elements doing what they do. Plates shifting in the earths crust effecting the oceans and so on. Same thing goes for people saying its Gods fault, or why doesn't he stop this from happeneing.

      Sometimes man makes bad choices. Building homes where there are known faults that cause earthquakes and tsunamis, is not a good idea. But then we can blame God? Just a thought.

      No, we are not exempt from natural disasters.

      A dog may be a gentle creature, mans best friend. But, if a dog bites us, (for many reasons, we touched his sore ear, he detected fear, etc) , do we blame God for not stopping it? If we burn ourselves on a hot pot, is it Gods fault? We all live in a world that is not perfect, and we are all subject to the things of the world, simply put. Christians as well, but we have the comforter to get us thru.

      People make references to God being some kind of monsterous being, sending "good" people to Hell, for instance. I wish they could see it from the other point of view.That is, that he does not want anybody in Hell, and thats why God took the form of man, Jesus Christ, his son, and went to the cross, so all could have eternity with him. He is a God of love, and loves all people.

      I think sometimes religion has given a bad wrap to the real love of Christ, not doing what he says, and making up manmade stuff, that is contrary to his word. Not to mention false teachers or wolves in sheeps clothing, distorting the gospel of Christ.

      A personal relationship with Jesus, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, will show any man what his love really is about. Nothing can compare to it.

      It is not something anyone will have to wait to find out either. My life has never been better, since I made that choice and I have never regreted it.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  11. Rich

    @themooseman

    We ARE born with a clean slate, but everyone sins, and falls short of what God wants (Romans 3:23). God cannot accept sin into his Kingdom. So he sent Jesus here, who was TORTURED AND MURDERED by men, to wake us up spiritually, to get us to see the depravity of our spiritual condition, so that we would repent, be baptized, and live a new life until we die, which includes helping as many as possible to do the same. That is Jesus' message. If you do that, you will be accepted, you and the ones you help do that too (2 Tim 4:16-7).

    BUT, if anyone rejects it, he cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven. God IS love, and he showed it by putting Jesus on the cross. It's up to us to respond or not resond to the cross. God can't force us to do right, so he went all out by putting Jesus on the cross. But make no mistake, there is a hell, and maybe that as well should as well cause us to look at where we are at compared to God's word.

    Jesus DID teach to be kind and loving, that is the example we set to show people that we are a new creation, so they will be attracted to Jesus and his teaching. That does not mean there is no hell. We can't decided that there is no hell, it exists, and that is chrystal clear from the bible.

    March 20, 2011 at 3:23 am |
    • themooseman

      What I was saying is not that there isn't a hell but that hell is for people who did horrible things in their lives. I don't really see how someone would get sent to hell for not believing in Jesus. This kind of brings up the question of whether or not purgatory comes into play.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  12. Doubting Thomas

    Twelve years of parochial school education convinced me that all religion is a load of crap. All the biblical fairy tales of fire and brimstone, armies of angels slaughtering each other ala WWII or Nam were to much for me to buy. The idea that if you don't know Jesus your ticketed for hell has got to be right out of the "my way or the freeway" school of bible banging and is like tough love on steroids. I once asked a teacher that if god couldn't stop lucifer from revolting in heaven it must be screwed up just as bad there as things are here on earth (got me detention for one week) and made me wonder what happened with all that love and forgiveness BS. After existing for 80 years on this planet I won't have to wait much longer to find the real answers.

    March 20, 2011 at 2:02 am |
    • Rich

      @Doubting Thomas

      I used to be Catholic too, and it inspired me reject that Jesus was not the messiah, that the bible is not from God, and all, "religon" is worthless. I can relate, trust me. But Catholicism is not based on the bible, literally. It is based on religous traditions, and the bible is superceded by them. That is their doctrine. I talked to 2 priests after my conversion, and that's what they told me, and it is true.

      But I still prayed to God, to show me his truths, and shortly after was invited to a bible discussion that actually talked about the bible, not, "religon". As I read it on my own, I could feel a sledge hammer pounding on my hard heart, breaking down so many walls of sinful arrogance, unbelief and pride. I thought I knew everything, essentially thought I was God, really, and used to love to argue with, "religous" people. But the bible itself over 3 months completely change my mind about it and Jesus, it truths were so profound. I got baptized into Christ and my life is millions of times better because of it.

      Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, just like he says. If you read the bible like it was intended, to change you life, not as a school subject, then you will see what I mean. Just because you had a bad experience, it doesn't mean that Jesus and the bible aren't from God.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:33 am |
  13. Jean

    Why do some Christians need a vengeful God and a Hell? They seem bothered by the thought that God might be loving. Maybe its a type of projection and it enables them to make God in their own image. They see in God what they see in themselves?

    March 19, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Reality

      History or heresy?

      The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated based on the studies of historians and theologians during the past 200 years- see section 1 for some typical references used by said scholars)

      I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven.

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
      Jerusalem.

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
      ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      Amen///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

      March 20, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  14. Fred

    Is Gandhi in hell? No one knows for sure. However, I do know for sure that if he died without Christ that he is in Hell right now. There's only one way to Heaven and one way to approach the Father and that is through the Son. God didn't love us because we're good or because we look nice in church clothes. He loves unconditionally. However, having said that, if someone chooses to be disobedient and reject Him and His Son, why would they want to go to Heaven? Trust me, Heaven is all about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and someone who spent their whole life rejecting them would feel out of place.

    March 19, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Magic

      Fred,

      "There's only one way to Heaven and one way to approach the Father and that is through the Son."

      How do you know that for sure?

      March 19, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • PC

      If Gandhi is in hell, he is probably doing the place some good. He was a heck of a lot better person than most people of any religion or lack thereof that exist in this world. I'm not being negative about the human race, but that Gandhi was way more patient, humble, meek, truthful, gentle, open minded, and forgiving than most people can ever aspire to be. He, also, accepted pretty much all religions. I find this to be admirable, if not in line with any of the religions individually. However, he considered all humans to be God's children. Do you, Fred?

      March 19, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Mr. Sniffles

      Three possibilities. Gandhi was Hindu. If Hinduism is right, he was reincarnated, or he achieved nirvana. If the other religions are right, he is in one hell or another for failing to pick the correct religion, despite all the good he did in the world. If the atheists are right, he just stopped, like everyone else does when they die.

