Archives for category: Religious

Eternity is not a long time. It is characterized by the absence of time.

It is unreasonable to try to describe eternity in concrete quantifications. It is even more than infinite, more than infinities and what mathematics and number theory can tell us about such.

Eternity is less comprehensible than the vastness of space. We cannot comprehend size. There is too much. We deceive ourselves into thinking we know something about it because it is easy for us to measure things from fractions of micrometers to thousands of kilometers. But the vastness is beyond that, beyond our ability to reason or analogize.

A rough approximation of the basics of small goes like this: If you place a sewing pin in the middle of the field of a domed football stadium, and then increase one of the iron atoms, proportionally, to where the nucleus was the size of the pinhead, then the rest of the atom would be close to the size of the domed stadium, and the electrons would still be too small to see even with a microscope. And that is only the beginning of small. Consider the Planck Length, at 1.6 x 10^-35 meters.

That brings us to a beginning of comprehending how utterly incomprehensible size and space really are. Think of all the empty space, the percentage of volume, within the atom, and remember that atoms cannot approach one another closely under the conditions in our living world. What we call solid matter isn’t solid in any quantitative mathematical sense.

Then we go the other way. There are many examples, and graphics, and short videos, and these help us realize that our whole planet is incomprehensibly tiny in light of the approximate 8.6 x 10^26 meters estimated for the observable universe. Then, how much bigger is what we can call space-time? Yeah, we don’t get it.

Eternity is even more. We don’t even have anything to compare it to.

We try to use time to comprehend eternity, especially since we do understand time, but we can’t.

We pretend we consider time. We always ask what time it is, but we don’t care. We know we have limited time, so we prioritize. Keeping time helps with that, but we don’t consider time, and we really don’t know, nor care, what time it is.

We all know we have very limited time, especially when we consider the span of history, and prehistory, and the time of the universe. We all die young. One hundred years is longer than most of us get, but even that is short. A single human life is a trivial amount of time in the scheme of history.

Yet, so many manage to do something of significance, by human reckoning. All of us do something significant for our loved ones. Sadly, that is sometimes a sad thing, but most of us have our moments where we positively affect others and improve our world. We don’t all get our 15 minutes of fame on the big stage, but we all do for a few.

Still, there are a few names that gained worldwide fame, and lost it. A few names have survived the millenia, but no name is known by every living soul on earth. Eventually, no name will be remembered among human descendants that we know today. If we continue for eons, it all obviously matters to us, but sooner or later, after some long time, all of humanity and our descendants will be gone, even erased. Even if we assume humanity spreads throughout the galaxy, even if we assume some means of spreading to many galaxies, eventually, it will all be gone. Millions of year? Billions of years? Even if we assume our descendents persist to the end of the universe, it will then all be gone.

See, we know where we sit there. We can comprehend the time. We know it all turns out insignificant in the end, but it is significant now, and some of us are better at using it well than others, but then again, “well” is subjective. Do we define doing well as becoming famous? By doing something important on the grand scale? Don’t we mostly define it as doing what we need to do, fulfilling our obligations, coming through when people are depending on us? Yeah. We advance mostly by people just doing what they need to do. We hold back the night by each of us keeping our candle and doing what good we can, and refusing to do something wrong, at least most of the time. Time. It will end.

All of space-time will end.

Will there be nothing then? Or will there be something still?

I am as confident of being there to see what it is, and I am as confident about it as I am of anything in the future.

Eternity. Don’t ask what will happen after some time. There is no time. We can’t think of before and after. That pertains to time, to space-time.

What will be after space-time is gone is simply unknowable.

In the meantime, don’t get hung up on how long things take. They really don’t take long.

 

 

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Quoting:

Pluralism holds the key to the vitality of American religiousness as well as to the development of religious civility. One might think that economists long ago would have pointed this out to their colleagues in sociology who were so enamored of the strength of monopolies, since Adam Smith had laid out the whole analysis with such clarity long ago. Trouble is that until very recently, economists were so little interested in religion that the entire chapter on these matters in Smith’s classic The Wealth of Nations was (and is) omitted from most editions. It was not until I began working out the stimulating effects of pluralism on my own that someone suggested I read Smith–and I found this puzzling because initially I could find nothing on the topic in the readily available editions. Today, colleagues in economics find my emphasis on pluralism and competition fairly obvious, while many sociologists of religion continue to believe that I am obviously wrong–that competition harms religion and that I have been misled by inappropriate analogies with capitalism. Of course, the great majority of social scientists pay no attention to such peripheral matters, being secure in their knowledge that religion is doomed and soon must vanish.

Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity, 2011, HarperOne, HarperCollins paperback edition 2012, page 367.

Here is an online source for Smith’s Wealth of Nations:

http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN20.html#V.1.195

It seems to me, Islam is quite capable of working itself out and peacefully meeting the needs of its adherents without conflict against other faiths. However, governments (Kings and tyrants in some cases) meddle. Governments in Islamic communities are pushing and skewing, and even funding and enabling radicals who support the preferred views.

Our nation, our government, needs to get out and leave the people alone.

