Friday, 27 April 2012

A Reply To The Authors Of The Left Behind Series

No one can possibly deserve endless torment, let alone everyone. Society is obliged to take action against convicted murderers. We can imprison them and can debate the justice or efficacy of execution but torture must be unacceptable. Endless torture, if such were possible, would be a punishment worse than the crime. Some Christian apologists argue that Hell is not divinely inflicted punishment but freely chosen deprivation. I reply to the free will defence elsewhere and summarize the reply below but here I address Evangelicals who do believe in literal fire.

Even if the “original sin” doctrine were acceptable, what would it entail? First, no one chooses to inherit original sin. Secondly, it, or at least a combination of factors which, for purposes of the present argument, can be labeled as “original sin,” influence our behavior before we have become able to reflect on the morality of that behavior. It follows that we are caught in a situation that is not of our making and that we need help towards moral development, not the ultimatum: “Believe or be damned.”

We judge ourselves when we reflect that our actions have been reprehensible and that we must live differently. This realization is an acknowledgement that we are morally improvable, not that we are damnable or accountable to a creator who, if he existed, would be accountable to us. Any omnipotent creator would be able to make his creatures both willing and able to act rightly. Thus, they would always freely act rightly but would not be automata. 

A finite fellow creature can advocate courage and honesty but an omnipotent creator could have made us brave and honest. A pacifist saint is physically capable but morally incapable of kicking a dog that bites him. If we know the saint, then we confidently predict that he will not kick the dog but do not think that he lacks free will when he fulfills our prediction.

There are other philosophical problems with Evangelicalism. The creator before the creation would be a self without other which is like a square without sides. Is endless experience even possible? Can memories accumulate indefinitely? A subject no longer able to remember his earliest experiences would effectively be a different subject as we are in relation to our ancestors. How could temporary suffering by one sinless person negate the alleged necessity of endless suffering for the sinful many?

666 is the numerical value of the Hebrew letters of the name Nero so Revelation is about the Neronic persecution. It is not about still future events and there would be no reason to believe it even if it were.

As long as states exist, they should be secular institutions, treating everyone within their borders equally. Therefore, there should be no Jewish state. Israel is built by men, not by God, and will be as transient as any other human institution. Anglo-Israel theorists believed that the British were the ten lost tribes and that the British Empire, fulfilling the Promise to Abraham, would last forever. In Engels’ phrase, Christian Zionism is a “fantastic reflection” of current US strategic interests.

Matthew and Luke wrote that Jesus was born in Bethlehem only because they believed that it had been prophesied that the Messiah would be born there. It was prophesied that a young woman would bear a son to be called Emmanuel but not that a virgin would bear a son to be called Jesus and this prophesy addressed then current events, not a future Messiah.

No Pope would lead an ecumenical movement denying the importance of religious disagreements or affirming the divinity of all humanity. I do not defend Catholicism but nor would I insult it by suggesting that.

In the Left Behind scenario, it is possible to like, admire and respect a man, yet “fear for his soul.” Thus, there is a dichotomy between the person and something else supposed to be him but described as “his.” Christians sometimes claim that their religion addresses persons, not abstractions. One Rapture FAQ writer’s response to 9/11 was not to ask how to prevent terrorism but concern that some of the deceased may have been waverers who had not yet committed to Christ so now are lost. This is a diversion from reality.

Does the god who tries to save souls then dismiss them so casually? Can’t he prevent an explosion, send more persuasive messengers or allow spiritual development to continue in the hereafter, assuming there is one? The Evangelical deity sounds as limited, unimaginative and narrow minded as many of his disciples but then what we hear about him is filtered to us through their understanding.

If we are after all in the hands of a mad god who condemns all those who have never heard of him and all those who honestly disbelieve that he exists, then all we can do is continue to enjoy this life and to act on this Earth. But such a god might favor Catholics, Muslims or Hindu fundamentalists instead of Evangelicals.

Despite their offensive theology, the Left Behind books are well-written futuristic fictions which is why I classify this discussion under “Science Fiction,” not under “Christian Origins” or “Philosophy.” I refuse to buy the books new but acquired Volumes I and II from an Oxfam bookseller who describes them as “evil” and usually bins them on arrival. They are the only books that he will not sell. Thus, he does sell anything else Christian whereas a nearby Evangelical bookseller would not sell anything “occult." I will be interested to read parts of Volumes XII and XIII because these describe Jesus’ return, when he effortlessly kills all his surviving enemies, and his thousand year Reich, when those who are born after his return but who refuse to believe are accursed and die young.

If you worship such a deity, please ask him to reconsider his position. Human morality has evolved far beyond his. Thor, whose hammer protects us from hostile elements, is a better friend to humanity. Of course, Thor exists only in our imaginations but so surely does the cosmic Jesus. Revolutionaries, scientists, doctors, artists and meditation instructors all do far more human good than "born-again" Christians who aim only to sign us up to their belief.

The global disappearance of all "born-agains" is logically possible but, until it occurs, I will continue to believe that it is physically impossible. If it occurs, then I will study subsequent events but will be surprised to see either two Old Testament prophets killing their attackers with flames from their mouths or a politician quickly overcoming all the barriers to international co-operation and disarmament. The world is more complicated than that and would become far more chaotic after a mysterious event like the Rapture. I propose a treaty whereby this Jesus removes all his zealots and leaves the rest of us to re-make the Earth.

In poetic, prophetic, apocalyptic or dramatic writing, it makes perfect sense that a transcendent being manifesting himself should proclaim, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” because theists and mystics believe that such a being is indeed the beginning and end of all things. That he should announce it like this in history is another matter. If he exists, then he is already working cosmically and spiritually. Scriptural passages express this present and perennial working in vivid and physical language. Dare I hope that I have represented Revelation more fairly and accurately that some American “prophecy scholars”?

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