      March 19, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • NL

      Remember that Gandhi said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

      He liked Christ, not Jesus, but the Christ. Where does it say that you have to like hypocritical, judgmental Christians in order to get into heaven? Isn't it possible then that he could pass as a 'Saved' person?

      March 20, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • tallulah13

      Yet another reason I find christianity so repugnant. I doesn't matter what quality of life you live, it doesn't matter if you have given selflessly to others. If you don't pander to god's ego, you will suffer forever. Your god is a jerk.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  15. Rich

    God DOES love everyone, so he sent his son Jesus to earth as sacrifice for sins. Those who believe, repent (which means completely changing your life and live like Jesus, not merely cutting out a few sins) and are baptized are forgiven of their sins, and should they live a faithful life, they will be admitted to heaven. God showed his love to the world through the life and death of his son Jesus. But if someone rejects him, they will not enter heaven. God still loves them, but they haven't responded to God's love. God sent Jesus down here to have people change their lives – he went all out, it's up to us to respond to God's love.

    As for the existence of hell, it's so obviously clear from the bible that hell exists that it can't seriously be debated, if you believe in the inspiration of the bible. This is just another story about someone who feels they are morally superior to the clear teachings of the bible (and to God, ultimately) – they want to tell everyone what God is REALLY saying, so we simpletons will understand. And, as usual, they completely miss the boat on a number of important concepts from the bible, which leads them to developing the latest false doctrine

    March 19, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Well, then I guess I'm hell-bound because I would rather suffer for eternity than have someone tortured to death for my "sins". Frankly, I haven't done anything in this life to rate a community service sentence, much less the slow murder (even if he volunteered) of any person, but if I'm that evil, I SHOULD go to hell. I'll be responsible for my own sins. Better than condoning a murder.

      By the way, I'm not afraid. When I die, I'll be dead, just like everything else that ever lived.

      March 19, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • NL

      How is God sending his son to die for our sins not like somebody showing up at your door, claiming that they 'cured' you of a disease that they can't prove you ever had, and then demanding some kind of payment for this? I have no reason to believe that I was born with some kind of 'Original Sin' that I am somehow liable for, and I have no reason to believe that some dead Jew 2000 years ago somehow cures me of this now. Why then should I 'pay up' by worshipping this God? Honestly, shouldn't common sense not tell you that this whole thing smells to high heaven (pun not intended)?

      March 20, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • I Ching

      Religious people are assuming that the words they are receiving were written by totally honest and trustworthy people.
      And they also trust religious "authority" figures without background checks of any sort.

      That is how religious people are ironically at a disadvantage to knowing who actually believes. It can be faked and there is no way to prove different......because "faith" requires NO PROOF!

      Jesus could have faked it all and it wouldn't matter because it was his fellow conspirators in "heresy" who portrayed these events decades later as if every single error wasn't the most heinous crime and heresy itself?
      And the only way you care to view these unknown "criminals" is as the most trustworthy of all, entrusting your very soul and salvation not to Jesus, but to the men who wrote about him.
      That is lazy, sloppy, and pathetic to endanger your supposedly immortal soul that way. Just trade it for some magic beans why don't you?

      HA HA HA HA HA !

      March 20, 2011 at 4:30 am |
    • Davis

      @I Ching. actualy we don't claim that the writters of the Bible were perfect but we do claim (most orthodox christians anyways) that the Bible is God inspired truth. and the problem with your little criticism is that there is acheological and historical evidence to back it up. On top of this you have the fact that you're suggesting someone faked something all the way to one of the most gruesome deaths you could imagine (doesn't seem ideal). if He faked it that far he would have been a lunatic, but histories on the matter show otherwise and i doubt the people who followed him would have risked death over something they just decided to make up. then you have the fact that several differnt men (not just 1 or 2) wrote the same stories and came to the same conclusions.
      I'm sorry but the fact is you are the one lacking evidence in this discusion.

      March 21, 2011 at 4:43 am |
    • Davis

      @tallulah. He volunteered because a sacrifice was required. sacrifiece was required because we are all sinners and we are set up against a Godly standard not a human one. Lets be clear on this; sin is not just "the bad things i do" it's falling short of God's will for our lives. If it sounds like God's just asking too much well then you should understand why he sent His son... because we needed him.

      @NL i can prove you had it because you're human and i have yet to meat a perfect one. I don't worship God to "pay up" either. I worship Him because He is deserving of all i have to give being that He is my Creator and Savior.

      March 21, 2011 at 4:51 am |
    • NL

      Davis-
      Why was a sacrifice required? Isn't that just the same old 'throw a virgin in the volcano' level of reasoning? I can understand that people are apt to do selfish things, but you are arguing that morality and ethics aren't what really matters, but falling short of 'God's' standard. So, that means that some ancient people could have lived their entire lives trying their best not to harm others, believing that when they die they would not enter into Christian heaven, which appears pretty selfless to me. Then some Christians come along and tell them that they 'need' heaven as an afterlife, and the only way to get heaven is by accepting Jesus as a god which entails some kooky beliefs. If they don't accept this offer, then there are consequences: Hell.

      Pardon me, but doesn't this sound like some kind of protection racket, like what the mob does? It's the same insistence that you cannot go on without buying into their 'protection', or 'else', right? Make us an offer we cannot refuse a la the Godfather. What's wrong with just opting out of heaven as a reward for worship? Actually, don't many Christians believe that heaven is just more worshipping of God? Wouldn't that be worshipping God so that you can worship him for eternity? That sounds a little... pointless to me.

      "Perfection" is only a word for an ideal. Nothing is actually perfect, so why would I, or anyone else, struggle to meet an impossible standard? All we can do is our best, and struggling to go beyond that is just a recipe for making oneself neurotic. You imagine a perfect God, but you have to ask yourself, if God were actually perfect, then would there be any room to criticize God? If even the idea of God were actually perfect, then why are there atheists, much less than thousands of individual, personal concepts of God?