If our nation can work with the rest of the world to free religion from government completely, at all levels, I’m confident all faiths can fulfill the need we have.

Fundamentally, government is the problem. Ronaldus Maximus was correct.

We need to address the correct problem.

The civil authority and the religious authority need to be completely separate, and the civil authority needs to be limited, strictly limited.

Militant German atheist Karl T. Griesinger complained in 1852 that the separation of church and state in America fueled religious efforts: “Clergymen in America [are] like other businessmen; they must meet competition build up a trade…. Now it is clear…why attendance is more common here than anywhere else in the world.”

That, of course, is Rodney Stark in The Triumph of Christianity.

You want better schools? Separation of school and state!

Write your representatives and request adding “and education” to the first amendment of the Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or education, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Petition your government to get out of schools altogether, especially the federal government. We need our states to reduce dependence on federal money and gradually outlaw federal involvement in any aspect of education within the state.

Our churches, as a whole, inclusive of the plurality, are the best and most successful in the world. Religion is one of our fundamental needs, and we are very successful with it precisely because the government is totally hands off. Education will be likewise if we get the government out of it.

Don’t most of us think our neighbor, our coworker, our friend needs a bit more, a bit deeper religion, a bit more lofty goals? Isn’t, “Aim a little higher,” some of the best advice each of us has received from someone we respect when we stooped a bit low; when we chose to be less than our best?

Of course.

How do we help that neighbor, that coworker, that friend? We don’t run to the government, that is for sure.

We do our best, we live our best in the areas where government is least involved.

Let’s get the government out of our schools.

I came across an article about, Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife, by John Martin Fischer, Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin.

I’m writing a bit more below the block quote, but in response to an article in Slate, I posted, to Facebook, the following:

Quite interesting. I don’t suppose I’ll read the book, but the article is interesting.

They talk of meaning. Generally meaning must be more than physical and naturalistically materialistic.They do qualify meaning as meeting reality, relevant in the waking world, as it were. I suppose one can hold meaning to only mean so much. Kinda meaningless, though.

He describes some evidences taken as establishing reality and some more-than-natural essence (supernaturalism, of course), but everyone will weight such differently. I particularly don’t accept the argument that blind folk having visual content in their NDE makes it more real and stronger evidence of supernatural, because I don’t see sight as evidence of supernatural.

I agree in general with his statement, “We offer an explanation of NDEs that is naturalistic but that also preserves the beauty and meaning of these experiences. NDEs are awesome, wondrous experiences. We explain how they can have these characteristics within the context of the natural world.” Where I diverge is I do not accept that such ephemeral essences of beauty, meaning, awe, wonder, etc. can be explained purely in context of the natural world.

Ultimately, universally speaking, we’ve had 13 billion years to find some evidence of the foundation of meaning, the underlying and overarching reality that is more than our natural universe, and the only real evidence we have is our sense of awe, our sense that there must be more. The fact that it just seems wrong that the truly good is impermanent. The fact that we know there is such a thing as good, even when people disagree exactly how to define it, is our only real evidence that there is anything real at all.

I am more than a random confluence of quarks, strings, and quantum states, and I honestly am not sure I will ever consider that proven. I do honestly believe that sooner or later, in terms of a human life or in terms universal, I will step out of time, space, matter, and energy, and enter eternity. It is my true desire to be ready. I and my understanding are not all that I am, not all that is, not the sum of all that matters to me. There is something more. I call it God. I endeavour with open heart to be subject to God and that which can truly be called good.

We take the reports very seriously; indeed, we take them at face value. People really do have NDEs with the content they report. And they are beautiful—deeply and profoundly transformative in positive ways, altering their moral and spiritual outlook, and diminishing their fear of death. We offer an explanation of NDEs that is naturalistic but that also preserves the beauty and meaning of these experiences. NDEs are awesome, wondrous experiences. We explain how they can have these characteristics within the context of the natural world. We do not have to give up the tools of science in order to understand NDEs, and we do not have to give up the beauty and awesome nature of these experiences in order to explain them in terms of the natural world.
We believe that the key to reconciling naturalism with the deep meaning of NDEs is to recognize two important parts of the human attempt to come to grips with the world. One part of this inquiry seeks understanding, and the best way to achieve understanding is through science. But another part involves seeking to feel comfortable and at home in the world; this is not merely a cognitive project, but one that engages our emotions.
Stories are the best way to achieve this kind of emotional resonance. Human beings strive to understand the world, but we also aim to be at home in it. Thus, we are storytellers as well as scientific inquirers. Near-Death Experiences: Understanding Visions of the Afterlife explains how storytelling and scientific understanding fit together in a coherent way. Seeing this helps us to present a naturalistic interpretation of NDEs—an interpretation that is nevertheless deeply respectful of these awesome experiences.

He addresses the deep meaning, yet what can that mean in a purely naturalistic context?

He asserts the best way to seek understanding is through science, yet it is not the only way, and “best” is lacking. Science is our only repeatable way to verify reality and how things work. Whether it is best or not is subjective and depends on value, which itself is subjective. Subjective things can be monitored over time for evaluation, but so much of what is involved depends on the individuals examining and evaluating.