      March 21, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Davis

      NL, sacrifice is required because God is a righteous and just God and we have sins that we have to account for that. Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
      So Jesus came to be the ultimate sacrifice for all mankind. you equate that to throwing a virgin in a volcano which was done to appeas moody gods not on an account of justice. also you misread me, i said sin is not JUST the bad things we do. that is part of it but it's deeper than that as well. so yes it is moral and ethical. you also suggest that the main idea in christianity is to get to heaven, that is not the case and anyone striving to worship just so they can get to some human derived cozy place in the clouds is going to have a hard time. The goal in Christianity is to get back to the original relationship humanity had with God in the garden of eden. meaning, God is first and foremost in our lives not so we can get something out of Him but because he deserves it and more than we have to offer.
      Mat 22:37 And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
      Mat 22:38 This is the great and first commandment.
      laid out pretty clearly what the main goal is. if they reject the free gift of God then they go to a place where they can seperate themselves from him. will it be a literal lake of fire or a place where man tears at each other because God's presence isn't with them i have no idea, but i do konw it's not going to be a happy place.

      the mob asks for payment from the mob. God asks to save you from yourself which is quite a bit different. more akin to a man giving himself up so that a mobster could have another chance. Heaven is beyond human understanding. i believe there will be worship there but (like true worship shouls be) it will be because God is so awesome. think about it like you getting to hang out with your favorite band or writer or somethign of that accord. you would give them worship and it wouldnt be as boring and drivle as you're making it out to be. people worship bands at rock concerts all the time and they seem to be having quite a bit of fun. Heaven is, at the bottom line, a place where we can have an ultimate relationship with an awesome loving God who wants the best for us. as far as i can tell it's going to be pretty awesome.

      it's true you couldn't criticize Him. we could and probably all do try at some point, but that's not because God has things to be criticized about. Man choses to blame God for things and judge him by our limited human understanding. does it make sense to you that God an eternal being (who, by that alone is beyond our understanding) who is omniscient, omnipresent, triune, truly loving, truly righteous, and the creator of all would be able to be judged and criticized by us? As far as what i can tell that's one of the prime faults we have as humans: thinking we know better than God. isn't that exactly what adam and eve did?

      March 30, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  16. Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

    Excellent answer, Path. Thank you.

    March 19, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

      Thanks to mooseman also – his follow-ups were helpful

      March 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

      Good answer, Jarad. That is the kind of insight I am hoping for. Perhaps better we take a moment to understand each other a bit instead of the usual intellectual midget-tossing contest this forum usually is.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • PC

      Why would anyobne want to toss an intellectual midget?....Sorry....sorry, I lost my integrity there for a minute.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

      Well PC, the reason they toss intellectual modgets is that it is much easier than tossing intellectual fat ba$tards.

      As you see, I have no integrity left to lose. I rush in where even the fools who usually rush in won't rush in.

      March 19, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Gonzo

      heh,heh... Well, Al – talk about stating the obvious about your integrity. It's healthy to be introspective. But being judgmental? Well, that's different.

      "religion vanished from my consciousness" Yet you insist on goading others for justification? To what end?
      Your self-righteousness never fails to entertain. Good for you.. you finally found the new material that you so desperately needed!

      March 19, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Gonzo

      I so desperately wanted to tell you that I think you're a little pointy-headed twit... but I wanted to keep a bit of integrity in reserve....

      March 19, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Gonzo

      "Good answer, Jared.."

      What a load. As if you're in a position to determine the value of answers on religion. Your pretension is sickening. Can you simply thank someone for an answer without grading it? What'd Jared earn? How about a B?. Sounds about right. Or was it a better answer than that?

      March 20, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Gonzo

      Anyone want to take a bet that Al comes out of the box calling me an intellectual midget rather than providing a substantial coherent argument?

      Come on, Al. Try hard.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Gonzo

      I hope that Al can do better than the four lines of "Ha ! Ha! Ha !'s" he resorted to responding to me in the Pakistan kidnappings string.

      Well... one can always hope.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Jesus warned,

      Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13)

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  17. Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

    Okay, a serious question for you religious people: Why do you believe in whatever deity system that you do? When did you start believing it? Why did you choose the religion you did? Did you seriously consider other religions before making your choice? Did you grow up with it and never changed? Did everyone around your family believe as well? Was it always there and just seemed self-evident that it was true? Did you experience some calamity that crystalized your views?

    Serious answers, please. You see, as one who could never bring himself to believe (thought I have read all the major religious texts), I just cannot understand how people can come to believe in something that has utterly no tangible evidence. I am giving you the chance to explain your choice, and I will listen – but do spare me the sermons on your religion of choice or any "you'll burn in hell" nonsense. I am interested in the factors involved in your choice of religion. I will not use any of it to mick you.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • themooseman

      It gives people hope and a sense of meaning in their lives. The entire universe is one absurd mess, but religion adds some sense of clarity.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

      I did not ask about people; I asked about you. I am not interested in sweeping generalizations, as they reveal nothing. The question was when and why did you choose your religion.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • Path matters

      I was raised Christian, but often wondered what I would be like if I were raised Hindi or Jewish or what have you. I tend to think that I would have believed whatever religion I was raised to believe, as long as I was indoctrinated into that religion. Childhood indoctrination is a major influence in people's beliefs. It is very hard to break away from somethng that was placed into your belief system, when it was placed there during the time in which your brain and personality were being formed (childhood). I am no longer religious, not because my indoctrination was a bad experiance (my childhood was happy), but because I have since expanded my mind beyond finite religious beliefs. This is just my experiance.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • themooseman

      Then the answer would be that I'm choosing to be agnostic. Was raised Christian, would like to believe in an afterlife and all that, but also recognize evolution and the big bang as fact and that there is both the possibility that these were set in motion by God or that there is no God. I'm not totally sure.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Themooseman..the universe and life makes perfect sense if you eliminate religious belief. It appears confusing to some because they try to fit events and real observations into the belief structure they have .Look at the spin going on because of the recent earth quakes..some think is some kind of retribution, some the beginning of the "end of Days" some just god sending a sign, when it is clearly is simply a geologic event that has happened many times before and will again. I predict that at some time we will see another earth quake and some volcanic activity...

      March 19, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

      Evolved DNA, perhaps you might tell us why you chose what you did, when and why. I am hoping this question does not digress into pontifications on each other's beliefs.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • themooseman

      @evolvedDNA...I'm talking more in existential terms. If something bad happens to you it's random not retribution from god but some people really need everything to have some kind of meaning.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Jarad

      @evolveddna The universe and life make complete sense when you don't think about how it all started from "nothing". 😉

      March 19, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Jarad

      @al I'm a Christian, taught by Christian parents since birth. However in college I questioned what I was taught and seriously considered and studied nearly every religion and deviant of Christianity. Christianity continued to make the most sense.

      I think the biggest reason I think I believe in a God is because of the fact that none of us should be here. Something cannot come from nothing. There has to be a starting point. If it's the "big bang", then great... where did that come from? If you're like me, then this same question makes your stomach turn if you think about it for too long.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • themooseman

      @Jarad... Well the whole counter argument to that is where did God come from? So really all this becomes chicken or the egg, it's a total mystery which will probably never have proof that either school of thought is right. Personally I think God set the universe into motion with the big bang, but there's still that problematic question of where did he come from?

      March 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Jarad.. or where god came from? or made him. Jarad..i see no problem with the origins of the universe the answers will come at some time, or we will have a better understanding of it. There are many hypotheses ..including god, bubble universes, collapsing universes..all sorts of things. each at this time as valid as each other, but evidence as it acc-umulates it will start to narrow down the options. If you want to say god started it you could, but it would be no more valid than saying a giant goat sneezed us into existence.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Al.B..I was brought up religious until I was about 13..( C of E)..there was an incident at a Welsh coal mine where slag slid down a hill side after very heavy rain and buried a school..I think about 120 school kids suffocated in mud, along with the teachers..not sure how old you are but this happened in the 60s in Aberfan.. The entire village lost its kids. That one event caused me to re-evaluate my belief.. and that was that.. again at the time all sorts of reasons were put forward as to why it happened, as we still discuss to day when earthquakes, tsunamis, major air crashes etc happen. Not sure if that was what you were asking, buts thats why I am atheist.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Jarad

      @evolveddna I hear you... just so you and I both agree that all this began by something outside of our universe that we can't explain. However, out of all your hypotheses, I think the giant sneezing goat is the least likely.

      March 19, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

      Good answer, Evolved, and one I can rather identify with. May as well toss in my background. I was brought up in a religiously indifferent household, where god was tacitly assumed but we did not do church. There were no atheists or agnostics around. Initially I did not question god much, but found nothing in religion that made me want to go that route. Did a Christian youth group for a couple years in early high school – had friends in it – but I simply could not make myself believe what they were saying. Like yourself, a number of harsh events occured amongst the people I knew which made it obvious to me that there is nothing resembling natural justice in this world (some really lousy people prospered, a lot of good ones struggled extensively, and a couple really kind people died rather horrifically). Those events lead me to question whether the world operated in accordance with the philosophies of the major religions (read a lot of major texts at this point), and found that it did not, that the world only made sense as a system driven and responding to natural laws and indifferent to the human condition. A thorough study of history (One of my degrees is in in History) did not even show that religion played any positive role in making things better, and often did the opposite.

      Once I accepted that, religion just vanished from my consciousness, only occasionally reawakened by various attempts of religions to impose their belief system on me or my world.

      March 19, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Magic

      I was raised as a strict Catholic and I was quite devout until my late 20s, when I began to see flaws. I sort of coasted for several years and bowed to family pressures and tried to just not think about the doubts too much.

      As I raised my last two children in my 40s and sent them for religious training, I found it increasingly difficult to help them with their lessons... feeling very uneasy telling them things that I really didn't think were true.

      I began to really educate myself by reading, listening and discussing these things over several more years and finally decided to abandon religion and theism altogether. Things make much more sense now - not everything, of course, but I am content with my status.

      March 19, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • Mark

      AlB...

      First off, let me say that I hate the word "religion". It just conjurs up so much negativity. I have no problem understanding why so many people are completely turned off by "religion". Religion is dead, lifeless, restrictive, etc. Religion is pointless, worthless and legalistic. A big list of do's and don'ts. If someone where to ask me, I would tell them I was a Christian, but I'm positive that the word "Christian" wouldn't mean to them what it means to me. I've come to understand the older I get (I'm 36) that my spiritual life is not about a "religion". It's not about being a "Christian". It's about ONE thing...a relationship with Jesus Christ. That's all.

      I grew up in Church. My parents had gone to church for a long time. They took me and my sisters. Not like they took us and dropped us off, they too went regularly. I have many memories of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. My parents didn't beat me over the head with the Bible though. As a matter of fact, expect for Sunday lunch I seldom saw my parents pray. We didn't sit around talking about Church, or the Bible, or God, or anything like that but I still knew and understood their belief system. I guess you could say that as a little kid, I simply did as they did. Just followed along...you know? But, when I was around 12 or 13 something changed. Jesus went from being someone that I'd heard about in Sunday School or the Sunday Sermon to being someone very very real to me. I can remember like it was yesterday. It was summer vacation and school was out. I was just going about my business and simply doing things that kids do. Nothing special, just being a kid. Late one night at home, I was up just listening to my new radio (I'd just gotten one for my birthday). It was a little stereo, and I had the two speakers sitting on the floor and I was laying my head between them listening to some radio station. I was suddenly overtaken by this awful sense of guilt. It's hard to explain. I just felt so bad. Like I said, I was only 12 or 13 and it's not like I had "done" anything all that terrible by that time. And, my parents were loving parents. It's not like they were on my case or anything. Life was good. But, deep inside I had this terrible sense that something was wrong. I was dirty, sinful. I fought it for several nights. During the day, I could keep busy and avoid it somewhat, but I dreaded bedtime. Everyone would go to bed, and I'd be left alone with my thoughts. That awful sense of guilt would come back. It wasn't just that I felt guilty, but I was terrified. I KNEW what it was. All of those lessons I'd learned in Sunday School suddenly took front and center. It was God. He was calling me. He was convicting me. I was a sinner. I was guilty. God had opened my eyes to my own sinfulness. I knew what I had to do. I knelt down beside my bed, alone, late at night in my room and accepted Jesus Christ. All I can remember saying is, "Jesus, I know I'm a sinner, and I know you can save me".