Scientific investigation lets us share our investigations and findings. It helps me check you, and you check me, to try to ensure that we are not fooling ourselves, and we really must admit we are the easiest to fool. Check Scott Adams’ (Dilbert) blog. He likes to point out how we fool ourselves and can hardly do differently. (But that is a different topic.)

As a Christian, I hold certain views of eternity, the afterlife.

I like to say eternity because it necessarily steps outside time, and time, space, matter, and energy, are all that is, all that makes what nature is, all that can be called naturalistic and materialistic. Science has us convinced the universe is not eternal. It is well confirmed, and thorough thinking confirms it. Nature is temporary. Our universe, all that is and all we know of it, is only about 13 billion years old. Science differs on how it might end, and how much time will elapse before it ends, but no scientific evidence suggests our universe will continue. It will end.

If there is no eternity, there is, in a very real sense, nothing, nothing at all.

Is it reasonable to suppose that in 100 years I will be exactly as I was 100 years ago?

It is a possibility. I accept that, but nothing in me can believe it. There is more, and I am, and always will be, part of that more.

If all that is me, all consciousness, all essences, ends up as it was before me, then nothing different can be supposed of the universe. If all the matter comes apart, all the energy dissipates, all the subatomics cease, even space will cease to be, and time. With no time, there is nothing. With no time there is no time to change. There will be nothing, nothing in any sense we can understand from science. Only the supernatural can still be, and it must be eternal or exists not at all.

Back to NDEs, I suppose all such experiences are limited by our brains, by our understanding, by all that makes us individual. Near death experiences, out of body experiences, are necessarily limited by ourselves, by our capacities. Even if such a spiritual experience exceeded all bounds of human intellect and capacities, the experience could be retained in this natural life only as some vague knowing, with no expressible understanding. That is, anything learned or experienced beyond natural capacity while unconstrained by anything natural would be lost as soon as it was restrained to the natural world, body, and mind.

In short, there either is only the natural, or there is more. I believe it is inherently impossible to quantify the supernatural in any way. I likewise hold it impossible to find any naturally observable phenomenon that exceeds natural scientific investigation and explanation with the laws of nature. I still believe in miracles, but I expect we will always be able to explain the ones we can catch and quantify, but miracles are not always so. Some miracles are truly unique, and such cannot be investigated and quantified. Some things just can’t be explained. Even science tells us that.

Continuing with Dr. Stark’s Triumph of Christianity, in chapter 12 he explained how Islam killed and drove out scores of millions of Christians and Jews. The European pilgrims to the Holy Land were coming under ever-increasing attack and were being subjected to taxes and tolls, and as the Muslims threatened Constantinople, Europe responded, which is what he titled chapter 13 about the crusades.

The Crusades were hardly more than a defensive effort to secure the route to the Holy Lands, and to ensure access to and the security of the Holy Lands. As radicals are doing today, radicals then tore down historic sites and monuments. The Crusaders were only trying to stop that. They didn’t try to Christianize the residents either.

Check for yourself. You will see the Crusaders pretty much left everything alone on the whole. Sure, there were bad things, but it was a bad time for warfare. By the standards of that era, the Crusaders were typical, and the Muslims were worse, but not much worse, by the standards of the day.

The Crusades were not profitable. No one ever thought they would be. The Crusades certainly were nothing like colonization. They were preservative, not creative. There was no effort at all to establish any European culture, not Christian or otherwise. Keep in mind that Syria was a principal region of Christianity until shortly after the Muslims started killing them all.

Frankly, the Muslims thought of the Crusades as trivial, just a nuisance. Muslims tended to think it was better Palestine be a protectorate of the Franks than the Turks. (Islam had its racial and cultural divides as well, even from its earliest days.) It wasn’t until the Ottoman Empire began to fall apart at the beginning of the 20th Century that Islamic propaganda began decrying the West in any way possible, including dredging up whatever they could from centuries past.

There were Western denunciations of the Crusades, particularly from anti-Christian writers such as Voltaire and David Hume. Most of that was simply bias. The practical effects of the Crusades were positive, but short-lived. One could argue for or against, but history relegates the Crusades to a minor role, no matter the topic.

In chapter 14, he discusses the myth of the Dark Ages.

As an engineer, by training and by general understanding of history, I’ve always known there were no Dark Ages from an engineering standpoint. Architecture and all technical arts (metal working, machines of all sorts, etc.) grew and developed from the fall of the Roman Empire. Capitalism was born then. Good stuff.

Dr. Stark more or less says that the likes of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Edward Gibbon were simply blinded by their hatred of Christianity, and they simply refused to see all the progress of those times, simply because it was all associated with the Church.

Of course, it was only because of the foundations of Christianity that science, the arts, and all technologies advanced so thoroughly. Other schema can be proposed to similar ends, and there have been various eras of advancement in various cultures, but the Greco-Roman and most every other culture of the several centuries since the early Roman era, and also the cultures of Islam, all failed to significantly advance anything except for the rich and powerful. And, there was slavery. Slavery pretty much accounted for all the rich and powerful had, and slavery pretty much accounts for all that those societies accomplished and built. All non-Christian cultures have been based on slavery. While slavery was tolerated under Christianity, it was extincted by condemnation and neglect. Slavery began to end in Christian communities when the clergy extended the sacraments, particularly holy communion, to slaves. In Christendom, slavery began to diminish by the mid-600s (St. Bethilda is an example). By the end of the eleventh century, slavery was essentially abolished in all Christian cultures (which was essentially all of Europe, but only Europe, since Islam was effectively killing it everywhere else).