      Now, contrary to what the charlatans on TV say (Benny Hinn and the like) God didn't open up Heaven. Thunder didn't boom. Lightening didn't strike. I didn't start speaking in tongues or fall out in the floor and start convulsing or any of that other nonsense. None of my external surroundings changed. I was still the same kid. But something inside changed. And, at that age, I can't even say that the "heart change" was all that consp-icuous at first. But, as I got older I began to notice that I just didn't see things like so many of my friends did. Don't misunderstand, I wasn't a holier than thou. I didn't act like a prude toward my friends. I didn't act like I was better toward them. But, when I would get alone I would find myself thinking...."you know, I don't agree with them". Or, "I don't see this situation the same way they do". I didn't judge them. I didn't point my finger at them and say, "That's wrong, you shoudn't do that". But, I would make a concious decision to do the "other" thing if I felt like what they were doing was wrong (teasing, bullying, being promiscous, etc).

      Like any other believer will tell you, my life has taken twists and turns. I haven't always stayed on the "straight and narrow". I've strayed off the path more than once, pretty far at times. I've gotten frustrated with God more than once. Downright angry several times. There have been things in my own life that I didn't like and weren't the way that I would have chosen them for me. Things that I would have changed if I'd had the power to, but was helpless to. I've had unanswered prayers and wondered why. There've been times when I felt like God didn't care. There've been times when I would have sworn He'd forgotten me and simply didn't care (work problems, relationship problems). But, I can honestly say that despite the many many times that I've been unfaithful to Him, or had given up on Him, He's never left me. I've always had that "still, small voice" inside of me drawing me back to Him. There's been lots of times when I would fight it off and stay headstrong and do my own thing (out of anger most of the time) but God wouldn't leave me alone. I mean that literally.....He wouldn't go away and leave me alone. I'm glad He hasn't. He loves me. Even when life sucks, I know He loves me. Even when it's hard, I know He loves me. The Bible called Jesus, "a man of sorrows". How could I expect to live a life of ease if the Son of God didn't.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:28 am |
    • Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

      Thanks Mark. Not many religious people took up the challenge. I appreciate your insights.

      If you don't mind a question, it seems that most religious people are of the religion they were born into and grew up with. Do you think that, had you been born into a Muslim family in Afghanistan, you would have chosen Christianity?

      March 20, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • WhatisTruth?

      @ AL : I love your sincere mind. I am a Christian, but not the traditional, conventional Christian. I would love to share my reasons for being a follower of Christ, which may surprise you. My email address is: shawn.t.ellison@gmail.com. Please email me if you're interested.

      March 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Jarad.. yes I agree with you.. the giant sneezing goat.. well there is no real evidence for it yet.. but on days when i get a heavy cold.....

      March 20, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Mark

      AlB...

      I just don't know for sure. If I'd been born in an Eastern or Middle Eastern country I can only assume that my exposure to Christianity would have been minimized and the cultural religion of that country would have taken precedence. I think that's a fair as-sumption.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Al Burger,

      Ezekiel 18:4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

      Thanks Mark. I appreciate the honesty.

      If I may ask, considering that, why do you feel Christianity is the correct religion if it is possible that your choice of religion might have been based on the cultural religion of your region, and may well not have been your choice were you born elsewhere?

      March 20, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Sunshine

      Ezekiel 18:4 you don't even understand the scriptures you are quoting if you did you would realize that the punishment for sin is for the original sinner and has nothing to do with the people of the future or their offspring. Its more about the fact that the righteous conduct done in the past does not imply to someone in the present.. Do you even understand what you are quoting obviously not. Get a life.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

      HeavenSent, I asked a legitimate question and got some thoughtful answers. If you would care to answer the original question, I would be most interested. On the religious side Mark and Jarad were up to the challenge, and another offered to duscuss it backchannel.

      However, the original post clearly stated "spare me the sermons on your religion of choice or any "you'll burn in hell" nonsense." I would rather hear something useful than the usual holier-than-thou stuff.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Jess

      Hi Al,

      I'm a believer now, but I wasn't until I was in college. I grew up in a "holiday Catholic" home—both parents were raised Catholic, but I don't think they actually had faith. I don't think anyone else in my family is a believer (one says so, but doesn't show it with his life), but after an abusive relationship, dealing with some heavy depression and anxiety from a young age in middle school through college, I did not believe in God. My life certainly sucked, so God couldn't exist. In fact, I publicly embarrassed a few Christians for their beliefs and publicly denounced God—I was the vocal activist type. It didn't make sense to me. I found every argument against God. Why would there be a God? I thought the Bible was a rule book to scare people into having good morals.

      But then I hit my breaking point, thinking of suicide, panic attacks, and without a support system beyond my parents. I had become someone who couldn't get through a day without pot or alcohol. One night I just started praying to God (the one I didn't believe in), and I kept all my prayers in a journal. I couldn't figure out what life was for. We're alive and then we die, and we're forgotten. So what's the point? Seriously—what is the point of life if there is nothing after it? What is the point of life if it's empty or full while you're here and then it's just gone? Why the heck am I here? My mother told me it was to love—which, I believe wholehearted we must do, especially if you proclaim belief in Christ, but I could still argue—why? If love is the point, but everyone still just dies, then why? In the end, it wouldn't matter if you loved people or hurt everyone. If you want logic (though a faithful person would and should argue that faith is not really based in logic), here's a logical question—why? Why is there civilization? You can try to give a scientific answer to this, but there's still no philosophical point or purpose in the end.

      So I prayed to this God... thing... whatever was there, for a few months for clarity and help. And one day I was driving by this church and just felt drawn to it. Every time I drove by, I got the same feeling. I knew nothing about the church. It was maybe a year later I decided to visit and see what it was like. It was there that I learned what grace was—something that I had never heard of. I had been exposed to the gospel multiple, multiple times as a child and never believed, always fought against it and gave my opinion. But then this time it was just different—it was literally like an awakening—that "born again" feeling that people talk about that sounds totally ridiculous from the outside... that's one of the only ways to explain it. It was freedom. It was forgiveness. It was like scales fell off my eyes and I could see and understand what they were saying about grace. And I understood (as much as a human can) what God did for me by sending Jesus in my place, and that all I had to do was believe it to go to heaven—that was grace. Other things fall in place though. When you believe someone saved your life and created you, you act a little differently. I came to believe that, like the ultimate father, the God who created me would know what's best for me—it can be likened to when I think I need candy, he knows I need vegetables, even if they don't taste as good and I can't possibly understand why they're better for me. I also came to believe that he deserves my praise, and I'm grateful. God gave me a FREE WILL and I FREELY worship—that's why salvation is beautiful. If God created us and all we were capable of doing was to worship him, we'd be mindless robots. If you create something and it shows love for you and believes you out of its free will and stands against the tempting things of the world to show their devotion, trust and love—that's beauty.

      I'm sorry that was so long. I hope it made sense. Congratulations if you read this far. Trying to follow Christ is hard, especially when there are a lot of people out there who just "do" christianity and don't really believe or understand the point and end up shaming God. It gets frustrating that there are so many who believe we're all fake or bad when my passion is to serve and seek God and serve others with love—and truly love them and make them feel loved. Not to condemn, but to share with them what I think will save their lives eternally because I honestly have love for them and want the best. I believe our purpose is to love God and his creation, and I believe the purpose of this lifetime is to determine whether or not we end in heaven with God, simply because we believed and trusted what he said, or in hell (whatever that ends up looking like)

      To those who think that the remarkably bad christians should define our "religion", let me ask you this: Should Jeffrey Dahmer or Stalin define athiests? There are people of all types, race, belief, etc, that do awful, awful things, but there's the opposite—the good-hearted, well-meaning people—for each different category. To every good thing there is an opposite bad thing. A positive to a negative. There are true believers, and there are misleading and false believers.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • Jess

      P.S. To those of you who are a better non-believer than I was, thank you for not criticizing me and others for our beliefs. I now know there are a lot of christians I hurt before I was a believer. I try my best to be respectful of other peoples' beliefs, and I will not tell you you're dumb—I don't think you're dumb and it's not a battle of intelligence. And I think regardless of our beliefs on eternal life, we can all agree that love is very important in this lifetime.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • Anchor of Hope

      I have twin granddaughters who developed a viral infection shortly after birth and wound up in critical condition. Most babies who are as sick as they were – die. The doctors did not know whether the one twin, who was sicker, would live – and if she did live, whether or not she would ever be able to walk or talk. We prayed for them and they recovered They are eight years old now. The doctors say they are miracles. We agree. Our faith gave us hope to believe through the darkness (and it got very dark) and it cemented our belief in God.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • Jasmine

      Hi Al. I can't pinpoint the exact reason why I have faith. My parents were raised in the ex-Soviet block, they basically had to pretend to be atheists, however I think my grandmother used to secretly read the Bible to her kids a home. But for me, I can't remember a time when I didn't believe. And, my faith got stronger as I got older and questioned it more. The more I had doubts about what I believed in, the stronger my faith got. I know, sounds counterintuitive. I guess sometime in college I must have weighed God against the alternative and chosen God.

      March 21, 2011 at 3:44 am |
  18. Julie

    There is no good in man, and that is what people fail to see. It is not of your own good things you do, or your own good morals.

    It is only thru Jesus Christ, does one become justified. That is what people miss, when questioning who will go where. It is not based on what man thinks he has been or not been or done.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Path matters

      You are a good example of a negative person allowing their negative outlook to shape your religious beliefs. If there were no good in man, why would God give a crap? Are you saying that he doesn't? I understand your belief that you can only reach heaven through your Jesus, but Jesus never harped on man the way you just did. He saw the good in people, that's why he found man worthy to be saved. He just thought man needed guidance on the issue.

      March 19, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • God Illusion

      Wow Julie, bummer religion you bought into! Celebrate life, live it on your own terms and shrug off all the fear, insecurity and negative BS... you can do it!

      March 20, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • NL

      So nobody who ever died before Jesus brought his message ever was a 'good' person? Not Noah, not Moses, not Abraham, none of the prophets? None of the native Americans before Columbus, no children before they go to Sunday school, nobody handicapped to a degree that they can't learn about Jesus? None of these people are actually 'good' in your eyes, even if they've never harmed anyone? If this is true then what does Christianity actually have to do with morals and ethics?

      March 20, 2011 at 12:56 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Path matters, she happens to be a SALTY Christian telling you His truth. You happen to be a person that loves all the fluff stuff about Jesus' love because you don't want to give up your sinful nature. Jesus has many facets to Him and the only way you'll know what He wants for us and from us is to read His letter He wrote to ALL (the Bible). Once you start reading His truth, you too will see your sinful nature fall to the wayside.

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      NL, there is a divide in Heaven. The question is, what side of the divide do you want to be on?

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Sunshine

      If true Christians could only read the bible and have their sins fall to the wayside our planet would be a much better place to live. The truth is they don't and you can see from the comments they can't even get along with their own kind. You can keep preaching the Bible is the the truth. The truth is none of you can set aside your differences to get along so how can you even do that with those that don't believe. It's really pitiful. The problem is you are all sinners, you continue to sin and reading the bible doesn't' stop that, the proof is in our society. So, stop telling yourself lies, realize you are part of the problem and not the solution. Get a real life, dealing with real people then possibly we can all get along and find a solution to benefit us all and not those that think they are better than everyone else. Time to get off the pedestal and stop worshiping yourselves.

      March 20, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • NL

      HeavenSent-
      You imagine there is a divide in Heaven while I see there being a divide in reality, but you are right in that we are definitely standing on different sides of the same line.

      March 21, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  19. jaeteekae

    He is getting what he wants – attention and big bucks. If there is no hell, there is no heaven – when you die, you are dead and gone. It is each individuals own decision, no one else's, as to whether there is heaven and hell! I believe both exist (forever) and you will end up in one place or the other, period!

    March 19, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • Path matters

      I don't agree with you, jaeteekae, about heaven and hell, but I do agree this guy is just out to boost his book sales.

      March 19, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      The entire book of Ecclesiastes should be read by everyone while on earth. Here's a few scriptures that tell us what happens when we leave the body.

      Ecclesiastes 12:5 Also [when] they shall be afraid of [that which is] high, and fears [shall be] in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:

      Ecclesiastes 12:6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.

      Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Jasmine

      jaeteekae, I agree. Unfortunately Bell is doing a damn good job of leading his flock away from the truth. (Okay now, before any self righteous atheist or whatever starts debating 'what is truth', I'm referring to what I BELIEVE to be the truth. )

      March 21, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  20. themooseman

    I really don't see how a fair and just God could say "well it looks like you lived a pretty good life, let's see; charitable, good natured, all around great guy, but you're a (Jew, Muslim, Bhudist, gay, etc, etc) so you're going to hell." If heaven is the reward for living as a good person, why should religion or lifestyle factor into it?