The last centuries of the Roman Empire strangled the world. It bound people to the state. For centuries it was the state and the gods of the state, then it was the state and the Church, which was wed by a relatively strong and egoistic ruler. That, obviously, was for the overall detriment of the common man. After Rome fell, the church did not. The church was significant and beneficial overall, but the church played in power and politics, and no good can come of such. No good comes from playing power and politics in general; so much the worse when granting it the imprimatur of divine sanction.

The state must be constrained, limited, and small for people to be free and to grow. Freedom is the essential ingredient to growth and progress in societies.

I’ve completed just over half the book so far, and I enthusiastically recommend it.

 

Regarding chapter 12 in Stark’s Triumph of Christianity, I find his opening assertions remarkable.

In chapter 9, on assessing growth, he points out that through Constantine’s conversion, to about 350 CE, we have sufficient reliable data to say that a simple logarithmic growth model of 3.4% per year holds. However, he points out that it had to slow rapidly after that.

Here is why:

Year Christians in Roman Empire
40 1,000 Thousand
50 1,397
100 7,434
109 10,044 Ten Thousand
150 39,560
178 100,887 Hundred Thousand
180 107,864
200 210,517
247 1,013,331 Million
250 1,120,245
300 5,961,288
312 8,904,029 (Milvian Bridge)
316 10,178,146 Ten Million
350 31,722,471 (around half the empire)
385 102,231,768 Hundred Million
454 1,026,840,633 Billion
523 10,313,835,968 Ten Billion

See the problem?

Dr. Stark presents the table above in chapter 9, and I’ve added some numbers for clarity.

I recalculated the numbers by dropping them in a spreadsheet, adding 3.4% per year, one year at a time. My numbers matched his. It is clear that the 3.4% growth rate dropped off rapidly after Christians became the majority. Otherwise, there would have been more Christians than living people. I’m sure various factors ensured it slowed rapidly. Probably the largest factor was that there were simply fewer non-Christians. If everyone you know is Christian, you can’t convert any of them. Probably official sanction slowed the growth too, simply because of loss of zeal.

Regardless, the growth seems astonishing when considering only the numbers, but when one thinks that 3.4% growth means that on average every 100 Christians brought 3 or 4 new converts into the fold every year, then it doesn’t seem remarkable at all, other than that it seems to have been so consistent. For over three centuries, the fervor of Christians stayed high.

Back to my point, chapter 12. He opens the chapter explaining how little information is still available about Christianity east of Jerusalem. He suggests Syria was the “center of gravity” of the entirety of Christendom until about 700 AD. There apparently is evidence that most of the eastern world had significant Christian populations, including India and China, until the coercive religions arose and wiped them out with the sword. (Of course, I’m referring to Islam, but I’ve only read a couple of pages of the chapter so far. I assume he will note other persecutions and massacres attributable to other religion and culture.)

What I find most remarkable is he concludes that Christians in the west (the Roman Empire) accounted for ONLY a third of all Christians in the year 500. Think of that.

There were tens of millions of Christians in the west. If there were twice as many Christians in the east and in northern Africa, that means the aggressive religions and cultures slaughtered around one hundred million Christians (100,000,000 people of several ethnicities). Actually, even more, since it was over centuries that they were wiped out. There would have been some births and conversions in that time.

Contemplate that.

I always encourage keeping perspective. Try to look at the big picture as well as the details.

The world wars of the 20th Century were horrific, and still in the minds of many of us. Estimates vary, but war deaths through the entire 20th Century are only about as many total as the deaths of Christians who lived in the east before they were extirpated.

Dr. Stark indicates that in many Muslim areas, Christians remained a majority, though repressed, until the beginning of the Fourteenth Century, at which point the Muslims conducted a relentless, violent extermination of the Christians, forcing conversion or death.

I suppose many acquiesced and switched allegiance, but we have ample evidence that a significant proportion of Christians will accept execution rather than renounce Christ.

From chapter 12:

After centuries of gradual decline, the number of Christians in the East and North Africa suddenly reduced to less than 2 percent of the population by 1400. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Christianity had been essentially restricted to Europe.

I’ve made assumptions here, and calculated in ways Stark hasn’t suggested (at least not as far as I’ve read to date), but the fact is obvious. Christians of all ethnicities have experienced horrific violence at the hands of other beliefs and cultures.

When it comes to blame and grievance, I believe there never has been and never will be any shortage. On the whole, we are all in this together, and we just better keep working on doing our part to make it better. We must refuse coercion. We must live and act right in our own lives, respecting the life and property of others.

Do good and pray for those who despitefully use you.

My comments on Rodney Stark’s Triumph of Christianity are what strikes me, and not an effort to be thorough.