    March 19, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Jarad

      @themooseman I hear what your saying, but heaven is not what reasonably good people deserve. Everyone has sinned, everyone deserves death. (Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23) Heaven is a possibility because of God loves us and he's merciful. It's only by his grace that we even have a chance at going to heaven, not because of what "good" we've done. (Ephesians 3:5)

      March 19, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • themooseman

      I guess what I'm trying to say is how can someone who has lived a saintly life, beyond just reasonably good, be sent to hell for not being Christian? How could God disregard a life of virtue and judge a person based on their choice of beliefs? I personally am not a particularly devout or even knowledgeable christian; in fact I haven't attended church for a good 2 or 3 years, but it seems to me that a God who is supposed to be just, moral and above all else perfect, would take into consideration how they lived their life before he went down the list of trivial rituals they performed to profess their love for him. Are we not supposed to represent and worship our chosen God through our actions?
      P.S. I don't mean to bash or disrespect anyone by saying 'trivial rituals'.

      March 19, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • Rich

      You clearly don't understand Jesus' message. The world was already condemned because of it's sins, Jesus came to save it, meaning individuals, from their condemnation (John 317-8). So God the Father sent his Son Jesus to die as a sacrifice for sins. Those who believe, and this means a decision to change your life for good, not a mere thought in the head, repent, and are baptzed and live faithfully, will be admitted into heaven according to Jesus. Good deeds won't get you in, you have to throw in the towel, and respond to Jesus' love, as seen through his death on the cross. His teachings, and that of his followers, in the new testament, tell us how to live the life Jesus wants us to live. God went ALL OUT to have as many be with him for eternity. If someone chooses NOT to follow Jesus, they won't be allowed into heaven. Their religion will not get them in, no matte what you called it. God showed us his love. It's up to us to respond.

      March 19, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • csm

      You are assuming heaven is the reward for living a good life and being a good person. How do you know that is how it works?

      March 19, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • tallulah13

      mooseman, the problem with your theory is that it removes the middle man. Without the threat of condemnation or the promise of paradise, there is no actual need for a church. People simply living good lives doesn't put money in the pockets church leaders. It doesn't give the faithful something to feel superior about. Being a decent human being is good for the rest of humanity, but does nothing for organized religion.

      March 19, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • themooseman

      @tallulah... I don't like to be that cynical about it; there are definitely some people who are in it for the money, but I don't think you can pass off everyone involved as either sheep or manipulative jerks.

      March 19, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • peasy

      @themooseman- I humbly suggest that while heaven is a future "reality" for some, it is not necessarily the goal. The goal is to know Jesus, Jesus himself is the reward. Those other religions don't offer Jesus. According to the scriptures, He is "the way, truth, and life." It's all about Him. If heaven is the reward, then Bell is right when he says Christianity has been a 'theology of evacuation.' Sadly people look at Jesus as a free 'get out of hell' card and could care less about actually having a real, genuine relationship with God through Him.

      March 19, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • themooseman

      @Rich... I recall from a church service that every human is born with a clean slate. Again I'm not particularly adept or devoted, but I have attended more than a few church services. I also recall that Jesus calls on us to be kind, forgiving, and accepting of each other, regardless of our differences. To me that doesn't sound like the kind of man that would deny a good hearted non believer entrance into heaven.

      March 19, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Jim

      @themooseman. Perhaps this image will help. God is all about relationships. He wants to have a close and abiding relationship with all those created in His image (that's all of us). That relationship, which was broken, is not again available as someone has a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son. We can have that relationship now, and we'll have it forever–that's heaven. If we choose not to have that relationship, God says that's our choice, and he won't force us into a relationship with him forever–and that hell, being apart from God.

      March 19, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • themooseman

      @peasy... that's probably the soundest opposing argument I've heard all night. Thank you for not throwing scripture or doom in my face. But my biggest problem is how is it that God could send decent people to a realm of eternal suffering and misery? I always heard that hell was that special place reserved for people who did abhorrent and absolutely disgusting things to his fellow man. I can't imagine God sending a Jew who was killed in a concentration camp to hell, saying "did you enjoy the last moments of your life? Well you're about to get an eternity of that."

      March 19, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • Jim

      I see I made a typo.. that "not" should be "now", as in it's "now again available"

      March 19, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • God Illusion

      Mooseman – the reason for your confusion and the contradictory nonsensical replies is because it's all a load of total bunkum – silly ideas handed down from previous generations and reinforced by threats and promises. This is what happens with myths, folklore, interpretations and muddled wish-thinking.

      Just live a good life and accept you're an intelligent mammal – we have no need for the fearful, ignorant fables of 2000 year old middle eastern tribes – we have moved on.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • themooseman

      @God illusion... Please don't try to pull that self righteous atheist bs on me. I don't believe in God 100%, but it still bothers me when people like you smugly look down on religious people and their "silly" and "ignorant" ideas. I think religion can be a great thing for some people and it's helped me through some things in the past. Your elitism is the exact thing I'm arguing against. The idea that one belief is greater than the other is totally absurd. If atheism works for you, great; no need to throw your false sense of superiority in everyone's faces.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • Todd

      This is a very common sentiment and so I'll address it here in a way that makes sense to me. Take any of those groups that you mentioned and even add Christians or any other group that you can think of and you will notice that when you say Jew or Christian or Muslim you are talking about a set of actions - Jews DO this, Christian DO that...well you get the picture. Well once you have that established you have the inevitable problem of asking "How good a Jew, Christian and Muslim have to be in order to gain God's favor?" or "How good is good enough" this is where the problem is because no matter what answer you come up with it will be based on man's standard and not God's. This is why Christianity is very different than other religions - where in other religions it is man determining what standard God should accept, Christianity sees it the other way. Christianity establishes that it is God who determines the standard of how good is good enough. So this begs the question - How good IS good enough? This introduces the centrality of Jesus Christ to the Christian religion. Jesus is the standard of how good is good enough. God requires us to be just like Jesus. Pretty tall order huh? Well this is where the term amazing grace comes in. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins he made His righteousness available to all who believe in Him. So that when we believe in Jesus and declare Him LORD over our lives (instead of us being lord over our own lives) the righteousness that God requires is extended to us. We are then adopted into God's family and we become His children. This is very different than any other religious system because in Christianity God makes available the sacrifice that makes man righteous. In every other religion man makes the sacrifice by doing an endless list of things that do not satisfy God's requirement for righteousness. Read Romans 10:1 for a closer look.

      March 20, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • God Illusion

      Mooseman – while it's very nice that religion comforts some needy, badly informed people, that doesn't for one second change the fact that it is a silly and ignorant belief AT BEST. I was being kind – let's be a little more real shall we?

      Religion poisons everything. If they stop molesting children, blowing themselves up, declaring war on people who with different fake gods, discriminating against minorities, stopping vital stem cell research, helping spreading AIDs in Africa by refusing to distribute condoms on religious grounds, banning contraception and keeping populations poor and needy due too many kids, not to mention endless historic atrocities – crusades, inquisitions, witch hunts – this is without getting into the smug, arrogant, sanctimonious nonsense and deliberate campaigns to spread creationist idiocy to children.

      Sorry, I don't apologize for calling religion silly and ignorant – it's WAY worse than than that – and you know it.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • themooseman

      @God illusion... I don't think you can blame religion for all the problems in the world. What is the source of all those horrible things you've listed? People. Religion itself isn't the problem, it's the zealots and manipulative crazies that often use religion as an excuse for actions that are politically motivated. Crusades=politics, inquisitions=politics. Witch hunts were often used as ways to settle personal scores. Religion is powerful and it comes down to people to use it correctly, which obviously doesn't always happen. Frankly I think your general lack of tolerance for religion is just as bad as when religious people are intolerant of others. And the other thing is you keep telling people to enjoy their lives as though that's something that can't be done with religion. Some people happen to enjoy a life of devotion to their chosen deity. Some people can balance religion and enjoyment of life. I enjoyed life when I was religious, and I'm enjoying it now. I just get put out when people like you come around, atheist or not, telling everyone what's best for them. People can typically determine what's best for them, religion doesn't drop your IQ. Stop treating it like a disease and stop caring, you might enjoy your life a lot more 🙂

      March 20, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      That's a simple answer. First read Jeremiah 5:4 because Jesus warned,

      Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

      Matthew 7:13

      March 20, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Bradley

      The devil can quote scripture, so let's see if you understand by sharing what you believe is the truth about what you are quoting.

      When we share our thoughts and ideas we are sharpening each other. We bring our own perspectives to the discussion. We are looking at the same scripture through these different perspective. It's why when you only quote scripture and don't share your thoughts that you become stagnate in your study of God's word. We all need to read his word but we need to share our thoughts to make sure we understand the complete truth.

      March 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Yonilfa

      Hi Mooseman, I had the same question you did about hell. I was raised Baptist and its all fire and brimstone there but it just didn't make sense that a God of love would burn someone throughout all eternity for the sins of a short lifetime. If God is a God of justice this just wouldn't line up. I found myself serving God out of fear ... I just didn't want to go to hell. I would suggest that you check this website out http://www.helltruth.com ... it has one of the clearest, most Bible based explanations of hell that I've run across. Be blessed in your search for answers ...

      March 20, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • God Illusion

      Mooseman – there is no religion without people... of course it's people who are causing all the problems I stated... religious people.

      I actually do believe it's like a disease... you can believe differently. I suggest reading The End of Faith by Sam Harris (or a Letter to a Christian Nation). Seriously, humanity does not need this divisive, destructive nonsense. Just because some people enjoy their delusions does not justify the much larger effects of religion on the world as a whole.

      March 21, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • Davis

      @mooseman.. in relation to the Bible the problem is you're detrmining "good" from a human standpoint. The question then becomes who is actualy good and who isn't. from that discusion you slowly drop into the ethical crap hole of relitivism which doesn't get you anywhere. One could say they're better then Hitler or their neighbor but either way you're just comparing yourself to someone else who has screwed up, and not comparing to an actual set standard of any sort. Perfection was the standard and, because we could never live up to that, our faults required sacrifices (something to take the place of punishment for our sin). Jesus came to be the ultimate sacrifice so that we could all have a chance to get to be with Him in heaven. Good people end up in hell casue they don't want to be with God. in the end i think it's pretty much that simple.
      to this you'll probably ask why anyone would choose burning for all eternity. an eternal pit of fire could be it but it also could just be a place without God's influence where people turn in on themselves and their own devices which could be just as bad as burning, but it would be chosen for sake of pride, or selfishness, or lust, ect.

      March 21, 2011 at 4:29 am |
    • Davis

      @God Illusion. you seem farily angered about something having to do with religion and i'm not sure what set it off but the fact remains that not all the bad things in this world have been committed by people in religions. mooseman brought up and excellent counter to your argument but you didn't even acknowledge it. People do stupid things all the time but that doesn't mean that what they're affiliated with is the cause (or even remotly defined by) what said person is doing. that kinda logic is where sterotypes come from and you seem to have taken it even a step further even though i'm sure you would say stereotypes are gross exagerations just like any other person who's given some thought to them.

      March 21, 2011 at 4:34 am |
    • NL

      Bradley-
      "The devil can quote scripture"

      But, apparently, he doesn't actually read it because, if he did and he still has free will, why would he ever follow the script laid down for him in the Left Behind series?

      March 21, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • God Illusion

      Davis – yea, 9/11 "angered" me. pedophile priests anger me. Islamic terrorists anger me. Sanctimonious Southern Baptists discriminating against gays, fighting to prevent stem cell research and blocking needed AIDs to Africa angers me. People picketing soldiers funerals anger me – I could write this stuff all day.

      These are not stereotypes, they are all caused by the core belief structures of the religions of those responsible. This is not about bad people deviating from good religions, it's about dogma and all the mealy mouthed nonsense in the world can't get away from that.

      Make excuses for the above all you like – without religion those particular events would not have happened. That's not to say an absence of religion guarantees goodness, but let's start with the largest and most invidious root cause first shall we?

      March 21, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Davis

      I'm sorry illision but you're horribly mistaken. none of anything you have accused christianity for has anything to do with actual christianity. you find me the place where the bible is telling people to do those things and then we'll have a discussion. until then you'll have to deal with the FACT that it's people tristing things to give justification to their own desires which is what people do on a regular basis. the fact that you think your stance is so clean and above any christians is just as arogant as the people that picketed the funerals. the truth of the matter is PEOPLE not RELIGION will always will always strive to do things for themselves using whatever justification they can along the way.

      March 30, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.