Constantine’s combining of Church authority with State power was a mistake. It has hurt society and humanity.

Constantine was tolerant and cooperative with the pagans and other religions, yet he was intolerant of dissent within Christianity from Christian orthodoxy. His objection to dissent, and his application of state power against it was probably mostly trying to keep a strong unity, probably largely motivated by political ambition and avoidance of schism, which tends to lead to strife. (I don’t think Constantine was power-mad. I think he was sincere, but perhaps suffering from some noble-cause-corruption.)

I suppose Constantine was generally traditional.

That would mean that he expected people to honor their traditions whether they were different from his or not. It seems the Roman distaste for Christianity from the beginning was rooted in an expectation of following tradition and honoring the beliefs and gods of one’s family and heritage. Conversion to Christianity thwarted that. Conversion to Christianity abandoned one’s religious heritage. Traditionalists are likely to be incensed by such a change. Gradual change over generations was one thing. The dramatic conversion to Christ alone was seen as extreme, extremist, and antisocial.

For Constantine, with his Christian mother, Helena, he probably did not see his own conversion as abandoning his heritage and tradition. However, he probably respected such traditionalism among the pagans and other religions. He probably also tended to judge individuals by the content of their character, their abilities, and their political loyalty. He apparently continued always to honor and promote people around him without regard for their religious beliefs. He probably only considered whether or not they were reliable, and consistent behavior with regard to one’s beliefs, whether Christian or other, was evidence of conviction and reliability.

Regarding Constantine’s conversion, I suspect he was raised consistent with general Roman pagan tradition and beliefs. He probably had significant influence from his mother with regard to Christianity, but as a likely ruler of Rome, Roman religious practice was probably his own before conversion.

If one runs the numbers, given reasonable and plausible mathematical models (as Stark does in the book), one realizes that the Christians, who had been feared as potentially adverse political opponents, were at least a large minority, and probably already a majority, especially in the aristocracy. Constantine probably was mostly an opportunist. He saw the trend of increasing Christian unity and population proportion, and he decided it was time to embrace his mother’s faith. I think he was sincere, but I am nearly certain he saw only advantages for himself politically. Emperors were often assassinated by troops or guards. Applying Christian ethics in his administration and military leadership was very likely to improve his chances of staying in good graces with his subordinates and bodyguards.

I close this comment by reiterating that I consider the use of state power with any regard to religion a mistake and inherently wrong.

In chapter seven, Dr. Stark addresses how the Christian faith appealed to women, and how that combined with related factors to increase the proportion of the population that was Christian.

It is popular in our times to badmouth the Church with regard to women. However, Christianity is almost singularly responsible for elevating women from chattel. Sure, there is much room for improvement, but women were hardly anything in most regards in most circumstances until Christianity started taking hold and changing hearts within society.

Women were given in marriage, usually without their own say, at almost any age. Men could force the wife to abort, or worse; he could simply expose the child, especially if the child were female. That, of course, means infanticide. The parents, specifically the father, could simply take the infant outdoors and leave her. Men could divorce wives for most any reason.

Women were expected to be chaste, but there was a double standard for men. A man tended to sleep with his wife to have a child, but he sought out prostitutes for most of his sex.

Christianity would not sanction such.

There is still a long way to go in society, but things are better. Of course, there is a long way to go both outside the church and within.

Things were bad generally compared to today, but they were especially bad for women. Christianity started changing that, and many women became Christian because of it.

The church needs to ensure it maintains the highest regard for women. With our documentation of history as it is now, I believe it is unreasonable for churches to prohibit women from any offices in the church. We need to hold to the standard of neither male nor female, nor any other external distinction. A faithful and capable servant must be honored as such and accorded appropriate position and authority.

Dr. Stark emphasizes compassion and integrity as keys to the growth of Christianity. We need to diligently ensure we stay true to the dignity of all and to the integrity of each of us individually.

Referencing my initial post on Stark’s Triumph of Christianity, https://gottadobetterthanthis.wordpress.com/2016/06/11/summer-reading/, a little more.

I didn’t double check it, but wikipedia summarizes Stark’s earlier Rise of Christianity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rise_of_Christianity

My summary of the summary is that Christians were legit, and they proved it by sticking around and helping, and by preferring martyrdom to armed revolt. Christianity was also mostly strong among the working middle and upper class. The same can be said today. Like most religion, Christianity appeals to the downtrodden masses, but the poor can only take religion so seriously. Bread and health first. The soul second.

To lend credence to his view that Christianity grew only through one-to-one conversions dependent upon family bonds and social circles, he points to modern Mormonism. I think it is a valid point. From the perspective of sociology, it sure seems a sound comparison and good explanation.

I think it is worth mentioning the wikipage for Stark; again, I didn’t run the references. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_Stark I found it interesting.

Changing subject, working from memory without rereading, Stark shows various aspects of Jewish history before and during the Roman era. He points out the armed rebellions, revolts, and simple acts of terrorism conducted throughout those centuries.

I couldn’t help but notice this is another similarity between the Roman Empire and the modern world, particularly similar to the USA. The Jewish people have become almost entirely peace-loving, though they are determined to defend themselves, and terrorism arises from a different source, though the root-causes look almost identical. It is quite legitimate to call for the complete withdrawal of the West from the region. Let them work out what they must. Frankly, it isn’t likely to be worse than what we are doing there.

We really don’t have the problem with oil now. We need to leave.

Here is the stark reality: Rome finally had enough of radical terrorism after the midpoint of the first century. Rome utterly destroyed all that was Jewish in Palestine, including Jerusalem and most of the region. Stark concludes chapter 2 thus, “This was the Jewish world into which Jesus was born and raised, conducted his ministry, and was crucified. It was a society of monotheists dedicated to the importance of holy scripture. In addition to sustaining a remarkable number of scholars and teachers, it was also a world prolific in prophets and terrorists. Hence, this tiny society of Jews at the edge of the empire caused Rome far more trouble than did any other province. It even might be said that in the end, despite having been reduced to rubble by Titus in 70 CE, Jerusalem conquered Rome.”

His point is consistent with the intent of his book. My point is that history is repeating itself.

I really don’t want to be part of a society that is responsible for the destruction of another, no matter how bad terrorism might get. If we leave, and it doesn’t get better, perhaps it will come down to survival. Perhaps the West will have to utterly destroy all that the current terrorists fight for. However, I really don’t see people as that suicidal. The radicals are self-destroying. The extremists die or wise up.

We need to leave. All of the West needs to get out of all of the Middle East. Let them sort out their religions and their politics. It doesn’t really matter if it takes centuries. History always takes centuries. Besides, I think if we let them alone and treat them as equals and as fair trading partners, well, I bet they start acting like equals and fair trading partners.

Let’s try.

The alternative is written in the world of the followers of Jesus in the First Century. We need to at least determine to not repeat that history. Let us learn its lessons and live.

 

What is God? I think that is a good question.

It seems necessary to assume God is who rather than what, but we think of ourselves and others with regard to what we are.

A man I look up to likes to refer to God in the feminine. I’m good with that. I don’t suppose masculine/feminine applies to God, so either convention works for me.

So that is a bit of the what. God transcends gender, and sex certainly doesn’t apply to spirit. However, it is not attributes like that which are prompting me to write. Sometimes we have to write to know what we think.

God is good, just, and merciful. That seems impossible to balance, so the omni-attributes seem essential. I’m still stuck with trying to figure out what that might mean.

I suppose I have an understanding of what is good, and what justice is, and what mercy is. I have to be on guard (thus the title) that I don’t start assuming I really know these thing. Moreover, I must not assume I can figure out God based on these things, and I must not presume in any way with regard to God.

It does seem that there are some things I have to expect, and accept.

God is the reason and the meaning. There just isn’t much point in worry about the notion otherwise. There are several atheistic tenets that assume no ultimate reason or meaning. And, that is what has me writing.

The orthodoxy of Christianity seems mostly required in order for me to hold a cogent and coherent foundational concept of God. The way other religions frame God leaves me flat. I find very little worth supposing. I can see how to build a thorough concept of God from some religions, but Christian orthodoxy seems to come closest. Note that I’m referring to orthodoxy primarily to identify the heterodoxies, the heresies.

When I think of God in the way Calvinists have tried to explain to me, I find a capricious God that fits justice so poorly as to judge it no different from simple atheism in the practical world. The God of Calvin doesn’t actually lead me any better than Richard Dawkins. Either way, nothing I do matters. Since I hold God as the meaning, things have to matter. Unless I want to suppose I’m just a puppet, robot, automaton for God, I cannot accept that what I do ultimately means nothing. What I do means something, even to God.

I can’t accept nothing, and I have to be on guard that I don’t accept my rejection of such as evidence of my beliefs.

To me, the God explained by the Calvinists is devilish and against me. I’ll be better off in hell than with a God like that. Or, if Calvinism is as close to the truth as religion has gotten, then it seems to me that atheism must be even closer to the truth, and I just cannot accept such as possible. Calvinism and atheism are not reasonable.

Similar results obtain when considering universalism. This notion has always been around. Jesus seems to have went out of his way to indicate there are some people he never knew, and since I accept Jesus as an aspect of the triune God, and utterly timeless, the statement indicates eternal damnation in the traditional, orthodox, sense. Some people don’t make it to heaven, and never even tried, even though some pretend to try, even doing what they suppose to be mighty works for God.

Jesus talked of hell a lot, and how the torment there never ends.

People rationalize however they want, but Jesus seemed to be trying to make a point that not everyone enters into eternal life, not ever.

Free will is not an illusion. We are finding at all levels that the nature of the universe is not deterministic. We are finding that if anything at all is real, we have a freedom of will and choice. Being finite and nearly powerless, our choices are limited. I think that is why some rebel against the responsibility of free will. Some seem to find it unbearable that they cannot choose whatever they want, so they reject freedom entirely.  Some prefer to think that a random confluence of strings and quarks happened to interact such that we have an ongoing fluctuation disturbance in the nothingness that seems to give us a momentary illusion of something. In other words, the answer to the ancient question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” gets answered as, “It is all an illusion. There is nothing, never was.” I reject that notion as nonsense. It assume there is no such thing as reason, and that is not reasonable.

When I try to consider all we know, physical and spiritual, scientific and religious, it is all too much. There is more to it than we can discover. Much more than any one of us can know. It is foolish, simplistic, shallow, and worse to suppose we understand God, but I do think we can know enough to know it matters. Nonorthodox views substitute the meaningful mystery for meaningless platitudes.

If God ultimately, through punishment, or persuasion, or some set of processes and procedures reconciles all souls to Himself, what has been the point?

This life is too small in all regards. What use does an omnipotent creator have for us? We trust that He loves us, and we argue that this life lets us see that for ourselves. Yes, but if we ultimately cannot reject what He gives us, what is the difference of not having it at all? Why have this life-but-a-vapor-vanishing-away, if the end result is the same as not having experienced evil and suffering? Is there some wisdom in knowing how to harm your brother? I don’t see any possibility for it.

I believe there is a reason for this life, and I believe we all get to do with it as we please. I believe God will judge. I believe God will judge based on our choices, not on our sins. There is no choice if there is ultimately only one option. Accordingly, we would could never be judged on choice. There can be no judgement is if there is only one possibility. I choose to view God’s judgement a just, not imaginary. If there is such a thing as good, there is such a thing as evil, and there will be a day of reckoning.

Ultimately, there are two, and only two, possibilities. God, reason, meaning, purpose, reality, are real, or not. If yes is assumed, then two conditions must be real and eternal possibilities, with God, or not with God. None of it makes any sense otherwise. Of course, nothing hinges on whether or not it make sense, to me or anyone, but I just have nothing else to go on. If I assume God gave me this mind, and that reason is real, then I must do my best. My best rejects universalism at all levels.

To suppose the universe is only a few thousand years old makes God out to be a deceiver. I reject that notion and all that leads to it. To suppose universalism makes God out to be trivial and triffiling. Again, I reject that notion and all that leads to it.

There is only so much time. We’ve already used up about 13 billion years worth. That raises all sorts of questions. We don’t know how much more time there is, but a few hundred billion more years, something less than 100 times what has already passed, seems reasonable from what we know so far. And that is an unimaginable amount of time when considering less than a century for us humans.

Eternity is unimaginable even in light of hundreds of billions of years. And orthodoxy has assumed that eternity starts somewhere near the end of this brief moment of breathing. Nearly all of the greatest minds have agreed for two millenia now. Yet some think they know better. They have an easy way, and they are sticking to it. No, nothing is easy.

I believe in justice; I believe in God’s justice, and I do not think anyone is judged unfairly or without all that was needed for a favorable judgement. I don’t believe non-Christians all receive unfavorable judgements. I don’t believe the innumerable souls who died before Jesus, before Abraham, all receive unfavorable judgements. I believe each of us knows what is right, and if we choose to do it, I trust God’s mercy and judgement. Justice will be served, and that judgement comes at some point and eternity follows. There is no more time. No more possibility of appeal or commutation. The preliminaries are complete at that point, and with God or without, the real journey begins. Like the rich man in Jesus’ story of Lazarus, no one can cross over from one side to the other. Distance obviously didn’t matter, but the divide was immutable. Eternity must be immutable, or it is not eternal. (Thus, time, for now.)

If free will means anything, and nothing else can mean anything at all without it, then these are the things I must hold. This is what I must accept if I am to be honest.

I’ve grown up in theology and philosophical thinking. I’ve argued most topics over and over for more than four decades. I’ve never encountered universalism much. It has always been too shallow to consider. However, it has come up again and again for some years now, and lately, it has been put right in my lap, virtually, at least. I’m not really working much at what follows. So, I’m sure it will be even more rambling than normal for me, and less cohesive. Again, it isn’t something I’ve ever taken seriously. It is too silly to do so. It is wishful thinking, pie-in-the-sky thinking. Since so many would seem to end up eternally separated from us, we pine. We rationalize. We pretend it will all eventually be alright. Some day that evil, heinous monster of a relative who hurt everyone he ever came in contact with will be made right, repentant, and redeemed, because as bad as he was, eternal torture is just too unconscionable to bear. Blood is thicker than water, and all that.

However, the bible is quite clear that many will spend eternity separated from God.

Jesus was quite clear that many will be cast out, even tormented for eternity. He said so while on earth before his death and resurrection, and he said so after in the revelation to John. There is no doubt. No room for speculation.

The goats and the sheep are about as clear as is possible.

In Revelation 3:4, they walked with him, clothed in white, because they were worthy.

One cannot become worthy by spending a moment in hell-fire. Penance isn’t biblical. Christ paid the price. The punishment has been met. There is no sin problem. There is only a heart problem, and those who choose not to submit their hearts will spend eternity separated from God.

The 25th chapter of Matthew shows clearly that Jesus knew that many would reject him eternally. http://biblehub.com/esv/matthew/25.htm

The Final Judgment

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Verse 41 can be translated, “Get away from me, I cursed you!”

He told them to go to eternal fire forever.

http://biblehub.com/greek/4442.htm
The word for fire means fire, but it often carries connotations of eternal fire. The word forever is “age-during” or aeon, but it clearly carries permanence in the meaning as used. “αἰώνιον” [αἰώνιος, ία, ιον]
http://biblehub.com/greek/166.htm

It is ridiculous to consider the meaning as a-long-time. No, it is the same context as the eternal life (same word) of the believer, the redeemed. Moreover, Jesus clarifies that this is the fire prepared for the adversary and all his demons. It is simply ridiculous to suppose this fire as other than truly eternal in the simple sense of forever and ever!

Then http://biblehub.com/interlinear/matthew/25-46.htm

These into just, fitting, punishment age-during! Indeed, the righteous into life age-during!
Same word: αἰώνιον and αἰώνιον
Same context, same meaning. Choose whatever meaning you like, because you will anyway. The New Testament consistently states we, the redeemed, have life age-during. This word,  αἰώνιον, cannot be construed to mean some length of time. It is timeless, beyond all ages, forever. Peter states that Christ’s glory is age-during. Same word.

Jesus, in the same story, in the same sentence, said κόλασιν (just, fitting, punishment) αἰώνιον  (age-during) AND ζωὴν (life, existence) αἰώνιον (age-during). There can be no doubt that Jesus intended the same meaning for the two phrases. Everlasting punishment for the selfish and everlasting life for the righteous givers.

Matthew 7, 21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Jesus specifically said not everyone will get into heaven. Plainly! Jesus said he knows who are his, and he clearly says that he never knew these lawless ones. Never knew them, never.

Revelation 20: 11Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

I mean, come on! Duh! Second death can mean nothing other than eternal separation from God. Forever! Even θάνατος and ᾅδης are thrown in there. If the people thrown in come out, shouldn’t we expect death and hades too?

In verse 10, just before, the lake of fire is described as being for the age of the ages. It is not possible to state eternity more clearly or forcefully. Forever and ever amen.

Backing up to Revelation 14:9And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

Tortured and tormented, and the smoke of the torment to the ages of the ages, forever.

In 19:3 the smoke of Babylon goes up to the ages of the ages, forever.

These words are harsh, hard, cruel.

How do we square it? It is hard. It seems John went out of his way to say it was all just, justified. I would suppose he had a problem with it too.

There it is.

It is silly, superficial, and wishful to suppose God uses time after this earth, after our cosmos. We have our time. Time is a gift of love and grace. Without time there’d be no time to change, time to be tried, humbled and broken, time to hear the words of love spoken. And then, it is gone. New heaven and new earth–eternity.

God is timeless. Eternity is incomprehensible. To suppose that eventually God gets through to everyone is to suppose that God is bound by time. Not so. Not so.

There is so much more to it. So much more than we can even comprehend. It is literally not possible to know all. It is not even possible to study everything in the natural cosmos, much less in the spirit, in religion from the immediate and practical to the ultimate and eternal. We cannot know it all, not even collectively, not even with a trillion years to grow, expand, and try. And it is unreasonable to suppose our universe, the cosmos will remain that long.

We cannot know it all. We cannot understand God. We cannot reconcile all the bible says. We cannot reconcile all we see and do know.

Our experience exceeds our abilities continuously. We simply cannot figure it all out.

It does help a little to recognize that most of the things we consider bad are just part of life. The only true evil is when one harms, coerces, or defrauds another.

To suppose that God will coerce souls through some trial of torment is ridiculous. It is evil to suppose it. Time is pointless. As I’ve stated, God is timeless, but what is time in eternity? How long would someone suggest for punishment?

Again, Jesus met the punishment. Paying the penalty, paying the debt to society (in the heavenly-kingdom sense) isn’t the point. The point is you get to be with God or you get to be separated from God. Jesus stated a truth we know, there is no greater love than to lay down ones life. God loves us. Jesus showed us in a way we knew.

Accept it or reject it. I believe in the just and merciful judge. I believe that judgement comes to one and all and mercy and justice are satisfied. At some point, for each and every soul, that judgement is handed down. It is set at that point. Nothing can change it. Justice demands it. Mercy approves it. It is forever and ever.

 

Terry Scott Taylor panegyrized the stark harshness of our times when, with Daniel Amos, he had a father explain that for some of us, our lot in life is steel rain.

Larry Norman pointed out years before that life was filled with guns and war, and everyone got trampled on the floor.

He went on to point out:

the politicians all make speeches
while the news men all take note
and they exaggerate the issues
as they shove them down our throats
is it really up to them
whether this country sinks or floats
well i wonder who would lead us
if none of us would vote

and your money says in God we trust
but it’s against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the russians to the moon
and i say you starved your children to do it
you say all men are equal all men are brothers
then why are the rich more equal than others
don’t ask me for the answer i’ve only got one
that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son

Government is the greatest threat we still face.

What is socialism, even in the ideal, if not state-enforced charity?

1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

2“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Is not this a direct injunction directly from the mouth of our lord against socialism?

 With socialism, not only does our left hand know what our right is doing, but so does half the government.

 Forced charity, forced humility, is worthy of no accolades.

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